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Kashmir and the Afghan withdrawal

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By Abdul Majid Zargar
TACSTRAT

In-spite of a massive force build-up and despite adoption of ” Shock & awe” theory and thousands of Drone attacks backed up by latest technology, a defeat stares in the face of America in Afghanistan. Its troop withdrawal plan by the end of 2014 is an organized retreat, if not a total surrender.

And this defeat has not made appearance out of thin air. Washington has known for years that it had no hope of destroying the Taliban, and that it would have to settle for compromise and a political solution with an indigenous insurgency that remains sufficiently popular to have survived the longest U.S. military occupation in history. It was also predicted by think tanks & defense experts alike long ago. A 2010 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), report on Afghanistan predicted:”We have not yet achieved any meaningful form of positive strategic result from over nine years of war in Afghanistan and the conflict may end in a major grand strategic defeat.” Before dying, Richard Holbrooke admitted it, saying “You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan.” His signal was clear & unambiguous .It is another thing that Washington Post reinterpreted it, saying:”Holbrooke’s death is the latest complication in an effort plagued by unreliable partners, reluctant allies and an increasingly skeptical American public.”In 2012, a New York Times editorial wrote that the U.S. military has had to give up on hopes of inflicting enough pain on the Taliban to set favorable terms for a political settlement. Instead, it will be left up to the Afghan combatants to find their own political solution once the U.S. and its allies take themselves out of the fight.

War has its own vocabulary & dictionary. While its start heralds a destruction, its ends sprouts a hope. Hope not only for people who have been direct victims of war but also for region as a whole. It also emits signals which are taken as precedents for adoption by parties- to- conflict in a near or distant land. And America’s imminent defeat in Afghanistan is already emitting powerful signals that only a Gun can be answer to enforce a decision or solution, how-so-ever powerful the other party might be. It has rekindled a new hope among those propagating armed struggle in Kashmir as the only viable way to solve the long festering problem of Kashmir.

Kashmir is a geopolitical Gordian knot, interwoven by Indian and Pakistani intransigence .The real reason for the Indian State’s obsession with Kashmir is that ‘losing Kashmir’ (whatever that means) will make the Indian state look ‘weak’. For Pakistan the misconception is that Kashmir is its jugular vein ( again whatever that means). Both these narratives are devoid of genuine aspirations of people of J&K. Even after acquiring huge stockpile of nuclear arms both countries are distrustful & fearful of each other.

Kashmir is the longest standing dispute recognized by United Nations & International community. It is the highest militarized zone on earth and according to a fresh entry in the Guinness book of world records, nearly a million of soldiers are continuously staring at each other in a territory which is flanked by three nuclear armed countries. And supposedly the professional armies of both the countries have ceded space to communal & extremist elements within their ranks.

It is a drain on the hopes for prosperity, peace and freedom for people throughout the subcontinent, and the world. There is no moving toward peaceful coexistence between the two countries, no stabilization of the region, no possibility for global nuclear disarmament. This conflict has made a vast majority of population hostages in their own land and a tiny minority refugees in their own State. This conflict of last sixty years has brought so much of death & destruction to countless families that another sixty six years will be insufficient to heal their wounds. One fails to understand What exactly is their fault? Is it that they were born on the wrong side of the globe?

Let India & Pakistan start negotiations not out of fear but let they also not fear to negotiate. And before the signals emanating out of Afghanistan are translated into action by extreme elements, which only means further death & destruction, let those be pre-empted by both Countries finding a lasting solution to the problem by taking genuine representatives of Jammu &Kashmir on board and sooner this happens, the better it is.

Author is a practicing chartered Accountant. Email: abdulmajidzargar@gmail.com

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Karachi calling

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ZoneAsia-Pk

Urban violence has become a permanent affliction in Karachi. Anyone explaining the roots of this violence to you would say ‘it’s complicated’ – and that is indeed an accurate summary of the bloodshed that erupts across the city in random spurts. The plague of violence in Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial hub is multifaceted. From ethnic strife to gang wars to politically motivated crimes to just petty theft – Karachi has it all. Where does it start? And more importantly, where would it end?

