In recent posts, I’ve been wondering just how Pakistan’s new security policy will be implemented. Late last week, it appeared as though Pakistan was determined to carry out a sustained military intervention in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The big question to me was whether this action would be taken against only the TTP or if Pakistan would also be attacking groups such as the Haqqani network, which the US accuses Pakistan of supporting while they carry out attacks against US troops in Afghanistan. If Pakistan were to attack the Haqqani network, I predicted that the US will provide a major increase in counterterrorism funding to Pakistan.
There have been multiple major developments since my post on Friday, with the Taliban suddenly announcing a ceasefire and Pakistan’s government responding favorably by stating that air raids in FATA will end during the ceasefire. These peaceful responses were shattered early today, though, with a major terror attack in Islamabad resulting in at least 11 dead and 25 wounded when a court area was attacked with guns and suicide bombs.
It appears that the committee of government representatives and Taliban representatives that had been appointed to get the peace talks re-started was responsible for getting the ceasefire put into place:
After the Taliban issued a call for ceasefire on Saturday, members of the government-nominated peace committee welcomed the call, terming it a major breakthrough and an opportunity to hold direct talks between the two sides.
Major (retd) Mohammad Aamir, part of the government’s peace committee negotiating with the Taliban, suggested that direct talks should now take place between the government and the Taliban as it is high “time for taking and making important decisions.”
“I do not see any relevance now for the government committee as we have succeeded to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiation table and declare ceasefire,” Aamir told The Express Tribune in an interview.
He disclosed that the “backdoor efforts” carried out by him and the Jamiat Ulema Islam -Samiul Haq Group leader Yousaf Shah resulted in the Taliban-declared ceasefire.
The government responded positively and quickly to the ceasefire announcement:
The Pakistani government on Sunday suspended its airstrike campaign against militants in the country’s northwestern tribal regions in response to a Taliban cease-fire, raising the prospect that peace talks between the two sides will be revived.
The announcement of the suspension was made by the Pakistani interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan, on Sunday evening, and came hours after military gunships targeted militant positions in the northwestern Khyber tribal area in retaliation for an attack on health workers trying to vaccinate Pakistanis against polio. Officials said that notwithstanding the suspension, they would continue to respond to provocations by militants.
Tragically, the attack on the polio workers was especially deadly, with a death toll of 13. Khan also issued a warning along with his announcement of the halt to the air strikes:
“The government and the Armed Forces of Pakistan reserve the right to effectively respond to acts of violence,” the interior minister warned in a statement.
Earlier in the week, I wondered whether John Brennan had helped to shape the new counterterrorism policy that Pakistan is rolling out and whether it might be a ploy by Pakistan to capture some of the US counterterrorism dollars that would suddenly become available after a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. Under such a scenario, the key event to watch for would be any action taken by Afghanistan against the Haqqani network or other groups that find haven in Pakistan but carry out their attacks only in Afghanistan. More details of the policy are now being revealed, and with them come some suggestions that the Haqqanis might not be targeted, but other major developments suggest that tighter cooperation with the US is occurring.
Tom Hussain of McClatchy seems to have been first to break the news (on Wednesday) that Pakistan may still choose not to go after the Haqqani network:
Pakistan announced Wednesday that it was ending its 7-month-old policy of trying to reconcile with its Taliban insurgents and vowing to answer each terrorist attack with military strikes on the militants’ strongholds in northwest tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
But the government stopped short of abandoning its attempts to engage willing Taliban factions in a peace dialogue, underlining that Pakistan’s national security policy remains focused on restricting attacks within its borders, rather obliterating the militants altogether.
That means that militants who use Pakistan for a staging base to attack U.S. and Afghan forces in neighboring Afghanistan will still be allowed to operate, as long as they observe a cease-fire in Pakistan.
Political analysts said the national security policy unveiled Wednesday offered an easy way out for militant factions that wanted to disassociate themselves from the TTP, however: They simply have to stop attacking Pakistani government forces.
That makes it likely that Pakistan won’t take any military action against the Haqqani network, an ally of the Afghan Taliban that controls significant territory in the North Waziristan and South Waziristan tribal agencies.
