Why are Afghans Celebrating Independence Day?
By Nemat Sadat -

One of the biggest myths in Afghanistan’s modern history is the idea that Afghans gained independence from a foreign power. Indeed, Afghanistan first entered the Westphalian system as a modern nation when it became a unified state in 1747. Since Afghanistan’s inception, Afghans have trumped all attempts of colonial intervention. Afghanistan fought three major wars with British Raj in India and in each battle Afghans triumphed to protect their national autonomy. While Pax Britannica’s dominance as a world power stretched the globe, Afghanistan was never occupied by the British. So what exactly are Afghans celebrating today in a tradition that began ninety-four years ago?

August 19 marks the day to commemorate the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919 which allowed Afghanistan the opportunity to freely exercise its own foreign relations with the rest of the world. After the third successive defeat of the British, which coincided with the decline of the hegemon, there was no other choice than to negotiate a settlement with the Afghan regime in Kabul. It was after the second Anglo-Afghan War that the British were given control of Afghanistan’s foreign affairs in exchange for protection against Russian and Persian intrusion into Afghanistan’s domestic affairs. But the British backed down on their own promise when they continued to escalate hostilities and waged another war against Afghanistan. So the question remains, why must Afghans celebrate Independence Day just to please the crushed ego of a British emporium?

It appears that the whole notion of an Afghan Independence Day is a historical lie that continues to be perpetuated by those who manipulated the facts. “Although I do like to celebrate the fact that Afghanistan is an independent nation, there is no specific date at which Afghanistan became independent,” says Mushtaq S, an undergraduate student at the American University of Afghanistan.

It is an undoubted truth that Afghanistan is one of only three countries in the world (along with China and Ethiopia) to have neither been a colonial power nor colonized. In blood and treasure, the ancestors of Afghanistan suffered huge losses to remain a fiercely independent and a unified nation. Recognizing and respecting the integrity of our ancestors who resisted foreign domination, Afghans should as a courtesy consider ceasing the celebration of the August 19 holiday that has been dubiously and wrongfully imposed on them following the Third Anglo-Afghan War. There are several ways Afghans can take a stand. For starters, they could boycott the military parade and air shows planned in various cities across Afghanistan and save the fireworks for another festive occasion. The Afghan government must rewrite history in a manner that boosts the self-image of Afghans to accurately reflect historic facts. Confusing the masses is no longer acceptable in a world where access to information provides us firsthand knowledge to the truth.

As the ancient adage goes, “History is always written by the victors.” In the context of Afghanistan, the Afghans were the victors who protected their territoriality and thrice defeated British subjugation. At the very least, they deserve to be given the dignity they deserve and the right to have their cultural heritage protected and restored.

Nemat Sadat is an aspiring novelist and a frequent contributor on Huff Post Live. He is a former Professor of Political Science at the American University of Afghanistan and has worked at ABC News, CNN and the United Nations. He can be followed on Twitter @nematsadat. The views expressed here are his own.


Clamp Down Post-2014 Expectations: How Should President Obama & President Karzai Sell Their Post-2014 Strategy?
By: Atta Nasib

— The current negotiations between the U.S. and Afghanistan for a security agreement that would outline terms of the American follow-on presence provide an opportunity to ratchet down the rhetoric and settle on provisions that might strengthen public confidence on both sides for an ongoing relationship.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to meet with President Obama in Washington this week. This visit has fuelled speculation over whether and how the White House might finally outline a more coherent strategy to end the war in Afghanistan and support its fledgling democracy for the foreseeable future.

No matter what kind of plan emerges, the wave of public optimism or pessimism in Afghanistan and the U.S. will rest mainly on the way the two nations’ leaders frame and subsequently sell the plan.

Conversely, media hype might raise expectations too high, as happened last May, when Afghan news outlets talked about the broader U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Agreement as if it were a defense treaty because it gave Afghanistan the status of a “major non-NATO ally.” This designation, however, was meant to allow Afghanistan to be ‘eligible for bilateral military training, and to qualify for loans of military equipment,’ notes the State Department.

