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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On Taliban talks and driving out al Qaeda

osamaIn the debate about the possibility of reaching a peace settlement with the Taliban in return for them breaking with al Qaeda, it has never been entirely clear how that breach would be defined. While on one hand the international community would expect the Taliban's break with al Qaeda to be public and irreversible, few expect them to turn on al Qaeda's leaders, preferring instead for them to leave the Afghanistan and Pakistan region.

 Somewhere in there is a huge grey area that has not yet got the attention it deserves. The Century Foundation in its newly released report (pdf) calling for a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war has come up with a suggestion which at least forms the basis of debate.  Its key point -- or at least the one that jumped out at me -- is that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would declare the jihad over: 

"The international community will resolutely insist that an acceptable and durable political settlement must include a verifiable severing of ties with al Qaeda and guarantees that Afghanistan could never again be a base from which transnational terrorists could threaten international peace and stability."

"A political settlement in which the Taliban agreed to be a part of a pluralistic governing structure would have far-reaching symbolic importance in the larger struggle against violent extremism and transnational terrorism. One potentially useful message of the end of the conflict would be an announcement by the Afghan insurgents, including Mullah Mohammad Omar as the head of the Taliban and its spiritual leader, that the jihad has come to a close and that the political settlement represents a definitive cessation of hostilities. This public statement could also reaffirm clearly the dedication of the Taliban to national Afghan goals and again emphasize the severing of ties with al Qaeda and any other transnational terrorist networks. It could declare that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for terrorist groups and will not be allowed to serve as a base for regional destabilization."

from Afghan Journal:

United States begins a new war, what happens to Afghanistan?

kunduz

The United States has said the scope of its military intervention in Libya is limited, but it nevertheless raises questions about what happens to the two other wars that it is waging, especially in Afghanistan. The last time Washington took the eye off the ball in Afghanistan was in 2003 when it launched the Iraq war and then got so bogged down there that a low level and sporadic Taliban resistance in southern Afghanistan grew into a full blown insurgency from which it is still trying to extricate itself.

The question then is will the U.S. attention again shift away from Afghanistan and to Libya  and indeed other African and Middle East countries where revolts  against decades of authoritarian rule are gaining ground, and unsettling every strategic calculation.   Already U.S. Republicans are saying they are concerned that U.S. forces may be getting drawn into a costly, long-running operation in Libya that lacks clear goals.  If it ends in a stalemate - a possibility recognized by Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen - how focused can America be on Afghanistan where you can argue that the stakes are arguably less now that al Qaeda has largely been pushed out, and the fight is almost entirely with the Taliban.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Keeping Raymond Davis and Lashkar-e-Taiba in perspective

tajmumbaiAccording to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that "though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.")

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

rehman malikAfter two assassinations, Pakistani politicians are finally beginning to address tensions over the country's blasphemy laws.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in an interview politicians should be able to reach a cross-party consensus on preventing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) religious party. "Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman ... and I hope this matter can be thrashed out, whenever this meeting takes place." 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s debate on drones, lifting the secrecy

droneIn a rare admission of the effectiveness of drone strikes, a senior Pakistani military officer has said most of those killed are hard-core militants, including foreigners, according to Dawn newspaper.

It quotes Major-General Ghayur Mehmood as telling reporters at a briefing in Miramshah, in North Waziristan, that, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

From Afghanistan to Libya; rethinking the role of the military

ras lanufIn a report this month calling for faster progress on a political settlement on Afghanistan, the influential UK parliamentary foreign affairs committee was unusually critical of the dominance of the military in setting Afghan policy.

"We conclude that there are grounds for concern over the relationship between the military and politicians. We further conclude that this relationship has, over a number of years, gone awry and needs to be re-calibrated  ... we believe that problems in Afghanistan highlight the need for a corresponding cultural shift within Whitehall to ensure that those charged with taking foreign policy decisions and providing vitally important political leadership are able to question and appraise military advice with appropriate vigour," it said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, an assassination and the death of words

bhattiWhen I first heard about Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination, there seemed to be nothing sensible to be said about it.  Not yet another prediction about Pakistan's growing instability, nor even an outpouring of anger of the kind that followed the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in the English-language media.  The assassination of the Minorities Minister did not appear to portend anything beyond the actual tragedy of his death.  And nor could anyone say it came as a  surprise. A loss of words, then. A painful punctuation mark.

Cafe Pyala has now articulated far better than I could what went through my mind when I first heard about the assassination.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

U.S.-Pakistan relations better than they look

raymond davisGiven the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.

At a strategic level, however, there's actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.

from Tales from the Trail:

Tweet like an Egyptian — Hillary Clinton tries it out

AFGHANISTAN-USA/

Young Egyptians, who famously used Internet services like Facebook and Twitter to launch their recent revolution, turned their focus to Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. They peppered the top U.S. diplomat with skeptical questions about longtime U.S. support for former  President Hosni Mubarak and what many felt was its slow embrace of the movement to topple him.

Clinton, taking a personal spin at what she has called "21st Century Statecraft", fielded a selection of some 6,500 questions that young Egyptians posed through Twitter,  Facebook and the Arabic-language website www.masrawy.com -- and many reflected deep suspicions about the U.S. role in Egypt.

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