Regional Security

After the Flood: Pakistan and a Changed World

Greg Austin wrote this piece for his weekly column in New Europe

“Biblical scale” is the phrase in English, at least for those whose identify with the Bible as a reference point for catastrophe. There may be a similar term from other religious traditions. By any measure, the inundation in Pakistan in July was a force of nature that humankind could not have wrought. But the allusion to divine power, evoking memory of “the great flood”, should alert us to the possibility that nothing will be the same again, either for Pakistan or the world as a result of this most recent tragedy. To get a sense of the political power of nature, one might recall the inundation of East Pakistan in 1970 that fueled the political revolt by the Awami League, resulting in the break-up up of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Though far fewer people died in the recent floods than in the 1970 inundation (some 2,000 compared with an estimated 400,000 in 1970), the physical damage this year was far greater and far more widespread. Five times as many people have been displaced in the recent floods compared with 1970, and in 2010 prices, the damage this year is estimated to be 30 times greater.    

Politics is not ordained by nature (thankfully). Choices will be made by people and quite different medium term pathways for Pakistan can still be imagined. But the country has not really known peace and stability for much of its brief political history. Even though Pakistan has produced and benefited from a degree of economic prosperity and advanced culture, the darker periods and underlying fragility in the political system give reason to wonder whether the country will pull together to rehabilitate the affected people and communities.

One political factor in 1970 was key. It was the failure of the government of Pakistan to respond to the catastrophe. It was irrelevant to the critics whether this was the result of indifference or incapacity. But the government did not cope.

Forty years on, given the scale of the recent disaster, other pressures on the government of Pakistan and other demands on international sources of relief, it is easy to imagine a scenario where within six months, we see a similar situation, with a groundswell of political opposition reacting to inadequate government support.

Other analysts have issued similar warnings. My aim here is to draw a bigger picture. The world is not prepared for what may result if there is a serious revolt. The countries with greatest demonstrated capacity to respond are those of NATO and the EU. Yet even they do not have enough money, enough military or even the mentality to be a force for good in a Pakistan facing generalized political unrest among its poorest communities least able to recover from the floods. India, China, Russia and Japan will similarly be left in sideline roles.  

In terms of resources, both material and spiritual, there is only one group of benefactors left who can come through in the long haul – the wealthy oil-producing Muslim countries. They are already disposed to emergency relief in Pakistan but it is unlikely that any of them is yet seized fully with a view of the dire consequences that might await them at home within ten years if they fail to move beyond emergency relief to long term rehabilitation of Pakistan.

The rehabilitation will not just be an infrastructure exercise, but a political and social trial to underpin the political cohesion and internal security of the Pakistani state. Who will step up from the Muslim world to lead this unprecedented effort of global strategic import? Will Europe and the United States follow that lead? 

Still Surreal on Pakistan

Writing for, W. Pal Sidhu analyzes the recently released Country Reports on Terrorism 2009, focusing on the U.S. assessment of terrorist affiliations. Its biggest failing, Sidhu maintains, is that it overlooks the threat of terrorism in Pakistan.

“The report, mandated by the U.S. Congress, is supposed to present an authoritative assessment of the threat posed to the U.S. by non-U.S. terrorist groups as well as countries designated as ‘state sponsors of terrorism.’”  Sidhu points out.  However, the report effectively absolves Pakistan from its known compliance with terrorist groups.

In contrast, the report lists Sudan as a “state sponsor of terrorism” based on the presence of three banned terrorist groups in Sudanese territory.  “By this logic, Pakistan—home to at least five of the banned terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, and consistently found wanting in its ability to rid its territory of these groups—would be an obvious candidate for that label,” explains Sidhu.  In addition, the report fails to acknowledge the fragility of the Pakistani state after its devastating floods

Sidhu points out that the U.S. war in Afghanistan could be the reason Pakistan escaped severe criticism, and ultimately the label of a “state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Even the most benign interpretation that the State Department was blissfully unaware of Pakistan’s links with terrorism is troubling, especially as this was public knowledge even before WikiLeaks,” Sidhu concludes.  “While all of this might well explain the surrealist nature of the report, it cannot justify it.”

