Taliban leaders reject peace talks

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taliban militants have rejected an offer of peace talks with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, saying there would be no negotiations until foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Karzai offered on Sunday to provide security for the reclusive Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar if he enters negotiations and said the United States and other Western nations could leave Afghanistan or oust him if they disagree.

But Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said there could be no talks while foreign troops are in the country.

“The Taliban will pursue jihad against foreign forces” as well as Karzai’s government, he said on Monday, speaking from an undisclosed location.

In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, questioned Karzai’s security guarantee.

“One can’t imagine the circumstances where you have the senior leadership of the Taliban – that there would be any safe passage with respect to U.S. forces. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine those circumstances standing here right now,” McCormack said.

The White House also made clear its distaste for the idea of talking with Taliban leaders now, particularly Omar.

“We support Hamid Karzai. We think that he is a leader that has only the best interests of his country in mind. What we have seen from the Taliban, however, and from Mullah Omar – who we haven’t heard from in some time – is an unwillingness to renounce violence,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.

Karzai has dismissed the demand for foreign troops to leave, saying they are needed to keep Afghanistan safe.

The Afghan president has long supported drawing the Islamist militia into the political mainstream if they accept the country’s Constitution and repudiate Al Qaeda. But his repeated offers to talk could also be aimed at portraying the insurgents as bent on violence instead of potentially legitimate rulers.

U.S. political and military leaders are also considering negotiating with some elements of the Taliban as the insurgency gains sway in large areas of Afghanistan, especially its south and east. Afghanistan is going through its worst violence since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban government.

In the past, no senior Taliban leader has publicly indicated the hard-line Islamist movement is willing to enter serious talks with what they call Karzai’s “puppet government.”

Mujahid said the peace overtures were a political ploy by Karzai ahead of next year’s planned presidential elections.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/18/asia/afghan.php

Afghans take homeless World Cup

Afghanistan in action against Russia at the 2008 Homeless World Cup on 7 December Afghanistan have beaten Russia to win the football World Cup for homeless people, an annual event aimed at raising awareness of the problem.

They won by five goals to four in a game which kept spectators on the edge of their seats in Melbourne, Australia, the event’s website reports.

A match between Brazil and Portugal was another high point while England lost a penalty shoot-out to Scotland.

About a billion people are homeless worldwide, event organisers say.

A chant of “A-F-G” echoed around Melbourne’s Federation Square stadium as Afghanistan and its supporters celebrated victory, the website says.

Afghanistan had been undefeated all week and it also beat Russia in the group stage.

“The Central Asians took the tournament by storm both with their inspired play and their devoted legion of fans, which turned every match into a party,” the tournament’s website reports.

Women’s game

The editor of Russia’s homeless magazine, Put domoy (The Way Home), said the Russian team would arrive home in St Petersburg later on Tuesday.

Russia’s team played the final match without its goalkeeper, replacing him with a player, Arkady Tyurin told Interfax news agency.

In a new development for the event, which kicked off in 2003, there was a homeless Women’s World Cup this year. Zambia won against Liberia by seven goals to one.

The 2009 tournament is to be held in the Italian city of Milan.

According to organisers, the event supports grass-roots football projects in more than 60 countries, working with more than 25,000 homeless and excluded people throughout the year.

It says that tournament supporters include Uefa, Nike, the UN, Manchester United, Real Madrid and international footballers Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand.

Last year’s event in Copenhagen, Denmark, was marred by an immigration row when 15 footballers left their teams and disappeared.

Seven of the missing players were from Burundi, four from Liberia, three from Cameroon and one from Afghanistan.

Danish police said the missing players would be arrested and deported when found.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk

Obama Adviser Says ‘Everything Up For Reassessment’ in Afghanistan

Marvin Weinbaum is a former Pakistan analyst with the U.S. State Department. He is professor emeritus at the University of Illinois and a scholar-in-residence at a Washington D.C.-based think tank, the Middle East Institute. He advised U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s election campaign on Afghanistan-Pakistan issues.

