x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Karzai peace initiative rejected by Taliban leader

An overture by the Afghan president to Mullah Omar along with a safety guarantee for the fugitive Taliban leader gets swiftly rejected: 'As long as foreign occupiers remain in Afghanistan, we aren't ready for talks.' The Somalia government is close to collapse as Islamists take control of most of the country. The first politician of foreign descent to ascend to the leadership of a political party in the history of Germany becomes joint leader of the Green Party.

"On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai shocked Afghan and international observers when he reached out to the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar, offering him a guarantee of safety if he agrees to peace talks," Time magazine reported. "Omar, who has a $10 million price on his head for his support of al Qa'eda, has not been seen since 2001, when his Taliban regime was toppled by US forces. Omar is thought to be hiding in the ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistan and Afghan border, though he still appears to be engaged in key leadership decisions regarding the growing militancy in the country. Addressing journalists at a press conference at the presidential palace, Karzai said, 'If I hear from [Mullah Omar] that he is willing to come to Afghanistan or to negotiate for peace... I, as the president of Afghanistan, will go to any length to provide him [with] protection'. "But how much of Karzai's bold statement can be counted as a real offer, and how much a desperate political move by a leader faced with waning support both at home and abroad? "As the insurgency gains a stronger foothold in Afghanistan, there has been growing debate both inside and outside the country about the possibility of reconciling with some moderate elements of the Taliban. Until now, however, Mullah Omar has always been considered one of the 'irreconcilables', a key leader unacceptable because of his extremist ideology and his alliance with al Qa'eda. Omar, through Taliban spokesmen, has repeatedly asserted that he has no interest in peace talks unless all foreign forces leave the country. Karzai, for his part, asserted in the same speech that any militant seeking reconciliation must be willing to respect the Afghan constitution, the very document that Omar rejects as heresy. 'It is ridiculous to think that Mullah Omar would be willing to come to the negotiating table now,' scoffs a Nato commander. 'This is the man who draped himself in the cloak of the Prophet and declared himself commander of the faithful. He has nothing to gain by negotiating, and we have nothing to gain by offering talks when the Taliban think they are winning.' " On Monday, Reuters reported: "Mullah Brother, deputy leader of the Taliban, rejected Karzai's offer of safe passage and again said foreign troops had to leave before negotiations could start. " 'As long as foreign occupiers remain in Afghanistan, we aren't ready for talks because they hold the power and talks won't bear fruit ... The problems in Afghanistan are because of them,' Brother said. " 'We are safe in Afghanistan and we have no need for Hamid Karzai's offer of safety,' he told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location, adding that the Taliban jihad, or holy war, would go on." In Japan Focus, Richard Tanter wrote: "By virtually every yardstick, the war in Afghanistan is getting much worse for both the western coalition and for the Afghani civilian population. The number of districts under Taliban influence, the number of 'security incidents', the number of suicide attacks, the number of regions that are no-go zones for UN and aid workers, the number of coalition dead, the number of civilian dead and wounded, the number of insurgent attacks on civilians, the number of coalition air strikes, the number of insurgent roadside bombs attacks, the number of insurgent attacks on government officials, especially police, the size of the opium crop, the number of households involved in opium production, the size and sophistication of transnational heroin production and export networks - all have increased or worsened markedly in the past two years. "This shorthand summary of an extremely complex political and military situation is taking place in a country larger than Iraq, with a bigger population, a far poorer economic base, and a more complex ethnic formation. "And perhaps most important of all, all of this is happening in a country sharing a border with an already fragile state rendered vastly more so by pressure from the United States, and between whom, the colonially-derived border has almost no meaning in social reality. The Afghanistan War is now the Afghanistan-Pakistan War. Unless western coalition policy changes rapidly, Pakistan as a political entity will be threatened - a matter that India cannot ignore. The survival of Pakistan now depends on a reversal of course in Afghanistan." In The Atlantic, Nicholas Schmidle wrote: "the Pakistanis have had little success enlisting ordinary tribesmen to rebel against the Taliban. Their failure should be worrying. Without the support of ordinary tribesmen in Iraq, the Anbar Awakening and the defeat of al Qa'eda in Iraq would have been unthinkable. The same holds true in northwestern Pakistan. Yet the Pashtun tribes have been understandably reluctant to join the government. During Musharraf's regime, sporadic, overhyped military offensives failed to dislodge the Taliban, and any malik, or tribal chief, suspected of sympathising with the government was branded a spy and slaughtered. Khalid Aziz, a former political agent in North Waziristan, told me that, in the past, 'If a malik or his family was attacked, we used to do everything to redeem the malik's honour. The current administration has unfortunately disowned these policies'. "Those tribes that have finally mobilised against the Taliban have done so only after an intense military operation. In Dera Adam Khel, Swat, and Bajaur - all places where the army is bombarding militant strongholds - residents have formed lashkars [tribal militias]. In North and South Waziristan, where Musharraf signed peace deals with the Taliban, they have not. The Taliban have reacted violently to the lashkars. Suicide bombers have targeted tribal councils where lashkars were coalescing. Last March, more than 40 people died in one such attack, and in October, another bomber detonated himself and killed more than 80. "Lashkars in the tribal regions face a significantly greater challenge than did the Sunni tribes in Anbar. Al Qa'eda had undermined tribal authority in Anbar for not even three years when the tribes fought back. The Pashtun tribes of northwestern Pakistan have been undermined for three decades, ever since the arrival of thousands of foreigners in the 1980s for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. And in Pakistan and Afghanistan, ferocity in battle has gradually become more important than respect for tribal pedigree. The murder of several hundred maliks in recent years is a case in point. Consider, too, how a man like Baitullah Mehsud came to control his tribe in South Waziristan. Mehsud is in his early 30s, a gym rat-turned-Taliban commander, with a reputation for fighting. Platoons of eager suicide bombers swear their loyalty to him, and now the elders of the Mehsud tribe do, too." In The Observer, Jason Burke reported: "the Pakistani Army still views the battles it is fighting against extremists very differently from Western strategists and policy-makers. Scores of private conversations with soldiers of all ranks reveal that few see themselves as fighting in a 'war on terror' that many of them abhor. "Many believe that India, Pakistan's long-term regional rival, and Afghanistan are manipulating the militants fighting in Pakistan. In a mirror image of the Western analysis that attributes the success of the Taliban in Afghanistan to their bases in Pakistan, the Pakistani officers blame the war in Afghanistan for their troubles at home. "Privately few have much good to say about the West either. Anti-American sentiment is widespread. Many - both on the front line and at senior levels - doubt that al Qa'eda was responsible for 9/11. Instead the officers and men interviewed by The Observer see their fight as a necessary struggle to purge their own nation of an internal threat." The Washington Post reported: "The United States and Pakistan reached tacit agreement in September on a don't-ask-don't-tell policy that allows unmanned Predator aircraft to attack suspected terrorist targets in rugged western Pakistan, according to senior officials in both countries. In recent months, the US drones have fired missiles at Pakistani soil at an average rate of once every four or five days. "The officials described the deal as one in which the US government refuses to publicly acknowledge the attacks while Pakistan's government continues to complain noisily about the politically sensitive strikes. "The arrangement coincided with a suspension of ground assaults into Pakistan by helicopter-borne US commandos. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said in an interview last week that he was aware of no ground attacks since one on Sept 3 that his government vigorously protested. "Officials described the attacks, using new technology and improved intelligence, as a significant improvement in the fight against Pakistan-based al Qa'eda and Taliban forces. Officials confirmed the deaths of at least three senior al Qa'eda figures in strikes last month.... "Last month, officials confirmed, Predator strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas killed Khalid Habib, described as al Qa'eda's No 4 official, and senior operatives Abu Jihad al Masri and Abu Hassan al Rimi. Three other senior al Qa'eda figures - explosives expert Abu Khabab al Masri, Abu Sulayman al Jazairi and senior commander Abu Laith al Libi - were killed during the first nine months of the year. "Current and former US counterterrorism officials said improved intelligence has been an important factor in the increased tempo and precision of the Predator strikes. Over the past year, they said, the United States has been able to improve its network of informants in the border region while also fielding new hardware that allows close tracking of the movements of suspected militants. "The missiles are fired from unmanned aircraft by the CIA. But the drones are only part of a diverse network of machines and software used by the agency to spot terrorism suspects and follow their movements, the officials said. The equipment, much of which remains highly classified, includes an array of powerful sensors mounted on satellites, airplanes, blimps and drones of every size and shape. "Before 2002, the CIA had no experience in using the Predator as a weapon. But in recent years - and especially in the past 12 months - spy agencies have honed their skills at tracking and killing single individuals using aerial vehicles operated by technicians hundreds or thousands of miles away."

