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Nawaz-Obama: Shall the twine meet!

1213Before leaving for the US, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif had said that he would remind US President Barack Obama of former President Bill Clinton’s promise to play an active role for the resolution of Kashmir dispute. Nawaz Sharif also said that he “wants to bring the Taliban back to the negotiation table.” These two issue are likely to top the agenda in Nawaz-Obama summit. Though laundry list could and would include everything under the sun. Obama’s political muscle would specially come under stress on the issue of Kashmir; it will be interesting to see how he restores a balance in America’s Kashmir policy. As for Afghanistan he has already  ensured that it continues to rot at least until 2017 and may be beyond; till then poor Nawaz is destined to stay embroiled in what may turn out to be a shaky negotiation process between the the two problem children, Afghan government and Afghan political resistant groups led by Taliban. With this year’s fighting seasons coming to close, Taliban will have ample time to negotiate till launch of next spring offensive  in April 2016.

Afghanistan has hailed the remarks made by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would exert efforts in bringing back the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. Afghanistan’s CEO Dr Abdullah also wanted Islamabad’s help in ending the “capability” of the Taliban in launching major attacks.

In a historic judgement, high court of IHK has declared that Jammu and Kashmir continue to retain limited sovereignty and it did not merge with the Dominion of India after partition in 1947. The court has ruled that the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution is “a permanent provision” and “cannot be abrogated, repealed or even amended”. The IHK court’s judgement has shaken the very foundation on which Indians try to justify the forcible occupation of the state. While Hindu mobs are busy killing beef eaters in India, ostensibly with the connivance of law enforcing agencies, Chief Minister of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar of BJP has come up with a funny solution. He has asked people—read Muslims— “stop eating beef to avid mob attacks”! Recently a scuffle also broke out in IHK assembly on the issue of beef eating.

The Taliban insurgents, no longer called as terrorists by Americans, are now spread through more parts of the country than at any point since 2001, according to the recent United Nations estimates. During previous weeks, the Taliban scored their biggest victory of the war, seizing the northern city of Kunduz and holding it for more than two weeks. Incidents of breaking Ghazni Jail, freeing hundreds of militant inmates and later threatening posture toward this urban centre speak for themselves. Earlier unrelenting attacks in and around Kabul had amply demonstrated the expanse of Taliban’s combat activities.

And to offset the embarrassment of hitting a hospital in Kunduz, CIA has had an afterthought to implicate their “on call scapegoat”—Pakistan. Associated Press (AP) has carried a story that American special operations analysts believed that the hospital was being used by a Pakistani intelligence operative to coordinate Taliban activity. “Doctors Without Borders” a humanitarian outfit that was running the hospital has denied this. Spokesperson of Pakistan’s foreign office has termed the story by the AP as baseless and unwarranted. Even if the allegations are true, the billion dollars question is: Was bombing the hospital—in a typical cowboy style— the only available option?

Moreover, in a long anticipated move, President Barack Obama has extended the stay of current level of American forces— 9,800 US troops through most of 2016. Now this contingent shall be available to help or say rescue the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) when Taliban launch their next “Spring Offensive” in April 2016. Obama has set aside his promise to end the war during his presidency; now he will hand over the longest conflict to his successor; he has also abandoned his plans to leave just a small, embassy based force of around 1,000 personnel in Kabul beyond 2016. Now, nearly 5,500 soldiers would still be lingering in Afghanistan when Obama leaves Presidency. Citing an Afghan force which is “still not as strong as they need to be”, Obama said that the level of 9,800 troops will be maintained through most of 2016. “I have decided that instead of going down to a normal embassy presence in Kabul by the end of 2016, we will maintain 5,500 troops at a small number of bases.” These forces will be based in Kabul and at Bagram Air Field, as well as bases in Jalalabad and Kandahar; and will be able to operate quickly when needed. Obama said that while Afghan forces have made progress, the security situation in the country remains fragile: “I suspect that we will continue to evaluate this going forward, as will the next president”.

