Anand Gopal


Writer ● Journalist

Fighting for Liberation in Tahrir Square

Anand Gopal | Feb 10th, 2011 | The Nation

Walk south along the Nile in Cairo’s febrile downtown, past austere, colonial-vintage government buildings and stately luxury hotels, cross into Tahrir Square, and you’ll pass from one authority to another. Outside, tanks and armored personnel carriers guard Egypt’s besieged and maligned government; inside the square, in the heart of the city, hundreds of thousands of protesters and revolutionaries hold jurisdiction, establishing a parallel capital where dictator Hosni Mubarak has little control. Those who for years lived in fear under Mubarak’s regime openly taunt police. Impromptu lectures and debates erupt on the curbside, near the Ministry of Information, no less. “I see the world with new eyes,” one protester told me.

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What Happened to COIN in Afghanistan?

Anand Gopal | Dec 21st, 2010 | Foreign Policy

In 2010, population-centric counterinsurgency doctrine — in which as much emphasis is placed on swaying the population as on fighting the enemy — was supposedly the guiding concept for U.S. strategy in southern Afghanistan. The Kandahar offensive, a series of counterinsurgency operations in restive Taliban strongholds, was to be the centerpiece of this approach. NATO’s chief spokesman James Appathurai explained the strategy by saying, “It is about protecting the population, about changing the political culture and perception… Kandahar is, from the psychological and communications point of view, the heartland of the Taliban… The biggest problem in Afghanistan is not the Taliban, but the lack of strong governance and the delivery of services.” But a close look at the last year reveals that the population-centric approach may not have been implemented at all.

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MIssed Opportunities in Kandahar

Anand Gopal | Nov 9th, 2010 | Foreign Policy

The following is excerpted  from Anand Gopal’s paper released by the New America Foundation’s Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, “The Battle for Afghanistan: Militancy and Conflict in Kandahar.” The paper is available here.

The Victor’s Hubris and the Failure of Reconciliation

Just as Kandahar was falling, fissures appeared in the Taliban movement. As most of the government was crumbling-Kabul and other major cities had fallen, leaving just Kandahar, Helmand, and Zabul provinces still under Taliban control-some of Mullah Omar’s chief lieutenants secretly gathered and decided to surrender to the forces of Hamid Karzai.[i] This group included Tayeb Agha, at one point Mullah Omar’s top aide; Mullah Beradar, a former governor and key military commander; Sayed Muhammad Haqqani, the former ambassador to Pakistan; Mullah Obaidullah, the defense minister; Mullah Abdul Razzak, the interior minster; and many others.

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Private Security Companies Undermine Afghan Security

Anand Gopal | Oct 28th, 2010 | McClatchy

Pul-i-Charkhi, Afghanistan — In a wood-paneled office here in the dusty fringes of Kabul, Hajji Shirin Dil feverishly works the phones. He shouts orders into one receiver as he dials another phone, while aides wait patiently to speak to him.

He could be Wall Street day trader, if not for the sleepy gunmen by his side. Instead, Mr. Dil owns a profitable logistics company and is cutting deals with various warlords, whose private security companies protect his trucks carrying vital provisions to the foreign troops.

But a recent pledge by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to ban security companies threatens to grind this business to a halt, and in the process calls attention to the foreign forces’ reliance on a complex network of private companies and local strongmen to protect their supply lines.

“I can’t move anything without protection,” says Dil. “The Taliban can stop my trucks and the foreigners won’t get supplies.”

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Talking to the Taliban: Who’s Under Pressure Now?

On an evening this past spring, near midnight, a land cruiser pulled up to the house of a government official in Kandahar city. The vehicles carried a senior Taleban figure, sent by Mullah Omar, and some tribal elders. That night the group met secretly with a leading Afghan official and discussed the course of the war and the prospects for negotiations. After the meeting the Taliban figure moved to a hideout outside of the city, before eventually disappearing across the border into Pakistan.

It was typical of the types of contacts that have been occurring between senior Taleban leaders and Afghan officials for years. There have been scores of clandestine meetings between the warring sides, sometimes simply to establish a rapport and sometimes in an attempt to build a more substantive dialogue. These include leaders meeting Afghan officials on their own initiative in some cases, and in others Mullah Omar or the entire senior leadership sending representatives. Thus when NATO and US officials announced recently that there have been attempts by the Taleban to reach out to the Afghan government, it should not be seen as a shift in the insurgents’ approach. Rather, by recognizing these attempts, it is Washington that is changing course. Nor are the contacts a sign that actual negotiations are near; rather, their recognition merely signals Western fears that mission failure is afoot.

