Bags of Cash from Iran

Bags of Cash from Iran

I keep thinking about these bags of cash Hamid Karzai has been getting from Iran lately. The news has scandalized Washington, and the chatter just goes on and on, But to me, most of this chatter misses the point.

For example: a few days ago, on NPR, Terry Gross interviewed the reporter who broke this story. I’ve forgotten the guy’s name, but he works for the New York Times or maybe the Washington Post, I can’t remember which. Terry Gross introduced the interview with a remarkable little statement supposedly putting the news in context—letting her listeners know why this act was so scandalous. According to Gross, here was the United States defending Karzai and his government from the Taliban, and here was Karzai taking money from Iran, which arms, funds, and supports the Taliban who are killing Americans.

But in fact, there is no solid reason to suppose that Iran is supporting the Taliban. Yes, a cache of weapons was intercepted in Nimroz province a few weeks ago, supposedly moving from Iran to some Taliban group in southern Afghanistan, but no one really knows where they originated or where they were going.

And that’s just one episode.

The Massacre

On the other hand, in 1998, the Taliban massacred 11 Iranian diplomats, whereupon Iran massed some 250,000 troops on the border and acted like they were about to invade Afghanistan with the aim of toppling the Taliban. The Iranians shortly had second thoughts about getting mired in an Afghan war and pulled their troops back, but there was no love lost between them and the Taliban, and by all accounts, the mutual hostility has continued.

What’s more, along with the well-publicized horror of their gender-policies, the Taliban’s worst outrage was the genocidal ethnic-cleansing they visited upon the Shi’a Hazaras of central Afghanistan, who are Iran’s main clients in the country.

In short, the casual conflation of the Iranians with the Taliban takes one’s breath away.

But there is a foreign power actively supporting the Taliban—funding them, arming them, endorsing their ideology at its worst. That power is Pakistan! Leading figures in the Pakistan military and especially in its military intelligence agency (Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI) barely bother to hide their alliance with the Taliban. U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan continue to describe the Haqqani network as the most ferocious element of the Talibanist insurgency, the most dangerous to American troops, the people who are killing Americans in Afghanistan right now.

Yet the United States continues to treat Pakistan as a valued ally in the Afghan war. Three days before the story of Iran’s cash payments to Karzai broke, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. was going to give Pakistan two billion dollars in military aid over the next five years. Some of that money and some of those arms will almost certainly be spent killing Americans.

There is a scandal in here somewhere, but Iran is not at the center of it.

Paper or Plastic?

In that Terry Gross interview, the conversation kept circling back to one striking detail revealed in the story, or at least a striking phrase the reporter used: Karzai’s aide apparently brought the cash back to Kabul “in bags.” In bags! What kind of bags, Terry wanted to know in titillated horror. Were they plastic bags, she asked.  How big were these bags? Were the bags filled to the brim? Only halfway? Or what?

Only a month or two ago, if you were following the news from Kabul, you knew that well-connected Afghan businessmen were taking cash out of Afghanistan in suitcases, to deposit them in banks in Dubai and to buy real estate there. The cash was in their carry-on luggage.

Separate stories happened to reveal that these businessmen acquired their wealth from contracts with the U.S. military and with private and public reconstruction projects funded by Western sources.  What we have here, then, is American taxpayer money going to elements in Pakistan, who use it kill American soldiers, and to well-connected private entrepreneurs in Kabul, who siphon it back out to Dubai and use it to speculate in money-making schemes.

Still other stories recently revealed that of the billions spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan, the agencies and companies involved cannot explain where most of the money went.

Appearances Matter

But there are other issues wrapped up in this bundle of scandals. What America wants and needs, frankly, is a President Karzai who operates by American rules and serves American interests. Which is fine: America’s interests in Afghanistan, if achieved, would be good for progressive Afghans.

But–

Karzai is useful to the United States only if he has some real authority in Afghanistan. What’s the point of getting a firm grip on the handle, if the handle is no longer attached to the pot?

