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Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s General Kayani given three-year extension

kayani profilePakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez  Kayani, is to be given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country's battle against Islamist militants. 

Kayani, arguably Pakistan's most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between the those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals - as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who announced the extension, said the decision to extend Kayani's term reflected "his effective role in the war against terrorism and in the enforcement of rule of law in the country."

Kayani is considered to have built a good working relationship with the United States - which needs the Pakistan Army's help in fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan - prompting speculation, denied by the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, that Washington had pressed for his term of office to be extended.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

New report accuses Pakistan’s ISI of backing Afghan insurgents

us soldiersAccording to a new report published by the London School of Economics, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the movement's leadership council, giving it significant influence over operations.

The ISI has long been accused of backing the Taliban - an accusation Pakistan denies, saying this would make no sense when it is already fighting a bloody campaign against Islamist militants at home. But the report is worth reading for its wealth of detail on the perceptions held by Taliban commanders interviewed in the field. You can see the Reuters story on the report here and the full document (pdf) here.

from Afghan Journal:

Potential allies: Karzai, Pakistan and the Taliban?

(Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Razai Gilani)

(Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani)

If you still thought things hadn't dramatically changed on the Afghan chessboard ever since U.S. President Barack Obama announced plans to begin pulling out from mid-2011, you only need to look at President Hamid Karzai's recent utterances, or more accurately the lack of it, on the Taliban and Pakistan, the other heavyweights on the stage.

For months Karzai has gone noticeably quiet on Pakistan, refusing to excoriate the neighbour for aiding the Taliban as he routinely did in the past, The Guardian quoted  a source close to the country's former intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh as saying.

from Afghan Journal:

Is the surge failing in Afghanistan?

(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province.Reuters/Yannis Behrakis

(Afghan women in a car in Kandahar province. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)

Six months into the surge in Afghanistan, Americans and Afghans alike are asking the question whether it has worked and the ugly reality is that it has failed to make a difference, writes Jackson Diehl in the Washington Post.

To be sure, as U.S. President Barack Obama said last week only half the reinforcements he ordered in December have arrived and there is still more than a year to go before the troop withdrawals begin.

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.

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?:

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:

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

from Afghan Journal:

Kandahar’s street without women

Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Afghan women wearing traditional burqas stand in the street in Kandahar November 7, 2007. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

Where women really stand in Afghan society didn't hit home to me until I walked down a busy market street in Kandahar without seeing a single woman. The birthplace of the Taliban, Kandahar is conservative even by Afghan standards.  It is also the focus of NATO's next big military offensive in Afghanistan,  and I spent a couple of days last week embedded with a U.S. military police unit there to report on plans for the offensive and the mood on the ground

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