[Afghan News] June 29, 2012 - 07-05-2012, 05:17 AM
By ANNE GEARAN and DEB RIECHMANN | Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan that would send several Taliban detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a prison in Afghanistan, U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press.
Under the proposal, some Taliban fighters or affiliates captured in the early days of the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and later sent to Guantanamo under the label of enemy combatants would be transferred out of full U.S. control but not released. It's a leap of faith on the U.S. side that the men will not become threats to U.S. forces once back on Afghan soil. But it is meant to show more moderate elements of the Taliban insurgency that the U.S. is still interested in cutting a deal for peace.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others have said that while negotiations with the Taliban are distasteful, they are the best way to settle the prolonged war.
The new compromise is intended to boost the credibility of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials are trying to draw the Taliban back to negotiations toward a peace deal between the national Afghan government and the Pashtun-based insurgency that would end a war U.S. commanders have said cannot be won with military power alone.
The Taliban have always been indifferent at best to negotiations with the Karzai government, saying the U.S. holds effective control in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has set a 2014 deadline to withdraw forces, and is trying to frame talks among the Afghans beforehand.
Under the new proposal, Guantanamo prisoners would go to a detention facility adjacent to Bagram air field, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan, officials of both governments said. The prison is inside the security perimeter established by the U.S. military, and is effectively under U.S. control for now. It is scheduled for transfer to full Afghan control in September.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would have to sign off on the transfer and certify that the men did not pose a danger. He would not confirm details of the new proposal at a news conference Friday, but said discussions continue to try to promote a peace deal.
"Any prisoner exchanges I have to certify are going to abide by the law," Panetta said.
Any such transfer is unlikely to include the five most senior Taliban figures held at Guantanamo, the subjects of separate negotiations with the Taliban that have stalled, a senior U.S. official said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the transfer is still under discussion and no offer has been made.
Afghan officials and other diplomats said it is not yet clear whether the new proposal could include those five, but said it has not been ruled out. Republicans in Congress bitterly opposed the plan to send those men to house arrest in Qatar, a Persian Gulf nation that has emerged as a key broker with the Muslim Taliban. The opponents feared the men would be set free and endanger the U.S.
The latest proposal was a topic of recent discussions in Washington with members of Karzai's peace committee, a group of elders charged with reaching out to the Taliban on the government's behalf.
"The possibility is strong," for a transfer to Afghanistan that includes the five top figures, said Ismail Qasemyar, international relations adviser for the Afghan High Peace Council.
Afghans involved in the discussions were still angling to get all 17 prisoners, including the five most senior men, released or transferred. The Taliban has demanded release of all the Guantanamo detainees as a condition for talks.
The Taliban abandoned direct talks in March, accusing the U.S. of reneging on several promises. The United States considers the talks suspended, not dead. The U.S. and the Afghan government are pursuing several new avenues to restart talks, including the use of proxy emissaries to the Taliban, diplomats said.
Karzai has long sought the return of all 17 Afghans imprisoned at Guantanamo, men he sometimes calls brothers, as a point of national pride. He has argued that their imprisonment at the detested Guantanamo prison undermines his credibility as a national leader, and that Afghanistan's own institutions should deal with captured insurgents.
The U.S. has said publicly that, in regards to the five senior Taliban, they would be transferred to another country's control, not released. But terms for the proposed transfer to Qatar were fairly loose. Officials briefed on the discussions said the men would have to agree not to return to fighting, forswear any ties to al-Qaida, and submit to a ban on their travel. Beyond that it was not clear how closely they would be controlled by the Qatar government.
The Taliban would have been asked to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only U.S. prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict.
Qatar recently sent a letter to U.S. officials with proposals to rekindle talks, a U.S. official said, but it was not clear whether the new proposal for transfer to Afghanistan was among them.
The latest Bagram proposal would appeal to the Taliban, Qasemyar said.
"The High Peace Council could use that opportunity as a goodwill gesture," he said in an interview.
Qasemyar said that the proposal may have benefits for the U.S. beyond boosting his organization's bargaining power with the Taliban.
