Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan getting ahead of itself on the Afghan chessboard?

(An Afghan woman outside  a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

(An Afghan woman outside a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

If you have been reading news reports and blogs in recent weeks on Pakistan's Afghanistan strategy, you would think Islamabad has emerged at the top of the heap, holding all the cards to a possible endgame. Its close ties to the Afghan Taliban put Islamabad in a unique position for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year-war, with little place for arch rival India which has been trying to muscle into its sphere of influence.

But Pakistan must not be taken in by all the hype; it has neither delivered a strategic coup nor has it fully secured its interests, argue two experts in separate pieces that seem to cut through all the noise.

The ultimate measure of success in the current conflict is the security of the Pakistani people and that is showing no signs of improvement, says Pakistani commentator Ahsan Butt in an article carried by Foreign Policy's AFPAK channel. Last week's bombings in Lahore and in Swat the following day underlined the power of the militants to strike deep in the heartland despite a successful ground offensive in South Waziristan last year and stepped-up missile strikes by unmanned drone aircraft. What use is seeking strategic depth when you are being attacked at home?

Doubtless such peaks in violence are often followed by valleys, but  it will be hard to argue that the threat of indiscriminate violence against Pakistani citizens has dissipated in a meaningful way, says Butt. "Ultimately, this is what matters most. The job of the political and military leadership is not to secure 'Pakistan's interests' -- whatever they may be -- in Afghanistan. Such language bears an uncanny resemblance to the neoimperialism that both our right and left so vociferously denounce when it originates from the West. No, the job of our political and military leadership is to ensure a robust, but by no means perfect, level of safety for its citizens, so that they can go about their daily lives. It's pretty simple."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

mehsudAccording to the Los Angeles Times, a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment. It quotes U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials as saying that threats to the militants' long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

"U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan's remote regions," the newspaper says. "But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: winning over Tehran and Kabul

iran pakistanAccording to the Iranian foreign minister, quoted by Press TV, this week's visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad was related to plans for a trilateral summit between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The relationship between the three countries and potential influence on Afghanistan gets a lot less attention than the strained ties between India and Pakistan. But it's worth watching closely for the way it can shape the regional competition for influence in Afghanistan ahead of an expected drawdown of U.S. troops in 2011.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Kabul this week, and shortly afterwards Karzai flew to Islamabad.

from Afghan Journal:

Terror index: Iraq down, but Afghanistan and Pakistan red-hot

A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

Iraqis  are voting today for a new parliament and despite the bombings in the run-up to the election, the over-all trend is down, according to the Brookings Institution. Not so in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, America 's other war, which remains red-hot according to a country index that the Washington-based thinktank  puts out for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The index is a statistical compilation of economic, puiblic opinion and security data.

It's quite instructive just to look at the numbers in the three  countries. Weekly violent incidents in Iraq are  about 90 percent less frequent than in the months just before the surge.  Violent deaths from the vestiges of war are in the range of 100 to 200 civilians a month, meaning that mundane Iraqi crime is probably now a greater threat to most citizens than politically-motivated violence, Brookings says in its latest update.

from Afghan Journal:

Is demilitarised Europe affecting operations in Afghanistan?

German Bundeswehr army soldiers in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Picture by Fabrizio Bensch)

German Bundeswehr army soldiers in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Picture by Fabrizio Bensch)

U.S. frustration with Europe's unwillingness or inability to commit resources to Afghanistan, both in terms of men and materiel, appears to have boiled over.  Last week U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in a speech at the National Defense University in Washington that public and political opposition to the military was so great in Europe  it was affecting NATO operations in Afghanistan. The alliance desperately needed combat helicopters and cargo planes, but years of successive cutbacks in defence funding by European nations had left it unable to rise to the challenge. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Seeking Saudi cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan

saudiPrime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the first visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader since 1982, seeking to build economic ties and to enlist the kingdom's help in improving regional security. While much of the focus is likely to be on securing oil supplies for India's growing economy, the visit is also part of the complex manoeuvres by regional players jostling for position on Afghanistan and beyond.

Singh told Saudi journalists ahead of the visit that he would discuss with Saudi King Abdullah how to promote greater stability and security in the region.  "Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people. We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security," he said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the Kabul attack

kabulAs discussed in my last post, the place to watch for developments on relations between India and Pakistan right now is more likely to be Kabul than Kashmir. That may have been graphically illustrated when Taliban fighters attacked Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people, including up to nine Indians.

It is too early to say whether the attack specifically targetted Indian interests or whether it was aimed at foreigners more generally. But India has blamed earlier attacks on its interests in Afghanistan on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency -- its embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India send in their professional diplomats to break the stalemate

raobashirThe foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do -- laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to "keep in touch".

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India's top diplomat, focused on what India calls "cross-border terrorism". India also handed three new dossiers of evidence to the Pakistani delegation, including one on Hafez Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who New Delhi accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack. Pakistan had said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

arghandabRegular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument -- much touted during President Barack Obama's election campaign -- was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan -- including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China -- to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.

The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One.  It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries -- including in staunch U.S. ally Britain -- turns against the long war in Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s arrest of Mullah Baradar: tactics or strategy?

marjahThe arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi leaves big unanswered questions about why Pakistan chose to act now against a man credited with giving operational coherence to Afghan Taliban (or Quetta Shura Taliban) operations in Afghanistan.

The answers to those questions depend very much on the assumptions you start out with about what Pakistan is trying to achieve in Afghanistan. But for the sake of of argument, let's take three  of them -- that it is pushing the Taliban to sever ties with al Qaeda and enter negotiations on a political settlement; that it wants a stable Afghanistan, and that it is aiming to keep it free of Indian and Iranian influence.

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