Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts
Showing posts with label AfPak. Show all posts

30 March 2020

South Asia’s Looming Disaster

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Welcome to Foreign Policy’s South Asia Brief, a weekly look at the most important news from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka—a region that comprises a quarter of the world’s population. Given the severity of the coronavirus crisis, this week we’re focusing almost entirely on how the region is coping with COVID-19 and what happens next.

If you would like to receive South Asia Brief in your inbox every Tuesday, please sign up here.

Community Spread Has Begun

Most South Asian countries locked their borders down last week or even earlier, but the number of confirmed coronavirus cases keep rising, particularly in Pakistan and India. This trend suggests that the region has likely moved from phase two of the virus outbreak, when transmission is traced to people who have arrived from foreign countries, to phase three, when the disease is spreading more widely among communities.

Resolving the Ghani-Abdullah impasse in Afghanistan

John Allen and Michael E. O’Hanlon

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just returned from an emergency trip to Afghanistan. His mission there did not center on the war against the Taliban, the peace process with the Taliban, or even the global coronavirus pandemic. Rather, his visit was intended to resolve a major dilemma within the Afghan government itself—the fact that the Afghan government now exists in two versions in the aftermath of last fall’s disputed presidential elections. President Ashraf Ghani, the previous incumbent, claims to have won reelection by a comfortable margin, a result confirmed by the Independent Electoral Commission in Afghanistan. He held an inauguration ceremony earlier this month, attended by U.S. officials, to begin his second term. Simultaneously, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, now a three-time presidential runner-up at least according to official tallies, claimed victory in a vote that he said was fraudulent—and held his own inauguration. Secretary Pompeo was unsuccessful in getting the two men to agree to a power-sharing arrangement, so upon his departure he stated that the Trump administration would cut $1 billion out of the several billion dollars in aid that, in addition to its military presence there, the United States now provides to the government of Afghanistan.

We have not been supporters of President Trump’s often off-the-cuff dismissiveness of the importance of the Afghanistan mission to U.S. security, or of his frequent threats to radically curtail or end the U.S./NATO mission there. However, this time, Pompeo’s threats are commensurate with the strategic situation as well as the stakes at hand. The American taxpayer cannot be expected to support duplicative—or even competing—Afghan governments that will have no realistic chance of bringing peace to that country. As Abraham Lincoln rightly said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. Pompeo, who stopped by Doha, Qatar, on his way home from Afghanistan to have an amicable conversation with Taliban negotiators, should be careful not to overdo his friendliness toward our longstanding adversary in this conflict, even as a tactic to pressure Ghani and Abdullah. But it remains true that the Taliban will benefit from any enduring weakening of the Afghan government that results from this impasse.

Afghanistan is Drifting Toward Civil War. The Coronavirus Pandemic Makes One More Likely.

by Arif Rafiq
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America has finally laid down the law in Afghanistan, where Ashraf Ghani and Dr. Abdullah remain mired in a dispute over last September’s presidential elections. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan as part of a bid to broker a deal between the Afghan leaders. Pompeo’s intervention failed. He then left the country announcing the reduction of U.S. aid to the country by $1 billion and threatening another $1 billion reduction the next year.

For over a year, the wily Ghani has played America like a fiddle. He has also outsmarted his political rivals and the Taliban. Ghani obtained international support for the ill-advised move to go forward with presidential elections. Then he not only rigged those polls in his favor, but also eventually moved forward with his presidential inauguration, leaving world powers with little choice but to recognize his government. And he has stifled multiple efforts at initiating an intra-Afghan dialogue process that would deny his government a lead role.

But like the Aesopian fox, Ghani has been too clever by half.

29 March 2020

On the Political Impasse in Afghanistan

The United States is proud of our partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Afghan people, and admires what Afghanistan has achieved since 2001. We have forged a deep bond, especially with Afghan security forces, through shared sacrifice in responding to threats to international peace and security since 2001. Underscoring the national priority the United States attaches to helping bring about a political settlement to forty years of devastating war, Secretary Pompeo came to Kabul today with an urgent message. He spoke directly to the nation’s leaders to impress upon them the need to compromise for the sake of the Afghan people.

The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens. The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests. Their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.

