[Afghan News] April 26, 2012 - 05-01-2012, 12:13 PM
AFP via Yahoo! News - Apr 25 11:36pm
Dozens of Taliban rebels stormed police posts in the remote northeastern Afghan province of Badakhshan overnight, killing four officers and capturing at least 16 others, according to an official.
Two policemen were injured and three others were missing after an intense battle in the mountainous province's Wardaj district, on a lawless pass to neighbouring Pakistan, deputy provincial governor, Shamsul Rahman Shams said.
"A big number of the Taliban carried out the attacks. The police were overpowered," he told AFP from the provincial capital town of Faizabad.
"Sixteen police were captured by the Taliban and taken away. Three others are also missing but we don't know what has happened to them," Shams said.
The rebels seized two police trucks and a quantity of ammunition.
Afghanistan's security forces, including about 170,000 police, are being trained, equipped and largely paid by a US-led NATO military coalition that has about 130,000 troops fighting the Taliban.
Mostly American, the force is scheduled to withdraw by the end of 2014 and hand over all security responsibilities to local forces. When the troops leave Afghanistan will have a total police and army force of 352,000.
Compared to their army counterparts, Afghan police are undertrained and underequipped and suffer more casualties in Taliban attacks.
Afghanistan, Iran agree prisoner swap
By Mirwais Harooni Thu Apr 26, 2012 3:22pm BST
KABUL - (Reuters) - Afghanistan and Iran have agreed to a prisoner exchange, the Foreign Ministry in Kabul said on Thursday, a sign of warming relations between the two neighbours ahead of the planned withdrawal of foreign combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014.
Thousands of Afghan prisoners are held in Iranian jails, some awaiting the death penalty for narcotics trafficking, and their incarceration caused tension between the two countries last year.
"Signed on Tuesday by Iranian President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) it is effective immediately," Janan Musazai, a foreign ministry spokesman, told Reuters, adding that Iran is holding around 3,000 Afghans in its prisons.
It was unclear how many Iranian prisoners are in Afghan prisons, Musazai said.
The two neighbours first drew up rules defining the terms of such exchanges in 2006, allowing prisoners or their families to choose whether to be incarcerated in Iran or Afghanistan.
The Foreign Ministry praised the move by Iran as "a strengthening in bilateral relations" - but it said in a statement that the agreement applied only to prisoners who had at least six months to run on their jail terms.
As NATO and its foreign partners prepare to end their combat role by the end of 2014, attention is turning towards Afghanistan's neighbours and what role they could play in helping build the country's future.
Though ties between Afghanistan and Iran have improved since the Taliban was ousted just over a decade ago with Washington even saying Tehran could help stabilise and rebuild Afghanistan, the relationship remains fragile.
Kabul said it was "shocked" last year by reports that Iran had executed a large number of Afghan prisoners, most convicted for drug trafficking between the world's two top users of opium.
Economic hardship and insecurity have led many Afghans to cross the country's 1,000 km (621 miles) porous border to its west, and Iran is host to more than one million Afghan refugees today.
However, some Afghans say they have experienced prejudice at the hands of Iranians, who treat them as second-class citizens. Some are also excluded from qualified work and many resort to the narcotics trade.
Traffickers are routinely sentenced to death in Iran, one of the world's leading executioners.
(Writing by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
Afghan Commander Says 13 Foreign Militants Killed
By RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal April 25, 2012
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- An Afghan military commander claims to have killed 13 Pakistani and Arab militants during an ongoing military sweep in Ghazni Province.
General Daud Wafadar, commander of Afghan National Army forces in Ghazni, told REF/RL's Radio Mashaal on April 25 that the militants were killed in a joint Afghan-NATO operation that began the day before.
Wafadar said the operation targeted the Qarabagh district of Ghazni, which is partly controlled by Afghan Taliban fighters.
Afghan troops are conducting the ground operations with air support from NATO.
Wafadar said a key militant leader, Qari Nusrat, had also been captured by Afghan government troops.
Authorities in Ghanzi recently warned of possible infiltrations by Arab, Pakistani, and Chechen militants.
Karzai Critic in Congress Is Asked to Cancel Afghanistan Visit
By MATTHEW ROSENBERG and ALISSA J. RUBIN The New York Times April 26, 2012
WASHINGTON — Acting at the behest of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, senior American officials told a California congressman last weekend that he was not welcome in Afghanistan because of concerns that his sharp criticism of Mr. Karzai would undermine Washington’s efforts to rebuild trust with the government and restart preliminary peace talks with the Taliban.
The congressman, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican, has made little secret of his desire to alter the Obama administration’s policies there radically. He has joined Afghan opposition leaders and former warlords in calling for a revamp of the Afghan government into a decentralized, federal state.
