Thursday, July 23, 2015

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Afghan peace talks: a sure uncertainty

By Dr. Mohammad Taqi

Defections to Islamic State remain a concern but unless IS has or gets a state patron, it will fizzle out or be militarily neutralised by Afghans and the rump international forces.
“Until I know this sure uncertainty I’ll entertain the offered fallacy” - Shakespeare.Peace prospects in landlocked Afghanistan appear to have entered unchartered waters after the recent Afghan government-Taliban powwow in Pakistan’s Murree hills. Both the Afghan president, Dr Ashraf Ghani, and the Taliban seem to have opted to entertain the fallacy offered as talks — courtesy Pakistan — till such time that they surely know more about its uncertainty or veracity. The two sides have used Eid holiday messages as an opportunity to indicate that they are bracing for the second round of talks, which might take place as early as the following weekend. The Taliban went first and issued an Eid message in the name of their one-eyed leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, who has been hidden from the public eye for a good 14 years now. Dr Ghani duly welcomed the proclamation, even calling Mullah Omar “akhund”, an Afghan honorific for holy man.

The statement attributed to Mullah Omar was posted to the Afghan Taliban’s website a day before Eid and, according to the same portal, was circulated to the rank and file Taliban at the time of Eid prayer sermons. The 2,700-word statement makes interesting reading. The nuanced and measured document, which is well referenced to the scriptures, indicates right away that Mullah Omar — a man who was never known for abstract thinking and intellect — did not write or even commission anyone to write it. After the customary Eid greetings the statement gets straight to business and gives a 10-point synopsis of the Taliban position on issues from jihad to the rights of minorities and modern education in Afghanistan. While maintaining that their “holy war” is still “legitimate” the treatise notes, “concurrently with armed jihad, political endeavours and peaceful pathways for achieving these sacred goals is a legitimate Islamic principle”. The statement clearly says, “We have established a ‘political office’ for political affairs, entrusted with the responsibility of monitoring and conducting all political activities.” It also puts some distance between the Taliban and Pakistan/Iran by stating, “Some circles accuse the mujahideen of being agents of Pakistan and Iran. This is an utterly unjust verdict.”

Overall, the Taliban statement issued in Mullah Omar’s name endorses the current peace parleys but raises a flag as to which Taliban group should be considered a bona fide interlocutor by the Afghan government. For all intents and purposes the Taliban Eid statement seems to have originated from their Qatar political commission, which has been leery of Pakistan’s motives and even the Murree talks that did not have their representation. This Taliban chatter suggests that the Quetta Shura did not authorise or send emissaries to the Murree process and they consider it an affront that Pakistan left their key political leaders out with a sleight of hand. An article that was posted on the Taliban website right after the Murree talks and then taken down without an explanation had dissed the Murree talks as Pakistan bringing in a few Taliban “in their personal capacity” to circumvent the Taliban leadership, especially the Qatar office.

This interplay between elements of the Pakistani security establishment and their Taliban protégés suggests that there will be some hiccups before the much-trumpeted second round of talks gets underway. In a hurry to relieve pressure from international powers and, more importantly, from Dr Ashraf Ghani who has been getting increasingly impatient with it, Pakistan might have oversold the Murree talks and the second or third tier Taliban it had induced to show up. Through the statement released in Mullah Omar’s name, the Taliban’s Qatar political office seems to have tried to keep its foot in the talks door and present a unified front but their displeasure at being left in the lurch may be yet another sign of trying to buck Pakistan’s sway over them. Pakistan might now be tapping its Gulf allies to facilitate and probably host that next round. If the upcoming talks indeed do materialise, the composition of the Taliban delegation there may serve as a good indicator of the jihadist group’s cohesiveness and the relationship status of its various factions with Pakistan.