But Karzai’s legitimacy as a leader in Afghanistan depends on his having at least the appearance of independence. If he looks like America’s puppet, Afghans will disrespect him and he’ll have no ability to govern the country; and then he’ll be no good to America. Recently, Karzai stood up and squeaked that the U.S. military should stop busting down doors of private homes at night to arrest suspected Taliban. General Petraeus immediately eviscerated him and dropped hints that he might quit if this sort of criticism didn’t stop. Officials in Washington D.C. scolded Karzai, too,  forcing him to semi-apologize. Think about it: how does the leader of a country look to its citizens if it can’t even tell a foreign power to quit knocking down doors of private homes at midnight?

Along these same lines, American policy makers shoot themselves in the foot when they cast Karzai’s cash payments from Iran as “wrong.” Technically, they have no standing in the matter.  If Afghanistan is a sovereign nation and Karzai its sovereign leader,  he’s accountable to the citizens of Afghanistan for his deeds, but not to the government in Washington D.C.

The Fiction

But of course, he’s not the sovereign leader of a sovereign country. That’s what the controversy about Iranian cash dramatizes, though no one wants to come right out and say it.

What’s more, America has good cause to be concerned about the president of Afghanistan getting clandestine cash from Iran. It’s not because Iran supports the Taliban but because Iran would like to replace America in fighting the Taliban. Iran has the same interest as America does in a stable Afghanistan—except that when the smokes clears, it wants Afghanistan to be Iran’s client rather than America’s.

Karzai’s interests are not those of Iran or the United States. He surely wants to secure his own power within Afghanistan and the independent power of Afghanistan within its region. He can’t do that by becoming any single power’s client. He can do it only by letting all relevant powers think he might be their puppet, thereby positioning Afghanistan where it has always been when it’s been independent—as the buffer zone between competing forces, each of whom holds the others at bay.

Last Few Days

 

The Last Few Days in Afghanistan

    

April 3, 2011

  • Koran protests  Two were killed and dozens hurt in a third day of Afghan protests against the burning of the Koran by a radical fundamentalist “pastor” in Florida. Hundreds took to the streets of Kandahar. Earlier, 12 people were killed in protests in Mazar-i-Sharif, including seven U.N. workers. So far the death toll stands at 22. Afghan police in Mazar-i-Sharif have arrested 30 suspects in the killings there.

April 2, 2011

  • Bridalwear  A new law authorizes a government committee to make sure bridal shops sell only “shari’a compliant” garments—that is, nothing too revealing.

April 1, 2011

  • U.S. Spending   The U.S. military is preparing to deploy about $1 billion worth of balloon-mounted cameras and other intelligence gear to Afghanistan. Also, Afghanistan will receive $20 billion over the next two years to develop military police. Meanwhile, USAID has decided to cut reconstruction aid to Afghanistan by $1.4 billion this coming year.
  • Corruption   Former transport minister Inayatullah Qasimi was arrested on corruption charges but released three days later when Karzai officials intervened. Anti-corruption crusader Noorullah Delawari, a former governor of the Central Bank, was also detained for a few hours, on apparently trumped-up charges.
  • Book Tour   Afghan activist Malalai Joya is touring Europe and America to promote a book.

March 31, 2011

  • New Kabul   The Afghan government and its private partners are building a modern new city bigger than Kabul about 30 minutes north of the capital at a projected cost of $34 billion. New Kabul will house an estimated 1.5 million people when completed (2025). The land was bought up power-brokers before construction began, by individuals well-connected to the government.

March 30, 2011

  • Natural Wonder   A natural stone arch stretching more than 200 feet across, one of the world’s biggest, has been discovered in a remote region of Afghanistan.

March 29, 2011

  • Taliban Gains   Taliban insurgents seized a district in Kunar province, an area from which the U.S. has recently withdrawn troops.
  • Women’s Pain   At least 88 women and girls have committed suicide by self-immolation in and around Herat in the last year to escape unremitting domestic violence.
  • Musician   Radio Azadi (an agency funded by the U.S. Congress) has named popular Afghan musician Farhad Darya its “Person of the Year.”
  • Education   The Ministry of Education claims that Taliban “supreme leader” Mullah Omar has issued an edict forbidding attacks on schools and schoolchildren. Over 300 schools have been reopened in secure parts of the country over the past year. Currently, 2.4 million girls and 5 million boys are enrolled at 13,000 schools. About 350 remain closed, however, and at least 4.5 million school-age Afghan children are not in school due to social, economic and/or security barriers.

