ISAF strongly rejects report on ceding control of southern Afghanistan to Taliban

ISAF strongly rejects report on ceding control of southern Afghanistan to Taliban

Wakht News Agency

The International Security Assistance Force ISAF in Afghanistan in a statement on Wednesday strongly rejected a report on ceding southern Afghanistan to the Taliban.

ISAF strongly rejects any talks with the Taliban in which the United States and Taliban were falsely reported in a Pakistani based Express Tribune to cede control of southern Afghanistan to the Taliban said Rear Admiral Beck, ISAF Director of Public Affairs as quoted in a statement.

“The reports by media outlets in Pakistan and Afghanistan on negotiations to give control of southern Afghanistan to the Taliban are absolutely not true,”.

“Our objectives remain the same—deny Al Qaeda sanctuary and prevent the Taliban from retaking Afghanistan. To do this Afghan and Coalition forces are destroying or degrading the insurgents’ infrastructure; building up the Afghan National Security Forces; and ultimately enabling the Afghan people to stand up against their enemies, Beck said in the statement.

“Together we are making indisputable progress, though significant challenges remain. We are focused on facilitating the conditions which will lead to transition and sustainable solutions in Afghanistan,” said Rear Admiral Beck, in the statement.

“The United States had offered the Taliban elusive leader, Mullah Omar the control of the south of Afghanistan if they were ready to leave the north for the other political forces under American influence in order to end conflict, a Pakistani newspaper, The Express Tribune said.

“The acceptance of such a proposal could not be possible for the Taliban as it could lead to the disintegration of Afghanistan,” former Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Gen (retd) Hamid Gul was quoted by The Express Tribune as saying.

The US-Taliban communication is quoted in the newspaper to be facilitated by a former Afghan Taliban spokesman, Dr. Mohammad Hanif.

Wakht News Agency reporter discussed the issue with an Afghan political expert, Noorul Haq Olumi who said that such a proposal had also earlier been discussed by the countries involved in the Afghan conflict to cede the control of southern Afghanistan to the Taliban, but it would never put impact on the war to be ended nor the country to be disintegrated.

“Durand Line was an imposed pact on the Afghans but it could never tackle the security problems; so the plans to divide the country into two parts of north and south between the Taliban and Afghan political forces under the US influence would never be accepted by the Afghan nation”, Olumi said adding Afghan people would never allow their country to be disintegrated as they had a mixed culture and common target-shown in the course of history.

So far, several claims have been made by the US about negotiations with the Taliban but Islamabad and Kabul have never been taken into confidence over the much speculated-about talks, the news paper added.

“According to reports, the US had offered the Taliban control over the south of Afghanistan, while leaving the north for the other political forces under American influence. However, this was rejected by the Taliban, the source said without naming any special source.

The newspaper quoted a Pakistani diplomat in Kabul as remaining optimistic about the talks as saying “The Taliban are aware that they will be difficult to defeat foreign troops in Afghanistan, or capture the entire country,” he said, adding, “Similarly, the US is also aware that it cannot defeat the Taliban in the next few years.”

On the other hand, a senior official in the Foreign Office is not as sure of the success of the US-Taliban talks. “Such talks are bound to fail as Washington is trying to achieve its goals without taking [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai into confidence, the newspaper said.

Central Asian diplomats in Islamabad have also expressed their doubts about the practicability of the US-Taliban talks, the paper said, however didn’t name a special diplomat.

“On the one hand, the US is building six permanent military bases in Afghanistan, and on the other, talking about the withdrawal of its troops from the country,” an ambassador of a Central Asian state was quoted by a Foreign Office official as saying, according to the paper.

The paper said Iranian and Russian diplomats in Islamabad are also doubtful of an actual and meaningful US-led foreign troops’ pullout from Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, chief of the Afghan High Peace Council Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani told the Afghan House of Representatives earlier this month that his council had made contacts with the Afghan Taliban, the paper quoted.

Rabbani was quoted by the paper as further telling the Afghan house of people that the Taliban were not willing to trust the Afghan government’s reconciliation process. “The Taliban nurse doubts about Kabul’s initiative”.

The council had previously said it had made direct and indirect contacts with the Afghan Taliban leadership, but the Taliban still seem to be insistent on their call for a withdrawal of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan as a pre-condition for talks with Kabul.

A former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan Rustum Shah Mohmand is also doubtful about success of the so-called Afghan reconciliation effort as he told The Express Tribune that those who are enjoying government privileges in Afghanistan are not interested in the success of the effort.

Report and edit: F. Akhgar

US-India ties in primary colours

US-India ties in primary colours

By M K Bhadrakumar

An imminent decision by the Nuclear Supply Group [NSG] at its forthcoming plenary at The Hague next week to approve new guidelines barring transfer of enrichment and reprocessing technology and equipment [EPR] to India has forced the government in Delhi to take the nation into confidence that the United States has committed a grave breach of trust with the country. The dark cloud looming on the horizon presaging squalls at some indeterminate future date in the India-US relationship, which was obvious to careful observers for some time already, has indeed turned out to be real and unavoidable. For the uninitiated, the ‘breaking news’ comes as an absolute stunner as it exposes the India-US strategic partnership to be in actuality an empty drum. For the pro-American lobby in Delhi circles, this poses an acute dilemma as they won’t know what to say – whether to laugh it away or sit down on the floor and cry.

