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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.

As discussed in this analysis, we are now seeing some fresh signs of regional cooperation. The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan hold talks on Thursday to try to break a diplomatic freeze which followed the 2008 attack on Mumbai. And Pakistan and Iran may have cooperated on the arrest of Jundollah leader Abdolmalek Rigi.

The utopian argument may finally about to have its day. That said, none of this is following a U.S. script. So we could also  see -- as happened before 1914 -- the best efforts at balancing out every nation's interests turning out for the worst.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: finding the right forum for dialogue

agra"Peace," said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw "is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous."  Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao begins that arduous process on Thursday when she meets her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to try to break a diplomatic freeze that followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.

 Rao, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said she hoped to "build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern between our two countries".

from Afghan Journal:

Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner the next Afghan Taliban commander?

(An Afghan soldier speaks at a flag raising ceremony in Marjah)

(An Afghan soldier speaks at a flag-raising ceremony in Marjah)

It is a measure of the shadowy nature of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan that it is hard to come up with even a couple of names of senior figures who could possibly succeed  top commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader following his capture in a joint U.S.-Pakistan raid.

Such is the diffused leadership structure - more like a franchise down to the villages - that the only thing you can say for certain is that the Islamist movement is still led by the one-eyed Mullah Mohammad Omar, although according to reports  he hasn't been seen even by his own followers in the past three years.

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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pune bombing unlikely to derail India-Pakistan talks

german bakeryThis weekend's bombing which killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune -- the first major attack since the 2008 assault on Mumbai -- is unlikely to derail plans for the foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan to hold talks on Feb. 25.

The Hindu newspaper -- which is well-informed about the thinking in the prime minister's office where India's policy towards Pakistan is decided -- says there will be no rethinking about the planned talks

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

“My Life with the Taliban” – on study and Islamic values

zaeefIn  "My Life with the Taliban",  Abdul Salam Zaeef -- who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 -- writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.

"It is work that has no connection with the world's affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind," he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India's growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a "grand bargain" from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

from Afghan Journal:

The agony of Pakistan

PAKISTAN-VIOLENCE/

It must take a particularly determined lot to bomb a bus full of pilgrims, killing scores of them, and then following the wounded to a hospital to unleash a second attack to kill some more. Karachi's twin explosions on Friday, targeting Shia Muslims on their way to a religious procession were on par with some of the worst atrocities committed in recent months.

It also came just two days after a bombing in Lower Dir, near Swat, in which a convoy of soldiers including U.S. servicemen were targeted while on their way to open a girls school. Quite apart from the fact that the U.S. soldiers were the obvious targets, the renewed violence along with fresh reports of flogging by the Taliban calls into question the broader issue of negotiating with hard-core Islamists as proposed by the Afghan government just over the border.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Afghanistan: fighting over the terms of a settlement

karzai londonAt last week's London conference, two of the great truisms of warfare punched their way to the surface. The first is that wars are fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield. With public support for the war in Afghanistan ebbing away, the United States and its allies in NATO have shifted from seeking outright victory to looking for an exit strategy that will allow them to start bringing home their troops next year.  Rather as the British did after their two failed invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century, they are sending in reinforcements in a display of military might which they hope will secure better terms in an eventual settlement.

The other truism is that if you can't win outright victory on the battlefield, then you have to negotiate with your enemies. President Hamid Karzai set the ball rolling by announcing he would hold a peace council to which, according to an Afghan government spokesman, the Taliban leadership would be invited.  Karzai has made such suggestions before, and it is by no means clear the Taliban leadership will send representatives. What was different this time, however, was the context.  Karzai's suggestion no longer met with the same resistance from war-weary governments, who stressed that it was up to the Afghans themselves to lead the process of reconciliation.  He also coupled his call for a peace council with an appeal to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bring peace to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is a trusted interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership; Pakistan is the only country which still has some measure of leverage over them. Thus Karzai's call for a loya jirga, though not dramatic in itself, became emblematic of a broader shift towards seeking a political settlement to end the war.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On Taliban/AQ ties and the Afghanistan exit strategy

british soldierVahid Brown at the CTC Sentinel has a new article (pdf document) out arguing that the relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden before 9/11 was considerably more fractious than it was made out to be.  The main source of argument was between the Taliban's Afghan nationalist agenda and bin Laden's view of global jihad, and in particular his determination to attack the United States, he says.

Based on an account by an insider, he challenges the assumption that bin Laden personally swore an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar. The account by Egyptian jihadist Mustafa Hamid, better known as Abul-Walid al-Masri, was first published in jihadist forums in 2007 but gained little attention outside specialist websites.

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