Seven days that shook Afghanistan

Seven days that shook Afghanistan

The darker currents that have undercut the American-led war in this country have surfaced often over the past eight years, but rarely have so many come into view all at once.

In the space of a single week, a string of disturbing military and political events revealed not just the extraordinary burdens that lie ahead for the Americans and Afghans toiling to create a stable nation, but the fragility of the very enterprise itself.

On Tuesday, four American soldiers on patrol near in the southern city of Kandahar were killed when their armored vehicle, known as a Stryker, struck a homemade bomb, now the preferred killer of American troops. Their deaths brought the toll of foreign soldiers killed this year to 295, making 2009 the bloodiest so far for the American-led coalition. Of the dead, 175 were American — also the most for a single year since the war began. There are still four months left in the year, and the toll keeps rising. [continued…]

Increasing accounts of fraud cloud Afghan vote

A Kabul teacher assigned to run a polling station in this village arrived at 6 a.m. on Election Day to find the ballot boxes already full, well before the voting was to start. When he protested, the other election officials told him to let it go; when he refused, he was taken away by the local tribal chieftain’s bodyguards.

Now he is in hiding and receiving threats, he said. And the village’s polling place is under investigation in one of the most serious reports of fraud that officials worry could affect the results of the country’s Aug. 20 elections — in this case, as in many others, in favor of President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan election officials said Sunday that the serious fraud reports that they were considering had suddenly doubled — to 550 from 270, in a development likely to stoke public outrage and perhaps even delay the official results past September. By law, each of the more serious cases, out of more than 2,000 complaints of irregularities so far, must be investigated before the elections results can be certified. [continued…]

Many women stayed away from the polls in Afghanistan

Five years ago, with the country at peace, traditional taboos easing and Western donors pushing for women to participate in democracy, millions of Afghan women eagerly registered and then voted for a presidential candidate. In a few districts, female turnout was even higher than male turnout.

But on Aug. 20, when Afghans again went to the polls to choose a president, that heady season of political emancipation seemed long gone. This time, election monitors and women’s activists said, a combination of fear, tradition, apathy and poor planning conspired to deprive many Afghan women of rights they had only recently begun to exercise.

With insurgents threatening to attack polling places and voters, especially in the rural south, many families kept their women home on election day, even if the men ventured out to vote. In cities, some segregated female polling rooms were nearly empty, and many educated women who had voted or even worked at polling stations in previous elections decided not to risk going out this time. [continued…]

Organized crime in Pakistan feeds Taliban

Taliban fighters have long used this city of 17 million as a place to regroup, smuggle weapons and even work seasonal jobs. But recently they have discovered another way to make fast money: organized crime.

The police here say the Taliban, working with criminal groups, are using Mafia-style networks to kidnap, rob banks and extort, generating millions of dollars for the militant insurgency in northwestern Pakistan.

“There is overwhelming evidence that it’s an organized policy,” said Dost Ali Baloch, assistant inspector general of the Karachi police.

Jihadi-linked crime has surfaced in other Pakistani cities, like Lahore. But Karachi, the central nervous system of Pakistan’s economy, and home to its richest businessmen, is the hub. It has been free of the bombings that have tormented Pakistan’s other major cities this year, and some officials believe that is the result of a calculated strategy. [continued…]

U.S. sets metrics to assess war success

The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.

Administration officials are conducting what one called a “test run” of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories — including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources — with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.

Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of “clear benchmarks” and no “blank check.” [continued…]

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