The US’ perfidy is so obvious. Having entered into a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India in 2008, which provides for a ‘clean waiver’ for EPR transfer to India, US immediately began undercutting the provision by prompting the NSG to introduce new guidelines that will effectively reinstate the previous embargo. The sordid story and the diplomatic exchanges thereof speaks volumes about the contrived nature of Barack Obama’s claim that he regarded India as the US’s “indispensable partner in the 21st centruy”. In sum, what the US wants is to tap into the vast Indian market for lucrative business and to cajole India to be a collaborator in its containment strategy toward China, which is, after all, what the strategic partnership is all about.

India could well be paying the price for its dogged refusal to become part of the US’ containment strategy toward China. To ‘insiders’ and perceptive outside observers alike in Delhi, many recent developments were unmistakably suggesting for a while already that contrary to the soap operas of the US state department singing songs of glory about the US’ partnership with India, things were not exactly going well – and were getting to be more and more problematic. Delhi was getting to be wiser and wiser about the US strategies toward India but indeed wouldn’t feel the urge to contradict the US’ public diplomacy, which, therefore, misled the public perceptions. Indian diplomacy works in strange ways – and has quietly done an extraordinary amount of ‘new thinking’ as to how to steer the country ahead in a complicated regional and international milieu.

But to begin with, let us draw the balance sheet. One, India has refused to join a new avaatr of the US’ 6-year old fanciful idea of an alliance of Asian democracies against China (which South Block mandarins almost signed up for in 2005). Two, in the past couple of years, India began steadily distancing itself from the US and started working on the normalisation of relations with China on a bilateral track (against stiff opposition bordering on sabotage by sections within the Indian establishment – often hand in glove with the media – which are hopelessly, crudely wedded to the past and simply lack the intellectual capacity or the sophistication to comprehend the spirit of our times.)

Three, in the more recent past, India point blank refused to play ball with the US to pile pressure on Pakistan. Four, Indian policymakers instead opened the track of dialogue with Pakistan with primacy, again, placed on bilateralism. Five, Indian rhetoric against Pakistan (and China) has become ‘nil. (Refer to the proceedings of the recent Shangri-La conference in Singapore.)

Six, India finally took a measured step toward seeking membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation whose main agenda is to check the expansion and consolidation of US/Nato military presence int he region. Seven, India reworked its Afghan policies and has all but delinked from the US strategies. Eight, India bluntly refused to be drawn into the propagandistic exercises of the Rana trial at Chicago despite US urgings, directly or indirectly, to have an old-fashioned bash at the Pakistani security establishment. (Sections of our media fell into the trap.)

Nine, India has distanced itself from the US game plan to corner the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa in Sri Lanka. Ten, Indian policy in Nepal is shifting gear with greater accent on regional stability rather than the ‘new great game’.

Eleven, India overlooked the bids by Boeing and Lockheed in the MMRCA tender. Twelve, India has kept an independent stance in the UN Security Council on the issues of LIbya and Syria. Thirteen, India abstained at the IAEA vote on Syria. Fourteen, India turned down the US proposal to have a new format of strategic dialogue known as ‘two-plus-two’ (involving defence ministers in addition to foreign ministers). Fifteen, India finds it difficult to accede the request of the US companies exporting nuclear reactors to amend its Nuclear Liability law to suit exactly their business needs.

So, is this the end of the road for US-India ties? Far from it. There is a broad consensus in favour of expanding and deepening ties with the US, as our country moves into a higher trajectory of growth and it has needs of high technology for the modernisation of its economy, its society and human resources and its military. Didn’t India recently place one of its biggest orders for procurement of weapons from US – handing over a highly lucrative 4.1 billion dollar order to Boeing which is estimated to generate around 25000 jobs in the US and would allow a profit margin of around 2 billion dollars?

Trade is flourishing. Only yesterday, Robert Blake, US assistant secretary of state, who came all the way to Kolkatta to mark America’s high expectations from CM Mamata Bannerjee and Finance Minister Amit Mitra said at a speech, “A quick look at the data reveals a trade relationship that is accelerating, mutually beneficial and relatively balanced.” Washington cannot complain. At a time when World Bank forecasts a meagre 2.6 percent growth for US economy through 2013, Indian market is becoming a veritable milch cow it can’t do without.

Blake said: “2010 broke records for US-India trade in goods with US exports to India up 17%… [and] moved India up two notches to become our 12th largest trading partner.” He was thrilled that Indian investment in US compounded rapidly to establish India’s position as the “7th fastest-growing source of investment in the US.” He frankly admitted, “India’s market offers tremendous opportunity to US exporters of goods and services.”

In sum, what is happening is a certain removal of the blinkers on the US-India relationship. From the Indian side, the policymaker almost completely sequestered himself from the needless excitement of the “pro-American” lobby and sundry other fatcats who stand to gain out of the US-India tango, as well as the US’ own propaganda machinery, which incessantly churns out the spin about the relationship being a rare thing in contemporary global politics. From the US propaganda, it may appear the Indian policymaker is being passively led by the skillful American master who knows the ways of the poodles.

