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Today, media outlets reported that rival tribes in the Kurram Agency [see CHUP's past piece on the status of the Kurram Agency, by Jehan Riar] signed a peace agreement. According to Dawn, the warring Bangash and Turi tribes “agreed they would vacate occupied bunkers and return to their respective areas. In the case of a violation of the agreement, the offending tribe would have to pay a fine of sixty million rupees.” The jirga between the tribes was first held in Islamabad and then Murree. Dawn noted, “Fifteen members each from the Shia and Sunni groups also participated in the jirga, which included 23 members from a reconciliation delegation.” The news agency reported,

According to the declaration, roads closed for the last one and a half year would be reopened, Shia and Sunni groups would return to their areas, all bunkers would be controlled by the Frontier Constabulary and the dead bodies would be exchanged between the tribes.

The agreement pledges to essentially end the fighting between the tribes, which has “claimed thousands of lives in the past year,” reported GEO News. Parts of the Kurram Agency, particularly Parachinar and surrounding areas, have been suffering from a blockade, which has led to a severe humanitarian crisis, [again, see Jehan's post, link above]. According to Dawn, “Peshawar-Parachinar Road will be opened today, with the declaration assigning responsibility for its security to the government.”

In other security-related news, several media outlets reported that the Pakistani Taliban are willing to sit down and hold “unconditional talks” with the Pakistani government, essentially meaning they are willing to negotiate an agreement without any conditions on the table. BBC News cited Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Mullah Omar, who told the news agency on Wednesday, “We are willing to negotiate with the government without any conditions…We are also willing to lay down our arms, once the military ceases operations against us.” According to Dawn‘s coverage, Mullah Omar also said the “local Taliban did not want foreign militants in the region and would help government to remove them. ‘We can set up a Shura (elders) committee to liaise with the authorities in removing such people,’ he said.” Moreover, reported the BBC, the spokesman said “it was useless to debate the security situation in parliament without taking the Taliban into confidence.”

Given the deteriorating security situation as well as the military’s progress [in weeding out the militant stronghold] in Bajaur, is sitting down with the Pakistani Taliban something the government should consider? We have seen in the past [particularly the very recent past], that ceasefires and negotiations with militant groups have fallen apart, or have given these organizations space and time to regroup. Will reaching a ceasefire, despite the lack of conditions, be different this time around, [see below poll]:

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Coverage of the U.S. 2008 presidential elections is everywhere – from news channels, to newspaper headlines, to blogs, to politico buttons and branded t-shirts. What is interesting, however, is that this kind of coverage is not exclusive to the United States. People throughout the international community have tuned in to hear developments related to the U.S. presidential race. In a series entitled, “The Vote Heard Around the World,” PBS Frontline‘s editor noted, “More than ever before, the votes Americans cast this election day will ripple out to the farthest reaches of the planet. For better or for worse, there will be no place unaffected by our choice.”

Inspired by this initiative, CHUP’s new poll asks you to vote – from a Pakistan perspective, who do you think should be the next President of the United States? Recent U.S.-Pakistan developments further exemplify the need to probe such a topic, [see CHUP's recent post on U.S. strikes in Pakistan]. Will a President McCain or a President Obama authorize further U.S. operations on Pakistan’s soil or will they respect the country’s sovereignty? How will they interact with a PPP-led government? While it is difficult to predict how a candidate will act when they are elected, below are recent statements and positions made by the current presidential and vice presidential candidates:

Republican Party Presidential Candidate John McCain & VP Candidate Sarah Palin:

According to McCain’s official 2008 campaign website:

As President, John McCain will ensure that America has the quality intelligence necessary to uncover plots before they take root, the resources to protect critical infrastructure and our borders against attack, and the capability to respond and recover from a terrorist incident swiftly.

Last year, McCain told reporters, “Success in Afghanistan is critical to stopping Al Qaeda, but success in neighbouring Pakistan is just as vital..The United States must help Pakistan resist the forces of extremism by making a long-term commitment to the country.” In terms of striking against Pakistan, his running mate, Sarah Palin, recently made a strong statement on the issue, a statement that some sources believe contradicts McCain’s stance on the issue. When asked by ABC News’ Charlie Gibson whether the U.S. has the right to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government, she asserted,

In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.

McCain, in contrast, said last month on Larry King Live, “I’m not going to go there. And here’s why, because Pakistan is a sovereign nation.”

Democratic Party Presidential Candidate Barack Obama & VP Candidate Joe Biden:

Barack Obama has made what many have dubbed, “controversial statements” regarding U.S. involvement in Pakistan last summer, when he said he believed the United States should hunt Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan. Although Obama raised this issue in a recent speech at the Woodrow WIlson International Center for Scholars this summer, [see CHUP's commentary on the speech], he also asserted his respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty, also noting his support and co-sponsorship of a Congressional bill [partly initiated by his VP candidate Sen. Joe Biden] that would “triple non-military aid to the Pakistani people and to sustain it for a decade…” He added during the speech, “We must move beyond a purely military alliance built on convenience, or face mounting popular opposition in a nuclear-armed nation at the nexus of terror and radical Islam.”

Obama has also criticized the current Republican administration’s foreign policy towards the rest of the world. His official 2008 campaign website cited him stating,

For eight years, we have paid the price for a foreign policy that lectures without listening; that divides us from one another – and from the world – instead of calling us to a common purpose; that focuses on our tactics in fighting a war without end in Iraq instead of forging a new strategy to face down the true threats that we face. We cannot afford four more years of a strategy that is out of balance and out of step with this defining moment.

Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has called for a new approach in U.S.-Pakistan relations. Biden has previously criticized Obama’s hawkish comments on Pakistan, telling reporters, “The last thing you want to do is telegraph to the folks in Pakistan plans that threaten their sovereignty.” He is a co-sponsor of the Biden-Lugar bill, along with Obama and Republican Sen. Lugar that would essentially tripe nonmilitary aid to Pakistan. The legislation proposes to authorize $7.5 billion to Pakistan over five years to be used for development purposes such as building schools, roads, and medical clinics. It also calls for “greater accountability on security assistance,” pushing Pakistan to step up counterterrorism efforts against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Last year, after former President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, Biden wrote in the politico blog, The Huffington Post, “If I were president today, I would be on the phone with Musharraf myself and make clear to him the risk to Pakistani-US relations if he does not restore the constitution, permit free and fair elections and take off his uniform as promised.”

Given these stances, CHUP asks you to vote in the poll above: Who Should be the Next President/VP of the United States?

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