Global Perspectives

Afghanistan: Time for a regional solution?

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Sunday, 11 March 2012

A regional solution for Afghanistan is presently among the most debated ideas when it comes to finding a solution for the decade-old conflict. The 2011 Istanbul Conference, focusing on regional cooperation, reiterated working towards “good neighbourly relations”, as declared in the 2002 Kabul Declaration; the United States work towards a “New Silk Route” that should transform Afghanistan into an economic hub in the region; and the seemingly close link between Afghanistan and its neighbours, first and foremost Pakistan, make it clear that Afghanistan is unlikely to stabilise without regional support.

The states of Afghanistan’s other neighbouring regions – the Middle East, Central Asia, South and East Asia – all have interests in the country. Yet, thinking of Afghanistan as the central focal point of all its neighbours is gravely misleading. None of Afghanistan’s neighbours – including Pakistan – define their security interest as lying primarily in Afghanistan, nor does any of the neighbours have substantial economic interests there. Against popular belief this leads to the conclusion that Afghanistan is at the edge, not the centre of interest of its surrounding regions. This has considerable implications for approaches to regional solutions. Afghanistan’s neighbours are unlikely to regroup and centre around Afghanistan – in fact they are unlikely to engage in a substantive way in the first place. In those cases where they do get involved, the involvement is not about Afghanistan but about proxy conflicts spilling over from other regions. Regional solutions are therefore unlikely to provide a “way out” of Afghanistan, even though such way out is unlikely to succeed without the region either.


Threats are more effective

Posted in Iran by derjanosch on Monday, 9 January 2012

For Europe & Me I look at the EU’s threat of imposing sanctions against Iran’s oil sector:

Banning all imports of Iranian oil into the EU would contribute to this loss of revenue, though only to some extent. Were the EU to impose such measures, it seems likely that India and China would jump in to buy the extra crude oil. Even though China recently cut its purchases of Iranian oil by more than half, it likely that it is doing that to put pressure on the price, rather than to support the sanctions.

Furthermore, the economic relations between Iran and the EU function as a  stability mechanism between the two. At present, a military attack against Iran would halt the flow of Iranian oil to the world. Similarly, the potential loss of revenue from the European Union restricts Iran’s willingness to advance its nuclear weapons programme. These last measures of restraint lower the threshold for irrational behaviour – on both sides. As history has shown, the threat of sanctions has a bigger impact than the sanctions themselves.

For that reason, the EU should keep the threat of cutting Iranian oil supply as a “stick” to use in the next round of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. Several proposals for further negotiations have been made – by Turkey and Brazil in the so-called Teheran agreement; in a more recent Russian proposal; and in a new confidence-building measure proposed by former IAEA chief inspector Olli Heinonen. However, with Iranian elections coming up in 2012 and 2013 as well as US elections in November, it is unlikely that either side can allow itself to be seen as weak. But whilst success is unlikely, the EU should at least try to use its economic power to force Iran to the negotiation table. A weakened Iran or even a military conflict would be a gigantic destabilising factor in the Middle East – with severe global implications.

Read on at Europe & Me. Comments? Here, there or via twitter please!

[edited: a previous version contained an error and has been updated]

RC North: Critical Infrastructure Protection Force Discontinued?

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Monday, 26 December 2011

According to several Afghan news outlets the Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) programme in several northern Afghan provinces is stopped. The reports do not state clearly in which regions which programmes will be halted. BNA states that “local police activities in some northern provinces, such as Baghlan, Kunduz and Talkhar” have been discussed, but do not state if CIP or other irregular police activities in these areas are stopped. The report further states that Minister of Interior, GEN Mohammadi “presented report about the compulsory activities of the local structures for preservation of important establishments (CIP) in Faryab, Jouzjan, Sar-e-Pul and Laghman provinces”, again without mentioning what that implies. What seems to be clear is that the issue has been discussed with the head of NATO and US forces, GEN Allen, and that the programme – in some areas – has been stopped.

As I wrote this morning, the Germans, commanding the Regional Command (RC) North, have not been very keen on having irregular armed forces in northern Afghanistan. In its annual Afghanistan report, the German government stated that “with its international partners” it will “in appropriate ways” influence the Afghan government to discontinue these militia programmes. Particularly the CIP programme stood out as it was de facto outside of Afghan government control. Funded by the US Commander Emergence Response Program (CERP), CIP troops neither received a uniform or a weapon.

