Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).
By C. Uday Bhaskar
The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York’s Times Square.
From the barrage of news and commentary that floods various media outlets here in Washington DC, it is evident that the Obama Af-Pak policy unveiled with considerable fanfare last year will be in for detailed and contested policy review.
Immediate U.S. interests apart – including the Obama second term, the stakes for the long-term stability of the entire southern Asian region and the troubled Muslim populace in the scattered diaspora ranging from North America to west Europe are immense and complex.
(A U.S. soldier searches an Afghan man in Kandahar. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)
If you believe the official line from U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan, the upcoming offensive in Kandahar involving no less than 23,000 foreign and Afghan troops will involve a lot of polite words, meeting with tribal elders and “talking” the Taliban out of their spiritual home.
The soft rhetoric over the biggest ground operation of the nine-year war has even drawn similarities to the infamous comments made by the then British Defence Secretary John Reid, when Britain expanded its mission into Helmand in early 2006. Reid said he hoped Britain’s “peacekeeping” mission, expected to last three years, would be completed without a shot being fired.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
After the media frenzy following last weekend's failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.
Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called "Punjabi Taliban" - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state. The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.
Pakistan has come under renewed spotlight following the arrest of a U.S. citizen of Pakistani descent for a failed bombing in New York’s Times Square and claims of responsibility by the Pakistani Taliban.
It is too early to confirm the plot was tied to any of a multitude of militant groups operating in Pakistan. Indeed, security experts have been sceptical about the claim by the Pakistan Taliban saying they doubt it has the reach to strike in Manhattan.
At some point this month or early June, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will outnumber those in Iraq, writes Michael E. O ‘Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. It’s an artificial milestone but it is worth noting because it tells you a good deal about the two wars and where the United States stands in each.
The cross-over is also a measure of how big and rapid has the shift been in America’s military power toward Afghanistan since President Barack Obama took office last year promising to bring the troops home.
Now that India and Pakistan have agreed to hold further talks following a meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries, are they going to step back from a bruising confrontation in Afghanistan?
It’s a war fought in the shadows with spies and proxies, and lots of money. Once in a while it gets really nasty as in deadly attacks on Indian interests for which New Delhi has pointed the finger at Pakistan.
Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment has published by far one of the most detailed studies of the Taliban, their structure, leadership and just how they view the world. Its interesting because even after all these years they remain a bit of an enigma beginning with the reclusive founder and supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.
As Stenersen notes, a lot of the attention within NATO has been on defeating the insurgency or how best to manage it. Less attention has been given to trying to understand who the insurgents are, and what they are fighting for. Even the way we describe them is not very defined. The insurgents are often lumped together as “al Qaeda and the Talban” , even though in many fundamental ways they could be vastly dissimilar, or described as OMF (Other military Forces) as NATO tends to do in militaryspeak, perhaps in the belief that denying them a proper name diminishes them.
The people of Kandahar province have greater trust in the Taliban than in the local government and an overwhelming majority consider them to be our “Afghan brothers” according to a poll commissioned by the U.S. army ahead of an impending offensive in the Taliban’s spiritual capital.