JFP 12/26: Karzai accepts peace talks in Qatar; drone strike pause may continue

Just Foreign Policy News, December 26, 2011
Karzai accepts peace talks in Qatar; drone strike pause may continue

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I) Actions and Featured Articles

New York Times: Errant NATO Airstrikes in Libya: 13 Cases
A multimedia presentation of the New York Times' investigation into civilian casualties in Libya caused by NATO airstrikes.
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/12/16/world/africa/nato-airstrikes-in-libya.html

Glenn Greenwald: The intellectual cowardice of Bradley Manning's critics
Greenwald notes the absurdity of those who claim that Daniel Ellsberg was a hero while branding Bradley Manning a traitor, noting that their stated motivations were the same, their impact was the same, and the documents that Ellsberg leaked were more "secret."
http://www.salon.com/2011/12/24/the_intellectual_cowardice_of_bradley_mannings_critics/

If Ron Paul Wins Iowa, Antiwar Democrats and Independents Likely to Provide Margin of Victory
If a recent Public Policy Polling survey gives an accurate forecast, then a key story on election night in Iowa will be that antiwar Democrats and independents provided the margin of victory. If that result occurs, it will be due to the actions of roughly 8,400 people.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/if-ron-paul-wins-iowa-ant_b_1165423.html
[This piece was noted Sunday at the New York Times:
Reads & Reactions
http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/reads-reactions-16/]

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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) The Karzai government in Afghanistan will accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to start peace talks, Reuters reports. U.S. officials have held about half a dozen meetings with their insurgent contacts, mostly in Germany and Doha with representatives of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban's Quetta Shura, this year to prepare the way for face-to-face talks between the group and the Afghan government.

2) The CIA has suspended drone missile strikes in Pakistan on gatherings of low-ranking militants believed to be involved in cross-border attacks on U.S. troops or facilities in Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. The pause comes amid an intensifying debate in the Obama administration over the future of the CIA's covert drone war in Pakistan, the LAT says. Some officials in the State Department and the National Security Council say many of the airstrikes are counterproductive. They argue that rank-and-file militants are easy to replace, and that Pakistani claims of civilian casualties, which the U.S. disputes, have destabilized the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, a U.S. ally.

Some U.S. intelligence officials are urging the CIA to cut back the paramilitary role it has assumed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to refocus on espionage, the LAT notes.

The CIA keeps a list of 20 top targets and "there have been times where they've struggled a little bit coming up with names to fill that list," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official. The former official is among those urging the CIA to reconsider its approach, arguing that the agency can't kill all the fighters and that drones alone won't solve the challenge from Islamic militants. "A lot of people wonder whether we can keep trying to kill our way out of this problem," the former official said. "There are people who are really questioning, 'Where does all of this end?'"

When the current CIA director, David Petraeus, served as commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he was known to be concerned that the CIA conducted drone strikes without sufficient regard for the military or diplomatic repercussions in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, the LAT says.

Some State Department officials insist that airstrikes on low-level militants now hurt U.S. interests in Pakistan more than they help. "What colored State's thinking was the impact that the drone operations were having on public opinion and its constraint on the evolution of a civilian government," said a former senior State Department official. "The continued attacks probably give motivation to those who would fight us."

3) With the US facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, US officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance, the New York Times reports. Some Pakistani officers talk openly about shooting down any US drones that violate Pakistani sovereignty, the Times says. "Nothing is happening on counterterrorism right now," said a senior Pakistani security official. "It will never go back to the way it was." Officials from Pakistan and the US anticipate steep reductions in US security aid.

Israel/Palestine
4) Tens of thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, AP reports. With turnout at its highest in more than a decade, proud Palestinian officials said they were praying the celebrations would bring them closer to their dream of independence.

Located on the southeastern outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by a barrier Israel built to stop Palestinian militants from attacking, AP notes. Palestinians say the barrier has damaged their economy by constricting movement in and out of town. Twenty-two percent of Bethlehem residents are unemployed, the Palestinian Authority says. Israeli settlements surrounding Bethlehem have added to the sense of confinement.

Palestinians have subtly tried to draw attention to their plight with this year's Christmas slogan, "Palestine celebrating hope," a veiled reference to their bid to win U.N. recognition, AP says.

