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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Building capacity and limiting corruption at all levels of Afghan governance are crucial to the success of a planned transition from U.S.-led NATO forces to Afghan security leadership. The capacity of the formal Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001. However, nepotism and political considerations in hiring are entrenched in Afghan culture and other forms of corruption are widespread. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accepted U.S. help to build emerging anti-corruption institutions, but these same institutions have sometimes caused a Karzai backlash when they have targeted his allies or relatives. At a donors’ conference in Tokyo on July 8, 2012, donors pledged to aid Afghanistan’s economy through at least 2017, provided Afghanistan takes concrete, verifiable action to rein in corruption. On July 26, 2012, Karzai appeared to try to meet his pledges to the Tokyo conference by issuing a “decree on administrative reforms”—a document of sweeping policy directives intended to curb corruption. Partly because of corruption in the Afghan security forces, on August 4, 2012, the National Assembly voted to remove the ministers of interior and of defense.

Afghan and U.S. critics of President Hamid Karzai’s government assert that he has concentrated authority in Kabul through vast powers of appointment at all levels—appointment power given him by the Afghan constitution. Karzai has publicly denied assertions by opposing faction leaders that he wants to stay in office beyond the 2014 expiration of his second term, but he is said to be trying to identify and then support an acceptable successor. International efforts to curb fraud in two successive elections (for president in 2009 and parliament in 2010) largely failed and many believe election oversight has improved little since, although civil society groups are trying to ensure robust competition and electoral fairness.

There is concern among many observers that the above governance weaknesses will cause Afghanistan to founder as the United States and its partners wind down their involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Some argue that the informal power structure, which has always been at least as significant a factor in governance as the formal power structure, will sustain governance beyond 2014 if formal governing structures falter. However, that outcome might invite even more corruption and arbitrary administration of justice than is the case now as major factions’ leaders gain power. Karzai has failed to marginalize these ethnic faction leaders, in part because they have large constituencies, but he relies more closely on the loyalty of several close, ethnic Pashtun allies, particularly those from the Qandahar area. The non-Pashtun faction leaders generally oppose Karzai’s willingness to make concessions to insurgent leaders in search of a settlement. There are fears that a reintegration of the Taliban into Afghan politics will further set back progress in human rights and the rights of women and boost Pashtun power.

Broader issues of human rights often vary depending on the security environment in particular regions, although some trends prevail nationwide. Women, media professionals, and civil society groups have made substantial gains since the fall of the Taliban, but traditional attitudes contribute to the judicial and political system’s continued toleration of child marriages, imprisonment of women who flee domestic violence, judgments against converts from Islam to Christianity, and curbs on the sale of alcohol and Western-oriented programming in the Afghan media. See also CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman; CRS Report R40747, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan: Background and Policy Issues, by Rhoda Margesson; and CRS Report R41484, Afghanistan: U.S. Rule of Law and Justice Sector Assistance, by Liana Sun Wyler and Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: August 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 67
Order Number: RS21922
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The Palestinians: Background and U.S. Relations


Jim Zanotti
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

This report covers current issues in U.S.-Palestinian relations. It also contains an overview of Palestinian society and politics and descriptions of key Palestinian individuals and groups— chiefly the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinian Authority (PA), Fatah, Hamas, and the Palestinian refugee population.

The “Palestinian question” is important not only to Palestinians, Israelis, and their Arab state neighbors, but to many countries and non-state actors in the region and around the world— including the United States—for a variety of religious, cultural, and political reasons. U.S. policy toward the Palestinians is marked by efforts to establish a Palestinian state through a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; to counter Palestinian terrorist groups; and to establish norms of democracy, accountability, and good governance within the Palestinian Authority (PA). Congress has appropriated assistance to support Palestinian governance and development amid concern for preventing the funds from benefitting Palestinian rejectionists who advocate violence against Israelis.

Among the issues in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians is how to deal with the political leadership of Palestinian society, which is divided between the Fatah-led PA in parts of the West Bank and Hamas (a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization) in the Gaza Strip. Following Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June 2007, the United States and the other members of the international Quartet (the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia) have sought to bolster the West Bank-based PA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

With attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations having stalled, however, Abbas has actively worked to obtain more widespread international recognition of Palestinian statehood. After a failed attempt to gain Palestinian membership in the United Nations in 2011, Abbas is reportedly considering an initiative for the fall of 2012 to have the U.N. General Assembly upgrade the Palestinians’ status to something short of membership. Such an upgrade could make it easier for the Palestinians to bring claims in the International Criminal Court and other forums against what many Palestinians perceive to be Israeli violations of various international laws and norms regarding the treatment of people and property in the West Bank and Gaza. However, the possibility of financial and diplomatic reprisals by the United States and Israel could affect Palestinian decisions on whether to seek a General Assembly resolution. The United States and Israel are concerned that Palestinian recourse to international forums and methods could circumvent—and thus undermine—U.S.-mediated negotiations and stoke popular unrest.

