The Independent & The Power and Interest News Report – 2006-12-02 09:49:52
NATO Urged to Plan Afghanistan Exit Strategy as Violence Soars
Stephen Castle & Kim Sengupta / The Independent
BRUSSELS & KABUL (November 27, 2006) — NATO’s fragile unity over Afghanistan has begun to crack ahead of an important summit – with one public call to discuss an exit strategy from the Allied forces’ bloody confrontation with the Taliban.
While heads of government are to make a show of unity over Afghanistan at tomorrow’s alliance summit in Riga, Belgium’s Defence Minister has questioned the future of NATO’s most important mission.
And heads of the alliance’s 26 nations are unlikely to agree to send reinforcements to Afghanistan – dealing a blow to Tony Blair’s hopes that others will take up more of the increasingly heavy burden.
In the bloodiest day of violence to grip the country in many weeks, a series of fierce clashes between NATO forces and Taliban fighters and a suicide bombing left 76 people dead and more than 45 injured yesterday, many of them children.
Though Belgium only makes a small military contribution to the NATO mission, the Minister’s comments will alarm senior figures at the alliance’s headquarters where there is already concern that France is getting cold feet about its role in Afghanistan. Paris has remained publicly committed to the mission but NATO sources are concerned about the possibility of an eventual French withdrawal. They are pressing for an enhanced UN profile in Afghanistan to reassure the French who are suspicious about an expanded role for NATO because of Washington’s hold over the alliance.
André Flahaut, the Belgian Defence Minister, brought anxieties about the Afghan mission into the open when he suggested that, at the Riga summit, “we finally reflect on an exit strategy”. Five years after the start of Western involvement in Afghanistan, Mr Flahaut calls into question its prospects of success.
In an interview with Le Vif-L’Express magazine, Mr Flahaut argued: “The situation is deteriorating and, over time, NATO forces risk appearing like an army of occupation.” Discussions of an exit strategy are the last thing the NATO top brass wants to hear because it is hoping to use this week to reinforce a message of unity on Afghanistan.
The summit in Riga – the first to be held on ex-Soviet territory – will be attended by, among others, George Bush, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair.
The rising violence in Afghanistan could be seen yesterday, with NATO reporting the loss of one soldier and 57 insurgents killed during four separate attacks in the south. Local people said at least 12 civilians died during an air strike.
Just hours after the fighting in Oruzgan province, a suicide bomber destroyed a restaurant in the Orgun district of Paktika. The blast is believed to have been aimed at an Afghan military commander but among the 25 dead and 20 injured were a number of children.
With 37 countries, including a host of non-NATO nations, contributing to the operation in Afghanistan a total of about 32,000 troops have been assembled.
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Intelligence Brief: Islamabad Assesses that the Taliban Will Not Be Defeated
The Power and Interest News Report
(November 15, 2006) — Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently stated that his country will not allow US strikes on militants within its borders. Speaking to CNN on November 12, Aziz said, “We do not allow any country to violate our sovereignty. We are committed to fighting terrorism but it has to be fought together. We are totally capable of taking care of activities within our borders and we do not encourage or allow any country to violate this understanding.”
Aziz’s statement reflects the delicate balancing act that Pakistan has been forced to perform in the past few years as the insurgency in Afghanistan has intensified.
The problem for the Musharraf regime in Islamabad is that in order to preserve stability within the country, it must comply with the United States and its allies in pursuing the “war on terrorism.” For Pakistan, this means cooperating with the United States in combating and capturing al-Qaeda affiliated militants, in addition to making efforts to assist US-led reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. In the early years after 2001, Islamabad largely complied with these two objectives.
This policy, however, was contingent on the relative stability of Pakistan’s long, western border with Afghanistan. Provided that the border region remained stable, Islamabad was able to cooperate with the United States. Increased instability in this region, however, would make it difficult for Islamabad to continue to support US policies since such support would cause domestic unrest and threaten the stability of the regime.
In addition to the restive province of Baluchistan in the southwest, the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is inhabited by the Pashtun ethnic group who do not recognize the boundary between the two countries and have clan ties with their brethren on both sides of the border; this area of Pakistan, known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (F.A.T.A.), has never been governed by Islamabad directly.
As the international effort in Afghanistan failed to rout the remnants of the Taliban completely, the insurgency there grew stronger. This Taliban revivalist insurgency, which is predominately composed of Pashtun elements, drew its support and rear base from Pakistan. Now, five years after the US-led intervention in Afghanistan, the conditions in western Pakistan have become restive, and Musharraf no longer believes that the situation is containable or acceptable without a change in policies.
Musharraf’s thinking can be seen in his recent decision to make peace with tribal leaders in North Waziristan Agency and his attempt to make peace with tribal leaders in Bajaur Agency, the latter of which fell apart as outside forces likely pressured Musharraf to attack those with whom he was negotiating. Based upon these decisions, it is clear that Musharraf believes that international efforts to exclude the Taliban from political power in Afghanistan will fail. [See: “Intelligence Brief: Musharraf Struggles Against Tribal Militants”]
As part of this assessment, Islamabad recognizes that it cannot afford to lose political influence with the Pashtun tribes on the border. For instance, if the Taliban and its Pashtun supporters are not defeated in Afghanistan, then the movement will flourish. For Pakistan, which is most concerned about its eastern front with India, it would be a strategic blunder to spark an insurgency in the west.
Therefore, Islamabad’s dealing with tribal militants displays its revised assessment that the Taliban will not be defeated in Afghanistan. The reason, however, that Islamabad continues to launch occasional strikes against tribal leaders, such as the incident that recently occurred in Bajaur Agency, is because Islamabad is still subject to its interest of cooperating with the United States and its allies in the “war on terrorism.” Pakistan, therefore, is forced to follow dual policies which are, at some moments, contradictory.
If Musharraf were to cease attacks against tribal militants, it could force the United States and NATO to launch autonomous attacks in Pakistani territory in order to neutralize threats that Islamabad refuses to handle. For the United States and N.A.T.O., it is clear that much of the Taliban’s support and recruitment base is in Pakistan’s tribal and frontier regions.
If US-led cross-border attacks were to occur, it could spell the death knell of Musharraf’s grip on power. Musharraf already faces domestic unrest over his cooperation with the United States, and his failure to prevent the United States and its allies from attacking Pakistani territory would make him extremely unpopular at home and could cause his very own power base, the military, to unseat him.
Therefore, Musharraf and the rest of the government in Islamabad are forced to walk a tightrope in the handling of Pashtun elements in the border region. Until it becomes clear which side is going to prevail — either Kabul agrees to some form of a government power-sharing role with the resurgent Taliban, or the US-led coalition turns the tide on the Taliban insurgency — Islamabad will continue to pursue these contradictory policies.
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