This is strange because less merely 25 years, Karachi was the land of opportunity in Pakistan. Once the capital of the country, this economic hub bustled with life and activity with little thought spared to the horrors awaiting citizens a few years down the road. Fast forward to 2012, Karachi faces (in the words of Bilal Baloch) feeble security, over-population, poor public transportation and housing, weak law and order, abuse of public services by the wealthy and powerful, illegal land-grabbing and squatter settlements, pollution so pervasive that it contaminates food and water for all, ethnic divisions, sectarian divisions, meager education; in short, institutional inadequacies on a grand scale. At the same time, it is this city that allows unbridled port access to NATO, fishermen and businessmen. The city has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, Sir Charles Napier, Muhammad Bin Qasim, poets, authors, bloggers and artists. The City of Lights continues to function under such paradoxical circumstances, with violent bloodshed in one corner of the city and celebrations in another.

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The Taliban in Paris

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Spearhead Analysis – 12.12.12
Spearhead Research

The official word from the Taliban is that they will be in Paris for discussions with the US and its western allies and with the former Northern Alliance representing the Karzai government in Afghanistan. This is an amazing development on several counts. It indicates that the Taliban are a cohesive organized group with clear cut policies and that they think that the time has come for them to be part of the reconciliation process. It is nothing short of a miracle that they have decided to become a part of the intra-Afghan dialogue supposedly led by the Afghan government but actually a joint US-Pakistan venture.

Not surprising then that President Karzai feels left out and has tried to gain a toehold by blaming the US for the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan for a recent assassination attempt on the Afghan intelligence chief. Mr Karzai knows full well that the attack could have been planned anywhere in Pakistan or Afghanistan but that does not make it something sponsored by the state of Pakistan. The US, in a recently released Pentagon report, has clearly stated that the problem in Afghanistan is the lack of state capacity in Afghanistan, the high level of corruption there and the sanctuaries in Pakistan’s western border areas (created as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan).

It is also not surprising that with the start of the end game in Afghanistan the US and Pakistan are at pains to point out that their rocky relationship is back on track – at least for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan for which the progress in 2013 is critically important. A 25 member US delegation participated in the US-Pakistan Defense Consultative Group meeting in Pakistan and both sides expressed satisfaction at the positive outcome. There have been other discussions between the two countries on energy and economic issues. The Pakistani Foreign Minister declared the US-Pakistan relationship ‘back on track’ with all issues resolved and accompanied by the Army Chief she was in Brussels for discussions and briefings that seem to have gone well.

Given the track record of the US-Pakistan relationship Pakistanis may be forgiven for asking if all this is for real and sustainable after 2014 or is it to get Pakistan on board till the transition in Afghanistan is completed without a serious mishap?. After all when the US left after the USSR exited from Afghanistan, not only was Pakistan left to face the blow-back but it was also slapped with sanctions unable to effectively support the indigenous uprising in Kashmir against Indian atrocities. Pakistan has responded positively to US overtures and the Taliban it holds are being released – free to travel and participate in the negotiations that might lead to political stability in Afghanistan. There is a realization all around that the reconciliation and dialogue track could eventually lead to the all important phase of direct US-Taliban negotiations with Pakistan’s support.

The danger of failure on the reconciliation front is that there may be reversion to a civil-war environment given the fact that warlords are alive and well. Ismail Khan’s recent gathering in Herat indicated that this could happen. There is also the realization that with continued US presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 the Taliban could not depend on external support in an all-out bid for power – as they had attempted earlier. The fact that Pakistan wants peace and stability in Afghanistan to deal with the insurgents in its western border areas and that it wants Afghanistan to deny support and sanctuaries to such groups creates convergence in objectives. Trouble may come from a split in the Afghan government ranks – if Karzai decides to play hard ball especially because of the remarkable cohesion being displayed by the Taliban. Much will also depend on how many US troops stay on in Afghanistan with guesses that put the figure anything between 10000 to 25000), what kind of a status of forces agreement is drawn up for these troops and significantly on the capacity of the Afghan security forces.

