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AFGHANISTAN: Daily stuff here please....

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« Reply #80 on: September 17, 2010, 06:18:12 am »

South Asia
Sep 18, 2010 
Diplomatic flurry over peace talks

By Syed Saleem Shahzad

ISLAMABAD - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has a love-and-hate relationship with Pakistan's military establishment. In the late 1990s, he stood up against the Pakistan army-supported Taliban regime in Afghanistan and as a consequence he lost his father and was forced to take refuge in an upscale neighborhood of the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi.

Everything changed with the United States-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban in late 2001, thrusting Karzai back into the spotlight. Under American pressure, Pakistan did not have any choice but to support him. In 2004, Islamabad rallied support for Karzai's election campaign in Pakistan's Afghan refugee camps. Similar support came in 2009.

With the Afghan war at a critical stage and US President Barack Obama due to give an official review of Afghan strategy in December, Washington and the allied Pakistan military cannot afford to change horses in mid-stream. Washington will therefore be hoping for a sizeable pro-Karzai constituency in the parliament that is due to be elected on Saturday.

As in the past, the Pakistan army will use its connections with the Taliban to press for as little election violence as possible - if not a ceasefire - in the Pashtun-dominated south to smooth the way for pro-Karzai candidates.

Diplomats keeping busy
The Afghanistan Study Group, a gathering of 46 foreign-policy experts including critics of the war and some who until recently supported US policy, is due to meet in the US on Friday. It has invited some mediators from the Afghan resistance. Karzai, along with the US's top man in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, recently met Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani to work out measures to prevent poll violence.

Immediately after the elections, all key international players will meet in Pakistan to help the US make a decision ahead of December on whether it will begin a withdrawal from Afghanistan as planned for next year or continue fighting.

Earlier, as a part of the diplomatic flurry, United States special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke visited Pakistan, followed by Karzai and Petraeus. One of the main topics was to reinforce Karzai's position in Kabul so that he will be in a position to deal with whatever emerges, be it peace with the Taliban or war with them. Kiani and the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, were also involved.

The next key person to visit Pakistan will be Prince Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief who is also a special envoy of King Saud assigned to deal with the Taliban. Aziz is expected within the next few days.

Contacts familiar with the process have told Asia Times Online that "high-profile" meetings have been lined up for Aziz in safe houses during which he will try his level best to make a breakthrough in the nascent peace process between the Taliban and the US. Asia Times Online has exclusively reported that preliminary talks between the Taliban and the US have begun, with the Pakistan military and Saudi Arabia acting as go-betweens. (See Taliban and US get down to talks September 10, 2010.)

On September 25, former United Arab Emirates ambassador to Pakistan Ali Mohammad al-Shamsi, who enjoyed personal relations with the Taliban leadership and who is now the UAE's envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, will arrive in Pakistan. He will spend two days in the country to deliver his feedback on the most recent talks with the Taliban. He will also have some "high-profile" meetings with his erstwhile Taliban friends.

Shamsi will then travel to Afghanistan to give his input to Petraeus and Karzai. This interaction will be reflected in a new report by the Afghanistan Study Group, which in turn will play a part in the US's December strategy review.

With time running out, Washington is gradually agreeing to major concessions with the Taliban. A previous distinction between "reconcilable Taliban" (non-ideological or less ideologically motivated) and "irreconcilable Taliban" (the ideologically motivated **** led by Mullah Omar) has been simplified into "Taliban" and "al-Qaeda-linked Taliban".

Despite these peace moves, Taliban attacks in Afghanistan continue unabated. A visibly nervous Washington is aware that the next steps will become increasingly tougher, and that in Mullah Omar they have a stubborn and possibly capricious adversary who could easily take the whole process back to square one.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at

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