We are blogging the latest news about America's war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Email us at AfPak [at] huffingtonpost.com. Follow Nico on Twitter; follow Nicholas on Twitter. See archives of 'At War' here.
Former U.N head in Afghanistan says Baradar's arrest halted reconciliation. Kai Eide, the former U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, told The Associated Press that Pakistan's arrest of Mullah Baradar--the Taliban's no. 2 leader--disrupted the U.N.'s discussions with the Taliban. The arrest has brought reconciliation talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to a halt, according to Eide. As the intensity of contacts between Kabul, the U.N., and the Taliban increased, the Pakistanis stepped up arrests of Taliban leaders hiding in Pakistan, said Eide, hinting that Pakistan's intentions were to disrupt reconciliation. Eide made the revelations because he "always believed that a political process was absolutely required as an integral part of [the U.N.'s] strategy." A Pakistani military spokesman, however, denied that Baradar's arrest was related to the reconciliation talks.
5:00 PM ET -- Afghanistan is the hardest place to be a child. Afghanistan is the hardest country to be a child, reports Reuters. High child mortality rates, poor nutrition, and widespread sexual abuse make Afghanistan the most difficult place to be born. The insecurity, coupled with underdevelopment, has led to a situation where "[m]ore than a quarter of Afghan children -- 257 out of 1,000 -- will die before they reach their fifth birthday."
3:30 PM ET -- Taliban regains control in Kunduz. The Washington Post reports that the Taliban have regained control in Kunduz, a province in northern Afghanistan. Over the past year, insurgents have moved north, fleeing the increased military NATO presence in the south. Kunduz, a province that is half Pushtun, was ripe for a Taliban comeback. The area is also home to the Haqqani network and the Hezb-e-Islami--groups affiliated with the Afghan Taliban. And with just 1,500 police personnel, the Afghan government cannot provide security. The result: "the Taliban [is] performing well as a surrogate government in the absence of any Afghan official presence, [is] dispensing a brand of justice that seemed swift and fair, and [has] tempered some of the more extreme behavior it had shown during its 5 1/2 -year rule in Afghanistan."
From The Washington Post:
Local officials and residents say two of the province's districts are almost completely under Taliban control. There, girls' schools have been closed down, women are largely prohibited from venturing outdoors unless they are covered from head to toe, and residents are forced to pay a religious "tax," usually amounting to 10 percent of their meager wages.
3:00 PM ET -- Karzai's brother seen as obstacle to stability in Kandahar. Afghan President Hamid Karzai's younger half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is an obstacle to peace, writes Tim McGirk of Time. As NATO prepares a military buildup in Kandahar province, politicians, diplomats, and locals are pointing to the nefarious influence of Wali Karzai, who many accuse of involvement in the drug trade and corruption. One former NATO official told McGirk that with Wali Karzai "[y]ou have essentially a criminal enterprise in the guise of government, using us [NATO forces] as its enforcing arm." Wali Zarzai cannot, however, be brushed aside by NATO. He is the brother of the president, chief of the provincial council, and, by some accounts, a key CIA source. But his influence and abuse of power complicates matters for NATO as it prepares to secure Kandahar and to win over Afghans. McGirk notes that the locals are turning to the Taliban for protection from Wali Karzai, and the Taliban refuse to talk with Kabul unless the younger Karzai is reined in.
1:00 PM ET -- Afghans worry about un-Islamic showing of female flesh on TV. Afghanistan's Minister of Information and Culture has told TV broadcasters and cable operators to abide by Islamic morality, worrying that some of the content was harmful to young people. According to Dawn, Afghan law permits the ministry to fine and shutdown broadcasters and operators who show racy images of women. In the conservative country, "TV stations employ full-time pixilators, charged with adding blurry blotches over bare arms, legs, necklines and midriffs. But if you watch long enough, you can easily spot a swaying elbow, a naked ankle or even an exposed strip of waist." Many cable operators, however, usually skirt government regulations.
12:45 PM ET -- Peace in Afghanistan could be hampered if there's no justice. Vanessa Gezari reports for Slate from Camp Parsa, Afghanistan, where she describes the close cooperation between Afghan and American soldiers. Despite concerns about the capacity of Afghanistan's security forces--and their ability to take over once U.S. troops begin withdrawing--Gezari worries that, perhaps, there is too much of an emphasis on training the army, and not enough on civilian institutions. She points out that the "civilian surge" of USAID, State Department, and Department of Agriculture representatives, whose numbers are expected to triple, pale in comparison to the thousands of troops destined for Afghanistan. And while Gezari sees the merits of the U.S. military's development efforts, she believes that local government and legal institutions are being neglected. "Fixing the justice system is probably the most important element of the fight in Afghanistan," because the Taliban exploit the absence of the judiciary to win over the locals. There aren't enough public prosecutors and judges to enforce laws, and corruption is rampant. Gezari tells the story of one Afghan widow, who losing in court to a rich man who had bribed the judge, went to the Taliban in Pakistan, and they "went and blew up some small building the guy had built."
12:30 PM ET -- Pakistan's Pushtun tribes plan to oppose the Taliban. Twenty of the largest tribes in Pakistan's tribal areas and North West Frontier Province will hold a jirga--or meeting--to to decide on a strategy to oppose the Taliban in the region. As the Pakistani military plans to transfer control to the tribes, it hopes that cooperation between the tribal elders will reduce violence in the area. Tribal leaders told Bloomberg's Anwar Shakir that the goal of the jirga is to mobilize their tribes against militants.
Pakistan is pushing for cooperation from the tribes to help quell violence that has claimed more than 900 lives in nationwide suicide bombings and gun battles since 28,000 troops launched an offensive in South Waziristan in October. At least 3,000 tribal leaders have been killed by the Taliban since 2004, according to Peshawar-based Amn Tehrik.
The Taliban's capability to wage nationwide terror strikes from South Waziristan has been minimized, Army Spokesman Athar Abbas said in a Feb. 23 interview. The military drove Taliban militants from the Swat Valley in a 10-week campaign that started in May.
10:30 AM ET -- Rogue DoD officials alleges Gen. Kiernan gave him the green light. The Defense Department official accused of misusing funds to set-up an unauthorized intelligence operations alleges that General David McKiernan, the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, permitted him to carry out his activities, according to The Washington Post. David Furlong is described as a rogue senior DoD official who privatized intelligence work--a violation of a Reagan-era executive order--by hiring contractors to gather specific information about Taliban hideouts along the Afpak frontier. The specifics of Furlong's activities remain unclear, but some have said that his program provided information to target and kill insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan; military officials, however, deny that his operation progressed that far. In an interview to the San Antonio Express News, Furlong denied that he and his hired contractors misused the $24.8 million, and claimed that Gen. McKiernan had directed him to provide a "commercial information service that would enhance our situation understanding of the environment."