Iraq
5) Iraq's leaders agreed Sunday to a U.N.-brokered and US-backed deal that could lead to the peaceful emigration of thousands of Iranian MEK members, the Washington Post reports. But the agreement has not yet been accepted by the MEK, who have insisted on a U.S. troop presence to guard against possible attacks by Iraqis. US officials say that MEK demand is a non-starter.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Afghanistan sets ground rules for Taliban talks
Sanjeev Miglani and Hamid Shalizi, Reuters, 12/26, 12:13pm EST
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/12/26/us-afghanistan-talks-idUSTRE7BP06U20111226

Kabul - Afghanistan will accept a Taliban liaison office in Qatar to start peace talks but no foreign power can get involved in the process without its consent, the government's peace council said, as efforts gather pace to find a solution to the decade-long war.

Afghanistan's High Peace Council, in a note to foreign missions, has set out ground rules for engaging the Taliban after Kabul grew concerned that the United States and Qatar, helped by Germany, had secretly agreed with the Taliban to open an office in the Qatari capital, Doha.

U.S. officials have held about half a dozen meetings with their insurgent contacts, mostly in Germany and Doha with representatives of Mullah Omar, leader of the Taliban's Quetta Shura, this year to prepare the way for face-to-face talks between the group and the Afghan government.

A representative office for the group is considered the starting point for such talks and Doha has in the past served as a meeting ground for initial contacts.

But the Afghan peace commission which has suffered a series of setbacks including the assassination of its head in September said that negotiations with the Taliban could only begin after they stopped violence against civilians, cut ties to al Qaeda, and accepted the Afghan constitution which guarantees civil rights and liberties, including rights for women.

The council, according to a copy of the 11-point note made available to Reuters, also said any peace process with the Taliban would have to have the support of Pakistan since members of the insurgent group were based there.

"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is in agreement regarding the opening of an office for the armed opposition, but only to move forward the peace process and conduct negotiations," the council said.

The government would prefer such an office in either Saudi Arabia or Turkey, both of which it is close to, but was not averse to Doha as long as the authority of the Afghan state was not eroded and the office was only established for talks, officials said. "We are saying Saudi or Turkey are preferable, we are not saying it has to be there only. The only condition is it should be in an Islamic country," said a government official.
[...]

2) CIA has suspended drone attacks in Pakistan, U.S. officials say
The undeclared halt in CIA attacks in Pakistan, now in its sixth week, aims at reversing a sharp erosion in trust after deadly incidents, including the mistaken attack on soldiers by U.S. gunships.
Ken Dilanian, Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2011, 4:48 PM PST,
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-pakistan-cia-drone-20111224,0,4561079.story

Washington - In an effort to mend badly frayed relations with Pakistan, the CIA has suspended drone missile strikes on gatherings of low-ranking militants believed to be involved in cross-border attacks on U.S. troops or facilities in Afghanistan, current and former U.S. officials say.

The undeclared halt in CIA attacks, now in its sixth week, is aimed at reversing a sharp erosion of trust after a series of deadly incidents, including the mistaken attack by U.S. gunships that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers last month.

The pause also comes amid an intensifying debate in the Obama administration over the future of the CIA's covert drone war in Pakistan. The agency has killed dozens of Al Qaeda operatives and hundreds of low-ranking fighters there since the first Predator strike in 2004, but the program has infuriated many Pakistanis.

Some officials in the State Department and the National Security Council say many of the airstrikes are counterproductive. They argue that rank-and-file militants are easy to replace, and that Pakistani claims of civilian casualties, which the U.S. disputes, have destabilized the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, a U.S. ally.

And some U.S. intelligence officials are urging the CIA to cut back the paramilitary role it has assumed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to refocus on espionage. They suggest handing the mission to the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command, which flies its own drones and conducts secret counter-terrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia.

The policy remains intact for now. But the CIA has decided to temporarily suspend so-called signature strikes, missile attacks against fighters and others whose actions, after observation by surveillance drones or other intelligence, suggest support for the Taliban and other insurgent groups in neighboring Afghanistan.
[...]
The number of drone strikes in Pakistan has increased dramatically during the Obama administration. Under President George W. Bush, most of them targeted known Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders. In July 2008, Bush gave the CIA additional authority to kill militants whose names were not known, but whose "pattern of life," as the CIA called it, suggested involvement with terrorists or insurgent groups.

