Thursday, June 16, 2011

Secret U.S.-Afghani-Taliban talks could see US bases and troops stay for Decades....

Secret U.S.-Afghani-Taliban talks could see sizable US bases and troops stay for Decades to come in the Hindu Kush....

The Taliban terrorists rely on civilians and public facilities like mosques to shield themselves from the day of reckoning; they always do. Hiding amongst the civilians is their primary strategy as guerrilla fighters, pretending to be brave "freedom fighters," even though they hide behind the women's skirts. These guys bear no resemblance now to our own Founding Fathers, just as Reagan's original "mujahedeen" bore absolutely NO resemblance whatsoever to them. Republicans need to own-up to this great lie that has cursed the world for the past thirty years. Ronald Reagan is the father of global "Islamic" terrorism. The shame of the Taliban terrorists is our shame....

Dialogue with the Taliban is being seriously pursued by USA, and it is captivating everyone who matters....

Russia, China and India are concerned about a ‘strategic partnership' in which Americans would remain in Afghanistan even after 2014, for Decades to come....

American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see U.S. troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades....

Though not publicized, negotiations have been under way for more than a month to secure a strategic partnership agreement which would include an American presence beyond the end of 2014 — the agreed date for all 1,30,000 combat troops to leave — despite continuing public debate in Washington and among other members of the 49-nation coalition fighting in Afghanistan about the speed of the drawdown.

American officials admit that although Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, recently said Washington did not want any “permanent” bases in Afghanistan, her phrasing allows a variety of possible arrangements.

“There are U.S. troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently,” a U.S. official told the Guardian.

Precedents include the U.S. military presence in Europe and Japan since the Second World War and, more recently, in Iraq.

Bases? Concern

British troops, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) officials say, will also remain in Afghanistan long past the end of 2014, largely in training or mentoring roles.

Although they will not be “combat troops” that does not mean they will not take part in combat. Mentors could regularly fight alongside Afghan troops, for example.

Senior NATO officials also predict that the insurgency in Afghanistan will continue after 2014.

There are at least five bases in Afghanistan which are likely candidates to house large contingents of American special forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment and military hardware post-2014. In the heart of one of the most unstable regions in the world and close to the borders of Pakistan, Iran and China, as well as to central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the bases would constitute rare strategic assets.

News of the U.S.-Afghan talks has sparked deep concern among powers in the region and beyond. Russia and India are understood to have made their concerns about a long-term U.S. presence known to both Washington and Kabul. China, which has pursued a policy of strict non-intervention beyond economic affairs in Afghanistan, has also made its disquiet clear. During a recent visit, senior Pakistani officials were reported to have tried to convince their Afghan counterparts to look to China as a strategic partner, not the U.S.

American negotiators will arrive later this month in Kabul for a new round of talks. The Afghans rejected the Americans' first draft of a strategic partnership agreement in its entirety, preferring to draft their own proposal. This was submitted to Washington two weeks ago. The U.S. draft was “vaguely formulated”, one Afghan official told the Guardian.

Afghan demands

Afghan negotiators are now preparing detailed annexes to their own proposal which lists specific demands.

The Afghans are playing a delicate game, however. President Hamid Karzai and senior officials see an enduring American presence and broader strategic relationship as essential, in part to protect Afghanistan from its neighbors.

“We are facing a common threat in international terrorist networks. They are not only a threat to Afghanistan but to the west. We want a partnership that brings regional countries together, not divides them,” said Rangin Spanta, the Afghan National Security Adviser and the lead Afghan negotiator on the partnership.

The Afghans nonetheless hope to extract the highest price possible from Washington.

“We want Afghanistan to benefit financially too from U.S. presence here,” an Afghan official with knowledge of the talks said.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani, a former presidential candidate and one of the negotiators, said that, although NATO and the U.S. consider a stable Afghanistan to be essential to their main strategic aim of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda, a “prosperous Afghanistan” was a lesser priority. “It is our goal, not necessarily theirs,” he said.

Though Ghani stressed “consensus on core issues,” big disagreements remain.

Three issues

One is whether the Americans will equip an Afghan air force. Karzai is understood to have asked for fully capable modern combat jet aircraft. This has been ruled out by the Americans on grounds of cost and fear of destabilizing the region.