But in reality, both Delhi and Washington know – as WikiLeaks cables reveal – that it is just not in India’s DNA (to borrow a memorable phrase from the People’s Daily) to be a poodle. The rupture that threatens to break out next week could well throw the entire US-India nuclear deal into a spin, but it has also brought out into the open the real alchemy of the US-India relationship as a hard-nosed, selective partnership based on mutual advantage. It stands out in primary colours. Sans misleading euphoria, sans false pretensions, sans unrealistic expectations.




CIA instigating mutiny in the Pakistani army

CIA instigating mutiny in the Pakistani army

By M K Bhadrakumar

The unthinkable is happening. The United States is confronting the Pakistani military leadership of General Parvez Kayani. An extremely dangerous course to destabilise Pakistan is commencing. Can the outcome be any different than in Iran in 1979? But then, the Americans are like Bourbons; they never learn from their mistakes.

The NYT report today is unprecedented. The report quotes US officials not less than 7 times, which is extraordinary, including “an American military official involved with Pakistan for many years”; “a senior American official”, etc. The dispatch is cleverly drafted to convey the impression that a number of Pakistanis have been spoken to, but reading between the lines, conceivably, these could also probably have been indirect attribution by the American sources. A careful reading, in fact, suggests that the dispatch is almost entirely based on deep briefing by some top US intelligence official with great access to records relating to the most highly sensitive US interactions with the Pak army leadership and who was briefing on the basis of instructions from the highest level of the US intelligence apparatus.

The report no doubt underscores that the US intelligence penetration of the Pak defence forces goes very deep. It is no joke to get a Pakistani officer taking part in an exclusive briefing by Kayani at the National Defence University to share his notes with the US interlocutors – unless he is their “mole”. This is like a morality play for we Indians, too, where the US intelligence penetration is ever broadening and deepening. Quite obviously, the birds are coming to roost. Pakistani military is paying the price for the big access it provided to the US to interact with its officer corps within the framework of their so-called “strategic partnership”. The Americans are now literally holding the Pakistani army by its jugular veins. This should serve as a big warning for all militaries of developing countries like India (which is also developing intensive “mil-to-mil” ties with the US). In our country at least, it is even terribly unfashionable to speak anymore of CIA activities. The NYT story flags in no uncertain terms that although Cold War is over, history has not ended.

What are the objectives behind the NYT story? In sum, any whichever way we look at it, they all are highly diabolic. One, US is rubbishing army chief Parvez Kayani and ISI head Shuja Pasha who at one time were its own blue-eyed boys and whose successful careers and post-retirement extensions in service the Americans carefully choreographed fostered with a pliant civilian leadership in Islamabad, but now when the crunch time comes, the folks are not “delivering”. In American culture, as they say, there is nothing like free lunch. The Americans are livid that their hefty “investment” has turned out to be a waste in every sense. And. it was a very painstakingly arranged investment, too. In short, the Americans finally realise that they might have made a miscalculationabout Kayani when they promoted his career.

Two, US intelligence estimation is that things can only go from bad to worse in US-Pakistan relations from now onward. All that is possible to slavage the relationship has been attempted. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Mike Mullen – the so-called “friends of Pakistan” in the Barack Obama administration – have all come to Islamabad and turned on the charm offensive. But nothing worked. Then came CIA boss Leon Panetta with a deal that like Marlon Brando said in the movie Godfather, Americans thought the Pakistanis cannot afford to say ‘No’ to, but to their utter dismay, Kayani showed him the door.

The Americans realise that Kayani is fighting for his own survival – and so is Pasha – and that makes him jettison his “pro-American” mindset and harmonise quickly with the overwhelming opinion within the army, which is that the Americans pose a danger to Pakistan’s national security and it is about time that the military leadership draws a red line. Put simply, Pakistan fears that the Americans are out to grab their nuclear stockpile. Pakistani people and the military expect Kayani to disengage from the US-led Afghan war and instead pursue an independent course in terms of the country’s perceived legitimate interests.

Three, there is a US attempt to exploit the growing indiscipline within the Pak army and, if possible, to trigger a mutiny, which will bog down the army leadership in a serious “domestic” crisis that leaves no time for them for the foreseeable future to play any forceful role in Afghanistan. In turn, it leaves the Americans a free hand to pursue their own agenda. Time is of the essence of the matter and the US desperately wants direct access to the Taliban leadership so as to strike a deal with them without the ISI or Hamid Karzai coming in between.

The prime US objective is that Taliban should somehow come to a compromise with them on the single most crucial issue of permanent US military bases in Afghanistan. The negotiations over the strategic partnership agreement with Karzai’s government are at a critical point. The Taliban leadership of Mullah Omar robustly opposes the US proposal to set up American and NATO bases on their country. The Americans are willing to take the Taliban off the UN’s sanctions list and allow them to be part of mainstream Afghan political life, including in the top echelons of leadership, provided Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shura agree to play ball.