Is Islamabad’s Pathetic COVID-19 Response In Balochistan Motivated? – OpEd

By Nilesh Kunwar

In times of coronavirus, when rumour mills are working overtime and social media is pregnant with stories of sinister plots and intrigue, one has learnt to be more discerning when it comes to believing conspiracy theories.

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t think much of a piece titled ‘Pakistan is using Coronavirus as a Biological Weapon against Balochistan’ written by Dr Murad Baloch that appeared in the media last week. I would probably have missed out the weighty import of Dr Baloch’s incisive insight had Pakistan Health Minister Zafar Mirza not tried to use the SAARC video conference forum on coronavirus to rake up the issue of Kashmir in a rather fatuous manner.

However, it was a comment by a reader advising Mirza to focus more on tackling the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan rather than worrying about Kashmir that got me thinking. After seeing a proud man like Prime Minister Imran Khan literally going down on his knees and begging the world community “to think of some sort of a debt write-off for countries like us which are very vulnerable,” the reader’s suggestion made even more sense.

The Afghanistan Exodus: Why America Must Leave Kabul Behind

by Max Frost

If America withdraws from Afghanistan, will it return to the chaos of the 1990s? Those who want the United States to stay fear that it would, with warlords and Islamists vying for control, terrorist groups proliferating and hard-won gains immediately lost. Yet another possible outcome is that regional powers would fill the vacuum and Afghanistan would become their problem instead. The United States can live with this result.

A 2019 Rand Corporation report articulates the view of those who want U.S. soldiers to remain in Afghanistan: following withdrawal, the Kabul government will “lose influence and legitimacy,” power will devolve to regional militias and warlords, and extremist groups will proliferate as the country descends into civil war. The Washington Post’s Max Boot adds that withdrawing would “squander the military’s sacrifices since 2001.” The Council on Foreign Relations argues that the United States has a “vital interest in preserving the many political, economic, and security gains.”

28 March 2020

Press Statement - Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State - On the Political Impasse in Afghanistan

The United States is proud of our partnership with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Afghan people, and admires what Afghanistan has achieved since 2001. We have forged a deep bond, especially with Afghan security forces, through shared sacrifice in responding to threats to international peace and security since 2001. Underscoring the national priority the United States attaches to helping bring about a political settlement to forty years of devastating war, Secretary Pompeo came to Kabul today with an urgent message. He spoke directly to the nation’s leaders to impress upon them the need to compromise for the sake of the Afghan people.

The United States deeply regrets that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and former Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have informed Secretary Pompeo that they have been unable to agree on an inclusive government that can meet the challenges of governance, peace, and security, and provide for the health and welfare of Afghan citizens. The United States is disappointed in them and what their conduct means for Afghanistan and our shared interests. Their failure has harmed U.S.-Afghan relations and, sadly, dishonors those Afghan, Americans, and Coalition partners who have sacrificed their lives and treasure in the struggle to build a new future for this country.

26 March 2020

Pakistan: Changing The Status In Gilgit Baltistan – Analysis

By Ajit Kumar Singh*
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Nasir Aziz Khan, an activist from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), speaking at the 43rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Geneva, on March 10, 2020, raised deep concern over “growing human rights violations taking place in PoK [PaK] and Gilgit Baltistan”. He stated that “peaceful political activists and members of civil society have become targets of state infrastructure”.

He urged the UNHRC to ask, “Pakistan to release all peaceful political prisoners including Baba Jan and Iftikhar Hussain and their colleagues who were trailed under Anti-terrorist act and facing 40 to 80 years imprisonment.”

Baba Jan is one of the most popular leaders in the region, who is serving a life sentence in prison for his alleged role in inciting violence in the region in 2010.

Khan also stressed that “terrorists’ network and infrastructure are very much intact in these areas”. Though he did not specify the groups, he added that “leaders of banned terrorist organizations are roaming freely”.

The Coming Crisis Along the Iran-Pakistan Border

By Muhammad Akbar Notezai

The killing of Qassem Soleimani at the beginning of 2020 created uncertainty over Iran’s role not only in the Middle East, but in South Asia as well. As the head of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) — the unit responsible for external military and covert operations — Soleimani extensively increased Iran’s sphere of influence in the region.

