Pakistani Taliban regroup in North Waziristan. The Pakistani military ostensibly routed out Taliban militants from its tribal areas during a large-scale offensive in South Waziristan (launched last October), but as the Associated Press reports, the militants have reemerged and "roam through markets, frequent restaurants and watch jihadi movies or surf the Web at Internet cafes" in North Waziristan. Pakistan has refused to launch a similar operation in North Waziristan, claiming that it does not have enough troops. But analysts believe that the real reason Pakistan is not attacking militants in the area is because it has an agreement with Gul Bahadur and other militant commanders. These commanders agree not to attack inside Pakistani territory, and the military in turn gives them free reign, which some of them use to launch attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan, say Pakistan's critics.
However, the plan seems to have backfired on the Pakistani military. While Gul Bahadur and his allies are considered "good Taliban"--meaning that they don't target Pakistan--Bahadur has given a safe haven to militants from the Pakistani Taliban, who routinely attack Pakistan's troops. As one Bahadur aide told the AP, "we are bound to host brothers from South Waziristan." The Pakistani Taliban have used the security to regroup and to "set up a command and control center" in North Waziristan. Many now believe that Pakistan will launch an offensive to target the militants. "Some residents said they saw signs that a military offensive might come -- from soldiers repairing checkpoints on previously abandoned roads, to Pakistani Taliban fighters using the north as a base," notes the AP.
Report finds that "reconciled" Taliban are returning to the insurgency. The Afghan Analyst Network, a Kabul think tank, has published a damning assessment of the Taliban reintegration program known as the Peace and Reconciliation Scheme (PTS),
Gloomy view from Kandahar. In, Foreign Policy, Martine van Bijlert writes gloomily about the prospects for success in Kandahar. The media and the U.S. military have touted the strategic value of Kandahar, and how a military operation there can reverse NATO's fortunes in Afghanistan. But van Bijlert, while on a visit to Kandahar, noted the bleak view of the locals.
From Foreign Policy:
I have returned from Kandahar shaken. Not because of the blasts and the warnings and the feelings of apprehension, but because of how dark the future looks when I listen to what people have to say. I fear that all the shiny plans will do very little to change that.
U.S. "directly" interrogating Baradar and getting "useful" information. The BBC reports that American interrogators "have been participating regularly and directly" in the interrogation of Mullah Baradar, a Taliban leader who was arrested by Pakistani intelligence officials (ISI) in a raid in February. "[Baradar] started sharing information that is useful," a U.S. official told the BBC. At first the ISI had restricted access to Baradar, and U.S. officials had expressed doubt over whether they could "get the truth from Baradar as long he is in Pakistani military custody" (Inter Press Service).
Pakistan has reportedly eased the restrictions on U.S. interrogators in an effort "to dispel suggestions by some US officials that it orchestrated the arrest to derail Afghan" peace talks. When Pakistan had first arrested Baradar, many analysts and Afghan officials--including an aide of Hamid Karzai's--alleged that Pakistan had only arrested Baradar in order to disrupt Karzai's reconciliation efforts, according to the Associated Press. Baradar, it was claimed, was secretly negotiating with Kabul, and that was why he was captured by the ISI. But perhaps this news suggests otherwise.
Pakistan detains militants without trial. Pakistan's security forces have detained an estimated 2,500 suspected militants, holding them indefinitely and without trial, reports the Washington Post. The militants were captured during Pakistan's offensive in the Swat Valley in 2007 and its latest operation in South Waziristan last fall. The military has not turned over the militants to Pakistan's civilian authorities, fearing that releasing them into the country's dysfunctional justice system may allow them to escape or walk away free.
The debate in Pakistan over how to handle suspected insurgents--who are mostly held on the basis of scant evidence--resonates with the questions the U.S. has had to deal with in Afghanistan. But Pakistan has no equivalent military justice system, unlike the U.S., which has Guantanamo Bay and other facilities to try and hold militants. The detention of suspected militants, however, is "actually creating more sympathy for the extremists," said one unnamed Obama administration official. The Post reports that Pakistan may be in violation of the Leahy Amendment, a law that requires countries receiving U.S. military assistance to abide by human rights standards, and may "complicate" its relationship with Congress.
Documentary looks at push by Afghan women for a seat in peace talks with the Taliban. Claudia Rizzi interviewed activists struggling to improve security for women and girls in conflict-ridden Afghanistan for PBS's Wide Angle as part of the Women, War & Peace series. Rizzi's piece looks at women pushing to be included in the country's peace process. There is an "an ideological war" in Afghanistan today "in which opposing visions of the role of women in society" are at odds. And women's rights activists are at the forefront, trying to etch out a place for women at the proposed negotiations with the Taliban, which are scheduled for May 20.
The Washington Post recently reported that women activists feared that the progress seen since the fall of the Taliban could be reversed during the negotiations because "male leaders, behind closed doors and desperate for peace, might not force Taliban leaders to accept, however grudgingly, that women's roles have changed."
Governance and security seen as key challenges in Afghanistan. Building up governance and security is seen as the key challenge in Afghanistan, according to U.S. and Afghan officials who spoke at a recent conference at Marine Corps University, Reuters reports. The obstacles officials listed included widespread government job vacancies, untrained police forces, and "cronyism" and corruption in the Afghan National Army. In many districts, more than half of government jobs were still vacant as officials faced constant security threats and more educated candidates chose safer, more lucrative private sector work, one Afghan official noted. Another harrowing example: Out of 102,000 policemen, only 30 percent are trained.
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