"What I gathered from what I heard in Washington is the U.S. government was afraid that if they released a prisoner and he went back to fighting," the Obama administration "would lose faith before the Congress or before the people of the United States," he said.
A way around that concern, Qasemyar said, is "to send them to the Afghan government. Then that responsibility would be shifted to our side."
Karzai supports the new proposal, Qasemyar said, despite some concern in the Afghan government that the five could become a rallying point for ethnic tension in Afghanistan.
Mullah Norullah Nori, for example, could be a problem for Karzai. He was a senior Taliban commander in Mazar-e-Sharif when the Taliban fought U.S. forces in late 2001. He previously was a Taliban governor in two provinces in Northern Afghanistan, where he has been accused of ordering the massacre of thousands of Shiite Muslims.
Associated Press writers Heidi Vogt in Kabul and Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report. Riechmann reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghan Foes Sit Together in Kyoto
Wall Street Journal By HABIB KHAN TOTAKHIL and NATHAN HODGE June 28, 2012
KABUL - A high-ranking member of the Taliban and a senior peace negotiator for the Afghan government sat at the same table in a conference in Japan on Wednesday, an unusual occurrence amid the conflict between the insurgency and the Afghan and U.S. governments.
It is very rare for senior Taliban officials to participate in public events abroad, let alone those also attended by Afghan government representatives. The two men didn't engage in direct talks, a Taliban spokesman said.
The conference, on reconciliation and peace-building, was independently organized by Doshisha University in Kyoto, according to Masanori Naito, dean of the university's Graduate School of Global Studies.
Qari Din Mohammad Hanafi, minister of planning in the Taliban regime ousted in 2001 and a current high-ranking member of the group's leadership, took part, said the Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.
Mohammed Masoom Stanekzai, senior adviser to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, also attended, according to members of the High Peace Council, the government body trying to jump-start the peace process with the Taliban.
The attendance of the opposing sides at the same conference was by itself a "very decent step toward peace," said Abdul Hakim Mujahid, deputy chairman of the High Peace Council and a former Taliban envoy to the United Nations.
The Taliban have long denied reports of direct contacts with Mr. Karzai's government, saying they don't recognize what they call his "puppet regime."
The persistent secrecy about efforts to establish peace negotiations, as well as regular Taliban denials that it has been responsive to government outreach, make the appearance of the two men together in Kyoto all the more remarkable.
Direct Taliban talks with the U.S. collapsed this spring when the insurgency accused Washington of reneging on a deal to free Taliban inmates at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for a U.S. soldier held captive by the Taliban. The U.S. said it had made no such deal.
Mr. Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said Thursday that Mr. Hanafi went to Japan to "clarify the stance of the Islamic Emirate," the Taliban's name for their administration.
Mr. Hanafi told the conference that the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan should be a condition for peace talks, according to Mr. Naito. That has been a long-standing Taliban position.
Mr. Stanekzai, who was seriously injured in a suicide bombing last year that claimed the life of High Peace Council Chairman Burhannudin Rabbani, couldn't be reached to comment on Thursday.
A member of Hizb-e-Islami, the Islamist party founded by anti-U.S. warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, also attended the conference in Kyoto, Mr. Naito said. The representative, Ghairat Baheer, the son-in-law of Mr. Hekmatyar, was previously detained by U.S. forces.
A photograph provided by the conference organizers showed all the participants at the same table.
The event took place ahead of a high-level meeting next month in Tokyo, at which international donors are expected to deliver long-term pledges of development aid for Afghanistan.
In a statement, the Taliban Thursday denied news reports that a representative of the group had officially negotiated with Mr. Karzai's representatives in Japan. "The Islamic Emirate has often said that the conflict of Afghanistan has two sides," the statement said. "And unless the issue is solved with Americatalking to the Karzai administration is useless."
Write to Nathan Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org
Afghan envoy urges Pakistan to help revitalize talks
By Missy Ryan and Hamid Shalizi | Reuters – Wed, Jun 27, 2012
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's top peace negotiator urged Pakistan on Wednesday to free Taliban prisoners and push militant leaders into peace negotiations, saying Islamabad must do more to help bring an end to the 10-year Afghan war.
