Saturday, February 2, 2013
http://www.usatoday.comAlong a sprawling roadside market, where butchered animals hang next to tiny, wooden stalls filled with auto parts, an Afghan man squats next to his apple cart, hoping to sell enough produce to feed his family. It's only been in recent months that Abdullah, who like many Afghans goes by a single name, returned to the Moqur market. For years, the Taliban controlled the Moqur district and much of Ghazni province, forcing schools and businesses to close and imposing strict Islamic law. The U.S. and Afghan forces here pushed out the Taliban fighters and allowed the market's vendors to return, giving hope of a normal life. But now that U.S. forces are preparing to depart, people here live in fear that the Afghan soldiers who are supposed to take over security will not be up to the task. "There are still a lot of bad guys in the area," says Abdullah, as a crowd on onlookers nods in agreement. By June 2014, security in every province in Afghanistan will have been turned over to Afghan forces following 11 years of hard-won battles against the Islamist Taliban in which more than 2,000 Americans have died. As NATO stated in its latest report Thursday, the success of the transition will rest on whether the Afghans can ensure that the country never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. "Developments over the past year show they can," concluded NATO General Secretary Anders Fogh Rasmussen.Eastern Afghanistan will be the greatest test of that transition. U.S. Marines and Army soldiers succeeded in vanquishing Taliban fighters from the strongholds in the south in campaigns lasting years in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Rather than reinforce the south, the Taliban attacked to the east, where fighters from militant-infested northwest Pakistan bolstered their forces. U.S. forces responded last year by shifting troops to the east, intensifying efforts in Ghazni to combat a persistent enemy as a deadline issued by President Obama closes in for U.S. troops to withdraw. Ghazni is an important thoroughfare for the Taliban and other militant groups in eastern Afghanistan. The country's main route, Highway 1, runs through this market halfway between the country's two largest cities, Kabul and Kandahar. Just off the highway are vast stretches of barren crop fields covered in winter frost and surrounded by snow-topped mountains. Winter is typically when many Taliban fighters return to Pakistan to rest and re-arm for the spring. But this winter the Taliban remained active, perhaps to test the strength of the Afghan forces that have taken up positions turned over by the U.S. military. Polish forces were leading the NATO effort in the province. The arrival of U.S. troops and Afghan soldiers kept the Taliban out of the bigger population centers. But some locals say the Taliban is still firmly in control of most districts and just waiting for U.S. forces to leave so they can take on the Afghan forces left behind. "They didn't bring security, the weather did," says Abdul Kaim, waving a bony finger at the American forces in the market as he explained that the recent snowfall is what stopped the fighting by making it too hard for either side to travel. Lt. Col. Jeremy Schroeder disagreed and said the region was secured well before winter's arrival. "I guess that's a good problem," says Schroeder, interpreting the Taliban's willingness to brave the cold months in Afghanistan as a sign the militants are concerned about losing too much ground to NATO and Afghan forces come spring. "It means you are having success." Under the protection of patrolling coalition troops, Afghans fill the Muqor market that acts as an open-air department store with clothes, produce, food and merchandise. During the summer -- when the Taliban controlled the market and much of the province -- Abdullah and other merchants were forbidden from doing business in what is the largest roadside bazaar between Kabul and Kandahar.Not all areas of eastern Afghanistan have such protection, and they can be at the mercy of the Taliban. Some have begun fighting back. In nearby Andar District, locals rose up against the Taliban and its strictures, according to the Afghan government. Some have taken up arms against the militants and forced them from villages, allowing Taliban-banned schools and shops to reopen. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid has said the talk of life without Taliban control is an illusion. Mujahid says that much of Andar and Ghazni remains in Taliban hands. "People (residents of Ghazni) like to help the mujahadeen, they know it is their responsibility," he says. "But even if they can't help, they aren't making real problems for us." Townspeople in Moqur District are not banking solely on Afghan troops protecting them once U.S. forces go. A group called the Moqur Movement is helping to keep the Taliban out of the market and village, says the U.S. military. The groups in Andar and Moqur are critical to security because they can readily identify outsiders, particularly those who belong to the Taliban. "They have a certain amount of access (to the local population) and anonymity that Afghan forces do not," says Schroeder. Schroeder notes however that the groups can frighten some locals, such as when they enter homes after dark in search of suspected Taliban. U.S. forces are trying to bring members of the Moqur Movement into the fold of the Afghan Local Police, a constable force trained and equipped by Special Operations Forces. Several members have already been incorporated into the ranks of the ALP, but the police have issues too. People have complained that some in the ALP abuse their new-found authority by extorting bribes at checkpoints. "They are taking our money and even torturing us," Mullah Shamsullah, an elder in a nearby village says of the Afghan Local Police. U.S. forces say there are some ALP abusing their authority but that most cases involve men impersonating the police. In Afghanistan, where rumors are how many rural towns get their information, there is speculation that the uprisings against the Taliban were manufactured by Kabul to spin a positive storyline out of Ghazni. "At first it appeared it was a Pashtun (the predominant ethnic group in Ghazni) initiative to rise up," says Saeed Parto, an analyst with the Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization. "Another version is the Afghan government and U.S. forces wanted to see a feel-good story, something to show that Afghanistan is worth saving."
