Just Foreign Policy News
March 12, 2010
House Afghanistan Debate: What Kucinich Accomplished
On Wednesday, at long last, there was a vigorous debate about the war in Afghanistan on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. The legislative vehicle was a resolution introduced by Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich calling for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. But House critics of the war have long been agitating for a real debate.
[includes video of Edwards, Grayson, Paul, Pingree, and Kucinich.] http://www.truthout.org/house-afghanistan-debate-what-kucinich-accomplished57588
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1) Secretary of State Clinton warned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Friday that Israel had sent a "deeply negative signal" about the U.S.-Israeli relationship and urged him to take immediate steps to demonstrate it was interested in renewing efforts at a Middle East peace agreement, the Washington Post reports. Her call, made in the wake of the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden when Israel announced it would build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, was an unusually tough message for the longtime U.S. ally, the Post says.
2) U.S. officials say a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, the Los Angeles Times reports. "The Afghan Taliban does not want to be seen as, or heard of, having the same relationship with AQ that they had in the past," said a US official. The tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda. Indications of Al Qaeda-Taliban strains are at odds with recent public statements by the Obama administration, the LAT says.
3) It is far from clear that Persian Gulf nations will ultimately be willing to use their influence to drum up Chinese support for tougher sanctions, the Wall Street Journal reports. Officials throughout the Persian Gulf have long said they will abide by any new sanctions regime established by the UN that has the force of international law. But Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates have resisted pressure from Washington to curb their extensive trade ties with Iran. U.A.E. officials argue that the small nation located only a few dozen miles from the Iranian mainland should remain neutral in the international struggle to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
4) A US pact with the Afghan Shinwari tribe to fight the Taliban appears to have been derailed by a violent split within the tribe over a land dispute, the New York Times reports. At least 13 people have been killed in fighting within the tribe. The fighting raised questions about how effectively the US military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, the NYT says.
5) The State Department is blaming the Iraqi government for arbitrary killings of civilians and other human rights abuses, AP reports. The department’s annual human rights report, released Thursday, also highlighted abuses in Afghanistan. The report said Pakistan saw extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances last year. The annual report is often dismissed by foreign leaders who say the US should focus on its own abuses and civilian deaths that result from its military actions. A US official said said that later this year, the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report will for the first time rank the US as it does foreign governments.
6) Under international law, CIA agents and CIA contractors who arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan are unlawful combatants, like the fighters they target, writes Gary Solis of Georgetown Law in the Washington Post. If captured, the unlawful acts committed during their direct participation makes them subject to prosecution in civilian courts or military tribunals. If the CIA civilian personnel recently killed by a suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were directly involved in supplying targeting data, arming or flying drones in the combat zone, they were lawful targets of the enemy.
7) Marjah is just a scattering of dusty villages set amid 17,000 hectares of poppy fields, Time Magazine reports. But U.N. reckons Marjah has the world’s highest concentration of opium production. Many Western and Afghan counternarcotics experts want to destroy the poppy crop. But Gen. McChrystal and his military commanders have warned that destroying the crop would enrage the population. Military commanders advocate simply buying up this year’s harvest and persuading farmers to grow something else next season. McChrystal is likely to win the debate, Time says.
8) Some analysts said President Karzai’s main mission in his trip to Pakistan was to seek Pakistani help in promoting conciliatory gestures and peace efforts toward the Taliban, the New York Times reports. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid said the arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan were a source of "a very serious underlying tension" between the countries. "Some of the more pragmatic Taliban have been arrested by the ISI," Rashid said, "and this has caused consternation in Kabul because these were the same people who were holding secret talks with the Kabul administration, and the other suggestion is that a number of hard-liners will replace Mullah Baradar and those arrested." Rashid said Afghans were eager for reconciliation with the Taliban. The Americans are not fully on board but the British are pushing Karzai for it, he said. "India, of course, I think has got quite a fit that Pakistan is muscling in by making these arrests," he said.
9) Yemeni authorities stormed local offices of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and confiscated broadcasting equipment in apparent response to their coverage of the country’s south, where a protest movement is pushing to restore the region’s independence, AP reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a February report that Yemen’s government is one of the most media repressive in the Middle East, banning some newspapers, blocking Web sites and setting up a special court for cases involving media. Some journalists have also gone missing, the report said.
