|Karzai has pursued reconciliation with the Quetta shura for years through informal contacts. But this February's arrest of its military leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, disrupted the process. Analysts suggest that move pushed Karzai to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban though Pakistan's powerful military, which Kabul has accused of harboring Taliban leaders in the past. Karzai apparently sought new regional alliances after developing critical differences with Washington.
The Obama administration has pushed for reintegrating Taliban foot soldiers and field commanders into Afghan society, but has resisted rapprochement with its fugitive leaders.
US 'red lines'
The Quetta shura and the insurgent networks controlled by its leaders are mostly active in the southern Afghan provinces of Kandahar and Helmand. United States and NATO troops are expected to launch a major stabilization operation in Kandahar in an effort to weaken the Taliban considerably.
Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special regional envoy, told journalists on July 13 that Washington is keen on helping Kabul to succeed with reintegration programs worth $280 million.
Holbrooke said that Washington was even pushing for a revision of the UN blacklist in the Security Council, but that crossing certain red lines won't be acceptable. "Both the president and the secretary of state have laid out the red lines on this issue many, many times, he said.
He said that Washington supports "Afghan-led reconciliation. We are not in direct contact with the Taliban. There may be other indirect contacts going on, track-2 diplomacy, individuals who contact each other, other things, but they don't involve the United States. And that's our position. "People who are willing to lay down their arms, renounce al-Qaeda, participate in the political process, are always ready to be - we're always ready to reconcile them - groups or in - as individuals."
Reconciliation with the insurgents is expected to figure high on the agenda at the international donors conference scheduled for July 20 in Kabul. The Afghan government is touting the gathering as the largest gathering of international leaders in the country since the 1970s.
RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Asmatullah Sarwan contributed reporting to this article.
[Description of Source: Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English -- Online newspaper focusing on political and economic issues from an "Asian perspective," with over 50 contributors in 17 Asian countries, the United States, and Europe, and a branch office in Bangkok; successor of the Hong Kong/Bangkok-based print daily Asia Times that closed in 1997, it claims an average of 100,000 daily site visitors, with 65% of the audience based in North America, and 22% in the Asia-Pacific region; tends to be critical of the United States; URL: http://www.atimes.com]
Pakistan: US Doubtful About Haqqani Group Laying Down Weapons, Entering Politics
SAP20100721103002 Karachi Business Recorder Online in English 21 Jul 10
[Reuters report: Pakistan to play key role in talks with Taliban]
[Text disseminated as received without OSC editorial intervention]
ISLAMABAD: Afghan President Hamid Karzai needs Pakistan's help to convince some Taliban factions to end their insurgency, a central plank of his peace strategy, but doubts remain about Islamabad's motives and ability to deliver. Pakistan and Afghanistan are both seeking to encourage some elements of the Taliban to reconcile with the Afghan government by renouncing al Qaeda, laying down their arms and taking part in the Afghan political process.
"Pakistan wants to help Afghanistan," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said at a dinner at the Pakistani Ambassador's house in Kabul on Monday night. "It is for them to decide what they want to do. We want to help them as good neighbours because we feel that a stable, peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan is in Pakistan's interest."
Crucial to Islamabad's efforts will be the attitude of the Haqqani network, which operates on the Afghan-Pakistan border and has longstanding links to Pakistani military intelligence. But the United States is doubtful one of the most brutal and effective factions of the Taliban insurgency can be persuaded to lay down its weapons and take part in Afghan politics.
"We would strongly advise our friends in Afghanistan to deal with those who are committed to a peaceful future," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday while on a trip to Islamabad. Headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the Haqqani network is allied with the Taliban and is believed to have close links to al Qaeda. The US State Department is likely soon to declare the Haqqani network an international terrorist organisation.
Analysts believe Pakistan is holding groups such as the Haqqani network in reserve to maintain influence in Afghanistan after the Americans begin to leave next year and to check the rising presence of its arch-rival, India, and to a lesser degree Iran.
"Iran and India share the same allies," said Kamran Bokhari, a security analyst for the private intelligence firm Stratfor, referring to the two countries ties to Afghanistan's varied tribes and ethnic groups. "Traditionally the Iranians allied with the Tajiks, the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, the same people the Indians have been supporting as well. And they both have an interest in making sure Pakistan doesn't dominate Afghanistan."
LESSON LEARNED: But Pakistan is also looking to broaden its influence in Pakistan so that it is not seen as simply backing the Taliban or the Pashtun groups that dominate much of the south, as it did in the 1990s. "They learned their lesson last time," Bokhari said. "This time around the Pakistanis don't want to just back the Taliban. They're going to support Karzai, they're going to support the Taliban. They want to undermine Indian influence among Afghan society."
