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Talk to the Haqqanis, before it’s too late

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Last month Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s chief Northern Ireland negotiator, argued that “no group should be beyond talking to.” In the context of the current crisis and a shift towards seeking a peace deal in Afghanistan, this is particularly salient. President Hamid Karzai has recently announced the creation of a commission to lead talks with the Taliban. There is also emerging consensus in Washington that stability in Afghanistan can only be achieved by reaching some sort of a political settlement with the Taliban. But not talking to particular insurgent groups will not be a good idea, and a reliance on a policy of “decapitating” them is even worse.

One group that should not “be beyond talking to” is the Haqqani network, named for its leader Maulavi Jalaluddin Haqqani, and now considered one of the most feared insurgent groups in Afghanistan. The network is responsible for attacks against the Afghan government, the U.S. military, and the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Perhaps because of this central role in the Afghan insurgency, in July, Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke asserted that the Haqqanis are the Taliban network with the closest ties to al Qaeda and that dealing with them is ‘the most pressing task’ in combating the insurgency. Despite their alleged links to international terrorists, even Secretary Clinton has not ruled out supporting dialogue with them (with caveats). These comments suggest the door on the U.S. side may soon be slightly ajar. However, having spent the past six years talking with members of the network, including some of its senior members, it would appear that the Haqqani’s door is currently open for talks but may soon be firmly shut. The Haqqani network is in the midst of a generational power shift from father to son, which if completed will all but rule out any future talk of peace.

In June 2007, well before the Haqqani terrorist network had found its way into headlines in the western media, chatter spread through the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan that the aging and ill Jalaluddin — insurgent leader, client of the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), facilitator of Osama bin Laden’s 2001 escape into Pakistan — had passed away, reportedly due to hepatitis. The intelligence community picked up on this rumor but quickly disproved it. At the time of this report I was living in the tribal areas of southeast Afghanistan and wrote a report titled “Jalaluddin Haqqani: Dead, Alive, Does it Matter?” In short the answer is yes and no. Yes, because had he died at the time, it would have left the network more vulnerable than at anytime since its emergence in late 2004. And no, because today the Haqqanis have nearly completed what could be best described as ‘succession planning’ resulting in a powerful network that many believe jeopardizes Afghanistan’s stability

It is well known that for almost a decade he has suffered from health problems and requires regular medical attention rendering him relatively inactive in the day-to-day workings of the insurgency. Furthermore, as a senior insurgent commander (and former Taliban Minister), Maulavi Haqqani’s profile as a “most wanted” does not permit travel to the Afghan battle space. Consequently, his 36-year-old son Sirajuddin (aka “Khalifa”) has increasingly taken over, with gusto, operational command of his father’s network.

However, these limitations speak nothing of the influence Maulavi Haqqani continues to enjoy as a tribal leader, religious scholar, ISI associate and close ally of Gulf Arab financiers. Indeed, the success of the Haqqani network rests with these social/religious/political connections that Maulavi Haqqani has carefully nurtured over the past 30-plus years; indeed, it was these very factors that also made him so popular with the CIA during the anti-Soviet jihad). It can be assumed that these networks, particularly with Arab financiers and the ISI, have been “inherited” by Sirajuddin. However, the same cannot be said about Maulavi Haqqani’s tribal, religious and mujahideen credentials. Sirajuddin is in his early 30’s, grew up in Miram Shah, Pakistan and, prior to 2001, only occasionally traveled to his native village of Garde Serai, nestled in the rugged mountains of Paktia province. In Miram Shah he was involved in Islamic Studies but, unlike his father, did not graduate from a prestigious madrassah and is too young to have been a well-known fighter during the anti-Soviet jihad.

Hence, the very elements that have contributed to the success of Maulavi Haqqani’s activities in eastern Afghanistan (and that could be used to assist in a peace process) — his personal influence as a tribal leader, mujahideen commander and religious elder — will be lost after he dies or passes control to Siraj.

