Dramatic’ Taliban resurgence detailed

ZNet | Afghanistan
by Alan Freeman; Globe and Mail; June 18, 2007

Ottawa — An analysis of the situation in Afghanistan last fall prepared for top levels of the Canadian government warned that the country was becoming “two Afghanistans” with the situation in the fractious South and West continuing to deteriorate and the position of President Hamid Karzai “weakening to a new low.”

This grim assessment of Afghan reality was prepared last November by the International Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office, which effectively acts as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government department.

A series of heavily censored documents prepared by the PCO were obtained by The Globe and Mail after Access to Information requests by information expert Jeff Esau.

The briefing notes, with the author’s name, were apparently intended for Gregory Fyffe, executive director of the 60-strong assessment unit, and were prepared after Canadian NATO troops based in Kandahar in the volatile southern region had suffered several bloody months of combat.

“The Taliban resurgence has been dramatic,” stated a document dated Nov. 9, 2006.

It describes how the faltering insurgency was given a huge boost by support from sources in Pakistan, the Gulf states and “Jihadi-minded groups and individuals.”

“The unpredicted success that suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) had in southern Afghanistan last winter further reinforced the spiralling growth of financial assistance, recruitment, training, equipping and morale improvement” of the Taliban, it said, noting that insurgent spirits were particularly raised with the high-profile shooting down of several helicopters.

The paper was slightly more upbeat when it came to analyzing the threat that the insurgency could spread throughout the country, noting that the Taliban lacked popular support in regions outside the South. But it did consider the consequences if NATO failed in its mission, mulling the possibility that the Taliban could “prevail in the South because of a successful propaganda effort that politically forces NATO out of that area.”

Because of expanding poppy cultivation and the growing insurgency, the analysis noted, the deterioration of security had effectively created “two Afghanistans” with the North and West advancing while the South and East remain “fractious and relatively stagnant.”

As for Mr. Karzai, the PCO analysis noted that his leadership is “continuously challenged and eroded by the many problems facing Afghanistan and the complex relationships over which he has no control. Consequently, Karzai’s support may be weakening to a new low.”

It adds that Mr. Karzai faces “questions of legitimacy for his governance team – both in Kabul and out in the provinces.”

The blunt analysis of the situation is in stark contrast with other Afghan-related documents released at the same time by the PCO and which consist of upbeat “messages and storylines” about how well things were going in Afghanistan and how there were “signs of progress, unthinkable only a few years ago.” These messages are clearly aimed at bolstering shaky public support for the mission.

“By supporting the rebuilding of institutions such as independent courts, police and the army, Canada is on the ground laying the foundation for Afghans to govern themselves and secure a better future,” one of the documents said.

In contrast, the more candid PCO assessment notes only “mixed success” in reforming the Afghan justice system and addressing “a culture of immunity among major warlords, criminals, drug lords and political figures.” And it calls Afghan security forces “weak and undeveloped.”

TWO TAKES

On reconstruction

‘We are making significant progress in Afghanistan. Canadian, Afghan and international reconstruction efforts have yielded positive results.’

Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, Nov. 10, 2006

‘The lack of tangible reconstruction in the South (but not in the North) only served to prove the point that the writ of the … government in Kabul was weak … in Pashtun areas.’

International Assessment Staff report, Nov. 9, 2006

On Afghan institutions

‘In the five years since the fall of the Taliban regime, Afghans have taken control of their destiny. They have done so by voting for it in peaceful presidential and parliamentary elections; by establishing institutions to provide services to Afghans …’

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in op-ed article signed with Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende, Nov. 28, 2006

‘The five major elements of Security Sector Reform have had mixed success. Justice Sector Reform has been slow in making a difference that could demonstrate progress in addressing a culture of immunity among major warlords, criminals, drug lords and political figures.’

International Assessment Staff report, Nov. 9, 2006

On illegal activity

‘We will continue to vigorously support Afghan efforts to strengthen the rule of law, tackle corruption and take action against illegal narcotics.’

Mr. Harper and Mr. Balkenende, Nov. 28, 2006

‘The expanding opium cultivation crisis is pervasive and increasingly linked to the rebounding insurgency, especially in southern Afghanistan.’

International Assessment Staff report, Nov. 9, 2006

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