In reports by Human Rights Watch and others, Afghanistan’s militia programmes have recently been sharply criticised for grave human rights violations. It is unclear if the reported discontinuation of the CIP in northern Afghanistan was influenced by the Christmas visit of the German minister of Defence, Thomas de Maizière.

I received the hint for this via twitter. Thanks!

Afghanistan’s Militias: The German View

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Monday, 26 December 2011

In December 2011, the German government published its annual report on Afghanistan. Essentially, there is no news in the report, but a section on “security forces and militias outside of ANP” (Schutzkräfte und Milizen außerhalb der ANP) deserves a little attention.

If you follow my twitter feed or this blog, you know that I follow the development of Afghan security forces with great interest. I think it tells a lot about the development of Afghanistan, the performance of ISAF, and greater political developments more general. To put my cards on the table, I previously argued that the development of the Afghan Local Police (ALP) is a threat to civilian security. It does serve the Western interest of providing an exit strategy in that it empowers warlords (thus defining stability as security), but it equally is a sign that a more ambitious goal of a national police with basic respect for human rights is a thing of the past.

In northern Afghanistan (presumably the RC North), the German government “estimates“(!) the number of militias to be approximately 3,000, roughly half of them (1,400) in Kunduz province. “Due to the enduring conflict since the 1980s,” the report continues, “large parts of society, and therefore also a large part of the militias, have links to the former warring parties.” For that reason, “loyalties shift regularly and repeatedly and are often of temporary nature”. On page 11, the report gives information of three basic groups: the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF), the Afghan Local Police (ALP), and the Critical Infrastructure Protection force (CIP). It starts by defining the roles of the different institutions before assessing their use to a wider security architecture.

The Afghan Public Protection Force‘s role, the report states, is to secure key infrastructure, public and private facilities and replace private security companies (which have been widely criticised by the Karzai government). APPF members are re-hatted, stemming from the Afghan Local Police. They receive a short training course executed by DynCorp and assisted by Canadian trainers. The government signs contracts with public or private institutions who then are secured by APPF troops. The long-term goal is to turn it into a government-run company that runs these services. A second report by the German government (available here) assesses the capacities, stating “according to NTM-A, the APPF only has a limited capacity to execute its mission”.

The Afghan Local Police consists of locally recruited forces supervised by the Afghan government and the United States. The target goal for 2011 was 10,000 forces, the US military reportedly plans to increase the number of forces to 30,000. Whereas US involvement seems imperative, not least due to US special forces training, the dominant language usually is that it is an Afghan Ministry of the Interior-led project. Regarding the assessment of the forces, the German government states “In Kunduz province the deployment of the ALP helped improve stabilising the area in individual cases” (emphasis added). The second report is slightly more detailed, stating that the development of the ALP is “monitored critically due to accusations of grave human rights violations”. Especially when it comes to vetting (i.e. the security background check) “the established procedure in practice is only inadequately implemented or not implemented at all”. All of this seems to undermine Germany’s already negative view of these forces.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection force, as the name indicates, protects critical infrastructure, including roads, bridges, etc. CIP troops reportedly receive $140 salary and are funded by the US through the Commander Emergency Response Program (CERP). New to me – and shocking – is the fact that “CIP forces (…) receive no training, don’t wear uniforms and bring their own weapons”.  “Vetted” by local shuras and added to the US biometric database, their only point of identification is an armband with an ID number. This, I think, is where it gets really problematic. Particularly the BYOW (bring your own weapon) factor – even in a tribal society which accepts carrying weapons – completely delegitimises this force. The most basic question remains unanswered: Who is an “insurgent” that the critical infrastructure needs to be protected against and by what means. This opens the door for killings, warlordism and the like under the name of security. The CERP-financing aggravates the problem in that it does not come with any institutionalised oversight.

[Update 26/12/2011] Via Twitter I received a message that in northern Afghanistan CIP has been suspended as of 25 Dec 2011 – thanks for the info! [/update]

In addition to these “quasi-police units”, as the report calls them, there are “a variety of militias, paid by local power brokers or businessmen” which are “partly” loyal to the central government.

The assessment by the Germans is rather bleak: “For the German government the creation of quasi-police forces outside the ANP with the goal of improving the security situation is unrewarding”. Three things seem to stand out: (1) accusations of grave human rights violations; (2) the lack of governmental oversight undermining the government’s monopoly of violence; and (3) the absence of a long-term idea of how and when to integrate these forces into the regular forces. According to the report, Germany does not include these militias into its operations and does not cooperate with these forces. Interestingly, the Germans “with its international partners” will “in appropriate ways” influence the Afghan government. Since the report even acknowledges that most of these programmes are US-led and/or financed, I wonder if the Afghans actually have a say in this…

All in all, the German reports are in no way surprising. Germany made it clear that it objects the use of militias in Afghanistan and that it – officially at least – sticks to the goal of creating forces that obey human rights. The two things that are interesting from the reports are (1) the tone, which at times is quite direct in cases where one might have expected a somewhat more diplomatic language; and (2) the facts, especially numbers and procedures, that often are not available as such. Meanwhile, the content of the reports once again underlines the risks involved in setting up militias.