Moreover, the respect of Maulavi Haqqani within Afghanistan as a mujahideen leader is matched by the respect he derives from being a prominent tribal and religious elder. As a result, it has been difficult for the various Zadran sub tribes of Paktia, Paktika and Khost to actively oppose his network’s activities in their respective tribal regions.

Indeed, today the Haqqani network is spreading its influence geographically into areas previously dominated by other insurgent groups (such as the Mansoor network in Zurmat district of Paktia). It has also, for the first time since the beginning of the Haqqani-led insurgency in late 2004-early 2005, recently embarked upon the systematic targeting and killing of moderate tribal leaders from within the Zadran tribe. This all looks like succession planning. Tactically, Sirajuddin must know that when his father dies (be it of natural causes or otherwise), the tribes would certainly be better positioned to oppose him, should they choose (and be empowered) to do so.

Added to this equation is the knowledge that U.S. pressure on Islamabad to tackle the Haqqani network could see their safe havens in North Waziristan come under increased pressure in the future. Maulavi Haqqani had the necessary contacts and influence to navigate his way through policy shifts in Islamabad. A question mark remains over whether Siraj, in the absence of his father, would be as adept at maneuvering between possible future policy shifts.

The time is ripe, therefore, for a dialogue to take place, one that will be easier to negotiate while the older generation of fighters that knows the benefits of peace is still alive. From my discussions with representatives of Maulavi Haqqani, he still claims to be fighting in Afghanistan for ‘peace.’ Sirajuddin, on the other hand, does not know the meaning of the word. He has been brought up in war, has never lived as a citizen of a functioning nation state, has little to no experience of government, is not a tribal elder and is not even a credible religious leader. In this regard he is motivated more by a radical Islamist ideology than his father, and less obviously constrained by a desire to maintain good relations with the local tribal leaders.

For example, on a visit to Afghanistan this year I met with a prominent Zadran tribesman who had returned from North Waziristan the previous week and had spent the night with Siraj. He had taken a message to the commander that the latter’s insurgent activities in the Zadran tribal area were having negative consequences for his fellow tribesman. Upon relaying this message, the elder was informed by Siraj that he was welcome to stay the night and receive his hospitality but that if he ever returned again with such a message he would not leave with his head on his shoulders. Such a blunt message to a respected Zadran tribal elder could not and would not have come from his father.

Despite appearances, my years of working closely with various tribal and religious leaders of the Zadran tribe has convinced me that there is a pro-peace middle majority that has hitherto been marginalized by the political process, the military intervention in the region and the insurgency. Sadly, some of the best of these leaders have already been targeted by the insurgents or have wrongfully been detained by the International Military Forces. Unless greater security and political space is afforded to the current Zadran tribal and religious leadership in Paktia, Paktika and Khost, the outcome of the Haqqani network’s succession planning will go ahead unchallenged.

In order to prevent this scenario from transpiring the United States must make a clear distinction between the current Haqqani network and al Qaeda. The Haqqani network is an Afghan network focused on Afghanistan. There is no evidence that the objective of the Haqqani network is to support an international jihadist agenda. To this end, Washington and Kabul should embark upon a policy of engagement (as part of a broader political outreach effort to all various elements of the Taliban) to separate the two. Locally, U.S. forces must pay greater attention to the local tribal dynamics as part of its counterinsurgency approach. In the southeast, this should include support to the tribal police (or arbakai) and ensuring that the pro-peace tribal majority is not subjected to intimidation, detention (or worse) by the international military presence.

However, should we fail to capitalize on this opportunity for dialogue, a more radical network, combined with the absence of the tribal and religious constraints that Maulavi Haqqani must regularly negotiate, will mark the beginning of a new, more violent generation of the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan. And this new insurgency will leave no prospects for dialogue or peace.

‘Betrayed Pakistan doesn’t trust us’

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WASHINGTON: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said US and Pakistan can resolve issues that led to the closure of a major supply route for US and Nato operations in Afghanistan, and he hasn’t yet seen any major impact from the closure.

The US military has analysed the situation to determine what the effects would be if the route was closed for a longer period, the Admiral told reporters between speaking engagements this week in Tucson, Arizona, but officials are hoping such a closure can be averted, the Pentagon reported on Sunday.

