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Wednesday, May 11

An Irish Shaggy Dog story, or one of the two reasons the Afghan War has dragged on forever

Michael Semple

Technically, a Shaggy Dog story should never be consigned to writing in order to thwart people who want to jump to the punch-line, thus invalidating the point of a long and completely pointless joke. Yet for those with sporting instinct and stamina perhaps fortified by the strongest brew available the reward for not jumping ahead is that they can inflict the story on others. So in an effort to throw the spoilsports off the scent I'll give away the punch-line here, which is that only Hungarians should be allowed to wage war. For readers who've already jumped ahead and want to know what this has to do with Piglet, the only way to find out would be to read everything between the beginning and end of the tale.

London, July 7, 2005, aftermath of Muslim terrorist bombing

June 13, 2006, Quotes from a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown MP, at the Islamic Finance and Trade Conference, London:
Assalamu alaykum. Let me start by saying what a pleasure it is to be here this morning at this important and groundbreaking conference, a conference that not only brings together so many distinguished leaders in commerce, business and community life, but sets the important long term ambition -- and an ambition that I share with you -- to make Britain the gateway to Islamic finance and trade.
[T]he foundation for making Britain the gateway to Islamic trade, is to make Britain the global centre for Islamic finance.
Today British banks are pioneering Islamic banking -- London now has more banks supplying services under Islamic principles than any other Western financial centre.
September 29, 2006:
Taliban attacks double after Pakistan's deal with militants

By Declan Walsh in Kabul
The (U.K.) Guardian

Taliban attacks along Afghanistan's southeastern border have more than doubled in the three weeks since a controversial deal between Pakistan and pro-Taliban militants, the US military said yesterday.
On Wednesday George Bush hosted a dinner to try to mend fences between Gen Musharraf and Mr Karzai. Western allies worry that deteriorating relations between the two are affecting their ability to quell the Taliban insurgency. It is of particular concern to Britain and Canada, who have lost 32 soldiers in fighting since July 1.

A meeting at Chequers yesterday between President Musharraf and Tony Blair was overshadowed by a leaked Ministry of Defence document that suggested Pakistan's ISI intelligence agency was supporting the Taliban.

The BBC also quoted the document as saying: "Pakistan is not currently stable but on the edge of chaos."

Gen Musharraf angrily denied the allegations. "I totally, 200 percent, reject it," he said. "ISI is a disciplined force, breaking the back of al-Qaida."

Downing Street reassured him that the leaked document "did not reflect the views of the government", while the MoD tried to play down the importance of the paper, saying it was merely research notes and did not represent official policy.[...]
January 19, 2008:
Talking to the wrong people

By Syed Saleem Shahzad
Asia Times Online

KABUL - Within a few weeks, Britain's Paddy Ashdown [born in British Colonial India, raised mostly in Northern Ireland; worked for MI6 during one period of his life] takes up a new job as the United Nations' special envoy to Afghanistan. Even with his experience in the strife-torn Balkans, he will have his work cut out in not repeating the mistakes that have been made over the past seven years since the Taliban were ousted from power.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates does not think the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is doing its job properly in Afghanistan. "It needs to do a better job in training for counter-insurgency," he said in hard-hitting comments this week. The US solution is to throw more muscle at the problem. The Pentagon announced this week that 3,200 Marine Corps would beef up the US presence to 30,000. To date, the military option has not worked.

The British approach, and some some extent the US's, has been centered on engaging the Taliban, but without Taliban leader Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda-linked elements. This, too, has not worked.

Lord Ashdown's test will be to learn from this, mindful that the Taliban are the most powerful reality of today's Afghanistan.

The desire to talk

Throughout 2007, the British Embassy in Kabul under Sherard Cowper Coles made desperate overtures in southwestern Afghanistan to find a political solution with the Taliban, but without Mullah Omar. Multiple clandestine operations were launched and millions of dollars were funneled to the Taliban.

However, it all came to nothing and only caused serious differences between the two major allies - Britain and the US. And all the time the Taliban consolidated their position in the south.

