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Archive for October 6th, 2008

My interview with Voice of America Urdu was broadcast today on Geo Television. Many thanks to Raza Naqvi, who conducted the interview and allowed me to discuss my motivations behind starting CHUP. Although I cringe watching myself on video, it was a segment that had a good underlying message, and I’m really grateful that I was given the opportunity.

Honestly, none of this would have been possible without the support of my family and friends, and without you – all the followers of this site – so thank you. I constantly strive to make the material of this site better, so please feel free to leave comments on this post with further suggestions.

To view the VOA piece, [you can watch it on Real Player] click here.

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CNN reported today that “Taliban leaders are holding Saudi-brokered talks with the Afghan government to end the country’s bloody conflict – and are severing their ties with Al Qaeda.” The news agency noted,

The talks — the first of their kind aimed at resolving the lengthy conflict in Afghanistan — mark a significant move by the Saudi leadership to take a direct role in Afghanistan, hosting delegates who have until recently been their enemies.

The talks also mark “a sidestepping of key “war on terror” ally Pakistan…which has previously been a conduit for talks between the Saudis and Afghanistan.” According to CNN’s senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, the closed-door “breakthrough negotiations” are occurring because key Taliban leaders no longer believe they can fight their way back to power and are ready to talk. The key demand from the 11 Taliban delegates includes a timetable for the withdrawal of Coalition forces. The Saudis are in turn demanding that the Taliban, and specifically, Mullah Omar, sever ties with Al Qaeda, a demand that sources say the group has agreed to.

How significant is this development? According to Robertson, breaking the Taliban away from Al Qaeda “has got to be a good thing for the West because it weakens the stance of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” However, he acknowledged, the Taliban is not a united organization, and the “reality check” is that there is a long way to go to achieve reconciliation. Although the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists, the Saudis are prepared to go at this process alone, particularly because they have a “vested interest in a weakened Al Qaeda” and refuse to see Afghanistan “go the same way as Iraq.” Their motivations can also partly be explained by  a desire to challenge the growing Iranian influence in the region.

Ultimately, however, if the key Taliban demand boils down to a withdrawal of Coalition troops, then the United States would need to weigh in on these talks. Given the constraints of the current policy, that is unlikely to happen. [Image from the AP]

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On Monday, media outlets reported that a suicide bomber killed 15 to 20 people and wounded more than 50, including a Pakistani opposition politician, in what the AFP described as, “the latest attack to underscore the threat posed by Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.” The blast occurred in Bhakkar, Punjab, outside the home of Rasheed Akbar Nawani, a PML-N lawmaker. Reuters cited a police officer who said, “The bomber blew himself up the courtyard when Mr. Nawani was sitting with his supporters there.” Dawn framed the attack in light of sectarian tensions in Bhakkar, noting, “Nawani has spoken out in parliament several times recently against growing sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims.” Khan Baig, a senior police officer told the news agency, “It could be a sectarian related attack as he belongs to the Shia community.

According to the AFP, “The blast came just four days after a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside the house of a senior member of Pakistan’s ruling coalition in a northwestern town, killing four people.” News agencies underscored that Monday’s bombing “was the latest in a string of bombings against government, military and Western targets in Pakistan.” On Sunday, Dawn reported that President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani discussed “matters relating to the forthcoming joint session of parliament to be held to review the security situation.” However, Dawn reported that some opposition leaders asserted that the security issues need to be more comprehensively debated in Parliament to reach a consensus on “finding a lasting solution to the problem.”

In an article entitled, “Pakistan’s Fresh Resolve in Latest Battle Against Taliban,” the Christian Science Monitor’s Shahan Mufti wrote,

For Pakistan, moments of success have been few in the fight in its northwestern tribal area against members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. But with militants there carrying out increasingly brazen attacks in Pakistan’s cities, and stirring trouble in Afghanistan – prompting the United States to pressure Pakistan to act – Pakistan appears to be taking its home-grown terrorist threat more seriously.

The Monitor added, “There is cautious hope among military planners and observers here that the current military offensive in Bajaur…will be a much-needed turning point in Pakistan’s war against domestic militancy,” [for more information on the Battle for Bajaur, see CHUP’s past post]. How is this offensive different from past military-led operations? In previous offensives, the Pakistani Army stopped partway through “to sign truces that ultimately allowed militants to regroup.” This time, however, the military is acting with a new resolve, “a clear mandate.” Talat Masood, a security analyst and former general in the Pakistani Army told the Monitor, “This time…the Army wants it to be different.

What does a victory in Bajaur ultimately mean for the overarching battle against militancy? Mufti wrote, “A clear victory in Bajaur would not only mean a shift in a negative trend in Pakistan’s fight against militancy. It would also give the Pakistani government and Army control of a geographically strategic region of the fiercely independent and troubled tribal areas.” However, although Bajaur seems to be key to success, public support for this offensive is also necessary. While the recent spate of bomb blasts have turned public opinion in favor of Pakistan‘s war against the local Taliban, continuing U.S. strikes in the FATA threaten to erode that support. [Image from BBC News]

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