“I believe we will figure a way to work our way through this,” Mullen said, emphasising Pakistanís importance as a strategic partner. Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 20 times since taking the top military post in 2007, said the United States had been working to rebuild Pakistani trust. How thatís resolved, hesaid, will go a long way towards shaping the future US-Pakistani relationship.

Pakistan closed the crossing at Torkham Gate along its northwestern border with Afghanistan after Nato helicopters ‘mistakenly’ killed several Pakistani border guards September 30, the Pentagon news report said.

“We left them in a dark hole from about 1990 to 2002, and they donít trust us,” the US military leader said. “We are trying to rebuild that trust. And itís basically coming, but you donít rebuild it overnight,” Mullen remarked.

This effort, Mullen noted, comes at a time of enormous challenge for Pakistan, whose border with Afghanistan, he claimed, is the epicenter of terrorism. This summer’s unprecedented monsoon flooding – that submerged one fifth of the country’s land and affected around 21 million people – has compounded Pakistanís struggles.

They have just been devastated, said Mullen, who toured flood-stricken areas of Pakistan last month with General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Chief of Army Staff. Meanwhile, the American military continues to provide relief to flood victims in northwestern Pakistan. US military aid operations began August 5 with Army helicopters from Afghanistan delivering supplies and rescuing those trapped by flooding.

Marine helicopters from the USS Peleliu replaced the Army aircraft, and together they have delivered more than 8 million pounds or relief supplies, reported Department of Defense spokesman Marine Col. David Lapan.

Air Force C-130s and C-17s have been delivering aid since Aug. 16. As of last week, airmen have delivered more than 5.5 million pounds of aid. This brings the total to almost 13.7 million pounds of aid, Lapan said.

The US military aircraft have rescued more than 20,000 displaced Pakistanis, the Pentagon said. Flood relief efforts continue, Lapan said. It has not been curbed, but there are ongoing discussions about what the need is, because there are now roads open that were not previously.

Key Karzai Aide in Graft Inquiry Is Linked to C.I.A.

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KABUL, Afghanistan – The aide to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan at the center of a politically sensitive corruption investigation is being paid by the Central Intelligence Agency, according to Afghan and American officials.


Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts met last Saturday in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai. Mr. Kerry said he believed that he had won a commitment from the Afghan president to allow an American-backed anticorruption unit to work unhindered.

Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council, appears to have been on the payroll for many years, according to officials in Kabul and Washington. It is unclear exactly what Mr. Salehi does in exchange for his money, whether providing information to the spy agency, advancing American views inside the presidential palace, or both.

Mr. Salehi’s relationship with the C.I.A. underscores deep contradictions at the heart of the Obama administration’s policy in Afghanistan, with American officials simultaneously demanding that Mr. Karzai root out the corruption that pervades his government while sometimes subsidizing the very people suspected of perpetrating it.

Mr. Salehi was arrested in July and released after Mr. Karzai intervened. There has been no suggestion that Mr. Salehi’s ties to the C.I.A. played a role in his release; rather, officials say, it is the fear that Mr. Salehi knows about corrupt dealings inside the Karzai administration.

The ties underscore doubts about how seriously the Obama administration intends to fight corruption here. The anticorruption drive, though strongly backed by the United States, is still vigorously debated inside the administration. Some argue it should be a centerpiece of American strategy, and others say that attacking corrupt officials who are crucial to the war effort could destabilize the Karzai government.

The Obama administration is also racing to show progress in Afghanistan by December, when the White House will evaluate its mission there. Some administration officials argue that any comprehensive campaign to fight corruption inside Afghanistan is overly ambitious, with less than a year to go before the American military is set to begin withdrawing troops.

“Fighting corruption is the very definition of mission creep,” one Obama administration official said.