Another is the question of U.S. troops launching operations outside Afghanistan from bases in the country. From Afghanistan, American military power could easily be deployed into Iran or Pakistan post-2014. Helicopters took off from Afghanistan for the recent raid which killed Osama bin Laden.

“We will never allow Afghan soil to be used [for operations] against a third party,” said Spanta.

A third contentious issue is the legal basis on which troops might remain. Afghan officials are keen that any foreign forces in their country are subject to their laws. The Afghans also want to have ultimate authority over foreign troops' use and deployment.

“There should be no parallel decision-making structures ... All has to be in accordance with our sovereignty and constitution,” Spanta said.

Nor do the two sides agree over the pace of negotiations. The U.S. want to have agreement by early summer, before President Barack Obama's expected announcement on troop withdrawals. This is “simply not possible,” the Afghan official said.

There are concerns too that concluding a strategic partnership agreement could also clash with efforts to find an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict with the Taliban. A “series of conversations” with senior insurgent figures are under way, one Afghan minister has told the Guardian.

A European diplomat in Kabul said: “It is difficult to imagine the Taliban being happy with U.S. bases [in Afghanistan] for the foreseeable future.” Senior NATO officials argue that a permanent international military presence will demonstrate to insurgents that the west is not going to abandon Afghanistan and encourage them to talk rather than fight.

The Afghan-American negotiations come amid a scramble among regional powers to be positioned for what senior U.S. officers are now describing as the “out years.”

Mark Sedwill, the NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, recently spoke of the threat of a “Great Game 3.0” in the region, referring to the bloody and destabilizing conflict between Russia, Britain and others in south-west Asia in the 19th century.

Afghanistan has a history of being exploited by — or playing off — major powers. This, Dr Ghani insisted, was not “a vision for the 21st century.”

Instead, he said, Afghanistan could become the “economic roundabout” of Asia.

Indians should not have been surprised or dismayed by the Chicago court’s verdict acquitting Pakistani–Canadian Tawwahur Hussain Rana of involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack. Of course, Rana did not get away scot free. He was held guilty of two other charges-planning attacks on a Danish newspaper office which had published a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad, and supporting the Pakistani terrorist organization, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET).

The deposition of Rana’s friend and accomplice David Coleman Headley, a Pakistani-American, who turned approver in the case against Rana, is interesting in terms of allegations against Pakistan’s premium intelligence agency, the ISI, the fountainhead of Pakistan’s terrorist army.

Headley started with accusing ISI top leaders of involvement in the 26/11 terrorist attacks, but came down to say that ISI top leaders were not involved.

It was around the same time that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton absolved the top brass in Pakistan including the ISI, of any knowledge of Osama bin Laden hiding in the military town of Abbottabad for six years. Yet, she did not explain why the US did not take Pak army and ISI top brass into confidence on the commando operation to take out Osama.

Intelligence experts are very well aware that an outside agent is never aware of the level of the intelligence agency at which the operation was approved. Headley’s knowledge would be what his handlers like Maj. Iqbal and others would have told him. And handlers of such agents rarely ever use their real names.

What is important is the fact that an operation of this scale involving complicated training and operational facilities and a huge amount of funds could not have been planned and executed by a handful of renegade actors. If this was the case and against the interest of the ISI and the Pakistani army they would have been hauled over red hot coals and not protected. The ten terrorists who came to Mumbai were trained by Pakistani navy experts, also. They were escorted by navy commandos to hijack an Indian fishing trawler for the rest of their journey to the Mumbai coast. It would be interesting to note that there were no back up plans to bring the terrorists to Pakistan after the operation was over. It was to try and ensure that no prominent trail was left to trace them back to Pakistan. The objective was that in the fight the terrorists would ultimately be killed by Indian security forces. In fact, the intercepts from their handlers in Pakistan during the operation urged them to “kill” till they were killed. That Ajmal Kasab was captured alive by the Indian security personnel was sheer luck.

Pakistani journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, who was recently assassinated, had referred to the ISI-LET collusion in the Mumbai attack. Pakistani journalists are pointing fingers at the ISI for his murder because he was exposing too much information on links between the ISI and terrorist organizations and he was called and warned by senior ISI officers in October, 2010.

No one should ignore the established fact that the LET was an ISI creation to launch operations in Kashmir, which would expand to other parts of India.