The current phase of negotiations will require more careful delineation and some transparency to bring expectations to reality while at the same time reassuring the public in both countries. Already, President Karzai is demanding what some Americans might consider unrealistic.

In a joint press conference with visiting Secretary Panetta in Kabul on December 13, Karzai said he is willing to persuade the Afghan public of the U.S. requirement of legal immunity for any troops present in Afghanistan after 2014. However, Karzai first wants assurances that the U.S. will “support Afghanistan, equip Afghanistan, give us a good army, a good air force, and a good ability to protect Afghan interests in the region for the protection of the Afghan people.”

In response, the White House is mulling recommendations made by Marine Corps General John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, for a residual force after 2014 that would train Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and support counterterrorism operations. The NY Times and the Wall Street Journal have quoted anonymous U.S. officials as estimating that number to be between 3,000 and 10,000.

The next step will be determining how to draw down to that size from the approximately 68,000 American forces in Afghanistan currently. Undoubtedly, other NATO troops in the coalition will cut their numbers proportionately.

The decisions follow a year of relentlessly negative news about conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. The persistent government corruption, conflicting reports about security gains and devastating reports of insider attacks by Afghan forces on coalition troops has poisoned American attitudes toward U.S. presence in Afghanistan. President Karzai’s fiery rhetoric to accuse American and other coalition soldiers of fueling the insurgency is the icing on the cake and a bitter pill among Washington insiders.

These reports have transformed U.S. public opinion. Four years ago, Americans supported President Obama’s view of the conflict as the “war of necessity” or the “good war.” Now they see it as an unwinnable battle meriting no sentiment stronger than “let’s get the heck out of there ASAP.”

The non-partisan, independent research group PollingReport.com recently released results showing that more than 60 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should remove troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

In November 2012, the U.S. Senate weighed in with a 62-33 non-binding vote to accelerate the troop withdrawal after 11 years of fighting.

In turn, the war-weariness in the U.S. has led many Afghans to panic, with some inclined to flee abroad for fear of continuously deteriorating security condition with the exit of most American troops by the end of 2014. A recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) found that the operational capabilities of ANSF are limited without the support of foreign troops. The report underscores that Afghan Security Forces should continue to be backed by the Americans.

As for President Obama, analysts believe his re-election gives him political space to pull through with his previous agenda of withdrawing most troops by the end of 2014 that would allow him to leave behind a minimal military and civilian presence in an advisory capacity. The U.S. and its allies already have pledged at least $4 billion a year to support the Afghan security forces and an equal amount to help support Afghanistan’s economy.

Should that fail, Afghans will be looking for a post-2014 American presence sufficient to root out extremist organizations and support the Afghan security forces. Without that, security transition will be marred by the same failures that followed the Soviet Withdrawal in late 1980s.

President Karzai provided some reason for confidence from his side with his pledge last year to step down in 2014 rather than wrest more time in office in violation of the constitutional limit of two four-year terms in office.

The onus is now on the Obama administration to put forward a strategy that will close, or at least narrow, the gaps in perceptions between Afghans and the foreigners who are supporting them. Americans need to understand their interests in thwarting the lingering threats posed by the extremists still operating in the region and in Afghanistan. Ultimately, Afghans want reassurance that the U.S. will continue to help them ensure that civil war becomes a distant memory.

Atta Nasib is a member of the Afghan Analytica outreach team. The views expressed here are his own.


Iran’s Aggressive Campaign to Undermine U.S. Efforts in Afghanistan
By Ahmad Khalid Majidyar –

As the U.S. winds down its combat mission in Afghanistan, Iran has launched aggressive hard-power and soft-power campaigns to speed up the U.S. troop withdrawal and expand its influence in post-2014 Afghanistan. American and Afghan officials say Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has increased not only material and financial aid to the Taliban, but also its soft-power efforts to incite anti-American sentiments and derail a potential security agreement between Kabul and Washington. Iran is worried that a postwar military presence in Afghanistan would give the U.S. a strategic intelligence and military advantage amid heightened tension between Washington and Tehran over the latter’s controversial nuclear program.