The case of Irishman Michael Semple, who was acting head of the European Union mission in Kabul, is instructive. The fluent Dari-speaking Semple had spent over 18 years in Afghanistan in various capacities, including with the United Nations and as an advisor to the British Embassy in Kabul, before being expelled last month after being accused of talking to the Taliban.

His colleagues within the Western community call him a British spy; he had become close to tribes in northern Afghanistan during the Taliban's rule in the late 1990s. Semple has a Muslim Pakistani wife.

While on the EU's payroll and with development funds from the Irish Foreign Ministry, he visited restive Helmand province to see the Taliban. Using his wife's Pakistani connections and giving the impression of being Muslim - along with funds - he won some hearts and minds. People like Taliban commander Mullah Salam, now the administrator of Musa Qala district of Helmand, were thrilled to find a "blond-bearded Muslim".

Semple went to Helmand with the complete approval of the Afghan Ministry of Interior, which is supported by northern Afghan politicians. But the US and the Afghan presidential palace abhorred the idea of making Taliban friends and giving them control of parts of the province without them having to denounce Mullah Omar.
The governor of Helmand, Asadullah Wafa, called Semple a Pakistani agent and he was subsequently expelled. He now lives in Islamabad with his Pakistani in-laws.

Himouyun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told Asia Times Online, "This great game style of things cannot be approved in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a colony but a sovereign country. Everything must be done with the approval of the Afghan government."

However, Semple's plan was just a stepping stone of the broader British design in which Coles says British troops will stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years.

The ambassador came up with the idea of tribal militias - arabikai - as a way to defeat the Taliban. In Afghanistan's past, when invading armies approached a town, drums were beaten to call people to oppose the enemy. The idea was that towns and villages would form their own militias to respond to such drum-beating. The idea met immediate opposition from the NATO commander, who happened to be an American.

"He [Coles] thought that the people would fight against the Taliban, but the Taliban happen to be the sons of the soil," a Western strategic analyst based in Kabul told ATol on the condition of anonymity. "The idea of arming tribal militias in Helmand is silly and will fall flat. Helmand is in the hands of anti-coalition insurgents, and we expect arrangements like arabikai to be a success?"

A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Kabul countered, "I think the Afghan government is completely in favor of arabikai and this has been successfully implemented in a few Afghan provinces."

In one British initiative they targeted Mullah Mansoor Dadullah, the brother of slain Taliban strongman Mullah Dadullah, who was the new commander of the Taliban in southwestern Afghanistan. The former opposition leader of the Pakistani Parliament, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, was a conduit.

The initial talks were successful and several Taliban commanders in the southwest agreed on a ceasefire and Mullah Mansoor Dadullah gave his word of honor to Rehman that he would represent the Taliban in jirgagai (small tribal councils) and that he would convince Mullah Omar on the need for peace talks.

However, the "coalition of the willing" in Afghanistan had serious differences, especially the US, and while debate on the issue raged, Mullah Omar made a move. Dadullah was "sacked" from his position and he is now just a Taliban foot soldier.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Ministry of Interior warned Rehman, a self-proclaimed founding father of the Taliban, that he was now number one on al-Qaeda's hit list. Rehman's movements are now restricted because of security concerns.

Britain's backroom maneuvering has thus stalled and the Taliban are once again regrouping in the Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan for another spring offensive.

When Ashdown arrives, he will need to think of options that include talking with the real players - Mullah Omar and al-Qaeda.
February 4, 2008:
Revealed: British plan to build training camp for Taliban fighters in Afghanistan

By Jerome Starkey in Kabul
(U.K.) Independent

Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.

[The "police" were not secret; they worked for Afghan's security agency, NDS, led at that time by Amrullah Saleh.]

The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown's pledge that Britain will not negotiate.

The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: "Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people."

The British insist President Karzai's office knew what was going on. But Mr Karzai has expelled two top diplomats amid accusations they were part of a plot to buy-off the insurgents.

The row was the first in a series of spectacular diplomatic spats which has seen Anglo-Afghan relations sink to a new low. Since December, President Karzai has blocked the appointment of Paddy Ashdown to the top UN job in Kabul and he has blamed British troops for losing control of Helmand.