Salahuddin Rabbani, in his first Western media interview since taking his job in April, said he hoped to revive a process many Afghan and Western officials see as the best chance of restoring calm before a 2014 pullout of foreign combat troops.
Rabbani was chosen to replace his father, Burhanuddin, the revered former president and anti-Soviet fighter killed last year by a suicide bomber that some Afghan officials believe was dispatched from Pakistan. Islamabad denies any involvement.
Rabbani, a soft-spoken, bespectacled former diplomat who may struggle to command the same veneration his father enjoyed, spoke ahead of visits to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where he will discuss Afghan government efforts to jumpstart talks offering an alternative to a persistent insurgency.
"Pakistan can do a lot in bringing (the Taliban leadership) to the negotiating table," Rabbani said, speaking in the same heavily guarded, pastel-colored home where his father was killed last year by a man described as a Taliban envoy.
"They have influence," the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council said. "Pakistan is the key to the whole process."
The Obama administration's hopes of establishing peace talks between the government of President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban this year faded after the militants' reclusive leadership, believed to be based in Pakistan, suspended participation in preliminary discussions run by U.S. diplomats.
That setback has focused attention on nascent efforts by the Afghan government to open its own channels with insurgent intermediaries, despite the fact the Taliban says it will not talk to what it deems an illegitimate "puppet" regime.
Pakistan, Rabbani said, must finally take action in areas where it has the potential to catalyze a process that has moved so slowly that critics suggest it is doomed.
CALL FOR PRISONER RELEASES
He said Pakistan should free Taliban prisoners such as Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the movement who is described as No. 2 to its one-eyed leader, Mullah Omar.
"By releasing them or giving them to Afghan custody, that would help the process," Rabbani said, suggesting he would redouble previous Afghan pleas to release Baradar and other Taliban who have supported peace talks with Kabul.
Afghan officials believe Baradar, a respected Pashtun tribal elder, could play an important role in convincing the Taliban to enter talks on Afghanistan's future.
In 2009, he was reported to have taken steps toward opening peace talks without the consent of a Pakistani government that has a long history of seeking to secure influence over Afghan leaders. Baradar was arrested in Karachi in early 2010.
Pakistan says it supports a peace agreement, and points out that it allowed some Taliban to travel to the Gulf this year. But it says wider support is required among Afghans before real peace talks can take place, while both the U.S. and Taliban positions are plagued by ambiguity.
The Afghan government is pursuing possible peace leads in Qatar, where Washington has proposed sending Afghan detainees and where the Taliban could open an office; the United Arab Emirates; Saudi Arabia; and Turkey, where former Taliban finance minister Jan Agha Mutassim has signaled the group may be more open to peace talks than it once was, Rabbani said.
A conference in Paris this month also brought former Taliban together with Afghan politicians.
Rabbani said the Afghan government believed the Taliban, grappling with dissent between front-line militants who support a possible peace deal and those who oppose it, is now more open to direct talks with the Karzai government.
The Taliban may also be digesting the impact of an agreement signed in May that outlined a long-term U.S. aid and adviser presence in Afghanistan.
And while most NATO troops will be gone by the end of 2014, a modest force is expected to remain to conduct raids on insurgents and train Afghan troops under yet-to-be completed talks on military support and cooperation.
"We have received indications ... through intermediaries. They have been sending message (that) they are ready to talk," Rabbani said.
(Additional reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Rob Taylor and Mark Heinrich)
400,000 Unregistered Afghan Refugees Face Deportation By Pakistan
June 29, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Some 400,000 unregistered Afghan refugees are facing possible deportation from Pakistan after a deadline for them to register expires on June 30.
Pakistan is home to some 1.7 million registered Afghan refugees, contributing to its role as the
Pakistani officials say they can no longer also carry the burden of an additional 400,000 undocumented Afghans in the northwest province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said police have compiled lists of illegal Afghans and, once the June 30 deadline passes, will arrest unregistered Afghans for a court appearance and deportation back to Afghanistan.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says fighting between Pakistan's army and Taliban militants in the province's Swat Valley has displaced more than 1.5 million people since the start of May, putting enormous pressure on state and provincial social services.