The US tried its damnest to get Kayani to bring the Taliban to the reconciliation path. When these attempts failed, they tried to establish direct contact with the Taliban leadership. But ISI has been constantly frustrating the US intelligence activities in this direction and reminding the US to stick to earlier pledges that Pakistan would have a key role in the negotiations with the Taliban. The CIA and Pentagon have concluded that so long as the Pakistani military leadership remains stubborn, they cannot advance their agenda in Afghanistan.

Now, how do you get Kayani and the ISI to back off? The US knows the style of functioning of the Pakistani military. The army chief essentially works within a collegium of the 9 corps commanders. Thus, US has concluded that it also has to tackle the collegium. The only way is to set the army’s house on fire so that the generals get distracted by the fire-dousing and the massive repair work and housecleaning that they will be called upon to undertake as top priority for months if not years to come. To rebuild a national institution like the armed forces takes years and decades.

Four, the US won’t mind if Kayani is forced to step aside from his position and the Pakistani military leadership breaks up in disarray, as it opens up windows of opportunities to have Kayani and Pasha replaced by more “dependable” people – Uncle Sam’s own men. There is every possibility that the US has been grooming its favourites within the Pak army corps for all contingencies. Pakistan is too important as a “key non-NATO ally”. The CIA is greatly experienced in masterminding coup d-etat, including “in-house” coup d’etat. Almost all the best and the brightest Pak army officers have passed through the US military academies at one time or another. Given the sub-continent’s middle class mindset and post-modern cultural ethos, elites in civil or military life take it for granted that US backing is a useful asset for furthering career. The officers easily succumb to US intelligence entrapment. Many such “sleepers” should be existing there within the Pak army officer corps.

The big question remains: has someone in Washington thought through the game plan to tame the Pakistani military? The heart of the matter is that there is virulent “anti-Americanism” within the Pak armed forces. Very often it overlaps with Islamist sympathies. Old-style left wing “anti-Americanism” is almost non-existent in the Pakistani armed forces – as in Ayaz Amir’s time. These tendencies in the military are almost completely in sync with the overwhelming public opinion in the country as well.

Over the past 3 decades at least, Pakistani army officers have come to be recruited almost entirely from the lower middle class – as in our country – and not from the landed aristocracy as in the earlier decades up to the 1970s. These social strata are quintessentially right wing in their ideology, nationalistic, and steeped in religiosity that often becomes indistinguishable from militant religious faith.

Given the overall economic crisis in Pakistan and the utterly discredited Pakistani political class (as a whole) and countless other social inequities and tensions building up in an overall climate of cascading violence and great uncertainties about the future gnawing the mind of the average Pakistani today, a lurch toward extreme right wing Islamist path is quite possible. The ingredients in Pakistan are almost nearing those prevailing in Iran in the Shah’s era.

The major difference so far has been that Pakistan has an armed forces “rooted in the soil” as a national institution, which the public respected to the point of revering it, which on its part, sincerely or not, also claimed to be the Praetorian Guards of the Pakistani state. Now, in life, destroying comes very easy. Unless the Americans have some very bright ideas about how to go about nation-building in Pakistan, going by their track record in neighbouring Afghanistan, their present course to discredit the military and incite its disintegration or weakening at the present crisis point, is fraught with immense dangers.

The instability in the region may suit the US’ geo-strategy for consolidating its (and NATO’s) military presence in the region but it will be a highly self-centred, almost cynical, perspective to take on the problem, which has dangerous, almost explosive, potential for regional security. Also, who it is that is in charge of the Pakistan policy in Washington today, we do not know. To my mind, Obama administration doesn’t have a clue since Richard Holbrooke passed away as to how to handlePakistan. The disturbing news in recent weeks has been that all the old “Pakistan hands” in the USG have left the Obama administration. It seems there has been a steady exodus of officials who knew and understood how Pakistan works, and the depletion is almost one hundred percent. That leaves an open field for the CIA to set the policies.

The CIA boss Leon Panetta (who is tipped as defence secretary) is an experienced and ambitious politico who knows how to pull the wires in the Washington jungle – and, to boot it, he has an Italian name. He is unlikely to forgive and forget the humiliation he suffered in Rawalpindi last Friday. The NYT story suggests that it is not in his blood if he doesn’t settle scores with the Rawalpindi crowd. If Marlon Brando were around, he would agree.



India Finally Gets It, Everything Americans Whispered To Them In the Dark Has Been A Lie

[Knowing that they have been “date-raped” and doing something to prevent it from happening again are two different things.  It is highly unlikely that the Indian leadership will turn-down the American invitation to the “big table,” no matter how many times they get screwed along the way.  The question becomes:  Will the Indian people allow their government to continue partnering with the international rapists, once the people really understand just how badly, and how often, American leaders have collectively “raped” them in the past? 

There is no question that Pakistan would even consider ending their great national raping, as long as the money was good.  If Pakistan and India could only see beyond the cauldron of hatred which American psywar experts use so deftly against them, they would survive in peace and prosperity.  Until then, they will remain puppets on the American strings, like so many others in the world.]

Neutral Afghanistan serves regional stability

M.K. Bhadrakumar

The U.S. and NATO now acknowledge that a complete withdrawal from the South and Central Asian region by 2014 is not on the cards. Regional powers face a challenge.