It has also soured relations between Kabul and Washington, where State Department officials were instrumental in pushing Lord Ashdown for the UN role.

President Karzai's political mentor, Sibghatullah Mojaddedi, endorsed a death sentence for blasphemy on the student journalist Sayed Pervez Kambaksh last week, and two British contractors have been arrested in Kabul on, it is claimed, trumped up weapons charges. The developments are seen as a deliberate defiance of the British.

An Afghan government source said the training camp was part of a British plan to use bands of reconciled Taliban, called Community Defence Volunteers, to fight the remaining insurgents. "The camp would provide military training for 1,800 ordinary Taliban fighters and 200 low-level commanders," he said.

The computer memory stick at the centre of the row was impounded by officers from Afghanistan's KGB-trained National Directorate of Security after they moved against a party of international diplomats who were visiting Helmand. [Pundita note: I can't resist interjecting that the NDS is as much or more so CIA-trained.]

A ministry insider said: "When they were arrested, the British said the Ministry of the Interior and the National Security Council knew about it, but no one knew anything. That's why the President was so angry."

Details of how much President Karzai was told remain murky. Some analysts believe Afghan officials were briefed about the plan, but that it later evolved.

The camp was due to be built outside Musa Qala, in Helmand. It was part of a package of reconstruction and development incentives designed to win trust and support in the aftermath of the British-led battle to retake the stronghold last year.

But the Afghans feared the British were training a militia with no loyalty to the central government. Intercepted Taliban communications suggested they thought the British were trying to help them, the Afghan official said.

The Western delegates, Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson, were given 48 hours to leave the country. Their Afghan colleagues, including a former army general, were jailed.

The expulsions coincided with a row within the Taliban's ranks which saw a senior commander, Mansoor Dadullah, sacked for talking to British spies. One official claimed the camp was planned for Mansoor and his men.

The computer stick contained a three-stage plan, called the European Union Peace Building Programme. The third stage covered military training.

Curiously, the European Union says the programme did not exist and there were no EU funds to run it.

Afghan government officials insist it was bankrolled by the British. UK diplomats, the UN, Western officials and senior Afghan officials have all confirmed the outline of the plan, which they agree is entirely British-led, but all refused to talk about it on the record. President Karzai's office claimed it was "a matter of national security".

The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in 2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British agents were paying the Taliban.

President Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, accused Mr Semple and Mr Patterson of being "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."

The camp would also have provided vocational training, including farming and irrigation techniques, to offer people a viable alternative to growing opium. But the Afghan government took issue with plans to provide military training to turn the insurgents into a defence force.

Afghan government staff also claimed the "EU peace-builders" had handed over mobile phones, laptops and airtime credit to insurgents. They said the memory stick revealed plans to train the Taliban to use secure satellite phones, so they could communicate directly with UK officials.

Mr Patterson, a Briton, was the third-ranking UN diplomat when he was held. Mr Semple, an Irishman, was the acting head of the EU mission.

Officially, the British embassy remains tight-lipped, fuelling speculation that the plan may have been part of a wider clandestine operation.

A spokesman repeated the line used since Christmas: "The EU and UN have responded to inquiries on this. We have nothing further to add."

But privately, the UN maintains it had no role in setting up the camp. Meanwhile, Mr Semple's EU boss, Francesc Vendrell, admitted he had very little idea what was going on.

Yet the British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, cut short his Christmas holiday to meet President Karzai and "spell out the Foreign Office paper-trail" which diplomats claim proves his government had agreed. They met twice, but it was not enough to stop Mr Semple and Mr Patterson being forced to leave.
Further to the differences between sheep herding in Ireland and war

February 05, 2008:
Afghanistan, Ireland and MI6

By Tom Griffin
Green Ribbon blog

[See the blog entry for links Griffin provides to cited reports]

Moon of Alabama offers a compelling reconstruction of the blown MI6 back-channel operation in Afghanistan, about which new details have emerged in the past few days.

He also draws attention to Syed Saleem Shahzad's allegations in the Asia Times, about Irish official Michael Semple. It's worth noting that the British official expelled from Afghanistan along with Semple, Mervyn Patterson, is from Northern Ireland.

