IN THE NEWS: TRUMP’S AFGHANISTAN PUSH REQUIRES PAKISTAN’S HELP, SAYS U.S. GENERAL (JUNE 21, 2018)

Written by admin on Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Trump’s Afghanistan push requires Pakistan’s help: US general
SOURCE: The Nation
Thursday, June 21, 2018

Washington – The biggest challenge to stabilising Afghanistan remains the sanctuaries in Pakistan that shelter militants fighting the US-led coalition, according to President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead allied forces in the 17-year-old war.

Ten months into the Trump-approved strategy that added as many as 4,000 American troops and approved more aggressive action against the Taliban, Pakistan’s actions remain “contradictory,” Army Lieutenant General Austin Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

“We should have high expectations that they are part of the solution, not just diplomatically but from a security standpoint as well,” he said. In written answers, Miller said Pakistan has made “many sacrifices” and “its security forces have fought bravely,” but “we have not yet seen these counterterrorism efforts against anti-Pakistan militants translate into definitive actions against Afghan Taliban or Haqqani leaders residing in Pakistan.”

Miller said he still had “high expectations” for Islamabad in ending the Afghan war, but that better cooperation and coordination were needed. “It’s obviously a very tough neighbourhood with some tough neighbours,” Gen Miller told lawmakers. “Pakistan must be part of the solution, and we should have high expectations that they are part of the solution.”

Trump has been equally vocal in the past about Pakistan, saying in August that “we can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other groups that pose a threat to the region.”

Miller, 57, is a battle-hardened veteran who as a captain led a ground assault during the October 1993 “Black Hawk Down” fight in Mogadishu, Somalia, and was awarded the Bronze Star. He’s now head of the Joint Special Operations Command, the unit of elite US commando forces conducting counterterror operations in Afghanistan.

Miller, who appears headed for quick approval by the Senate, will be executing the Trump-backed Pentagon strategy that abandons any public timeline for withdrawing about 14,000 US troops and assigns them to work more closely to train and assist Afghan troops, down to combat-unit levels.
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IN THE NEWS: WHAT AWAITS THE NEXT SETUP (JUNE 21, 2018)

Written by admin on Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

What awaits the next setup
SOURCE: Dawn
Thursday, June 21, 2018
By KHURRAM HUSAIN

AS the noise and fury builds up in the run-up to the election, it is perhaps worthwhile to briefly disengage from the intensity of the moment and cast a glance at what sort of challenges lie in wait for the next government, whoever it might be formed by. What follows are some reflections on the critical economic challenges in my view. I’m leaving out the geopolitical, foreign policy or the political challenges that might arise from the nature of the parliamentary arithmetic, coalition formation or any other such matter.

The most immediate challenge will be stabilisation of the external sector which has fallen from a peak of five months’ import cover to nearly two months now. Foreign exchange reserves have fallen from the peak they hit in October 2016 and the downward slide continues unabated, despite numerous administrative efforts to arrest the growth of imports, and more recent attempts to realign the exchange rate with market-based realities. Exports have rebounded in recent months, but the trade deficit continues to grow.

From the looks of it the next government will, in all likelihood, begin its term the same way all preceding governments began theirs: by going to the IMF for a bailout loan. This time, however, there is a slight complication. Relations with America are crucial in how this works out. The Musharraf regime had a very difficult relationship with the superpower in 1999 when the coup happened and they first approached the IMF. The answer they got was a string of very tough “prior actions” to commit to, including first rescheduling the Eurobonds that were coming due. The Fund did not want its money to be used for paying private investors in those bonds, especially since there was strong reason to believe that a large number of those bonds were held by Pakistani investors.

The next government has no choice but to bring new lemons into the picture, something that successive rulers have failed to do for a quarter-century now.
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IN THE NEWS: DOES FAZLULLAH’S DEATH MATTER? (JUNE 20, 2018)

Written by admin on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Does Fazlullah’s death matter?
SOURCE: Dawn
Wednesday June 10, 2018 (Posted)
By ARIFA NOOR

FAZLULLAH, the elusive Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan head who had been hiding in Afghanistan for nearly as long as a decade (some reports claim that he had moved there shortly after the Swat operation in 2009), was killed at the start of the long Eid weekend.