Others in the administration view public corruption as the single greatest threat to the Afghan government and the American mission; it is the corrupt nature of the Karzai government, these officials say, that drives ordinary Afghans into the arms of the Taliban. Other prominent Afghans who American officials have said were on the C.I.A.’s payroll include the president’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, suspected by investigators of playing a role in Afghanistan’s booming opium trade. Earlier this year, American officials did not press Mr. Karzai to remove his brother from his post as the chairman of the Kandahar provincial council. Mr. Karzai denies any monetary relationship with the C.I.A. and any links to the drug trade.

Mr. Salehi was arrested by the Afghan police after, investigators say, they wiretapped him soliciting a bribe – in the form of a car for his son – in exchange for impeding an American-backed investigation into a company suspected of shipping billions of dollars out of the country for Afghan officials, drug smugglers and insurgents.

Mr. Salehi was released seven hours later, after telephoning Mr. Karzai from his jail cell to demand help, officials said, and after Mr. Karzai forcefully intervened on his behalf.

The president sent aides to get him and has since threatened to limit the power of the anticorruption unit that carried out the arrest. Mr. Salehi could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. A spokesman for President Karzai did not respond to a list of questions sent to his office, including whether Mr. Karzai knew that Mr. Salehi was a C.I.A. informant.

A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment on any relationship with Mr. Salehi.

“The C.I.A. works hard to advance the full range of U.S. policy objectives in Afghanistan,” said Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the agency. “Reckless allegations from anonymous sources don’t change that reality in the slightest.”

An American official said the practice of paying government officials was sensible, even if they turn out to be corrupt or unsavory.

“If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road – and certainly not at our behest – put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now,” the American official said. “If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.”

Last week, Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat, flew to Kabul in part to discuss the Salehi case with Mr. Karzai. In an interview afterward, Mr. Kerry expressed concern about Mr. Salehi’s ties to the American government. Mr. Kerry appeared to allude to the C.I.A., though he did not mention it.

“We are going to have to examine that relationship,” Mr. Kerry said. “We are going to have to look at that very carefully.”

Mr. Kerry said he pressed Mr. Karzai to allow the anticorruption unit pursuing Mr. Salehi and others to move forward unhindered, and said he believed he had secured a commitment from him to do so.

“Corruption matters to us,” a senior Obama administration official said. “The fact that Salehi may have been on our payroll does not necessarily change any of the basic issues here.”

Mr. Salehi is a political survivor, who, like many Afghans, navigated shifting alliances through 31 years of war. He is a former interpreter for Abdul Rashid Dostum, the ethnic Uzbek with perhaps the most ruthless reputation among all Afghan warlords.

Mr. Dostum, a Karzai ally, was one of the C.I.A.’s leading allies on the ground in Afghanistan in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The agency employed his militia to help rout the Taliban from northern Afghanistan.

Over the course of the nine-year-old war, the C.I.A. has enmeshed itself in the inner workings of Afghanistan’s national security establishment. From 2002 until just last year, the C.I.A. paid the entire budget of Afghanistan’s spy service, the National Directorate of Security.

Mr. Salehi often acts as a courier of money to other Afghans, according to an Afghan politician who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation.

Among the targets of the continuing Afghan anticorruption investigation is a secret fund of cash from which payments were made to various individuals, officials here said.

Despite Mr. Salehi’s status as a low-level functionary, the Afghan politician predicted that Mr. Karzai would never allow his prosecution to go forward, whatever the pressure from the United States. Mr. Salehi knows too much about the inner workings of the palace, he said.

“Karzai will protect him,” the politician said, “because by going after him, you are opening the gates.”

Mr. Salehi is a confidant of some of the most powerful people in the Afghan government, including Engineer Ibrahim, who until recently was the deputy chief of the Afghan intelligence service. Earlier this year, Mr. Salehi accompanied Mr. Ibrahim to Dubai to meet leaders of the Taliban to explore prospects for peace, according to a prominent Afghan with knowledge of the meeting.

Mr. Salehi was arrested last month in the course of a sprawling investigation into New Ansari, a money transfer firm that relies on couriers and other rudimentary means to move cash in and out of Afghanistan.

New Ansari was founded in the 1990s when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan. In the years since 2001, New Ansari grew into one of the most important financial hubs in Afghanistan, transferring billions of dollars in cash for prominent Afghans out of the country, most of it to Dubai.