March 28, 2011

  • Taliban Crimes    A team of suicide bombers killed 23 road construction workers in eastern Afghanistan and Taliban insurgents kidnapped 50 off-duty policemen in an ambush
  • Women’s Rights    The deputy governor of Helmand province was fired for staging a concert featuring women singers not wearing headscarves.

March 27, 2011

  • Blood Money   Pakistan with compensate the families of 39 people killed in a suspected U.S. missile strike by paying each of them $3,530.

March 26, 2011

  • Thieves    Two Fort Bragg soldiers stationed in Afghanistan have been charged with embezzling $1.2 million in 2009, when they were deployed in Afghanistan. .

March 25, 2011

  • Racist Comments    Australia apologized for racists comments about Afghans posted on social media by some Australian soldiers.
  • Polling Data   New polls show that anti-American sentiment has hit a peak in Afghanistan. Meanwhile in the United States, over 35% consider the war “unwinnable” and nearly three-quarters think the U.S. should end all military involvement in Afghanistan.

March 24, 2011

  • Cell Phone Ban    The Taliban have successfully banned cell phone use in Helmand province.
  • Murder Club   Corporal Jeremy Morlock, one of five accused members of that murder club that killed Afghan civilians for sport, has agreed to testify against the other four in exchange for a reduced sentence of 24 years in a military jail with eligibility for parole after seven.

March 23, 2011

  • Culture    UNESCO says the cultural landscape of Bamiyan should be preserved but the Buddhas cannot be rebuilt.

March 22, 2011

  • Culture   An exhibit of newly excavated Afghan artifacts went on display in the Kabul Museum. The United States has pledged $5 million to help expand the museum.

March 20, 2011

  • Libya   Taliban spokesmen in Afghanistan condemned Western air strikes in Libya.

March 18, 2011

  • Violence    Gunmen on motorcycles kidnapped six road engineers traveling to a work site in northern Afghanistan. A suicide bomber killed 37 people in Kunduz. Meanwhile, a U.S. drone strike killed 38 people in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region.
  • America’s Warlord    An Afghan warlord on the U.S. payroll faces allegations of violence burglary, rape, murder, and desecration of mosques, stretching back two years.

March 17, 2011

  • Secret Support    Several Afghan senators charge that the Karzai-appointed High Peace Council is providing secret support to the Taliban.

March 16, 2011

  • Children   A coalition air strike allegedly killed two Afghan children.
  • Terrorism   The Afghan intelligence service has detained terrorists belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a new menace in the northern province.

March 15, 2011

  • Permanent Bases   Karzai’s brother Ahmad Wali, the warlord of Kandahar, expressed backing for permanent U.S. bases in Afghanistan.

March 14, 2011

  • Railroad    Turkmenistan and Afghanistan will jointly build a new 120 kilometer long railway line linking the two countries.

March 13, 2011

  • Technology    Etisalat, a technology company from the United Arab Emirate, plans to invest $100 million to develop third-generation telecom services in Afghanistan. It expects to have 6 million subscribers in two years. .
  • Sports    Female Afghan boxers hoping to compete at the London Olympics n 2012 are working out a gym associated with the Kabul Stadium, where the Taliban once executed women accused of adultery.
  • Tourism   A new ski resort is being constructed in the Afghan province of Bamiyan.

March 12, 2011

  • Crimes    Two operatives working for Xe (the private security firm formerly called Blackwater) have been convicted of manslaughter for slaughtering two Kabul citizens during a drunken rampage.

March 11, 2011

  • Police    Two hundred new police academy graduates joined the Herat police force.

