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Report on Progress toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan

June 2008
Report to Congress in accordance with the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (Section 1230, Public Law 110-181)


Section 5: Regional Engagement

Regional cooperation is essential for the Afghan government. Following the first Regional Economic Cooperation Conference in December 2005, limited regional cooperation sections have been established within the administrative structures of some Afghan ministries. Additionally, in 2006, a Directorate for Regional Cooperation was established at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, despite an ongoing successful Asian Development Bank Technical Assistance program towards mainstreaming regional cooperation, human capacity of this Directorate continues to need serious attention. The establishment of a cross-cutting consultative group and a working group for regional cooperation, within the framework of the ANDS, has helped create platforms of dialogue and interaction between different stakeholders on regional cooperation. However, there is very little discussion or lively debate on regional cooperation in the Afghan media and hence little public awareness of the subject. For the most part, progress has been limited in achieving visible and practical results on the ground in regional economic cooperation.

5.1 Afghanistan-Pakistan Border Areas and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas

The greatest challenge to long-term security within Afghanistan is the insurgent sanctuary within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. The ANSF must be able to coordinate actions with a Pakistani force that is trained and resourced to eliminate threats emanating from within Pakistan. The Pakistan Military (PAKMIL)’s clashes with Taliban members and terrorist organizations in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas have, in the past, contributed to a decrease in cross-border insurgent activity in Afghanistan’s eastern provinces. The U.S. is concerned about ceasefire negotiations and other agreements between the Government of Pakistan (GoP) and possible militant groups in South Waziristan and other locations in the FATA and North West Frontier Province. After similar agreements were signed in 2005 and 2006, cross-border operations by extremist groups against U.S. and NATO forces increased substantially. The United States recognizes that there is no purely military solution to militancy, but we have made it clear to the GoP that any agreement should be enforceable and backed up by the credible threat of force.3

The potential repatriation of Afghan refugees is a major regional issue. Although there have been no refugees in the FATA itself since 2005, there are many in the greater border region. Of current concern are three camps, Jalozai, Girdi Jungle, and Jungle Pir Alizai, which the GoP has placed on the closure list every year since 2006 but not closed. The estimated combined population of these camps ranges from 130,000 to 145,000. Last year, Pakistan identified four refugee camps -including the three above- for closure. However, only the fourth camp, Kacha Gari, was closed. A worst-case scenario based on the GoP unexpectedly and precipitously closing and clearing multiple camps and expelling Afghans could result in up to 400,000 refugees trying to return to Afghanistan. Pakistan has committed to voluntary, not forced, repatriation and has stated that it will allow refugees from closed camps to relocate to other camps. This option could be attractive for many families who have lived in Pakistan for decades. Some refugees in Pakistan have returned voluntarily to Afghanistan because of sectarian violence, pressure from GoP authorities, and, for some former Kacha Gari residents, the cost of living in Pakistan outside of a camp environment. Mass repatriations, something that neither the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Pakistan or the Government of Pakistan believes will materialize, would severely tax the existing Afghan infrastructure, particularly in urban areas. Therefore, the Afghan government will attempt to negotiate with Pakistan to delay additional camp closures. Afghans who registered as refugees with the Pakistan authorities received a Proof of Registration card that allows them to stay in Pakistan until the end of 2009. A large number of the refugees have no intention of returning for a variety of social and economic reasons. UNHCR Pakistan is working with the GoP to identify mutually acceptable alternatives for extended temporary solutions for some Afghans.

The Tripartite Commission (TPC) is comprised of senior military and diplomatic representatives from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and NATO-ISAF and was established as a forum in which to discuss issues related to the border. The Commission has not met as regularly as originally intended and the last three meetings have been cancelled. However, recent efforts have aimed to reinvigorate the activities of the TPC. In addition to the Tripartite Commission, there is an ongoing series of meetings of representatives of the ANA, PAKMIL, and ISAF that convene on a quarterly basis. One of these initiatives is the Border Security Subcommittee Meeting (BSSM), a subordinate entity to the TPC, which serves as a forum for border issues to be discussed between U.S., ANSF, and PAKMIL leadership. The location for the BSSMs alternates between the Afghanistan and Pakistan sides of the border in order to foster trust and cooperation between the two countries. At the tactical commander level, Border Flag Meetings between ISAF, ANSF and PAKMIL brigade and battalion commanders ensure that the agreements made at the BSSMs are reinforced with the ground commanders.