(Spearhead Analyses are the result of a collaborative effort and not attributable to a single individual)

Indian engineer is an Al Qaeda member

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ZoneAsia-Pk

The first Indian Muslim to be associated with global terror network al Qaeda, who was arrested in France two weeks ago, is a mechanical engineer from south India, Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram announced on Monday.


Mohammad Niaz was arrested in France for links with al Qaeda’s Algerian arm.

Mohammad Niaz, who hails from Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu, had been “radicalised” very early in life and had been in touch with the proscribed Students Islamic Movement of India (Simi), Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi. “He joined Simi based in Tamil Nadu at the age of 21 and had been on the scanner of Indian intelligence agencies before he was arrested (in France),” he said. Simi is also allegedly allied with the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the Indian government believes is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Niaz was arrested at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris on May 10 upon arrival from Algeria, where he had developed links with an al Qaeda franchise. “It is reported that Niaz has been arrested for links with the terror group that is recruiting people for jihad in the Pakistan and Afghanistan region,” Chidambaram said. “The inputs that the government has on him indicate that he is a trained activist with a militant bent of mind,” he said.

Niaz is among seven suspected terrorists held by French authorities earlier this month. But the French government has not linked them to any specific plan to carry out attacks in that country. French Interior Minister Claude Gueant described Niaz as a man with a high level of technical training.

It’s braver to quit Afghanistan now

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Peter Preston

If the date for withdrawal from Afghanistan is fixed at the end of 2014 then our soldiers may be dying for nothing.

Let’s do what any smart politician does, and reach for the latest polling results. About 92% of young Afghan men in Kandahar and Helmand provinces (via a sample of 1,000 interviewed by researchers from the International Council on Security and Development, with an extra 500 respondents from northern areas of the country) know nothing about 9/11. Mention the twin towers and all you get is blank looks. And 43% can’t find anything good to say about democracy, either.

Forty per cent think Nato forces are there “to destroy Islam” (or Afghanistan itself); 61% believe that Afghan national security forces won’t be able to cope without international support; 56% suspect that Afghan policemen are helping the Taliban, and 25% reckon they’ll join them in the end. The equivalent figures for national army soldiers are 39% helping the enemy and 30% switching sides when that’s possible.

Now, the news since the last bout of similar polling a few months ago isn’t all bleak. Rather greater numbers are backing Nato to win in the end. But that was before the great and good of the alliance met in Lisbon this weekend and decided, after a fashion, to designate 31 December 2014 as “the end” in question. It’s a firm “deadline”, according to David Cameron – or a “provisional” and “aspirational” one, according Nato’s secretary-general, who seems curiously concerned that “conditions have to be right” to let the boys come home.

Of course people talking to pollsters only express opinions rather than facts. Of course circumstances can change. Of course Mr Cameron and, indeed, Barack Obama – both of whom need Afghanistan’s long, bitter war over before they face their electorates again – may be right to set a timetable. But can we pause for a moment, draw a deep breath – and not laugh out loud.

Presumably the Taliban have been consulted, diaries in hand, and circled various windows of opportunity for surrender. Presumably Osama bin Laden has rubber-stamped the agreement. And perhaps Mullah Omar’s nod to join Hamid Karzai in coalition – with Omar as deputy prezza and a deal on tuition fees for ex-insurgent students – hasn’t received quite the publicity it merits.

But let’s not be too blinkered as we look at the panoply of Cameron/Clegg deadlines. Growth surging by New Year’s Day 2015? The Irish economy turning tiger again? Bin Laden up on trial in the Hague? Labour down to 15% in more conventional polls?