Afghanistan is the leading source of refugees, according to UN figures from 2011, accounting for 2.7 million people.
With additional reporting by Reuters
20 militants killed in clashes in eastern Afghanistan
PARUN, Afghanistan, June 29 (Xinhua) -- At least 20 Taliban militants were killed during a massive clash with security forces in eastern Afghan province of Nuristan on Friday, the provincial governor said.
"An estimated 60 to 80 Taliban militants launched a massive attack on Afghan National Police (ANP) checkposts in Kamdesh district at around 3 a.m. local time Friday and the clashes lasted for several hours, leaving more than 20 militants dead," governor Tamim Nuristani told Xinhua.
The militants used small arm and rocket-propelled grenade in the attack in the district bordering Pakistan, the governor said, without saying if there were any casualties on the side of security forces.
Citing initial information from the police, the governor added that at least three civilian women were also killed and several civilians were injured in the clashes.
The remaining militants fled the scene after the police were reinforced by some army soldiers, the governor said.
The Taliban-led insurgency has been rampant since the militant group announced the launching of a spring offensive dubbed "Al- Farooq" on May 3 against Afghan and NATO-led troops stationed in the country.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a purported Taliban spokesman told local media from undisclosed location that two militants were killed in the attack on police checkposts in Nuristan, during which over a dozen police were also killed.
In a separate development, a Taliban local leader was killed in an operation conducted by Afghan soldiers and NATO-led coalition forces in eastern Logar province.
"An Afghan and coalition security force conducted an operation, in Charkh district, Logar province, Thursday," the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement on Friday morning.
"The target of the operation was Maulawi Sadiq, a Taliban leader and explosives expert who coordinated the movement of insurgents, provided explosive materials and training to insurgents, and planned attacks against Afghan and Coalition forces in the region," the statement said.
During the operation, the Afghan and coalition security force requested a precision air strike. After the strike, the security force conducted a follow-on assessment and confirmed Sadiq had been killed, the statement said, adding that the air raid did not harm any civilians and did not damage any civilian property.
Afghanistan, Norway Agree on Partnership
TOLOnews.com Thursday, 28 June 2012
Afghanistan and Norway will sign a partnership agreement in September this year after having finalised the document in Kabul, President Hamid Karzai's Office said Wednesday.
It comes after the Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre visited President Karzai in Kabul.
Karzai's Office said in a statement that the document of the "agreement on strategic cooperation between Afghanistan and Norway is finalised and ready for signature this September."
"President Karzai said Afghanistan was grateful to Norway for all the help it has given to Afghanistan in the past ten years," it said.
Norway has around 525 troops in Afghanistan, most of the based in the Maymana district of the northern Faryab province. Ten of its soldiers have been killed since the start of their involvement in the Nato mission in the country.
Afghanistan has been signed similar agreements with the US, UK, Germany, France, India, China and Australia.
Afghan Taliban Deny Taking Orders From Pakistan
June 29, 2012 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
The Afghan Taliban are denying reports they obtained permission from Pakistan to send representatives to Qatar for confidence-building talks that the United States has been hoping might lead to a peace deal in Afghanistan.
A statement posted on a Taliban website said the militant group makes "decisions of its own likings in all matters and affairs in light of Islamic principles and national interests."
Pakistan's ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad Sadiq, told Reuters earlier this week that his government had supported the outlines of a possible peace agreement in Afghanistan.
Sadiq said that position allowed some Taliban to travel to Qatar talks.
Washington's hopes for a peace deal faded in March when the reclusive Taliban leadership, thought to be in Pakistan, suspended their participation in the Qatar talks.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and "Dawn"
Pakistan's Fazlullah re-emerges as a security threat
Reuters By Michael Georgy and Jibran Ahmad Thu Jun 28, 2012
ISLAMABAD/PESHAWAR - Shortly after sneaking across the Afghan border this week, more than 100 militants loyal to Pakistani Taliban leader Fazlullah waited patiently on a mountain for Pakistani troops to approach.
Several days later, the fighters released a video of what they said were the heads of 17 ambushed soldiers, along with their identification cards.
