JFP News, 8/18: Talks with Taliban Top Issue in Afghan Election
Just Foreign Policy News
August 18, 2009
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1) Whether and how to negotiate peace with the Taliban has become a top issue in the Afghan presidential election, Carlotta Gall reports in the New York Times. There is broad agreement the war must end; debate swirls around whether the government is moving effectively toward persuading the Taliban to end their insurgency. Each of Karzai's three main opponents is critical of his record in following through on promises to pursue negotiations. But the US and NATO want to negotiate from a position of strength, diplomats and military officials said. "Reconciliation is important, but not now," said one Western diplomat.
2) U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year earlier under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, the Washington Post reports. Prime Minister Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which lobbied against the plebiscite. If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law. A poll commissioned by the U.S. military found Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
3) The head of the British Army said Britain will have to keep thousands on troops on the front line in Afghanistan for up to five more years, the Telegraph reports. [Since no-one believes that British forces will be in Afghanistan without U.S. forces, he's also making a prediction about U.S. forces - JFP.] A YouGov/Sky poll yesterday showed that 57 per cent of voters do not believe British troops should be in Afghanistan, and a majority are unsure of why NATO forces are in the country.
4) Honduras's de facto government appears to be running out the clock, says the New York Times in an editorial. It seems to believe that it can slow-pedal negotiations to reinstate President Zelaya and hang tight until voters elect a new president in November. It must be disabused of this notion, the Times says. The U.S. must press this point with Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, and his advisers, the Times says. If de facto government continues to reject a deal to restore President Zelaya, the U.S. must be prepared to exert more pressure, the Times says.
5) The U.S. military said its troops in Honduras did not know of and played no role in a flight that took ousted President Zelaya to exile during a military coup, AP reports. Zelaya says the Honduran military plane that flew him to Costa Rica stopped to refuel at Soto Cano, a Honduran air base that is home to 600 U.S. soldiers. Zelaya's Foreign Minister has alleged that the U.S. was involved in the coup, but Zelaya says he does not believe "the highest levels" of the Obama Administration were involved.
6) The State Department says the U.S. and Colombia are "very close" to achieving a U.S.-Colombia defense cooperation agreement, but "it's going to be a few more weeks before we actually sign it," AP reports.
7) The Obama administration has concluded Mexico is working hard to protect human rights while its army battles drug cartels, paving the way for the release of millions of dollars in additional aid, the Washington Post reports. The Merida Initiative requires the State Department to certify that Mexico is taking steps to protect human rights and to punish soldiers who violate civil guarantees as a condition of full funding. Human rights groups contend that only a few cases have been successfully prosecuted.
8) The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has compiled a list of people whose lives it fears may be at risk because of their links to President Zelaya, AFP reports. An international mission that included representatives from the International Federation of Human Rights visited Tegucigalpa at the end of July and concluded that "grave and systematic violations" of human rights had been committed in Honduras since the coup.
9) Two dozen supporters of President Zelaya were charged with sedition Friday in an intensifying crackdown on protests against the coup-installed government, AP reports.
10) Israel's ambassador to the U.S. rejected recent assessments that Israel was planning an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Haaretz reports. Michael Oren told CNN "The government of Israel has supported President Obama in his approach to Iran - the engagement, the outreach to Iran."
1) Peace Talks With Taliban Are A Top Issue In Afghan Vote
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 18, 2009
Kabul - Whether and how to negotiate peace with the Taliban has become the one issue that no candidate in the Afghan presidential election can avoid taking a stand on. There is broad agreement that the war must end, but debate swirls around whether the government of President Hamid Karzai is moving effectively toward persuading the Taliban to end their insurgency.
Although Karzai has often talked about negotiating with the Taliban, little concrete has happened. The government's reconciliation program for Taliban fighters is barely functioning. A Saudi mediation effort has stalled. Last-minute efforts to engage the Taliban in order to allow elections to take place remain untested. Meanwhile the Obama administration has just sent thousands more troops here in an attempt to push back Taliban gains.
Karzai, who polls indicate is still the front-runner, is the most vocal candidate in calling for negotiations, pledging that if he is re-elected he will hold a traditional tribal gathering and invite members of the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another opposition leader, to make peace.
And just in the past few weeks, his government has started several initiatives to approach local Taliban commanders through tribal elders. The government also has started work to win over the tribes by hiring thousands of their young men to be part of a local protection force, primarily to ensure security for elections. But each of Karzai's three main opponents is critical of his record in following through on such promises.