Two days before President Hamid Karzai left for Washington to hold talks with President Barack Obama over America’s future role in Afghanistan on Monday, Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, traveled to Kabul to meet with Karzai and his senior aides and convey Tehran’s opposition to any American military footprint in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Jalili pledged Iran’s continued support for the Afghan government and called for all “aliens” to leave Afghanistan.

Since the fall of the Taliban 11 years ago, Iran has pursued a double-faced policy in Afghanistan. While Tehran has fostered close ties with Kabul and contributed to Afghanistan’s reconstruction, the IRGC’s shadowy Quds Force has provided weapons and monetary assistance to groups affiliated with the Taliban. The Quds Force is responsible for the IRGC’s external special operations and was engaged in a proxy battle against American forces at the peak of insurgency in Iraq. The Ansar Corps, a Quds Force subcommand based in the Iranian city of Mashhad, is responsible for the agency’s operations in Afghanistan. On August 3, 2010, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned General Hossein Musavi, the commander of Ansar Corps, for providing financial support to the Taliban. Afghan officials say Tehran has recently allowed the Taliban to open an office in Mashhad and accuse the Quds Force of running terrorism training camps in the Iranian provinces of Khorasan, Kerman and Sistan va Baluchistan. Recently, Afghan authorities arrested Iranian agents in Kabul and western provinces of Herat, Farah and Nimroz on espionage charges. NATO officials also claim that the Quds Force has recently provided the insurgents with new, more sophisticated weapons.

While U.S. and NATO officials often complain about the IRGC’s support for the Taliban, Iran’s growing soft-power influence in Afghanistan is largely neglected. The Iranian government uses a wide range of soft-power tools such as charity work, religious projects, media programs, refugee deportations, economic influence, and political and diplomatic means to influence policy in Kabul and undermine U.S. interests in the region.

In recent years, Tehran has systematically used Afghan refugees as a bargaining tool for its political ends in Afghanistan. Whenever Kabul’s policies upset Tehran, Iranian officials threaten to expel all Afghan refugees. Last year, Iran’s ambassador to Afghanistan sparked a diplomatic row between the two neighbors after he threatened Afghan lawmakers to reject the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) with the United States or his country would expel all Afghan refugees immediately. Iran understands that Afghanistan cannot absorb over 2 million returnees under current security and economic hardships. Iran’s forced deportation of Afghan refugees, often without prior consultation with the Afghan government, has at times resulted in political crises in Kabul as well as security and humanitarian problems in western provinces. Mass expulsions also provide a cover for insurgent infiltration into Afghanistan. Unless the U.S. devises a development strategy to help the Afghan government accommodate the returnees, the Iranian government will continue to play the refugee card against the Kabul government, which is often at the expense of U.S. interests.

Moreover, Iran’s political clout is ubiquitous within the Afghan government. U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks showed that senior Afghan officials at the Presidential Palace and ministries, some members of parliament, and religious leaders are on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian embassy in Kabul bribes Afghan lawmakers to raise anti-American talking points, such as civilian casualties, at parliamentary discussions and urge them to reject a postwar U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Davood Moradian, the director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), says Iran spends $100 million annually on funding media, religious and cultural organizations. One-third of Afghanistan’s media outlets are said to receive direct aid from Iran. As Afghan and U.S. diplomats are negotiating the terms of a bilateral security agreement, the pro-Iran media inside Afghanistan is busy depicting such a deal as fruitless and warning the Afghans of its consequences.

