Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Talks with the Taliban won't work

For once, President Hamid Karzai may have it right.

As U.S.-Taliban-Afghan government talks were about to open last week in Doha, Qatar, Karzai objected to the Taliban's decorations of their political office with their flag and other markings of their so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

While it may seem like a small thing, the significance of the flag, etc., was huge. The Taliban, in essence, was declaring that the office was an embassy of their country and their "government."

By extension the talks, they were implying, were and are taking place on their territory and on their terms, and with an illegitimate entity -- Karzai's government.

By sitting down with the Taliban in such a circumstance, Karzai knew that it was tantamount to conceding a Taliban victory in Afghanistan.

For all practical purposes, the Taliban is right. They've won the war in Afghanistan.

As I wrote in Above the Din of War, the Taliban controls at least 75 percent of the country and has for the past several years. The Karzai government, such as it is, controls only the major urban areas, due mostly to the presence of U.S., British, and other international forces.

While international forces and Afghan forces patrol the countryside, they do so at the risk of serious Taliban attacks and the high likelihood of devastating roadside bombs.

The relentless and deadly suicide bombings in Kabul and other urban areas, which grow each day in intensity and frequency, show that the grip of the Afghan forces is tenuous.

Once the international pull-out is complete, the Taliban will quite easily cement their control throughout most of the country.  Within six months of the pull out, we can expect to see a map of Afghanistan that resembles that of 2000, when the Northern Alliance held just parts of northern Afghanistan and the Taliban controlled the rest.

The Taliban has nothing to lose and much to gain by engaging these so-called peace talks. They do so from a position of strength because the United States and its NATO allies are headed for the exists.

As the Taliban is wont to say about the U.S. and NATO: "They have the watches. We have the time."

With the American withdrawal set for the end of next year, just 18 months away, the U.S. is desperate for some sort of a negotiated, political settlement.

The fact is that the Taliban has no reason to make concessions or to sign anything that might diminish  their command and control over vast swaths of Afghanistan.

Yet, when and if talks with the Taliban actually begin, the Taliban will earn bonus public relations points by simply sitting down and portraying themselves as willing to talk about peace, regardless of the truth of the matter.

Each and every day such talks continue, the U.S. will reveal its desperate desire to walk away  from Afghanistan and declare, "job done," regardless of the reality on the ground.

Even if an agreement can be reached with the Taliban, there is little or no way that provisions of it could be enforced, should they be violated by the Taliban.

The absurdity that surrounds these would-be peace talks is difficult to fathom.

I would have thought that someone with the experience of Secretary of State John Kerry would have rejected the notion of Taliban talks without major concessions on their part.

Ironically, it seems that Karzai is one of the few who gets it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Kony's plunder of wildlife

A report issued by the Enough Project and titled, Kony's Ivory, documents yet another in an endless string atrocities by Joseph Kony and his Lord's Resistance Army.

The report,,  reveals how Kony and his cutthroats have contributed the destruction of elephant population in Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to the report, the elephant population has dwindled from about 20,000 (other reports set the figure at only 7,000) to just 1,500 in the past decade due to poaching, much of it by the LRA.

As anyone who has been following this issue knows, Kony and company set up camp in the Garamba park in late 2005 and early 2006, using it as a base while peace talks were conducted in Juba, South Sudan, with the Ugandan government.

Even then, reports were rife that Kony's men were killing the Garamba wildlife, mostly for the meat.
I visited the periphery of the park twice, both times in connection with research for First Kill Your Family: Child Soldiers of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army.

The first time was in 2006 on the northern edge of the park where it borders South Sudan.

The second was on the western edge of the park in 2008 in the town of Dungu, which had been attacked and raided by the LRA, despite the presence of United Nations forces.

In Dungu, I met with wildlife officers who talked about the dangers faced by the park rangers, who had basically withdrawn from much of the park because of the LRA, but also told me of extensive poaching.

It is good that Enough has documented this on-going tragedy, but it may be too little, too late.

The report provides no details on who is buying the ivory, how and why, or where it goes once it leaves the park. The only details we get are from one former LRA captive who says that people arrived in helicopters to buy it. Really? From where?

If the buyers used helicopters, it means some fairly well-heeled smugglers are involved, most likely based in Nairobi, Kenya, or Khartoum, Sudan. Or, more likely, that corrupt military commanders from either country (imagine that!) are in the middle of the illegal trade.

Just last month the Reuters wrote a story about the wider problem of elephant poaching across central Africa, based on a United Nations report, singling out the LRA as an example of the problem:

As early as 2004, a year before the LRA entered Garamba Park, the slaughter of white rhinos was being reported as a major concern for wildlife biologists, as noted in the British newspaper, the Telegraph:

Closer to home, the National Geographic Society was also involved, reporting in 2004 about the problem on it's website:

Solutions anyone?

The common thread here is that various armed groups across Africa kill the elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns, since they can get several thousand dollars per pound for ivory. The sale of the ivory buys weapons and supplies for armed groups.

One report mentioned that the rhino horns went to Yemen where they were carved into handles for highly prized daggers for wealthy sheiks. Likewise, the rhino horns are valued for their supposed medicinal qualities and the ivory for its rarity by Asians.

Despite the on-going human tragedy and the destruction of the last wild herds of elephants and rhinos in Africa -- a problem that has been highly publicized for more than a decade -- nothing is being done to stop it.

This is all too reminiscent of what is being done, or more precisely NOT being done, about Kony and the LRA. The Ugandan army, which had been chasing Kony in the Central African Republic for the past five or so years, gave up the hunt by using the recent military coup in the CAR as an excuse to quit.

The U.S. Special Forces mission, sent by President Obama in 2011 to help in the search for Kony, also decided to stand down.

As wildlife activists have been saying for years, the slaughter of African wildlife must be attacked on many fronts.

First, enforcement. The poachers certainly must be stopped. This will require a trained and pervasive force which will require commitment and funding.

Second, the traders must be found, stopped, prosecuted and jailed.

Thirdly, the demand must be curtailed. This will require working with the Chinese and Southeast Asian nations to gain their support and cooperation.

While the Enough Project report may help rekindle interest in the poaching problem, it does little more than note a problem that people have known about for decades.

If there is to be any hope of actually solving the problem, Enough and the other groups involved in the report need to much more than plow what is already heavily plowed ground.