x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

A regional approach to Afghanistan

The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a strategy to the war in Afghanistan that may include talks with Iran. Meanwhile Pakistan's ongoing fight against the Taliban leaves tribal leaders forced to choose between joining the fight or getting bombed. President-elect Obama will not attend this weekend's G20 summit on the global financial crisis being held in Washington. With President Bush as host, it is unclear how much can be accomplished.

"The incoming Obama administration plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan - including possible talks with Iran - and looks favourably on the nascent dialogue between the Afghan government and 'reconcilable' elements of the Taliban, according to Obama national security advisers," The Washington Post reported. "President-elect Barack Obama also intends to renew the US commitment to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a priority the president-elect believes President Bush has played down after years of failing to apprehend the al Qa'eda leader. Critical of Bush during the campaign for what he said was the president's extreme focus on Iraq at the expense of Afghanistan, Obama also intends to move ahead with a planned deployment of thousands of additional US troops there." RFE/RL said: "Delegates from Central and South Asia have gathered in Dushanbe [the capital of Tajikistan] - together with a senior official from the US State Department - for talks on how regional cooperation can improve Afghanistan's security situation. "The talks, hosted by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, have included a debate on whether the Afghan government should negotiate with Taliban fighters - and possibly bring some former Taliban into the central government. "As delegates discussed the merits and shortcomings of such a policy, an official from the US State Department was able to gauge the views of representatives from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.... "Iran's ambassador to Tajikistan, Aliasgari Sherdust-Safiri, made it clear in Dushanbe that Tehran is opposed to the idea of negotiations with the Taliban. " '[Negotiations with the Taliban] would not only bring no results, it would also add to the Taliban's renewed influence and official power - as well as extremism in the whole region,' he said." On Monday, ABC News reported: "Today in Pakistan's Khyber Agency, which borders eastern Afghanistan, [Baitullah] Mehsud's Taliban fighters hijacked 13 trucks filled with US and Nato supplies destined for Afghanistan. It is the latest sign that the US supply line for the Afghan war - 80 per cent of which goes through Pakistan - is as vulnerable as ever. " 'About 60 masked gunmen popped up on the road and took away the trucks with their drivers,' Bakhtiar Mohmand, a local government administrator, told Reuters. 'Not a single shot was fired anywhere.' "Earlier this year dozens of trucks were burned to a crisp in the same area. Over the summer, a truckful of Humvees was destroyed by a mob in Karachi. "Truck operators told Reuters today that about two dozen trucks and oil tankers have been attacked in the past month near the Afghan border. " 'The government is a silent spectator. [Militants] attack our trucks, loot them and kill our drivers in broad daylight, even near security checkposts, but [the government] can't do anything,' Eshtiar Mohmand, who owns a trucking company, told Reuters. "Every day hundreds of trucks make the 1,100-mile journey from Karachi to Kabul, rumbling along some of the least-hospitable territory in the world. These 'jingle trucks,' as they're known here, may not look like much, but they contain the lifeblood of the American army in Afghanistan. " 'Afghanistan is a landlocked country. Everything we want to use to eat, drink and to shoot has to come in from outside,' said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA agent and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. 'The Taliban and al Qa'eda recognise completely this is a vulnerability and a place where it's easier for them to operate inside Pakistan than it is for us, and the way to really turn the screws on the Nato forces in Afghanistan is to go after the logistics pipeline.' " The New York Times reported on Pakistan's adoption of scorched-earth tactics to dislodge the Taliban, an approach that risks driving new recruits into the Taliban's own ranks. When Pakistan's army retook Loe Sam (a strategic stronghold in the Bajaur area and a vital corridor to Afghanistan through Pakistan's tribal region), it discovered how deeply the Taliban had encroached upon Pakistani territory. "Behind mud-walled family compounds... Taliban insurgents created a network of tunnels to store arms and move about undetected. "Some tunnels stretched for more than half a mile and were equipped with ventilation systems so that fighters could withstand a long siege. In some places, it took barrages of 500-pound bombs to break the tunnels apart.... "To save Loe Sam, the army has destroyed it. "The shops and homes of the 7,000 people who lived here are a heap of grey rubble, blown to bits by the army. Scraps of bedding and broken electric fans lie strewn in the dirt. "As Pakistani Army helicopters and artillery fired at militants' strongholds in the region, about 200,000 people fled to tent camps for the displaced in Pakistan, to relatives' homes or across the border into Afghanistan. "The aerial bombardment was necessary, Pakistani military officials say, to root out a well-armed Taliban force.... "In Peshawar, however, some of the store owners from Loe Sam whose property was crushed said there were limits to their understanding. "They had heard no word about their return or about reconstruction, said Hajji Shakir, the owner of two stores in Loe Sam, as he sat on the floor of a crowded house with a group of fellow merchants, clutching the account books that he had escaped with. " 'If the government doesn't rebuild, we will be thieves, suicide bombers,' he said. 'We will be forced to do these things.' " From Peshawar in north west Pakistan, The Washington Post reported: "The sign above the bed in the surgical ward at Lady Reading Hospital was simple and discreet: Patient No.247, Bomb Blast. Beneath the sign lay a man swaddled from the waist down in dirty bandages. His face was pocked with black scars from a suicide bomb attack on a meeting of tribal elders who had decided to fight the Taliban. The man had been in the hospital for nearly a month but was barely conscious. "In that time, more than 120 tribal leaders who decided to take up arms against the Taliban at the Pakistani government's urging have been killed in suicide bombings. Scores more have been injured in firefights with insurgents. Burned by blasts, wounded by artillery fire and hit by bullets, most have received only first aid from the government. A few have been lucky enough to survive the long ride to the hospital in Peshawar. "Many of the injured tribal leaders at Lady Reading were supposed to form the front line in a government campaign to tame the Taliban insurgency in northwest Pakistan. As the army's efforts to stamp out the insurgency in the rugged areas along the border with Afghanistan have faltered, Pakistani officials have turned to tribal militias to make up ground in an increasingly complex conflict. "But, so far at least, the tribal militias have been no panacea. Instead, the use of the militias, known as lashkars, has set off a debate over whether such a strategy will contribute to a civil war in the northwest that could engulf all of Pakistan. Yet some tribal leaders say they have little choice but to fight their brothers, cousins and neighbors: The Pakistani military, they say, has threatened to bomb their villages if they do not battle the Taliban."