As the United States and NATO are scaling down involvement in Afghanistan, Iran is doubling down on its soft-power efforts to fill the void. Suffering from crippling sanctions, fearing a potential military strike by the United States or Israel, and concerned about losing its closest regional ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Iran’s increased focus on Afghanistan may be part of the country’s efforts to mitigate the effects of international isolation and also use support for the Taliban elements as a countermeasure against the United States.
After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan’s neighbors, primarily Pakistan and Iran, increased arming and supporting their proxy groups for regional influence. The result was a protracted civil war that allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to establish their rule over 90 percent of Afghan territory. If the United States and its allies repeat the mistake of disengaging from Afghanistan precipitously, Afghanistan could yet again become a proxy battleground between regional countries and a nucleus for global terrorism, with dire consequences for the United States and the world.

Ahmad Khalid Majidyar is a Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on South Asia and the Middle East.


Afghan Higher Education: A Chronicle of Control, Ideology, and Resistance to Reform

Dr. Sharif Fayez -

Afghanistan’s higher education, which started with Kabul Medical Faculty in 1932 – long before the official creation of Kabul University (KU) in 1946 – has faced many barriers, particularly during the last three decades of war, sectarian violence and ideological conflicts. However, for more than a decade (1964–1976), KU and a few other regional institutions enjoyed significant progress in quality, academic openness, and governance. This was a peaceful period when KU enjoyed the presence of about 100 international academics teaching and conducting research in various fields. Hundreds of brilliant graduates of KU continued their studies at European and US universities and many of the creative minds and competent leaders of the county belong to that golden period.

The decline began with the Communist Coup of 1978 and, more dramatically, the Soviet Invasion of the country in 1979 when most of the western-educated Afghan academics began to leave the country. The invasion and communist ideology, which bred leftist and Islamic extremism and thus polarized the campuses and society in general, brutally radicalized the higher education institutions. During the occupation, all the institutions – constantly harassed by the regime’s security apparatus and violent elements of the ruling communist party – were isolated from their communities. For the sake of more effective control, the regime began to fragment the higher education system into smaller units, with thousands of students from Kabul-based universities and regional institutions being sent to the Soviet Union and its satellite states.

The continued control of Afghan higher education by different regimes, particularly the ideological ones, has been largely responsible for hindering change and reform. Although Afghanistan is now enjoying a new democratic era, the legacy of government control is still lingering and hampering any type of major reform. Reluctance on the part of the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) and its major institutions to ignore the implementation of the Strategic Higher Education Plan, and approve the New Higher Education Law, with several other reform documents drafted between 2003–2004, largely stems from the government’s resistance to the decentralization of the higher education system, which is considered to be the most outdated in the world. However, the government has almost lost control over the emerging private higher education, proliferating during the last two years, and it has failed to introduce an effective monitoring mechanism aimed at enhancing quality assurance and requiring transparency.

It is perhaps for the same reason that the largest and oldest university in the country – Kabul University – is still unfamiliar with such important academic terms as academic freedom, institutional autonomy, board of trustees, accreditation, etc., not to mention the application of such ideas. It can be argued that most of these problems have their roots in ideological regimes, which often controlled higher education and used it as a political tool to perpetuate their rule. After all, a significant number of top officials in the government, including several education ministers and heads of universities were affiliated with leftist and fundamentalist regimes.

Since the fall of the Taliban, during the last nine years, Afghan tertiary education has dramatically increased its enrollments from about 4,000 students to about 90,000 students in 2010 (70,000 in public institutions and about 20,000 in private institutions). Today there are 23 public institutions and 32 private ones throughout the country. The public sector is still outdated and underfunded, with a small percentage of doctoral faculties (6%). Similarly the for-profit private sector is also suffering from lack of quality and standardization, and good governance. However, the private sector has organized itself in response to market needs, offering skills and other practical courses. As a new phenomenon, the private sector is dramatically expanding, but without any strategy for assuring quality. For many of these institutions making a profit is the priority, not building infrastructure and enhancing quality.

Among these 53 institutions, only the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) – the only not-for-profit private university in the country – is recognized as a leading quality institution. AUAF, which presented its first graduates to Afghan society in 2011, is also preparing to start its accreditation process. It is hoped that AUAF, with its world-class faculties, accomplished leadership and modern facilities, will lead the Afghan higher education system and inspire changes in both the private and public sectors.

