NATO and Afghan troops raided a bomb-making cell of insurgents in the southern Pushtun province of Helmand, killing 19 guerrillas, it was announced on Saturday.
Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai praised President Obama’s plan for Afghanistan on Saturday, and was especially happy about two elements– going after militants hiding out in neighboring Pakistan, and reaching out to negotiate with the less radical of the insurgents inside Afghanistan.
Although in public, Pakistan president Asaf Ali Zardari hailed Obama’s proposals, behind the scenes, there was substantial disagreement with them on the part of both the foreign office and the president’s office, though they seemed not to be coordinating with one another. It is not clear what the substance of the disagreements are.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Taliban mounted an attack on NATO trucks and supplies in Peshawar on Sunday morning, torching four and destroying large amounts of food and other supplies.
There are two big conferences about Afghanistan on the world stage these days. One was held in Moscow, in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. That organization groups China and Russia with the newly independent states of Central Asia. They are neighbors of Afghanistan and are at risk from instability (and narco-terrorism) emanating from it. They also frankly don’t want US military bases in their neighborhood. There have been charges that the SCO conference was intended to upstage the upcoming parleys under United Nations auspices in the Hague.
Iran said Friday that the Shanghai Cooperation Council is better able to resolve Afghanistan’s problems than NATO.
While many in the United States are worried that President Obama is sending 21,000 new troops to Afghanistan, India, Iran and Russia are more worried about his hostility to Hamid Karzai and his pledge to negotiate with moderate Taliban, raising concerns that he might deliver Afghanistan into the arms of a “Taliban lite” government. In turn, India fears that such a regime would be overly under the sway of Pakistan and might become a support for terrorist groups such as Lashkar-i Tayyiba, which recently attacked Mumbai.
Before the SCO conference, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had signaled ihis discomfort with Obama’s troop build-up, and his confidence that the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai should be listened to.
Meanwhile, Pakistani foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi laid out his country’s priorities for Afghanistan:
1. He advocated an “Afghan-led process of national reconciliation based on genuine dialogue with those local elements willing to forsake the path of violence”
2. To be facilitated by the country’s neighbors
3. prioritize the battle for hearts and minds of the Afghans, showing respect to local traditions
4. undertake a massive reconstruction program for Afghanistan, “focusing on reconstruction and social welfare”, with a strengthening of Afghan security forces and the enabling of Afghan refugees to return home
5. “Finally, revitalise the trans-regional development agenda. Afghanistan’s potential, as a land bridge, must be realised by promoting infrastructure and energy connectivity.” Translation: Qureshi wants to revive the moribund plan to pipe natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and thence India. That plan is going nowhere as long as there is a Taliban insurgency around Qandahar, since nothing is easier to blow up than a gas pipeline. In fact, Turkmenistan appears to be tired of waiting and has signed with Russia, so it will send the natural gas to Moscow for transit to Europe.
The US views Afghanistan as a fertile field for cooperation with Iran, which has substantial influence in that country. The Hazara Shiite minority of some 22% in Afghanistan has strong ties to Shiite Iran. The Persian-speaking Tajiks, also a substantial proportion of the population, have a cultural affinity for Iran. And Iran has good relations with the Uzbeks of the north. Iran dislikes the hyper-Sunni Taliban, with whom Tehran almost went to war in 1998, seeing the Taliban as a cat’s paw of rival Sunni, Pakistan. Iran also wants to halt Afghan drug shipments through that country to the West, as does the West. Finally, some NATO countries are eyeing Iran for transhipping their supplies and materiel to troops in Afghanistan.
End/ (Not Continued)