Indians must understand that the growing strategic relationship with the US has its own boundaries. The US or any other country would look at its own interest first. Certainly, the US pushed through the India-US Nuclear Supplier’s Group (NSG) because of mutual interest. It is preparing to support India’s entry into three other international regimes on nuclear and missile technology. At the same time it has not really opposed China’s proposed supply of two more nuclear power reactors to Pakistan which really contravenes China’s accession to another nuclear regime. The US government has also been silent on evidence confirming persistent Chinese nuclear technology proliferation to Pakistan.

India has its own priorities in which it has not gone fully with the US. Iran sanctions is a case in point. India executes its own independent foreign policy where its own interests are prime. This is the hallmark of a power that can speak on its own. Strategic cooperation comes into play when interests complement each other.

India and the US have common interest in terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There has also been cooperation from the US in intelligence sharing in Afghanistan on attacks by Pakistan sponsored terrorism on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and on other occasions. But America has its own imperatives in Af-Pak in efforts to pull out its troops, a rising domestic demand in the US.

Although the relations between the US and Pakistan are the worst ever, and there is little or no trust left between the US government and the Pakistani army/ISI, Washington cannot do without the Pak army and ISI top brass. Hence, Headley’s and the Rana case had to be influenced and handled differently. Otherwise, ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha would have been in the docks in US courts as the case first tended to be. Unfortunately, the Americans presumed if India was delinked from the Rana case, it would persuade the Pak army/ISI to cooperate more on terrorism.

Pakistan has severely curtailed CIA operations and US military presence in Pakistan. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, addressing the 139th Corps Commanders Conference (ISPR release, June 10) took as careful a position as he could. While emphasizing that US operations on Pakistan’s soil was “drastically reduced”’ he also advocated that billions of dollars of US military aid to Pakistan to fight terrorism should be diverted to bolster the economy and help ordinary Pakistanis. This was in total contrast to his outrage against the US Congress’ Kerry-Lugar-Brennan bill last year which pledged $ 7.5 billion civilian assistance over the next five years but strictly controlled by the US.

On military operations in North Waziristan, a key US demand to go after the Haqqani clique and others there, Kayani was more circumspect. These are the Pakistani army’s assets for asymmetric war in Afghanistan, and it was not in their strategic interest to dismantle them.

On the other hand, the US position on terrorist havens in Pakistan is unrelenting. CIA Chief Leon Panetta, in his congressional hearing last week, before taking over as Defense Secretary, made it clear that there will be no peace till these terrorist havens were dismantled. The reshuffle in Washington is interesting. While Panetta is to head the Pentagon, US top commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus will replace him as the director of the CIA. The experienced remain in place.

The US is going to come up against another challenge. China, which has till now remained satisfied in Afghanistan with economic investment and very peripheral assistance and training to the Afghan police, would be gauging the ground in Afghanistan in conjunction with Pakistan. According to US and Pakistani media reports, Pak Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, on his return from China in May, conveyed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Afghanistan’s future lay with China and not the US, and Indian consulates in Afghanistan had to be drastically reduced. On his visit to Kabul to convey this message, Gilani was accompanied by army Chief Kayani and ISI Chief Pasha. Pakistan has also conveyed to Karzai that in the post-NATO/US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Kabul must evict Indian influence from Afghanistan to avail Pakistan’s cooperation.

This is a scenario in which Pakistan and China have common cause where India is concerned. A recent authoritative Chinese article (Global Times, June 06, 2011) raised the issue of reviving the medieval Silk Road going from China through Pakistan and Afghanistan to Central Asia. This is not a new idea, but has been held back because of the situation in Afghanistan. What China is looking to is to use its time tested ally, and willing and devoted junior partner Pakistan, to dominate the Af-Pak region after the US withdrawal. At the moment, China is not in a position to alienate the US.

But it is very unlikely that the US (and NATO) will turn their backs on Afghanistan as they did after the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. Moreover, US interests in Central Asia have increased many times since then. Of priority is the Central Asian oil and gas reserves and China’s westward expansion. Washington is not going to let Pakistan out of its grip easily, and Pakistan cannot get out easily either. It will be very costly.

Russia is no small player either in this game. It has given NATO access to transport arms and logistics to Afghanistan through its territory as the supplies through Pakistan came under militant attacks. Terrorist havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan are a major threat to Russia, and they have taken up the issue with both countries. They see Pakistan as the main problem.