In general, Afghan higher education, subjected to unnecessary government control, has failed to have clear objectives and visions. Different regimes, with different political and ideological agenda, have always imposed “ownership” restrictions on these institutions, unwilling to allow them to embark on a fundamental reform course. The government, being the only stakeholder, the only provider and benefactor of the commodity that the public universities produce, has indeed distanced the institutions from the participation of their communities and other possible stakeholders.

The idea of a board of trustees for an Afghan university is interpreted as a conspiracy against the government; the idea of involving a province or a city as a stakeholder for its local university is also interpreted as a plan for undermining the central authority of the Ministry; even the idea of asking the public universities or their students to form their own associations is considered a scheme against the central authority of the Ministry. The government-control mindset rooted in old ideological and dictatorial regimes has been responsible for the status quo of Afghan higher education, which is the most outdated in the world.

Nearly a decade after the fall of the Taliban, the Afghan institutions of higher education are still facing major challenges in the areas of quality assurance, governance, legislation, academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Afghanistan needs a new definition of its higher education system, a clear understanding of its mission, and a modern law and strategy to shape its future course, without which the country cannot expect to grow economically and build its social and democratic institutions.

This overview is based on Dr. Sharif Fayez’s experience as a former student and professor at Kabul University in the latter part of 1960s and early part of the 1970s. As a former minister of Afghanistan’s higher education from 2002 to 2005, he played a direct role in reviving the Afghan higher education. Since 2005, Dr. Fayez along with other stakeholders, has been engaged in setting up and expanding the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and also helping the Afghan private higher education institutions. This study is perhaps the first of its kind in presenting an analytical overview of the Afghan higher education with some of its old challenges still unmet.

For background on Afghan Higher Education, click here

U.S.-Afghan Security Agreement: What’s at Stake?
By Javid Ahmad -

For months, Washington and Kabul have been working towards a bilateral security agreement to set a framework for a lighter U.S. military contingent to remain in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in 2014. President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington next week may provide him and President Obama an opportunity to jointly announce the size and precise role of the follow-on force, expected to be between 6,000 and 20,000 troops. But as the two presidents meet, there are a number of important and contentious issues that are likely to dominate discussions.

Prominent among them is reaching an agreement on legal immunity for U.S. forces from prosecution in local courts, especially if Afghan laws are violated. While exemption from local laws is a standard issue wherever American forces are deployed, President Karzai has opposed granting immunity to U.S. forces unless Washington fulfills some Afghan conditions. These conditions include: respect for Afghan laws and the people; the closure of all U.S.-run detention centers and handover of detainees; ceding control of Afghan airspace to the Afghan government; and training Afghan security forces. U.S. officials are skeptical that any premature release of detainees could be dangerous and also raises the risk of many rejoining the insurgency. However, resolving Afghan disparities with the United States regarding rules for indefinitely holding suspected insurgents without trial is fundamental for the Afghan government as it asserts its sovereignty. Kabul reinforced its point this week by releasing over 80 detainees from custody.

Another important issue may be the number of U.S. military bases the residual forces will need in Afghanistan. Washington has voiced its intentions not to seek permanent bases in Afghanistan and is already handing over 300 bases and outposts to Afghan forces. Nonetheless, both countries still need to reach an agreement on the number of bases the residual forces will occupy, their locations and precise roles, the legal jurisdiction over these bases, and just as importantly, whether any of these bases will be shared with the Afghan forces. Equally important is to determine whether U.S. forces will use the bases to operate armed drones or establish separate drone ground control stations for counterterrorism purposes in Afghanistan.

Regardless of how these issues are ironed out, many Afghans believe that while more than being key venues for upholding security inside Afghanistan, Washington will use its military bases to boost its own interests and monitor regional countries. However, while U.S. military presence in Afghanistan after 2014 has already made a number of regional countries uneasy, the Afghan government will need to do a better job at juggling competing priorities in order to ensure that U.S. forces’ presence does not upset its relations with neighboring countries.