Mr. Rohrabacher contends his approach would create a more stable Afghanistan, and in the process limit what he termed the “corrupt little clique” that surrounds Mr. Karzai. But Afghan and American officials say the result of such an overhaul would be a country divided along ethnic lines and possibly enmeshed in a broader civil war.
Mr. Karzai has sometimes read Mr. Rohrabacher’s views as those of the government, prompting Mr. Karzai to lean toward his neighbors in Pakistan and Iran and complicating the situation for American policy makers.
Mr. Rohrabacher has long been actively engaged in the region, and at a meeting in Berlin in January heard a pitch from Afghan opposition leaders and former warlords for heavy weapons like artillery and antitank guns.
The Afghans said that rearming their old militias made sense in the event that the American drawdown leads to a Taliban resurgence, but Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, who was with Mr. Rohrabacher at the Berlin meeting, said that the congressmen rejected the idea as beyond the scope of their elected roles.
This week, after Mr. Rohrabacher’s visit to Afghanistan was opposed, Mr. Gohmert led a Congressional delegation to Kabul. The group met with the same people who had attended the Berlin session, three prominent leaders of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnic groups: Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek; Mohammad Mohaqeq, a former Hazara warlord; and Ahmed Zia Massoud, a Tajik. They were once among the core leadership of the Northern Alliance, a loose confederation that battled the Taliban.
The Taliban are largely drawn from Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group, which is concentrated in the south and east of the country, areas where the insurgency is now at its strongest; Mr. Karzai is Pashtun.
Mr. Gohmert said weapons did not come up this week. But Western officials in Kabul say they believe former members of the Northern Alliance have had similar conversations with representatives of other countries.
The contretemps over Mr. Rohrabacher’s aborted visit — and the meetings his Congressional colleagues held without him — highlight an often overlooked challenge to the American exit from Afghanistan: how Washington should manage its former northern allies and the smaller ethnic groups they represent, and how or if Mr. Karzai can come to terms with them.
“Some are rearming themselves, so this shows there is a need for a real political dialogue involving everyone, including people in the north,” said a Western official in Kabul.
The old Northern Alliance leaders do not pose a military threat to the Afghan government. But they do represent another force in a country that has little history with the kind of strong, centralized government set up under American guidance.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, concerned about how Mr. Karzai would react to meetings between Mr. Rohrabacher and Northern Alliance leaders outside the government, personally asked him not to make the trip. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta relayed a similar message to Mr. Gohmert.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said the government was within its rights to request that Mr. Rohrabacher cancel his trip.
In Washington on Wednesday, Mr. Rohrabacher said in an interview that Mr. Karzai’s behavior “should raise alarm bells for everybody.”
Mr. Karzai and his supporters “don’t want a discussion about creating a more inclusive government,” Mr. Rohrabacher said.
He added, “They are making money, and that’s where their power flows from in the present system.”
Mr. Rohrabacher, whose interest in Afghanistan dates to the late 1980s, said Wednesday that even the Republican leadership in Congress had urged him to back off and told him not to hold hearings on reforming the Afghan government.
Faizullah Zaki, a spokesman for the National Front for Afghanistan, a political alliance that includes Mr. Dostum and Mr. Mohaqeq, said that people did not have confidence in the Afghan Army or the police, which are to shrink after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014.
“If the Taliban grow stronger after 2014, there should be ways to enable these forces” — the northern militia, that is — “to stand against the Taliban and stop them,” he said.
Matthew Rosenberg reported from Washington, and Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul, Afghanistan.
Afghanistan: A Moderate Defies the Taliban
Agha Jan Motasim urged moderation—and was nearly killed. Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau on the Afghan insurgency’s deepening splits over peace talks.
The Daily Beast By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau Apr 25, 2012
Not so long ago, Agha Jan Motasim was one of the most important men in the Afghan Taliban. That was before he was sacked as head of the ruling Quetta Shura’s political committee—and before the day last August when someone pumped him full of bullets and left him for dead on a street in Karachi. No one has claimed responsibility for the broad-daylight assassination attempt, but it’s clear that hardliners in the group wanted him out of the way, and Motasim believes he knows why. He dared to suggest that the group should respect the civilian population’s humanitarian needs and should open peace talks.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast from his current home in Ankara, Motasim talked about what went wrong. “Due to a lack of understanding, some of my colleagues and friends did not agree with my concept that the Taliban should be a political movement as well,” he says. “My differences of opinion were not with the rest of the shura but with a few Taliban hardliners.” His conversation with The Daily Beast was the Western media’s first on-the-record interview with a senior Taliban minister and leader since the 2001 U.S. invasion.
Last year the Quetta Shura finally approved peace contacts with America and the West. The talks are currently suspended, but the insurgency still seems to be tearing itself apart in a fierce dispute over whether to engage in negotiations and with whom. Those who defy the Quetta Shura’s strict line are risking arrest by the council’s enforcers—or possibly even death. Only last month, the powerful southern commander Maulvi Ishmael, a former head of the shura’s Military Committee, was arrested and imprisoned by Taliban forces for allegedly sponsoring unauthorized contacts between local Taliban officers and representatives of the Kabul government’s High Peace Council.