Pakistan, for its part, expressed “deep concern” over potential rising U.S.-Iran tensions in the aftermath of Soleimani’s killing. Pakistan’s concern is understandable. As Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi stated, geography inexorably links Pakistan’s security with stability in the Middle East. This is particularly the case in relation to Iran, due to the nearly 600 mile border shared with Iran along Pakistan’s Balochistan province. With turbulent Iran-Pakistan strategic relations over the latter’s increasing tilt toward Saudi Arabia, the Balochistan border has also been a site of conflict, with each side lambasting the other for providing sanctuaries to militant groups in their respective provinces.

Soleimani’s death is likely to increase militancy for two reasons. First, his successor, Ismail Qaani, is focused on Iran’s eastern border and on drug cartel movement in the border region. This is highly likely to escalate the tension in the region in the coming years. Second, Baloch Sunni militancy is rearing its head, and Qaani, having been looking after Iran’s priorities in the region, is likely to respond to this trend with more force than his predecessor, Soleimani.

25 March 2020

The Terrorist Who Got Away

By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

With its snow-capped mountains and its emerald valleys, teeming with apple orchards and fields of saffron, India’s northernmost province of Jammu and Kashmir can sometimes resemble an enchanted kingdom. But for decades, this patch of ground has instead felt cursed, as the center of a bloody and seemingly never-ending conflict between India and Pakistan. Although 70 years have passed since the area became a part of India, it remains a flash point between the two nations.

This August, India moved to cement Jammu and Kashmir’s place in the Indian union by revoking the autonomy it was granted at the time of its accession. While the change was largely welcomed in Jammu, which is predominantly Hindu, it sparked anger in the overwhelmingly Muslim Kashmir valley, where a separatist movement has simmered since the late 1980s. To pre-empt large-scale protests and anticipated violence, the Indian government enforced a security clampdown across the valley, shutting down mobile-phone and Internet services and placing dozens of political leaders and activists under house arrest. Seven months on, Kashmir remains tense. Only in the last month have restrictions on internet use been lifted and mobile internet speeds restored to full capacity.

Indian officials say these tough measures were necessary not only to prevent civic unrest but also to guard against the threat of terrorism from across the border. They point to a long history of attacks inflicted upon Kashmir and other targets in India by groups based in Pakistan. Just a year ago, the Jaish-e-Muhammad — a terrorist organization led by a 51-year-old Pakistani cleric named Masood Azhar — directed a deadly car bombing against a convoy of troops in Pulwama, near Srinagar, killing at least 40 members of the Central Reserve Police Force. The attack was carried out by a 22-year-old Indian man who left his village in Kashmir a year earlier to join the ranks of the Jaish. Within an hour of the bombing, the group claimed responsibility for it on social media and circulated a video of the young attacker, dressed in fatigues and holding an assault rifle, declaring that the Jaish had thousands of soldiers like him who were ready to undertake suicide missions to free Kashmir from India.

Israel vs. Hezbollah: The Third Lebanon War

By Dr. Ehud Eilam

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Ever since the 2006 war, Israel has preferred to contain Hezbollah rather than fight it directly. So determined was Israel to avoid going to war with the terrorist group that it tolerated its significant military buildup. Since 2012, however, the IAF has carried out hundreds of sorties inside Syria aimed at stopping the delivery of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. Israel can continue to delay the arming of Hezbollah, but it has already become quite strong, and a war could occur even if neither side wants it.

Tensions between Israel and Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, have reached the point where war might well ensue. Neither side wants this, at least not right now, but it could still occur, either as a result of miscalculations and or of a rapid escalation that got out of control.

The two sides confronted each other in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s, and their 34-day war in the summer of 2006 ended in a tie. According to the IDF’s strategy document of 2018, the next time Israel and Hezbollah go to war, the IDF will be eager to strike the group hard in order to achieve a fast victory.

Peace Is Easier Said Than Done in Afghanistan

By Ankit Panda

Along with much of Central Asia, Iran, and parts of the Middle East, Afghanistan celebrates the Nowruz New Year festival this week. Nowruz is a time to celebrate springtime, rebirth, and new beginnings. In the aftermath of the historic February 29 U.S.-Taliban deal, it certainly has felt as if Afghanistan is due to see the start of a new era in its history. Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar sat down next to Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. peace envoy, in Doha, Qatar, that day and the two signed an agreement that appeared to hold the key to ending almost 19 years of continuous war.

