Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

marjah"The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience."

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

If, so the argument goes, the United States is willing to reach an eventual political settlement with the Taliban, why does it keep launching fresh military offensives? Or alternatively, if it has no intention of making a deal, why has President Barack Obama promised to start drawing down troops in 2011, signalling to the Taliban that all they need to do is wait it out until the Americans leave?

In this 2008 Newsweek article which carries remarkable resonance today, Kissinger, a former National Security Adviser, sets out the risks of a strategy that is somewhere between war and peace.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Could you pass bin Laden to the left please?

osamaWhatever Osama bin Laden once aspired to, it was not to be passed around the table like a bottle of port  in the British Raj nor worse, handed on quickly  in a child's game of Pass the Parcel. Yet that is the fate which for now appears to be chasing him.

For years, the default assumption has been that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

karachiAfter 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.

from Afghan Journal:

U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan set to overtake Iraq

(On patrol in Kandahar proivince.Reuters/Jonathon Burch

(On patrol in Kandahar province. Reuters/Jonathon Burch)

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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

gwadarBaluchistan, Pakistan's biggest province, rarely gets much attention from the international media, and what little it does is dwarfed by that showered on Afghanistan.  So it is with a certain amount of deliberate provocation that I ask the question posed in the headline: Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

Before everyone answers with a resounding "no", do pause to consider that China - renowned for its long-term planning - has invested heavily in Baluchistan, including building a deep water port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to give it access to Gulf oil supplies.  The region is rich in gas and minerals; attracting strong international interest in spite of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatists. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties - the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

from Afghan Journal:

Killing more efficiently: America’s violin-sized missiles

A unmanned Predator being rolled out of a hangar.REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

(An unmanned Predator being rolled out of a hangar. REUTERS/Chris Helgren)

The CIA is using smaller, advanced missiles - some of them no longer than a violin-case - to target militants in Pakistan's tribal belt, according to the Washington Post.

The idea is to limit civilian casualties, the newspaper said quoting defence officials, after months of deadly missile strikes by unmanned Predator aircraft that has so burned Pakistan both in terms of the actual collateral damage and its sense of loss of sovereignty.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On tipping points and Taliban talks

british soldierOne of the issues that seems to arouse the strongest emotions in the Afghan debate is the question of when the United States and its allies should engage in talks with the Taliban.  Some argued that the moment was ripe a few months ago, when both sides were finely balanced against each other and therefore both more likely to make the kind of concessions that would make negotiations possible.  It was an argument that surfaced forcefully at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Others insisted that U.S.-led forces had to secure more gains on the battlefield first.

If you go by this survey carried out in December by Human Terrain Systems (pdf) (published this month by Danger Room) the people of Kandahar province were convinced at the end of last year of the need for negotiations: (as usual health warnings apply to any survey conducted in a conflict zone):

from Afghan Journal:

Karzai, the West and the diplomatic marriage from hell

karzai and O

One of my Kabul press corps colleagues once described covering President Hamid Karzai’s government and the Western diplomats who are supposed to be supporting it as a lot like being friends with a couple while they go through a savage divorce. We reporters hop back and forth, from cocktail party to quiet lunch to private briefing, listening to charming Afghans and Westerners -– many of whom we personally like very much -- say outrageously nasty things about each other. Usually, the invective is whispered “off the record” by both sides, so you, dear reader, miss out on the opportunity to learn just how dysfunctional one of the world’s most important diplomatic relationships has become.

Over the past few weeks, the secret got out. Karzai -- in a speech that was described as an outburst but which palace insiders say was carefully planned -- said in public what his allies have been muttering in private for months: that Western diplomats orchestrated the notorious election debacle last year that saw a third of his votes thrown out for fraud. The White House and State Department were apoplectic: “disturbing”, “untrue”, “preposterous” they called it. Peter Galbraith, the U.S. diplomat who was the number two U.N. official in Kabul during last year’s election, went on TV and said he thought Karzai might be crazy or on drugs. Karzai’s camp’s response: Who’s being preposterous now?

from Afghan Journal:

You got to do more, Pakistan tells United States

(Standing guard during a night operation in Kunar -  Carlos Barria)

(Standing guard during a night operation in Kunar - Carlos Barria)

The shoe's on the other foot. The Pakistani army is saying that it's being let down by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan just when it has made hard-fought gains against militants along its stretch of the border.

Some 700 militants have fled a successful military offensive in Pakistan's Bajaur tribal agency to the Afghan province of Kunar just over the border but no action had been taken against them, according to a Reuters report from the area.

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