Motasim’s Taliban credentials were no less impressive. Until the collapse of the regime, he served as Mullah Mohammad Omar’s minister of the treasury. After the movement was driven into exile, Motasim was one of the first leaders to begin organizing and raising funds for the Afghan insurgency inside Pakistan’s tribal area. As a member of the the Quetta Shura and head of the ruling council’s key political committee, he had access to the Taliban’s biggest donors in Pakistan and in the oil-rich Gulf states.
That ended in 2009, after he reportedly was tried and found guilty by a Taliban council on charges of embezzlement and opening unauthorized contacts with Western representatives. For years he had been suspected of absconding with millions of dollars from the state treasury when the regime fell, although he still insists he never stole a penny and denies that the council found him guilty of anything. He tells The Daily Beast he handed over everything to the appropriate people before fleeing Kabul.
But embezzlement wasn’t his only alleged crime. In fact, his biggest sin seems to have been his penchant for independent action outside the Taliban’s decision-making hierarchy. He particularly made enemies in the movement by urging peace talks with the Americans and the West. “Motasim was the first to realize that besides military power the Taliban must have a political and peace program,” says a high-ranking Taliban official, requesting anonymity for security reasons. “He was the first to open back channels to the West, years ago.”
Motasim’s fall from grace began in 2007 when he unilaterally opened secret peace contacts with European representatives in the Gulf. “A political settlement is a must for the Afghan conflict,” he tells The Daily Beast. “More war will only bring more mourning and danger to the people of Afghanistan,” Nor does he share the hardliners’ desire to restore Omar’s regime to full power in Afghanistan. “I think a complete Taliban regime is not the solution,” he adds. “The solution is to take on board the other groups and parties in Afghanistan”:
“I did not leave the Taliban,” he says. “I am a Talib, I was a Talib, and will remain a Talib.”
Even beyond those challenges, Motasim says he incurred the extremists’ wrath by urging that humanitarian relief groups be allowed to carry out development work in in Taliban-controlled areas. “We realized some NGO work could provide real assistance to the poor people of Afghanistan,” he says. “Schools are a must and shouldn’t be burned out. Common Afghans should not be stopped from an education. Those NGOs do not have a political agenda and are eager to serve the poor people of Afghanistan”.
Despite his moderate views, Motasim was regarded as a potential rival and possible replacement for Mullah Omar’s then second in command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. That ended in 2009, when Baradar summarily kicked him off the Quetta Shura and stripped him of his others posts. Pakistani security forces arrested Baradar in early 2010, and he hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Motasim was arrested a month later but quickly released again, which gave rise to speculation that he was in cahoots with Pakistan’s intelligence services.
Motasim and his family moved to Karachi, but he stayed in close contact with his supporters inside the Taliban. With their help and his own deep pockets, he financed and commanded a jihadist militia in Kandahar and Helmand provinces until he was gunned down last August. Even now he says he has not abandoned the armed struggle. “We might have made mistakes, but this war and our resistance were imposed on Taliban,” he says. “We had no option left but to fight.” He insists he holds no grudge against the movement’s leaders. “I did not leave the Taliban,” he says. “I am a Talib, I was a Talib, and will remain a Talib. I have no issues with [accountability committee chief] Mullah Gul Agha Akhund or anyone else in the Taliban shura.”
Motasim says he still can’t be sure his hardline rivals in the group are the ones who tried to kill him.
He points out that Karachi was in the throes of violent ethnic conflict when he was gunned down. “At the time I got shot in Karachi, the city was burning with the worst target killings,” he says. “I may have been a victim of that violence.” This past January he moved his family to Turkey, where he’s continuing to recuperate from his bullet wounds.
Despite the nearly successful attempt on his life, Motasim has remained active in the insurgency. “His shooting and the arrest of Maulvi Ishmael were clear messages that no one should cross the leadership’s line,” says the high-ranking Taliban official, who knows Motasim well. “But Motasim is not listening. He may come back [to Afghanistan and Pakistan] after his medical treatment in Turkey.” His defiance, his personal wealth, and his original thinking have all helped to keep him influential within the insurgency’s ranks. “A number of top people in the Taliban leadership like his political and peace agenda,” adds the officer. “They like his flexibility.”
Over the years since the Taliban’s fall, Motasim says he has heard from Mullah Omar from time to time, and he believes they’re still on good terms. “In the early years after the collapse, we were in written contact with Mullah Sahib,” Motasim says. “But [to make those messages] more authentic and reliable, he was sending out audio messages occasionally,” Two of Omar’s couriers brought him the messages, he says. How did he know it was the supreme leader’s voice? “Mullah Omar and I worked in one room for seven years,” Motasim says. “I am familiar with his tone and accents. I am sure it was Mullah Omar voice.” He says the most recent audio recording came just a year ago: “The last time I heard his voice was in April 2011. He was talking about important issues.”