The network is a major source of friction between Pakistan and the United States, which previously has accused Pakistan’s security services of complicity in several of the network’s high-profile attacks on Afghan government and U.S. targets in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan.
Widely viewed as a projector of Pakistan’s influence into Afghanistan, the Haqqani network has distanced itself from the TTP during the Taliban group’s six-year insurgency by signing peace agreements, fronted by the local Wazir tribe, that predate the 2009 launch of counterterrorism operations.
Accordingly, it won’t be targeted by the Pakistani military as long as it doesn’t side with the TTP.
As I posited yesterday, Pakistan appears to be putting together a US-style counterterrorism structure. This morning, we see even stronger hints that a full-blown military offensive against the Taliban may soon be launched by Pakistan. Although we have not seen any evidence that they have done so yet, I fully expect Pakistan to include both the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network among their targets in this operation. In fact, the Washington Post article mentions that Pakistan “would ‘not discriminate’ among the TTP, the Haqqani network and other militant groups in North Waziristan, including al-Qaeda”. In return for this offensive, look for Pakistan to get a massive amount of US financial and intelligence assistance. The US also appears to be making a renewed push against the Haqqani network inside Afghanistan and this report from Missy Ryan and Phil Stewart describes that effort while noting that the US wants Pakistan to take on the Haqqanis and any other groups that use Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
These moves by Pakistan and the US make more sense when we see that the US has come to the realization that an ongoing troop presence in Afghanistan is increasingly unlikely. There was significant movement on that front yesterday, with President Obama speaking to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the telephone. From the White House readout of the call:
President Obama called President Karzai today to discuss preparations for Afghanistan’s coming elections, Afghan-led peace and reconciliation efforts, and the Bilateral Security Agreement.
With regard to the Bilateral Security Agreement, in advance of the NATO Defense Ministerial, President Obama told President Karzai that because he has demonstrated that it is unlikely that he will sign the BSA, the United States is moving forward with additional contingency planning. Specifically, President Obama has asked the Pentagon to ensure that it has adequate plans in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014. At the same time, should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan. Therefore, we will leave open the possibility of concluding a BSA with Afghanistan later this year. However, the longer we go without a BSA, the more challenging it will be to plan and execute any U.S. mission. Furthermore, the longer we go without a BSA, the more likely it will be that any post-2014 U.S. mission will be smaller in scale and ambition.
The United States continues to support a sovereign, stable, unified, and democratic Afghanistan, and will continue our partnership based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. We remain fully supportive of our partners in the Afghan security forces, and we continue to proudly work side by side with the many Afghans who continue to work to ensure the stability and prosperity of their fellow citizens.
Although there is no clear deadline date, this phone call has the hallmarks of a “final warning” to Karzai. If the US doesn’t see movement from him on the BSA soon, look for the zero option of a full US withdrawal from Afghanistan to take place. As noted in the readout, the lack of a signed BSA is causing trouble for NATO, as well. A NATO gathering (called a Defense Ministerial) opened today, but with no BSA in place, Afghanistan planning can’t be done, prompting a very uncomfortable opening press conference for Secretary General Rasmussen.
There are now multiple reports (one of the earliest is here) that while the world was concentrating on a number of pressing developments in the Ukraine and elsewhere last week, John Brennan slipped into Pakistan to pay a quiet visit. The visit seems to me to cap a series of developments that have taken place over the last few months to put into place a counterterrorism program in Pakistan that seems modeled on the US plan. Almost exactly a month ago, I had wondered whether Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was making a play for US counterterrorism funds that would become available as the US withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan Today has a summary of the series of meetings that has brought us to this point:
After a nearly three-year long freeze Pak-US relations are on the mend once again. Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Islamabad paved way for Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with President Obama. In December, Pentagon Chief Chuck Hagel was in Pakistan where he also met the new COAS Gen Sharif. The prime minister’s meeting with President Obama in October was followed by a flurry of visits by civilian and military leaders from both sides. Important federal ministers including Sartaj Aziz, Ahsan Iqbal, Khwaja Asif and Shahid Khqan Abbasi have made several trips to Washington to discuss energy, trade and security related issues. During the last four weeks CENTOM Commander General Lloyd J Austin visited Islamabad to hold talks with COAS Gen Sharif and CJCSC Rashad Mahmood. Defence Secretary Asif Yasin Malik is currently in Washington leading a Pakistani delegation to hold military to military talks. Unconfirmed reports tell of CIA chief John Brennan having paid a clandestine visit to Rawalpindi to meet COAS Gen Sharif.