The news was greeted with much joy and cheer, an outpouring which has become routine at the news of the death of any militant leader. From the death of Baitullah Mehsud (who too was taken out by a drone) to Fazlullah at present, Pakistan has appeared united in rejoicing at the death of any TTP leader.

However, attacks which take out organisations’ leaders do not necessarily signify a great leap forward. Expert opinion is divided on how effective the removal of a leader is in the long term. Many feel that militant organisations do not lose their ability to carry out violent attacks with the loss of a leader, as the vacuum is quickly filled by other — sometimes more effective — leaders, such as Baitullah Mehsud who followed Nek Mohammad after a brief internal leadership struggle. Baitullah was the one who organised disparate fighters into the entity called Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

Indeed, as long as organisations have their infrastructure in place, the reprieve from violence is short-lived when a leader is removed.

A militant leader’s death can prove to be a moment of celebration but it is not a sure-fire sign of victory.

At times, the quick replacement of leaders can lead to younger and more ruthless individuals taking over. Hakeemullah Mehsud was one such example. Not only was he seen to be more violent, he was also credited with focusing TTP attacks on Pakistan. For example, it was during Hakeemullah’s period that attacks on political parties increased to the extent that parties such as the ANP and PPP were barely able to campaign during the 2013 election. A report by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies for the first six months of 2013 noted that the ANP was targeted 37 times while the PPP and MQM 12 times each.
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IN THE NEWS: AFTER AFGHAN CEASEFIRE GAMBLE, PROSPECTS RISE FOR U.S.-TALIBAN TALKS (JUNE 20, 2018)

Written by admin on Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

After Afghan Ceasefire Gamble, Prospects Rise for U.S.-Taliban Talks
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

KABUL/WASHINGTON – – Prospects have risen for negotiations between the Taliban and the United States after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called a ceasefire and allowed militants to roam into cities in a gamble to encourage peace talks.

The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led troops, insist that any negotiations with what it calls the “puppet” Afghan government on a peace plan can begin only after talks with the United States about withdrawing foreign forces.

Analysts and Western diplomats said Ghani’s offer to hold unconditional peace talks had set the stage for U.S. officials to open backchannel negotiations with the Taliban, despite Washington’s policy that peace
talks be Afghan-led.

“Ghani has done his bit,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent think tank.

“It is now for the U.S. to cut through this blockade,” he said, although that would be a departure from U.S. policy that talks to end the 17-year-old war must be wholly Afghan-led.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared ready to tweak the policy when he welcomed Ghani’s 10-day extension of a ceasefire that is currently due to end on Wednesday. The Taliban said its ceasefire ended on Sunday.

“As President Ghani emphasized in his statement to the Afghan people, peace talks by necessity would include a discussion of the role of international actors and forces,” Pompeo said. “The United States is prepared to support, facilitate, and participate in these discussions.”

Richard Olson, former U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, described the statement as significant “in that it signals that the U.S. is prepared to ultimately discuss the issue that is paramount to the Taliban, which is the withdrawal of foreign forces.”
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IN THE NEWS: TALIBAN’S LEADERS ANGRY ABOUT EID CEASEFIRE SELFIES (JUNE 19, 2018)

Written by admin on Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Taliban’s Leaders Angry About Eid Ceasefire Selfies
SOURCE: TOLO News
Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Some Afghan officials have said as many as 35,000 Taliban members entered cities and towns around the country over Eid.

Taking selfies with Afghan soldiers and government officials over Eid-al-Fitr’s three-day ceasefire has sparked the anger of senior Afghan Taliban members.

A number of Taliban leaders said that Taliban members who took selfies during the ceasefire will be punished.

According to some Afghan officials, about 35,000 Taliban entered cities and districts over Eid and took selfies with the people and security forces.

A senior Taliban leader told Reuters that at the end of the three day ceasefire, an emergency meeting was called by Taliban leaders and all commanders were directed to take disciplinary action against those Taliban who took selfies with the people and government officials.

This comes after President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to jump-start the peace talks with the Taliban hit another hurdle this week when the Taliban on Sunday declared their three-day ceasefire over and ordered their fighters to return to the trenches.

However, despite the Taliban’s decision, government is still confident that the peace talks can be restarted.