Motasim says he’s no defector. The only reason he’s in Turkey is for assistance in recovering from his gunshot wounds, he says. Still, he seems to have found a warm welcome there despite the presence of his name on U.S. and United Nations terrorism blacklists. His hosts want their country to play a more active and high-profile role in the search for an Afghan peace agreement. “I am thankful to Turkey,” Motasim says. “They offered me medical treatment without any political conditions. I’m in Ankara only for humanitarian medical assistance.”
Nevertheless, Turkey’s hospitality toward Motasim is said to worry some senior Taliban leaders. They fear that other Taliban commanders might follow his lead and seek refuge in Muslim countries other than Pakistan. “Some Taliban fear Turkey could become a safe, new nest for disaffected commanders,” says the high-ranking officer. The Taliban can’t afford to keep losing leaders like Motasim and Ishmael.
Sami Yousafzai is Newsweek's correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he has covered militancy, al Qaeda, and the Taliban for the magazine since 9/11. He was born in Afghanistan but moved to Pakistan with his family after the Russian invasion in 1979. He began his career as a sports journalist but switched to war reporting in 1997.
Ron Moreau is Newsweek’s Afghanistan and Pakistan correspondent and has been covering the region for the magazine the past 10 years. Since he first joined Newsweek during the Vietnam War, he has reported extensively from Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America.
For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indian Firms Aim to Bid for Afghan Mines
By PRASENJIT BHATTACHARYA The Wall Street Journal April 26, 2012, 1:02 p.m. ET
NEW DELHI—A consortium of Indian state-owned companies is on a short list to bid for copper and gold projects in Afghanistan, a move likely to raise tensions among Pakistani authorities already jittery about New Delhi's growing role in the country.
Pakistan views Afghanistan, a country on its western border, as within its sphere of influence and crucial to counterbalancing India on its eastern flank.
India has stopped short of sending troops to fight in Afghanistan for fear of riling Pakistan, with whom it has fought three wars.
But New Delhi's push in recent years to build a larger economic presence there, spending more than $1 billion in aid, has rankled Islamabad.
More evidence of India's economic strategy in Afghanistan emerged Thursday when an Indian state-owned company confirmed it was part of a consortium bidding for four new copper and gold projects.
Hindustan Copper Ltd. managing director Shakeel Ahmed, in an interview, said his company was one of four Indian state-owned entities on a short list to bid for four projects in the provinces of Ghazni, Badakhshan, Herat and Sar-e Pol. Steel Authority of India Ltd., National Aluminum Co. and Mineral Exploration Corp. were the other members of the consortium, he said.
Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines said this month that companies from the U.S., Canada, U.K., United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Australia had also expressed interest. The ministry said it had short-listed 25 companies who will do due diligence on the proposed sites in May before making formal offers.
An Indian consortium of state-owned and private companies in November won rights to the Hajigak iron-ore mines in Bamiyan province, a $14 billion project expected to take at least five years to get up and running.
These investments have worried Pakistani civilian and military officials, who view them as part of New Delhi's attempts to encircle their country.
"I think Pakistan sees Indian investments in Afghanistan from a geopolitical prism, rather than an economic one," said Muhammad Waseem, a political-science professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
"Policy makers believe that India's presence in Afghanistan strengthens groups that are not pro-Pakistan, such as the Northern Alliance," he added.
In the past decade, India's government and companies have built highways, power plants and even the nation's new parliament building.
"We've stepped it up in Afghanistan," Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said in an interview earlier this month. India's relationship with Afghanistan, he noted, has improved markedly since the country broke diplomatic ties with the Pakistan-backed Taliban government in the 1990s.
Pakistan criticized India during that period for supporting anti-Taliban Afghan forces such as the Northern Alliance. India and Afghanistan resumed diplomatic ties after an invasion by the U.S. and Northern Alliance forces forced the Taliban from power in 2001.
In recent months, India and Pakistan have attempted to improve relations, with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promising this month to visit Islamabad.
But Pakistani suspicions over India's role in Afghanistan are unlikely to subside until the three countries set up a mechanism to meet regularly, said Mr. Waseem.
Afghan officials argue the choice of investor has nothing to do with geopolitics but is an attempt to lift one of the world's poorest nations out of misery through investment.
"Our strategic benefit is, first, to get the investment and, second, to create more jobs," Afghan Mining Minister Wahidullah Shahrani said in a recent interview.
Resource-rich Afghanistan has been scouring the globe for investors. China made the first big-ticket bet on Afghan mines, winning a $3 billion concession to develop the Mes Aynak copper mine southeast of Kabul in 2007. Analysts expect production in Mes Aynak to begin in 2014.
