Monday, April 12, 2010

An unheard of story out of Helmand this weekend. On April 10, Afghani police and intelligence agents stormed a hospital run by the Italian NGO Emergency in Lashkar Gah -- the capital of Helmand. The charges are startling. IRIN News reports that three Italians and six Afghans from the aid organization of "terrorism and assassination". The charges come from the top -- Provincial Governor Golab Mangal.

Mangal accused the head of Emergency in Afghanistan, Marco Garatti, of taking a US$500,000 bribe from Taliban insurgents and involvement in a plot to kill him during a visit to the hospital. He also accused Garatti of the “deliberate killings” of patients and wounded people in the hospital at the behest of the Taliban.
To be specific: the charges are that Garatti was accepting Taliban money for organizing a suicide bombing. Mangal held his press conference with props -- two suicide vests, guns, and ammunition he claims were seized inside of the Emergency hospital.

Mangal is alleging that an Italian NGO was in the pocket of the Pakistani Taliban, targetedly killing their patients, and accepting money in a cash for suicide deal. The charges are shocking, surprising even the Afghan Ministry of Public Health.
(more after the jump)

Emergency has certainly made contact with the Taliban in the past, negotiating the release of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo in exchange for five Afghan held Taliban prisoners in 2007. Mastrogiacomo's Afghan translator, Ajmal Naqshbandi, however, was killed by the Taliban after Kabul refused to release more prisoners in the deal. The result of that failure? In May 2007, Afghan Intelligence arrested Ramutallah Hanafi, then the head of Emergency's Lashkar Gah hospital, charging him for the mis-brokered deal.

Today? Mangal has accused the three arrested Italian Emergency members of the murder of Naqshbandi in 2007 -- along with the suicide terror plot.

Something smells funny here. It feels, almost, like Mangal may have jumped the shark on this one. If I am wrong, my sincerest apologies to the governor -- but I find these charges not only incredibly unlikely, but technically impossible. For Mangal's version of events to be true, the Italians working at Emergency's hospital would require the contacts, wherewithal, and know how to radicalize, recruit, and train a suicide bomber; and to acquire, build and handle the explosive vests required for the attack. Not to mention the will to do so. Suicide attacks have long pre-attack periods, and the likelihood of Italian aid workers maintaining the requisite network security for the operation unlikely.

Finally, let us turn to reason. If I were in the Pakistani Taliban, I would have experience in recruiting, training, and arming suicide terrorists. I would have the ability to move people and personnel into Afghan cities like Lashkar Gah. Moreover, I could achieve all of these things for much less than 500,000 USD -- why outsource what you can do cheaply and safely in your own organization? The attack plan outlined by Mangal was not one the relied on access to the Provincial Governor -- it was to be at an open event, so why would I (as a Pakistani Taliban) ever involve Italian NGO workers in my plans? The risk verse reward scenario here seems to negate the charges leveled against Emergency's workers.

Something else is going on here. Time will tell.

From Emergency's webpage:
"This accusation sounds simply groundless to us, and we are absolutely certain that the truth will come forth quickly. These are individuals who for years have been working to ensure medical treatment for the Afghan people. We ask that their rights be respected, the first of which is to allow them to communicate with us and let us know their personal conditions."
Both CNN and IRIN Asia have good synopses of this story, should you want to read more.


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