New Ansari’s offices were raided by Afghan agents, with American backing, in January. An American official familiar with the investigation said New Ansari appeared to have been transferring money for wealthy Afghans of every sort, including politicians, insurgents and drug traffickers.

“They were moving money for everybody,” the American official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The flow of capital out of Afghanistan is so large that it makes up a substantial portion of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. In an interview, a United Arab Emirates customs official said it received about $1 billion from Afghanistan in 2009. But the American official said the amount might be closer to $2.5 billion – about a quarter of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product.

Much of the New Ansari cash was carried by couriers flying from Kabul and Kandahar, usually to Dubai, where many Afghan officials maintain second homes and live in splendorous wealth.

An American official familiar with the investigation said the examination of New Ansari’s books was providing rich insights into the culture of Afghan corruption.

“It’s a gold mine,” the official said.

Following the arrest, Mr. Salehi called Mr. Karzai directly from his cell to demand that he be freed. Mr. Karzai twice sent delegations to the detention center where Mr. Salehi was held. After seven hours, Mr. Salehi was let go.

Afterward, Gen. Nazar Mohammed Nikzad, the head of the Afghan unit investigating Mr. Salehi, was summoned to the Presidential Palace and asked by Mr. Karzai to explain his actions.

“Everything is lawful and by the book,” a Western official said of the Afghan anticorruption investigators. “They gather the evidence, they get the warrant signed off – and then the plug gets pulled every time.”

This is not the first time that Afghan prosecutors have run into resistance when they have tried to pursue an Afghan official on corruption charges related to New Ansari.

Sediq Chekari, the minister for Hajj and Religious Affairs, was allowed to flee the country as investigators prepared to charge him with accepting bribes in exchange for steering business to tour operators who ferry people to Saudi Arabia each year. Mr. Chekari fled to Britain, officials said. Afghanistan’s attorney general issued an arrest warrant through Interpol.

American officials say a key player in the scandal is Hajji Rafi Azimi, the vice chairman of Afghan United Bank. The bank’s chairman, Hajji Mohammed Jan, is a founder of New Ansari. According to American officials, Afghan prosecutors would like to arrest Mr. Azimi but so far have run into political interference they did not specify. He has not been formally charged.

In the past, some Western officials have expressed frustration at the political resistance that Afghan prosecutors have encountered when they have tried to investigate Afghan officials. Earlier this year, the American official said that the Obama administration was considering extraordinary measures to bring corrupt Afghan officials to justice, including extradition.

“We are pushing some high-level public corruption cases right now, and they are just constantly stalling and stalling and stalling,” the American official said of the Karzai administration.

Another Western official said he was growing increasingly concerned about the morale – and safety – of the Afghan anticorruption prosecutors.

So far, the Afghan prosecutors have not folded. The Salehi case is likely to resurface – and very soon. Under Afghan law, prosecutors have a maximum of 33 days to indict a person after his arrest. Mr. Salehi was arrested in late July.

That means Afghan prosecutors may soon come before the Afghan attorney general, Mohammed Ishaq Aloko, to seek an indictment. It will be up to Mr. Aloko, who owes his job to Mr. Karzai, to sign it.

“They are all just doing their jobs,” the Western official said. “They are scared for their lives. They are scared for their families. If it continues, they will eventually give up the fight.”

India Reversing the Militant Card On Pakistan

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STRATFOR GLOBAL INTELLIGENCE

Summary

India’s foreign secretary said India and Pakistan should not let Islamist militants sabotage efforts to improve bilateral relations after a meeting with her Pakistani counterpart June 24. This statement marks a noteworthy shift in New Delhi’s attitude, which since the 2008 Mumbai attacks had been adamant that it would not hold any substantive talks with Islamabad unless the latter prevented militants from attacking India. The shift in India’s position is informed by its desire to exploit the Islamist militancy within Pakistan to its advantage, as well as by the U.S.-Pakistani alignment on Afghanistan. But the Indo-Pakistani rapprochement is very new, and could well still founder.