Under President Obama, the CIA has expanded the drone war to target anyone in Pakistan's tribal areas it considers a potential threat. The CIA has authority to fire at will, without authorization from outside the agency, as long as targets are in approved geographic "boxes" near the Afghan border.

Saying the strikes violate national sovereignty, Pakistan's government wants a say in drone targeting and a degree of control over the CIA missions, a senior Pakistani defense official said in Washington. But the Obama administration has refused, citing cases in which targets escaped after intelligence was shared with Pakistan.
[...]
U.S. and Pakistani officials said the CIA is still flying armed Predator and Reaper drones over Pakistan, and will kill an Al Qaeda leader if the aircraft find one. But thanks in part to the drone war, only a few senior members of the core Al Qaeda group are believed to be still alive there, including Bin Laden's successor, Ayman Zawahiri.

The CIA keeps a list of 20 top targets and "there have been times where they've struggled a little bit coming up with names to fill that list," said a former senior U.S. intelligence official, who declined to be identified in discussing a classified program.

The former official is among those urging the CIA to reconsider its approach, arguing that the agency can't kill all the fighters and that drones alone won't solve the challenge from Islamic militants.

"A lot of people wonder whether we can keep trying to kill our way out of this problem," the former official said. "There are people who are really questioning, 'Where does all of this end?'"

When the current CIA director, David H. Petraeus, served as commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he was known to be concerned that the CIA conducted drone strikes without sufficient regard for the military or diplomatic repercussions in either Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Some State Department officials insist that airstrikes on low-level militants now hurt U.S. interests in Pakistan more than they help.

"What colored State's thinking was the impact that the drone operations were having on public opinion and its constraint on the evolution of a civilian government," said a former senior State Department official, who asked not to be identified as discussing a classified program. "The continued attacks probably give motivation to those who would fight us."

Shamila Chaudhary, who was Pakistan director in the National Security Council until July, said U.S. counter-terrorism operations were "one reason, though not the only reason, that the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has disintegrated. Until the conflicts over that policy are resolved, the two countries will continue to go from crisis to crisis."
[...]

3) U.S. Prepares for a Curtailed Relationship With Pakistan
Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 25, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/world/asia/us-preparing-for-pakistan-to-restrict-support-for-afghan-war.html

Islamabad, Pakistan - With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

The United States will be forced to restrict drone strikes, limit the number of its spies and soldiers on the ground and spend more to transport supplies through Pakistan to allied troops in Afghanistan, American and Pakistani officials said. United States aid to Pakistan will also be reduced sharply, they said.

"We've closed the chapter on the post-9/11 period," said a senior United States official, who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing Pakistani officials. "Pakistan has told us very clearly that they are re-evaluating the entire relationship."

American officials say that the relationship will endure in some form, but that the contours will not be clear until Pakistan completes its wide-ranging review in the coming weeks.
[...]
Whatever emerges will be a shadow of the sweeping strategic relationship that Richard C. Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, championed before his death a year ago. Officials from both countries filled more than a dozen committees to work on issues like health, the rule of law and economic development.

All of that has been abandoned and will most likely be replaced by a much narrower set of agreements on core priorities - countering terrorists, stabilizing Afghanistan and ensuring the safety of Pakistan's arsenal of more than 100 nuclear weapons - that Pakistan will want spelled out in writing and agreed to in advance.

With American diplomats essentially waiting quietly and Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes on hold since Nov. 16 - the longest pause since 2008 - Pakistan's government is drawing up what Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called "red lines" for a new relationship that protects his country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Said an American official: "Both countries recognize the benefits of partnering against common threats, but those must be balanced against national interests as well. The balancing is a continuous process."

First, officials said, will likely be a series of step-by-step agreements on military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counterterrorism operations, including revamped "kill boxes," the term for flight zones over Pakistan's largely ungoverned borderlands where C.I.A. drones will be allowed to hunt a shrinking number of Al Qaeda leaders and other militants.
[...]
In one of the most visible signs of rising anti-American sentiment in this country, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Lahore and Peshawar this month. And on Sunday in Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, at least 100,000 people rallied to support Imran Khan, a cricket celebrity and rising opposition politician who is outspoken in his criticism of the drone strikes and ties with the United States.