This is highly suggestive given MI6's long history in Ireland of involvement in back-channel negotiations that did not always have universal support on their own side, a feature that appears to have been repeated in Afghanistan.

One interesting question is whether the Irish Government could have wittingly cooperated with such an operation. It could be interpreted as consistent with its commitment to export the peace process model.

It may also be significant that there are seven members of the Irish Defence Forces working at ISAF HQ in Kabul, four of whom are employed in the liaison and negotiations branch.
December 15, 2008:
Pakistan 'linked to 75% of all UK terror plots', warns Gordon Brown

By Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent,
and Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent, in Islamabad
(U.K.) Times Online

Gordon Brown demanded "action, not words" from Pakistan yesterday, blaming Pakistani militants for last month's attack on Mumbai and revealing that three quarters of the gravest terror plots under investigation in the UK had links to Pakistan.

Winding up a two-day tour of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, the Prime Minister urged Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's President, to "break the chain of terror" linking Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan to attempted terrorist attacks in Britain.

British military officials believe there are a "handful" of British militants fighting alongside the Taleban in Afghanistan, often entering the country through northern Pakistan, where al Qaeda and Taleban leaders are thought to be sheltering.

Officials also believe that there are currently around 30 major terrorist plots in the United Kingdom with 2,000 suspects being watched by police and the intelligence services.

"Three quarters of the most serious plots investigated by the British authorities have links to al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said Mr Brown in a press conference alongside Mr Zardari in the presidential palace in Islamabad. "The time has come for action, not words."
July 18, 2010:
Hillary Clinton's Pakistan trip: More talk, less action

By Ben Arnoldy
Christian Science Monitor

New Delhi - United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Pakistani leaders today in Islamabad in an effort to shore up relations with a country vital to peace negotiations in Afghanistan.

Mrs. Clinton's Pakistan visit – which includes the announcement of $500 million in US funding for new projects aimed at improving water, energy, agriculture, and health in Pakistan – comes directly before her attendance at this week's Kabul Conference, a meeting of 60 countries interested in Afghanistan that starts Tuesday. The summit has been billed as a chance for the international community to ratify parameters for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban leaders.
Alice lost in Wonderland with the Cheshire Cat's smile for company

The Grocer and Alice’s Cat

By Brigadier (Ret., Pakistan military) F. B. Ali
Sic Semper Tyrannis blog

It was the dawn of 2010, and the ISI had a problem: Pakistan’s spy agency was losing control over some of its Taliban proteges. The previous year the British and some Europeans, wearying of the unending war, had prevailed upon the UN representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, to get peace negotiations started between the Karzai government and the Taliban.

With the assistance of the Saudis, Eide arranged some meetings with a few former Taliban leaders and also involved some Afghan officials. These didn’t bother the ISI; what was getting them worried now were reports that the Taliban’s No. 2 man, and operational commander, Mullah Baradar, was involved in these talks.

The ISI’s predicament was that they didn’t know where Baradar was. While they kept track of the Taliban political leadership, Baradar had disappeared into the large Pashtun community in Karachi’s 18 million inhabitants.

The ISI had information on his satellite communication links, but didn’t have the hi-tech equipment to pinpoint his location through them. Their friends in the CIA had such equipment but, even though they claimed the US wasn’t in favour of any peace negotiations, the ISI couldn’t be sure. So, they just told the CIA they needed help to pick up some low-level Taliban operatives in Karachi.

The CIA obliged, and the ISI nabbed Baradar. A week later they told the CIA: Guess what? We’ve just discovered we got a big fish in that roundup!

The CIA was pleased, Kai Eide was not. The nascent peace talks were squashed, and the Taliban leadership got the message: no talking without Pakistani permission.

The message to the Karzai government and the West was: if you desire peace talks with the Taliban and other insurgents, come to us and we’ll bring them to the table.