The article notes that security issues are driving the meetings:
The key factor is the concern for the security of the region after the US exits from Afghanistan. Washington wants to withdraw troops in an orderly manner and to ensure that the Afghanistan and Pakistan do not fall under the influence of Al Qaeda and other militant groups with global reach, threatening the US and its worldwide interests. After trying peaceful methods which failed, the PML-N government now seems to have realised the gravity of the situation and is inclined to take on the TTP and other militant groups. It knows however that it cannot deal with them on its own.
Oh, but that passage is so loaded with meaning. Recall that the talks between Pakistan’s government and the TTP were just getting ready to get started when John Brennan called for the drone strike that took out TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud. That strike seems to have tipped the balance for the TTP and Pakistan’s government to continue back and forth strikes rather than peace talks, with Pakistan now carrying out attacks on Taliban hideouts in the tribal areas using jet fighters. The latest attack, today, appears to have killed at least 30. But Pakistan can’t take on the militants on its own, so the US has to step up with support, at least according to the prevailing thought.
But now we see that Pakistan’s cabinet is suddenly discussing a draft security policy only a few days after John Brennan’s secret visit. From Dawn:
Sources told DawnNews that in accordance with the policy, the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (Nacta) would be the focal organisation for national security, adding that the heads of the armed forces would be among members of Nacta.
The cabinet agreed that all decisions pertaining to anti-terror measures would be taken at the highest levels of authority.
The policy also entails the formation of a joint intelligence directorate to make the exchange of information more effective on federal and provincial levels.
Moreover, the policy document notes that the total strength of 33 national security organisations, including the police and other civil armed forces, both at the federal as well as the provincial level, exceeded 600,000, which is more than the sixth largest standing army of the world i.e. Pakistan.
Gosh, I wonder where Pakistan could have gotten the idea for a National Counter-Terrorism Authority? Perhaps from the person who was the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center in US? That, of course, was John Brennan.
In an interesting article in The Nation, we get a description of Pakistan’s complaint that Afghanistan is not attacking and perhaps even supporting TTP fighters who flee Pakistan’s tribal areas into Afghanistan: Continue reading
Earlier this week, I noted that a ranking member of Afghanistan’s Taliban, Abdul Raqib, was gunned down in Peshawar, Pakistan. It turns out that Raqib wasn’t just any Taliban leader, though. He had in fact just returned from Dubai, where he had been participating in peace talks with the Afghan government.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke out against the killing. From ToloNews:
President Hamid Karzai Tuesday condemned the assassination of Taliban commander Mullah Abduil Raqib, calling him a victim of peace. He went on to invite Raqib’s group Tehreek-Islami Taliban to return to Afghanistan.
Mullah Abdul Raqiq was gun downed in the Pakistani city of Peshawar by unidentified attackers on Monday. On Tuesday, a military helicopter transferred his body to his native town in northern Takhar province.
This is not the first time a Taliban leader has been targeted in Pakistan. The U.S. has waged an intensive drone war on Taliban commanders throughout Pakistan in recent years. Karzai has been highly critical of the attacks on Taliban leaders, claiming the U.S.’ aggression has pushed Taliban leaders away from negotiations.
“We saw several green lights from those willing to start the peace negotiation process, but most of them were assassinated,” Karzai’s deputy spokesman Fayeq Wahidi said. “The killing of Maullah Raqiq is part of the coordinated murders.”
Although the ToloNews article doesn’t come out and say it explicitly, a report by BakhtarNews does say that Raqib had been to Dubai for the peace talks and had just returned when he was killed:
President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing of Maulawi Abdul Raqib Takhari member of Tehrek Taliban and called him an open e[sic] victim of the path of peace. Maulawi Abdul Raqib former minister of refugee affairs of Taliban government who has been supporter of peace and understanding in Afghanistan, after participating at the recent peace talks in Dubai led by Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim returned to Peshawar and he was killed there on Monday.