The Anglo-American project to craft an Afghan endgame that ensures long-term western military presence in the South and Central Asian region has entered a critical phase. The United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) now acknowledge that a complete withdrawal from the region by 2014 is not on the cards. Several stages of diplomatic and political deception concealed this “hidden agenda.” Regional powers — Pakistan and India, in particular — are sadder and wiser today.

Looking back, the military stalemate in Afghanistan provided a persuasive argument for the West to justify the opening of a political track. The U.S. and Britain literally shoved down the throat of regional countries at the London conference in January last year their idea of reconciliation with the Taliban. India was assured that what was being contemplated was mere “reintegration” — and not “reconciliation” — and was given a bit of tutoring in the subtle uses of the English language. Pakistan was in a triumphalist mood, having been assured privately that it would be the kingmaker in any peace process. Equally, Russia was basking in the sunshine of the newly-invented process of “reset” in relations with the U.S. Iran, which was consistently wise to the western game plan, boycotted the London conference. China, of course, kept its head below the parapet.

Following the London conference, which must stand out as a first-rate drama of diplomatic deception, the U.S. and Britain rightly proceeded to claim an “international mandate” for talking to the Taliban. With the help of Saudi Arabia, a series of secret meetings with the representatives of various insurgent groups commenced. NATO aircraft provided transportation for Taliban participants in these meetings and according to Der Spiegel, Berlin got U.S. intelligence operatives and Taliban representatives to meet face-to-face on German soil more than once. All the while, the Anglo-American deception continued and a thick layer of fog surrounded the entire process. Mark Sedwill, U.K.’s special representative on Af-Pak, during last week’s visit to New Delhi, said with a delightfully airy vagueness that will be the envy of any diplomat: “There are channels of communication being explored… This outreach to the senior leaders is still in the very early stages. And we don’t know how serious they are… It is Afghan-led but that doesn’t mean that others are not involved. Others are involved. All initiatives are with Afghan consent and on their behalf.”

Meanwhile, former Afghanistan President and head of the Afghan High Council for Peace, Burhanuddin Rabbani, revealed that his members have held preliminary talks with the main Taliban group led by Mullah Mohammad Omar and the so-called Quetta Shura and that the “multiple channels” are indeed “getting momentum.” According to the Guardian, representatives of the Haqqani network visited Kabul “very recently.” Simultaneously, the U.S. is spearheading a move in New York for the removal of the Taliban from the United Nations’ list of terrorists so that they can travel and openly take part in talks. The idea has been floated that the Taliban be permitted to open “representative office” in a third country.

The U.S. is piloting a proposal to remove 20 Taliban figures from the U.N. list. Alongside, it is pushing for a range of changes to the U.N.’s so-called “1275 list,” which comprises around 450 terrorists belonging to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The U.S. wants to “separate” the Taliban from al-Qaeda and the justification being given is that the al-Qaeda and the Taliban belong to two “different fields of action” as unlike the al-Qaeda which is a global organisation, the Taliban is “Afghanistan-centric.” The plain truth, however, is that the U.S. wants to hold out the tantalising prospect of lifting sanctions against select Taliban figures as a bargaining chip to get them to talk and cut deals directly with American negotiators. Unsurprisingly, having been caught unawares at the London conference, Russia, China and India are today on guard and view the U.S. moves at the U.N. Security Council with reserve.

The western propaganda has drummed up a grim scenario in Afghanistan, which provides the raison d’etre of long-term western military bases. The visiting French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, told journalists in Washington last week that the U.S. is engaged in tripartite talks with the Taliban and Pakistan, that it wants the Taliban to be part of the solution but has had difficulty so far finding credible interlocutors on the Taliban side who are willing to talk peace and that talks are under way “as we speak.” He said that despite the U.S.’ surge a year ago, and notwithstanding claims of progress by U.S. and NATO generals commanding the troops, actual progress against the Taliban is inadequate. “The strategy doesn’t succeed as well as we expected on the ground,” he said. He went on to doubt the feasibility of the “transition” through 2014 that is being planned in July, since the Afghan army and police are ill-prepared to assume responsibility for security.

Regional opposition

The sum and substance of what Mr. Juppe said is that despite the efforts to engage the Taliban and notwithstanding the “transition” that is being planned, the insurgency will not end in the near future. What he left unsaid was that continued western troop presence beyond 2014, therefore, is a must. To be sure, Washington is secretly negotiating a ‘strategic partnership agreement’ with the Kabul government that provides for military bases on a long-term basis. Again, the U.S. is in denial but its doublespeak is increasingly getting exposed. The regional powers oppose a long-term U.S.-NATO military presence but Washington counts on the Kabul government to deliver. The Kabul government is on the horns of a dilemma insofar as the American dollar holds its own attractions in the Hindu Kush but then, one has to be alive first to enjoy the good life and the bottom line is that Afghan people may not like the prospect of foreign military occupation and the regional powers are opposing it. In a fit of disgust, Pakistan reportedly advised the Kabul government to swap the American dollar for the Chinese yuan. The Afghan bazaar is agonising. Whereas the U.S. remains confident about the Afghan bazaari culture and estimates that the Afghan protagonists after some pretentious hard bargaining will ultimately settle for a deal that won’t burn a hole in America’s pocket.

