Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Afghan Journal:

Germany slips up again in Afghanistan

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(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

(German soldiers in Afghanistan salute as a helicopter carrying coffins of their fallen comrades departs)

Germany has slipped up again in Afghanistan, mistakenly killing five Afghan soldiers after losing three of its own soldiers in a gunfight with insurgents in the northern province of Kunduz. For a nation with little appetite for a war 3,000 miles away, the losses couldn't come at a worse time. Germany is still feeling the repercussions of  an incident in September in which its forces called in a U.S. air strike that killed scores of people, at least 30 civilians,  the deadliest incident involving German forces since World War 11.

But just what is Germany up against in Kunduz? While the intensity of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan's southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand has received the most attention, the situation in the Germans part of the north has deteriorated rapidly. Soldiers earlier on could patrol in unarmored vehicles. Now there are places where they cannot move even in armored vehicles without an entire company of soldiers according to this story.

Indeed the Taliban have made a dramatic comeback in Kunduz just as they come under pressure in the south, according to this report in the Washington Post. Local officials and residents say two of the province’s districts are almost completely under Taliban control. There, girls’ schools have been closed down, women are largely prohibited from venturing outdoors unless they are covered from head to toe, and residents are forced to pay a religious “tax”, usually amounting to 10 percent of their meager wages.  (You would have to wonder, again, the wisdom of seeking reconciliation with the Taliban given their extreme view  of women is unchanged, but that's a separate issue at the moment).

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

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(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan getting ahead of itself on the Afghan chessboard?

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(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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

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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 Afghan Journal:

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

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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:

Taliban demand freedom of speech, condemn ban on attack cover

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(Afghan widows in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

(Afghan widows in Kabul. Picture by Ahmad Masood)

Afghanistan's Taliban have condemned a government plan to ban live coverage of their attacks, saying the measure was a violation of free speech.   For a group that had itself banned television, not to mention music during its rule from 1996 to 2001, that's pretty rich irony.

On Monday, Afghan authorities announced a ban on filming of live attacks, saying such images emboldened the  militants who have launched strikes around the country just as NATO forces are in the middle of an offensive. A day later, officials promised to clarify the restrictions, and hinted they may row back from the most draconian measures.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

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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 Afghan Journal:

America attempting a more “humane war” in Afghanistan

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(A U.S. Marine in Marjah, picture by Goran Tomasevic)

(A U.S. Marine in Marjah, picture by Goran Tomasevic)

One of the reasons the big U.S.-led offensive in Afghanistan's Marjah area has slowed down is because the Marines are trying to avoid civilian casualties at all costs, according to military commanders. So use of air power, the key to U.S. battle strategy, has been cut back because of the risk of collateral damage from strikes.

Lara M. Dadkhah, an intelligence analyst, in a New York Times op-ed says troops under heavy attack in Marjah have had to wait for an hour or more for air support so that insurgents were properly identified. "We didn't come to Marjah to destroy it, or to hurt civilians," Dadkhah quotes a Marine officer as saying after he waited 90 minutes before the Cobra helicopters he had requested showed up with their Hellfire missiles.

from Afghan Journal:

Ex-Guantanamo Bay prisoner the next Afghan Taliban commander?

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(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?

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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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