Abdullah Abdullah, Ashraf Ghani and Ramazan Bashardost all oppose the Taliban, but they also promise if elected to do better and to make peace a priority. The candidates differ on how to pursue a settlement: by negotiating a comprehensive peace with the Taliban leadership; or by trying to draw away midlevel Taliban commanders and foot soldiers, an approach that has been tried with little success over the past seven years as the ranks of fighters have swelled.
Abdullah, the candidate for the largest opposition bloc, the National Front, and Ghani, a former finance minister, say the first step must be a grass-roots approach through community and tribal councils to address the grievances of people who have taken up arms against the government. "If you lose the people, you lose the war," Abdullah said in an interview.
Ghani advocates a cease-fire as the next step, with political negotiations only later. "It's not going to be easy," he told journalists at a briefing. "It is going to be quite complex and quite tough, but we need to create the conditions of confidence."
Among those urging a wide-reaching political solution is the head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Kai Eide. A peace process, or reconciliation as he prefers to call it, has to be a top priority of any new government, as does improving relations with Pakistan, which has long backed the Taliban, he said.
The groundwork for that process needs to be laid through the winter, he says, in order to forestall another season of fighting next spring. He also says that the effort has to be broader than the reconciliation and reintegration of local commanders envisaged by the United States military. "You have different views - those who believe you can do it locally, from province to province, district to district," he said. "I don't think that is the case, I think you have to have a wider process."
But the United States and NATO want to negotiate from a position of strength, diplomats and military officials said. "Reconciliation is important, but not now," said one Western diplomat in Kabul, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "It's not going to happen until the insurgency is weaker and the government is stronger."
Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent policy research group, proposed in a recent report multilayered contacts or talks with different elements of the insurgency. He also advocated a long-term reconciliation process across the country to address the alienation from the government of many groups who are tempted to join the Taliban, and to heal the wounds of 30 years of war.
The Obama administration has done little publicly to push the issue forward, offering to talk to moderate members of the Taliban but drawing the line at those linked to Al Qaeda. "We and our Afghan allies stand ready to welcome anyone supporting the Taliban who renounces Al Qaeda, lays down their arms, and is willing to participate in the free and open society that is enshrined in the Afghan Constitution," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a speech last month.
Yet critics say that essentially demanding that the Taliban surrender will not produce results. The few senior members of the Taliban who have come over to the government warn that there is so much distrust of the government and foreign forces that it is deterring even low-level members of the Taliban. They have watched the poor treatment of tribal leaders and elders by the government and foreign forces.
Abdul Wahid Baghrani, an important tribal leader from Helmand Province who went over to the government in 2005 under its reconciliation program, negotiated the surrender of the Taliban in 2001 with Karzai. Now he lives in a house in western Kabul but is largely ignored by the government, despite the enormous influence he could exercise.
He said it was wrong to consider the Taliban leadership, or the leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, as irreconcilable. "It is not the opinion of people who know him and work with him," he said. "Of course it is possible to make peace with the Taliban - they are Afghans," he said. "The reason they are fighting is because they are not getting the opportunity to make peace."
2) Iraq May Hold Vote On U.S. Withdrawal
As American Focus Turns to North, Troops Could Be Forced to Leave Early
Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post, Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Baghdad, Aug. 17 - U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.
The Maliki government's announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here.
If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law.
Before signing off on the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement last year, Iraqi lawmakers demanded that voters get to weigh in on the pact in a referendum that was to take place no later than last month. Because it did not happen, American officials assumed the plebiscite was a dead issue.
U.S. officials say they have no way to know how the referendum would turn out, but they worry that many Iraqis are likely to vote against the pact. Maliki billed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from urban areas at the end of June as a "great victory" for Iraqis, and his government has since markedly curbed the authority and mobility of U.S. forces.
A poll commissioned by the U.S. military earlier this year found that Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces, according to a Pentagon report presented to Congress last month. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
Zainab Karim, a Shiite lawmaker from the Sadrist movement, the most ardently anti-American faction, said she was pleasantly surprised that the government is backing the referendum. "I consider this a good thing," she said. "But we have to wait and see whether the government is honest about this or whether it is electoral propaganda."
3) General Sir Richard Dannatt: British troops face five more years in Afghanistan
James Kirkup, The Telegraph, 17 Aug 2009
The head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, has said that Britain will have to keep thousands on troops on the front line in Afghanistan for up to five more years.
The Chief of the General Staff's remarks are at directly at odds with the claims of Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, who on Sunday predicted significant military progress in Afghanistan over "the next year or so." Sir Richard said that Afghan security forces may not be able to take over the role played by British forces until 2014. British troop numbers will have to stay at around 9,000 until then, he said.
A YouGov/Sky poll yesterday showed that 57 per cent of voters do not believe British troops should be in Afghanistan, and a majority are unsure of why Nato forces are in the country.