Core issue

It is a sad state of affairs that a once-proud nation is being traded in the bazaar. The core issue for the U.S. is that the Taliban should mellow on its uncompromising opposition to the long-term western troop presence as quid pro quo for what passes for “reconciliation.” To this end, Washington needs to deal with the Taliban directly, on a one-to-one basis without Pakistani or Afghani intermediaries — despite the U.S.’ proforma acknowledgement all through of Pakistan’s key role as ‘facilitator’ and despite paying lip-service that reconciliation with the Taliban ought to be “Afghan-led.” This tussle lies at the core of the U.S.-Pakistan tensions, as Islamabad is credited with influence over the Quetta Shura. Pakistan’s military leadership resents that contrary to earlier pledges, when the crunch time approached, the U.S. bypassed the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency operatives began networking directly with various militant organisations. Through two months of sustained grilling of the U.S.’s ace intelligence operative Raymond Davis in a Lahore jail by the ISI, Pakistani military leadership got to know a lot about the reach of the CIA’s penetration of Pakistan’s body polity.

A huge challenge faces Indian policymakers also. Quite obviously, New Delhi views these developments with concern. The good part is that it has measured the “big picture” while being what Washington fondly calls the U.S.’ “indispensable partner in the 21st century.” Thus, New Delhi persists with its far-sighted dialogue approach toward Pakistan although it is deeply disappointed by Pakistan’s lack or response on 26/11 investigations and on dismantling the terrorist infrastructure. New Delhi also takes care not to identify with the U.S.’s ‘containment’ strategy toward China.

Not much ingenuity is required to anticipate that India’s interests will be severely damaged if this region becomes the arena of a “new cold war” stemming out the long-term NATO military presence in South and Central Asia. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the initiative to strengthen New Delhi’s ties with Kabul while judiciously leaving it to the latter to set the parameters in deference to Pakistani sensitivities.

The Indian move to seek membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) promises to provide a much-needed forum for New Delhi to partake in regional processes where India gets to work with Russia, China and Pakistan. India’s policymakers are doing extraordinarily well in navigating the country’s passage through a rather dangerous situation.

The Anglo-American enterprise capitalised on the absence of a regional initiative. The U.S.’ diplomacy brilliantly succeeded in creating disruptions in Russia’s and India’s traditional ties with Iran to isolate Tehran, which is an influential player in Afghanistan, apart from tapping into the contradictions in India’s relations with China and Pakistan. The U.S. selectively engaged Russia under the rubric of “reset.” On the whole, however, the regional powers are today a wiser lot about the criticality of a neutral Afghanistan.

( The writer is a former diplomat.)

Afghanistan talks with Taliban drawing opposition

B.K.Bangash / AP

President Hamid Karzai is focused on the talks.

Kabul —

It was a peaceful afternoon in a rose-fragrant Kabul park set aside for women. But when girls and women strolling its pathways were asked about the Afghan government’s overtures to the Taliban movement, faces that had been alight with pleasure grew tight with apprehension.

“They don’t change – if the Taliban had power, things would be just as they were before, when we could not work, or leave our houses, or even imagine a place like this, where we can walk freely,” said Maryam Hashimi, a 49-year-old office worker who recalled witnessing Taliban beatings of women for infractions such as allowing a glimpse of their ankles to be visible under full-body veils.

As the West and President Hamid Karzai’s government redouble efforts to coax insurgents into peace negotiations, a loose coalition of women’s groups, human rights activists, professionals, Karzai critics and ethnic groups is beginning to coalesce in opposition to such talks.

Most Afghans believe a negotiated settlement is the only way to bring the decade-old conflict to an end. But many also fear the price of any peace, worried that desperation for a deal will result in too many concessions to the militants, potentially paving the way for a return of notoriously repressive elements of Taliban rule.

Karzai has made hopes of reconciliation with the Taliban the focus of his second term in office. Along with the Obama administration, he says reconciliation can come only if the insurgents meet three conditions: renouncing violence, severing ties with al Qaeda and promising to respect the Afghan constitution.

But the demands have come with flowery public appeals to the Taliban, whom Karzai routinely refers to as “dear, disaffected brothers,” leaving many Afghans with the uneasy sense that he would do almost anything to draw the insurgents into dialogue.

Many Afghans are aware of the war-weariness among the Western allies, and are acutely worried that a push to wind down the conflict will work to the Taliban’s advantage. A U.S. military drawdown is to begin in July. “If the foreign forces leave the country without bringing about a positive change in the security situation, two outcomes can be predicted,” said Ahmad Shah Behzad, a lawmaker from the western province of Herat. “First, civil war and regional instability, and secondly, the rule of the Taliban.”

This article appeared on page A – 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle

All Afghan roads lead to Khan

All Afghan roads lead to Khan

The man who would be king ... Matiullah Khan, centre in grey,  stands with co-workers deciding who may use the road between Kandahar and Tarin Kowt.

The man who would be king … Matiullah Khan, centre in grey, stands with co-workers deciding who may use the road between Kandahar and Tarin Kowt.

Our forces rely on this unofficial ruler in Afghanistan, write Rafael Epstein and Jeremy Kelly.