Returning to the ToloNews article, we see that while Karzai had blamed “US aggression”, the attendees of the funeral blamed Pakistan’s ISI for the killing:
Participants in the burial ceremony accused the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) of being behind the assassination.
“People shared their sorrows in the burial ceremony. He was working for peace. People chanted slogans against those killing him; they blamed ISI for the killing,” Takhar Governor Abdul Latif Ibrahimi said.
The Taliban is not a monolithic entity, and Mutasim Agha Jan’s moderate faction is often opposed by more militant members of the group. As might be expected, they are speaking out once again to say that Jan does not speak for them and that they do not condone the peace talks:
The Taliban militants group in Afghanistan denied reports regarding peace talks between the Afghan government officials and Taliban group leaders in United Arab Emirates.
Zabiullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban group, following a statement, said Mullah Agha Jan Mutasim does not represent the Taliban group and has not links with the movement.
Mujahid his statement further added that no member of the Taliban group has attended any talks with the Afghan government officials in Dubai.
Clearly, the talks between Karzai’s government and Agha Jan’s group are opposed by the US (as seen here), the ISI (as seen in the funeral comments above) and by more militant factions of the Afghan Taliban itself.
Keep in mind, though, that the US has tentatively reached out to another faction of Taliban figures active in Afghanistan. We saw earlier this week that the US is seeking a prisoner exchange that could free Bowe Bergdahl. In this case, it appears that the Haqqani network is now holding Bergdahl, and so they are the target of the talks. An article in today’s Dawn accounts for what appears to be a new-found urgency on the part of the US to find Bergdahl:
Highly credible sources told DawnNews that during meetings with Pakistan’s top defence and military officials, General Lloyd J Austin, chief of the United States Central Command, sought Pakistan’s help in tracing the kidnapped US soldier before any possible military operation was launched in North Waziristan.
If Pakistan does indeed launch military action in North Waziristan, it appears that the US fears that Bergdahl could be in danger. Pakistan has long been accused by the US of harboring and even assisting the Haqqani network, so it is quite interesting that this potential military action has raised concerns. It isn’t clear whether these concerns relate to Bergdahl simply being in an area of military action or if the US thinks that Pakistan will actually attack suspected Haqqani network hideouts.
The question now becomes why any member of the Haqqani network would show up for negotiations with the US, given the recent death rates for negotiators.
Last week, I noted that the US had a perfect excuse for ending its drone strikes that are a long-running violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty because Pakistan had engaged in military action in North Waziristan to kill a number of TTP militants after a TTP suicide attack had killed Pakistani soldiers. The same pivotal town in North Waziristan where last week’s events were centered, Miranshah, made the headlines again on Christmas Day, as Barack Obama and John Brennan could not resist demonstrating to the world that the US is not a peaceful nation. A drone fired two missiles into a home near Miranshah, killing four “militants”. Those killed are widely believed to have been members of the Haqqani network (Pakistan and the Haqqani network do not attack one another the way Pakistan and the TTP do), but there are no reports of senior leaders being involved, so this may well have been a signature strike rather than a strike aimed at a particular high level militant. On Christmas. Pakistan’s government protested the strike as a violation of sovereignty, yet again.
Yes, those targeted by the US in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region are all Muslims who don’t celebrate Christmas, but there has often been a tradition in wars of ceasefires on religious holidays. There was a magical ceasefire on Christmas in World War I. Although the concept was rejected this year, there have been Ramadan ceasefires, both in Afghanistan and even in the skirmishes between Pakistan and the TTP.
Somehow, in thinking on the evil embodied by this act of death and destruction on the day on which Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, I came across this terrific post that centers on a particularly apt passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. As pointed out in the post, the passage is spoken by Marc Anthony just after the assassination of Julius Caesar:
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds:
And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
The post I linked addresses the famous phrase “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” and should be read in its entirety. But the larger passage reads almost as if Shakespeare has foreseen the situation of a long-running period of drone attacks, especially when the drones carry Hellfire missiles. In Pakistan, “dreadful objects so familiar” have resulted in widespread PTSD among the residents who must live under the constant buzz of drones flying overhead.