10) Thousands of protestors gathered for demonstrations across Yemen calling for the military to withdraw from southern cities and for the government to halt a sweeping campaign of arrests, Reuters reports. Two protesters were shot dead as security forces tried to quash a separatist demonstration in a southern province. Yemen earlier this week offered to hold talks with southern separatists and hear their grievances. But diplomats say previous talks offers by the government have not been followed by action to tackle southern complaints that the government neglects the south and treats southerners unfairly, including in property disputes, jobs and pension rights.
11) The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a report Wednesday which criticized the ongoing violations of human rights and abuses of power taking place in Colombia, says Colombia Reports. The report said a "climate of terror" still exists for union members, indigenous community leaders, Afro-Colombians, representatives of displaced populations, judges, lawyers, and journalists.
12) British diplomats have protested to the State Department over Washington’s response to the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands, the Times of London reports. British anger mounted when Secretary of State Clinton endorsed Argentine President Kirchner’s call for talks on sovereignty. UK diplomats sought clarification of the US position after a State Department spokesman answered a question about the Falklands by saying: "Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it." The State Department denied any friction with "our British friends" over the Falklands but stood by everything Clinton said in her meeting with Kirchner.
1) Clinton warns Netanyahu that U.S.-Israeli relationship is at risk
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Friday, March 12, 2010; 4:31 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/12/AR2010031202615.html
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday that Israel had sent a "deeply negative signal" about the U.S.-Israeli relationship and urged him to take immediate steps to demonstrate it was interested in renewing efforts at a Middle East peace agreement.
Clinton spoke to the Israeli leader by telephone. Her call, made in the wake of the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced it would build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, was an unusually tough message for the longtime U.S. ally. It came two days after Biden condemned the action which was announced while he was in Israel, and demonstrated that Netanyahu’s efforts to mollify the administration have fallen short. He has claimed that he did not know the announcement was coming but has not canceled the project.
Relations with Israel have been strained during the Obama administration, and Biden’s trip was intended as a fence-mending mission. Now it has led to the biggest crisis between the two countries in two decades.
Clinton called the prime minister "to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters at his regular news briefing. Clinton, he said, reinforced "this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests."
Crowley added: "The secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security, and she made clear that the Israeli government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process."
2) Some U.S. officials see a growing Taliban-Al Qaeda rift
They believe military pressures in the Pakistani border region are making the Afghan militants reluctant to cooperate with their longtime allies. Not all officials are convinced.
David S. Cloud and Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2010
Washington – A growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment, according to U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials.
The officials, citing evidence from interrogation of detainees, communications intercepts and public statements on extremist websites, say that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.
As a result, Al Qaeda fighters are in some cases being excluded from villages and other areas near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border where they once received sanctuary.
Al Qaeda’s attempts to restore its dwindling presence in Afghanistan are also running into problems, the officials say. Al Qaeda was forced out of Afghanistan by the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban in 2001, and it reestablished itself across the border in Pakistan, where Osama bin Laden and other leaders are thought to have taken refuge.
Al Qaeda is believed to have fewer than 100 operatives still in Afghanistan. Though mounting attacks there is not the network’s main focus, it remains interested in striking U.S. and other targets.
But its capabilities have been degraded in recent years, and such attacks now require assistance from the Taliban or waiting for fleeting opportunities, such as the suicide bomber attack on a base used by the CIA in Khowst province in December by a Jordanian double agent who had promised U.S. officials intelligence about Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri.
Last year, the organization began offering stipends to Afghans who would escort its operatives into the country, but there are indications that many Taliban are refusing this inducement, one U.S. official said.
"The Afghan Taliban does not want to be seen as, or heard of, having the same relationship with AQ that they had in the past," said the senior official, who is familiar with the latest intelligence and used an abbreviation for Al Qaeda. The officials and others described the assessments on condition of anonymity.
Indications of Al Qaeda-Taliban strains are at odds with recent public statements by the Obama administration, which has stressed close connections among militant groups to help build support from the Pakistani government and other allies to take them on all at once.
U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan’s remote regions.