http://www.number10.gov.ukDavid Cameron hosts trilateral at Chequers. Discussions expected to focus on the Afghan-led peace process and how the Pakistanis and international community can support it.A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Prime Minister will host the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan at Chequers on Sunday and Monday as part of his ongoing efforts to help to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, support an Afghan peace and reconciliation process and promote regional peace and stability. “For the first time, we will bring together the political and security establishments from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Foreign Ministers, Chiefs of Army Staff, Chiefs of Intelligence and the Chair of the Afghan High Peace Council attending the meeting. “Discussions are expected to focus on the Afghan-led peace process and how the Pakistanis and international community can support it. We also expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to make further progress on the Strategic Partnership Agreement they committed to in September. “The Prime Minister initiated the trilateral last Summer at the request of both parties. This will be the third meeting hosted by the Prime Minister, following meetings in Kabul in July and in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York in September. The UK’s role has been to encourage ideas, identify areas of agreement and provide a forum for open dialogue. “And this trilateral process sends a very clear message to the Taliban: now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful political process in Afghanistan. “As the Prime Minister has set out previously, a stable Afghanistan is not just in the interests of Afghans, but also in the interests of their neighbours and the UK. We share the same vision for Afghanistan: a secure, stable and democratic country that never again becomes a haven for international terror. “We are working together to achieve it and Afghanistan’s neighbours have a vital role to play. It is vital not just for the future security of their citizens, but for their prosperity too.”
http://rt.comThe US is engaged in a global war on terror, and drone strikes are an effective tool to eliminate Al-Qaeda militants planning terror attacks on America, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told AFP, adding that drone operations should stay covert. The US will not curtail its extrajudicial assassinations in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, Panetta said in a farewell interview: “We are in a war. We're in a war on terrorism and we've been in that war since 9/11.”
THE FRONTIER POSTWhat kind of an alarming virulence is this that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of opposition in the National Assembly, has been indulging in so arrogantly over these days? Now he says he would not talk with the government party over the nomination of the interim prime minister. Does he think that he is above the constitution or enjoys some sort of a veto power? The constitution specifically lays down that as leader of opposition he is to talk this with the leader of house. This is a must. So he will be doing no favour to anyone if he talks. It is his bounden duty to do it. And the taxpayer is paying him not to flout the constitution but to abide by it and carry out all the duties, tasks and responsibilities the constitution enjoins on him. Ironically, he never tires of reading out constitution even at the drop of a hat, when it suits him. When the PPP-led government struck a deal with Tahirul Qadri, he was furious. How could Qadri be consulted for interim prime minister's nomination, he thundered. It is unconstitutional, he fumed, reminding all and sundry that constitutionally this consultation could only be held between the leader of house and the leader of opposition. And now he says he would not talk about this with the leader of house. Why indeed he is so resolved to ratchet up the tensions where should exist none? Why indeed is he behaving as if he and his party are not going into an electoral contest but in a war? Like a little czar, he says all the governors must be changed; the entire top echelons of the provincial administrations must be changed; and the secretaries of several ministers at the centre must be changed. Are we going into an election or into an administrative overhaul? Appallingly, he says he would not accept the nominations of the interim chief ministers in Sindh and Balochistan. But who is he to accept or reject those nominations if made in line with the stipulations of the constitution? After all, this country is not the real estate of anybody; nor is it the sultanate of anybody. No wrestling ring either is it of anyone. It belongs to 180 million people, who overwhelmingly are disgusted of the present crop of the political class from one to all and fed up with its shenanigans. With his rancour, stridency and arrogance, he may be getting the headlines. But the people's loathing he is culling in volumes. And how does he square up such contradictions in his stances that when Qadri asked for the re-composition of the election commission, he was all hue and cry? And now he himself is staging sit-ins for what he calls the empowering of the election commission. In any case, his is not the party alone that is flapping its wings feverishly to jump into the electoral fray. There are many other contenders, some even presently carrying more wider nationwide credentials. So who is he to arrogate to himself and his party the sole prerogative of agreeing this or disagreeing that when many other putative power contenders also are in the field? Why indeed is he so hell-bent on fraying the tempers when even otherwise the upcoming poll, by every indication, portends to be very contentious, divisive and controversial? Why is he after confrontations so insanely when the nation cannot afford even a slight confrontation at this point in time, so delicately-placed it is? Gigantic challenges are confronting it both internally and externally, to cope with which it needs harmony, solidarity and unity among the ranks of the nation, not chasms, fissures and divisions. This is not something that is hidden or not in full public view. Even a babe knows of it. And by no stretch of imagination the Chaudhry could be unaware of it. Yet he is behaving rashly and recklessly. He must tone down. He is no emperor or czar and the people are no slaves of him. He is just a politician like so many of them strutting on the national political landscape. And behave he must like one. He must speak logic, rationality and sanity. Pungency and rancour he must eschew. The people would surely do well without his insanity.