Posts Tagged ‘ President Hamid Karzai ’

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

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Meeting Pakistanis, U.S. Will Try to Fix Relations

By Mark Landler and Eric Schmitt for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As Pakistani civilian and military leaders arrive here this week for high-level meetings, the Obama administration will begin trying to mend a relationship badly damaged by the American military’s tough new stance in the region.

Among the sweeteners on the table will be a multiyear security pact with Pakistan, complete with more reliable military aid — something the Pakistani military has long sought to complement the five-year, $7.5 billion package of nonmilitary aid approved by Congress last year. The administration will also discuss how to channel money to help Pakistan rebuild after its ruinous flood.

But the American gestures come at a time of fraying patience on the part of the Obama administration, and they will carry a familiar warning, a senior American official said: if Pakistan does not intensify its efforts to crack down on militants hiding out in the tribal areas of North Waziristan, or if another terrorist plot against the United States were to emanate from Pakistani soil, the administration would find it hard to persuade Congress or the American public to keep supporting the country.

“Pakistan has taken aggressive action within its own borders. But clearly, this is an ongoing threat and more needs to be done,” the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said Monday. “That will be among the issues talked about.”

The Pakistanis will come with a similarly mixed message. While Pakistan is grateful for the strong American support after the flood, Pakistani officials said, it remains frustrated by what it perceives as the slow pace of economic aid, the lack of access to American markets for Pakistani goods and the administration’s continued lack of sympathy for the country’s confrontation with India.

Other potentially divisive topics are likely to come up, too, including NATO’s role in reconciliation talks between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and the Taliban. Pakistani officials say they are nervous about being left out of any political settlement involving the Taliban.

Still, in a relationship suffused by tension and flare-ups — most recently over a NATO helicopter gunship that accidentally killed three Pakistani soldiers and Pakistan’s subsequent decision to close a supply route into Afghanistan — this regular meeting, known here as the strategic dialogue, serves as a lubricant to keep both countries talking.

At this meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will formally introduce the new American ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter. Mr. Munter, who recently served in Iraq, replaces Anne W. Patterson, who just wrapped up her tour of duty in Islamabad.

“No country has gotten more attention from Secretary Clinton than Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan’s delegation will be led by its foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but much of the attention will be on another official, the military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is viewed by many as the most powerful man in Pakistan.

White House and Pentagon officials said one immediate goal of this meeting was to ease the tensions that led Pakistan to close the border crossing at Torkham, halting NATO supplies into Afghanistan. Officials on both sides said that acrimony from the border flare-up had already receded, soothed by the multiple apologies that American officials made to Pakistan last week.

Last week, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that General Kayani had assured him that Pakistan’s army would tackle the North Waziristan haven, but on Pakistan’s timetable. In an interview, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, said, “Our American partners understand that we have 34,000 troops in North Waziristan. Our soldiers have been engaged in flood relief after history’s worst floods. It is not a question of lack of will.”

The new security pact would have three parts: the sale of American military equipment to Pakistan, a program to allow Pakistani military officers to study at American war colleges and counterinsurgency assistance to Pakistani troops.

Currently, the United States spends about $1.5 billion a year to provide this same assistance, but it is doled out year by year. The new agreement, if endorsed by Congress, would approve a multiyear plan assuring stability and continuity in the programs, although Congress would continue to appropriate the financing on a yearly basis. “This is designed to make our military and security assistance to Pakistan predictable and to signal to them that they can count on us,” said a senior official.

At the last dialogue in Islamabad in July, Mrs. Clinton presented more than $500 million in economic aid, including plans to renovate hospitals, upgrade hydroelectric dams, improve water distribution and help farmers export mangoes. But the floods upended those plans, and officials said they now planned to redirect funds to more urgent needs.

This week’s meeting will also be shadowed by a new eruption of political instability in Pakistan: the government of President Asif Ali Zardari is locked in a confrontation with the Supreme Court over the court’s demand that senior ministers be fired on corruption charges. Analysts said they were less worried about the atmospherics than the underlying differences in perspective. The administration’s public contrition for the cross-border attack has largely resolved that issue, said Daniel S. Markey, senior fellow for India, Pakistan and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

But Mr. Markey said he saw potential friction stemming from the American openness to reconciliation with the Taliban. With the United States facilitating rather than guiding the talks, he said, there could be poor coordination between the Afghans, NATO and others — all of which would rattle the Pakistanis.

“Washington is opening the door to a range of negotiations with groups that it has discouraged Pakistan against working with in the past,” he said. “This sends a mixed signal, and cannot help but encourage hedging on Islamabad’s part.”

Another potential bone of contention is one of President Obama’s nuclear objectives: a global accord to end the production of new nuclear fuel. Pakistan has led the opposition to the accord. And without its agreement, the treaty would be basically useless.

Mr. Qureshi blamed the United States for the situation, saying Washington signed a civilian nuclear accord with India that discriminated against Pakistan. “You have disturbed the nuclear balance,” he said in a recent interview in New York, “and we have been forced to develop a new strategy.”

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