President Obama has acknowledged efforts of Pakistan and its ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb. “Pressure from Pakistan has resulted in more al Qaeda coming into Afghanistan.” Obama has said that he would meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on October 22 to discuss his plan for peace in the Pak-Afghan region. “I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve,” Obama said. “By now it should be clear to the Taliban, and all who oppose Afghanistan’s progress, the only real way to achieve the full drawdown of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan is through a lasting political settlement with the Afghan government.”

As Obama announced to extend stay of US troops in Afghanistan, the Taliban responded: “The Islamic Emirate believes that military solution is not a way out of the Afghan issue. We believe that when Afghans are convinced, regarding the end of occupation and withdrawal of foreign troops, then all problems could be easily solved through intra-Afghan understanding and dialogue”. And, “To end fighting, we are ready to initiate meaningful negotiations with all concerned sides”, the Afghan Taliban said in a statement.
President Obama conceded that his decision followed months of deliberations with Afghanistan’s leaders, Pentagon officials, field commanders and White House advisers about how best to support Afghan forces. Proposal has been under consideration sine visit of President Ashraf Ghani and Dr Abdullah to the US in March this year. The US troops will continue in their role of training and advising Afghan forces, they will not be engaged in combat missions, Obama said.

Obama’s foreign policy has become an issue among candidates running for the White House in the November 2016 election. Jeb Bush, one of Republican candidates, welcomed the move: “While I am glad President Obama has dropped his plan to abandon the region entirely, if he is truly committed to fighting terrorism and securing a stable Afghanistan, he shouldn’t short change what our military commanders have said they need to complete the mission”. The foreign ministry of Russia, remarked that it doubted the US decision would ease the situation in the country, RIA news agency reported.

State Department has issued a fact sheet on its ties with Pakistan, a week before Nawaz-Obama summit, which highlights co-operation between the two countries in various fields. “Pakistan has generally co-operated with the United States in counter-terrorism efforts and since 2001, has captured more than 600 Al Qaeda members and their allies,” says the statement. And that security assistance to Pakistan is focused on “strengthening the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities of the Pakistan security forces”.

Through perseverance, Pakistan is bravely charting its way forward through vortices thrown up by assortment of fictions and myths. It wishes to continue its contributions for making South Asia a peaceful and stable region, and it certainly needs a break from an unrelenting fiction based bashing spree. While nothing dramatic is expected out of the summit, there may be substantive decisions on some of the issues. Hopefully, Prime Minister would put forward his point of view firmly when he meets Obama, and would shed his typical apologetic approach while discussing issues related to Afghanistan and India, especially border violations by these two countries and the core issue of Kashmir.

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Afghan peace process back to Doha

Marathon talks between US Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban, in Doha, are concentrating on two questions: continuation of American military bases in Afghanistan, and Taliban guarantees of not letting Afghanistan’s territory be used as launching pad against any third country. Taliban are also ready to undertake that they would not support Al-Qaida and Daesh. Mullah Berader is now leading Taliban’s team. Both sides have acknowledged progress on vital points. For the first time Afghan peace process may be moving in the right direction. During the fifth trip of US Special Envoy Ambassador Zalmay to Pakistan, both sided reiterated their shared intent of an Afghan led and Afghan owned political settlement of Afghan conflict. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the dispute highlights a split that has emerged among countries with an interest in the region, with Pakistan and the US pushing Taliban to open talks with Kabul and other countries, including Iran, supporting the Taliban’s stance; “Iran and Qatar are supporting Taliban’s way but Pakistan is saying what the Afghan government and the US wanted”.Pakistan is not averse to the US’ demands but wants a ‘regional consensus’ on it since permanent presence of the US military in Afghanistan would certainly raise eyebrows in Russia, Iran and even China. These countries fear that the US may use the Afghan soil to advance its own strategic designs in the region. For this reason, Pakistan is striving to evolve a regional consensus on the possible Afghan peace deal. Guarantees and assurances aimed at promoting peace and security of both Afghanistan and other countries are understandable. However, demand for permanent military presence is indicative of the desire not only to keep Afghans subjugated but also to brow-beat other regional countries.

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