Saturday, January 21, 2012
The plug for my low-end laptop broke. Since I'm in Madrid, I can't just run to the Best Buy and get a new one. Now, if I was not poor, I would have a Mac. Then I could walk down the street and buy one. But I am poor. No blogging until next week.
Friday, January 20, 2012
Veteran Irish republican Colin Duffy was found not guilty in the 2009 killing of two British soldiers in Northern Ireland:
The prosecution said Duffy's DNA matched that found on the tip of a latex glove discovered inside the burnt-out Vauxhall used by the killers to flee the murder scene. A forensic scientist told the court the chances of Duffy's DNA not being matched to that on the glove was less than one in 1bn.
But the judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to link Duffy to the sappers' deaths. The defence had argued that the DNA evidence may have been contaminated.
A friend of mine from Belfast claims that Loyalists are gathering outside of the Antrim courthouse awaiting Duffy’s release.
Thursday, January 19, 2012
I spent last week preparing for my trip to Spain, so, I’ve slacked on keeping up with the news. Well, it turns out there was a lot of developments on the Afghan front.
The Washington Post reported that the U.S. will resume peace talks with the Taliban as soon as Afghan they get the O.K. from Afghan President Hamid Karzai gives the O.K, who last month put the kibosh on secret talks between the U.S. and the Taliban. Naturally, Karzai wants a place at the negotiation table—as well he should—but the Taliban has so far refused dealing with the current Afghan government, whom they see as nothing more than “stooges” of foreign powers. According to the article, American “commanders on the ground” are skeptical that negotiations will work—which is generally the position of the military in such situations.
The Post also reported that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has indicated that the transfer of former Taliban officials currently in Guantanamo may go forward. Clinton also made a rather simple—but apt—argument about peace talks:
“With respect to talking to the Taliban, the reality is we never have the luxury of negotiating for peace with our friends,” Clinton said. “If you’re sitting across a table discussing a peaceful resolution to a conflict, you are sitting across from people who, by definition, you don’t agree with, and who you may previously have been across a battlefield from.”
She said that Washington would continue to support the reconciliation effort, “if we believe it holds promise for an end to the conflict.” Any power-sharing deal would have to respect America’s red lines, she said, which involve insurgents renouncing violence, breaking with al-Qaida and respecting Afghanistan’s constitution, including rights guaranteed women and minorities.
The New York Times published a piece detailing the crucial role played by American diplomat Marc Grossman—and German intelligence—in laying the grounds for future talks. The article also details the rather “erratic” role Karzai has played in the process.
Karzai, it should be noted, made an attempt to resolve the conflict back in 2008. His current obstinacy may stem from the failure of that peace attempt, but he is more likely concerned about his position in a post-settlement Afghan government. In addition, by controlling the talks, the Afghan president likely hopes that the structures of his government will remain intact—as indicated by his insistence that the Taliban accept the Afghan Constitution as a precondition for negotiation, which is the stance of the Obama Administration as well. (As I have argued before, some reform of the constitution will likely result from the talks.)
Other key actors in Afghanistan are vying for a position at the table, according to another Times report. The former leaders of the Northern Alliance—who claim to represent Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities—have indicated their willingness to enter negotiations with the Taliban, albeit with reservations:
Prominent Tajik minority leader Ahmad Zia Masood said that he supports peace talks, but added that the government should be cautious of giving up too much to end the decade-long war. Most international troops are scheduled to withdraw by 2014, making achieving a negotiated peace an urgent priority.
"The achievements we have gained in the last 10 years, we shouldn't let go of them," Masood said.
Masood is a prominent leader of the Afghan National Front opposition coalition and the brother of slain Northern Alliance chief Ahmad Shah Masood, considered a national hero by anti-Taliban forces.
Ethnic Hazara leader Mohammad Muhaqiq said minority leaders should participate in any future talks.
"If the government is going to start a peace process, then we should also be in this process because we also represent part of the nation," he said. "If the peace process is not clear, then peace cannot be successful."
The Shia Hazaras, in particular, are justified in their hesitance: in 1998, thousands of Hazaras were massacred by Taliban forces (with the assistance of al Qaeda fighters). Guarantees and protection for minority rights must be a condition of any settlement—as a matter not of touchy-feely multiculturalism, but rather of life and death.
Finally, the Los Angeles Times had a story on the latest National Intelligence Assessment in which America’s intelligence agencies argue that the war has reached a point of stalemate. According to the document, military gains made by U.S. forces have been offset by endemic corruption and the incompetence of the Afghan government. The Pentagon is none too happy with the report—but, then again, they generally judge the situation solely in military terms, rather than considering social, economic, and political factors. It should be noted that the Pentagon’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan has always been flawed. After all, they claimed victory over the Taliban way back in 2003.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The New York Times reported last week on the emerging opponents of peace talks with the Taliban:
Former Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum and two other members of the Afghan National Front said it would be "naive" to exclude the possibility that the Taliban are using negotiations to assuage the United States government while troops are being withdrawn, while planning to "resurge" after they are gone at the end of 2014.
General Dostum is a rather shady character, whose role in the infamous "Death Convoy of Dasht-e Leili" may cause some to question his "passion for peace." Dostum's later shenanigans prompted his suspension from his position of chief-of-staff of the Afghan military, though he was later allowed to return from his exile in Turkey. That being said, he may be right about the Taliban's ultimate goal in talking peace.
The trio met with members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including the usually militaristic Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). (Rohrabacher, it should be noted, is less hawkish these days then he once was.)