Analysis

During a joint press conference in Islamabad on June 24 with her Pakistani counterpart, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao called on the two South Asian nuclear powers to deny terrorists the opportunity to derail improving Indo-Pakistani relations. This latest bilateral meeting follows an April 30 meeting between the prime ministers of both countries, which ended with a call on the two countries’ foreign ministers to meet as soon as possible to discuss ways to resume the normalization process, which was undermined by the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

After the meeting between the two prime ministers, STRATFOR pointed out that the rationale behind the softening of the Indian stance had to do with the U.S.-Pakistani alignment on Afghanistan. Washington needs to cooperate with Pakistan to achieve its goals in Afghanistan, a need that has resulted in improved U.S.-Pakistani relations and that raised serious concerns in India that Islamabad was no longer under pressure to act against Islamist militants targeting India. U.S. and Indian interests had aligned after Sept. 11, resulting in pressure on Islamabad that New Delhi saw as a means of containing Pakistan from using Islamist militant proxies to counter the growing gap between Indian and Pakistani military capabilities.

This dual pressure sparked a domestic jihadist insurgency in Pakistan, with Islamabad losing control over its complex Islamist militant landscape. The need to align with Washington in the war against jihadism and avoid war with India forced Pakistan to rein in Taliban and Kashmiri Islamist militant entities – a process that saw the rise of a Pakistani Taliban phenomenon and saw many former Punjabi and Kashmiri militants waging war against the Pakistani state.

The domestic insurgency became so powerful that it forced a shift in Pakistani thinking regarding the use of Islamist militants as a means of projecting power across its eastern and western borders. At a time when there is a major fire raging at home fueled by Islamist extremism and the country’s military-intelligence establishment is having a hard time extinguishing it, Pakistan does not appear to be in a position to use Islamist militant non-state actors – especially against India, which carries the risk of war. Moreover, backing Islamist militancy against India – to the extent that it is even possible – would only aggravate the war at home.

And herein lies an opportunity for India to exploit to its advantage. Pakistan’s domestic insurgency, which has claimed some 20,000 lives in recent years, has seen public and government opinion turn against the Islamist militants. From India’s point of view, this new dynamic needs to be encouraged, as it is the only effective way of containing Pakistan-based Islamist militancy directed against India.

Previously, New Delhi has had no effective means of getting Pakistan to give up its militant card against India. Years of intense pressure from both India and the United States on Islamabad failed to prevent the worst terrorist incident in Indian history when Pakistan-based militants struck in Mumbai in November 2008. Responding with war with Pakistan was not an option, as such a conflict could quickly go nuclear. But now that Pakistan is suffering from the same forces that it historically deployed against India, the Indians see a possible opportunity to try and encourage the growing movement against extremism and terrorism.

The only way India can take advantage of this opportunity is to engage Pakistan in meaningful dialogue, which explains the change in New Delhi’s behavior. It is not clear if India will be able to succeed in its strategy, as the dynamic in Pakistan remains in its nascent stage. Everything depends upon how the situation shapes within Pakistan in terms of the outcome of Islamabad’s war against Islamist extremism and whether Pakistan can prevent jihadists from sabotaging the peace process with India by launching another attack. Even if Pakistan regains control over Islamist militants, it might well return to its old policy of using militants as instruments of foreign policy, especially given that it has no other way of containing growing Indian military power.

NATO ‘friendly fire’ kills Afghan soldiers

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By Mohammad Yaqob

GHAZNI, Afghanistan – Police said Wednesday six Afghan soldiers were killed in a NATO air strike in Afghanistan, where the military announced the deaths of another three foreign soldiers fighting the Taliban.


Western military air strikes targeting the Taliban have mistakenly killed scores of Afghan civilians and security forces

Local police in troubled Ghazni province, in south-central Afghanistan, said NATO “friendly fire” on an army post killed six officers, in an incident that the US-led NATO force said it was investigating.

The air strike late Tuesday was originally aimed at Taliban militants, said Nawruz Ali Mohamoodzada, a provincial police official.

“It mistakenly hit an army post in which six soldiers were killed. An investigation has been launched,” he told AFP.