Pakistan, the United States, and NATO have embarked on a multi-year Security Development Plan for Pakistan’s western border region. One element of the SDP concerns the effort to develop Border Coordination Centers (BCC) along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Designed to be manned by liaison officers from ISAF, ANSF, and PAKMIL, these BCCs will be optimized with intelligence feeds – including a network of Forward-Looking Infra-Red Radar (FLIR) nodes with the objective of presenting the liaison officers with a common view of the border area. The BCCs will also be supported with sophisticated communications that will link the liaison officers with their respective force providers – ANSF, the PAKMIL and paramilitary Frontier Corps (PAKMIL/FC) and RC-East – with the objective of speeding the delivery of target intelligence so force providers can execute interdiction missions against Taliban, Al-Qaeda, other extremists, and narco-smugglers. The first BCC was opened on March 29, 2008 at Torkham Gate on the Afghan side of the border. Five additional BCCs are planned for 2008-2010, with the next center expected to be completed before the end of 2008.

In terms of communications capabilities, the United States continues to provide high- frequency radios to PAKMIL and FC to increase communication interoperability between U.S. forces and PAKMIL. Additionally, the United States began to field the Combined Enterprise Regional Information Exchange System (CENTRIXS) to PAKMIL, providing a secure, rapid, computer-based interface between American and Pakistan forces. Designed as an information system for interactions with all partners active in Afghanistan, CENTRIXS will further increase the international and Afghan forces’ communications capability with Pakistan.

The ongoing relations between the U.S., NATO ISAF, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have been fostered principally along military channels. If the border areas between the two countries are ever to be fully secured, the strong U.S.-Pakistan partnership should be utilized to ensure that the Afghan-Pakistan military partnership extends to the political arena – specifically including the development programs that are active on both sides of the border. Afghanistan and Pakistan took initial steps to establish this political extension when they agreed, with U.S. backing, to establish a tribal jirga comprised of tribal elders and government officials from both sides of the border in September 2006. The first meeting of the jirga was held in August 2007. A subset of the jirga has met since then, and we expect the next meeting to be set soon.

5.2 Iran

Iran is a significant donor for reconstruction, infrastructure, and development assistance to Afghanistan. Iran is responsible for much of the development in Herat Province, particularly the electric power and transportation infrastructure. Iranian influence is expected to continue to increase at a steady rate over the rest of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. Iran will continue to try to achieve multiple objectives by providing overt monetary and reconstruction aid to the GIRoA, while at the same time providing training, weapons and other support to the insurgency to undermine ISAF influence.

Iran is also a major trading partner with Afghanistan due to the countries’ extensive mutual border. This prominence gives Iran large amounts of political and economic influence. Numerous Iranian companies continue to expand their presence in Afghanistan, employing large numbers of Afghans.

There is evidence that the insurgency in Afghanistan has been provided with lethal aid originating in Iran since at least 2006. It is unclear what role, and at what level, the Iranian government plays in providing this assistance. At present, the lethal support that has been provided to the insurgency in Afghanistan has not proven militarily significant. Analysis of interdicted weaponry, ordnance, and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) in Afghanistan indicate that the Taliban has access to Iranian weaponry produced as recently as 2006 and 2007. We monitor and take seriously any such assistance to the insurgency.

Iran will continue to protect its stated national interests and there remains potential for disagreement between Afghanistan and Iran. An example of a potential source of conflict is water-sharing rights, which could be affected by current Afghan dam projects. Forced expulsions of Afghan refugees and undocumented economic migrants within its borders challenge the Afghan government’s ability to ensure the well-being of its citizens. Further deportations of Afghan refugees living in camps in Iran would severely strain the existing Afghan infrastructure and could create a humanitarian crisis similar to that of 2007, when Iran deported hundreds of thousands of Afghans over the course of a few months. The Afghan government will attempt to negotiate with the Iranian government to cease deportations and find a way to facilitate legal employment for the many Afghan workers who contribute to Iran’s economy, particularly in the construction and agricultural sectors.

3 For further detail on the Afghan-Pakistani border see Enhancing Security and Stability in the Region Along the Border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, submitted April 24, 2008 in response to section 1232(a) of the 2008 NDAA.

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