Weinbaum recently spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Abubakar Siddique about the future Obama administration’s policies on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

RFE/RL: How would an Obama administration look at the whole Afghanistan-Pakistan situation?
Do you think they will move forward with some of the plans and strategies already in place, or will they seek a new beginning?

Marvin Weinbaum: Undoubtedly, there will be a reassessment. I am very confident that it will be a policy which will not follow his predecessors.
There is already in [Obama’s] statements before the election, his position that you talk to everyone — that you are prepared to seek compromise where it is possible. These are the sorts of things that lead me to conclude that it is going to be a fresh start. And that is what we need very much in both Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

RFE/RL: During his campaign, Obama had a tough line on Afghanistan and talked about sending more U.S. troops there and going after terrorists on Pakistani soil. Do you think these will be the defining elements of his new strategy?

Weinbaum: I do believe that there will be additional forces [sent into Afghanistan].
Half of the people who they are talking about sending — the two or three brigades — would be simply involved in training the Afghan [National] Army. They would not be combat forces.

Now, as far as Pakistan is concerned, what [Obama] was talking about there was essentially that if you have the principle leaders of Al-Qaeda in your sites, and if Pakistan for some reason does not or cannot cooperate, you would do this on your own. [Obama] never subscribed to any broader policy than that. And in any event, now everything is up for reassessment.

[Obama] is almost obligated to give high priority to the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. He made that such an important part of his overall argument — that this is where the challenge lies to fighting global terrorism.

RFE/RL: In your assessment, how prominently will Pakistan-Afghanistan issues figure on Obama’s agenda?

Weinbaum: Assuming now he can begin to move away from Iraq, [Obama] is almost obligated to give high priority to the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. He made that such an important part of his overall argument — that this is where the challenge lies to fighting global terrorism. It was the failure to recognize this — and the distraction of Iraq — which brought about the situation as it is today.

Whether you can fix this now given what has happened over the last seven years is another question. But this will be very high on his agenda.

RFE/RL: Do you think President-elect Obama will be relying on the military instrument or he will move for — as experts like yourself have suggested — a comprehensive regional settlement?

Weinbaum: There is a consensus — even in the American military — that there is no, strictly speaking, military solution. It is one which may involve the military in order to be in a position to negotiate without having to concede surrender to your enemy.

What you seek to do by a broader approach — it’s got to include better government in Afghanistan. It’s got to include changing for the better people’s lives. But it is never going to be enough for some people. And you want to marginalize these people. This is the only way in which it can be done.

RFE/RL: Do you think that apart from the normal diplomatic course of working with Kabul and Islamabad, an Obama administration will consider some innovative solution for the complex problems centered in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region?

Weinbaum: Things have been allowed to [deteriorate] so far in the border region that there is not going to be any quick solutions. What we need from all three capitals — [Washington, Kabul, and Islamabad] — is a more coordinated approach. More cooperation.

The United States cannot succeed in gaining the upper hand over militancy and extremism unless this is on Pakistan’s agenda. It remains to be seen which direction Pakistan is going to go. We don’t know whether they are up for it right now. Their leaders are being tested.

RFE/RL: A year from now, how do you see the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Weinbaum: I think the best we can hope for over the next year is that things become stabilized. We see evidence here of a reconciliation process begun. We’ve got to follow up any kind of military successes with the kind of policies that are going to sustain successes.

What is important here is that there is a new American administration. There is an opportunity here for people to take a fresh look at the United States and what it stands for and what its objectives are in the region. What President-elect Obama can do is to inspire people to see the United States at its very best. We’ve lost that moral edge that we had for a long time.

Source: http://www.rferl.org

 

Urgent need to pre-position food aid

Urgent need to pre-position food aid
KABUL, 29 October 2008 (IRIN) – The Afghan government and aid agencies have not so far pre-positioned adequate relief supplies in some of the most vulnerable areas, increasing the risk of a humanitarian disaster this winter, the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) has said. Urgent need to pre-position food aid
KABUL, 29 October 2008 (IRIN) – The Afghan government and aid agencies have not so far pre-positioned adequate relief supplies in some of the most vulnerable areas, increasing the risk of a humanitarian disaster this winter, the Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) has said.
“Snowfall is imminent

Afghanistan-Pakistan Jirgagai Islamabad Declaration

Afghanistan-Pakistan Jirgagai Islamabad Declaration

Afghanistan-Pakistan Jirgagai held its first meeting in Islamabad on 27-28 October 2008. The Jirgagai, consisting of 25 members each from both Afghanistan and Pakistan was envisaged in the declaration of the First Joint Peace Jirga held in Kabul from 9th-12th of August 2007. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi inaugurated the Jirgagai.