Western military air strikes targeting the Taliban have mistakenly killed scores of Afghan civilians and security forces, fanning opposition to foreign troops, sparking angry protests and remonstrations from the Afghan government.

A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: “We are aware of an incident and we are getting information”.

About 140,000 international troops are fighting alongside Afghan forces to quell a Taliban-led insurgency into a ninth year and train Afghan counterparts to take over so that they can eventually leave.

The fiercest fighting is taking place in southern Afghanistan, heartland of the insurgency and the focus of a new US-led push to reverse Taliban momentum.

Reports emerged Wednesday that British troops, who make up the second largest contingent after those from the United States, are to withdraw from one of the deadliest battlefields in the south and hand control to the Americans.

British Defence Secretary Liam Fox was expected to announce later Wednesday that British forces will be pulled out of Sangin district in Helmand province, the BBC and newspapers reported.

US forces, who now outnumber the British in Helmand, will then take charge.

Of 312 British service personnel to have died in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion to unseat the Taliban regime, 99 were killed in the market town of Sangin and the surrounding area.

It has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting the British military has endured since World War II.

The area is particularly dangerous because it contains a patchwork of rival tribes and is a major centre for Afghanistan’s opium-growing trade.

Western military losses in Afghanistan are now at record levels.

NATO announced that three troops, whose nationalities were not given, died Tuesday in bomb attacks in the south.

The deaths bring to 339 the number of foreign soldiers to have died in the Afghan conflict this year, according to an AFP tally based on a count kept by the icasualties.org website.

In July alone, 17 foreign soldiers have died. June set the record for the war, now in its ninth year, with 102 deaths.

Strategic planners warned the summer “fighting season” would see a spike in deaths, as NATO and the US beef up deployments in an effort to speed an end to the war.

The arrival of General David Petraeus as commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan has focused attention on the rules of engagement, as many soldiers believe a principle of “courageous restraint” is leading to higher casualties.

Petraeus’s sacked predecessor US General Stanley McChrystal put restrictions on troops, including fewer night raids and air strikes, as well as combat rules, aimed at cutting civilian casualties.

In a restive region just south of Kabul, four Afghan police officers were killed by a bomb, the interior ministry said.

The officers were on patrol in a troubled part of Logar province when the bomb hit their vehicle Tuesday. The ministry blamed the attack on the Taliban.

‘McChrystal downbeat on Afghan war before sacking’

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LONDON – US General Stanley McChrystal issued a highly critical assessment of the war in Afghanistan just days before he was sacked by President Barack Obama, a British newspaper reported Sunday.


File photo of former US commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal. McChrystal issued a highly …

The Independent on Sunday said leaked military documents showed McChrystal had briefed defence ministers from the countries involved in the war earlier this month and warned them to expect no progress in the next six months.

McChrystal was forced to step down as commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan due to disparaging remarks about administration officials, including Obama, in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article.

But the newspaper suggested the article was only one reason why the general quit, saying his candour about the reality of the situation in Afghanistan was an obstacle to plans for an early US withdrawal.

“Stan argued for time, and would not compromise. Rolling Stone provided an excuse for Obama to fire the opposition to his plan without having to win an intellectual argument,” it quoted an unnamed senior military source as saying.

According to the paper, McChrystal had said corruption and security remained serious issues as foreign forces battled a “resilient and growing insurgency”.

He said the Afghan security forces were “critically short on trainers — the essential resource required for quality”, while the Afghan government had little control over the country.

Foreign guarantors, Big B and national polity

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By Saeed Minhas

ISLAMABAD: While a very philosophical sounding finance minister kept negotiating the budget with parliamentarians by burying their ‘cut motions’, a flurry of activities involving some visiting foreign guarantors and the neighbouring Big B kept the federal capital under a spell, which not only prompted a call from the Presidency to Jati Umrah, but also another one from the World Cops to premier Gilani, and it also helped soften the Indians to talk about comprehensive, if not composite, dialogues.