The talks do have the potential to open up rifts not only among the various power centres of the Taliban movement but also with their affiliates such as the Haqqani terrorist network and Pakistan. The complete radio silence from Mullah Omar for years has already created divisions and desperation within his jihadist outfit. Unless Mullah Omar miraculously comes of out of his occultation — my money is on that he is no more — the Taliban hordes may just be heading towards internecine warfare just the way the erstwhile mujahideen of the 1980s and 1990s did. And while that will be a messy and bloody proposition for jihadists it might not be a bad one from the Afghan government’s perspective. Defections to Islamic State (IS), which is trying to establish itself as the alternative jihadist-terrorist franchise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, remain a concern but unless IS has or gets a state patron, it will fizzle out or be militarily neutralised by Afghans and the rump international forces. While IS will find Afghanistan’s culture and history inhospitable to developing roots there, the proposal by Dr Ashraf Ghani to establish a regional hub in his country that could be used by the US and other allies to combat IS is timely and prudent.

While the IS spectre looms over Afghanistan, talks with the Taliban have opened up a window of opportunity to not only negotiate peace but also pry away the reconcilable jihadists from their longstanding patron(s). The Qatar political office’s haughtiness nothwithstanding, it is, however, unlikely that without Pakistan’s patronage the Taliban can survive on the battlefield and that window of opportunity can snap shut as quickly as it has opened up. Pakistan retains tremendous leverage — if not outright control — over the most lethal Taliban affiliate, i.e. the Haqqani network and various other field commanders. Controlling the jihadist kitty, weapons flow and limiting access to the Taliban leadership are other levers that Pakistan has used with success over the years. Pakistan’s security calculus vis-à-vis India has not changed one bit with the corollary that its interest and most likely the tactics in Afghanistan have not changed either. It is hard to see Pakistan reversing over 40 years of its Afghan policy just because the Taliban’s Qatar office might want out now. The prospects of a deadly rest of the summer in Afghanistan are much more tangible than that of the elusive peace offered in Murree. Dr Ashraf Ghani’s negotiating team led by his brilliant young deputy foreign minister, Mr Hekmat Khalil Karzai, has its work cut out for it if they want to turn an uncertainty into a surety.

US Urges Pakistan To Cooperate In Battle Against ISIS

US Senator has urged Pakistan to continue cooperation against the militant group ISIS.
According to details, on Wednesday July 22, US Senator Dianne Feinstein has laid emphasis on the need for constant cooperation between Pakistan and the US in the battle against the Islamic State (IS).
During meetings held between Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi and US Senators in Capitol Hill, US issued a statement urging Pakistan to continue cooperation.
During these meetings, Syed Tariq Fatemi highlighted current achievements regarding Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. He briefed them about Pakistan Army’s in progress military offensive in FATA.
Fatemi also informed the US Senators about the arrangements that were being made to totally secure Pakistani territory from militants. At this occasion, Senator Feinstein appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to get rid of terrorism and stabilise the region. US support for enhancing Pakistan’s counter-terrorism capabilities was assured.
Senator Casey, welcomed efforts of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to reach out to its neighbours. He praised the commitment made by the Pakistani government and the Pakistani nation to purge terrorism.
The US Senators assured Fatemi that the US would work closely with Pakistan to extend the economic and trade relations between the two countries so as to build a equally beneficial partnership.

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Pakistan - Amnesty for Baloch militants — will it work?