It is a hot Afghan morning and a child’s upturned tricycle sits near a dilapidated armoured vehicle. A vulture carefully watches as we head inside to speak with the man who some call the King of Oruzgan.

As Western faith in President Hamid Karzai’s capacity to deliver government fades, and with NATO increasingly relying on sometimes brutal allies to fight the insurgency, the Gillard government’s strategy is anchored by a man who is more feared, more effective and more active in Oruzgan province than the central government.

Far from the stereotype of the tubby and grizzled Soviet-era warlord, Matiullah Khan is in his mid-30s, a thin and wiry 1.9 metres tall, softly spoken and has a neatly trimmed beard.

In a country where the average yearly wage is less than $1000, this semi-literate man has – according to Australian government sources – earned more than $45 million from NATO and others, with many overt and covert streams of payment that inextricably link Australia’s fate to his.

He is paid for his fighters to work with the US and Australia. He makes millions charging high prices for security on key roads used by coalition supply trucks and he cashes in on fuel contracts and major construction projects often run by the civilian arms of Western governments.

None of this makes him unique. NATO is wedded to such warlords.

As one Australian government source says: ”There are 1000 Matiullah Khans”. Men with murky pasts, these leaders are a new generation, exploiting tribal links to wield great power in a country where Western concepts such as governance, and even national identity, wither in the heat of tribal loyalties, patronage networks and corrosive corruption.

”His wealth is great but he [Matiullah] is not alone in Afghanistan”, says Susanne Schmeidl, from think tank The Liaison Office in Oruzgan. ”There are many like him making the same money, including in government, and that is part of the problem.”

Matiullah holds no formal government position, and no operational command in the regular police force, yet he regularly meets Karzai and others in Kabul.

Australian officials have canvassed him many times about possible positions within the Afghan government.

Crucially, the US blocked Australia’s recent recommendation that he be appointed chief of police. That may be one reason why, as the Herald has discovered, Australian soldiers and officials have been denied access to secret US intelligence assessments on Washington’s plans for Matiullah.

But Australia’s relationship with Matiullah is far from straightforward. In some government agencies, there is a feeling that Can-berra’s attentions have helped elevate him too far, and too much time has been spent skirting around his feared corruption.

Independent analysts have previously reported claims that Matiullah has planned the assassination of rivals and been involved in acts of extortion, killings, arrest, harassment and even torture against others who try to muscle in on his business – some of the reasons Dutch troops have refused to work with him.

On extortion and corruption, the Australian verdict is more nuanced but it is understood that the government is aware of Matiullah’s likely involvement in corruption and the potential criminal history of many of the 2000 or more fighters he can call on.

Despite this, it is believed that Canberra is considering whether Matiullah should be recommended for a yet-to-be-created senior Afghan government position.

SINCE an unflattering New York Times article last year, it has been hard for journalists to get inside the large, well-guarded mud-brick compound that lies less than half a kilometre from the main US and Australian military base.

As we stand at the compound’s metal boom-gate, Matiullah finally answers a call after we use a phone that, unusually for Afghanistan, blocks the caller’s identity.

He is surprised and a little annoyed that we are here without an appointment. But he orders his guards to let us in. Australians who have dealt with him say he is casually dismissive of the death threats he often receives, something that impresses many.

However, he is careful; his guards are Uzbeks, unconnected to anyone else in Oruzgan, and they travel with him everywhere.

Inside – one Australian soldier describes it as a ”nice pad” – thin toshaks, or cushions, line the parquetry walls and a patchwork of blood-red Iranian woollen carpets covers the floor.

The only furniture in this room is a wooden and glass cabinet with photos and certificates – tributes from the US, Australia and the Afghan government.

He is polite but he begins with his scathing opinion of reporters. “There’s no trust,” is his unusually aggressive opening. ”If a house is full of good things and a journalist finds out a tiny bad thing in the whole room, he will write [only] about that.”

As tea is served, Matiullah starts to relax a little. He confirms discussing the possibility of being made Oruzgan’s chief of police. ”They mentioned it but I don’t want to do this, it’s not enjoyable. All the officials of this government are thieves,” he says.

Australian officials maintain that he did want the job. But those who met him complain that at the time they ”lacked situational awareness” – they didn’t know the details of America’s current strategy for him or the US view of his future role.

Significantly, the move was opposed by the recently departed US commander of all forces in Oruzgan, Colonel Jim Creighton. He responds with one-word answers and chooses his words carefully. No, he didn’t want Matiullah to become police chief and, yes, he agrees Matiullah is not suitable for that role.

”The final decision was not a coalition decision, it was an Afghan decision,” he says.

But he adds that Matiullah still has a role to play: ”I clearly believe that he is part of the solution; we need to continue to build the relationship in order to make sure that he’s doing the right thing.”

Matiullah’s potential promotion is also thought to have been opposed by outgoing US ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

Last year, a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, showed the ambassador had warned against supporting a similar powerbroker, General Raziq in Kandahar, who this month was finally made chief of police of that province. ”In ascribing unaccountable authority to Raziq, the coalition unintentionally reinforces his position through its direct and near-exclusive dealings with him on all major issues”, the ambassador wrote.

