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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Separating the Taliban from al Qaeda

strong chopperThe Afghan Taliban would be ready to break with al Qaeda in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war, and to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a base for international terrorism, according to a report by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, released by New York University.

It says that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was strained both before and after the September 11 2001 attacks, partly because of their very different ideological roots. Al Qaeda grew out of militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably in Egypt, which -- when fused with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan -- created its own view of global jihad. Taliban leaders grew up in rural southern Afghanistan, isolated from world events. Many were too young to play a big role in the Afghan jihad, and had no close ties to al Qaeda until after they took power in 1996.

"Many Taliban leaders of the older generation are still potential partners for a negotiated settlement. They are not implacably opposed to the U.S. or West in general but to specific actions or policies in Afghanistan. These figures now understand the position of the international community much better than they did before 2001. They are not seeking a return to the failed interactions between the Taliban and the international community of the 1990s. At present they still represent the movement," the report concludes.

"Could the older-generation leadership be relied on to keep Afghanistan terror-free? The reaction of the insurgents depends in part on how their opponents choose to engage them. There would be support for a break with al-Qaeda within the senior leadership, but how this is addressed will determine how effective the break is to be. What is highly likely is that engagement on a political level will create opportunities that do not yet exist."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Army, Allah and America: on Pakistani pitfalls and the future of Egypt

egyptAll countries are unique and comparing two of the world's most populous Muslim countries, Egypt and Pakistan, is as risky as comparing Britain to France at the time of the French Revolution. But many of the challenges likely to confront Egypt as it emerges from the mass protests against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak are similar to those Pakistan has faced in the past, and provide at least a guide on what questions need to be addressed.  In Pakistan, they are often summarised as the three A's -- Army, Allah and America.

Both have powerful armies which are seen as the backbone of the country; both have to work out how to accommodate political Islam with democracy, both are allies of America, yet with people who resent American power in propping up unpopular elites.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Anyone here been to Pakistan and speaks English?

cricket  refugeeU.S. Vice President Joe Biden made a rather odd comment during his visit to Pakistan this week.  "We want what you want: a strong, stable, democratic Pakistan," he told a news conference, according to the Washington Post.  "We wish your success because it's in our own interest." 

It was  not that he was wrong to deny accusations that the United States is out to destabilise Pakistan - a conspiracy theory fuelled by confusion over U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which to many Pakistanis seems so irrational that they assume there must be a darker plan behind it. Nor that he was wrong to promote democracy -- although the United States has had a track record of backing military rulers in Pakistan when it suits them.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Bajaur bombing highlights conflicting U.S.-Pakistan interests

damadola2Last week's suicide bombing in Pakistan's Bajaur region, which killed at least 40 people, had a grim predictability to  it.  The Pakistan Army cleared Pakistani Taliban militants out of their main strongholds in Bajaur, which borders Afghanistan's Kunar province, after 20 months of intense fighting which ended earlier this year.  But as discussed in this post in October the insurgents' ability to flee to Kunar -- where the U.S. military presence has been thinned out -- combined with a failure to provide Bajaur with good governance, suggested the security situation in the region was likely to be deteriorating. The bombing appeared to confirm those fears.

The implications go far beyond Bajaur. The Pakistan Army has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a military offensive against militant strongholds in North Waziristan until it has secured gains made elsewhere.  Pakistani daily The Express Tribune quoted army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas as reiterating that point after the Bajaur bombing and after fighting in the neighbouring Mohmand region. Until areas "cleared" by the military were consolidated, "it is impossible to rush into another campaign,” it quoted him as saying.

UN victory for gay rights supporters

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Suporters of rights for gays and lesbians worldwide secured a major victory at the United Nations this week. The 192-nation U.N. General Assembly voted to restore a reference to killings due to sexual orientation that had been deleted from a resolution condemning unjustified slayings. The shift came after the United States submitted an amendment to restore the reference, which the General Assembly’s human rights committee removed last month from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions that is adopted every two years.

The U.S. amendment that restored the reference to sexual orientation was adopted with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The amended resolution was then approved with 122 yes votes, one against and 62 abstentions. (Saudi Arabia cast the sole vote against the resolution, and the United States was among those who abstained.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

China’s South Asia tour: win-win meets zero sum

wenJust over a year ago, President Barack Obama suggested during a visit to Beijing that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  As I wrote at the time, China — Islamabad’s most loyal partner — was an obvious country to turn to for help in working out how to deal with Pakistan.  Its economy would be the first to gain from greater regional stability which opened up trade routes and improved its access to energy supplies. And it also shared some of Washington’s concerns about Islamist militancy, particularly if this were to spread unrest in its Muslim Xinjiang region.