Sir Richard, speaking in Edinburgh, appeared to suggest a longer timetable for significant transfers of responsibility He said: "We have got to get it right. It will take a bit of time. We will go on doing, as the military, what we need to do until the Afghan capability is good enough to take over from us."
"That will continue for years. I don't want to put a figure on that but certainly two to four years, three to five years, of this kind of level of commitment by the military." Britain has 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, and Sir Richard insisted that the number should not fall for several years.
4) Mr. Micheletti's Dangerous Game
Editorial, New York Times, August 15, 2009
Honduras's de facto government appears to be running out the clock. It seems to believe that it can slow-pedal negotiations to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya, who was summarily ousted by the armed forces in June, and hang tight until voters elect a new president in November.
It must be disabused of this notion. Honduras has been deeply divided by the coup and passions could easily spin out of control. Even if the de facto government manages to pull off new elections, the results would be viewed as illegitimate by much of the Honduran population. That could mean years, not months, of crisis.
The Organization of American States, Washington and the Latin American governments that are trying to broker a solution must press this point with Roberto Micheletti, the de facto president, and his advisers.
The administration may not be able to hew to this fine line for much longer. Arias has proposed that President Zelaya be returned to office immediately and that Honduras move up its presidential elections by a month to October. Zelaya has also agreed not to try to change the constitution so he can run for re-election - the issue that prompted the coup. But Micheletti has dug in his heels, refusing to accept the deal.
Foreign ministers from several Latin American countries plan to visit Honduras next week to press Micheletti and his backers to change their minds. The de facto government has already forced a postponement of the visit once. If it continues to reject the deal, the United States must be prepared to exert more pressure.
5) US military denies role in Honduras coup flight
Freddy Cuevas, Associated Press, Sunday, August 16, 2009 11:45 PM
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The U.S. military said Sunday its troops in Honduras did not know of and played no role in a flight that took ousted President Manuel Zelaya to exile during a military coup.
Zelaya says the Honduran military plane that flew him to Costa Rica on June 28 stopped to refuel at Soto Cano, a Honduran air base that is home to 600 U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen engaged in counter-narcotics operations and other missions in Central America.
U.S. forces at Soto Cano "were not involved in the flight that carried President Zelaya to Costa Rica on June 28," Southern Command spokesman Robert Appin said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. The American troops "had no knowledge or part in the decisions made for the plane to land, refuel and take off."
Appin said the U.S. troops at Soto Cano have stopped conducting exercises with the Honduran military since the coup.
During a visit to Brazil last week, Zelaya spoke of the stop at Soto Cano, also known as Palmerola, and voiced suspicions of U.S. complicity in the coup - although he stressed that he did not believe the highest levels of the Obama administration were involved.
"The Obama administration has been firm in condemning the coup and demanding my restitution. I do not see reasons to believe that the Obama administration has two faces," Zelaya said.
"Now, there are some elements of the CIA that could have been involved. When they took me by plane to Costa Rica, it was a short flight but the plane made a stop at the Palmerola air base to refuel," he added. "Palmerola is a base administered by Honduran and U.S. troops. If it was a short flight, some 40 minutes, why did they have to refuel at Palmerola base?
Patricia Valle, who served as Zelaya's deputy foreign minister, reiterated those suspicions Saturday, although she gave no evidence that American personnel at the base interacted with the Honduran military officials on the plane or that they even knew Zelaya was there. She said Zelaya stayed on the plane during the stop. "Zelaya was taken to Palmerola," Valle told the AP. "The United States was involved in the coup against Zelaya."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Fred Lash said in response to the claim that "the Soto Cano Airbase in Honduras is a Honduran military base under the control of the Honduran military authorities. The United States was not informed in advance of the use of the Soto Cano Airbase as a refueling stop for the aircraft that transported President Zelaya into exile."
Palmerola was used by the United States during the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.
6) U.S., Colombia 'very close' on base agreement
Associated Press, Tue, Aug. 18, 2009
The State Department says Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez will not be signing a U.S.-Colombia defense cooperation agreement.
Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters Tuesday ahead of a meeting in Washington that the countries are "very close" and "have an agreement in principle" but "it's going to be a few more weeks before we actually sign it."
He says Clinton and Bermudez will also discuss the coup in Honduras.
Kelly says Bermudez will also meet with President Barack Obama's national security adviser, James Jones.
The 10-year lease agreement would give U.S. forces greater access to Colombian air and naval bases.