March 10, 2011

  • Mistake   NATO-led forces mistakenly killed a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
  • Afghanization    The Afghan Government announced that Afghan forces will soon take over security responsibilities in much of Kabul, Bamiyan, and Panjsher as well as in the cities of Herat, Mazar-e Sharif, and Lashkargah.
  • Civilian Casualty Data    Last year saw a 15% increase in civilian casualties, most of them caused by Talibanist insurgents. The number of civilian casualties attributable to U.S. and NATO forces dropped by 26 percent.

March 9, 2011

  • Iran   NATO forces have seized 48 Iranian-made rockets being shipped to Taliban within Afghanistan.
  • War     US has given up on Pech, Korangal and Nuristan valleys but is expanding operations into numerous other rural villages such as Alem Khel.
  • Village Militias     NATO is trying a controversial new strategy: arming local villagers to help them provide their own defense. A United Nations report shows that local warlords are taking over the “village militias” and using them to extort money.
  • Women Rights     Hundreds of women commemorated International Women Day by staging peaceful demonstrations in Kabul and Kandahar.

March 7, 2011

  • Withdrawal   The U.S. is negotiating a long term “security deal” with Afghanistan as a prelude to the planned withdrawal of American troops.
  • Parliament    Afghan legislators passed over Mrs. Rahila Salim to elect Khalid Pashtun as its first deputy house speaker,.

March 6, 2011

  • Protests Hundreds of people chanting “Death to America” protested in Kabul against civilian casualties caused by international forces—after a NATO air strike killed nine Afghan boys gathering firewood in Kunar.
  • Casualities A roadside bomb near the Pakistan border killed twelve Afghan civilians, including five children.
  • Pastimes Hundreds of young Afghans have taken up skateboarding.

March 4, 2011 

  • Iranian Expo    More than 50 Iranian companies have stalls at an Iranian trade expos in Kabul, seeking new customers from Iranian-made products ranging from tires to ovens.

March 3, 2011 

  • War Criminal   Corey Moore, an alleged member of the “murder club” that killed Afghan civilians for sport last year, has been sentenced to 60 days of “hard labor” for mutilating corpses
  • Republican Discontent   Top Republicans including Mike Huckabee and Richard Luger are expressing doubts about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan

March 2, 2011 

  • Taliban Consulate   An office representing the Taliban—a consulate, essentially—will open in Turkey.
  • Newspaper Closure  The venerable Kabul Weekly, an independent English-language newspaper founded in the ‘60s, has shut down due to government pressure.

March 1, 2011 

  • War Crime   Nine boys, all under the age of 12, were shot dead by U.S. and NATO helicopters while gathering firewood in Kunar province (near the Pakistan border).

February 28, 2011 

  • Festival   The city of Ghazni will host an international Islamic cultural festival, in preparation for which the city is being refurbished.

February 27, 2011 

  • Parliament   The Afghan parliament has finally elected a speaker: (retired) Uzbek warlord Abdul Rahoof Ibrahimi, once linked to (Talibanist) Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islam.
  • Dogfight   Suicide bombers killed 10 at a dogfight near Kandahar.

February 26, 2011 

  • Bank Massacre   When five gunmen massacred 60 unarmed civilians in a Jalalabad bank, Taliban groups vied for “credit.” Then Tolo TV broadcast security footage of the massacre, sparked revulsion among Afghans. Now, Talibanist groups are scrambling to disavow any connection to the crime.

February 25, 2011 

  • Electricity   Turkmenistan will build new transmissions lines to send five times as much electricity to Afghanistan as it does currently.
  • Pech Valley   The U.S. military plans to reduce its troop presence in savagely-contested Pech Valley (near the Pakistan border) and let Afghans take over.
  • Land Wars   Robert Gates says the U.S. must avoid future land wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan by solving ‘festering problems’ before they reach a crisis point.
  • Banking    Two Afghan cell phone companies have launched a mobile banking service that lets anyone transfer money to anyone by cell phone–a possible platform for countrywide mobile banking.
  • Convert    An Afghan man jailed for “apostasy” (conversion to Christianity) has been released after intense lobbying by Christian activists around the world.

February 24, 2011 

  • Attrition  About one out of every three recruits leaves the Afghan security forces each year, which complicates NATO’s current efforts to increase those forces to 305,000 by this October.

