Tales from the Trail

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.

If, so the argument goes, the United States is willing to reach an eventual political settlement with the Taliban, why does it keep launching fresh military offensives? Or alternatively, if it has no intention of making a deal, why has President Barack Obama promised to start drawing down troops in 2011, signalling to the Taliban that all they need to do is wait it out until the Americans leave?

In this 2008 Newsweek article which carries remarkable resonance today, Kissinger, a former National Security Adviser, sets out the risks of a strategy that is somewhere between war and peace.

"When the United States goes to war, it should be able to describe to itself how it defines victory and how it proposes to achieve it. Or else how it proposes to end its military engagement and by what diplomacy. In Vietnam, America sent combat forces on behalf of a general notion of credibility and in pursuit of a negotiation whose content was never defined," he writes.

The First Draft: Clinton spills the beans?

After being upstaged by her own boss as she announced a new Sudan policy on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a special effort to let the media know she had a secret: after much pressure and delay Afghan President Hamid Karzai would announce on Tuesday how he planned to handle his country’s disputed elections.

Clinton, who already had a briefing with the media in the morning to talk about Sudan, made a brief statement alongside Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Then she walked him out of the room and came back and invited a question about Afghanistan.

It was then that Clinton mentioned that Karzai would be making an announcement on Tuesday, though she said she did not wish to preempt the Afghan leader’s news.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Defending women’s rights in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Barely had President Barack Obama outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan meant to narrow the focus to eliminating the threat from al Qaeda and its Islamist allies, before the U.S.-led campaign ran into what was always going to be one of its biggest problems in limiting its goals. What does it do about the rights of women in the region?

The treatment of women has dominated the headlines this week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a new law for the minority Shi'ite population which both the United States and the United Nations said could undermine women's rights. Karzai has promised a review of the law, while also complaining it was misinterpreted by Western journalists. 

In Pakistan, video footage has been circulated of Taliban militants flogging a teenage girl in the Swat valley, where the government concluded a peace deal with the Taliban in February. The graphic and disturbing video, which has been posted on YouTube, has outraged many Pakistanis and the flogging was condemned by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani as shameful. There have been contradictory reports of exactly when and why the girl was punished, although Dawn newspaper quoted a witness as saying she was flogged two weeks ago for refusing a marriage proposal.