Some Pakistani officers talk openly about shooting down any American drones that violate Pakistani sovereignty. "Nothing is happening on counterterrorism right now," said a senior Pakistani security official. "It will never go back to the way it was."

Any new security framework will also require increased transit fees for the thousands of trucks that supply NATO troops in Afghanistan, a bill that allied officials say could run into the tens of millions of dollars.

Officials from Pakistan and the United States anticipate steep reductions in American security aid, including the continued suspension of more than $1 billion in military assistance and equipment, frozen since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in May.

The number of American military officers, enlisted troops and contractors in Pakistan has dropped to about 100, from about 400 more than a year ago, including scores of American trainers who have all been sent home. Pakistan is also restricting visas to dozens of other embassy personnel, from spies to aid workers.

Of the nearly two dozen American, Western and Pakistani officials interviewed for this article, a few sought to put the best face on a worsening situation. With Pakistan taking a seat on the United Nations Security Council for two years beginning next month, these officials argued that too much was at stake to rupture ties completely. "It is better to have a predictable, more focused relationship than an incredibly ambitious out-of-control relationship," said one Western official.

But another Western diplomat put it more bluntly: "It's a fairly gloomy picture."
[...]
The State Department this month quietly dispatched a senior diplomat and South Asia specialist, Robin Raphel, to canvass a wide spectrum of Pakistanis. She returned with a sober assessment and the view that many Pakistanis will not move forward without a formal apology from President Obama for the airstrike, which White House aides say is not in the offing.

Israel/Palestine
4) Thousands pack Bethlehem for Christmas
Midnight Mass culminates festivities at traditional birthplace of Jesus
Dalia Nammari, AP, 12/24/2011 7:15:35 PM ET
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45783259/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/

Bethlehem, West Bank - Tens of thousands of tourists and Christian pilgrims packed the West Bank town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve celebrations Saturday, bringing warm holiday cheer to the traditional birthplace of Jesus on a raw, breezy and rainy night.

With turnout at its highest in more than a decade, proud Palestinian officials said they were praying the celebrations would bring them closer to their dream of independence.
[...]
Bethlehem, like the rest of the West Bank, fell onto hard times after the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation broke out in late 2000. As the fighting has subsided in recent years, the tourists have returned in large numbers and all of the city's hotels were fully booked.

By late night, the Israeli military, which controls movement in and out of town, said some 100,000 visitors, including foreigners and Arab Christians from Israel, had reached Bethlehem, up from 70,000 the previous year.

Thousands of Palestinians from inside West Bank also converged on the town.

"It's wonderful to be where Jesus was born," said Irma Goldsmith, 68, of Suffolk, Virginia. "I watch Christmas in Bethlehem each year on TV, but to be here in person is different. To be in the spot where our savior was born is amazing."
[...]
Among the visitors were a surprisingly large number of veiled Muslim women with their families, out to enjoy an evening out in what is normally a quiet town. "We love to share this holiday with our Christian brothers," said Amal Ayash, 46, who came to Manger Square with her three daughters, all of them covered in veils. "It is a Palestinian holiday and we love to come here and watch."

Israel turned Bethlehem over to Palestinian civil control a few days before Christmas in 1995, and since then, residents have been celebrating the holiday regardless of their religion.
Pilgrims from around the world also wandered the streets, singing Christmas carols and visiting churches. "It's a real treat to come here," said John Houston, 58, a restaurant owner from Long Beach, California. "It makes me feel really good to see what I have been learning from the time I was a kid in Sunday school until today."

Houston said he was surprised by Bethlehem's appearance, which is a far cry from the pastoral village of biblical times. Today, it is a sprawling town of cement apartment blocs and narrow streets that combined with several surrounding communities has a population of some 50,000 people.

Located on the southeastern outskirts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by a barrier Israel built to stop Palestinian militants from attacking last decade.

Palestinians say the barrier has damaged their economy by constricting movement in and out of town. Twenty-two percent of Bethlehem residents are unemployed, the Palestinian Authority says. Israeli settlements surrounding Bethlehem have added to the sense of confinement.

The Christmas season is essential for Bethlehem's economy, which depends heavily on tourism.

Most visitors entering Bethlehem, including the top Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land, had to cross through an Israeli-controlled checkpoint to reach town.