Marc Anthony speaks of the attacks being out of revenge, and revenge has been a motivator for this and other strikes in Pakistan.
Shakespeare very nearly hit on the Hellfire name. Obama and Brennan would do well, though, to study up on the particular mythological figure that Shakespeare invokes with his mention of who comes “hot from hell”. A quick search gives us this on Ate:
ATE was the spirit (daimona) of delusion, infatuation, blind folly, rash action and reckless impulse who led men down the path to ruin.
How can the rash action and blind folly of repeated drone strikes lead to anything other than ruin for Obama and Brennan? Let us hope that they don’t drag the rest of us down with them.
Update: See Peterr’s comment below for the backstory of this beautiful song commemorating the Christmas ceasefire in World War I:
Early this morning, just hours after the US had assured Pakistan that drone strikes would be curtailed if Pakistan is able to restart peace talks with the Taliban (after the US disrupted them with a drone strike), John Brennan lashed out with one of his signature rage drone strikes that seems more calculated as political retaliation than careful targeting. Earlier documentation of political retaliation strikes can be seen here and here.
Here is how Dawn described the assurance from the US late on Wednesday:
The United States has promised that it will not carry out any drone strikes in Pakistan during any peace talks with Taliban militants in the future, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said Wednesday.
Briefing a session of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs in Islamabad, Aziz said a team of government negotiators was prepared to hold talks with former Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud on Nov 2, the day after he was killed in a US drone strike in North Waziristan.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had told reporters last week that the process of peace talks could not be taken forward unless drone attacks on Pakistani soil are halted.
Nisar had said that the drone attack that killed Mehsud ‘sabotaged’ the government’s efforts to strike peace with anti-state militants.
Bill Roggio, writing in Long War Journal, is convinced that the Haqqani network’s leader was the target of today’s strike:
The US launched a drone strike at a seminary in Pakistan’s settled district of Hangu, killing eight people in what appears to have been an attempt to kill Sirajuddin Haqqani, the operations commander of the Taliban and al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network.
But see that bit about the strike being in “Pakistan’s settled district”? One of the many unwritten “rules” of US drone strikes in Pakistan is that they are restricted to the FATA, or Federally Administered Tribal Area, of Pakistan where Pakistani security or military personnel have little to no freedom of movement. In fact, the ability of drones to enter these otherwise forbidden territories is touted as one of their main justifications for use.
Just over a week ago, the chief fundraiser for the Haqqani network was killed near Islamabad. That killing involved a gunman, though, not a drone. If Nasiruddin Haqqani could be taken out by a gunman near Islamabad, why couldn’t Sirajuddin also have been taken out by a gunman in Hangu rather than missed in a drone strike?
Various reports on this drone strike place the death toll at anywhere from three to eight and say that either three or four missiles were fired into the seminary. The seminary appeared to be frequented by Haqqani network fighters. From the Express Tribune:
Another Haqqani source said the seminary was an important rest point for members fighting in Afghanistan’s restive Khost province.
“The seminary served as a base for the network where militants fighting across the border came to stay and rest, as the Haqqani seminaries in the tribal areas were targeted by drones,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
An intelligence source told Reuters separately that Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of Taliban-linked Haqqani network, was spotted at the seminary two days earlier.
It appears that there have been no other drone strikes outside the tribal areas since March of 2009. Roggio notes that all three of the others were in the Bannu district.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province now is governed by former cricket star Imran Khan’s PTI party. Khan already was highly agitated by the drone killing of Hakimullah Mehsud and its impact on the planned peace talks with the TTP. It seems entirely possible that striking in Khan’s province was a deliberate act by Brennan in retaliation for Khan’s rhetoric after the Hakimullah Mehsud killing. But by striking out with such rage, and especially by missing his target in a strike in a highly populated area, Brennan seems to have set himself up for a huge blowback. Khan is now ratcheting up his rhetoric considerably: Continue reading
Reuters has a riveting exclusive today in which they have been given a treasure trove of documents from which they have reported on documentation that a contractor involved in USAID highway construction in Afghanistan is employing a subcontractor who is a member of the Haqqani network:
Much of the evidence against Zadran is classified, but the cache of documents given to Reuters by U.S. officials on condition of anonymity show that he has close business ties with the Haqqani network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani.