To do that, the Pakistanis will have to offer something. "It seems some interaction has taken place between Haqqani and perhaps Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani political analyst. "But again, what would the Afghan government be willing to offer them?" He does not think the Haqqani fighters or other groups would be so ready to "lay down their weapons and live happily ever after", he said. "There has to be some kind of offer to them."
Retired Pakistani Lieutenant General Talat Massod, now a prominent defence analyst, thinks Pakistan will try to broker a power-sharing agreement between Taliban militants and the Afghan government. "If it can make them come into the political system, that is one of the major areas where Pakistan can play a role, especially Pakistan's military and ISI," he said, referring to Islamabad's main intelligence service. What any Pakistan inducement might be is unclear. And that uncertainty leads to suspicions about what Pakistan might offer and why.
Pakistan has long ties to Afghan militant groups. It managed and propped them up - funded by American and Saudi cash - during the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s and was one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban government, with which Haqqani was allied, when it came to power in the 1990s. Despite official statements that Pakistan broke off contact with the Afghan Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, senior Pakistani intelligence officials have said they've maintained some level of contact, if only to monitor the leadership council, which is widely believed by analysts to be hiding in Pakistan.
"I think there is some sort of unease in Washington," Bokhari said. "There are some who say we need the Pakistanis to help in the overall stabilisation in Afghanistan. But then there are those who say, we don't like the Haqqani network, and the Haqqani network is tied to all sorts of Pakistani intelligence and al Qaeda." "There is a gulf between how the Pakistanis define the 'good' and 'bad' Taliban and what Washington calls the reconcilable and irreconcilable Taliban."
Copyright Reuters, 2010
[Description of Source: Karachi Business Recorder Online in English -- Website of a leading business daily. The group also owns Aaj News TV; URL: http://www.brecorder.com/]
UAE Paper Says Taliban Elements 'Openly Active' in Jalalabad; Citizens Cited
GMP20100731054011 Abu Dhabi The National Online in English 31 Jul 10
[Report by Fazelminallah Qazizai: "Boisterous city falls silent as Taliban returns."]
JALALABAD // The music of some of Afghanistan's most famous singers used to be an inescapable feature of life in Jalalabad.
Their voices drifted out from shops in the city, where they would mix with the cries of market traders and the buzz of passing rickshaws.
Then, just a few weeks ago, the soundtrack to the streets began to fall silent for the first time in almost nine years. Under the cover of darkness, the law of the Taliban had returned.
"I didn't get any warning like some of the others. They blew up a music centre on our right at night time. One day later they blew up another music centre in another market and then each night they were blowing them up," said Zalmai, a shopkeeper, who, like many Afghans, only uses one name.
According to a number of traders, insurgents are now openly active in Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan that has been regarded as one of the country's few success stories.
The rebels announced their presence in late June with the first in a series of attacks on recording studios and stores selling CDs and cassettes.
Shopkeepers were left so terrified some closed their businesses, and there is now widespread fear that the regional cultural hub is becoming a new frontline in the Taliban's apparently unstoppable return to power.
Zalmai had invested about US$4,700 (Dh17,263) in his music store, but five days after the bombings started he switched to selling electrical household items such as light bulbs and plug sockets. He keeps his old merchandise at home and has no idea when, or if, he will be able to bring it out in the open again.
"I had only Afghan music in my shop. I swear I wasn't selling any bad or rude CDs or DVDs," he said.
That defence appears to carry little weight with the Taliban, who regarded all music as un-Islamic when they were in government. Back then, cassettes could be found unspooled and strung from trees as the regime sought to rid society of anything it regarded as morally corrupt.
Even to their supporters and sympathisers, it is often remembered as being a step too far. Now, though, a similar situation is developing right under the noses of US troops and their Afghan allies.
With its reputation as a centre of learning and culture, for years this city, which is the capital of Nangarhar province, bordering Pakistan, and most of its surrounding districts managed to stay relatively peaceful as both sides of the frontier were gripped by violence.
Local tribes were seen as hostile to the Taliban and there was none of the bloodshed that has spread like wildfire through the two countries, from Peshawar to Kandahar.
Today that is beginning to change. People claim that the insurgents have control throughout many rural areas in Nangarhar. Using a suicide car bomb and rocket-propelled grenades, last month a team of rebels staged a co-ordinated attack on a US base here - one of the biggest in Afghanistan. The assault injured two security personnel.
At about the same time, owners of music stores were targeted and warning letters ordering them to close started to arrive. They are in the heart of the city, circled by police and military checkpoints, but still within the insurgents' reach.
A 26-year-old shopkeeper named Ismail invoked the name of one of Afghanistan's most dangerous places when he warned that "Nangarhar will be a second Helmand" unless something is done to stop the rebels.