"We ask the child of Bethlehem to give us the peace we are in desperate need for, peace in the Middle East, peace in the Holy Land, peace in the heart and in our families," Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal said as he crossed through a massive metal gate in the barrier in a traditional midday procession from Jerusalem. Later, he went to the Church of the Nativity to celebrate Midnight Mass.

Israel allowed about 550 Christians from Gaza to cross Israel and enter Bethlehem. Israel rarely allows Gazans to enter.

The Palestinians have subtly tried to draw attention to their plight with this year's Christmas slogan, "Palestine celebrating hope," a veiled reference to their bid to win U.N. recognition. With peace talks at a standstill, the Palestinians are seeking membership as a state in the United Nations and recently gained admission to UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency.

"We are celebrating this Christmas hoping that in the near future we'll get our right to self-determination, our right to establish our own democratic, secular Palestinian state on the Palestinian land. That is why this Christmas is unique," said Mayor Victor Batarseh, who is Christian.

Late Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a meeting of Christian leaders that he is committed to reaching peace with Israel, despite a three-year standstill in negotiations.

"I hope they will come back to their senses and understand that we are seekers of peace, not seekers of war or terrorism," said Abbas, a Muslim. "The mosque, church and synagogue stand side by side in this Holy Land."

Today, only about one-third of Bethlehem's residents are Christian, reflecting a broader exodus of Christians from the Middle East in recent decades. Overall, just 60,000 Christians live in the Palestinian territories, making up less than 2 percent of the population, according to Palestinian officials.
[...]

Iraq
5) Iraq agrees to U.N.-brokered deal on fate of Iranian exiles
Joby Warrick, Washington Post, December 25
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/iraq-agrees-to-un-brokered-deal-on-fate-of-iranian-exiles/2011/12/22/gIQAiqcuHP_story.html

Iraq's leaders agreed Sunday to a U.N.-brokered deal that could lead to the peaceful emigration of thousands of Iranian dissidents who have lived in the country under U.S. protection since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein eight years ago.

But the agreement, confirmed by Obama administration officials, has not yet been accepted by the Iranian exiles, who have repeatedly insisted on a U.S. troop presence to guard against possible attacks by Iraqis. Dozens of members of the dissident group, known as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, have been killed by Iraqis since 2009 in assaults on the desert enclave where they have lived since being invited to Iraq by Hussein in 1986.

With the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq this month, American officials fear further bloodshed if the exiles - who are backed by numerous prominent political figures in the United States - refuse to accept the deal.

"There is mistrust, if not hatred, between the MEK and many Iraqis," said a senior State Department official involved in negotiations over the group's fate. "The question is, does the MEK take a deal that is less than perfect, or reject it and get nothing?"

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatically sensitive negotiations, said the accord would allow the Iranian exiles to move from their remote enclave, known as Camp Ashraf, to the grounds of Camp Liberty, the former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport. They could then apply for emigration to other countries while under constant watch by unarmed U.N. observers. The official said the Obama administration would separately provide "robust" monitoring of the camp but would not deploy U.S. troops there, as the MEK has requested.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the agreement, saying in a statement late Sunday that the United States "welcome[s] this important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation at Ashraf. The UN effort has our full support."
[...]
If accepted by the MEK, the deal could spell the end of a years-long standoff over the fate of the controversial group, which the State Department has officially listed as a terrorist group because of its alleged role in the slayings of six Americans in the 1970s. To many Iraqis, the MEK is a hated cult, forever tied to Hussein and his oppression. But many powerful politicians and security officials in Washington view the group's members as freedom fighters who deserve continued U.S. protection.

U.S. and U.N. officials have been scrambling to resolve the fate of the estimated 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf. But the officials say the MEK and its backers have complicated matters by insisting on U.S. protection. The possibility that American troops would be ordered back into Iraq to guard the dissidents is remote, at best, said a second senior State Department official involved in the talks.

"It's not going to happen," said the official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
[...]
Outside investigators have repeatedly accused the group of human rights abuses against its own members and recruits, including deceptive recruiting practices and repressive policies that in the past included mandatory divorce for married couples as well as beatings and torture. "We cannot rule out the possibility that there may be some people still being held in the camp unwillingly," said Bill Frelick, refugee program director for Human Rights Watch.
[...]

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