It could be years before any of these projects become operational due to the war in Afghanistan, which has delayed efforts to build infrastructure such as roads and rails needed to sustain a sizable mining industry.
There are also huge safety concerns for companies planning to operate in Afghanistan. In 2009, the Taliban bombed India's embassy in Kabul, putting off some potential Indian investors, and fears are things could deteriorate after the bulk of foreign troops pull out from 2014. "It could be messy," Mr. Mathai said of a post-U.S. Afghanistan.
Mr. Ahmed of Hindustan Copper acknowledged there were risks involved with doing business in Afghanistan but said the potential rewards were huge. "There are concerns, but in business one has to take risks."
—Dion Nissenbaum in Kabul contributed to this article.
Three strikes and you're out, Afghan govt tells unruly clerics
Reuters By Mirwais Harooni and Sharafuddin Sharafyar April 26, 2012
* Resolution gives clerics three chances to change ways
* Islamic group lashes out at "crusader colonialists"
* Kabul hopes to douse anti-Western/anti-government fury
Afghanistan has stepped up efforts to stop clerics from inciting violence or preaching anti-government slogans in mosques, giving unruly mullahs three chances to change their ways or face dismissal and possibly jail.
In Afghanistan, where most men go to Friday prayers, sermons are a critical influence on both sides of the conflict with insurgents looking to gain support and recruits, and NATO and Afghan forces aiming to counter militant messages as Western combat troops look to pull out by the end of 2014.
A recent decree by the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs aims to dampen anti-Western and pro-insurgent messages from religious leaders at mosques whose opinions are often more trusted and valued than those of the government, which in many rural and regional areas is seen as a remote presence.
"If we encourage our people to be at peace, they accept it, and if we encourage them to do anything, they accept, because they know that whatever we tell them is according to the holy Koran and Islam," said Mawlavi Mohammad Asghar, an imam in Kabul.
Of around 126,000 mosques in Afghanistan, only about 6,000 are registered and funded by the government. The others are built by the people and their imams are supported by that neighbourhood. In rural areas where the Taliban are most active, Friday sermons are often in favour of the insurgency.
"When a mullah, who is hired by us, is in violation (of the decree), we discharge him from his job. And if he is not hired officially by us, we report to security and judicial departments to act against him," Abdul Malik Zeyaee, head of the Mosques and Religious Sites department at the ministry, told Reuters.
Afghanistan now has a three-strike approach for clerics who preach against the constitution or incite violence - first a delegation will be sent to talk to the offending imam, then a strong warning and finally the leader may face dismissal if at a registered mosque, or possibly jail if not.
But with so few officially sanctioned mosques and little government leverage over those which are not, there are strong doubts that Kabul will be able to stop anti-government messages, especially in far-flung areas where government reach is weak.
Afghans in provinces outside Kabul said they had not seen much change in the mullahs' speeches since the decree was issued a few m o nths ago.
"They speak against foreign forces in the country, they speak about violations by the government and the Taliban and they speak about anything. People are listening to them carefully," said Hajji Khoshdil, a 45-year-old resident of Herat city near the border with Iran.
"THE CRUSADER COLONIALISTS"
The decree has taken on renewed importance after a series of missteps by the West that have inflamed security tensions, including the inadvertent burning of Korans by U.S. soldiers in February, triggering riots stirred in part by mosque sermons.
The massacre of 17 Afghan villagers in Kandahar, for which a U.S. soldier was charged, and photographs of U.S. troops posing with dead suicide bombers have only added fuel to the fire.
"The crusader colonialists through their agent rulers are trying to uproot Islam from the Afghan society," Hizb ut Tahrir Afghanistan, a radical Islamic group, said in a statement on the new directives this week.
"All this is happening in the so called 'Islamic Democratic Afghanistan' where you are free to preach anything but not Islam. After killing hundreds and thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, the colonialists, in collaboration with the traitor rulers, are trying to control Islam inside mosques."
Anti-Western sentiment is growing in Afghanistan, which is traditionally conservative, deeply religious and suspicious of outsiders in areas outside the capital. The welcome foreign troops got in 2001 has slowly soured as the war drags into its 11th year and civilian casualties, caused mainly by insurgents, continue to mount.
Many government imams in volatile southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces would not talk to Reuters reporters about the resolution for fear of retribution by the government. The mosques' department also declined to provide Reuters with a copy of the decree.
But in other provinces, outside the Pashtun-dominated south from which the Taliban draws most support, clerics said the decree would not influence their Friday sermons.
"Our holy Koran is more important than the resolution of the Hajj ministry. I'll never avoid telling the truth," said Ghulam Faroq, a member of the Ulema council in western Herat province.
