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Afghanistan & Pakistan To Co-operate In US Offensive On Taliban-Led Groups & Al-Qaeda.

*** The US State Dept. Is To Put Iran's IRGC On Its List Of Terrorists - This Is The 1st Time That Washington Blacklists A State's Armed Force - Does It Mean Bush Is Preparing A War On The Shi'ite Theocracy, Or On A Part Of It?

*** Tehran Says Its Axis Of Anti-US Allies Has A Soft-Power Approach Which It Believes Is Superior To The American Hard Power; Hizbullah And Hamas, As Well As The Syrian Regime, Believe Their Leader - Iran - Is Correct In Its Ceo-Strategic Calculations

*** The Clients Of The US-Led Alliance Are Still Betting On Hard Power & Washington's Calculations; But Some Are Having Doubts

NICOSIA - The presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan have vowed to join in a US-led war on both a Taliban-led insurgency, which includes the forces of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and al-Qaeda. But there is a question mark about a US offensive against these forces in Pakistan, with an increasingly powerful American faction opting for a soft-power approach instead.

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, on Aug. 12 acknowledged the Taliban were operating from Pakistani soil, as he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed jointly in Kabul to fight the Taliban-led forces and al-Qaeda. The two neighbours have more often traded barbed accusations than worked together to fight the threat from these guerrillas - and Washington fears their dispute has helped militants hiding in the rugged border region.

A four-day jirga (council) of Afghan and Pakistani politicians and tribal elders, which ended in Kabul on Aug. 12 with Musharraf attending, was agreed in Washington in 2006 to forge co-operation between the two sides. But there is doubt that Karzai and Musharraf will co-operate in earnest, as the Pakistani ruler faces serious pressures at home from Islamist hardliners who want to see him ousted.

Nor is it clear - in view of these pressures on Musharraf - whether or not the US will go ahead with air strikes against the Taliban-led forces and al-Qaeda on the Pakistani side of the border. The problem is very complicated, with the US doing badly both in Afghanistan and in Iraq (see below). But a military expert tells APS the Bush White House will deal with both this challenge and the one posed by Iran (see rim2-Iraq-IranAgainAug20-07).

A declaration agreed by some 700 jirga delegates in Kabul on Aug. 12 said: "The joint peace jirga strongly recognises the fact that terrorism is a common threat to both countries and the war on terror should continue to be an integral part of the national policies and security strategies of both countries". Having decided at the last minute to fly to Kabul, Musharraf told the jirga's closing session: "There is no...option for both countries other than peace and unity, trust and co-operation...no justification for resorting to terrorism".

Afghan officials have frequently accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters to weaken its neighbour. Pakistan denies the charge. But Musharraf admitted that militants were operating from Pakistani tribal areas along the Afghan border which are largely outside government control. He said: "There is no doubt Afghan militants are supported from Pakistan soil. The problem that you have in your region is because support is provided from our side".

Jirga delegates unanimously declared "an extended, tireless and persistent campaign against terrorism" and pledged the "governments and people of Afghanistan and Pakistan would not allow sanctuaries or training centres for terrorists in their respective countries".

Musharraf had on Aug. 8 pulled out of a commitment to attend the jirga's opening, citing internal engagements - indirectly referring to domestic pressures. His absence had been a blow to a meeting already boycotted by Pakistani tribal elders from Waziristan. His appearance in the end went a long way to make up for his failure to show up.

Karzai said: "It is a very happy event that the jirga between two countries was convened. It is ending with good results, achievements and a message for both countries". But independent experts have since been sceptical about the prospects ahead.

The jirga was a first step towards a unified approach to fighting militants who threaten both countries. The two leaders agreed to set up a jirga of 25 members from each side to hold regular meetings to ensure decisions are carried through and organise a second large meeting in Pakistan. They agreed to co-operate on economic and social projects aimed at undercutting support for the Neo-Salafi groups seeking to overthrow their governments. The fact the jirga went off without any major dispute and that the two sides agreed to work together in the future was regarded as a success in itself.

The second jirga in Pakistan may yield firmer results. A jirga is a traditional meeting among the Pashtun tribes living on both sides of the border, where elders use consensus to try to settle disputes peacefully. The Boston Globe on Aug. 14 said Musharraf's admission that Taliban militants had been using tribal areas inside Pakistan as safe havens "can hardly make a difference unless Pakistan ends its policy of backing Taliban elements, which it considers a counterforce to Indian influence in the region". Yet it added: "Such a change may now be possible, but only as part of a larger set of trade-offs that balance the vital interests of moderate forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A deal of this kind will require compromises...the jirga participants may be ready to make but that the Bush administration - with its propensity to frame complex issues as stark conflicts of good and evil - may not be prepared to accept".

