The Great Debate UK

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(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.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

"The Taliban had like many rogue regimes, acted in bad faith.  They had engaged not to compromise, but to buy time. They had made many promises, but did not keep a single one. The Taliban refused to isolate, let alone, expel Bin Laden , and al Qaeda metastasized," says Rubin. The Sept 11 attacks were plotted at a time when U.S. engagement with the Taliban was in full swing. 

from Global News Journal:

Security: Never safer, or close to the civil liberties abyss?

cctvAs an air crash survivor I know how long jitters about safety can last. Eighteen years ago I crashed in an old Dakota in a remote corner of Africa, where such tragedies are sadly still not that rare.

The worst moment was when I was trapped for 20 seconds in the burning fuselage before being rescued by a fellow journalist. My physical injuries cleared up within months and I resumed flying, but mentally it was difficult. It took me about four years to recover my composure on planes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010: the year of living incrementally?

another barack obamaOne of the labels being attached to President Barack Obama is that he is a committed incrementalist - an insult or a compliment depending on which side of the political fence you sit, or indeed whether you believe it to be true.

A couple of articles on U.S.-led strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan fill out what that could mean going into the new year.

from The Great Debate:

War and Peace, by Barack Obama

Bernd Debusmann-- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

It is a timeline rich in irony. On Dec. 10, Barack Obama will star at a glittering ceremony in Oslo to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. That's just nine days after he ordered 30,000 additional American troops into a war many of his fellow citizens think the U.S. can neither win nor afford.

from The Great Debate:

America’s perennial Vietnam syndrome

cfcd208495d565ef66e7dff9f98764da.jpg --  Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

Prophetic words they were not. "By God, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all...The specter of Vietnam has been buried forever in the desert sands of the Arabian Peninsula."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack in Iran: What are the links to Pakistan?

A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi'ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country's most powerful military institution.

Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attack in Rawalpindi: are Pakistan’s militant groups uniting?

An attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the city of Rawalpindi has highlighted the country's vulnerability to a backlash from Islamist militants in the Pakistani Taliban as it prepares an offensive against their stronghold in South Waziristan. It follows a suicide bombing in Peshawar which prompted Interior Minister Rehman Malik to say that "all roads are leading to South Waziristan."

But what is perhaps more troubling about the attack is not so much the backlash from the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP)  holed up in the Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but rather suggestions of growing co-operation between al Qaeda-linked groups there and those based in Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Targeted killings inside Pakistan — are they working?

The death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. Predator strike last week - now considered a certainty by U.S. and Pakistani security officials - and subsequent reports of fighting among potential successors would seem to justify the strategy of taking out top insurgent leaders

The Taliban are looking in disarray and fighting among themselves to find a successor to Mehsud, the powerful leader of the Tehrik-e- Taliban  Pakistan, the umbrella group of militant groups in the northwest, if Pakistani intelligence reports are any indication. Top Taliban commanders have since sought to deny any rift, but they certainly look more on the defensive than at any time in recent months.

from FaithWorld:

Poll: Pakistanis against Taliban, disagree over sharia views

swat-talibanA new poll shows public opinion in Pakistan has turned sharply against the Taliban and other Islamist militants, even though they still do not trust the United States and President Barack Obama. Reporting on the poll, our Asia specialist in Washington, Paul Eckert, said the WorldPublicOpinion.org poll, conducted in May as Pakistan's army fought the Taliban in the Swat Valley, found that 81 percent saw the Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda as a critical threat to the country, a jump from 34 percent in a similar poll in late 2007. Read Eckert's report here. (Photo: Pakistani Taliban in Swat, 2 Nov 2007/Sherin Zada Kanju)

The poll shows a wide divergence between Pakistani public opinion and the views of the Taliban on the implementation of sharia, a religious issue sometimes cited to help explain earlier tolerance of the militants. Some 80 percent of the respondents said sharia permits education for girls, one of the first services the Taliban close down when they gain control of an area. And 75 percent said sharia allows women to work, which the Taliban do not.

from The Great Debate:

Should torture be part of the U.S.’s counterterrorism approach?

torturewriterscombo

The following piece was co-written by Matthew Alexander, Joe Navarro and Lieutenant General Robert Gard (USA-Ret.) They are pictured from left to right.

Matthew Alexander led an interrogations team assigned to a special operations task force in Iraq in 2006. He is the author of "How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq." He is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons.

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