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Archives for May 2009

President Karzai visits Washington for second trilateral meeting

Second Trilateral Summit of Afghanistan-Pakistan-United States in Washington, DC

On Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan met with President Zardari of Pakistan and President Obama of the United States in Washington, DC, in the second summit of the trilateral contact group established in February. The Afghan and Pakistani presidents also met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Members of the Afghan and Pakistani delegations, including Ministers of Agriculture and intelligence professionals, met with their counterparts as well.

(President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari walk along the Colonnade following a US-Afghan-PakistanTrilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

(President Barack Obama (center) with Afghan President Karzai and Pakistan President Zardari walk along the Colonnade following a US-Afghan-PakistanTrilateral meeting in Cabinet Room May 6, 2009. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Karzai arrived in Washington, DC on Monday for a four-day visit, and on Tuesday he spoke at the Brookings Institution, where he said that the fundamentals of the US-Afghanistan relationship are strong, despite reports of tension in the press. He spoke of the ambitions of Afghans to build a strong, stable country in partnership with the United States and other Western allies.

During Wednesday’s day-long summit, the Afghan delegation, which included the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Agriculture and Finance, as well as the Director of National Intelligence, met and discussed issues of security, trade, agriculture, development and justice with their Pakistani and American counterparts, and attempted to find areas of cooperation. In an important step, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan and Afghanistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on trade-transit issues and agreed to discuss the issue further.

Much of the focus of the summit was on the shared threat from al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant extremist groups. President Obama, in his remarks after the trilateral meeting, said, “The security of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United States are linked.” President Karzai expressed his commitment to fighting this threat, and to working with the Americans to improve development and governance in Afghanistan.

  1. Click here to read the transcript of the press conference held with President Karzai, President Zardari and US Secretary of State Clinton.
  2. Click here for video of the press conference.
  3. Click here to read the statement delivered by President Obama after his trilateral meeting with President Karzai and President Zardari.
  4. Click here for video of President Obama’s remarks.
  5. Click here to read the press briefing on the trilateral meeting by National Security Advisor Jim Jones.
  6. Click here to read the statement delivered by President Hamid Karzai at the Brookings Institution.

On Washington Pakistan Overshadows Afghanistan on U.S. Agenda


WASHINGTON – When President Obama announced his new strategy in March for dealing with the problems of Afghanistan and Pakistan, he declared that America’s once-grandiose goals in the region should be narrowed to taking aim at Al Qaeda. To get the job done, he was already sending upwards of 21,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and he promised to pour billions of dollars in aid into development programs in the region.

There was only one hitch: Al Qaeda doesn’t really live in Afghanistan. It survives largely over the border in Pakistan, where American boots on the ground will never be tolerated. “This is the logical flaw in an otherwise pretty sophisticated plan,” one of the participants in the White House debate said at the time. “We have to stabilize Afghanistan. But if the goal is to take out Al Qaeda and its friends, we’re putting our troops in the wrong country.”

But only five weeks later, what seemed like a fissure in the plan – a fissure Mr. Obama himself discussed and fully understood, his aides say – has opened into a canyon. As Mr. Obama prepares to meet at the White House on Wednesday with President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, the agenda has been overwhelmed by the drive that insurgents inside Pakistan are mounting for control of swaths of the country.

The original intention for the meeting was to find ways to accomplish something the Pakistanis and the Afghans have never been able to engineer, no matter how hard Washington has pushed them to: A coordinated military effort to squeeze the Taliban and other insurgents on both sides of their long, wild border. Suddenly, that seems like the lesser of two urgent problems.

“The possibility is now real that we will see a jihadist state emerge in Pakistan – not an inevitable outcome, not even the most likely, but a real possibility,” said Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who served as the co-author of Mr. Obama’s review.

“And that is the real strategic nightmare for the United States,” he added.

Important as Afghanistan is to the United States, he said, the events of the past few weeks focused American minds on Pakistan’s uniquely toxic cocktail.

“It’s where the far greater strategic risks lie,” said Mr. Riedel, a former intelligence officer who has long navigated the dangerous currents of South Asia. “It has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

Or, as Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it on Monday, “this isn’t about ‘can do’ any more; this is about ‘must do.’ ”

So in the land of no good options, what are some of the possibilities that Mr. Obama can explore? What can he accomplish sitting down with a weak Pakistani leader who spent years dodging charges of corruption, and whose early support in Washington has quickly soured? Or with an even weaker Afghan leader who was once a favorite of the United States – both for his elegance and for his eloquence – but who many the Obama administration would now like to see eased out of office in the coming election?

Here are a few possibilities to watch for:

Speed Up Plan A The core of Mr. Obama’s strategy was to bet on a long-term solution: Retraining the Pakistani military to become an effective counterinsurgency force and pour billions of dollars and plenty of manpower into real nation-building efforts on both sides of the border, but particularly in the tribal areas that have become Al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds – in short, to execute the Marshall Plan for the region that President George W. Bush first talked about in March 2002 but never executed.

According to administration officials, Mr. Obama is expected to promise to unlock nearly $1 billion in aid that the United States has promised but not yet delivered, and to announce a new training program for Pakistani soldiers, probably located in Kuwait so that American trainers need not set foot on Pakistani soil. But building schools and training soldiers takes time. And with the Taliban expansion threatening the country’s main East-West highway – the highway that leads to Islamabad – it is not clear that the long-term approach will address the immediate military emergency.

Step up Predator Attacks and Covert Ground Action Last summer Mr. Bush approved a covert plan allowing United States forces, for the first time, to use remotely piloted aircraft to attack not only Al Qaeda sites, but other insurgents that threaten either Afghanistan or Pakistan. President Obama continued that policy, but every proposed strike by the Predator drones has posed a awful choice: How do you blow up a house that has suspected terrorists in the basement if it also has seven-year-olds and their mothers in the living room? The popular anger in Pakistan about the drones has reached a fever pitch.

