Event notice: New York University’s Center for Law and Security is hosting an all-day conference today in New York City on “Counterinsurgency: America’s Strategic Burden.” Click here for more details.
“There are warlords and there are warlords”
As part of her media outreach following yesterday’s inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a brief but wide-ranging interview to Afghanistan’s Azadi Radio (State Department, AFP). Maintaining a conciliatory tone towards the embattled president, Clinton expressed a wish for the presence of more professionals and technocrats in the Afghan government; when asked whether the U.S. would support a Karzai administration with warlords, she said, “Well, there are warlords and there are warlords.”
In today’s must-read, Rajiv Chandrasekaran details the genesis and implications of the Obama administration’s new, “softer” approach to dealing with Karzai (Washington Post). This new “reset” involves more direct interaction between senior Obama administration officials and Afghan government officials, while taking a less aggressive and more cooperative tone with Karzai, implicitly admitting that past behavior towards Karzai may have worsened, not helped, the situation in Afghanistan.
While figures like Vice President Joe Biden and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke will interact less with Karzai under the new approach, Hillary Clinton is emerging as a crucial link between the Obama administration and Karzai, due to her self-described “long-term positive relationship” with the Afghan president (New York Times).
And Karzai’s inauguration in a locked-down, fortified Kabul drew tepid reviews from Afghan observers and Western officials alike (Independent). While Karzai sounded encouraging notes on fighting corruption and building up Afghan security forces in front of the closed audience of dignitaries, many are concerned about his ability to follow through on his promises (Wall Street Journal). Others questioned the presence in the government of men such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and Abdul Rahim Wardak, who are accused of committing grievous crimes (McClatchy, Guardian).
A market bombing
A suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed up to 16 and wounded 34 in Afghanistan’s southwestern Farah Province, which borders Iran (Pajhwok, AP, Reuters, BBC,
). Police tried in vain to stop the bomber, who detonated his explosives in the middle of a crowded square. And a roadside bomb killed three people and wounded four members of the same family in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost Province (
). Four attacks have hit Afghanistan since Karzai’s inauguration yesterday, killing a total of around 30 people (AFP). And an Afghan lawmaker and erstwhile warlord narrowly escaped assassination near Kabul earlier today (AP).
Troops decision watch
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that additional troops could be deployed “swiftly” to Afghanistan if the president decides to increase U.S. forces in the country, but pointed out that logistical challenges would make any deployment slower than those for the 2007 Iraq troop surge (AP). Gates also responded to U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s recent calls for a timeline to transition control of security to Afghan forces by saying that it was “too early” to decide on a schedule (AFP).
And as many around the world await word on Obama’s decision on troops, an analysis of his rapidly-filling schedule indicates that he will have limited opportunities in the coming weeks to make a formal announcement to the public (Washington Post). Obama is not expected to announce his decision before Thanksgiving, according to White House aides (Washington Post).
Gordon Brown has been out in front of the debates on Afghanistan in recent weeks — too far out front for some, both at home and abroad (Wall Street Journal, The Independent). U.S. officials have reportedly grown irritated at the British prime minister’s attempts to influence the debate in Washington, while he faces growing opposition to the Afghan war among Britain’s public and in its parliament.
And German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said Thursday that Germany has not ruled out sending more forces to Afghanistan; however, he added that any increase would depend on U.S. President Barack Obama’s new war strategy as well as the commitment of the Afghan government to improve security and crack down on corruption (Reuters).
Violence in Pakistan
A roadside bomb exploded next to a passing Pakistani police vehicle yesterday in Peshawar, killing three police officers and wounding as many as to six others (AFP, Dawn, AP, New York Times, Al Jazeera). The attack comes on the heels of yesterday’s suicide bomb attack on a Peshawar courthouse, and is the eighth attack in or around the northwestern Pakistani city to occur in the past two weeks.
A suspected U.S. drone strike has killed eight militants in Mir Ali, in the North Waziristan tribal agency (AP, Reuters, Dawn, AFP, BBC, CNN). The strike reportedly targeted a militant compound and a vehicle and is the second in North Waziristan in as many days.
Pakistan’s Army announced that it is on the verge of seizing the South Waziristan town of Janata, believed to be the last town where the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) trained suicide bombers and other fighters (FT). The seizure of the town would indicate increased Pakistani control over the region, though the majority of Taliban fighters are believed to have fled. And while spiraling terrorist violence has convinced many in Pakistan that a U.S. presence in Afghanistan is crucial to Pakistan’s security, doubts remain about the U.S.’s commitment to both countries, and the effect an influx of troops in Afghanistan might have on Pakistan (AP).
Politics in Pakistan
In another essential read today, Sabrina Tavernise analyzes the extremely tenuous Pakistani political situation, describing a Pakistan that has little faith in its elected civilian government, where constant speculation of a military coup circulates and a recent poll indicated that 59 percent of Pakistanis believe the U.S. poses a greater threat to Pakistan than India (New York Times). Other analysts concur that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s political position is increasingly shaky, and that without drastic reforms within his party he may soon be forced to resign or fall prey to the machinations of Pakistan’s army and opposition political groups (Foreign Policy).
CIA chief Leon Panetta is in Pakistan today and held talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, finding “intelligence cooperation” according to the premier’s office, and agreement on an “operational functioning between the two militaries and intelligence agencies” to eliminate the terror threat (AFP, AP). It is Panetta’s second trip to Pakistan since taking office and comes just a week after U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones made a similar trip.
The threat from within
The arrests last week of suspected Islamist militants David Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana are unique, in that instead of plotting to attack the U.S., the two are accused of using the Chicago area as a base from which to scout targets in India and plan an attack in Denmark (Washington Post, Reuters). Counterterrorism officials are reportedly alarmed at the prospect of the U.S. being used as a base from which to plan external attacks.
A Senate committee yesterday held the first hearings into the Fort Hood shootings, with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) among others asserting that the shootings were a “terrorist” attack (New York Times). The Pentagon also launched two separate investigations into the shootings yesterday (Washington Post). Defense Secretary Gates refused, however, to say whether or not he believed the Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism.
Should have just had the nose job
The chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has ruled out the return to Pakistan’s team of star bowler Shoaib Akhtar, after the latter underwent liposuction surgery without seeking the PCB’s permission as required by his contract (Daily Times). Akhtar, who has a long history of fitness problems, could take up to five months to recover fully from the surgery.
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