Obama will not attend G20 summit on the global financial crisis

"President-elect Barack Obama is steering clear of this weekend's emergency global financial summit in Washington, a decision that gives him distance from his unpopular predecessor's policies and avoids any appearance of upstaging the current president," Reuters reported. " 'He wants to start with a clean slate,' said Ross Baker, a political analyst at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Baker said Obama appears sensitive to propriety and does not want to look as though he is setting policy when 'he has not yet had his hand on the Bible' to take the oath of office. "President George W Bush had been open to having Obama take part in the summit on Friday and Saturday of leaders of the G20, which includes top industrial and developing economies such as France, Great Britain, Italy, China, Brazil and India. "But neither Obama nor his aides will attend. " 'He's very interested and thought it was very good to have the meeting. But in a phrase you'll hear in exceedingly large numbers of times between now and the 20th of January, there's only one president at a time,' senior Obama aide Robert Gibbs told reporters on Monday." Earlier, The Daily Telegraph reported: "James Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank, said it would be absurd if Mr Obama did not attend. " 'I don't think any of the foreign leaders are going to look for guidance to President Bush at this time. They are going to look to Barack Obama. " 'I know that half of them are coming here in the expectation that Obama will be invited. If he is not invited, you are not going to get much out of these meetings because they do expect president Bush is going to be able to deliver,' he said. "Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said: 'One can expect a contact between President Medvedev and the US president-elect during the financial summit of the G20 in Washington.' "Similar plans were revealed on behalf of Hu Jintao, the Chinese premier, Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, and Kevin Rudd, prime minister of Australia. " 'There may be some informal contact between president-elect Obama and some of those [G20] leaders,' said Stephen Smith, Australia's foreign minister. "The Bush White House has poured cold water on European support for a comprehensive reform of markets and Gordon Brown's call for a new Bretton Woods agreement, making any kind of agreement next week unlikely. "James Galbraith, a professor at the University of Austin, Texas, said the meeting would nonetheless be useful for allowing governments to state their position on the record. " 'The one president at a time rule will apply and that will limit the scope for sure,' he said." In The Financial Times, Gideon Rachman wrote: "like most sequels, Bretton Woods II is not going to be nearly as good as the original. The first conference gave birth to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Its successor will be duller and less consequential. "The first reason for this is that the global financial crisis - bad as it is - is hardly the second world war. The war destroyed the established order and so the statesmen who drew up the postwar institutions had a blank piece of paper on which to doodle. "Second, there is not enough time. The original Bretton Woods conference benefited from two years of preparation, not two weeks. "Third - and rather important - the countries that are meeting in Washington this weekend disagree. The Europeans, who adore all forms of international governance, are pushing for new global regulators for the international financial system. The Americans and Chinese - more jealous of their national sovereignty - are more cautious. "Finally, unlike at the original Bretton Woods, the US has neither the power nor the inclination to impose a new set of arrangements on the rest of the world."

pwoodward@thenational.ae