Musharraf highlighted a key compromise when he spoke of isolating die-hard militants among the Taliban and trying to "win the hearts and minds" of the Pashtuns from whom the Taliban draw their recruits. That 50 tribal leaders from both sides would meet regularly to "expedite the ongoing process of dialogue for peace and reconciliation with the opposition" was a tactful way of describing a strategy to co-opt those Taliban elements who can be won over. As Musharraf hinted, this strategy presumes that pragmatic Taliban exist and are supported by a certain portion of the Pashtuns who predominate in Afghanistan and adjacent tribal areas of Pakistan.

Left unsaid, however, was Pakistani belief that the Pashtuns have been deprived of their proper share of power in Afghanistan ever since the US routed the Taliban in late 2001, with the help of the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance, which had been backed previously by India, Iran and Russia. For such a strategy to work, Musharraf will have to do his part. This does not mean halting all cross-border infiltration - an impossible task - but dismantling the Taliban's command structure. This is something Pakistan's military intelligence is capable of doing.

Towards that end, the Globe said: "Pakistan must be assured that a post-Taliban Afghanistan will not become a repository of Indian influence, will not deprive the Pashtun of their fair share of power, and will recognize the current border between the two countries. And it would help if America and its allies generously financed reconstruction projects through the Karzai government and ceased air attacks that kill civilians".

Those in the Bush administration pushing for a soft-power approach are led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, who want Musharraf and Karzai to jointly deal with the Islamist threat in their own way as well as containment of Iran. Vice-President Dick Cheney is leading those hawks who insist on US air strikes against the insurgent forces in Pakistan as well as an attack against Iran's nuclear installations.

A US hard-power approach could backfire as Musharraf's position in Pakistan would be weakened considerably before elections there later this year. But against this is the soft-power approach of Iran's Shi'ite theocracy to attain its geo-strategic goals in the Middle East and Central Asia. President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad visited Kabul right after the jirga meeting at the start of an Aug. 14-17 Central Asian tour aimed at gaining allies to the Iran-led axis of anti-US forces.

President Karzai openly differed with President Bush on the role of Iran in Afghanistan during his recent visit to the US. Washington accuses Iran of providing arms to the Taliban and Hekmatyar's forces in Afghanistan - which by implication means Tehran is also helping al-Qaeda. The US accuses Iran and the 'Alawite/Ba'thist dictatorship of Syria of helping Shi'ite and Neo-Salafi forces in Iraq and elsewhere. As part of the Rice-Gates soft-power approach, the US is to list Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) among terrorist organisations. This is the first time an officially-recognised armed force of a UN member-state is included in Washington's list of terrorists. The implications include tough US sanctions against IRGC-controlled businesses, which are huge and span several sectors in Iran and abroad. The IRGC controls Iran's nuclear programme (see rim2-Iraq-IranAgainAug20-07).

The Secretary-General of Iran's Lebanese offshoot Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Aug. 14 promised Israel a "colossal surprise" if the Jewish state attacked the Shi'ite group. This is an example of Iran's soft-power approach as the threat is addressed as much at the US as at Israel. Iran has assembled a number of allies in the Middle East, including Shi'ite militias in Iraq as well as similar ones among volunteers from Shi'ite communities in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. The Sunni Hamas and Islamic Jihad are among its allies as well.

Nasrallah said any attempt to attack his group "will be faced with a colossal surprise likely to change the fate of the war and the region", adding: "You might say I am exercising a war of nerves... This is true, yet my war of nerves is based on truthful facts and aims at avoiding any war". Nasrallah was addressing a massive rally. Tens of thousands of Hizbullah supporters flocked to the Raya pitch in the Shi'ite suburbs of southern Beirut to celebrate Hizbullah's "divine victory" over Israel during the 34-day war of July/August 2006. Several giant screens were set up at the field's corners, to allow a full view of Nasrallah. His address focused on the outcomes and repercussions of the 2006 war. He accused the US and Israel of being terrorist countries, which "throw terrorism charges, when they never succeeded in defining to us what the true meaning of terrorism is". {Nasrallah has not made any public appearance since a Sept. 22 victory rally). He said: "Our victory acted as a ray of light to all those people in the world who are oppressed and alienated and encouraged them to seek change".

Nasrallah addressed the Arabs, rather than their US-backed rulers, and thanked them for their "moral support" during the war, saying: "We did not ask for more..." (Journalists and artists from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Arab countries attended the rally). He said: "We should all realise that had the resistance lost the war, not only Lebanon, Syria and Palestine would have suffered from the negative repercussions but also Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt". Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan had condemned Hizbullah's abduction of the two Israeli soldiers on July 12, 2006, describing it as a "rash act" because it triggered the 34-day war.