But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda.
[…] Though they have a common enemy in the United States and a common interest in maintaining their sanctuary, Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban have seen their goals diverge somewhat.
The Taliban has focused on moderating its image as part of its campaign to retake power in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda has drawn closer to other militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal belt that are seeking to overthrow the Pakistani government.
Al Qaeda still has a close relationship with the leaders of the Haqqani network, a militant Afghan group based on the Pakistani side of the border in North Waziristan.
The Haqqani group, named for its founder Jalaluddin Haqqani, continues to cooperate with Al Qaeda despite suffering substantial casualties over the last year and a half in CIA drone strikes, officials said.
The apprehension about continuing cooperation with Al Qaeda is especially strong among members of the Quetta shura, the council of Afghan Taliban leaders, based for the last nine years in the Pakistani city of Quetta. Several top shura members have been arrested by Pakistani security services, officials said, which has left the organization at least temporarily in disarray.
Even in the Haqqani organization, some low- and mid-level Afghan fighters are growing leery about continued collaboration with Al Qaeda, a U.S. official said.
3) Gates Seeks Help From Gulf Leaders On Iran Sanctions
Yochi J. Dreazen and Margaret Coker, Wall Street Journal, March 12, 2010
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Persian Gulf leaders to press China to back stronger sanctions on Iran, a sign of the Obama administration’s efforts to win diplomatic support for its harder-line stance toward Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Gates, wrapping up a five-day trip to Afghanistan and the Middle East, used dinner meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of Abu Dhabi to make the case for increasing the economic pressure on Iran, whose growing regional influence is a major cause of concern in many Arab capitals.
[…] Despite the American optimism, it is far from clear that Persian Gulf nations will ultimately be willing to use their soft power over Beijing to drum up Chinese support for tougher sanctions.
Officials throughout the Persian Gulf have long said they will abide by any new sanctions regime established by the United Nations that has the force of international law. But Dubai and the rest of the United Arab Emirates have resisted pressure from Washington to curb their extensive trade ties with Iran, in line with U.S. sanctions already in place against Iranian companies and government officials.
U.A.E. officials argue that the small nation located only a few dozen miles from the Iranian mainland should remain neutral in the international struggle to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Diplomats here say that they abide by existing U.N. sanctions against Iran banning the sale of so-called dual-use technologies that could be used to enhance Tehran’s nuclear program, but haven’t indicated a willingness to go much further.
4) Afghan Tribal Rivalries Bedevil A U.S. Plan
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 11, 2010
Jalalabad, Afghanistan – Six weeks ago, elders of the Shinwari tribe, which dominates a large area in southeastern Afghanistan, pledged that they would set aside internal differences to focus on fighting the Taliban. This week, that commitment seemed less important as two Shinwari subtribes took up arms to fight each other over an ancient land dispute, leaving at least 13 people dead, according to local officials.
The fighting was a setback for American military officials, some of whom had hoped it would be possible to replicate the pledge elsewhere. It raised questions about how effectively the American military could use tribes as part of its counterinsurgency strategy, given the patchwork of rivalries that make up Afghanistan.
Government officials and elders from other tribes were trying to get the two sides to reconcile, but given the intensity of the fighting, some said they doubted that the effort would work. At the very least, the dispute is proving a distraction from the tribe’s commitment to fight the Taliban, not each other.
[…] The one initial worry was that the Taliban might try to drive a wedge between different factions within the tribe, which includes about 400,000 people. The land dispute may have done that work for the insurgents.
Questions for Shinwari tribal elders this week about whether the pact against the Taliban still stood went unanswered as the elders turned the conversation to their intratribal struggle. "We promised to work with the government to fight the Taliban," said Hajji Gul Nazar, an elder from the Mohmand branch of the Shinwari tribe. He added, "Well, the government officials should have taken care of this argument among us before the shooting started."
"We are the same tribe, and we are not happy killing each other," he said. "The provincial police chief and the governor should have taken care of this issue."