The recent announcement of an official pardon to be offered to armed Baloch militants is nothing new. The same formula was tried, without success, during the Nawab Raisani-led government. Such statements are essentially public relations ploys, designed to reassure citizens. Similar efforts in the past have been ineffective, with even more armed groups emerging in their aftermath.
At a recent meeting of the Apex Committee, it was announced that money would be paid to those currently waging war against the state from mountain hideouts on the condition that they surrender their arms. The announcement came on the heels of the increasingly frequent attacks, which have claimed more than 50 lives. In an earlier statement, Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch had said that, apart from the districts of Turbat, Panjgur and Awaran, the province was relatively peaceful. However, the sharp rise in incidents of violence in Quetta, Mastung and other parts of the province has compelled the political leadership to admit the ground reality and redouble its efforts to weaken militancy. The resurrection of the old strategy of giving incentives to militants is a part of these efforts. To date, however, the only big-name militant known to have laid down arms and surrendered is Kalati Marri, the commander of the banned United Baloch Army.
The recent surrenders and the question of who can claim credit for them, has become a hot-button issue in the run-up to the election of a new chief executive of Balochistan, a position likely to become vacant in the next couple of months under a pact agreed to by all major political parties. Two heavyweight figures, PML-N leader Nawab Sanaullah Zehri and Nawab Jangez Marri, have emerged as strong candidates but, given Balochistan’s unpredictable political climate, the eventual outcome remains uncertain. Kalati’s surrender was facilitated by Jangez Marri whereas Nawab Sanaullah Zehri is making every effort to bring the Khan of Kalat, Prince Agha Suleman Dawood, back from self-imposed exile in London.
Currently, there are three key Baloch leaders living in self-imposed exile — Baloch Republican Party chief Nawabzada Bramdagh Bugti, alleged BLA chief Nawabzada Harbyar Marri, and alleged head of the Lashkar-e-Balochistan Javed Mengal. Their influence is primarily felt in Khuzdar, Dera Bugti, Kohlu, Makran and Nasirabad divisions, but it also extends to Quetta and other parts of the province. So far, there has been no attempt to reach these leaders. Another key player — and the only militant leader currently in Balochistan — is Dr Allah Nazir, head of the banned Baloch Liberation Front, the organisation responsible for attacking security forces and construction sites in Makran division. So far, he has refused to talk to the government. The only leader at all likely to be persuaded to return is the Khan of Kalat. However, his potential usefulness to the National Party in putting an end to militancy is limited, given his lack of involvement in the armed struggle.
A senior military official has stated that the proposed pardon and rehabilitation policy should be announced with immediate effect and that a committee charged with making contact with leaders living in self-imposed exile in the West should be established. In the event that the proposed negotiations fail, the likelihood that security forces will get involved is high. However, the success of any military action cannot be guaranteed given that these actions in the past have had a negative impact on the political environment.
Why does the armed struggle continue to enjoy some support among certain sections of the population? The answer to this question is apparent to anyone visiting Balochistan. Vast areas of the province have very little in the way of infrastructure, healthcare or educational facilities. Those who contend that tribal chieftains are to blame for this backwardness should ask themselves why there is no development in areas under the control of the pro-government sardars, since they have always enjoyed the backing of the establishment. It is high time the federal government paid more than lip service to the needs of the province. The people of Balochistan complain, and rightly so, that they have a very limited stake in the election of their representatives. These ‘elected representatives’ do little more than serve their own interests. The government must stop repeating the mistakes of past decades. Balochistan, with its vast areas of harsh, mountainous terrain so suited to harbouring militants, has been in a state of almost relentless conflict for the past three centuries. Its people need more than temporary relief. They need a permanent cure to their woes.

Pakistan - PPP slates Sharif for London stay in ‘flood situation’

The PPP has criticised Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for extending his stay in London at a time when a large number of people of south Punjab are getting affected by the flood.
“The Sharif brothers who used to target their political opponents in the past for being out of the country during calamities are doing the same thing now themselves. What is Shahbaz Sharif doing in London while there is a flood in south Punjab?” PPP Secretary General Sardar Latif Khosa said.
Talking to Dawn here on Tuesday, Mr Khosa said Shahbaz was only good at ‘political gimmicks’ and not at delivering practically.
He said that instead of extending his stay in London for no ‘solid reason’, Shahbaz should return home and supervise the relief operation in flood-hit areas of the province.
“Massive corruption has been committed in Metro Bus projects. And today (Tuesday) rainwater has completely exposed the quality of work at the Lahore Metro Bus project,” he said.
“Shahbaz used to claim that he would end loadshedding in six months after coming to power but two years have passed and the PML-N government is still struggling to control it. Similarly, Shahbaz has been in power in Punjab for the last seven or so years but he failed to take measures to deal with floods,” he said.
Mr Khosa further said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should have also spent Eid either among the internally displaced persons (IDPs) of North Waziristan or terrorism victims but he chose to stay in Saudi Arabia. He said the people could not be fooled any more as they wanted relief which this government was not offering them.