On Monday, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) said as Taliban left the cities after Eid-ul-Fitr celebrations, many stayed behind and are likely to join the peace process.
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IN THE NEWS: THE SAUDI TIES MOVING FROM PERSONAL TO STRATEGIC DOMAIN, SAYS REPORT (JUNE 19, 2018)

Written by admin on Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Pak-Saudi ties moving from personal to strategic domain: report
SOURCE: The News International
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
By MURTAZA ALI SHAH

LONDON: Security think-tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has said in a report that ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have deepened and heading in a direction where the relation is becoming institutionalized increasingly addressing both countries’ strategic interests.

The report published on Rusi’s website on Monday noted that there have been recent difficulties in the relationship between the two countries – over the issue of sending Pakistani troops to fight alongside Saudi in Yemen – but the thorny issue has been overcome by the two countries.

The report said that Pakistani Parliament’s opposition to Islamabad’s military involvement in the Saudi-led coalition in the ongoing war in Yemen sparked controversy and questions about the essence of the strategic relations between the two countries but Pakistan’s decision not to join their Saudi allies in that war was largely due to domestic preoccupations. It said that Pakistan stayed out of Yemen to focus at home and to avoid “opening up an additional front with Iran, the Houthi’s powerful external patron and source of resources, which could contribute even further to instability inside Pakistan”.

It said relation between the two countries is moving from a personal relationship “between Saudi kings and Pakistani prime ministers, rather than the formal institutions of the two countries” to the “strategic domain where both countries are fine with each in pursuing their own interests independently. The report said that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have ties dating back to 1960 when the Pakistani army contributed to the establishment of the Saudi armed forces.

It said: “It also assisted the Royal Saudi Air Force with the introduction of their first fighter jets. There are over 1,200 Pakistani trainers in various Saudi security and military sectors, either under the Ministry of Interior or the armed forces.

In light of the current economic and political reforms in Saudi Arabia, in which the Kingdom is eager to implement Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are now hoping to adopt a more strategic partnership, moving beyond from the whims of personal ties.
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IN THE NEWS: AS PAKISTANI RUPEE FALLS, A BALANCE OF PAYMENT CRISIS LOOMS (JUNE 18, 2018)

Written by admin on Monday, June 18th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

As Pakistani Rupee falls, a balance of payments crisis looms
SOURCE: Asia Times
Monday, June 18, 2018
By KUNWAR KHULDUNE SHAHID

*Pakistan is far behind schedule in its international debt obligations owing to a balance of payment crisis

The Pakistani rupee fell from 115.63 at the start of last week to its lowest value ever of 121.39 against the US dollar by day-end on Thursday, ahead of the Eid holidays.

This is the third fall of the Pakistani currency in the past six months. In December last year, the rupee fell below the 110 mark for the first time in history, with the then finance minister Ishaq Dar engulfed in corruption cases.

Officials close to Dar told Asia times that the former Pakistan prime minister was behind maintaining the rupee’s artificial value around the 100 mark. “He always said 100 is a psychological number, and we should make sure that the rupee doesn’t fall too far below that,” a former aide of Dar told Asia Times. This ensured that the rupee fluctuated around the 100 mark for the most part of Dar’s five-year tenure as finance minister.

The rupee then crossed the 115 mark in March this year after the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) cut support, bringing the currency closer to its actual value. It was hoped that the move would help increase exports and address Pakistan’s $10 billion current account deficit.

However, with no significant impact on exports over the past three months, the SBP was pushed to address the relentless pressure on the country’s foreign currency reserves. “The market-based adjustment is reflective of the country’s external balance of payments position which is under pressure due to a large trade deficit,” a statement issued by the central bank read.

Former caretaker finance minister Salman Shah believes there might be more devaluation of the rupee, but says that most of it has taken place.

“The central bank is no longer supporting the rupee and its value reflects the demand and supply situation. So the devaluation will stop once the rupee reaches its true value. And I think most of the pressure has now been released,” he told Asia times. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: EXTENDING THE CEASEFIRE WITH HE TALIBAN: TRYING EFFORTLESSLY TO CHANGE ILLUSION TO REALITY (JUNE 18, 2018)

Written by admin on Monday, June 18th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Extending the Ceasefire with the Taliban: Trying effortlessly to change Illusion to Reality
SOURCE: Daily Outlook Afghanistan
Monday, June 18, 2018

Afghan President extended the ceasefire with the Taliban without giving a time frame to it. He did so, while some bombings had been carried out by the insurgents in the eastern part of the country during the previous unconditional ceasefire he had announced last week.