Click here to read Sidhu’s article on

Pakistan and the Afghanistan Intelligence Leak

Writing for The News, Ikram Sehgal argues that the portrayal of Pakistan in the recently leaked "Afghan War Diary" is unfair and Pakistan needs a focused media strategy to counter such claims.

"Independent analysts warned that most of the intelligence material was of questionable value coming from sources inimical to Pakistan," Sehgal writes in the Pakistani daily, suggesting that much of the information was coming from Afghan and Indian intelligence sources. He further argues that the leaked documents paint a picture of Pakistani intelligence services that is no longer accurate, pointing to Pakistan's own struggle against extremism. "There is a radical difference in the ISI that existed during the Afghan war and the ISI that exists today," he writes. "Clandestine organization like the ISI, CIA, MI-5, KGB, etc necessarily operate in grey areas. But that any would work against the best interests of the state is ridiculous."

Sehgal further argues that the media attention has unfairly focused on Pakistan despite incriminating evidence against other actors in Afghanistan. "The documents leaked by WikiLeaks include details of war crimes by the U.S. and coalition forces and the involvement of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s family in drug smuggling," he suggests. "Yet these got only cursory media attention."

He is also disappointed by the fractured response in the United States. He applauds "U.S. lawmakers who have taken into account the tremendous sacrifices rendered by Pakistani security forces." But he lambasts pundits such as Richard Haass and Fareed Zakaria for their criticism of Pakistan, which Sehgal claims is based on politics and not policy.

"Perception is nine-tenths of media law," writes Sehgal, arguing for a concerted public relations effort to counter negative views of Pakistan.

"As a coherent platform for our national security strategy, our present media policy is quite impractical and is tilted inwards, rather than being focused externally," he concludes. "The stakes are high, a comprehensive media strategy must incorporate the new ground realities and must project Pakistan abroad by coalescing and force-multiplying the talent and potential of the private sector. The attacks on the army and the ISI have grave national repercussions for us, and they will happen again and again unless we do something."

Click here to read Sehgal's article in The News

Afghan Village Force: Moving Forward

Hekmat Karzai, Director of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies and a Senior Fellow at EWI, wrote this piece for The Hill.

Recently, there has been a rather tense dialogue between the Afghan government and the U.S. administration on creating a force at the village level, which can help in bringing peace and security. Creating such a force is one of the key pillars of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in tackling al Qaeda and the Taliban, an experiment some claim succeeded in Iraq. On the contrary, Afghans are quite worried about this development because of previous experiences and the conviction that such efforts are only short-term solutions and not a real exercise in achieving lasting peace and stability.

Experience of the Past

One of the darkest eras in Afghan history was the early ’90s. After the Soviet withdrawal, and without any serious international support, many of the resistance groups turned against each other. As a result, Afghanistan was divided into personal fiefdoms of the commanders, and there were several parallel competing militias. The holy Jihad was forgotten and a very destructive power struggle emerged. Anarchy prevailed and major Afghan cities, which were safe until the Soviet withdrawal, were destroyed. Multiple currencies were enforced into circulation by different power brokers, which saw people carrying several currencies when traveling from one region to another.

Kabul was one of the most charming cities in South Asia, but it became a ghost town in a bid for power.  Various militias controlled different parts of the city, while others bombed it to the Stone Age. In one instance, more than four hundred rockets were fired on Kabul, killing hundreds of innocent civilians within an hour. Because of the chaos and lawlessness, the Taliban prevailed, and in a very short period of time, controlled a significant area of country. One of the key reasons the Taliban succeeded in their efforts was due to the fact that they had a monopoly on forces, unlike today’s government.