Afghanistan: India is part of the problem

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Wednesday, 14 December 2011

At IPCS we are having a debate on India’s involvement in Afghanistan, in which I argue that due to its relations with Pakistan, India is part of the problem in Afghanistan:

Facing the exit of Western combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, the signing of the strategic partnership agreement (SPA) signals a stronger Indian role in Afghanistan. Whereas India has in fact a theoretical potential for playing a bigger role in Afghanistan’s future, its unresolved conflict with Pakistan clearly speaks against such involvement. First and foremost, India has to understand that it is perceived as part of the problem in Afghanistan.

Read the full piece here.

This argument provoked a debate here at the institute, resulting in two responses:

1) Jegan argues in favour of India’s stabilizing role post the 2014 withdrawal.

2) Abi argues that India is the solution, just not the West’s definition of ‘solution’ .


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ALP: A Threat to Civilian Security

Posted in Afghanistan by derjanosch on Friday, 9 December 2011

Over at the Delhi-based Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, I have a piece on the ALP being a threat to civilian security:

In fall 2010, the Afghan government created the Afghan Local Police (ALP) as a ‘self-defence force’ to protect villages against insurgent attacks. In spite of its name, local policing was never under its purview. Envisaged right from the beginning as a paramilitary force, its main purpose is to serve Afghanistan’s reintegration programme, which ‘buys’ former insurgents and militias who then work for the Afghan government. ALP recruits receive three weeks of training before being sent on duty. Their recruitment, intended to be decided by the consensus of the local shura (representing various clans in a region), seems instead to be decided by the dominant clan in the region without consultation or consensus. As a consequence, the ALP ends up becoming an extension of the dominant clan’s grip on power. Therefore, the choice is between stability by strengthening the dominant clan or an inclusive system which fundamentally erodes the dominance of that clan.

This debate, it seems, has been settled decisively in favour of the former. Various reports by NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and Refugees International, have accused the ALP of grave human rights violations and have stated that it presents a threat to civilian security, rather than an improvement. In spite of this, security planners have been reluctant to reform or change the course of the ALP, lending credence to the prioritization of stability over inclusiveness.

Read more…

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Workaround: Sharing items in Google Reader

Posted in Off-topic by derjanosch on Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Okay, this obviously is off-topic in this blog, but I still thought it might be of interest for some readers here.

A few weeks ago, Google Reader updated its appearance to make it coherent with Google’s broader redesign. Within this process, it decided to discontinue its share option (doing “some clean-up”, as Google announced). Instead it forced everyone’s benefit by implementing the Google+ share options. While I generally see the benefit of integrating Google Reader and Google+, like many others I disagree with the discontinuation of a few key services that were obviously widely used. The reason for this is quite simple: if your service is great, people will use it. If it’s “okay” (like Google+) people won’t use it. Quality wins and Google should know that.

Back to my main point: I particularly liked the “sharing” feature because it allowed me to get my shared items per RSS feed. In doing so, I was able to include the shared items here on the website (on your right) or to send the feed to friends who didn’t use Google Reader but still wanted to get my reading recommendations. With Google+, this is no longer possible, so a work-around had to be created. Thankfully, there are nice little tools out there that make complicated things easy. Yahoo’s Pipes was one of the first of such little helper adds, which I use to filter certain feeds for keywords that I am looking for. The downside is that it’s quite complex, so it’s not necessarily a tool for everyday use and requires a bit of experience and willingness to play with it. In case of my how-do-I-make-Google-Reader-share-my-items-again problem I couldn’t find a solution with it.

Instead, I found if this then that (ifttt). The name is quite straightforward: if x happens (this) then do y. So, to fix my Google Reader problem, I created a new task which monitors my Google Reader’s starred items. Each time, I star an item in Google Reader (“this”), then the item will be added to my delicious library as a public link. These public links can be obtained via RSS, so that I found a work around to my problem. Ifttt works with a bunch of web services, including various Google, Twitter, Facebook and WordPress and might be handy for other problems, too.