Mr. Obama’s aides have debated inviting the Pakistanis to participate the C.I.A.’s Predator program, actively managing the missions rather just permitting them to be mounted from a not-so-secret base on Pakistani territory. But many in the administration are hesitant, because past joint operations with Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have rarely worked.

“The question is whether the Taliban’s boldness has scared the Pakistanis enough to realize that they need our help,” one national security official involved in the debate said. “We don’t know the answer to that.”

There is similar concern about sending American special forces on missions deeper into Pakisitan, for fear of the political reaction if they are discovered operating inside Pakistan’s borders. (One of Mr. Bush’s aides put this problem pithily last summer when he asked, “How do you invade an ally?”)

Make Nuclear Arms the No. 1 Concern: In public, the administration says that no matter what inroads the Taliban make in Pakistan, the country’s nuclear arsenal is secure. “The Pakistani leadership and in particular the military is very focused on this,” Admiral Mullen said on Monday.

But when not speaking on the record, intelligence and administration officials say they cannot rely on vague assurances that the weapons and the nuclear materials are locked down. They worry about a stream of intelligence suggesting sophisticated efforts by Al Qaeda and others to place their sympathizers inside the nuclear infrastructure. (Pakistani officials say they extensively screen the thousands of nuclear workers and weed out anyone suspect. But even in the United States, such programs have failed in the past.)

So some officials argue for extending the American program to help secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, pressing Pakistan to develop joint plans to evacuate those weapons if they came under threat. It is doubtful that the Pakistanis, who fear the United States has secret plans to seize the arsenal, would ever agree.

The bluntest statement of concern to date came a week ago from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an interview with James Rosen of Fox News. “If the worst, the unthinkable, were to happen, and this advancing Taliban, encouraged and supported by Al Qaeda and other extremists, were to essentially topple the government for failure to beat them back, then they would have the keys to the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan,” she said.

“We can’t even contemplate that,” she added. “We cannot let this go on any further, which is why we’re pushing so hard for the Pakistanis to come together around a strategy to take their country back.”

Source: The New York Times

UN report accuses Israeli military of negligence in Gaza war

Ed Pilkington in New York and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem–

Inquiry finds Israel responsible for deaths, injuries and damage to UN buildings

A UN inquiry accused the Israeli military today of “negligence or recklessness” in its conduct of the war in Gaza.

The summary of the UN report, commissioned by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, censured the Israeli government for causing death, injuries and damage to UN property in seven incidents involving action by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

It said: “The board concluded that IDF actions involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property.”

However, in a blow to human rights campaigners, Ban said there would be no further investigation despite the report calling for a full impartial inquiry.

Although the full, 184-page findings of the UN board of inquiry will not be made public, the 27-page summary emphasised that UN premises are inviolable, and that inviolability cannot be set aside by the demands of military expediency.

“UN personnel and all civilians within UN premises, as well as civilians in the immediate vicinity of those premises, are to be protected in accordance with the rules and principles of international humanitarian law,” the summary says.

Among the incidents for which the Israeli government is held responsible are:

• The deaths of three young men killed by a single IDF missile strike at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Asma school in Gaza City on 5 January;

• The firing of heavy IDF mortar rounds into the UNRWA Jabalia school on 6 January, injuring seven people sheltering in the school and killing up to 40 people in the immediate vicinity;

• Aerial bombing of the UNRWA Bureij health centre on the same day causing the death of a patient and serious injuries to two others;

• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA field office compound in Gaza city on 15 January that in turn caused high explosive shells to explode within the compound causing injuries and considerable damage to the buildings. The summary notes that it disrupted the UN’s humanitarian operations in Gaza;

• Artillery firing by the IDF into the UNRWA Beit Lahia school on 17 January, causing the deaths of two children

• Aerial bombing by the IDF of the Unesco compound on 29 December causing damage to UN buildings and vehicles.

In his accompanying letter to the summary, Ban noted that the Israeli government had significant reservations and objections to the document. He said he was reviewing the inquiry boards recommendations “with a view to determining what courses of action, if any, I should take”.

Those recommendations include demanding from the Israeli government that it retract earlier claims that Palestinians had been firing at the IDF from within UN premises, and that the UN should pursue Israel for reparations and reimbursement for all expenses incurred. Those reparations would cover the death or injury of UN personnel or third parties, and the repair of UN property.

Israel had dismissed the report, given to an Israeli foreign ministry official, as “tendentious” and “patently biased”.

The UN investigation is the first into the war, and looked only at deaths, injuries and damage caused at UN sites in Gaza during the three-week conflict.

The document was compiled by a board of inquiry – a team of four led by Ian Martin, a Briton who is a former head of Amnesty International and a former UN special envoy to East Timor and Nepal.

Israel’s foreign ministry attempted to pre-empt the report today, saying the Israeli military had already investigated its own conduct during the war and “proved beyond doubt” that it did not fire intentionally at UN buildings. It dismissed the UN inquiry.

“The state of Israel rejects the criticism in the committee’s summary report, and determines that in both spirit and language the report is tendentious, patently biased, and ignores the facts presented to the committee,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It said the inquiry had “preferred the claims of Hamas, a murderous terror organisation, and by doing so has misled the world”.

International human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused Israel’s military and Palestinian militant groups of serious violations of international law and possible war crimes during the conflict.

The UN board of inquiry report has limited scope: it is confined to investigating death or injuries or damage at UN buildings or during UN operations. The UN human rights council is also to dispatch a fact-finding mission to Gaza, but Israel has already suggested it will not co-operate, saying the council is biased.

Source: Guardian UK

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan