Posts Tagged ‘ Af-Pak ’

Pakistan Releasing Taliban Detainees As Part Of Peace Process Ahead Of 2014 Withdrawal

By Rebecca Santana and Kathy Gannon for The Huffington Post

Pakistan-Taliban-_2063733b

Pakistan plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan ahead of the departure of international troops next year, a top Pakistani official said.

Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said Pakistan has initiated the process of releasing those Afghan detainees in its custody who they think will help facilitate the reconciliation process. His comments were made during a press conference Friday in Abu Dhabi and relayed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday. He did not give a timetable.

In general, Kabul has pressed hard for Islamabad to release its detainees, with some officials saying that they hope the released Taliban can serve as intermediaries. But Washington is concerned about specific prisoners who they consider dangerous.

Jilani did not specifically mention whether Pakistan would release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban whom Kabul has been pushing Pakistan to release.

Senior U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the U.S. has informed the Pakistani authorities that it was reluctant to see Baradar go free and asked for prior notice so it can try to track his movements.

Pakistan has upward of 100 Afghan prisoners in its custody including Baradar, who was arrested by Pakistan in the southern city of Karachi in 2010. The circumstances of his arrest, like that of most of the detainees, remain unclear. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of providing shelter to some of the Taliban.

The U.S. and Afghan officials said a similar U.S. request for notification upon release has been made for another prisoner, Abdul Samad, according to the officials. Samad, who is from Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, is a specialist in making suicide jackets and came to prominence within the Taliban movement after its collapse in 2001.

Several senior Taliban have already been released by Pakistan including former governors and ministers. One of those released was the once-feared Vice and Virtue Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who oversaw a legion of Taliban fighters who roamed the streets searching for women who were not properly covered, or residents listening to music or watching television, both of which were forbidden under the Taliban.

In November Pakistan also released Anwar ul Haq Mujahed, a senior Taliban commander from eastern Nangarhar province whose release was sought by the Afghan High Peace Council although he had been implicated in several major attacks in eastern Afghanistan against coalition and Afghan forces.

The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players, including the United States. But it appears to be getting a new push in recent months with a high-level peace commission traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Pakistani officials releasing 26 Taliban prisoners since November.

Part of the reason for the recent peace push is that Pakistani government and military officials are worried that if American troops leave without a plan in place, Afghanistan could deteriorate into another round of vicious infighting. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, many of the militants who had helped best that superpower then turned on each other in what played out as a vicious war across the country.

A repeat of that scenario could have horrific consequences for Pakistan, such as a flood of Afghan refugees across its borders and increased fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the military is already trying to suppress a stubborn insurgency.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have long accused Islamabad of backing insurgents – an allegation Pakistan denies – and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country.

Whether the recent detainee releases will play a significant role in the peace process remains to be seen. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said on Thursday that although their release was a positive step, there was no indication of where the former detainees had gone.

He said the Afghan government was trying to ensure they did not return to the insurgency.

He said the Pakistanis so far have taken a “hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released.”

All officials spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

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In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

Defining Terror: Better Late Than Never?

By Ahad Khan for EthanCasey.com

In his recent article “Home Free: Waging War on Ourselves,” Ethan Casey writes about what I know as “the American dream” or, as he calls it, “the ugly truth buried beneath the manicured lawns of the American suburbs.”

As a person of Pakistani heritage, I didn’t need help to notice the near exact parallel between the history of black people in America on one hand, and the plight of the U.S. government’s ghosts somewhere in “Afpakistan” on the other. I am talking about the victims of America’s drone war in the “Af-Pak” border region, home to the folks who supposedly hate the American way of life (courtesy U.S. presidents of the past decade). If we are to believe their advocates, Predator drones are so advanced that they even have their own conscience. You don’t have to worry about them mistakenly firing on women and children alike.

Our world’s affairs have arrived at a confusing point. Wars between different countries, overt and covert, increasingly appear to be conflicts between civilizations. I should not say that we can’t tell where it may lead us during the course of our own generation. History has clearly taught us time and again that struggles for freedom become inevitable wherever people are forced to live with a feeling of being suppressed. It was just such a struggle that gave birth to an America that dreamt of liberty and justice for all. It was such a struggle that solemnized the rights of the black people of America, through the brilliance of heroes like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

It was that same struggle that led to the creation of Pakistan, by a nation of people that – like black Americans – had grown sick and tired of being denied equal treatment in their own society. It is this freedom that we, as human beings, have shown to hold so dear, that it has served to justify our restless campaigns for the rights we demanded to live in honour and dignity.

It is no less amazing what man would do to defend what he perceives to be his freedom, or any symbol that represents it. While it still holds true that the horrific events of 9/11 raised more questions than answers (technically speaking), who would dare to challenge the notion that the USA was dealt a devastating blow to its core beliefs? To repair America’s presumably unshakeable spirit of justice, someone was going to have to pay. A determined U.S. military thus engaged in a worldwide war on ‘terror’. Over a decade later, we find the same forces holed up in Afghanistan, unwelcome and surrounded from all directions. Their enemies (those that were meant to be paid back) are stronger than they were at any point during the course of the war and easily project effective control over most of the country. The lack of a clearly defined war strategy is just one rampant example out of many to show how American leadership is completely clueless about what it’s doing there. But at least bin Laden’s dead. Mission accomplished, whatever it’s been.

As the world looks at its old ally today – they who slammed the lid on Hitler’s coffin – it’s been curious to know what the USA really aims to achieve. As America’s government continues to pursue ‘the terrorists’, it has made that country itself into the biggest victim of terror. Before anyone jumps me for contradicting other countries’ body counts: terror succeeds where people allow themselves to be terrorized; you can’t terrorize the dead. Thus, in my humble opinion, the primary victims of terror are not those that are now laid to rest in their graves; they’re the people amongst us who are ready to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of the mirage that’s presented as “threats to national security.” Those who refused to come to terms with their defeat once, failing to learn from it, are thereby damned to fail in future.

In my humble opinion the Obama administration does know that it had failed, long before the latest breakdown in relations with Pakistan after Pakistani soldiers were attacked without reason. When was the last time you heard any U.S. government official tell the world that they’re trying to “win the hearts of minds” of people on the other side of the world? They never intended to bomb their hearts and minds out, it depends on the means chosen to aim at the target. The tendencies that champion the death sentence as a means for the sake of internal security, favor the use of drones when it comes to external security.

As much as we’ve suffered as Pakistanis under America’s misleading wars, I can’t help but feel sorry for America. As this great nation’s ideology is its biggest victim of war, the defeat couldn’t be greater. The rampant paranoia at present about hunting “terrorists” does not represent the example America gave to the rest of the world in the course of the previous century. Sadly, most of our generation will remember it by the images of a shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist. Pakistan and the emerging Arab nations will learn what democracy is on their own. They’ll take an example in future of what happened in America when people allowed themselves to be governed by fear instead of by a determined leadership. Justice will be sought and found, even by some of those people that the knights of freedom would describe as terrorists.

Ahad Khan is a Dutch Pakistani whose parents hail from Karachi. A health management student from Erasmus University in Rotterdam, he’s a dental practice manager in everyday life.

Karzai’s Pakistan Comment Jolts West

By Dion Nissenbaum for The Wall Street Journal

America’s latest attempts to strengthen its relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai received an unexpected jolt over the weekend, as the Afghan leader said he would back Pakistan if it went to war with the U.S.

“God forbid, if any war took place between Pakistan and the United States, we will stand by Pakistan,” Mr. Karzai said an interview broadcast Saturday on Pakistan’s Geo television network. “If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needed Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

The prospects for a U.S. war with Pakistan are remote, and Mr. Karzai’s comments were viewed by some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul as a poorly executed effort to blunt his recent angry comments about Pakistan’s support for Afghan insurgent groups. “This is not about war with each other,” said Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries.”

Mr. Karzai’s comments came as a surprise to some Western officials in Kabul, who were heartened by the success of last week’s visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In the past, Mr. Karzai has alienated his Western allies with comments suggesting that he might side with the Taliban, or that America could come to be seen as an occupier if its forces didn’t stop killing Afghan civilians.

Mr. Karzai’s latest remarks struck a nerve with some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul who were reminded of the president’s penchant for criticizing the U.S.-led coalition that supports and funds his government. “It was totally careless, unnecessary and, yes, irresponsible,” said one Afghan official. “He hasn’t pleased anyone except, maybe, a few Pakistani generals.”

American officials said, however, that Mr. Karzai’s remarks wouldn’t overshadow Mrs. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Karzai and Mrs. Clinton were united during her trip in demanding that Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have vacillated over the past year between spells of political chill and attempts at a rapprochement.
Mr. Karzai and the U.S. have sought to pressure Pakistan in recent weeks to clamp down on the Haqqani insurgent network suspected of staging a series of deadly attacks on American and Afghan targets.

Afghan officials also accused Pakistan’s spy agency of involvement in last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who had been leading the country’s peace entreaties to the Taliban. Pakistan denied these accusations. Earlier this month, Mr. Karzai unexpectedly flew to New Delhi to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan’s archenemy India. The move angered Pakistani officials, who viewed it as political provocation.

In the Saturday TV interview, Mr. Karzai repeated his characterization of Pakistan as a “brother” and said Afghanistan wouldn’t let the U.S. or any other country dictate its foreign policy. “Afghanistan is a brother,” he said “But, please brother, stop using all methods that hurt us and are now hurting you. Let us engage from a different platform.” Separately, Afghanistan’s interior minister Sunday evaded an apparent assassination attempt near Kabul.

Officials said a suicide bomber targeted a convoy thought to be carrying Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi. But the attacker was shot dead before he could do any harm, and the interior minister wasn’t in the convoy, the Interior Ministry said.
–Ziaulhaq Sultani contributed to this article.

Veteran US Diplomat To Replace Holbrooke as Pakistan-Afghan Envoy

By David Usborne for The Independent, UK

The long and fractious search for a replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke as a special US envoy to both Pakistan and Afghanistan is over, but the job of filling his shoes is looking more impossible than ever, not least because of an expected exodus of top American officials from Kabul this year.

Marc Grossman, who was a top-rank US diplomat for three decades until he moved to the private sector in 2005, has agreed to take on the post after others turned it down. His appointment is expected to be announced by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during a speech in New York on Friday.

The death from a torn aorta of Mr Holbrooke, a giant on the diplomatic stage, left a void in America’s diplomatic front in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some in the White House resented the wide remit he enjoyed dealing with both countries, Mrs Clinton was adamant she needed someone of similar stature in his place.

Several high profile names were passed over for the job or turned it down, including Strobe Talbott and John Podesta, both of whom served former President Bill Clinton. Another who declined to don the Holbrooke mantle was Frank Wisner, another former diplomat who unsuccessfully sought to mediate with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt before his ouster last week.

Mr Grossman, currently chairman of the Cohen Group which advises companies on ventures overseas, will take the job at a particularly tricky juncture. Relations between Washington and Islamabad are at an all time low, and in Afghanistan the clock is ticking on the start of US troop withdrawals this summer.

The diplomatic and military team he will inherit in Afghanistan will meanwhile begin to dissolve almost the moment he arrives there. Among those set to depart are Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador there, as well as all four of the top US officials in the embassy.

It is widely expected, meanwhile, that the top military commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, will be rotated out before the end of the year. The number two military officer there, Lt Gen David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations, is also set to leave. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon concede that finding replacements for the departing officials will be difficult.

Violence in Afghanistan is still at critical levels. On the political level, the US is striving to overcome long-running tensions with President Hamid Karzai, while trying to push forward a process of reconciliation talks with elements of the Taliban and other insurgent groups that are seen as crucial to achieving stability, and step up training of Afghan soldiers and police officers.

“Afghanistan is keen to work closely with the new Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy in better coordination and understanding,” commented Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for Mr Karzai, who had a prickly relationship with Mr Holbrooke.

The latest downturn in relations with Pakistan follows the arrest of an American at the US embassy on charges of murder. So far the Pakistani government has ignored calls from Washington that the accused, Raymond Davis, who is on the embassy staff, be given diplomatic immunity in the case. He has claimed that he shot the two men in self defence as they attempted to rob him.

In Islamabad yesterday on a mission to try to resolve the stand-off was Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arguably the only person available in Washington with the stature to get the Pakistani government to focus on the issue. Bilateral talks that were scheduled to take place at the State Department next week have been postponed by Mrs Clinton because of the dispute.

The biggest challenge of all for Mr Grossman will be winning the trust and respect of leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan while navigating the sometimes conflicting priorities of his various bosses in Washington at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House.

Leading players on their way out:

General David Petraeus

Unexpectedly pulled into Afghanistan after the sudden departure of General Stanley McChrystal last year, Petraeus is drafting withdrawal plans for President Obama. Once he has presented the President with options for the best exit strategy, which he is expected to do in July, there are suggestions that he could look to stand down. He has denied that he could seek the Republican presidential nomination for 2012.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

With his relationship with President Karzai strained at best, there have long been rumours in Washington of Eikenberry’s return home; any departure, though, was held up by the exit of McChrystal, when it was felt that another change at the top of Afghan policy would be unhelpful. A similar logic may have applied after Richard Holbrooke’s death. One of Grossman’s key tasks will be identifying the best candidates to replace him.

Lt. General David Rodriguez

Named as deputy commander in Afghanistan in 2009, Rodriguez has considerably more experience in the country than Petraeus, and holds responsibility for day-to-day operations, with particular expertise in counter-insurgency. If suggestions that he could be going home soon prove correct, there are fears that a shortage of top-class military leadership with knowledge of the country could be exposed.

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