It is clear that there are some elements among the Taliban, the Afghan government and outside of it, which do not favor the ceasefire and prefer beating in the drum of the war.

It has several reasons: first, those elements among the Taliban who prefer war, are those who either do not have a clear understanding of the balance of the power or are deceived by their external supporters. They think that they may control the country once more and not only put in practice their harsh interpretation from Islam in Afghanistan but also would be able to restore the unquestionable influence of the neighbouring country that supported and recognized them as a legitimate government in the past.

Second, some of the Taliban only fight against the government because they think they have lost the ethnic privileges they had in the past in Afghanistan. For these Taliban fighters, Islam and Jihad are only the means, and not the goals. They know very well that they can justify their illegitimate conditions to the illiterate and strongly conservative members of their community by misusing Islam and its teachings.

Third, there are some Taliban leaders who consider the war as an industry. The war in Afghanistan has different advantages for them. It not only guarantees the external supports to them, but keeps their war industry operational in Afghanistan to ensure their interests in the country. They also have unlimited access to misuse and in fact loot the natural resources by continuing the war in the country. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: SUICIDE ATTACK IN AFGHANISTAN KILLS 10: OFFICIALS (JUNE 17, 2018)

Written by admin on Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Suicide attack in Afghanistan kills 10: officials
SOURCE: Dawn
Sunday, June 17, 2018

A suicide attack in restive eastern Afghanistan on Sunday killed at least 10 people and wounded many others, officials said, in the second attack in as many days.

The explosion happened outside the Nangarhar provincial governor’s office, his spokesman told AFP.

An Afghan security source confirmed the suicide attack and death toll.
The attack came a day after a suicide bomber targeted a joint gathering of Afghan Taliban fighters, police and army personnel who were celebrating an unprecedented ceasefire and Eidul Fitr.

Death toll from suicide bombing in Afghanistan climbs to 36

The death toll from a suicide bombing against a gathering of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan has risen to 36, an official said on Sunday.
Najibullah Kamawal, director of the health department in the eastern Nangarhar province, said another 65 people were wounded in Saturday’s attack.

The bomber targeted a gathering of fighters who were celebrating a three-day truce coinciding with the Eidul Fitr holiday. No one immediately claimed the attack, but it was likely carried out by the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which was not included in the cease-fire and has clashed with the Taliban in the past.

After the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced a nine-day extension of the cease-fire. The three-day holiday and cease-fire ends Sunday.

The chairman of the High Peace Council, a government body charged with negotiating an end to the nearly 17-year war, called on the Taliban to accept the extended cease-fire and join the peace process. (more…)

IN THE NEWS: AFGHAN HIGH PEACE COUNCIL CALLS ON TALIBAN TO EXTEND CEASEFIRE (JUNE 17, 2018)

Written by admin on Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Selected by Olivier Immig & Jan van Heugten

Afghan High Peace Council Calls On Taliban to Extend Ceasefire
SOURCE: TOLO News
Sunday, June 17, 2018

*The HPC thanked religious scholars for their recent fatwa over the war in Afghanistan and said they believed this led to the temporary ceasefire in the country

Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC) on Sunday called on the Taliban to extend the ceasefire at the request of the people. HPC says it will cooperate with the Taliban.

“There is no doubt that there would be more developments in peace talks with the Taliban, Karmi Khalili, HPC chief said, adding that Taliban always emphasized the need for an Afghan owned peace process.

Akram Khpalwak, secretariat chief of the HPC has thanked religious scholars for their recent fatwa over the war in Afghanistan and said they believed this led to the temporary ceasefire in the country.

Early this month, more than 2,000 Afghan religious scholars from around the country issued a fatwa, an Islamic directive, saying “the ongoing war in Afghanistan is forbidden under Islamic law”.

“There are some people in government or among the Taliban that will not see the benefit of the ceasefire and will create some problems,” Khpalwak said, adding that “we thank the government, Taliban and people for the ceasefire and all the credit of this ceasefire goes to the people of the country.” (more…)