It is, however, premature to forecast how Russia will view US interests in Central Asia vis-a-vis China’s interests. Moscow has trust deficit with both, but in some ways they carry a historical mutual distrust with China. Moscow considers Central Asia as its own backyard. Most probably, Moscow’s concerns with terrorism will override differences with the west in European strategic affairs. Moscow has demonstrated this to a certain extent.

Little has been written about Iran’s role in Afghanistan. Tehran has dabbled with the Al Qaeda in the past. It has interest with the Shias in Afghanistan. If isolated from the Afghan process it can play a negative role given its common border with the country. The US is leading the Afghan counter-terrorism and peace process, with Pakistan holding the critical card to disable the same. The US may have to go back to the post 9/11 period when Iran quickly agreed to allow the US use of its airspace in Afghan Al Qaeda operations. A solution may have to be found around these issues.

India has an enduring interest in Afghanistan. There are strong historical and cultural connections, and people-to-people relations as depicted in Rabindranath Tagore’s short story “Kabuliwala”. In the epic Mahabharata, Queen Gandhari’s name is indicative of her birth in Kandahar (known as Gandhar in ancient Indian history). Even today, India enjoys the highest popularity among the people of Afghanistan, and Indian films and music enjoy very high appreciation there.

Given these multilayered connection, India has a legitimate interest in Afghanistan. What goes against India is that the two countries do not enjoy common borders and are separated by a hostile Pakistan.

Some alarm in the Indian media over the moves in the UN to separate the combined Taliban-Al-CIAda list of terrorists under resolution 1267 appears unwarranted. Many on the list are ex-Talibans. If the Taliban’s cooperation is required to conclude the peace process, and there appears to be no other option, this step is imperative. New Delhi has not opposed talks with the Taliban. As one of the members of the current 15-member security council, India will have a role to play in separation of Taliban-Al Qaida combined list, and also delist some of the Taliban figuring in the UN list. No strategic opportunity should be dismissed on emotional grounds without due considerations.

But Washington has not relieved Pakistan from mounting pressures. During his unannounced visit to Islamabad on June 11, CIA Chief Leon Panetta presented Gen. Kayani and Lt. Gen. Pasha with hard evidence that intelligence shared with the ISI were being passed to the militants even now. Kayani told Panetta that US boots must leave Pakistan, Panetta was equally emphatic that US boots will remain in Pakistan as long as needed citing leakage of shared intelligence as one of the reasons. Panetta left abruptly without meeting any ministers.

The almost simultaneous Pakistan visit by President Hamid Karzai for the first joint commission on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan revealed some “nice words” in the joint statement, what happened inside was revealed by Karzai’s press statement. He made it clear that India’s presence in Afghanistan contributed positively, India was an old friend, and Pakistan should have no objection to India’s presence. On the other hand, Pak Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, addressing the same press conference, avoided a question on what action will take place against the Haqqani militant clique. This makes clear that the Pak army is not going to dismantle its terrorist/militant assets.

Gen. Kayani’s speech to the Corps Commander’s Conference conveys the army does not want to have the US peering into its affairs, and let that relationship be conducted between the two governments in the civilian arena. It is, therefore, suggestive of a strategy to impead China militarily in the Afghan issue. If true, this is unlikely to work at the moment, but certainly if the US decides to withdraw from Afghanistan....

India must use all channels available to talk with the countries involved in Afghanistan, try and arrive at a consensus, and ensure that Pakistan gives assurance to the UN Security Council that it will not meddle in Afghanistan. Pakistani’s “strategic depth” strategy must be designated at the UN as an act of terrorism. All countries play games as per their perceived national interests. India must also play the same game.....

The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily (June 09) carried a revealing article on the SECOND ARTILLERY FORCE (SAF), China’s strategic missile force which also controls the country’s nuclear weapons, stressing it “should promote loyalty and obedience in their ranks towards the Communist Party of China”. What is equally significant if not more, this short article was authored jointly by the Commander of SAF Gen. Jing Zhiyuan and Political Commissar of the SAF Gen. Zhang Haiyang.

The two Generals who each are in charge of the military aspect and “political” aspects respectively, emphasized “Against the background of profound changes in the society and the increasingly complicated struggles in the ideological areas, continuous efforts should be made to resist the tendency of “Westernization” in the military forces as well as the idea of separating the military forces from the leadership of the CPC”.