"I'm not a politician who would encourage people to stand against the government or support a political party, but if something happens which is against Islam, I'll raise my voice." (Additional reporting by Miriam Arghandiwal in Kabul and Abdul Malik in Helmand; Writing by Jack Kimball; Editing by Rob Taylor and Nick Macfie)
Pakistan, U.S. resume talks after 5-month deadlock
ISLAMABAD, April 26 (Xinhua) -- Pakistan and the United States on Thursday resumed bilateral formal talks in Islamabad after a 5-month deadlock over the November NATO airstrike on Pakistani border posts, killing 24 soldiers.
Relationship between the two allies had been at lowest ebb after the NATO raid and Pakistani parliament approved new guidelines for relations with the United States and its NATO allies.
U.S. Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Marc Grossman held talks with Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and both stressed the need for ties on the basis of mutual respect to each other sovereignty.
Expressing regret and sorrow over NATO raid, he again offered condolence on behalf of the United States on the incident in which personnel of Pakistan's armed forces were targeted in an aerial attack.
He said efforts will be made that such incidents do not happen in future as both Pakistan and the United States are partners in the war against terror as they have common enemy and need common strategy to fight this menace.
"Washington respects the Pakistani parliamentary review on new contours of relations and the seriousness with which it was carried out," the U.S. envoy said at a joint press briefing along with Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani. Both sides discussed bilateral relations and regional security.
"The U.S. respects the sovereignty of Pakistan and is willing to improve its ties in all fields," he said, adding that the meeting with Foreign Minister Khar and other Pakistani leadership showed the American intention to improve Pakistan-U.S. relations.
Marc Grossman said after completion of the parliamentary review, the task is how to move forward on advancing the most important relationship between the two countries.
Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, giving details of the meeting, said bilateral relationship should be based on transparency, trust and public ownership.
Replying to a question regarding restoration of NATO supplies, the foreign secretary said the issue was part of the discussion with the United States, but no decision in this regard has yet been made. He said there will be more talks on the issue.
He said, "We have to work out new arrangements as and when we get direction from the cabinet."
Answering a question regarding drone attacks, Jalil Abbas Jilani reiterated Pakistan government's stand that it was illegal, counter-productive and unacceptable. He said the drone issue was discussed in the meetings at the civil and military leadership of the two countries.
33 militants join peace process in N. Afghanistan
PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan, April 26 (Xinhua) -- A total of 33 anti-government militants gave up fighting and joined the government-initiated peace process in northern Afghan province of Baghlan, a police source said on Thursday.
"As many as 33 armed rebels handed over their weapons to authorities and joined the peace process in Deh Salah district of Baghlan province today," provincial police chief Assadullah Shirzad told reporters in a ceremony to welcome the former fighters.
The former militants also handed over weapons and ammunition to security authorities, the police chief said, adding "With joining this group to the peace process, the security will be further improved in Baghlan province,"
Earlier Thursday, a 10-member group of armed Taliban fighters surrendered to the government in western Herat province.
Taliban militants have yet to make comment.
More than 3,000 anti-government militants including Taliban militants have laid down arms and joined the peace and national reconciliation process over the past one year.
Afghanistan Shooting: Man In Afghan Uniform Kills NATO Service Member
By HEIDI VOGT 04/26/12 Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan — A man wearing an Afghan army uniform fatally shot an American service member in southern Afghanistan, officials said Thursday, the latest in a string of attacks against U.S. and other foreign forces by their Afghan partners or insurgents in disguise.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been at least 16 attacks against American and other international troops by Afghan security forces or militants dressed as Afghan troops. The shootings have put futher strain ties U.S.-Afghan ties already suffering from a lack of trust following the Quran burnings at a U.S. base and the alleged killing spree by an American soldier in the south in recent months.
The shooter turned his weapon on coalition troops late Wednesday and was killed when the international forces returned fire, the U.S. military said in a statement without providing further details. The incident was under investigation, it said.
A senior U.S. defense official said the person killed was an American. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release details.
It is also possible that the attacker was an insurgent disguised in an Afghan army uniform. Such uniforms are easily available in markets here and the Taliban have used the uniforms to mount previous attacks on international or Afghan military installations.
Since 2007, more than 80 NATO service members have been killed by Afghan security forces, according to an Associated Press tally, which is based on Pentagon figures released in February. More than 75 percent of the attacks have occurred in the past two years.
Associated Press writers Chris Blake in Kabul and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.
US military criticised for secrecy over death of Afghan BBC correspondent
Ahmed Omed Khpulwak's family was caused needless distress after he was shot by American soldiers, report finds
Guardian.co.uk By Emma Graham-Harrison Wednesday 25 April 2012
Kabul - US military secrecy over the death of a BBC correspondent shot dead by US forces during a Taliban attack caused needless distress to his family and sparked fears of a cover-up, a report into the shooting has said.