7) Mexico May Get More Anti-Drug Aid
U.S. Report Cites Human Rights Efforts by Police, Military
William Booth, Washington Post, Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Mexico City, Aug. 17 - The Obama administration has concluded that Mexico is working hard to protect human rights while its army and police battle the drug cartels, paving the way for the release of millions of dollars in additional federal aid.
The Merida Initiative, a three-year, $1.4 billion assistance program passed by Congress to help Mexico fight drug trafficking, requires the State Department to state that the country is taking steps to protect human rights and to punish police officers and soldiers who violate civil guarantees. Congress may withhold 15 percent of the annual funds - about $100 million so far - until the Obama administration offers its seal of approval for Mexico's reform efforts.
The State Department had planned to send its positive report to Congress in advance of President Obama's visit to Mexico earlier this month. But aides to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee, told State Department officials that they were not presenting a strong case that Mexico was improving its efforts to fight drug trafficking.
State Department officials withdrew and then announced that the often secretive Mexican military had provided additional information on cases that it had prosecuted against abuse.
In recent weeks, after detailed allegations in the media of human rights abuses, the Mexican military said that it has received 1,508 complaints of human rights abuses in 2008 and 2009. It did not say how the cases were resolved, but said that the most serious cases involved forced disappearances, murder, rape, robbery, illegal searches and arbitrary arrests.
Human rights groups contend that only a few cases have been successfully prosecuted.
Upon learning of the State Department's judgment, Luis Arriaga, director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center, said: "In a context of escalating human rights violations by the Mexican military, all three branches of the Mexican government have missed the opportunity to rein in impunity."
Arriaga's group last week lost a Mexican Supreme Court case that it hoped would open up military tribunals to civilian oversight. Arriaga said he hopes Congress uses the report to continue to press the Mexican military for transparency and accountability.
8) Human rights delegation heading to Honduras
Agence France-Presse, 08/17/2009
Tegucigalpa - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is heading to Honduras Monday to investigate alleged rights violations by the de facto government that has been in power since a June 28 coup.
"We are not going there to establish whether or not there was a coup, because that was already established by the general assembly of the Organization of American States on July 4," said Santiago Canton, the secretary general of the organization. "We are going there to examine the state of human rights in the context of the coup d'etat," Canton told AFP.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) has compiled a list of people whose lives it fears may be at risk because of their links to Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya, who was expelled from the country in a coup and has not been allowed to return.
CIDH has called on Honduras' interim government, led by Roberto Micheletti, to take measures to protect people on the list, who include ministers in Zelaya's government and leaders of a political movement that opposed the coup.
An international mission that included representatives from the International Federation of Human Rights visited Tegucigalpa at the end of July and concluded that "grave and systematic violations" of human rights had been committed in Honduras since the coup.
9) Honduras Charges Zelaya Supporters With Sedition
Kathia Martinez, Associated Press, August 14, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Two dozen supporters of Honduras' ousted president were charged with sedition Friday in an intensifying crackdown on protests against the coup-installed government.
Protests to demand the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya turned violent in the Honduran capital this week, with police firing tear gas and demonstrators fighting back with sticks and stones. Some protesters attacked the vice president of Congress, although he wasn't injured.
Some 24 demonstrators were charged with sedition and damaging private property, said Melvin Duarte, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office. Another four were charged with aggravated arson and terrorism in the burning of a bus and a restaurant.
Protest leader Eulogio Chavez accused the interim government of persecuting demonstrators and denied that the four charged with burning the bus and restaurant committed those acts.
10) Israel envoy to U.S.: We have no plans to strike Iran
Haaretz, August 17, 2009
Yesterday Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, rejected recent assessments that Israel was planning an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, Oren was asked about several reports suggesting that Israel was planning to strike Iran's facilities to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons, although Iran insists its nuclear program has only peaceful goals. Zakaria said that John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had gone as far as to say that he believed Israel was likely to attack Iran by the end of this year.
"I don't think it's true. I think that we are far from even contemplating such things right now," Oren said in response. "The government of Israel has supported President [Barack] Obama in his approach to Iran - the engagement, the outreach to Iran."
Zakaria questioned Oren's statement, saying, "You're just saying this, Michael. It is well known that the government of Israel is deeply uncomfortable and nervous about the idea of engagement with Iran."
Oren dismissed his interviewer's comment, and said: "We were, but we were greatly comforted during the prime minister [Benjamin Netanyahu's] visit here [in the U.S.] in May, when the president told him, assured him, that there would be a serious reassessment of the policy before the end of the year. We are further reassured now that the end of the year deadline has been moved up to September. We are comforted by the fact that the administration in the aftermath of recent events in Iran has exhibited greater willingness to consider formulating a package of serious sanctions against Iran even now, in advance of the reassessment."
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