The Gaza situation also presents a dilemma. Humanitarian and economic problems persist, but the United States, Israel, and other international actors are reluctant to take direct action toward opening Gaza’s borders because of legal barriers to dealing with Hamas and/or potentially negative political and strategic consequences. A May 2011 power-sharing arrangement among Palestinian factions that would allow for presidential and legislative elections and reunified PA rule over Gaza and parts of the West Bank remains unimplemented.

Since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, Congress has committed more than $4 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, over half of it since mid-2007—including $800 million in direct budgetary assistance to the PA and approximately $550 million to strengthen and reform PA security forces and the criminal justice system in the West Bank. The future of these programs remains a subject of intense congressional interest and debate.



Date of Report: August 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 34
Order Number: RL34074
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Armed Conflict in Syria: U.S. and International Response


Jeremy M. Sharp
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Christopher M. Blanchard
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs


Syria is now mired in an armed conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al Asad and rebel fighters opposed to his rule. Since major unrest began in March 2011, various reports suggest that between 22,000 and 25,000 Syrians have been killed. U.S. officials and many analysts believe that President Bashar al Asad, his family members, and his other supporters will ultimately be forced from power, but few offer specific, credible timetables for a resolution to Syria’s ongoing crisis.

In the face of intense domestic and international pressure calling for political change and for an end to violence against civilians, the Asad government offered limited reforms while also meeting protests and armed attacks with overwhelming force. Nonviolent protests continued, but their apparent futility created frustration and anger within the opposition ranks. An increasing number of Syrian civilians have taken up arms in self-defense, although armed rebel attacks alienate some potential supporters. The government accuses the opposition of carrying out bombings and assassinations targeting security infrastructure, security personnel, and civilians in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, and other areas. Accounts of human rights abuses by both sides persist, with the majority attributed to security forces and military units.

President Obama and his Administration have been calling for Asad’s resignation since August 2011, and have been vocal advocates for United Nations Security Council action to condemn the Syrian government and end the bloodshed. The United States closed its embassy in Damascus, and Ambassador Robert Ford left Syria. U.S. officials are actively participating in efforts to improve international policy coordination on Syria. The Administration has given no indication that it intends to pursue any form of military intervention. U.S. officials and some in Congress continue to debate various proposals for ending the violence and accelerating Asad’s departure.

After over a year of unrest and violence, Syria’s crisis is characterized by dilemmas and contradictions. A menu of imperfect choices confronts U.S. policymakers, amid fears of continued violence, a humanitarian crisis, and regional instability. The potential spillover effects of continued fighting raise questions with regard to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel. Larger refugee flows, sectarian conflict, or transnational violence by non-state actors are among the contingencies that policy makers are concerned about in relation to these countries. The unrest also is creating new opportunities for Al Qaeda or other violent extremist groups to operate in Syria. The security of Syrian conventional and chemical weapons stockpiles has become a regional security concern, which will grow if a security vacuum emerges. Many observers worry that an escalation in fighting or swift regime change could generate new pressures on minority groups or lead to wider civil or regional conflict.

Members of Congress are weighing these issues as they debate U.S. policy and the Syrian crisis.



Date of Report: August 15, 2012
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: RL33487
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Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The Obama Administration and several of its partner countries are seeking to reduce U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan while continuing to build Afghan governing and security capacity to defend the country by the end of 2014. To secure longer term U.S. gains, on May 1, 2012, during a visit to Afghanistan, President Obama signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that will likely keep some (perhaps 15,000—20,000) U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 as advisors and trainers. Until then, the United States and its partners will continue to transfer overall security responsibility to Afghan security forces, with Afghan forces to assume the lead nationwide by mid-2013. As lead responsibility shifts, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 99,000 in June 2011, will be reduced to 68,000 by the end of September 2012. President Obama has said that “reductions will continue at a steady pace” from then until the completion of the transition to Afghan lead at the end of 2014. In keeping with the Strategic Partnership Agreement, on July 7, 2012 (one day in advance of a major donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo) the United States named Afghanistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally,” further assuring Afghanistan of longterm U.S. support.

As the transition proceeds, there is increasing emphasis on negotiating a settlement to the conflict. That process has proceeded sporadically since 2010, and has not, by all accounts, advanced to a discussion of specific proposals to settle the conflict. Afghanistan’s minorities and women’s groups worry about a potential settlement, fearing it might produce compromises with the Taliban that erode human rights and ethnic power-sharing.