The Various Approaches after 9/11

Frankly, the U.S. did not come to Afghanistan to make things right for the Afghans or learn from the lessons that emerged out of the ’80s when Afghanistan was abandoned.  Instead, the key purpose and objective was revenge against those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. As a consequence, state building was never a key priority. The light footprint approach was not what Afghans expected, and, unfortunately, the U.S. strategy resulted in the empowerment of the same people that had initially created the foundation upon which the Taliban had emerged.  

Various donors tried, half-heartedly, to establish different sectors of the Afghan security sector. In particular, the Afghan National Police was never given the necessary resources or the leadership, which was desperately needed to succeed. Since problems emerged at the outset with the police, creative ideas of parallel structures surfaced.

Several local defense programs have been tried, and, sadly, their impact has been insignificant. First, the Afghan National Auxiliary Police was established in 2006, but after two years, it was quietly brought to an end. Second, the Afghan Public Protection Program (AP3) was established in Wardak province, but, according to senior officials, it is not being replicated anywhere else, a clear implication of disappointment. Third, in mid-2009 the U.S. Special Forces created a Local Defense Initiative, now known as the Village Stability Program that plans to “secure local communities through development so they no longer provide support to the insurgents.” The objective of the program is to work with the community and not individuals separate of the community.

While each of the above programs was designed differently, at the end, they run into serious challenges of vetting, command and control and most importantly questionable loyalty.

Moving Forward

Afghanistan at this time is the longest war in the history of the United States. Many of the same problems have emerged because the West has not been able to treat the disease and instead has always found quick fixes for the symptoms. 

The objective of the United States is very clear to the Afghans: disrupt, dismantle and destroy al Qaeda. However, the only way to achieve this objective is to strengthen Afghan security institutions that will make sure Afghanistan does not become the hub of international terrorism, once again. 

In conclusion, the village force that is being debated must be part of a broader long-term stability program and has to be associated with an official entity. Alternatively, it will undermine the entire efforts of the exercise in Afghanistan, and it will further perpetuate the culture of lawlessness.

Most importantly, with a force that is a potential threat to the Afghan and international community, the U.S. objective will not be achieved.

The Kyrgyz Crisis: Internal Incompetence, External Inaction

Officials in Kyrgyzstan have confirmed 191 deaths and 1971 wounded so far in the current crisis in that country. Many fear that the number of casualties may be much higher. There is no foreseeable end to the crisis in sight. It is becoming increasingly obvious that some sort of international intervention will eventually be necessary. But as the world contemplates the form such an intervention may take, it is essential to understand the local, national and regional dimensions of the Kyrgyz crisis.

Osh, the southern Kyrgyz town where the violence is concentrated, lies in Central Asia’s ethnically volatile Ferghana valley, close to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Although the violence appears to be ethnic, pitting Kyrgyz youth against ethnic Uzbeks, a closer examination suggests that many other factors are at play.

Much of the conflict stems from a crisis of competence and confidence in the Kyrgyz government. The popular uprising in April that ousted former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev brought about a change in government, but little change in substance. The interim regime has been unable to provide the governance or the stability Kyrgyzstan needed to recover from the coup. Corruption is rampant, crippling many essential government services. Meanwhile, many appointees of previous governments still in the Kyrgyz administration – who have an interest in the failure of the current government – have been complacent in their duties, further aggravating the country's crisis of confidence.

The authorities have been unable to act promptly and effectively, creating a yawning gap between the government and its people. As one observer puts it, with the people's trust in their authorities irreparably lost, the situation poses increased challenges to the state's sovereignty and the susceptible government's political survival in the long run.

Meanwhile, a combination of ethnic, commercial and criminal interests are capitalizing on frustration with the government's shortcomings and the country's power vacuum. While the new ruling elite struggle to establish their writ, many such forces are clamouring for influence to ensure a stronger bargaining position once the crisis subsides. The country's drug lords, for example, have jumped into the fray, using the chaos to conceal criminal activity and preying on the displaced and dispossessed. Instigated by supporters of the ousted Bakiyev regime, miscreant elements are eager to turn the tables altogether and jeopardize the scheduled June 27 referendum that aims to shift the balance of power from a presidential to a parliamentary system.