Ahmed Omed Khpulwak, 25, an Afghan national who worked as a BBC stringer in southern Uruzgan province, died when the local radio and television offices where he worked were attacked last July.
Khpulwak was shot dead by US soldiers who mistook him for an insurgent when they spotted him hiding in the bathroom of the building, which had been half-destroyed by suicide bombers.
Both the Afghan government and the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) initially said Khpulwak had been killed by the Taliban, despite the questions of family members who retrieved his body.
"Those who saw Omed's body and the place of his death and heard police saying that foreign forces had stormed RTA [Radio Television Afghanistan] understood there was something wrong with the official account," the report from the Afghanistan Analysts Network said.
But when his family spoke out about suspicions that he had been killed by a foreign soldier instead – based on the state of his body and the bullet casings around it – they received death threats in anonymous phone calls, probably from people linked to a local strongman, according to the report.
"Isaf's failure to talk frankly with the media and Afghan population caused needless distress to Omed's family and friends and helped spark suspicions of a cover-up," said the report's author, Kate Clark.
The truth about Khpulwak's death emerged weeks later, when the results of a US investigation were published. A redacted version of the full conclusions was released only after a freedom of information request.
Clark's report questions whether US troops did enough to meet their legal obligation to check there were no civilians in the offices, although it acknowledges that the soldier who shot him dead did so "with a reasonable belief that Omed was a possible suicide bomber".
US troops were told by a local security battalion that there were no civilians in the building, but did not seem to have made further checks, the report said. At least one fellow journalist who reached Khpulwak by phone and tried to get to the offices was turned back by Afghan and Nato forces.
The top Nato and US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, endorsed investigators' recommendations, including those "that address the need to establish whether civilians are present at the scene of any potential engagement", a conclusion Clark said showed the importance of transparency when operations do go wrong.
"The release of the military investigation has shown how an honest explanation of events can be a positive contribution both to accountability for civilian deaths and to improving the protection of civilians," the report said.
A Marine Two-Star: Why Afghanistan Is Like Vietnam
By Mark Thompson | @MarkThompson_DC | April 25, 2012 time.com
After years of U.S. officials insisting Afghanistan is not turning into another Vietnam, a two-star U.S. Marine general — just back from a year-long combat tour there — says Afghanistan could well end up resembling the southeast Asian nation.
Major General John Toolan insisted Tuesday that while Afghanistan may not be “highly successful” in the short term, the arc of history requires U.S. and allied efforts there to cauterize the regional instability that threatens Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, That’s not so different, he suggested, from the way the U.S. war in Indochina halted the communists’ deeper push into southeast Asia, and nurtured the economic powerhouses there today.
Toolan is just back from a year in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan. Over breakfast Tuesday, among the first words out of his mouth dealt with the lack of cooperation he got from the Pakistan military just across the border.
“Just on the other side on the other side of the Pakistani border they’ve got huge caches of IED-making material, et cetera,” he said. “My problem with [the Afghan border village of] Baramcha — right across Baramcha, in Pakistan, lethal aid is coming in, and drugs are going out. We saw it, we interdicted a lot…but it’s a pittance – it’s a really small percentage – I’m told by DEA that that’s probably less than 12% of the total amount of opium that’s moving across in and out of the border.”
So what’s happening just across that border, in Pakistan?
“The 12th Corps of the Pakistani army is right there and they’re not doing anything,” Toolan said forthrightly. “It’s frustrating.”
He acknowledged that Pakistan is leery of pressing insurgents on its side of the border too much for fear of angering Baluchistan rebels. So what should the U.S. and its allies do?
“I think that’s a question I really can’t answer,” he said. “From my perspective, as a military commander, having to deal with the problem, it’s like I can’t shut the water off — I can just keep mopping the floor, but I can’t turn the water off.”
Battleland began hearing echoes of the past. Building a house amid quicksand has always been a challenge. Toolan’s details of what’s happening along the Afghan-Pakistan frontier – after a decade of war – sounded familiar. The inability of the U.S. to stop the flow of men and materiel from flooding a nation the U.S. is trying to build led Battleland to ask: hey, is Pakistan the new North Vietnam? Are the Taliban the new Viet Cong?
Unlike many officers – who would have run from that question like a live hand grenade tossed into their lap – Toolan caught it, and studied it closely.
“Actually, I think I got that metaphor [shutting the water off, or mopping it up] from something I read about Vietnam, and the challenges that were associated in being able to reach out and suppress the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong,” he said. “If you take the short-term view of Afghanistan, or of Vietnam, for example, I think people might say we didn’t do very well, we’re very frustrated by the whole issue of communists having freedom of movement just outside the borders.”
But Toolan recalled what he’d overheard Singapore Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew telling then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld several years ago when Toolan was on Rumsfeld’s staff:
Wait a minute. The U.S. left South Vietnam in 1973, and it fell to the North two years later.
