23 February 2019

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Saturday February 9, 2019

Kabul (BNA) “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” President Trump declared in his State of the Union Address.
It was a line that could have been delivered by President Barack Obama, who in 2015 memorably said, “I do not support the idea of endless war.” Just a few days before Trump’s address, his own party delivered the president a stinging rebuke when Senate Republicans passed a resolution opposing his Syrian and Afghan withdrawals by an overwhelming bipartisan 68-to-23 vote. Trump’s defenders say: That’s just the foreign policy establishment advocating “forever war.” When, they ask, will these wars end? When will we be able to declare victory and go home?
These are fair questions, and they deserve serious answers. In traditional wars, defining victory is easy. Victory comes when the enemy surrenders and lays down its arms. But this is not traditional war. We are not fighting nation-states with defined borders and armies, navies and air forces. We are fighting radical Islamist terrorists who are engaged in what Osama bin Laden called “a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam.” There will be no signing ceremony on the deck of the USS Missouri. They will never lay down their arms. In this war, victory for the United States is every day that passes without a terrorist attack on American soil. And that daily victory is made possible because the men and women of the US military are hunting the enemy in faraway lands.
America’s enemies have a very clear definition of victory. For them, victory comes when we give up the fight before they do. We know this because they have told us so. The 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his CIA interrogator, “Americans don’t realize we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.” That is how the terrorists see Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and Trump’s planned withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan: America defeating itself by quitting. It is understandable that, after 18 years, Americans want the war to end. But what we want is irrelevant. We don’t get to decide unilaterally that the war is over. The enemy gets a vote. Just because we have tired of fighting doesn’t mean that they have.
Here is the hard truth: We don’t get to choose when the war ends, but we do get to choose where it is fought. It can either be fought over there, in the deserts of Syria and the mountains of Afghanistan, or it can be fought over here — on American streets and in American cities, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s up to us. Trump deserves enormous credit for taking the gloves off in the fight against the terrorists. He was absolutely correct when he declared in the State of the Union Address, “When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters.” But the Islamic State is not defeated. It still has tens of thousands of fighters under arms and, according to one estimate by the Institute for the Study of War, as much as $400 million it smuggled out of Iraq, money that can be used to sustain its movement and plan attacks across the world.
In Afghanistan, US intelligence estimates there are about 20 terrorist groups — including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State Khorasan, or IS-K — that would immediately gain an uncontested sanctuary from which to plan new attacks if America withdraws. On Jan. 28, The New York Times reported that a 2017 intelligence assessment, renewed last year, “says a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan would lead to an attack on the United States within two years.” Right now, the US military has its boot on the terrorists’ necks. They are focused on survival, not on launching faraway attacks. Take that boot away, though, and the terrorists will get up, dust themselves off, regroup, rebuild and go back to trying to kill Americans in the United States. In his address, Trump praised the heroism of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. “They did not know if they would survive the hour,” he said. “They did not know if they would grow old. But they knew that America had to prevail.” The same is true today. Great nations do not quit before they prevail.
Nypost
 

Thursday February 7, 2019

Kabul (BNA) Afghanistan's president spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo late Tuesday in an apparent bid to reassert his authority as Washington accelerates its negotiations with the Taliban and as separate talks unfold in Moscow without the government's involvement. In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said his administration is holding "constructive talks" with the Taliban and other Afghan groups, and that "as we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troops' presence and focus on counter-terrorism."
Last September, the White House appointed Zalmay Khalilzad as a peace envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to America's longest war, but until now he has been unable to get the Taliban to hold direct talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's government, whom the insurgents routinely refer to as a U.S. puppet.
This week the Taliban sent a delegation of 10 to talks underway in Moscow with dozens of prominent Afghan opposition figures, including former Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai appeared to try to deflect Ghani's criticism of the Moscow meeting tweeting: "We understand that the government in Kabul needs to be a part of these negotiations. We wish that they would have been here today." Karzai said he was responding to a question from the media in Moscow.
The deep divisions within the many stakeholders in Kabul highlight the difficulty of finding a negotiated end to a war that has already cost the United States more than 2,400 lives and $1 trillion. Yet 17 years on, the Taliban control or hold sway in roughly 50 percent of the country and carry out near daily attacks, mostly targeting the country's beleaguered security forces. "We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement - but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace," Trump said in his State of the Union address.
Ghani's call to Pompeo seemed an attempt to re-assert his government's role in negotiations he has sharply criticized at times as one-sided. Robert Palladino, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said Pompeo reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to achieving a lasting peace. Pompeo also emphasized the importance of an intra-Afghan dialogue and the role of a cease-fire in ending the violence and making it possible for the Afghan government, other Afghan leaders and the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement, Palladino said.
Ghani tweeted that Pompeo "stressed that our military partnership is unwavering and will remain until a lasting and inclusive peace is achieved." Ghani said that Pompeo also "underscored the central importance of ensuring the centrality of the Afghan government in the peace process" and signaled support for holding Afghan presidential elections in July. "We both agreed that words, rumors, and speculations cannot replace actions and that our partnership and resolve will remain strong in the pursuit of peace," Ghani tweeted.
Dailymail
 