5) US report: Afghan, Iraq human rights abuses up
Foster Klug, Associated Press, Thursday, March 11, 2010; 5:21 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/11/AR2010031102184.html
Washington – As the U.S. military prepares to leave Iraq, the State Department is blaming the Iraqi government for arbitrary killings of civilians and other human rights abuses. The department’s annual human rights report, released Thursday, also highlighted abuses in Afghanistan, another country where American troops are battling an insurgency. Civilians suffered the most when violence in Afghanistan spiked last year, the report said.
Blaming the insurgents, the report said that almost one-third of Afghanistan was plunged into armed conflict, reducing the government’s ability to protect its citizens and extend its influence.
In Iraq, human rights abuses continued in 2009 despite an improvement in general security, the report said.
[…] The annual report is often dismissed by foreign leaders who say the United States should focus on its own abuses and civilian deaths that result from its military actions. This year, complaints include President Barack Obama’s failure so far to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, holding foreigners suspected of terrorism; U.S. missile attacks meant to kill insurgents in the Pakistan-Afghan border area; and the continued use of the death penalty in the U.S.
U.S. officials addressed that criticism Thursday, saying a number of other government reports examine the United States’ human rights record. Michael Posner, an assistant secretary of state for human rights, said that later this year, the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report, which looks at forced labor and sexual exploitation, will for the first time rank the United States as it does foreign governments. "We hold every government, including our own, to a single universal standard," Posner said.
[…] The report said Pakistan saw extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances last year, despite some positive steps by the country’s civilian government. It says hundreds of civilians died because of militant attacks in the rugged area along the Afghan border.
6) CIA drone attacks produce America’s own unlawful combatants
Gary Solis, Washington Post, Friday, March 12, 2010; A17
[Solis, adjunct professor at Georgetown, is the author of "The Law of Armed Conflict."]
In our current armed conflicts, there are two U.S. drone offensives. One is conducted by our armed forces, the other by the CIA. Every day, CIA agents and CIA contractors arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Pakistani tribal areas, to search out and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.
Before the 1863 Lieber Code condemned civilian participation in combat, it was contrary to customary law. Today, civilian participation in combat is still prohibited by two 1977 protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. Although the United States has not ratified the protocols, we consider the prohibition to be customary law, binding on all nations. Whether in international or non-international armed conflict, we kill terrorists who take a direct part in hostilities because their doing so negates their protection as civilians and renders them lawful targets. If captured, the unlawful acts committed during their direct participation makes them subject to prosecution in civilian courts or military tribunals. They are not entitled to prisoner-of-war status.
If the CIA civilian personnel recently killed by a suicide bomber in Khost, Afghanistan, were directly involved in supplying targeting data, arming or flying drones in the combat zone, they were lawful targets of the enemy, although the enemy himself was not a lawful combatant. It makes no difference that CIA civilians are employed by, or in the service of, the U.S. government or its armed forces. They are civilians; they wear no distinguishing uniform or sign, and if they input target data or pilot armed drones in the combat zone, they directly participate in hostilities – which means they may be lawfully targeted.
Moreover, CIA civilian personnel who repeatedly and directly participate in hostilities may have what recent guidance from the International Committee of the Red Cross terms "a continuous combat function." That status, the ICRC guidance says, makes them legitimate targets whenever and wherever they may be found, including Langley. While the guidance speaks in terms of non-state actors, there is no reason why the same is not true of civilian agents of state actors such as the United States.
7) Afghanistan’s Fix
Tim McGirk, Time Magazine, Monday, Mar. 22, 2010
Kabul – When U.S. marines raided the notorious Lachoya opium bazaar in the southwestern Afghan region of Marjah at the start of their massive military offensive there last month, they found 700 kg of raw opium and 25 kilos of heroin. Anywhere else in the world, that would have been a major drug bust, but for Marjah, it was mere crumbs. After all, when Afghan and U.S. counternarcotics agents raided the same market nearly a year ago, the haul was measured in tons, not kilos. But the Marines lacked the element of surprise; to minimize civilian casualties, U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal had warned of the offensive weeks in advance. The drug traffickers and many of their Taliban protectors had cleared out long before Operation Moshtarak (Dari for together) began.