The Haqqanis, Islamist insurgents who operate on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are believed to have introduced suicide bombing into Afghanistan.
The links between Zadran and the insurgency include him teaming up with Saadullah Khan and Brothers Engineering and Construction Company (SKB), believed to be one of Sirajuddin Haqqani’s companies.
Together they won a $15 million contract to help build a road between the towns of Gardez and Khost in Afghanistan’s east for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2011.
“The owners of these companies are facilitators and commanders of the Haqqani Network,” one U.S. government memorandum says.
This problem fits into the overall work that SIGAR has been doing recently in which they comment on the lack of control and auditing on funds once they are turned over from USAID and other agencies to the Afghan government for disbursement. And huge amounts of money are involved:
The inability over many years to stop firms believed to be supporting the insurgency from winning multi-million-dollar contracts exposes the lack of control that donors have over cash once it is handed over to the Afghan government.
Those transfers make up an increasing proportion of aid. U.S. federal agencies want more than $10.7 billion for reconstruction programs in 2014, SIGAR says, and the government has promised at least half will be granted directly to Afghan institutions to spend as they see fit.
SIGAR has clearly upset a number of folks with their work on this front. Back on October 10, the Atlantic carried a hit piece against SIGAR (I owe Marcy a huge thank you for alerting me to the article) in which we are supposed to believe that USAID has built a public health system in Afghanistan that in just a few years has added 20 years to life expectancy while dropping child mortality by half. And the article would have us believe that this wonderful new system is at risk of being shut down because of SIGAR’s campaign against funds being disbursed by the Afghan government without an audit trail:
John Sopko is the U.S. government’s chief auditor for Afghanistan and a former prosecutor with years of experience on Capitol Hill. In September, Sopko’s office—the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR—issued a report calling for the suspension of USAID’s $236 million in aid for basic health care in Afghanistan.
Why shut down such a successful program? The short answer is that SIGAR’s is a peculiar concept of caution.
Strikingly, the auditors’ report calling for the funding freeze for the health program doesn’t claim any evidence of serious fraud or waste. Instead, it raises hypothetical concerns about the Afghan government’s ability to manage aid money well, including evidence that some salaries were paid in cash, as well as the absence of double entry bookkeeping.
There is a huge problem with the underlying premise of “such a successful program”, though. It is fabricated bullshit. Here is how the hit piece frames their argument on the successes: Continue reading
With General John Allen now floating in some sort of purgatory where he has been tainted by figures in the Petraeus scandal, the “orderly” transition planned for Allen to step up to commanding NATO and General John Dunford to move up to replace Allen in Afghanistan is stalled at least in part. And while Washington has come to such a complete halt over this scandal that Howard Kurtz may well have taken an interest in a penis or two that may have voted Republican, leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken advantage of the distraction in Washington to take concrete steps toward the kind of political reconciliation that will be essential once US forces have been (at least mostly) withdrawn from the area.
From the AP story carried by the Washington Post:
Pakistan freed several Taliban prisoners at the request of the Afghan government Wednesday, a move meant to facilitate the process of striking a peace deal with the militant group in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.
The release of the prisoners — described as mid- and low-level fighters — is the most encouraging sign yet that Pakistan may be willing to help jumpstart peace talks that have mostly gone nowhere, hobbled by distrust among the major players involved, including the United States.
Wednesday’s release of the Taliban militants came in response to a personal request by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of an Afghan government council for peace talks with the Taliban, said a Pakistani government official and an intelligence official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the release.
We get more from Reuters:
Afghan officials have suspected that Pakistan has been holding Afghan Taliban members in jail to retain some control over peace efforts and have a say in any settlement.
Those in detention include former Justice Minister Mullah Nooruddin Toorabi and Mullah Jahangirwal, former secretary of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Allahdat Tayab, an ex-deputy minister, Afghan High Peace Council officials say.