This solution does work for me, because I never really used the “star” feature in Google Reader. To me, the benefit of this approach is that a) it works as quickly as hitting the “share” button and b) that it works on all my platforms (read: in my Reeder app on iPhone/iPad). Before using the “star” option, I went for the “send to” option, which is included in Google Reader. However, this took ages every time I wanted to share items, so that I hardly shared any items anymore. Option #2 that I played with was to tag every item I wanted to share with “share” and then collect them via ifttt. This works fine to circumvent the use of starred items for this, but a) took too long again and b) would not work with the Reeder app.

So, quick conclusion: That Google Reader discontinued its sharing feature and didn’t provide any other option through Google+ is annoying. After the Google Wave disaster, the handling of Google+ appears to indicate that Google is losing its key advantage – thinking like and understanding the online community and its users. The work-around options presented here are able to solve the problem quite nicely but come at the price of losing the star-function or a lot of time for each shared item. Clearly, Google needs to fix this.

Duqu: The New Stuxnet?

Posted in Cyber conflict by derjanosch on Thursday, 20 October 2011

A couple of days ago, Symantec published info on a Trojan horse named Duqu that used large parts of Stuxnet’s source code. While this new malware puts data at risk – by recording key strokes and other system information, saving it to an encrypted file and sending it to a command & control server – Duqu is not able to do direct (physical) damage like Stuxnet. Rather, it prepares such attacks by doing the necessary reconnaissance work.

Symantec claims (pdf) that the attack is highly targeted for instance against “entities such as industrial control system manufacturers”. As for cyber attacks to be effective, the attacker needs to know as much as possible. Talking about Stuxnet, Ralph Langner – one of the leading researchers on the worm – said the attackers “probably knew the shoe size of the operator”. For that reason, collecting data from potential targets is required for effective cyber attacks and done by those in the business.

McAfee, another computer security company, claims that the attack has been used against “sites such as Certificate Authorities (CAs)”. In a nutshell, such CAs provide digital certificates confirming that a person actually is the person it pretends to be. Pretending to be legitimate code is helpful and sometimes even required for different attacks, in case of Duqu they were stolen from a Taiwanese company. Both, reconnaissance activity as well as stealing digital certificate attacks are part of the everyday job if you’re in the cyber attack business. Hence, both scenarios seem possible if not likely.

Unlike Stuxnet, Duqu seems to be a rather recent invention. Most major components, according to Symantec, have been created in July 2011. However, parts of the virus seem to have been build as early as December 2010, but may have been used in a different attack. Symantec updated its report adding that an additional variant has been found in European organisations that has a compilation time of 17 October 2011. Once on a system, the threat removes itself automatically after 36 days.

It is obviously unclear who is behind the attack. The fact that the command & control server is located in India does not indicate anything. The c&c servers for the German authorities’ trojan horse 0zzapftis, for instance, were based in the United States. The fact that the team had access to Stuxnet’s source code could be an indication that the Stuxnet-team is behind this attack, but it could equally be any other attacker with access to Stuxnet’s source code. [Edit:] Jeffrey Carr does some educated guessing and argues that it is unlikely that the Stuxnet code is out in the wild and therefore the number of people with access to its code is very limited. [/edit]

Neither is it surprising that parts of the Stuxnet code were “recycled”. Langner and others warned that Stuxnet could be altered into a logical bomb by changing four lines of code. Even the US Department of Homeland Security repeated such warnings (pdf) in a hearing in the House of Representatives. Again, the code is not publicly available, but essentially can be reverse engineered.

Little is known about Duqu yet. It seems pretty clear that it is based on Stuxnet, but that its objectives are fundamentally different. The fact that Stuxnet’s code it not publicly available seems to indicate that the authors might be the same, even though this can’t be said with absolute certainty either at this moment.

Libya: Mission Accomplished?

Posted in Libya by derjanosch on Friday, 16 September 2011

Why, despite all celebrations, Libya is far from “won”. 

After anti-Gaddafi rebels took over Tripolis (described in this interesting Reuters piece), international observers celebrated, media depicted Libya as “done” and even Germany’s foreign minister, who came under heavy fire for rejecting a German participation leading to a German abstention from the vote in the UN Security Council, made a U-turn and praised the international mission in Libya. The international happiness about the fact that Gaddafi was ousted was summed up by French Foreign Minister Allain Juppé stating that “This is a subject of great satisfaction. France took risks, calculated risks, but the cause was just.” Despite all the differences, the international community appears to be in a “mission accomplished” mood, similar to the one after Iraq.