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The Spine-Chilling Emptiness of Afghanistan’s Voting Booths

Anand Gopal | Oct 1st, 2010 | The New Republic

On election day, a pack of bone-thin, restless dogs wandered into the main polling center in Sheikhabad, a town in Afghanistan’s Wardak Province. A pair of Afghan policemen tried to chase them away, but the determined bunch kept returning, looking for a shady redoubt from the morning sun. Eventually the police relented, and the dogs settled down for a nap.

The canines were the only visitors there for hours—not a single person had come to vote. On the day of Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections, meant to determine the makeup of one of the country’s few remaining independent government institutions, most of Wardak’s polling centers were empty, filled only with policemen and corrupt government officials.

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Ballot Stuffing Witnessed Amidst Troubled Afghan Vote

Saydabad, Afghanistan–When campaign aide Qais showed up at a polling center in the troubled province of Wardak Saturday morning, he found that guards would not allow him to enter. When he tried to peer through the windows, he found that workers had erected huge cardboard sheets to block the view.

Inside, election workers were busy stuffing ballots on behalf of a candidate named Hajji Wahedullah Kalimzai. Although only about 20 men had come to vote thus far, hundreds of ballots were being marked in favor of Mr. Kalimzai.

It was a scene repeated throughout the province. The elections in Wardak were marred by widescale fraud, violence, and an extremely low turnout, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the new class of lawmakers that will represent the province.

“There were almost no elections in Wardak,” said Ghulam Hassan, a local elder. “The votes were stolen right in front of our eyes.”

The turn of events in Wardak likely represents a larger trend in a number of restive areas throughout Afghanistan, where Taliban threats limit the ability of election monitoring teams to visit many polling centers.

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Afghan Election: Taliban Not the Only Culprits of Campagin Violence

Kabul, Afghanistan —Daud Niazi, a candidate in Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections on Saturday, was returning from a campaign event in his native Laghman Province when a group of gunmen suddenly appeared by the roadside. They forced his campaign caravan to a halt, robbed the passengers, and then ordered the vehicles to get moving.

As the convoy pulled away, the gunmen opened fire, shattering windshields, killing Mr. Niazi’s cousin, and leaving others wounded. The incident was the latest in a series of attacks against candidates. Many of the attacks are attributed to the Taliban.

But it wasn’t insurgents that were behind this grisly attack, it was a rival candidate, according to government officials. Afghanistan’s contentious campaign season, which came to a close this week ahead of Saturday’s polls, was marked as much by intercandidate violence and complex rivalries as it was by Taliban intimidation.
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Tensions Rise Between Hizb-i-Islami and Taliban in Afghanistan

Anand Gopal | Aug 26th, 2010 | The CTC Sentinel

By Matthew DuPee and Anand Gopal

In March 2010, clashes erupted between two of Afghanistan’s most important insurgent groups in northern Baghlan Province. A days-long battle between Hizb-i-Islami and the Taliban left nearly 60 militants and 20 civilians dead. Hostilities between the two sides flared again in Wardak Province in July, where ongoing clashes killed 28 Taliban fighters, including an important local Taliban commander. The skirmishes, sparked by the growing reach of the Taliban and turf battles between the two groups, mark a significant fissure in the country’s militant movement. This article provides a closer look at these frictions and at Afghan government and Coalition efforts to exploit them.

Read the full report here.

The Paradox of Boots on the Ground

Anand Gopal | Jun 29th, 2010 | The New Republic

On a balmy summer’s day in the village of Hiratian in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, locals found the body of eight-year-old Dilawar hanging from a tree of a small fruit farm. Taliban fighters had accused the boy of spying for the American forces and had kidnapped him, strung him up and left his body to sway in the wind for hours for all to see.

The murder was horrifying, yet few villagers would come to the defense of anyone charged with spying for the hated foreign forces. But slowly, the details of the story emerged. The Taliban in the area were involved in a weeks-long campaign to collect donations — money, food or weapons — from the local population. They had demanded either a large sum of money or a weapon from Mullah Qudoos, the ill-fated boy’s father. Qudoos, poor and jobless, had neither. So the insurgents took his son as revenge and killed him as an example.

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