Months passed and then, all of a sudden, everyone in Kabul started jumping onto the peace talks bandwagon, including, notably, Gen Petraeus. The trouble was they weren’t asking the Pakistanis to help; instead, they were again throwing out feelers directly to the Taliban. The ISI didn’t like this at all; since they couldn’t be sure another leader wouldn’t decide to do some freelancing, they decided to create their own freelancer. The person they settled on was Mullah Mansur, who had replaced Mullah Baradar in the Taliban hierarchy.

The call went out to ISI operatives to find a Mansur look-alike. The person selected for this role was an Afghan who was running a small grocery shop in Quetta. Since all the Taliban, conveniently, wear turbans and sport large beards, discovery of the imposture was not a big worry; they hoped suitable briefings would take care of other issues.

Even though the US commander in Afghanistan was now all for peace talks, the ISI wasn’t so sure about the CIA. So, they decided to have the fake Mansur approach the British spy agency, the SIS [aka MI6], instead.

The SIS couldn’t believe their luck. Marginalized in Afghanistan by the huge CIA operation, they were facing budget crunch time back at home. Here was a chance to play the lead role in a critical venture, and prove to everyone the importance of their contribution. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, they didn’t do any serious checking of his bona fides. Even if they’d wanted to, they didn’t have the means; they couldn’t ask the ISI, and they didn’t want to involve the CIA. Their Taliban contact was playing hard to get, so they overcame his hesitations with a large payment upfront, with promises of more to come.

When they broke the news of their coup to the CIA and the Afghans, both warmly welcomed it but warned of the essential need to keep it hidden from the ISI. A plane landed at the US airbase in Pakistan, picked up ‘Mullah Mansur’, and flew him to Kabul. Adequately briefed, the ‘Mullah’ held his own in talks with the Americans and the Afghans. Everyone was surprised at the very moderate conditions that he put forward for a settlement ‒ except Gen Petraeus, who was convinced that this was the result of the hard knocks he had recently been giving the Taliban.

The Taliban ‘leader’ had to be persuaded with several hundred thousand dollars to repeat his visits to Kabul. On one of them he was taken by the British to visit with President Karzai, who was generous in the promises that he made about the future. Gen Petraeus made it known to the media that his strategy was succeeding, and had brought the Taliban to the negotiating table. Already he could see the laurels of Afghanistan being added to those of his “victory” in Iraq. Taliban denials that any such talks were going on were met with knowing smiles.

The ISI had succeeded beyond its wildest dreams. It had managed to have its Quetta grocer conduct talks for months with the Afghans and the Americans as a senior Taliban emissary. It had learnt a great deal of their negotiating positions. This was sweet revenge for the Afghans and the West trying to cut them out of the peace moves. They had now effectively proved that such talks could not be held without using them as the intermediary. Having achieved what they wanted they pulled the plug on the caper; the doughty ‘Mullah Mansur’ and the humble Quetta grocer both suddenly disappeared. Word was quietly leaked as to what had really happened.

It is not known if the ISI has a mascot. Perhaps they should adopt the Cheshire Cat as one. After all, it was adept at vanishing into thin air, leaving behind only its huge grin hanging in the tree branches.

Full Disclosure: The writer does not have, and has never had, any connection with the ISI. In fact, apart from le Carre’s doomed protagonists, he heartily detests spies ‒ present company excepted, of course [means ex-spy Colonel (Ret., U.S. military) Patrick Lang of the Sic Semper Tyrannis blog]. This piece is a connecting of the dots of information available in the public record, while ignoring the chaff scattered by certain (rather red-faced) interested parties. [...]
October 4, 2005 -- Quotes from Making a pig's ear of defending democracy by Mark Steyn writing for the (U.K.) Telegraph:
Alas, the United Kingdom's descent into dhimmitude is beyond parody. Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (Tory-controlled) has now announced that, following a complaint by a Muslim employee, all work pictures and knick-knacks of novelty pigs and "pig-related items" will be banned. Among the verboten items is one employee's box of tissues because it features a representation of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. And, as we know, Muslims regard pigs as "unclean", even an anthropomorphised cartoon pig wearing a scarf and a bright, colourful singlet.
Piglet always knew ......

Piglet and Winnie on the trail of the Heffalump

Now as to the other reason the Afghan War has dragged on forever, stay tuned.


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