Afghanistan-Pakistan Jirgagai Islamabad Declaration

Afghanistan-Pakistan Jirgagai held its first meeting in Islamabad on 27-28 October 2008. The Jirgagai, consisting of 25 members each from both Afghanistan and Pakistan was envisaged in the declaration of the First Joint Peace Jirga held in Kabul from 9th-12th of August 2007. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi inaugurated the Jirgagai.
The Afghan component of Jirgagai was led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and the Pakistani side was led by Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani. Both Foreign Minister of Pakistan and the leadership of the Jirgagai reiterated their resolve to pursue the implementation of the Joint Peace Jirga recommendations. The discussions of Jirgagai were held in very cordial and friendly atmosphere and in the spirit of mutual trust and confidence.

The Jirgagai held extensive rounds of discussions during joint working sessions and agreed to:

1. Re-affirm the deep rooted bonds of common history, culture, traditions, and the glorious faith of Islam between the two countries and their peoples. They expressed their deep commitment to further strengthen ties of friendship and brotherhood between the two countries.
2. Stress the fact that the destinies of the two countries are closely interlinked. Peace and stability in one is sine qua non for peace and stability in the other.
3. Express deep commitment for creating peaceful and stable environment in the region which is necessary for prosperity and development of the two peoples.
4. Recognize that with fully functional democracies, having vibrant institutions in both countries, the pace of cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan had gathered momentum and the prospects of peace and progress had brightened.
5. Recognize that militancy and terrorism are common threats, which require a coordinated response.
6. Recognize that curse of terrorism and terrorist acts i.e. suicide bombing, killing of innocent people, destroying institutions of public interest are anti humanity and against the spirit, essence and values of Islam.
7. Emphasize the urgent and imperative need of dialogue and negotiations with the opposition groups in both countries with a view to finding a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict, upholding the supremacy of the constitutions of both countries. The Jirgagai decided that channels of communication would be opened with the opposition groups in both countries. In this context, a committee of prominent individuals would be constituted to initiate contacts with the opposition groups in both countries. The Jirgagai decided to authorize the two chairmen to nominate members of such committee and its contact groups. This committee will also make recommendations to the governments, with a view to denying sanctuaries to the terrorists and subversive elements in both countries.
8. Use customs, traditions and revaj as appropriate means to pursue the course of dialogue to promote peace and reconciliation in both countries.
9. Strengthen the role of Ulema in the process by seeking their cooperation; also agree to give support to the local populations in order to revive and strengthen local structures and enable them to deal with the presence of terrorists and restore peace and stability in their respective areas.
10. Constitute a second committee, comprising members from both sides to oversee the implementation of the decisions of the Joint Peace Jirga in other areas of mutual cooperation including:

Crucial battle on Pakistan’s frontline

Crucial battle on Pakistan’s frontline

By Barbara Plett
BBC News, Bajaur

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam in Bajaur

A tank fires at militant movement detected at the edge of the town of Loi Sam

Entering the combat zone, we drive past mile after mile of flattened buildings, crops and trees, razed to prevent ambushes.

Even still, soldiers are on high alert, watchful for possible attacks.

They race down the road at top speed, firing occasional rounds from the guns mounted on the backs of their vehicles. Cobra attack helicopters circle overhead.

This is the tribal area of Bajaur near the Afghan border, or rather a small part of it.

The Pakistan army has wrested control of a 38km (24-mile) region from the Taleban, and it has given us rare access to the frontline.

We arrive in the town of Loi Sam, now in ruins. Militants here were targeted by the air force and artillery, followed by a ground offensive that lasted five days.