Marjah is just a scattering of dusty villages set amid 17,000 hectares of poppy fields. But its backwater appearance is deceptive: until last month, it was the hub of a dozen international drug syndicates reaching across borders as far away as Europe, Russia and the Far East. The U.N. reckons Marjah has the world’s highest concentration of opium production. So Operation Moshtarak is more than a military offensive; it is also the biggest counternarcotics operation ever attempted. It marks a new emphasis by the White House and the Pentagon on choking off the Taliban from their drug funds and ending their support among the Pashtun tribes of southern Afghanistan.
The crackdown is a big change from the Bush Administration’s counternarcotics policy in Afghanistan, which never got beyond occasional attempts to raze poppy fields. Once the war in Iraq began, U.S. officials said they lacked the resources to fight both the drug syndicates and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Also, many of the Afghan warlords whom the U.S. relied on to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda were involved in the drug trade. Now, officials say, the Obama Administration is taking a tough approach to drugs in Afghanistan, sparing no one, not even friends and associates of President Hamid Karzai. "Everyone’s fair game," says a Western counternarcotics official in Kabul. "If someone comes within reach of our investigation, nothing is going to stop us from making a case."
But Marjah is showing why separating the Taliban from their narcodollars is so difficult. Not only did the drug syndicates get away with much of their stash and their heroin labs, but also there’s no consensus among NATO commanders, counternarcotics experts and Afghan Cabinet officials on what to do next. The opium trade is woven into the fabric of the economy of southern Afghanistan. In Marjah, as elsewhere, the Taliban protected the drug syndicates for a price, reaping millions of dollars from the opium bounty. But ordinary residents benefited from the drug trade too; it provided a lucrative crop for 70,000 farmers and their families, work for laborers and a source of graft for officials. Even the tribal council played a role in the trade, adjudicating disputes between drug lords.
How to break that dependency? Many Western and Afghan counternarcotics experts recommend the cold-turkey approach: just destroy the poppy crop and make the farmers plant something else. Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province, which includes Marjah, favors this plan. But according to Afghan officials, McChrystal and his military commanders have warned that destroying the crop would enrage the population. Mohammed Rahim Khan, who fled the invasion and has just returned to his poppy fields, tells TIME, "I spent lots of money on my field, and so did my neighbors. If the government destroys the fields, nearly all the people will rise against them."
The military commanders advocate simply buying up this year’s harvest and persuading farmers to grow something else next season. The counternarcotics officials strongly disagree. Paying the farmers would be tantamount to "rewarding criminality," says a Western official. He adds, "These people knew about the offensive, and they planted the crop anyway. They wanted to make a profit." These officials point out that swaths of eastern Afghanistan have been cleared of opium poppy by provincial counternarcotics teams without any farmers’ revolt.
Another option for Marjah is to let the farmers harvest the opium and sell it off – and then grab the men who try to smuggle it to the syndicates’ heroin labs elsewhere in Afghanistan and in global markets beyond. This would punish the traffickers and their Taliban protectors without hurting the farmers. "Once the farmers are handed their money, we’ll close in on the traffickers’ trucks and labs," says a NATO general. But counternarcotics agents worry that the drug lords will find ways to get their hands on the opium anyway. The weak link in the chain is the Afghan security forces, which will be manning the checkpoints on the roads out of Marjah. A private in the Afghan National Army earns only $165 a month, making him and his comrades easy prey for a smuggler with a wad of bills.
When the military commanders and counternarcotics officials finally agree on what to do with the poppy crop – McChrystal is likely to win that debate – they will confront the next challenge: getting the farmers to eventually grow other crops instead. The last time officials in Kabul tried to get Marjah farmers to switch to wheat cultivation was in 2008, when opium was selling at $75 a kg, a long way down from the peak of $250 a kilo in 2003. Even so, the farmers turned down subsidized wheat seed and fertilizer, believing opium would be more profitable. They were wrong. When the next crop was harvested, says Rory Donohoe, a USAID official in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s provincial capital, "some wheat farmers made more than poppy farmers." That’s because opium poppy is a high-maintenance plant and costs five times as much to grow as wheat. Poppy is also expensive to harvest, requiring many laborers, who must scour each poppy pod and manually extract the opium; wheat can usually be harvested by a single farmer.