Somalia government close to collapse

"President Abdullahi Yusuf of Somalia has admitted that his government is on the verge of collapse and that Islamist groups now control most of the country," The Guardian reported. "In a speech to Somali MPs gathered in the Kenyan capital Nairobi at the weekend, Yusuf said that the government only had a presence in the capital Mogadishu and in Baidoa, 'and people are being killed there every day. Islamists have taken over everywhere else'. "His frank admission confirms what is known but seldom publicly acknowledged by those with a stake in Somalia's future, from Ethiopia, whose continued occupation unites the different Islamist groups against a common enemy, to the UN and western countries, which have backed the warlord-heavy government for years. "The latest bout of infighting - Yusuf and his prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, have failed to agree a new cabinet despite a deadline from regional leaders - came as Islamist militias made rapid gains towards Mogadishu. Al Shabaab, the most extreme and effective of the Islamist insurgent groups, took control of Elasha, nine miles from the capital, on Saturday. Al Shabaab fighters had already captured the strategic ports towns of Merka and Barawe without firing a shot."

Germany's Obama? 'Yes we Cem!'

"European Parliament member Cem Ozdemir was elected co-chairman of the German Alliance 90/Greens Party on Saturday. Ozdemir is the first politician of foreign descent to ascend to the leadership of a political party in the history of Germany," Turkey's Hurriyet reported. "The appointment makes Ozdemir a rare politician who has broken the racial barriers within the Green Party and Germany itself. Ozdemir became the first Turkish origin politician to win a seat in parliament and has been a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party since 2004." BBC News said that Mr Ozdemir: "dismissed any comparisons between himself and US President-elect Barack Obama. "Cem Ozdemir, who was elected co-leader of the Green Party at the weekend, told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper such comparisons were 'inappropriate'. " 'It is enough for me to be Ozdemir of the Greens'," he said. Hurriyet added: "Despite the emphasis on his non-German origins, Ozdemir agrees with Obama's commitment to uniting factors in his homeland. 'Obama is as white as he is black. We must leave the immigrant rhetoric behind,' Ozdemir told the Hurriyet Daily News on Friday. 'The influence of ethnic origin will be negated once the minorities' perception of the majority evolves.' The election of Obama as the first black president in US history has raised questions of whether a Turkish descendant could become prime minister in Germany or Austria, both densely populated by Turkish immigrants. "Ozdemir's grand vision in German politics despite his young age, led to calls to attribute such a role to him. But critics argue a comparison between him and Obama would do nothing but harm Ozdemir as a politician. 'That would be a wrong claim,' said Ozan Ceyhun, former member of the European Parliament. 'No figure from a small party like the Greens has the chance to run for chancellor's office.' "

pwoodward@thenational.ae