Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

"No final decisions have been made, but military officials said that Petraeus, who took command last July, will rotate out of Afghanistan before the end of the year," it adds.

Petraeus has been talked about for a while as a possible successor to Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  (CJCS),  who is expected to retire in October.  Any move would be part of a broader shake-up in the administration, which will also see Defense Secretary Robert Gates retire this year.

Slamming the door on reconciliation with Taliban

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Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta has said that the Taliban would have to lay down arms, accept the constitution in its current form and run for elections if they wanted a share of power.  If the Taliban thought they could get cabinet berths for the asking in return for a peace deal, they have another thing coming, he told the McClatchy newspapers in an interview.

If that’s the Afghan government’s stand,  a deal with the insurgents seems to be a non-starter. Imagine the Taliban agreeing to take part in a Western-style election  campaign under a constitution they have long denounced as forced on the country following their ouster in 2001. The idea of the Taliban – more known for their brutal methods –  knocking on doors seeking votes seems a bit far fetched at the moment. Last week’s reports of the Taliban stoning a young couple to death in rather barbaric fashion in northern Afghanistan on charges of adultery have only reinforced the image of a group unyielding in its interpretation of sharia  law.

Buying out Taliban foot soldiers a long shot

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If a shopkeeper from Quetta impersonating as a Taliban commander made a mockery of President Hamid Karzai’s efforts to seek reconciliation with the insurgent leadership, a parallel programme to lure away foot soldiers  too made little headway last year. A bottom-up reintegration of  low to mid-level fighters back into society was meant to complement the top-down approach of seeking a compromise with the leadership. In the event, while there is little sign of  any engagement, at least in the public domain  ( although it has to be said for a peace process to be meaningful it probably has to be conducted away from the public eye), only a handful of rebels have stepped forward to lay down their weapons.

A year into the reintegration programme, less than 800 insurgents agreed to end the fight, according to  Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman. That makes up for less than 3 percent of the estimated militant strength of 30,000. At this rate it will take a decade to peel away the rank-and file, assuming the overall strength remains constant.  More disappointingly, the men who signed up for the programme weren’t even hard core Taliban. They were mostly low-level community-defense forces, Ackerman quotes British Maj.Gen. Phil Jones, the NATO official in charge of enticing the insurgents, as saying.

US military surge: the view from Kandahar

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The U.S. military has stopped the Taliban momentum in southern Afghanistan, and is probably starting to reverse it following the surge, according to a study we wrote about this week here. The view from the ground, though, is much less rosy.

Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy has published a paper under its Afghan Voices series looking at how ordinary Afghans view the current round of military operations centred around Kandahar.

Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

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 Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people. While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right.

 On Tuesday, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In India-Iran oil spat, nuclear row trumps Afghan war

khatamiNot too long ago, you could have predicted relatively easily how regional rivalries would play out in Afghanistan.  Saudi Arabia would line up alongside Pakistan while Iran and India would coordinate their policies to curb the influence of their main regional rivals. 

But that pattern has been shifting for a while -- the row over Indian oil payments to Iran is if anything a continuation of that shift rather than a dramatic new departure in global diplomacy.  And as two foreign policy crises converge, over Iran's nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan, the chances are that those traditional alliances will be dented further. It is no longer a safe bet to assume that rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran will fit neatly into Pakistan-India hostility so that the four countries fall easily into two opposing camps come any final showdown over Afghanistan.

An address for the Taliban in Turkey ?

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai has supported a proposal to open an office for the Taliban in a third country such as Turkey.  Such a move could help facilitate talks with the  insurgent group on reconciliation and reintegration of members back into society, and Kabul was happy for Turkey to be a venue for such a process, he said last week, following a trilateral summit involving the presidents of Turkey and Pakistan.

The question is while a legitimate calling card for the Taliban would be a step forward, the insurgent group itself shows no signs yet of stepping out of the shadows, despite the best entreaties of  and some of his European backers. The Taliban remain steadfast in their stand that they won’t talk to the Afghan government unless foreign troops leave the country. More so at the present time when U.S. commander General David Petraeus has intensified the battle against them and the Taliban have responded in equal measure.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Academics, experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks

arghandabA group of academics, journalists and NGO workers have published an open letter to President Barack Obama appealing to him to support direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership.

The letter argues that the situation on the ground on Afghanistan is much worse than a year ago. "With Pakistan's active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution," it says.

WikiLeaks : Talks with the Taliban a non-starter

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai may be pushing for talks with the Taliban in public as the only way to end the nine-year war, but in private he is as determined as the United States in opposing any place for top Taliban leaders  in a future government , the latest set of WikiLeaks documents show.  Those repeated calls for talks  are more aimed at sowing dissensions in the insurgent group than  any serious attempt for a negotiated settlement of the war. Indeed as The Guardian reports on the leaked comments on its website, so far as Karzai and the Obama administration are concerned, the only option open to the Taliban is surrender.

Which pretty much is a deal-maker, given that the Taliban having fought the world’s most advanced military formation to a virtual stalemate, have shown few signs of a compromise, much less  surrender.

Denuclearising Pakistan

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A woman walks past a Pakistan national flag on display at a sidewalk in Lahore August 13, 2010. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/Files

At about the time WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables, including one related to a secret attempt to remove enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor, a top Pakistani military official held a briefing for journalists that focused on U.S.-Pakistan ties.

Dawn’s Cyril Almeida has written a piece based on the officer’s comments made on the condition of anonymity, and they offer the closest glimpse you can possibly get of the troubled ties between the allies.

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