February 23, 2011 

  • Offensive Remark   Gen Petraeus shocked Afghans by suggesting that Afghan parents are burning their own children to create false evidence of civilian casualties caused by NATO strikes.

February 22, 2011 

  • Withdrawals  Poland will start pulling its troops out of Afghanistan this year. Canada too plans to end its combat mission by July but leave a few troops behind to help secure the Kandahar Airfield.

February 21, 2011 

  • Violence   A suicide bomber in Kunduz hit a government office, killing 31 people.
  • Community Policing   The U.S. is building self-policing units to help rural communities fight insurgency in their towns. Some Afghans worry that this program is merely giving guns to criminals and warlords.

February 20, 2011 

  • Permanent BasesU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that the US does not seek to establish permanent bases in Afghanistan. Karzai has expressed anxiety about such bases, and Russia has warned against them.

February 19, 2011 

  • Talks   According to uber-journalist Steve Coll , the United States is now involved in exploratory talks with Taliban leaders that could lead to peace negotiations a few years down the line.
  • Father of the Taliban   Pakistani Taliban released to prove they killed a former head of Pakistan’s intelligence service–the very man who helped create the original Taliban.
  • Women’s Shelters   Karzai government plans to take control of all shelters for abused women in Afghanistan, a move that may reduce or end their effectiveness.

February 18, 2011 

  • Reconstruction    Turkey has signed an agreement to work with Afghanistan on energy and mining projects.

February 17, 2011 

  • Reactionary Cleric In a Friday sermon at Kabul’s largest mosque, prominent Afghan cleric Enayatullah Balegh denounced “foreign military forces in Afghanistan,” characterizing them as “these children of Jews.”
  • Schools   Schools closed by the Taliban in Marjah have re-opened. Taliban are now saying girls can attend schools so long as they study separately from boys, wear hijab, and stick to a strict religious curriculum.
  • Envoys  The U.S. has named retired diplomat Marc Grossman to replace the late Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan. Afghanistan, meanwhile, has named deputy foreign minister Eklil Hakimi the new ambassador to the U.S..

February 16, 2011 

  • Power Struggle   Karzai is locked in a power-struggle with the newly elected Parliament. Karzai has set up a “Special Judicial Court” to investigate last fall’s election fraud, possibly as a prelude to disbanding parliament and ruling by decree. The parliamentarians seek to move the investigation back into the hands of the Independent Election Commission (IEC). The Attorney General has struck back by issuing a travel ban on 21 IEC officials.
  • Parliament   Meanwhile, the Parliament keeps trying and failing to elect a speaker.

February 15, 2011 

  • Suicidal Violence   A suicide bomber blew himself up at the Dubai-owned Safi Mall in the heart of Kabul, wounding 49 people. Less than a week earlier an assault on the Kandahar police station killed 21. The week before that, a suicide bomber blew up an upscale grocery store in Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood, killing eight.
  • Former Talib   Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaeef, former foreign minister in the Taliban government of 2001, is reinventing himself as a peace-making go-between kingmaker. This week he is visiting London and he recently released his ghost-written autobiography.
  • Iran’s Move   As a good will gesture, Iran has released nearly 400 Afghans it was holding prisoner.

February 12, 2011 

  • Atacks Up U.S. military jets launched 293 attacks on insurgent positions this January, three times as many as in December, and twice as many as a year ago.

February 11, 2011

  • Medicine The US military is using acupuncture with astonishing success to heal battlefield concussions, a major consequence of IEDs.
  • Photo Jodi Bieber won the World Press Photo Prize for her photo of an Afghan woman whose husband had sliced off her ears and nose as punishment for disobedience.
  • Television Plans are underway to open a joint Tajik-Afghan-Iranian television station.

February 10, 201 

  • Prison Bosses  From their cells in Kabul’s main prison, a group of incarcerated Taliban managed to operate a cell of suicide bombers outside the prison.
  • Women’s Shelters  The Afghan government seeks to take over women’s shelters and may incarcerate abused women or return them to their abusers—a concession to Taliban.
  • New Terrorists   Jundallah, an alleged al-Qaeda franchise, claims they have organized new jihadi brigades in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal area, with recruits from Russia, Germany, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkey, Tunisia and Tajikistan.

