As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Afghanistan/Pakistan Update

There have been some key developments in Afghanistan this week. The biggest, in my opinion, is the announcement of regular trilateral talks between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan, aimed at finding a comprehensive regional solution.

Clinton had hosted high-level delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan for a rare trilateral meeting of allies in the seven-year-old Afghan war, part of the Obama administration's review of U.S. policy toward the volatile region.

"Our three nations have a common goal, a common threat and a common task, and my government commits itself to our friends and to the success of this common endeavor," said Clinton, flanked by her Afghan and Pakistani counterparts. She said the next meeting was tentatively to be held in April or May [...]

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta emerged from talks in Washington on Tuesday declaring they had reached a new environment of trust and confidence.

Spanta earlier said his call for more support to build Afghan security forces and to forge a broader war strategy met with a "very, very positive response" from his U.S. hosts.

To this point, we have dealt with the war in Afghanistan in isolation. We paid off the Pakistani military to do counter-terrorism work, and they pocketed it and tried to hold off Taliban forces in their own country while looking away when they attacked Americans. But that has changed, and now the new Pakistani government realizes their stake in reducing the threat of safe harbor. They reportedly defeated militants in a key region along the Afghanistan border, and have enlisted the support of a Special Forces unit to press the battle in the tribal areas. They have also secured peace agreements in the Swat Valley, leading to a tentative cease-fire and also the installation of Sharia law, which is an uneasy peace (I personally think the surrender at Swat is a setback) but at least an acknowledgment that leaders must make peace with those who can enforce it. In fact, this points to increased negotiation with breakaway Taliban elements as part of a comprehensive solution, along with buy-in from, of all nations, Iran.

Over recent days, high ranking authorities in Iran and America have arrived in Kabul one after the other to visit Afghan government authorities. (Passage omitted: visits by Iranian First Vice-President Parviz Davudi, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi)

Now, the terrorism concern is not only threatening Afghanistan, it has also created joint concerns for the authorities of America and Iran. The three countries are concerned about the Taleban reorganizing and reinforcing in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

With no doubt, we can say that, despite the confrontation of America and Iran's interests in the world, both countries have been trying to establish security in Afghanistan over the past seven years and they have indirectly invested in the same project [...]

Aljazeera English gives an exclusive report on the British role behind the scenes in kickstarting negotiations between Gulbadin Hikmatyar of the Hizb-i Islami and the Karzai government. Apparently the hope is that Hikmatyar would go into exile in Saudi Arabia for a while and then ultimately receive amnesty and return to Afghanistan.

What we now call the "Taliban" are actually 5 distinct groups and movements: 1) The Old Taliban of Mulla Omar, now based in Quetta, Pakistan; 2) the Hizb-i Islami [Islamic Party] of former prime minister and warlord, Gulbadin Hikmatyar; 3) the followers of warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani; 4) the Taliban Movement of Pakistan in that country's tribal agencies; and 5) disgruntled Pushtun villagers who object to foreign troops on their soil or whose poppy crops were forcibly eradicated, leaving them destitute. Hikmatyar and Haqqani at one time or another were opposed to the Old Taliban, but have now allied with them. According to the Pajhwok News Network, a joint US and Afghan patrol targeted a militant of the Haqqani group near Khost on Thursday, capturing 6 militants and some light arms.

Some speculate that the alleged British negotiations with Hikmatyar may be aimed at detaching the Hizb-i Islami from its current Taliban allies.

While these negotiations continue, Hamid Karzai has moved up the election date by three months, apparently to catch his somewhat disorganized opposition off guard. This is somewhat less positive than the trilateral talks or the attempted bargaining to break the Taliban alliance.

Karzai's decree may also intensify tensions with the United States, which backed an Independent Election Commission decision scheduling the vote for Aug. 20 so that an additional 17,000 U.S. troops could be deployed to bolster security [...]

A vote that is not seen as free and fair could deal a serious blow to the Obama administration's emerging strategy for blunting the insurgency, which relies in part upon rebuilding sagging popular trust in a political system plagued by corruption and incompetence.

"There are concerns about the legitimacy of this vote," said a Western official, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

We are not going to create a flourishing democracy in the Middle East, but we do at least need a central government with at least the legitimacy of its own people conferred upon it. Karzai is losing that, and if the United States hasn't been blamed already, the Afghans are not far from doing so. This latest maneuver, designed to use incumbency to maintain power, is very dangerous. It's one thing for American leaders to say that we have no long-term designs on the region and another to see the American-backed leader use tactics to keep his grip on power. Under Obama we are trying to disassociate from Karzai, as his government is marked by corruption and the inability to provide security to the region, but that's not going to be an easy sell with the public, I fear. The Taliban insurgency is strengthened by failures at the governmental level.

This is another example of why we shouldn't be sending in troops without a defined mission at this time. 17,000 additional forces flooding the region precisely when Karzai calls to speed up elections sends a bad signal.

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