What if the NRO stands invalidated by the black robes, the Super Cop and his trusted ally from the European islands certainly have ways to not only re-align things, but also smoothen any irritants causing concerns amongst the ruling junta of this country, claimed a senior diplomat privy to many of the talks and happenings on and around the hilltop.

Please don’t forget that amongst these guarantors, there were some royals as well in the Mush-cum-NRO-deal – as per the UN inquiry commission report – and they, for the time being, are just using the airwaves but would soon be seen in action once the Pakistani model of reconciliation is imitated in Afghanistan. Basically, they are there for the next round of reconciliation, and for all the right reasons, because who doesn’t know how much they matter when it comes to insurgents, commented the foreign envoys. The special emissary to Afghanistan and Pakistan had to kill his time in Afghanistan just to ensure that the new induction from the trusted islands stays on course and conveys a meaningful message to the Sharifs and the country’s political administrators, yet poses as a nice guy for the people by telling them that his country is not even averse to our deal with Iran and China for gas and nuclear stuff.

A senior political observer said a big change is taking place in the troubled but strategic Afghanistan, so the guarantors don’t want any trouble in this land of the pure. Therefore, he said, they had to inject with haste not only their cross-Atlantic ally into the foray, but also keep the “wounded figure” near to the bases in Kabul – not to meet Karzai, but to wait for Kayani to return from China.

We all know that the Obama administration’s diplomatic queen will also be landing in our capital, therefore, all the preparations were just essential, not only to mitigate her tough remarks after the Faisal Shahzad episode, but also to make her stay less troublesome, observed a senior analyst.

Considering Pakistan’s recent moves as somewhat troubling, some foreign diplomats said the timing of the gas pipeline project with Iran and a civil nuclear deal with China seems to have developed some ire in the West. Especially, they said, at a time when Gen McChrystal has opened a bag of embarrassments at the Obamities.

On the other hand, they said the allied forces were also holed up in Kandahar and without the support of Kayani and his official networks, they cannot even think of anything positive. Karzai’s inability and fatigue factor creeping into the allied armies, they said, has made Western countries realise the need to ensure stability in this country, which for now they are considering as the only safe haven from where they can plan, execute or terminate any strategy regarding the mineral-rich gateway to the world’s power-corridor.

Upon talking to local wizards, one finds that they have their own stories, especially the one regarding the Sharifs and the British envoy. As per the gossip in the Nooners’ camp, Sharif pleaded innocent by claiming he would be the last one to create any hindrance for the PPP. Although he was reminded of his royal lease papers and assured of immunity from any harm, he presented his charge-sheet against the Presidency. A late night dinner at the Presidency was the British dignitary’s last assignment in the city, but that was not the case for the over-worked Mr Zardari. Our moles confirmed that his call to the Jati Umrah was a gesture to show that he still believes in reconciliation.

Yet the Presidency’sclose aides revealed that the president continues to remain calm and is cracking jokes to keep all his men in a light mood. They revealed that despite all these activities and tensions of date-setting by some agenda-journalists, Mr Zardari continues to accommodate his trusted friends like Mirza Nasir Baig to the Pakistan Mineral Resource Centre chairmanship .

“You can well imagine how calm he is, as he never forgets his old friends (or enemies),” commented his trusted friend who himself is knee-deep in CDA affairs. Following these activities and special ratings from the visitors, political observers are of the view that even the fake degrees’ issue might not have that big an impact on the national polity. They said some of our prophetic anchorpersons are trying to create a storm in the tea cup, because even 40 cheaters from the National Assembly, or a 100-plus from all the four assemblies – mostly from Punjab – means nothing more than a series of by-elections.

In a country where playing politics is nothing but entertainment, what suits the ruling elite more than keeping busy in not only spending their time campaigning and playing with the dirty money of the contesting candidates. Another socio-economic wizard said this many elections going on means circulation of money and jobs for the masses. And it doesn’t matter if the same cheats make their way back to the assemblies, such as Jamshed Dasti, because they don’t matter when the guarantors are sitting there to help them during the troubled times. Will this mean something for the black robes or the extension issue of the khakis, that we will deliberate on later.