February 9, 2011 

  • Guantanamo Karzai asked that a Taliban official imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay be released back to Afghanistan to take part in peace talks.
  • Grand Military Strategy A broad new Pentagon strategy report redefines the American military’s global mission. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain on the agenda, but the new strategy calls for the military to help build regional alliances, take the rise of China into account, and plan for the fallout from the global competition for references.
  • Exterminated Town At the height of last years U.S. military campaign in the Arghandab Valley (near Kandahar) 49,200 pounds of American bombs wiped the village of Tarok Kolache out of existence. This was proved by before-and-after pictures posted to a blog. Residents of the town had been moved and survived; but many farmers’ are now without a livelihood and will have no source of income for at least five years

February 18, 2011 

  • Permanent Bases The United States has decided to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
  • Sovereignty Push Karzai, in a push for sovereignty, wants shut down NATO’s Reconstruction and Development Units, which have been working on reconstruction projects in rural Afghanistan. Karzai is also pressing on with his campaign to weaken private security firms in Afghanistan. His government has accused 16 such companies of tax violations and warns that in the future they will be fined for violating government guidelines. Six billion dollars worth of U.S. aid projects are on hold becuaes of this campaign against the private security firms.
  • Moscow Moving  Russia will ship two million tons of fuel to Afghanistan this month, suggesting that Moscow is again a player on the Afghan scene.

February 1, 2011 

  • Asylum Seekers   The Afghan government has denied giving Australia the green light to deport Afghan asylum seekers
  • Power Sharing  Karzai denied that his government is offering to share power with the Taliban insurgents if they will lay down their arms and contest elections.
  • Iran Trade   Now that Iran’s border blockade is over, Iran has agreed to improve cross-border trade with Afghanistan and to ship in 2 million liters of gas a day.
  • Negotiations Delegates from Hekmatyar’s group Hezb-e-Islam plan to visit Kabul to talk with the High Peace Council.
  • Mining Sector  A mine blast injured five Afghan civilians in Kunduz province
  • Kidnappings  Taliban militants kidnapped 21 tribal elders in Kunar whose relatives work for NATO. They also hung a 12-year-old boy accused of spying for NATO.
  • Private Security Firms The Ministry of Interior has disbanded seven private security firms linked to high-ranking Afghan officials.

January 31, 2011 

  • Kabul Bank   Several officers of Kabul Bank have fled the country inches ahead of an investigation into their reckless lending practices, which may have cost the bank $900 million.
  • Parliament  The new Afghan parliament has tried but failed to choose a speaker.
  • Dubious Claim   The police chief of Kunduz claims the province has been cleared of militants.
  • Crime and Punishment  Officials of the Ministry of Interior claim they’re hunting down the men who stoned a young couple to death in Kunduz. The crime was videotaped and shown on Afghan television, but one has been arrested yet.
  • ISI  Pakistan’s ISI allegedly offered an Afghan journalist over a million dollars to assassinate the Indian ambassador in Afghanistan.

January 30, 2011 

  • Children   Afghanistan will sign a United Nations ban on recruiting children into its police forces and on military commanders using boys for sex.
  • Exile   Afghanistan’s master tabla player Asif Mahmoud has returned to Kabul from exile in Britain.

January 29, 2011 

  • Resources An Afghan company will invest $50 million in Baghlan’s Qarazaghan gold mine. Wahidullah Shahrani said government will set up a special battalion to ensure security for mine industry. A few days earlier, US forces shot two Afghan workers at a stone mine in Logar.

 January 28, 2011 

  • Bombings A bomb timed to inflict maximum civilian casualties exploded in a grocery popular with Western shoppers. Insurgents said they meant to kill the “chief of Blackwater” They did kill eight civilians including three unnamed Western women and political science professor Hamida Barmaki, a member of the Afghan Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber killed the deputy governor of Kandahar province.
  • Costs The proposal to double Afghanistan’s military by next years will cost an extra $2 billion a year
  • Foreign Troops Dutch lawmakers agreed to send troops and police trainers to northern Afghanistan. German lawmakers have approved a 12-month extension of Germany’s unpopular Afghanistan mission.
  • RIP Famous movie actor Akram Khorami, a 30-year veteran of Afghan cinema, has died.