The Administration view is that, no matter the U.S. and allied drawdown schedule, Afghan stability after the 2014 transition is at risk from weak and corrupt Afghan governance and insurgent safe haven in Pakistan. Among other efforts to promote effective and transparent Afghan governance, U.S. officials are pushing for substantial election reform to ensure that the next presidential election, scheduled for 2014, will be free and fair. Afghan anti-corruption institutions have been established since 2008 but, thus far, have lacked effectiveness.

To promote long-term growth and prevent a severe economic downturn as international donors scale back their involvement in Afghanistan, U.S. officials also hope to draw on Afghanistan’s vast mineral and agricultural resources. Several major privately funded mining, agricultural, and even energy development programs have begun or are beginning. As part of this economic strategy, U.S. officials also see greater Afghanistan integration into regional trade and investment patterns—referred to as the “New Silk Road (NSR).” Persuading Afghanistan’s neighbors to support Afghanistan’s stability instead of their own particular interests has been a focus of U.S. policy since 2009, but with mixed success.

Even if these economic efforts succeed, Afghanistan will likely remain dependent on foreign aid indefinitely. Through the end of FY2011, the United States has provided over $67 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, of which about $39 billion has been to equip and train Afghan forces. During FY2001-FY2011, the Afghan intervention has cost about $443 billion, including all costs. For FY2012, about $15 billion in aid (including train and equip) is to be provided, in addition to about $90 billion for U.S. military operations there, and $9.7 billion in aid is requested for FY2013. As announced in the context of the July 8, 2012, Tokyo donors’ conference, U.S. economic aid requests are likely to continue at current levels through FY2017, according to the Administration. See CRS Report RS21922, Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance, by Kenneth Katzman.



Date of Report: August 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 92
Order Number: RL30588
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Monday, August 27, 2012

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy


Kenneth Katzman
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

The uprising that began in Bahrain on February 14, 2011, at the outbreak of the uprisings that swept several Middle Eastern leaders from power, began a political crisis that has defied resolution. The crisis has been more intense than previous periods of unrest in Bahrain and demonstrates that the grievances of the Shiite majority over the distribution of power and economic opportunities were not satisfied by the reform efforts instituted during 1999-2010 or since the uprising began. The bulk of the Shiite majority in Bahrain says it demands a constitutional monarchy in which an elected parliament produces the government, but many in the Sunni minority government of the Al Khalifa family believe the Shiites want outright rule.

In March 2011, Bahrain’s government rejected U.S. advice by inviting direct security assistance from other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, declaring a state of emergency, forcefully suppressing demonstrations, and arresting dissident leaders and pro-opposition health care workers. Although the state of emergency ended on June 1, 2011, a “national dialogue” held in July 2011 reached consensus on only a few modest political reforms. Hopes for resolution were raised by a pivotal report by a government-appointed “Independent Commission of Inquiry” (BICI) on the unrest, released November 23, 2011, which was critical of the government’s actions against the unrest as well as the opposition’s responses to government proposals early in the crisis. The government asserts it has already implemented about two-thirds of the BICI recommendations—an assertion corroborated by a national commission appointed to oversee implementation and a “follow-up committee.” However, stalemate on more substantial political reforms—a product of hardened positions on both the government and opposition sides—has stoked continued demonstrations. Some fear that the unrest could evolve into violent insurgency. Neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has significant political and economic influence over the Bahraini government, is said to oppose compromise by the Al Khalifa.

The Obama Administration has not called for a change of the Al Khalifa regime. It has criticized the regime’s use of force and raids against protesters and their homes, urged the government to undertake further political reform, and advanced ideas to narrow government-opposition differences. The U.S. position on Bahrain has been criticized by those who believe the United States is downplaying regime abuses because of U.S. dependence on the security relationship with the Al Khalifa regime to securing the Persian Gulf. Bahrain has provided key support for U.S. interests by hosting U.S. naval headquarters for the Gulf for over 60 years. Beyond that facility, the United States signed a formal defense pact with Bahrain in 1991 and has designated Bahrain a “major non-NATO ally,” entitling it to sales of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems. Partly to address criticism from human rights advocates and some Members of Congress, the Administration put on hold a proposed sale of armored vehicles and anti-tank weapons. However, in mid-May 2012 the Administration announced a resumption of other arms sales to Bahrain that it can potentially use to protect itself and support U.S. efforts to contain Iranian power. Consumed by its own crisis, Bahrain has joined with but deferred to other GCC powers to resolve uprisings in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Fueling Shiite unrest is the fact that Bahrain, having largely run out of crude oil reserves, is poorer than most of the other Persian Gulf monarchies. In September 2004, the United States and Bahrain signed a free trade agreement (FTA); legislation implementing it was signed January 11, 2006 (P.L. 109-169). The unrest has further strained Bahrain’s economy.



Date of Report: August 13, 2012
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: 95-1013
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