Yet it is men such as these that NATO is forced to rely upon as countries, including Australia, prepare for ”transition” – the withdrawal of troops planned to begin in 2014.

In the end, the reality is that Matiullah and others like him could prove to be the lesser of multiple evils. He is, at least, a known quantity.

One defence source says Australia’s special forces know more about him – good and bad – than any other government agency.

Meanwhile, Matiullah continues to draw power from the chaos around him, influencing the lives of the people of Oruzgan and beyond. He has his own radio station, is building schools and has founded about 70 mosques, funded by businesses that the Australian government estimates have given him a retained wealth of about $US25 million ($23 million).

It is not just his wealth that earns respect. ”Even without the money,” one soldier says, ”he earns respect because he’s a charmer and he’s the toughest guy around.”

Matiullah is a potent resource, able to call up dozens of armed men within half an hour. And he is a genuine enemy of the Taliban, who is believed to have killed members of his family.

As well, he is genuinely in Australia’s debt, after the military called in an air strike to help him and his men out of a battle with insurgents.

He has been called on to resolve disputes and even gunfights between the Afghan police and the army – showing up the government by doing what it cannot.

He is also directly involved in the tough battles that are now shaping Afghanistan’s future. Targeting the tactical commanders of the insurgency is a major part of the US strategy, and for this to happen on ”an industrial scale”, Australia’s special forces need their Afghan partners and Matiullah’s men.

Not confined to Oruzgan, they travel on American and British helicopters, fighting alongside Australian special forces where NATO’s military is most active; the neighbouring provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, where two Australian soldiers were recently killed.

Sources say Matiullah’s men have saved many Australian lives.

In the compound, Matiullah addresses allegations that he and his men have been involved in human rights abuses.

”People say bad things about [President Karzai], people say bad things about your leaders. I have a

certificate that I observe human rights. Why would I have been given that otherwise?”

He directs his aide to retrieve the certificate from the cabinet.

Matiullah says he is simply a victim of his own success in having helped to increase security.

”If you do good, the people start making allegations against you.”

He smiles with a sense of deep satisfaction, then nods repeatedly. ”The local people have told me they are thankful but not the government officials.”

THE coalition, too, has beaten a path to this house many times. Canberra’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Paul Foley, has decided to stay here – despite the Australian military base nearby.

For the time being, Australian officials acknowledge they will have to put up with Matiullah draining support away from the Afghan government. For instance, he sometimes poaches the best local policeman with better wages.

And right now there is tension with the man who took the job he wanted, the new chief of police, Fazil Ahmad Shirzad, who is seen by the Australian government as a decent administrator, trying to ”clean house”.

At the moment, however, Matiullah is the strongest force in Oruzgan – and that means Australia must work with him.

Jeremy Kelly reported from Tarin Kowt.

The Waziristan Sideshow Gets Underway

[This is the second attack on an Army convoy in Ladha in less than a week (SEE:  Army Convoy Bombed On “Abdullah Mehsud” Group Home Turf).  These attacks follow on the heels of the recent Army assault upon the remnants of Qari Zainullah’s forces, family and friends who were holed-up on at Jhangi Syedan, a mountain  two kilometers  from Abbottabad. where they were relocated by the Army after Qari Zain’s burial at a Shia cemetary (SEE:  Zainuddin Mehsuds’ brother, cousins arrested).  It doesn’t pay to lead an anti-TTP lashkar in Waziristan.   If Pakistan were a normal country, then one might wonder why the Army would suddenly turn on their former assets, just one week after the bin Laden raid,  but Pakistan is nothing like a “normal” country.  The Army was obviously picking a fight with the only remaining Mehsud militants who were still in S. Waziristan, even though these Mehsuds were mortal enemies of the criminal Mehsuds, Hakeemullah’s gang.  It was obvious that this double-cross would inspire retaliation, which we are now seeing in Ladha. 

In order to fake a military campaign in S. Waziristan, after most of the militant gangs have already been chased-out, someone had to be attacking the Army.  Apparently, the Army had to call upon its primary asset, the real Afghan Taliban to carry-out the more convincing large-scale cross-border attacks which have been taking place regularly since the Abbottabad raid.  Pakistan practices a cruel brand of psywar against its tribes, especially against its militant militias.  It relies upon them to provide the last line of defense (“strategic depth”), even though the Army turns its guns upon them on a semi-regular basis, in order to provoke the violent reactions they need to continue sucking-up US defense dollars.

There is a very ugly new game unfolding in Waziristan (North and South) and it remains to be seen whether the US is willing to go along at this point.  If the new plan is really to use the Haqqanis to go after the TTP, instead of cleaning-out the Haqqanis, what will Obama have to say?]

South Waziristan clash kills two soldiers, six militants


South Waziristan was the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban before the military launched a large ground offensive in October 2009. But attacks against security forces have continued in the area. — Photo by AFP

PESHAWAR: Security forces killed six militants after insurgents attacked a military checkpost in the South Waziristan tribal region on the Afghan border, killing two soldiers, DawnNews reported.

The attack occurred in the tribal region’s Ladha area.

South Waziristan was the main sanctuary for the Pakistani Taliban before the military launched a large ground offensive in October 2009. But attacks against security forces have continued in the area.