“You may not see the benefits of what occurred in Vietnam back in ‘60s and ‘70s, but certainly people recognize it today…we stayed the course in Vietnam for 10 years, and I think those 10 years were a tough 10 years, but because of that, we wore down the threat – the threat to the rest of southeast Asia,” Toolan said. “I think that there’s a parallel, in that we may not see, in the short term, a highly-successful Afghanistan, but what we will see is some stability in the region.”
And why is that important?
“I remind some people that there is a lot of nuclear weapons pretty close around Afghanistan, and that maintaining stability in the region is as important as establishing stability in Afghanistan,” Toolan concluded. “I think in the long term we’ll see, so long as this regional stability is sustained and we don’t have nuclear conflagration and all that kind of stuff, what we did will pay off.”
Afghan Military to Take Over Night Raids
New arrangement will see controversial swoop operations handed over to national army.
IWPR By Mina Habib, Hijratullah Ekhtyar 25 Apr 12
Afghanistan - Following an agreement transferring responsibility for “night raid” operations from NATO-led units to Afghanistan’s national forces, some observers in the country have questioned whether the army is ready to take on this difficult role.
Afghan minister of defence Rahim Wardak signed a memorandum of understanding on the issue on April 8 with the commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, General John Allen.
The agreement says that from now on, night-time missions to search civilian houses for insurgents will be conducted by the Afghan military “in cooperation with United States special forces”, and in compliance with Afghan national law.
Raids on homes are seen as an unacceptable violation of privacy, and together with civilian casualties they have alienated many Afghans from their own government as well as the NATO force. President Hamid Karzai pledged to end foreign-run night raids when he addressed the Loya Jirga, a broad-based national assembly, in November.
The Afghan government says the new arrangement marks a step forward in its strategic partnership with the US.
Defence ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi assured IWPR that there would be no pause in operations while the handover took place.
In response to the move, the Taleban issued a statement saying the new strategy would not affect them.
“The Taleban strongly condemn the memorandum of understanding on night raids,” it said, adding the practice was simply a legalised way of harassing people.
Experts say that in practice, it will be difficult for Afghan forces to carry out such operations. Defence expert and retired general Atiqullah Amarkhel said they lacked the intelligence-gathering capacity that US forces had.
“The US currently has intelligence operations all over Afghanistan and acts forcefully, whereas this government has failed even to prevent the enemy from infiltrating its own security forces,” he said. “Our security officials are bluffing. Given that the Americans have superior equipment and resources to those of Afghan forces, it is obvious that the Afghans are going to face many problems.”
Azimi said the agreement stipulated that “international forces will provide the Afghan government with intelligence”.
Recent insurgent attacks in Kabul and other cities have done little to boost faith in the army and police. Gunfire in the capital continued for some 17 hours, and despite praise for the way Afghan security forces fought once the fighting started, questions were asked about how the insurgents got into a supposedly well-defended city. (See Afghan Forces Criticised After Kabul Battles.)
Jafar Haand, a political science student in Nangarhar province, said he believed the raids showed that Afghan forces were not yet ready to take on responsibility for night-time operations.
“If the Afghan security forces can’t stop an attack by dozens of insurgents armed with both light and heavy weapons, carried out in broad daylight in the country’s capital, how are they going to fight against the armed opposition at night?” he asked.
“The Afghan security forces don’t have modern military equipment, and in addition, they are not truly national in composition. There are linguistic, ethnic and regional divisions among them that could lead them to act in a biased manner and cause civilian casualties.”
Some experts say the wording of the memorandum on night raids is ambiguous and impractical.
Political analyst Wahid Mozhda noted that each operation will now require a court order before it can go ahead, making it too cumbersome to work .
He also pointed to a lack of oversight for dealing with any abuses or violations that occurred in the course of night raids, and said the time-line set out in the memorandum was unclear.
Siamak Herawi, deputy spokesman for President Karzai, rebuffed these concerns, insisting that the Afghan military was capable of conducting this kind of operation, and that the authorities would address any violations as and when they arose.
“The [Afghan] special forces are well-trained, and they will get more training,” he said. “They will also be well-equipped. The defence ministry has the right resources for them, and if we need more gear, we can call on the international community.”
Herawi added, “The public has a right to air its views on such matters, but the reality is that the Afghan security forces have the capacity to conduct such operations.”
Mangal Sherzad, a lecturer in law and politics at Nangarhar university, said he had no faith that real authority over the night raids would ever be transferred to Afghan forces.
“The memorandum of understandanding is just play-acting to calm the Afghans down,” he said. “I believe that the night raids will still be conducted by the Americans – but that henceforth, they will hold the Afghans responsible for any crimes they commit.”
Mina Habib and Hijratullah Ekhtyar are IWPR-trained reporters in Kabul and Nangarhar, respectively.
|2012, afghan, april, news|