External interests further complicate the picture. Neighbouring states such as Uzbekistan and regional powers, mainly Russia, may also be seeking to profit from the crisis to extract concessions from Kyrgyzstan's inexperienced government and to force it into partnerships according to their liking.

Uzbekistan's authorities are between a rock and a hard place. Displaced Uzbeks have been fleeing the violence in Kyrgyzstan and streaming into Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan would like to see them safe and cared for, but at the same time remains wary of any influx or external intervention that could destabilize the precarious political balance in its own border town of Andijan, which witnessed mass protests and shootings in 2005.

Russia's role is equally complex. Although Kyrgyzstan’s interim President Roza Otunbayeva is insisting on immediate Russian intervention to stabilize the situation, Moscow is seen as cautious and calculating. Russia first expressed concern over the situation, then announced that it was seriously reviewing response options, and has since maintained that it will only consider helping through a multilateral forum such as the Collective Security Treaty Organization. So far, Russia's only promises have been to provide transport for relief supplies and to help evacuate the affected population.

It is becoming increasingly evident that deployment of a peacekeeping force will eventually be necessary. In the meantime, every delay raises the cost of the conflict, not only in terms of life and blood, but also in added concessions the Kyrgyz government will have to make in return for cooperation with the interim president. It also exposes the interim authorities’ incompetence, leading pundits to predict yet another change in the government.

The longer Russia waits to help restore stability, the greater the chances that the next Kyrgyz government's fate will become welded to Kremlin's goodwill and support.

An inevitable question arising from Russia's diplomacy of delay is whether this reluctance to act is related to the U.S. air force base in Manas in northern Kyrgyzstan, long a cause of concern in Moscow. Some speculate that Russia may prefer to let the crisis continue, and exploit the Kyrgyz government's weakness to distance Bishkek from Washington.

When calm is restored, the balance of power in Kyrgyzstan will have shifted. Internal and external forces will no longer be aligned as they have been. New loyalties and regional partnerships will have emerged and will require new terms of engagement. Kyrgyz leaders will find themselves more dependent on Moscow than ever.

Dormant sparks of ethnic friction fanned to rise into flames will not be put off easily or soon. The scars will prove deeper and will take much longer to heal. The exodus of over 100,000 people from Southern Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan risks destabilizing the volatile Ferghana valley where Kyrgyzstan's borders meet with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. A peacekeeping force is required now, before peaceful ethnic coexistence is further jeopardized, Kyrgyzstan becomes ungovernable, and threatens to plunge an already volatile region into greater instability.

The Ferghana valley, because of its complicated ethnic composition and arbitrary border divisions, has been on the radar of the international organizations for long. Recent events demand that such organizations take stock of past and current risk management solutions, which solutions could have been offered to the newly independent states of Central Asia, and how effectively they can address the real needs of ordinary Central Asians in those vulnerable valleys The international community must learn from this crisis, develop insights and put into place conflict prevention and resolution measure to help ensure that such a tragedy never unfolds again.


Photo: "20141011_Kyrgyzstan_1280 Bishkek" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Dan Lundberg

Reaching New Audiences: "Making the most of Afghanistan's River Basins"

Benjamin Sturtwagen’s and Matthew King’s paper “Making the most of Afghanistan’s river basins” was published on-line in MO Magazine, reaching approximately 500,000 readers.

MO Magazine is a monthly add-on to Flanders’ most read hard news magazine.

Click here to read this paper on MO Magazine.

Making the Most of Aghanistan's River Basins
Source Author: 
Benjamin Sturtwagen and Matthew King

Coverage of EWI's Seventh Annual Worldwide Security Conference

EWI's Seventh Annual Worldwide Security Conference received considerable coverage for its work on Afghanistan and Southwest Asia and on cybersecurity.

A sampling of media outlets covering the event:



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