"We need to change our business. If we don't the Taliban will burn and destroy all the money we have invested," he said.
Although who exactly is behind the recent attacks is unclear, one particular insurgent group is known to be highly active in the area. It is run by Anwar ul-Haq, the son of a famous mujahideen leader, Mawlawi Younus Khalis, who died in 2006 having spent his life committed to jihad.
Mr Khalis was born in Nangarhar and went on to fight against the Soviet and US occupations under the banner of his own faction of the militant organisation Hizb-e-Islami. He is still talked about with great reverence here, having also been a mentor and colleague of the Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani, who now heads arguably the most feared rebel group in all Afghanistan.
"People love Mawlawi Khalis because he was not involved in the civil war and he also didn't change his ideas," said Najibullah Nail, a local resident. "He was a strong Muslim."
Mr ul-Haq's group is thought to be called the Tora Bora Movement and it operates as part of the Taliban.
"I like them a lot and I want them back in power because they are mujahideen and they are Muslims," said Sahfiqullah Manmawal, who fought alongside Mr Khalis against the Soviets.
"If they come to my house obviously I will help them, and I am sure other people in the villages are helping them."
[Description of Source: Abu Dhabi The National Online in English -- Website of leading government-owned daily; URL: http://www.thenational.ae/]
Asia Times: Pakistan has a Man for a Crisis, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani
CPP20100817715023 Hong Kong Asia Times Online in English 0213 GMT 17 Aug 10
[Asia Times Report by Abubakar Siddique: "Pakistan Has a Man for a Crisis"; headline as provided by source]
As the people of Pakistan struggle to overcome a calamity of massive proportions, one man has emerged to inspire confidence in the country's flood-recovery efforts: top military commander General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani.
Kiani has taken the lead since unrelenting monsoon rains brought on a natural disaster that has so far left 1,600 dead, many millions homeless, and disrupted the lives of up to 18 million more. Images of Kiani helicoptering around Pakistan taking stock of the tragedy provided a stark contrast to those of President Asif Ali Zardari helicoptering to his chateau in France as floodwaters swelled, adding to the perception that the civilian government was failing its people.
Despite his role as chief of the world's largest Muslim army, however, little is known about the 58-year-old, chain-smoking general.
Admirers describe Kiani as a man of few words who has largely remained in the shadows even as he has risen quickly through the ranks - from second lieutenant (or junior commissioned officer), to head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), to General Pervez Musharraf's successor as the country's top military man.
Septuagenarian General Talat Masood, who served in the army for nearly four decades and is now an influential analyst, says Kiani is perhaps the best military chief in the nation's checkered 63-year history.
Over that time, four military dictators trampled elected governments and ruled the country for more than three decades. Masood, who has been consulted by Kiani at times, sees key differences in the approach used by this military commander.
"He does a lot of reflection and intellectually he is very profound," Masood says. "I think he goes at the best of the problem and has a much better understanding of the world and the region as a whole. And I would say that his understanding of national affairs, in comparison to his predecessors, and of the regional affairs is far more pragmatic and (he) has a greater depth in his understanding."
The son of a military man, Kiani enjoys a reputation as a "soldier's soldier" who garners the respect of his troops and Western contemporaries alike. A father of two, he was born in Gujjar Khan, a region close to the military headquarters near Islamabad that is known for providing generals and " jawans " (soldiers) to the military. During various stages of his nearly four-decade career, Kiani attended training in some of the finest US military institutions, and is considered a good listener with a keen understanding of his surroundings whether in the political arena or on the battlefield.
On taking over from military dictator Musharraf in November 2007, he set about modernizing and overhauling a military force deeply entangled in national politics and regional rivalries.
His performance was impressive enough to lead Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to hand him an unprecedented three-year extension earlier this year, keeping him in his post until 2013.
His continued presence is generally seen as a good omen for stability and democracy in Pakistan. His recent success in delivering aid and rescuing people in remote regions has led some to speculate about whether his leadership might be an improvement over the current government. At a minimum, analysts say, his success will further cement the military's traditional hold on politics.
Kiani, who saw treacherous Pakistani politics up close as late prime minister Benazir Bhutto's deputy military secretary in her first government in 1988, has since taken pains to distance himself from politics. In 2008, for example, he oversaw what were widely regarded as fair national elections after which he ordered subordinates to break off all contacts with politicians. Since then, the military has refrained from micromanaging domestic politics or policymaking, choosing to step in only when its own interests are at stake.
Complex juggling act
Kiani's main strategic focus since taking command has been the com plex al-Qaeda-inspired Islamist insurgency, a daunting task that led him to take the popular step of ordering all military officers back from their civilian administrative jobs to ready for the battlefield.