8) Karzai Meets With Top Officials In Pakistan
Salman Masood, New York Times, March 11, 2010
Islamabad, Pakistan – President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani here on Thursday in a show of public friendship, even as the two sides tried to work through underlying tensions over how to deal with the Taliban militants who use the countries’ lawless border region as a sanctuary.
Both leaders stressed that stability for their countries hinged on mutual cooperation, and Mr. Karzai tried to assuage widespread public unease in Pakistan about the growing influence in Afghanistan of India, Pakistan’s regional rival. "Afghanistan does not want proxy war between India and Pakistan," Mr. Karzai said at a joint news conference with the prime minister, adding that he appreciated Indian efforts in Afghan reconstruction.
[…] But some analysts noted that beyond the diplomatic niceties, important differences remained. Mr. Karzai’s main mission, they said, was to seek Pakistani help in promoting conciliatory gestures and peace efforts toward the Taliban.
In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of arrests of militant leaders in Pakistan, most importantly that of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the No. 2 Taliban figure, who was detained last month in Karachi. However, Pakistani officials have rejected Afghan demands to hand him over.
Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist and expert on the Taliban who met with Mr. Karzai on Thursday morning, said the arrests of Taliban leaders in Pakistan were a source of "a very serious underlying tension" between the countries.
Mr. Rashid told Dawn News, a private television news channel, "Karzai has asked for the extradition of Mullah Baradar and these Taliban who have been caught by the ISI in recent weeks." He was referring to the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, the Pakistani spy agency.
Mr. Rashid said there was a suggestion from the Afghan side that the Pakistani arrests of Taliban leaders were not helping Kabul. "The word ‘undermining’ Kabul’s own initiative was used, and I think these tensions would have been a key in the talks with Prime Minister Gilani," as well as the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence chiefs, he said.
"Some of the more pragmatic Taliban have been arrested by the ISI," Mr. Rashid said, "and this has caused consternation in Kabul because these were the same people who were holding secret talks with the Kabul administration, and the other suggestion is that a number of hard-liners will replace Mullah Baradar and those arrested."
Mr. Rashid said that Afghans were eager for reconciliation with the Taliban. The Americans are not fully on board but the British are pushing Mr. Karzai for it, he said. "India, of course, I think has got quite a fit that Pakistan is muscling in by making these arrests," he said. "There is an enormous amount of complexity and tension between all the major players right now in Afghanistan."
9) Yemen raids offices of 2 pan-Arab TV networks
Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press, Friday, March 12, 2010; 11:11 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/12/AR2010031201420.html
Cairo – Yemeni authorities stormed local offices of the two leading pan-Arab television networks and confiscated broadcasting equipment in an apparent response to their coverage of the country’s south, where a protest movement is pushing to restore the region’s independence.
Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera and its rival Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya said Friday that security agents stormed their offices in the capital, San’a, called their staff in for questioning and seized live broadcasting equipment Thursday night.
Information Minister Hassan al-Lozy said authorities acted against the stations because they had no license to operate their live broadcasting equipment, something the stations dispute.
The networks said they believed the raids were related to their coverage of the growing tension in the south, which threatens the impoverished nation’s stability along with a deepening al-Qaida presence and a separate rebel insurgency in the north.
Amid the turmoil, authorities have routinely pressured journalists, particularly over coverage of the government’s struggle on these three fronts and the military’s performance.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report in February that Yemen’s government is one of the most media repressive in the Middle East, banning some newspapers, blocking Web sites and setting up a special court for cases involving media. Some journalists have also gone missing, the report said.
Al-Jazeera said on its Web site that government officials recently warned the station against covering meetings of southern opposition parties.
The southern protest movement, fueled by claims of government neglect and discrimination, has become more violent as tensions have soared in recent weeks. Eight activists and two policemen have been killed this month during a government crackdown.
10) Thousands protest against crackdown in south Yemen
Mohammed Ghobari, Reuters, Thursday, March 11, 2010; 8:45 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/11/AR2010031101019.html
Sanaa – Yemeni forces launched an attack Thursday to recapture a government building occupied by separatists in the south of the country, setting off a gunfight that killed two people, a local official and witnesses said.
Two protesters were shot dead as security forces tried to quash a separatist demonstration in another southern province. Elsewhere in Yemen, thousands gathered for demonstrations to demand an easing of the crackdown on the south.