Druze MP Akram Shehayeb, an ally of US-backed Lebanese PM Fou'ad Siniora, on Aug. 15 told an LBC TV talk show Hizbullah's "colossal surprise" could mean a nuclear bomb which could kill as many Lebanese as Israelis. Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a member of Israel's powerful security cabinet, told army radio: "We have to take Nasrallah seriously, he has never lied. He is arrogant, but he does what he says. If he says he has 2,000 rockets, I believe him, but I do not know what [colossal] surprise he is alluding to".

Musharraf's Position: When Musharraf abruptly cancelled a trip to Kabul on Aug. 8, he was consumed by domestic politics. He was meeting with aides in Islamabad to consider imposing emergency rule in the period leading up to presidential elections later this year, drawing enormous diplomatic and political pressure, including a 25-minute phone conversation with Ms Rice around 2 am on Aug. 9 which helped convince him that emergency rule was not necessary and that he should go to Kabul to lend weight to the jirga's proceedings.

While the Kabul jirga had the personal backing of President Bush, Musharraf's preoccupation with domestic troubles had forced him to consider a state of emergency. Information Minister Tariq Azim on Aug. 8 said deteriorating law and order in the volatile north-west near the Afghan border and sentiment from the US, including comments from presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Tom Tancredo, over the possibility of US military action against al-Qaeda in Pakistan "has started alarm bells ringing and has upset the Pakistani public". Pakistan's Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Tanvir Hussain Syed on Aug. 7 called for jihad (holy war) against the US after the presidential candidates' comments. The US embassy in Islamabad on Aug. 8 condemned Syed's statement as "outrageous and highly reprehensible".

The Kabul jirga had been announced in Washington 11 months earlier after a summit there between Gen Musharraf and Karzai, and had been billed as a step towards improving relations between two of the US's most important allies in the war on terror.

Pakistan, under US pressure, abandoned support for the Taliban in late 2001 but sections of its military have since regarded the predominantly Pashtun fighters as a useful means of retaining influence. The FT on Aug. 9 quoted Mushahid Hussain, secretary-general of the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League, as saying: "A lot of people think the West does not have the stomach for a sustained fight in Afghanistan. We're not sure of the staying power of our [Western] friends and have stakes in ensuring stability. [New UK Prime Minister John] Brown may be different to [his predecessor Tony] Blair. A President [Bill] Clinton may be different to President Bush. Ultimately, they will have to talk to the Taliban".

The FT quoted a Western ambassador in Islamabad as saying Gen Musharraf had "antagonised the tribals big-time" by renewing military operations in tribal areas and ending a peace deal with tribal leaders. Pakistan has moved a further two divisions into Waziristan, raising its forces there to about 92,000; and security in Pakistan has since deteriorated. The FT quoted a Western official as saying: "The losses they have taken in the last few months have been very significant, almost the same again as the number killed in the period since 2001".

Spiralling militant violence in north-western Pakistan on Aug. 4 featured a suicide car bomber who killed at least 23 people, adding to mounting uncertainty for Musharraf. The bombing followed a pre-dawn clash between militants and paramilitary forces which left 14 people dead. The latest attacks followed the army's raid on Islamabad's Red Mosque in July, which has triggered suicide attacks and armed clashes, with more than 200 people killed.

The FT on Aug. 6 quoted Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading expert on Pakistani political and security affairs, as saying: "This is a fast deteriorating security situation. The government's ability to take control seems to have been seriously compromised. General Musharraf is just not in control". A senior security official in Islamabad said the attacks were part of a growing al-Qaeda attempt to destabilise Pakistan, adding: "Most of the attacks so far bear the hallmark of al-Qaeda. The purpose seems to be to create havoc in a way we haven't seen before".

Analysts warned the worsening conditions were likely further to jeopardise Musharraf's plans to seek another five-year term as president. He also faces the prospect of legal challenges in the Supreme Court. In July Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary, chief justice of the supreme court, was restored to office after a four-month suspension ordered by Musharraf on vague charges of misconduct. Musharraf in July secretly met former PM Benazir Bhutto in Abu Dhabi in an attempt to seek her support in return for allowing her back in Pakistan from almost a decade in exile. The FT quoted Javed Hashmi, leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League of former PM Nawaz Sharif, as saying: "Benazir Bhutto should not be providing oxygen to a dying regime. The days of Gen Musharraf in power are over". Hashmi was released on Aug. 4 after serving four years in jail on charges of defaming the military. His release was ordered by the Supreme Court.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Aug 20, 2007
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