In military context in China, “Westernization” means an armed force which is bereft of ideological moorings, independent of political parties and the Commander-in-Chief is the Head of State. In China’s case, it would the President.

China’s paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had tried to rear a professional People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He had almost stopped political education in the PLA and initiated the move to divest the PLA of its commercial ventures – hotels, discotheques, civilian goods manufacturing and even some military business. A veteran of the Long March and himself a political commissar, he concluded that political indoctrination was necessary at that time to motivate the largely peasant soldiers. When he came to power in 1978 he began to realize that the PLA had put professionalism on the second priority list and was more interested in business which benefitted mainly the officer class. Deng also dismantled what he called “mountain war-lordism” – top commanders spent their entire careers in one Military Region and used the forces under them as their own army.

It is not known whether Deng Xiaoping would have liked to put the PLA under the government. But he would have realized that the Party was supreme and well above the government. But despite initial opposition from the PLA in the late 1980s, he succeeded in establishing the Party General Secretary and the President, a civilian, at the top of the military as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC). If not the government, civilian control of the PLA with the Party Chief in Command. It was, therefore, left to Party the Chief to command the PLA and the extent of his control would depend on how politically strong he was. Neither of Deng’s appointees, Party General Secretaries Jiang Zemin and his successor Hu Jintao have demonstrated their unquestionable control of the PLA. Both had to compromise to execute their power, and the PLA grew in strength.

As an aside, it would be interesting to note that when Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie attended the Shangri-la Security dialogue in Singapore in May, he introduced himself as Vice Chairman of the CMC and State Councilor, not Defense Minister. It was because the defense ministry is known as a facade for protocol duties only and has no teeth of its own.

In March this year, Gen. Liang Guanglie stated that the PLA was not under the government, but under the Party. He made it abundantly clear that the PLA was independent of the Chinese government.

In the last two years, especially in 2010, signs were that the PLA, while remaining under the agreed frame work of “the Party commands the gun”, was pushing for a major say in both internal security issues, and external security and territorial claims. Following the 2008 global economic meltdown, very surprisingly the Chinese hierarchy miscalculated that USA was a declining power and China was a rising power which could dictate Washington. The PLA, emboldened by its rising power, decided to challenge the region including the return of the US in the Asia-Pacific region under the guidance US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The PLA’s surge was another example of its surge for autonomy.

The SAF commentary is far reaching. In the one hand, it suggests that there is a rising consensus among SAF officers for autonomy from political decisions. At the same time, the party fears that the free world structure of the armed forces totally isolated from the political parties that run the government of the day is a threat to the CCP. In the US, whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans that is in power does not affect the military, though the US Congress has a say in budget allocations and policy. Even then, the executive president holds the veto power irrespective what its party’s position may be in the Congress. Decisions are taken in consultation with the Department of Defense (Pentagon), the CIA and the State Department.

In India, it is even clearer. Political parties including the Party in power have little or nothing to do directly with the armed forces.

For China, the situation would be much worse if the PLA were to take independent decisions on both internal and external security challenges. The SAF, as a free radical since the government is irrelevant in the military context, could portend a dangerous challenge not only to the Chinese authorities but to the neighborhood. In this context, it would be prudent to remember that China’s “no first (nuclear) use” doctrine has become more opaque in recent years. It must also be taken into account that the more the Chinese leadership and official media emphasize the Party’s control over the PLA, the greater is the problem. This emphasis has sharply increased in recent months.

This option could work only under two conditions. Firstly, the US is able to reduce its dependence on Pakistan for logistic supplies. Secondly, China and Russia co-operate with the US, at least partially if not fully. It is difficult to visualize the materialization of these two scenarios.

Under these circumstances, the only option left for the US at present is to keep exercising more pressure on Pakistan bilaterally in the hope that the political and military leadership of Pakistan would see reason and start co-operating.

The US is paying a heavy price for its past sins of mollycoddling Pakistan despite its sponsorship of terrorism. It now realizes the importance of stopping the mollycoddling, but it is not in a position to do so.

The US must undertake a crash programme for reducing its dependence on Pakistan for logistic supplies--- either by using other routes via the CARs or through air-lifts from the Gulf even if they turn out to be expensive. If it can do that, it will have more options in its basket to make Pakistan act.....