If you set the right schedule, excluding factors you can’t control, then naturally such achievements are “very doable” (as the head of Britain’s armed forces says of the PM’s pledges). Anything can be realistic (in the view of our most senior general in Afghanistan) if you leave realism out of the equation.

Politics always dictates its own version of realism, to be sure. Mr Obama needs withdrawal targets to keep General David Petraeus on some kind of leash. Mr Cameron, remembering how the top brass bullied Gordon Brown, probably wants to keep Sir David Richards busy doing the do-able. Getting out of Helmand and quitting Kabul equals votes at home. Democracy may not enthuse 43% of Afghans, but it rules the roost back in Whitehall and Washington.

Yet things don’t look like that in the killing fields. Out there, to the Taliban, Lisbon timetables have no meaning (except to nominate a time of opportunity). Out there, any notional dates on year planners may be dust and delusion one blast later. You can’t be categoric in conditions like these. And if you’re forced to be “firm”, then there’s really only one conclusion: that the men who die between now and 2015 may well die for nothing. That, if you want to get out, then do what is always do-able if you’re brave enough: just get out now.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

November 23, 2010 at 8:15 am

Obama stands by US support for Pakistan

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RAHUL BEDI

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has defended Washington’s support for Pakistan and said India was the country with the biggest stake in Islamabad’s stability.


President Obama meets schoolchildren as he visit Humayuns Tomb in New Delhi yesterday.

“My hope is that, over time, trust develops between the two countries, that dialogue begins, perhaps on less controversial issues, building up to more controversial issues,” he told college students in India’s western port city of Bombay (Mumbai) yesterday, on the second day of his three-day visit to India.

Mr Obama, who faces a diplomatic tightrope in fostering ties with India as its economic and geopolitical importance grows while at the same time helping Pakistan with billions of dollars in aid and weaponry, told the students the US could not impose peace on the neighbouring nuclear rivals.

“There are more Pakistanis who’ve been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan than probably anywhere else,” Mr Obama stated, in the city besieged for nearly three days by 10 gunmen from Pakistan almost exactly two years ago.

Many Bombay residents and siege survivors were disappointed with Mr Obama’s remarks, which they considered over conciliatory towards Pakistan.

Mr Obama added that the US had reaffirmed its partnership with Pakistan along with its willingness to help Islamabad stamp out terrorism, but progress had not been as quick as many wanted.

Many Indian officials privately admitted to being frustrated with Mr Obama for not being forthright in condemning Pakistan and its military and intelligence establishment for “sponsoring” terrorism.

The president reiterated his intention to bring US troops home from Afghanistan, beginning in July 2011, depending on ground conditions. He said he supported efforts by the Afghan government to reconcile with current and former Taliban members who agreed to sever ties with al-Qaeda, renounce violence and support their country’s constitution.

Addressing his domestic situation, Mr Obama declared he needed to initiate “mid-course corrections” if he was to win over a frustrated electorate and work with newly empowered Republicans.

However, he said he would not change his determination to move the US forward by investing in education, infrastructure and clean energy, despite mounting pressure in Washington to cut spending.

Mr Obama said the US mid-term elections reflected the “right, obligation and duty” of voters to express their unhappiness with his administration by voting out many incumbents, the majority of whom were Democrats, like Obama.

He said the outcome of his “mid-course corrections” over the coming months would depend on talks with Republicans, who last week won control of the House and eroded the Democrats’ Senate majority.

The Republicans also made major gains at state level, changing the political landscape as Obama looks ahead to his own re-election in 2012.

While her husband’s comments on Pakistan annoyed Indian officials and analysts, Michelle Obama won kudos from the Indian media and Mumbai residents by kicking off her shoes and played a boisterous game of hopscotch with under-privileged children on Saturday and later dancing with gusto with them to a ritzy Bollywood tune. Mr Obama joined in the dance, sportingly jumping around and making awkward movements with his arms.

Later in the day the Obamas arrived in Delhi, where they were received by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, who broke with protocol to personally greet the US president.

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.