Thursday February 7, 2019

Kabul (BNA) Uzbekistan has reiterated its readiness to host talks between Afghan government officials and Taliban negotiators.
Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry says Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov expressed the offer in Tashkent on February 5 to the United Nations' Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto.
The ministry quoted Kamilov as saying Uzbekistan is prepared to provide all necessary conditions for direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and Taliban negotiators to be organized "at any stage" of an Afghan peace process.
Uzbekistan started actively promoting regional cooperation after President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over power following the death of his predecessor Islam Karimov in 2016.
Rferl
 

Thursday February 7, 2019

Kabul (BNA) When the principal combatants of a long and bitter war agree to come to the negotiating table, all other stakeholders in the dispute must necessarily also reassess their investments and alignments with both parties and with each other. Such is the case in Afghanistan now that America and the Taliban, after 17 years of bitter conflict, appear to be on the verge of a ceasefire after several rounds of peace talks in the last few months.
The ripple effects of these talks extend to Islamabad, Moscow, Tehran, Riyadh, and Beijing. But they also have significant political and economic implications for India, one of the most committed partners of the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan and a major ally of the current National Unity government led by President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. No ceasefire is ever unwelcome, especially one that involves a possible end to such human devastation as the war in Afghanistan. But Donald Trump’s eagerness to exit the longest war in America’s history means that the Taliban – which is resurgent in Afghanistan, and now controls more territory than at any time since it was ousted from Kabul by America’s invasion in 2001 – clearly has the stronger hand in these talks. India is not alone in fearing that an insufficiently rigorous and foresighted truce, made with the short-term aim of relieving America’s burdens in Afghanistan, might lead to the implosion of the fragile peace established in Afghanistan today. Although New Delhi is not formally part of the negotiations, it did break with past precedent by sending Amar Sinha and TCA Raghavan, its former envoys in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Moscow round of talks last November in an unofficial capacity. With the current government in Kabul excluded from the talks at the insistence of the Taliban, this move from Delhi shows that it realizes the need to play a more prominent role in a dialogue whose results vitally affect not only its own future security interests and its fraught relationship with Pakistan but also the considerable investments it has made this decade in Afghanistan.
Such a realignment follows not naturally, but nevertheless inevitably, from India’s growing profile in Afghanistan in the past decade. In the chaotic years after America unseated the Taliban in 2001, New Delhi was forced to take a back seat in the reconstruction of Afghanistan as successive American governments privileged Pakistan’s needs and priorities as a trade-off in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Instead, India took the step of engaging directly with the elected governments in Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy of Hamid Karzai and, after 2014, Ashraf Ghani. The construction by India of Afghanistan’s new parliament building (inaugurated by prime minister Narendra Modi in 2015), while providing a powerful visual emblem of its commitment to democracy in Afghanistan, was just the most prominent of dozens of measures together constituting over $2 billion in aid as a way of staking out a role for itself in a key strategic space.  Today, Indian investment in the port of Chabahar in Iran (which it now runs) has opened up a new trade route in Central Asia and reduced Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan for international trade. Most importantly, Indian outlays in education and health in Afghanistan have earned it the goodwill of millions of Afghan people. Much more than the US, it is seen in Afghanistan today as a benign power.
But crucially, all these measures were enabled to a great extent by the security shield provided by American presence in Afghanistan. This means India has much to lose if, in the aftermath of a US-Taliban ceasefire, a resurgent Taliban were to escalate its efforts in the civil war with India, too, in its crosshairs. Such an eventuality might lead India to commit its own troops for the first time to Afghanistan. That would inevitably draw Pakistan more visibly into a pro-Taliban. That would set up a face-off between the two great powers of South Asia, with Moscow and Beijing unlikely to be silent spectators. So New Delhi faces a big decision on a question on which it had previously always had a unambiguous answer: that it would never do business with the Taliban. With the next presidential elections in Afghanistan scheduled for July 2019, there is a need for other stakeholders to emphasize the need to tie down the Taliban not just to a truce with America, but to some minimal commitment to resuming dialogue with the NUG (which it dismisses as a puppet government) and to ending the civil war in Afghanistan. It is surely untenable that a force that long refused to come to the negotiating table should now be able to do so while itself insisting on keeping the current government in Kabul out of the talks. India’s future role in Afghanistan will likely see it having to walk a fine line of augmenting the state power precariously wielded by the Ghani government and its elected successor and making alliances to contain the resurgence of the Taliban while also engaging with it directly. It must move with great care in negotiating the new perils and possibilities emerging to its north-west.
Arabnews
 

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