The big question was whether the suggestion would fall foul of the zero sum game thinking which has bedevilled relations between India, Pakistan and China for nearly 50 years.  India was defeated by China in a border war in 1962 and since then has regarded it as its main military threat. Pakistan has built close ties with China to offset what it sees as its own main military threat from its much larger neighbour India. China in turn has been able to use its relationship with Pakistan to clip India's wings and curb any ambitions it has at regional hegemony.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan talks up al Qaeda/Taliban split

british soldierPakistan is increasingly talking up the need for a political settlement in Afghanistan which would force al Qaeda to leave the region. And while there is little sign yet Washington is ready to hold serious negotiations with Afghan insurgents, analysts detect a new tone in Pakistani comments about driving Osama bin Laden's organization out of its haven on the Pakistan border.

A senior security official said the Afghan stalemate could be lifted by setting a minimum agenda in which insurgents broke with al Qaeda. There were indications, he said, they could renounce the organisation and ask it to leave the region. Senior politician Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, a pro-Taliban member of the ruling coalition, also said a settlement "would squeeze the room for al Qaeda."  "Al Qaeda will have to fall in line or leave the region," he told Reuters in an interview late last month.

WikiLeaks Scandal: Is the United Nations a Den of Spies?

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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has dismissed suggestions that her diplomats are part-time spies, as suggested by the latest batch of documents released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks.
 
“Let me be very clear — our diplomats are just that, they’re diplomats,” Rice told reporters at the United Nations where she was peppered with questions about the latest chapter in the WikiLeaks scandal. “Our diplomats are doing what diplomats do around the world every day, which is build relationships, negotiate, advance our interests and work to find common solutions to complex problems.”
 
She didn’t exactly deny the charges of espionage. But the top U.S. diplomat in New York did reject the idea that there would be any diplomatic fallout from the release of thousands of documents obtained by WikiLeaks, some of which have been published by The Guardian and other newspapers.
 
One U.S. diplomatic cable published by The Guardian shows how the State Department instructed diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere around the world to collect credit card and frequent flyer numbers, work schedules and biometric data for U.N. officials and diplomats. Among the personalities of interest was U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as were the ambassadors of the other 14 Security Council member states. 
 
There is nothing new about espionage at the United Nations, but it’s always embarrassing when classified documents proving it happens surface in the media.
 
Most Security Council envoys declined to comment on the WikiLeaks documents as they headed into the council chambers on Monday for a meeting on North Korea. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, told reporters, “Surprise, surprise.”
 
Churkin should know. One of the diplomats in his charge was implicated earlier this year in a high-profile Russian espionage case in the United States in which nearly a dozen people were accused of being part of a Russian spy ring that carried out deep-cover work in the United States to recruit political sources and gather information for Moscow. The U.S. Justice Department said that an unnamed diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations had delivered payments to the spy ring.
    
And then there was the man known as “Comrade J”, a Russian spy based in New York from 1995 to 2000. Working out of Russia’s U.N. mission, Comrade J directed Russian espionage activity in New York City and personally oversaw all covert operations against the United States and its allies in the United Nations. According to a book about his exploits, Comrade J eventually became a double agent for the FBI.
 
Nor does the history of U.N. espionage end there. In 2004, a former British cabinet minister revealed that British intelligence agents had spied on Ban Ki-moon’s predecessor Kofi Annan, who fell afoul of Washington and London by opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 
    
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was also the victim of a phone-bugging operation, according to media reports from 2004. He had also opposed the invasion of Iraq and angered the United States by saying that their intelligence on Saddam Hussein’s alleged revival of his nuclear arms program was not only incorrect but partly based on falsified evidence. U.S. officials pored over transcripts of ElBaradei’s telephone intercepts in an attempt to secure evidence of mistakes that could be used to oust him from his post, the reports said. Not only did they fail to unseat him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Wikileaks on Pakistan

iran pakistanIn the State Department cables released by Wikileaks and so far reported, the most eye-catching as far as Pakistan is concerned is a row with Washington over nuclear fuel.

According to the New York Times, the cables show:

"A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Between the lines: Obama’s comments on Kashmir

nubra reducedPresident Barack Obama's words on relations with Pakistan were always going to be carefully scripted during his visit to India, where even to say the word "Kashmir"  aloud in public can raise jitters about U.S. interference in what New Delhi sees as a bilateral dispute.

So first up, here's what he had to say during a news conference in New Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in response to a question about what role the United States could play in resolving the Kashmir dispute (NDTV has the video).

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