Under international pressure to quell domestic unrest and focus its sights on al Qaeda, Yemen earlier this week offered to hold talks with southern separatists and hear their grievances.
The offer by President Ali Abdullah Saleh followed an escalation of violence on both sides in southern Yemen which left a trail of dead and wounded in recent weeks while insurgent violence elsewhere in the country has faded.
Crowds of demonstrators in several cities called for the military to withdraw from southern cities and for the government to halt a sweeping campaign of arrests.
[…] While offering dialogue, Saleh also said the separatist flag would "burn in the days and weeks ahead." The separatists, who lack a unified leadership, have given no public response to the president’s offer.
North and South Yemen united in 1990, but many in the south – home to most of Yemen’s oil industry – complain northerners have seized resources and discriminate against them.
Diplomats say previous talks offers by Sanaa have not been followed by action to tackle southern complaints that the government neglects the south and treats southerners unfairly, including in property disputes, jobs and pension rights.
11) UN criticizes Colombia’s human rights record
Daniel Brody, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 10 March 2010 21:27
The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, issued a report on Wednesday which criticized the ongoing violations of human rights and abuses of power taking place in Colombia.
The report acknowledged that while security has improved in the country, a "climate of terror" still exists for certain groups, including union members, indigenous community leaders, Afro-Colombians, representatives of displaced populations, judges, lawyers, and journalists.
Pillay noted that civil society groups in Colombia seeking to defend human rights are often threatened, sometimes by the government. The Administrative Department of Security (DAS) wiretapping scandal was singled out as an example of abuse of power.
According to Pillay, information obtained illegally by the government body was used to initiate judicial proceedings against political activists, and that even now certain public institutions are using illegally obtained evidence against politicians that disagree with the current government.
The report also criticized the government’s portrayal of critical civil organizations as no different from state enemies or even guerillas. Pillay said that government officials who make such statements should be punished.
The report also said that the independence of the country’s judicial branch was under attack in the form of verbal threats from the executive branch, as well certain judges being wiretapped by DAS after charging members of the executive branch with crimes.
12) Britain made string of protests to US over Falklands row
Giles Whittell, Michael Evans and Catherine Philp, Times of London, March 10, 2010
Washington – British diplomats have expressed serious concerns to the US State Department at least three times over Washington’s response to the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands, The Times has learnt.
In telephone calls and meetings, senior diplomats and specialists were forced to restate Britain’s position on sovereignty over the islands and seek clarification of the US position after a State Department spokesman in February answered a question about the Falklands by saying: "Or the Malvinas, depending on how you see it."
British anger over the Obama Administration’s apparent indifference to the issue mounted when Hillary Clinton endorsed President Fernández de Kirchner’s call for talks on sovereignty while she was in Buenos Aires last week, State Department sources said.
The new details of British complaints emerged as influential conservatives in Washington described the Administration’s handling of the dispute as offensive, ignorant and a reflection of a lack of enthusiasm for the idea of a special relationship between the two countries.
British officials in Washington say publicly that the Falklands issue has been raised only in "friendly conversations in the course of normal business" between the Embassy and the Administration. Privately, however, there is a sense that the Obama Administration has not taken on board British sensibilities and that it has been too dismissive of points raised in London. Officials said that several phone calls were made and an e-mail was sent after the State Department spokesman called the islands the Malvinas.
Asked why the US chose to remain neutral despite Britain’s longstanding claims, the spokesman twice avoided calling them the Falklands, first saying "whatever you want to call them" and then using the Argentine name. US sources described the calls and meetings as demarches – in diplomatic parlance, formal protests. A British official insisted that "nobody’s been writing any formal letters", adding that Britain was "genuinely quite relaxed" about the American position.
The same cannot be said of President Obama’s critics in Washington. The Pentagon official primarily responsible for providing the British Forces "with whatever they needed" in the Falklands campaign in 1982 yesterday accused the Administration of insulting Britain. Richard Perle, then assistant Secretary for Defence said: "I think using the description Malvinas is offensive to British interests."
[…] The State Department denied last night any friction with "our British friends" over the Falklands but stood by everything Mrs Clinton said in her meeting with Mrs Kirchner.
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