He has taken the fight to the insurgents, launching large-scale military operations in the Pashtun northwest. But those maneuvers have also led to retaliation, with militants increasingly targeting the central Punjabi heartland, where some militant networks are deeply entrenched. Meanwhile, a separate secessionist Balochi insurgency lurks as a less violent but nonetheless major domestic threat.
Even as he has enjoyed success overseeing flood-recovery efforts, the escalating crisis threatens to derail Kiani's plans to build up Pakistani security forces in areas where the military only recently gained toeholds. The northwestern Swat district and parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where 150,000 soldiers conducted successful military operations in 2009, have been severely battered by floods. Anger against the civilian government's inept response is high, leading to concerns that insurgents could capitalize and emerge even stronger.
Across Pakistan's eastern border lies a much bigger nuclear-armed military threat, making India a major focus for Kiani. To the west, his relationship with allies is complicated. Western leaders periodically express concerns about Islamabad's perceived support for the Afghan Taliban and question Pakistan's reluctance to go after India-centric Islamist militant groups instrumental in a two-decade old insurgency in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Haider Mullick, a fellow at the US Joint Special Operations University, cites the immense challenges that lie before Kiani.
"(Kiani must) come up with a new relationship with India (while) at the same time balancing the relationship with China and the United States and being able to achieve (Pakistani) national security objectives inside Afghanistan - that is, an Afghanistan that is not perceived to be pro-India and at the same time is not harboring al-Qaeda," Mullick says. "But everything between that is very gray and it remains to be seen. He has some things that are working for him and other things that are not, and there are serious grave challenges and also great opportunities for him to change the security calculus of that region and his own army."
Mullick, who recently made several trips to Pakistan to study counter-insurgency under Kiani's leadership, describes him as an "innovative revolutionary" who inspires confidence in his ranks.
Such confidence appears to derive from his steely commitment to doing things on his own terms while keeping the focus on duty by maintaining separation between the government and military.
He has pulled off tricky juggling acts of interests that could prove to be the downfall of others in his position. For example, Mullick says, Kiani has managed to push out those in his intelligence services who were not on board in the war against the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (Movement of the Pakistani Taliban) and al-Qaeda.
Kiani has also proven to be an adept navigator in his dealings with the United States, which, as former US diplomat in Islamabad Larry Robinson explains, is no easy task.
"There is the suspicion of anything Pakistan does and certainly anything the Pakistan army does on the part of most Afghans and many Americans," Robinson says. "And then the claims within Pakistan that all this fighting is unnecessary and is only done at the behest of those same Afghans and the Americans who are completely ungrateful for Pakistan's sacrifices. I don't think you get much more challenging than that."
But at the risk of being seen as being too cozy with Washington, Kiani's relationships with US military leaders Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus have provided him with a steady supply of much-needed training and equipment.
While accepting the challenge thrown down by the United States to root militants out of their long-standing safe havens in Pakistan's northwest, Kiani has stubbornly resisted moving into the country's most dangerous militant hotbeds, such as the western North Waziristan tribal district on the Afghan border, considered the regional headquarters of Pakistani, Afghan, Central Asian and al-Qaeda militants.
And although he has been open to discussion with outsiders, he has by no means been overeager.
Even as his relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai has flowered, for instance, they differ on reconciliation with Pakistan-based Afghan insurgent networks. And while many in Kabul and Washington oppose power-sharing with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani - two hardline Afghan Islamist leaders - Kiani has made clear that Islamabad would not mind seeing the two in a post-reconciliation Afghan government.
Domestically, he has resisted calls by some Pakistanis who want him to move against al-Qaeda-allied sectarian militias targeting his Punjabi home base, from where most of his officers and soldiers are recruited.
Mullick suggests that Kiani has promised "piecemeal" operations against all militants, but that his priority is to concentrate his efforts on those who jeopardize Pakistani security.
In times of high uncertainty, Kiani potentially faces another minefield - Pakistani politics. Hamid Hussain, a New York-based analyst of Pakistani security affairs, says Kiani might be dragged in.
A confrontation between the increasingly assertive Pakistani Supreme Court and coalition civilian administration looms after the court scrapped Musharraf's political amnesty in 2007, causing major embarrassment to the government and led to the reopening of many corruption cases against ministers. Zardari to this point has been spared intense scrutiny into alleged corruption due to presidential immunity.
Hussain says an open confrontation between the two state institutions would almost certainly push Kiani, as leader of the most powerful institution in the country, to intervene.
"If the Supreme Court decided to go after the president and if a crisis occurs then he may have to come in," Hussain says. "And depending on his own inclination, whether he sides with the judiciary to let the president get out of that place, that's the only crisis I potentially see. (One) in which, he has to come in and arbitrate with different players."