 January 27, 2011 

  • Christians Christian organizations are pressing Afghanistan to release two men who converted to Christianity and face possible execution on “apostasy” charges.
  • Refugees Ninety-one Afghan refuges have been stranded in Indonesia when storms swamped their small boat.

January 26, 2011 

  • Parliament   President Hamid Karzai opened Afghanistan’s parliament.
  • Charity  Bill Gates and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi have pledged $100 million to deliver vaccines to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • War Crime  The court-martial of Sergeant Gibbs, a U.S. infantryman charged with forming a “murder club” to kill Afghan civilians for sport, will begin on April 4.

January 25, 2011 

  • Resources  Afghanistan has invited Indian companies to bid on extracting iron ore from Bamiyan province.
  • Pacifist  Events were held across Pakistan and Afghanistan to commemorate legendary Pushtoon peace activist Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, who died 23 years ago on this date.

January 24, 2011 

  • Irony   Former ISI honcho Amir Tarar died of a heart attack in captivity. Tarar helped create the Taliban but was himself kidnapped in Waziristan last March by Islamist rebels. Taliban/al-Qaeda bombings have killed 4,000 people in three-and-a-half years.
  • Blockade   Iran has ended its one-month, never-explained blockade of Afghanistan. Tankers trucks have begun crossing the border with much needed fuel for Afghans.
  • Resignation    U.S. Special Inspector Arnold Fields, charged with overseeing reconstruction expenditure, has quit. He says 884 projects valued at $11.4 billion are planned for next two years and 133 are finished, but only 78 are going and 673 have not even started

January 23, 2011  

  • Parliament  Karzai has allowed the new parliament to convene. Earlier, he had demanded that it be postpone until all election fraud charges were settled, but the newly elected members vowed to convene anyway. The face-off looked like it might trigger ethnic violence—an outcome that may or may not now have been averted.
  • Bin Laden   A message purportedly from Osama bin Laden says French hostages held in Afghanistan won’t be released until France withdraws all its troops from the country.
  • Russia  Karzai visited Moscow for bilateral talks with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev said Russia will build new hydroelectric power stations for the country and “support” Afghanistan after the withdrawal of Western troops. Russia already has an exclusive contract to supply Afghanistan with military helicopters.
  • Drugs  Opium prices in Afghanistan more than doubled last year after disease cut production in half. The anti-drug campaign is flagging as high prices lure farmers back to opium cultivation.

January 17, 2011  

  • American Contractors   The Afghan government is trying to tax U.S. contractors operating there – an effort that could raise millions for the cash-strapped government
  • Fuel Blockade   Demonstrations protesting Iran’s fuel blockade of Afghanistan entered a second day. The blockade has driven food, fuel, and even medicine prices sharply up in Afghanistan, and Afghans are responding with country-wide demonstrations.
  • American Politicians   Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, and six other GOP senators are visiting Afghanistan and Pakistan. Romney told 120 school children about the benefits of democracy.
  • Afghan Security Forces   America plans to nearly double Afghanistan’s army and police forces to 378,000 by October 2012.
  • Refugee Misery   A cargo ship full of Afghan migrants sank in heavy seas off the Greek island of Corfu, and 21 are missing, presumed dead. Australia meanwhile has announced that it will start deporting thousands of Afghan asylum seekers back to Afghanistan.

January 14, 2011  

  • Girls’ Schooling   Education minister Farooq Wardak says the Taliban are ready to drop their ban on educating girls.
  • Collateral Damage   A coalition military operation under way in Kandahar has caused about 100 million dollars worth of damage, including the complete eradication of a small town near Kandahar. In the last two months, NATO has paid $1.4 million to Afghans in this area as compensation for their losses.
  • Friendship Project   A private school in L.A. plans to send backpacks filled with school supplies to Afghanistan, a project sponsored by nonprofit Spirit of America.