The South Asia Channel
Daily brief: training Afghan forces could take years: Karzai in London
A London bridge As today’s much-heralded international summit on Afghanistan in London kicked off earlier today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned, "By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide," as his co-host Afghan President Hamid Karzai cautioned that Kabul will need international support for up to 15 years (NYT, AFP, ...
A London bridge
As today’s much-heralded international summit on Afghanistan in London kicked off earlier today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned, "By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide," as his co-host Afghan President Hamid Karzai cautioned that Kabul will need international support for up to 15 years (NYT, AFP, WSJ, BBC, Guardian, FT, BBC, Tel). As expected, Karzai laid out the bones of his plan for reconciling with Taliban militants, saying he would hold a traditional loya jirga this spring, the first major tribal meeting in eight years, and called on Saudi Arabia to play a role in mediation, which Pakistan hopes to do as well (Reuters, BBC, Wash Post, CNN, Pajhwok, AJE, Guardian). A second major gathering is being planned in Kabul in a few months.
Not among the some 70 nations represented at the one-day, high-security conference is Iran, Afghanistan’s neighbor and a significant regional player, whose foreign minister said earlier this week that because the summit’s approach is supposedly "towards increasing military action in Afghanistan," the country "does not consider it as useful" to attend (Guardian, Reuters, Guardian, NYT, Press TV). Britain’s Foreign Office issued a statement earlier today criticizing Iran’s decision to "isolate itself from this event."
Writing in today’s London Times, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen observed, "Transition is not a code-word for exit," and that the international community and the Afghan government have agreed to increase the size of Afghanistan’s security forces to 305,600 soldiers and policemen by 2011 (Times). And Afghan MPs reportedly met with a relative of the Afghan insurgent commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the Maldives a few days ago, a possible step toward negotiation, though no agreements were reached (McClatchy).
A solemn pact
Dexter Filkins writes about a recent pact among leaders of the Shinwari tribe in eastern Afghanistan, with some 400,000 members, to battle to keep the Taliban out of their land, support the Afghan government, and burn down the home of any Afghans who harbor the insurgents (NYT). U.S. military officials welcomed the move with a promise of some $1 million in development aid and $200,000 for jobs programs, but in the past, the Afghan government and international forces have been unable to prevent Taliban retaliation, and tribal loyalties could switch (AP).
Two senior Taliban commanders were reportedly killed in a joint NATO-Afghan air and ground assault targeting a militant compound west of the capital of Afghanistan’s northern Baghlan province yesterday, according to the provincial police chief (AP).
In an unusual attack in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, four gunmen on motorcycles ambushed a convoy of NATO trucks supplying the international war effort in Afghanistan, throwing a grenade inside one and wounding three Pakistani civilian employees (NYT, BBC, Geo, Dawn, AFP).
Last week’s report that a Filipino bomb-maker affiliated with the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf extremist group and the southeast Asian Jemaah Islamiyah network was killed by a suspected U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan appears to be a case of mistaken identity (CP). Abdul Basit Usman, according to a Philippine military spokesman, is believed by intelligence agencies to be in the country’s mountainous southern guerrilla strongholds, and the slain militant in Pakistan was reportedly another person also named Usman.
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg yesterday withdrew his support for the Obama administration’s plans to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and several other suspects in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the Southern District of New York, suggesting that a more secure location like a military base would be less costly and disruptive (NYT, AFP, USAT, Bloomberg). When the decision to try the suspects in New York was first announced in November, Bloomberg called it "fitting," but over the past few weeks the mayor has been meeting with opponents and community leaders who appear to have swayed him.
The Pakistani-American accused of spending two years scouting out Mumbai ahead of the deadly terrorist attacks in late 2008 that left more than 160 dead yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges against him, as did his alleged conspirator earlier this week (AFP, AP, WSJ, CPR, Reuters, BBC). David Coleman Headley is also accused of plotting attacks against a Danish newspaper that in 2005 published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, and is cooperating with the prosecution though it’s unclear whether a plea deal is in the works.
The road ahead
At least 25 km of roads in Kandahar City can soon expect to be black-topped, and an additional 50 km will be paved (Pajhwok). Some 300 Afghans have been given jobs working on the project.
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