“We have asked Pakistan to release them because they were the policy makers of the Taliban and close aides to Mullah Omar,” Habibullah Fawzi, a senior member of the Afghan peace team, told Reuters.
Their release could encourage a number of Taliban commanders and fighters to join peace efforts, he said. Afghan embassy officials in Islamabad said the names of about 10 Afghan Taliban militants had been floated.
We learn from Dawn that the talks will continue today:
Talks between the peace delegation led by Mr Rabbani and Pakistani officials would continue on Wednesday when the two sides are expected to come up with a joint statement on the progress made by them.
A Pakistani official, who had been briefed on the talks, told Dawn that “significant progress has already been made”.
The release of Taliban detainees in Pakistan has been a longstanding Afghan demand for catalysing the slow moving process.
A keen follower of the negotiations, who didn’t want to be named, said the release of prisoners was a positive step, which would provide the right environment for reconciliation.
Who could have guessed that getting all of Washington distracted by a tawdry sex scandal could have set just the right conditions for significant peace talks to break out? There are even hints from Khaama that this breakout of peace talks might even expand to include the Haqqani network.
The old adage that “fighting for peace is like fucking for virginity” seems to have been turned on its side here. Even though it may have been under his desk, David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell appear to have been fucking for peace, since their affair has disengaged the US war machine long enough that those who must make peace once we are gone have decided to start the process ahead of schedule.
Now that most joint operations involving US and Afghan forces have been put on hold, there are major developments in both media discussions of the war and in opinions among prominent Republicans in Washington on how the US should move forward from this point. The change in media language is that there are more overt references to the war being a failure. Perhaps reflecting a realization of this point, both Bill Young (R-FL), who chairs the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have called for an accelerated exit from Afghanistan.
In The Guardian, we hear once again from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, whose earlier report on the failures of the Afghanistan war strategy was largely ignored. Davis’ message has not changed, but with the rapid rise of green on blue deaths and the suspension of most joint US-Afghan operations put into place so fast that NATO allies were caught off guard, Davis’ message now seems more likely to be understood (emphasis added):
Lieutenant colonel Daniel Davis – who caused a political stir in Washington in February by accusing the Pentagon of “lying” about the situation in Afghanistan because his experience during a year-long deployment “bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground” – said that calling off of joint operations will be damaging because it will reinforce a perception among Afghans that the US is rushing to leave.
Davis said “insider attacks” have eroded trust among Nato troops of their Afghan colleagues. But, he added, confidence between the two militaries has been on the wane for some time because of overly optimistic claims by the US about the state of the war with the Taliban and Barack Obama’s setting of a 2014 date for an end to American combat operations.
“In my personal opinion, we (Isaf) have been responsible for a portion of the destruction of trust between the Afghan forces and Isaf troopers because so often our leaders say things like “everything’s on track”, “we’re on the right azimuth.”
“But when those messages are heard by the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces, and even the Taliban, they see with their own eyes that nothing could be further from the truth. When they hear us saying these things and actually appear to believe them, they either don’t trust us or they don’t put any value in our ability to assess,” Davis said.
“When you’re using the language of success to describe abject failure, you have no credibility in the eyes of those on the ground who know the truth.“
But it’s not just Davis who is spreading the message of failure. Consider this from Time, where Ben Anderson discusses his new book “No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan” (emphasis added again):
What is the book’s bottom line?
Despite the incredible hard work, bravery and suffering of our troops, despite the massive Afghan civilian casualties, despite the hundreds of billions spent, we have not achieved our goals in Afghanistan.
Essentially, we’re supposed to be clearing an area of insurgents and then persuading locals to chose us and our Afghan allies over the Taliban. Most areas where we are based have not been cleared of the Taliban and even if they had been, we’re fighting to introduce a largely unwelcome government.
The Afghan army cannot provide security on its own, the Afghan government is spectacularly corrupt and the police are feared and hated, for good reason.
So even if the military part of the strategy goes perfectly to plan (and it never does) the locals don’t want what we are offering.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been told countless times that locals prefer the Taliban to foreign forces and the Afghan government, particularly the police. I should point out that I’ve spent most of time in Afghanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, where the war has always been fiercest.