Expert Zone

Straight from the Specialists

The crisis in Iraq and an Afghanistan prognosis

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has rampaged through western Iraq. A few thousand kilometres away in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is withdrawing, with Americans contemplating less than 10,000 troops on ground.

The Iraqi and Afghan landscapes have festering ethnic and sectarian divides in common. In Iraq, the ISIL has crafted one of the best success stories for radical Islamists in recent history. Is a similar manoeuvre on the cards in Afghanistan?

The genesis of the crisis in Iraq has its roots in Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s reluctance in exercising inclusive governance. The Kurds, 17 percent of the population, remained at the periphery – only to become more and more assertive. Further, Maliki never really made the effort required to draw Sunnis, who make up approximately 30 percent of the population, into the fold.

In Afghanistan, ethnic faultlines have proven, historically, more difficult to negotiate than sectarian divides. However, the Afghan parliament has a fair representation of ethnic groups. The army, though dominated by the Pashtuns and Tajiks, is quite representative.

An Indian pivot in Afghanistan after troop drawdown

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(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

Notwithstanding Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s disinclination to participate in talks, the Taliban retain the ability to calibrate violence levels in large parts of the country. But even if an understanding is reached with the Taliban, it does not hold the promise of lasting peace. Breakaway factions will find support and funding to continue bloodletting.

It is necessary to take stock of Kabul’s problems and find strong regional partners as anchors in unison with the depleted NATO/American establishment after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) drawdown. Kabul’s foremost problem is fielding well-trained forces. The ISAF has apparently reached the numbers it had set as its target but the forces fail to inspire confidence. Continued intensive training is required.

Exit Afghanistan?

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The opinions expressed are his own

In his victory speech to a rapturous crowd in Chicago following his re-election, President Barack Obama affirmed that America’s “decade-long conflict” in Afghanistan will now end. The line was greeted with prolonged applause — and understandably so. In fact, this ill-advised war — launched on the basis of a United Nations Security Council resolution — has been grinding on for 11 years, making it the longest in American history.

At the beginning, the war was aimed at eliminating Al Qaeda, vanquishing the Taliban, and transforming Afghanistan into something resembling a Western-style nation-state. With none of these goals fully achieved, America’s intervention — like every other intervention in Afghanistan’s history — is ending unsatisfactorily.

Pakistan apology deal incidental to real problem of its support for terrorists

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

As Washington closed down for the Independence Day holiday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly apologised to Pakistan for the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers inadvertently killed by a NATO military strike along the Afghan border last November.

Osama bin Laden’s ideology thriving a year after his death

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

One year after the elimination of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in the daring Abbottabad operation of May 2, 2011, it is evident that while the terror group has been considerably weakened, it has been consolidating over the last few months and the ideology that bin Laden espoused is thriving in the Af-Pak region.

The U.S. must move cautiously on Taliban reconciliation

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The Obama Administration is seeking to negotiate with the Taliban as it continues a drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Following recent setbacks for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan — including nationwide protests sparked by the accidental burning of Korans and a U.S. staff sergeant’s shooting rampage that killed 17 Afghan civilians — the Taliban suspended negotiations with the U.S. Some observers had touted the Taliban’s earlier willingness to open a political office in Qatar as a major breakthrough for a political process.

U.S.-Afghan agreement: Issues to be addressed

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

The draft strategic partnership agreement between the U.S. and Kabul to address their relationship after the completion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal in 2014 has been arrived at after negotiations. The draft addresses the issues for ten years beyond 2014. A scrutiny of Afghan forces and the challenges they face highlights issues that merit inclusion in the agreement.

U.S.-Pakistan reset: Still need to deal with terrorist sanctuaries

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A Pakistan parliamentary committee has released its recommendations for “resetting” the parameters of U.S.-Pakistan relations. U.S.-Pakistan ties have been severely strained since the November 26, 2011, NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Negotiating while withdrawing is poor strategy

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

In the wake of a U.S. Army staff sergeant’s murdering 16 Afghan civilians (mostly women and children), U.S. officials are contemplating the pace and scope of the U.S. troop drawdown from the country. At the same time, they are seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban leadership. U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan General John Allen said yesterday that he did not foresee an accelerated drawdown of U.S. troops because of the shooting incident, but it is almost inevitable that this terrible tragedy will lead Americans to question the viability of the U.S. mission there.

Gains seen for Taliban as post-ISAF era looms in Afghanistan

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(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)

A fear embedded deep in the Pakistani security establishment’s psyche has always been that of a successful conventional military thrust by India from across its eastern borders. This is aggravated by their assessment that Pakistan lacks the geographical depth to absorb the onslaught; its logistics dumps being especially vulnerable on account of the inability to place them at an adequate depth. The answer, often articulated, is of a pliant regime in its western neighbour Afghanistan providing the strategic geographical depth that Pakistan needs.

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