Many compare the U.S.-Afghan security deal discussions with similar U.S. negotiations with Iraq last year that failed and ended American military presence. But despite intractable resistance of the Iraqi government and its people, the situation in Iraq was significantly different than it is in Afghanistan today. At present, the Afghan government is confronted by an uncertain future beyond 2014, aggravated further by rankling insurgency and a resilient enemy, which not only challenges Kabul’s survival on a daily basis but also has undermined its maneuvering power. As well, unlike Iraq that counted on its oil revenue, the Afghan government is not in a position to sustain itself and its nascent security forces without an open-ended commitment in American aid. Hence, Kabul will most likely water down many of its preconditions and ultimately grant U.S. forces legal immunity as part of the security pact.

Nevertheless, President Karzai should make up for it by seeking continued U.S. support for sustenance of Afghan forces to remain operational and effective in combat. As U.S. forces shift away from combat missions, there must also be a corresponding commitment to bolstering Afghan forces. A robust and well-trained security force equipped with necessary weaponry and backed by U.S. forces is essential not only for Afghanistan’s sovereignty but its survival after 2014. Most crucially, when the two presidents meet, they must also ensure that if the U.S. security mission after 2014 is closely focused on counterterrorism operations, any continuing U.S. training and advising to Afghan forces will be sternly undermined and could derail the ability of Afghan forces.

The United States and Afghanistan are codependent and much is at stake unless such an agreement is finalized. While Washington sees its own national security priorities in Afghanistan, Kabul needs a security partnership with Washington to ensure its long-term security and assistance to Afghan security forces. As President Obama and President Karzai meet to discuss a shared vision for Afghanistan beyond 2014, they should ensure that the months-long negotiations between Washington and Kabul over important, but still relatively marginal issues, do not hamper reaching a pact that best serves the interests of both countries.

Javid Ahmad, a founding member of Afghan Analytica, is a Program Coordinator for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC. The views reflected here are his own.

Nader Naderi on transition in 2014

Light News Bites

• Days before a planned visit by President Karzai to Islamabad, Afghan and Pakistani national soccer teams met for a match in Kabul—their first such contest in 37 years. A capacity crowd of around 7,000 filled the stadium amid heavy security. The Afghan side's 3-0 victory touched off a raucous street celebration, boosting Afghan national pride as foreign forces withdraw, international aid dries up and the Pakistani-backed insurgency keeps up its attacks. (WSJ)
At the sentencing hearing of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, Haji Mohammed Naim, 60, from the village where Bales killed 16 civilians in March 2012 testified: "That bastard stood right in front of me, I wanted to ask him: 'What did I do? What have I done to you?'" A jury will decide whether Bales will get life in prison or be eligible for parole. His guilty plea in June means Bales won't face the death penalty. (Newswires)
• On August 8th the Afghan Air Force (AAF) conducted its first independent air assault operation. In the past AAF helicopters were part of larger NATO air operations and under NATO command. Operating from Jalalabad airfield, over a dozen AAF helicopters (Mi-17 armed transports and Mi-35 gunships) worked with a brigade of Afghan infantry to clear two districts under the Taliban rule.. (Strategy Page)
• A music concert organized last week in Afghanistan’s central Bamyan province to mark International Youth Day drew an audience of thousands from all over the country. Masoud Hassanzada, singer for the rock band ‘Morcha’ said: “We perform rock music is a new way… but people understand our messages. The poetry we use is about the daily life of Afghans, social issues and politics.” He added: “I think no political process can be successful without cultural support.” (UNAMA)
• Afghan Attorney-General Muhammad Isaaq Aloko has kept his job despite a decision by an angry President Hamid Karzai to sack him over an unauthorized approach to the Taliban. Aleko denies the claim. (Reuters)