This happiness, it seems, comes a little too early. Unlike “mission accomplished”, Libya now faces the crucial challenges. The common enemy, against whom everyone could agree on fighting, is basically defeated. The next step – the reconstruction of a functioning state – is a very different challenge, as it requires a shared vision of a future Libyan state. So far, it seems, this shared sense has not been fully established. CNN reporter Ben Wedeman, who is in Libya, tweets about lack of discipline and leadership as well as tribal tensions among rebels in fighting the last remaining Gaddafi town Bani Walid. It doesn’t take much to imagine how this discipline will evolve when fundamental questions about the design of a state are to be discussed. In a recent speech in Tripolis, rebel leader Mustafa Abdel-Jalil urged reconciliation and attempted to present the rebel organisation (National Transitional Council, NTC) as a moderate Islamic government that will bring female ambassadors and ministers. Whether such proposals are widely shared among the Libyan population remains to be seen, though.

Eventually, this aspect is connected to the question of who is united under the rebel movement. Even though initial fears that the NTC would have strong al Qaeda links turned out to be false, a recent Amnesty International report accuses rebels of all sorts of human rights violations:

Amnesty researchers have found evidence that during the conflict Gaddafi forces committed war crimes and abuses which may amount to crimes against humanity, including indiscriminate attacks, mass killing of prisoners, torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests. In most cases it was civilians who bore the brunt of these violations.

Even if this might be the exception rather than the rule, it shows that the transition towards a peaceful state with integer security forces might take a long time to develop. The mean time provides plenty of tima and space for spoiler groups dissatisfied with particular decisions.

For the West, this brings an additional problem: how can the West help a peaceful transition without being regarded as an occupying force? The approach of no (military) boots on the ground appears to be quite straight forward (in fact, the NTC rejected a UN force), but it appears questionable if France now withdraws its forces without any saying in the future and the development of the country. Similarly, Germany announced that it will aide in police training (does anyone remember (pdf) Afghanistan?), a sign that some involvement of the West is already discussed. However, given Libya’s tribal structure, the effectiveness of Western conceptions of statebuilding risks failing in the same way as they did in Afghanistan. At the same time, an unstable state in Libya has a direct and significant impact on refugees coming to Europe. It is unlikely that EU leaders will therefore take a “wait and see” position vis-a-vis the statebuilding process. Particularly in the Mediterranean, the “fortress Europe” has not found an effective way to deal with the large numbers of refugees. Previously, particularly this issue has led to intense discussions within the EU and even caused diplomatic trouble between Italy and France.

In addition to the practical and short-term policy options, ending the international mission in Libya will also bring up the question on how to deal with the responsibility to protect (R2P) in the future. In fact, there already is a really interesting debate going on about R2P and what it implies, which I don’t want to repeat here. The aspect I do want to highlight though is that a value-bound foreign policy appears incapable explaining how intervention is possible in one state but not others. More precisely, how can a military intervention in case of the potential death of civilians be justified when at the same time the actual killing of thousands in Syria cannot even be condemned by the UN Security Council? Even the EU sanctions to ban Syrian oil do not take effect before November, as it could hurt domestic economies. A case for intervention probably could also be made for Bahrain and potentially many more areas around the world. This is not to say that R2P should not be applied in general, but that those who intervene should be informed by clear values that are shared among the international community.

Three broad observations follow from the proceedings in Libya so far:

  1. It is all but certain that Libya’s reconstruction will succeed at that a stable state will emerge in Libya in the foreseeable future. Whereas the NTC attempts to bring a peaceful and democratic change, there are serious obstacles on the way.
  2. In taking sides, NATO lost its central focus: protecting civilians. Libya’s new health minister recently claimed that 30,000 people have died as a consequence of the civil war and another 50,000 have been wounded. For a mission whose explicit task it was to prevent civilian casualties, this cannot be seen as a success.
  3. By bending the UN Security Council resolution 1973 to a de facto regime change mission, NATO has practically made it impossible for China and Russia to agree to such missions ever again. It remains to be seen if and how the UNSC reacts in a future case that demands the responsibility to protect.

9/11 ten years on – in numbers

Posted in Terrorism by derjanosch on Friday, 9 September 2011

No, this is not another 9/11 ten years on piece. And no, I don’t want to write a lengthy article on all the bad journalism that highlights what has changed since then. Rather, I briefly want to praise a post that does not fall into this category, which appeared in Wired’s Danger Room today. It just has graphs (and the numbers behind it!) and lets you draw your own conclusions. Have a look at it here.

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