Civilians fled long ago – hundreds of thousands have been displaced by the fighting.

Key crossroads

A tank guards one of the approaches to the town, firing whenever there is movement in the distance.

Already a bulldozer has begun clearing away the blasted shells of buildings.

“You have to either occupy or remove the structures,” says one soldier, “otherwise the militants will return to them once we’ve left.”

Barbara Plett reports on fighting between Pakistani troops and Taleban-linked militants

For the army, this is a crucial victory: Loi Sam lies at a key crossroads between Afghanistan and Pakistan. From here local and Afghan insurgents could launch attacks in both countries.

“The militant activities from this tribal agency were radiating in different directions, towards Afghanistan, the rest of the border region and [Pakistan’s] settled areas,” says army spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas.

“Now we have this area under control, it will affect militant activities elsewhere, and we’ll capitalise on that.”

“The worst is over,” agrees Maj Gen Tariq Khan, who is in charge of the offensive. “I think we have turned the corner.”

Guerrilla warfare

The battle has been slow and deliberate. It took six weeks for the army to secure the road from the headquarters of the local security forces, the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC), to Loi Sam, a distance of 13km.

Troops fought compound to compound in a terrain ideal for guerrilla warfare.

Pakistan’s PM calls for more US cooperation

“There are road bends, there are depressions, there are houses located inside the depressions, trenches prepared, caves, tunnels, everything prepared,” says Col Javed Baloch, commander of one of the posts along the road, “so it was difficult to find them, to spot them, and then take the area.”

The Taleban has made extensive use of bunkers and tunnels which connected different compounds.

One commanding officer, Maj Kamal, took me 5m underground for a tour of the network.

He says his men blocked 20 or 30 passageways, including one that stretched 100m to a stream.

Many in Bajaur trace the roots of the uprising to a suspected US missile strike on an Islamic seminary, or madrassa, in November 2006, which killed around 80 people.

That radicalised local Islamists, they say, who were reinforced by militants from other Pakistani tribal areas. There was also an influx of fighters from Afghanistan.

A soldier keeps watch
Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result
Shafir Ullah
Government representative in Bajaur

The battle for Bajaur was triggered when the FC tried to re-establish a check post in Loi Sam in early August. Fierce resistance led to the siege of the FC base before the army was called in.

Like other army officers, Maj Gen Tariq Khan criticises unilateral US air strikes on suspected insurgent targets as deeply counter productive.

But, he says, during the Bajaur operation there has been improved intelligence sharing and co-ordination with coalition forces, which has reduced cross-border militant infiltration from Afghanistan. “We’ve seen practical on-ground adjustments in relevance to our operations,” he says.

“I’ve got a very positive response and I feel we’ve set up some system in which we’re in some kind of regular touch, and I think that’s the way to go.”

Hearts and minds

Now that the fighting has subsided, attention is turning to reconstruction and development: acknowledgement that winning hearts and minds in the impoverished tribal region along the border is essential to fighting the insurgency.

Map

But that won’t be enough, says Shafir Ullah, the government representative in Bajaur who deals with tribal elders.

“The reasons [for the insurgency] are poverty, backwardness and others, but the real problem is linked with Afghanistan,” he says.

“Until and unless Afghanistan is made stable, you can do a million development activities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and there will be no result.”

The Taleban have been pushed back – the army claims it has killed 1,500 – but they haven’t been defeated.

Two soldiers were killed by rocket fire in Loi Sam shortly after we left the town, bringing the army’s death toll to 75. Nearly 100 civilians have also died, says Shafir Ullah.

One hillside post is so exposed to Taleban fire that the soldiers have dug in for protection.

Forty men can fit in the massive bunker at any one time, a few are saying their prayers and reciting the Koran in a makeshift underground mosque when we visit.

This is not a popular war in Pakistan: some have criticised the military for killing fellow Muslims.

Others accuse it of fighting “America’s War”. But the army insists it is fighting to defend Pakistan, not just responding to US pressure for action against the Taleban.

Even as dusk falls artillery guns continue to pound militant positions. The war in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan.

This is the other, rarely seen, side of the battle against the Taleban.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7701336.stm