If you missed it, the contours of the deal are fairly straightforward, even if the details are not. The United States has agreed to gradually withdraw its forces in Afghanistan over a period of 14 months provided that the Taliban prevent terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, from using territory under their control to stage operations or attacks.

The Afghan government, which wasn’t party to the deal, has assented to its existence, but what has become clear in the three weeks since the signing ceremony is that implementation won’t be easy. While the United States might be able to leave Afghanistan, the Afghan people themselves might not find the peace they seek too easily.

24 March 2020

Here's How China Made Pakistan Into a Military Powerhouse

by Charlie Gao

Key point: Pakistan's weapons are no joke and China helped them get there. Here's all the different assistance that Beijing has rendered over the years.

As Pakistan’s relationship has soured with the United States in the past two decades, Pakistan’s armed forces have largely looked towards Chinese suppliers for equipment. While China has long supplied Pakistan’s armed forces, the relationship has deepened in recent years, with Pakistan making major purchases of top-of-the-line Chinese export equipment.

Here are some of the most powerful weapons China has sold or licensed to Pakistan.

1. Nuclear Weapons Program

The acquisition of nuclear weapons in the 1990s is considered to be one of the largest failings of the nuclear nonproliferation regime. But, it is widely said that China provided significant assistance to the Pakistani nuclear weapons program (in addition to the A.Q. Khan’s espionage). China is alleged to have provided missile components, warhead designs, and even highly-enriched uranium. The political motive behind this is clear, Pakistan acts as an effective foil against growing Indian regional ambitions. But it is clear that nuclear assistance is the most deadly example of Chinese/Pakistani defense cooperation.

23 March 2020

Finding ‘The End’ to Our Story in Afghanistan May Be The Best We Could Do

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For years in the Afghanistan war, many experts complained that the United States was “moving the goalposts,” adding objectives, and allowing “mission creep.” If that’s true, then the peace agreement signed with the Taliban on Feb. 29 moves the goalposts all the way back to the one-yard line, and relies on the other team to score the touchdown for us.

The accord formally gives up on the out-of-fashion U.S. goals of building a democracy based on the rule of law, and promoting civil organizations to bolster the society for the future. Even the desire to provide Afghan women with western-style rights, or anything close to that, is being left to the Afghans to determine.

It’s important to remember that the United States did not invade Afghanistan to help the Afghan people. We invaded to protect ourselves — to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a base for attacks on the United States as it was on 9-11. For decades, the belief had been that the only way to do that over the long term was to add the “mission creep” goals. The “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan” is an admission that it is beyond our ability to achieve those goals. We leave them to the Afghans. But what’s really worrying is that we would also leave the original, core objective — American security — to the Afghans.

22 March 2020

In post-US Afghanistan, what are India’s options?

In American troops in Afghanistan. The US is keen to end its longest-ever conflict, and under the terms of a deal signed in Doha last month has said all foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months -- provided the Taliban stick to their security commitments. (AFP)

The peace deal reached between the United States and the Taliban on February 29 in Qatar notwithstanding, Afghanistan can descend into turmoil and instability yet again.

The contested election results and the parallel swearing-in ceremonies in Kabul combined with the signing of the peace pact and the beginning of another phase of insurgent violence have thrown up stark policy choices for New Delhi, testing its 'soft power' and 'middle-of-the-road' policy.

Despite its investments in Afghanistan for the past 18 years, it now appears that New Delhi remains a bystander to a rapidly changing political situation in that country.

Under the security umbrella provided by Washington, New Delhi adopted a 'soft power' approach, pledging aid and development assistance of more than US $3 billion.

21 March 2020

Houthis report capture of province bordering Saudi Arabia

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Houthi fighters enter the government center of Yemen’s al Jawf Governorate.

Following a recent offensive over the last few weeks in Yemen’s northern al Jawf Governorate, the Houthi insurgency has reported that its forces are in ‘full control’ of the area.

In a statement released earlier today, Yahya Saree, the Houthi movement’s military spokesman, announced that the insurgents had taken over most of al Jawf except for a few areas closer to the borders with Saudi Arabia.

