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from The Great Debate:

A fragile peace with Taliban if school attacks escalate

In the week in which America opened the door for negotiations with the Taliban, three bloody massacres of school children -- shot down simply because they wanted to go to school -- raise grave questions about what kind of peace the Taliban offer.

Within days of the initiative for talks, the Taliban shot to death nine foreign tourists encamped on the peak of Nanga Parbat in northern Pakistan, saying the murders were in retaliation for a drone attack that killed one of their leaders. But what kind of justification can possibly be offered for the firebombing of a college bus carrying forty girls from their Quetta campus in Pakistan? Fourteen defenseless girls died in the bombing; eight more people died when the terrorists ambushed the hospital.

We are confronted by a savage war waged by Islamic extremists against young people seeking education. In the wake of the outrage in Pakistan, two appalling massacres that killed 16 students were perpetrated in Nigeria by the country’s leading terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name literally means, “Western education is sin.” It all underscores what is crucially missing from the seemingly good news that the Taliban, ensconced in its nice new headquarters in Doha, Qatar, has made two pledges for peace. One: to end the war peacefully, and a second to stop using Afghanistan as a base for terror strikes against other countries, as it did in 9/11.

But a peace deal will not bring violence to an end without a credible pledge to respect elementary human rights. Since last October, when a Taliban terrorist shot down 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai because she had stood up for the right of girls to go to school, there has been a clear pattern in the targeting of victims by Islamic extremists. The five who lost their lives in Monday’s killing in the Jajeri ward of Nigeria's Maiduguri metropolis were students gunned down in the main school hall just a few minutes after they had started their annual exams. This episode -- and the Sunday killings at another Nigerian school -- resemble earlier attacks in Pakistan. There, only a few weeks ago, bombs were thrown into the playground of an all-girls school just as a Saturday morning open-air prize giving ceremony began. The head teacher and three pupils died.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Afghanistan: fighting over the terms of a settlement

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karzai londonAt last week's London conference, two of the great truisms of warfare punched their way to the surface. The first is that wars are fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield. With public support for the war in Afghanistan ebbing away, the United States and its allies in NATO have shifted from seeking outright victory to looking for an exit strategy that will allow them to start bringing home their troops next year.  Rather as the British did after their two failed invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century, they are sending in reinforcements in a display of military might which they hope will secure better terms in an eventual settlement.

The other truism is that if you can't win outright victory on the battlefield, then you have to negotiate with your enemies. President Hamid Karzai set the ball rolling by announcing he would hold a peace council to which, according to an Afghan government spokesman, the Taliban leadership would be invited.  Karzai has made such suggestions before, and it is by no means clear the Taliban leadership will send representatives. What was different this time, however, was the context.  Karzai's suggestion no longer met with the same resistance from war-weary governments, who stressed that it was up to the Afghans themselves to lead the process of reconciliation.  He also coupled his call for a peace council with an appeal to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bring peace to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is a trusted interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership; Pakistan is the only country which still has some measure of leverage over them. Thus Karzai's call for a loya jirga, though not dramatic in itself, became emblematic of a broader shift towards seeking a political settlement to end the war.

from Afghan Journal:

The Afghan conference: a meeting of victors or the vanquished ?

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AFGHANISTAN/If you listened to some of the rhetoric in the lead-up to Thursday's conference on Afghanistan in London and followed the coverage accompanying it, you would think it is a meeting of the victors of war.

Here we are, at a meeting attended by representatives from more than 50 countries, offering the Taliban a chance for peace before the "surge" of 30,000 additional U.S. troops hits them. They better grasp it before the tide turns decisively against them, seems to be the message.  Host British Prime Minister Gordon, according to this report, vowed to "split the Taliban" while offering them a full part in the rebuilt Afghanistan if they united behind the government in Kabul.

Drawing the line against the Taliban

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afghan1Fight them there or fight them here?

Former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells poses the question in the Guardian in a piece made grimly relevant by Wednesday’s shooting dead of  five British soldiers by an Afghan policeman.

Howells says troops should be brought back from Afghanistan and that the billions of pounds saved should be used to beef up homeland security in Britain – drawing the front line against al Qaeda around the UK rather than thousands of miles away in Helmand province.

from The Great Debate UK:

Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

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richard-kemp2- Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

Should we talk to the Taliban?

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Government ministers have said that Britain supports greater efforts to talk to hardline insurgents fighting in Afghanistan.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said that those who turn away from violence should be offered a chance to become part of the political process, while Foreign Secretary David Miliband said that “conservative Pashtuns” should be brought in and separated from “the hardline Taliban, who must be pursued relentlessly.”

Should UK troops leave Afghanistan?

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A poll for the BBC has indicated that the vast majority of the public want British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan within the next year.

Since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, 124 British soldiers have been killed, with two Royal Marines becoming the latest casualties when their convoy was hit by an explosion on Wednesday.

from Ask...:

“We should talk with al Qaeda”, ex-Blair aide says

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powell.jpgThe government should look at ways of opening communication channels with groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban if it wants a long-term political solution as well as a security solution, a former senior aide to Tony Blair says.

Jonathan Powell, who served as Blair's chief of staff between 1995 and 2007, told the Guardian newspaper that such a policy helped secure a peace deal in Northern Ireland.

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