Laid across a white sheet, they were a chilling reminder of the major security threat the man once known as FM Mullah still poses to U.S. ally Pakistan, three years after the army pushed him out of the Swat Valley, a former tourist spot he terrorized.
"He is a very big problem for Pakistan," said a Western diplomat.
During his heyday, Fazlullah, who like many senior Taliban members is known as a mullah, or preacher, organized thousands of fighters who roamed picturesque Swat, imposing his radical version of Islam.
Opponents, and those deemed immoral, were publicly flogged, or even beheaded and hung in squares and at intersections. Girls' schools and government buildings were burned down.
Nowadays, Fazlullah's men control a 20-km (12-mile) stretch of the rugged and largely unpatrolled border with Pakistan from areas in Afghanistan's forbidding Nuristan province, described by nearby U.S. troops as "the dark side of the moon".
From there, Fazlullah, a burly man in his thirties with a heavy black beard, plots cross-border raids that don't kill many soldiers but agitate Pakistan's military, which thought it had defeated him during a Swat offensive in 2009.
His activities in the border area, described by U.S. President Barack Obama as the world's most dangerous place, could complicate efforts to stabilize the region before most foreign combat troops leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Fazlullah is a distraction for Pakistan's military, which is also fighting Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistan Taliban umbrella group blamed for many of the suicide bombings across the South Asian country.
Sirajuddin Ahmad, Fazlullah's spokesman and cousin, said the group's aim was to recapture Swat, and take control of Pakistan.
"The establishment of sharia (Islamic law) is our goal, and we will not rest until we achieve it. We will fight whoever stands in our way," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.
Fazlullah has slowly rebuilt his militia by securing shelter and support from Afghan militants in an area where groups form loose alliances against the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"He is extremely dangerous," said a Pakistani security official. "Fazlullah has 150 men, rocket-propelled grenades and light machine guns. You just need a small amount of men to carry out effective operations. This is a big number."
Fazlullah, once known for fiery radio sermons, was the first Taliban leader that took control of an area in Pakistan outside the unruly ethnic Pashtun tribal belt along the Afghan border.
There are no signs that he will be able to penetrate deep inside towns or cities. His men usually arrive in a big wave, attack and retreat back into Afghanistan.
But his operations have prompted Pakistan's military - one of the world's largest - to repeatedly urge the Afghan government and NATO forces to go after the militant leader.
On Monday, Pakistan protested to NATO and the Afghan military, accusing them of failing to act against militant havens in Afghanistan after the cross-border attack in which the Pakistani soldiers were killed.
Nuristan police chief Ghulamullah Nooristani says there are no signs that anyone intends to eliminate Fazlullah, even though he was creating havoc for people there, charging illegal taxes, stealing supplies from trucks and sometimes killing drivers.
"We can't attack them because they are armed with light and heavy weapons which are much better than ours," he said. "If we get support from the central government or coalition forces we will be able to destroy their strongholds."
Fazlullah's fighters usually slip across the border into Pakistan at night and take positions on high ground.
"We have patrols and vehicles moving in the area to guard the border, so they wait and try to ambush them," said a Pakistani intelligence official.
Intelligence officials say Fazlullah's men operate in the Afghan provinces of Nuristan and Kunar, and enjoy the support of hundreds of militants there.
Support goes both ways when it comes to fighting the U.S.-backed governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Some militants have long-standing bonds.
"Many of us know each other from before, as we studied in the same madrassas (religious seminaries)," said a commander of a militant group in Kunar.
"When we need to conduct an operation in Afghanistan, we request help and they give us fighters. When they need to conduct an operation, we provide them with assistance as well."
Few experts expect Fazlullah to make the kind of gains he seems determined to achieve. But he is making a big impact.
"Their aim is to carry out these cross-border attacks which don't just take a toll in terms of casualties, but also have a psychological impact," said Mansur Mehsud, a director at the FATA Research Centre, an independent think tank in Islamabad.
"They reinforce the fear of the Taliban in the local population there. The people that help the government and the army would be very worried because of this, fearing revenge."
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN, and Rob Taylor and Mirwais Harooni in KABUL; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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