Those areas, such as the Khub wal Shaaf district, were recently retaken by Yemeni forces of the Saudi-backed coalition. This also includes al Yatma, where the Houthis also recently attempted to assassinate the governor of al Jawf with a ballistic missile.

Despite those areas, the Houthis remain in firm control of al Jawf’s capital, al Hazm – which was captured earlier this month – and its various surrounding districts.

Photos released by the Houthis today also detail the movement’s firm control over the provincial capital.

In separate statements over the last few days, the Houthis have also claimed to have shot down several Saudi F-15s with Fatir-1 anti-aircraft missiles, which were first showcased last year.

Though only one recently claimed downing, which occurred last month, appears to be confirmed.

20 March 2020

China Plays NIMBY With the Taliban

Austin Bodetti

RABAT: As officials in Beijing continue to battle coronavirus, China’s notorious campaign to oppress its Muslim ethnic groups into submission is receiving less attention from the news media. Chinese leaders frame the imprisonment of a million Uyghurs as counterterrorism, arguing for the need to reeducate Muslim minority groups in China to prevent extremism. Chinese policymakers’ efforts to engage with militants considered terrorists by the Western world, however, speaks to a far more complex reality in Beijing’s halls of power.

China has long sought to distinguish between domestic militants in the Uyghur-heavy region of Xinjiang, whom Chinese officials consider a national security threat, and foreign extremists who target Western national interests. China’s relationship with the Taliban provides the best example.

The Taliban in Afghanistan

by Lindsay Maizland and Zachary Laub

The Taliban is a predominantly Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001, when a U.S.-led invasion toppled the regime for providing refuge to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The Taliban regrouped across the border in Pakistan and has led an insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for more than eighteen years.

Experts say the Taliban is stronger now than at any point in recent memory, controlling dozens of Afghan districts and continuing to launch attacks against both government and civilian targets. An agreement signed by U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s administration and the Taliban in early 2020 could mark a new stage for the militant group as it starts intra-Afghan negotiations on Afghanistan’s future.

How was the Taliban formed?

19 March 2020

Troop Exodus: Why the War In Afghanistan Has Become Another U.S. Foreign Policy Failure

by Lawrence J. Korb 

The deal that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban on Feb. 29, 2020, ends U.S. military involvement in the war in Afghanistan over the next fourteen months. But was it a good deal?

My experience with two separate incidents, one as a member of the U.S. Navy in Vietnam and the other as a member of a team tasked with ending the war in Afghanistan, has influenced my opinion.

The first incident occurred in 1965 when I was a junior Naval Flight Officer deployed to Vietnam. Like my colleagues, I was initially thankful to be part of an effort to prevent what we were told was Soviet Communist expansion in Southeast Asia (the Domino Theory) by defeating Communist North Vietnam’s attempt to destroy the democratically elected South Vietnamese government. However, a few months into my deployment, it became clear to me that the government we were fighting for was corrupt and did not have the support of the majority of the South Vietnamese people. Moreover, it was also clear to me that it would be impossible for us to achieve our goal at an acceptable cost.

Will the First Steps of the U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal Be Enough?

by Stratfor Worldview 

After a weeklong reduction in violence in Afghanistan, the United States and the Taliban are set to sign a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, on Feb. 29. Both sides hope the deal will be the first step toward ending U.S. involvement in the Afghan war and bringing peace to a land that has been in an almost constant state of war since 1979. Two of the most important points of the agreement include the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and a promise from the Taliban that it will not allow transnational militant groups to use the country as a base. Once it's signed, the next step will be talks among the Afghan government, the Taliban and other parties to establish a durable cease-fire and eventually end the country's war. But the road ahead will be strewn with pitfalls. 

A U.S. Withdrawal 

Among the stickiest issues to be addressed that could derail peace talks or cause other complications is the size of the U.S. security footprint in Afghanistan. As a U.S. withdrawal begins, the size and composition of its contingent in the country will be a point of contention. The strength of remaining conventional U.S. military forces, the number of troops devoted to counterterrorism operations and remaining U.S. intelligence assets will be points of contention. The Taliban has firmly maintained a public stance of demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces, while the United States seems intent on maintaining a presence.