Wednesday, January 30, 2019

To Slow U.S. Exit, Afghan Leader Offers Trump a Cost Reduction - NYTimes

KABUL, Afghanistan — Unnerved by fears of a rushed American deal with Taliban insurgents, President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan sent a letter on Tuesday to President Trump offering him reduced costs for keeping United States troops in the country.

The letter, confirmed by three officials and described by one who had seen its contents, is among the strongest signs yet that Mr. Ghani is worried about the consequences of an abrupt American withdrawal from an intractable war that has lasted nearly two decades.

Mr. Ghani has made no secret of his concern about a hasty American exit by an increasingly impatient Mr. Trump, fearing it could unravel the fragile Afghan state and lead to a renaissance in power by the Taliban, which have been steadily gaining territory.

The Afghan leader’s anxiety has punctuated the contrast between the political backdrop in Afghanistan and the circumstances of the American pullout from the other conflict that arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — the American-led war in Iraq.

Iraqi leaders were by and large happy to see American forces leave. Mr. Ghani, on the other hand, frets about it, partially because the United States is the strongest ally sustaining him in power.

The Afghan leader wrote the letter to Mr. Trump just a few days after the most serious negotiations between American diplomats and Taliban representatives ended on what both sides considered an upbeat note in Qatar, 1,200 miles away.

The chief American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad, told The New York Times there had been an agreement on a “framework” for two key issues — that the Taliban would prevent the use of Afghan territory by terror groups like Al Qaeda against the United States, and that the Americans would agree to withdrawing their forces.

Frustrated Afghan officials, who played no role in the negotiations, said they nonetheless saw a confirmation of what many have feared over the past year or so — that the Trump administration, despite having signaled a long-term commitment, cares little for what an American withdrawal could mean for Afghanistan’s 35 million people.

The senior Afghan official who had seen Mr. Ghani’s letter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contents were private, said Mr. Ghani and his aides had long discussed how to deal with any possible change of plans by the Trump administration. Those discussions included cost savings and troop reductions and were held with the previous American commander, Gen. John W. Nicholson.

The official said the language of Mr. Ghani’s letter was broad — asking for teams from both sides to discuss details of where costs could be reduced, and how the troop levels could be brought down from the current 14,000 to a “more efficient level.”

The official said the possibilities they had envisioned could save as much as $2 billion a year for the United States, drawing from areas such as maintenance contracts, and reduce the level of American troops to as low as 3,000.

Mr. Ghani alluded to such savings during an appearance last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in which he argued for caution in any American withdrawal.

“The United States as a sovereign power, as a global power, is entitled to leave,” he said. “But we need to get the departure right. Are the fundamental reasons that brought the United States to Afghanistan — are those objectives accomplished? The first issue is cost. We completely agree that the cost must come down, must become more efficient.” - Read More

To Slow U.S. Exit, Afghan Leader Offers Trump a Cost Reduction - The ...

U.S. Senate leader wants U.S. troops to stay in Syria, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican leader of the U.S. Senate offered legislation on Tuesday urging the United States to keep troops in Syria and Afghanistan, as President Donald Trump’s administration moves toward withdrawals of American forces after years overseas.

Saying that Islamic militant groups in the two countries continue to pose a “serious threat” to the United States, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he had introduced an amendment to a broader Middle East security bill urging a “continued commitment” until al Qaeda, Islamic State and other groups are defeated.

“We’re not the world’s policemen, but we are the leader of the free world, and it’s incumbent upon the United States to lead, to maintain a global coalition against terror and to stand with our partners,” McConnell said in a speech in the Senate.

The measure would be an amendment to a broader Middle East security bill being debated in the Senate. That bill, which includes fresh sanctions on Syria and a measure combating the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, advanced in a procedural vote on Monday. - Read More

Squabble over venue latest hurdle in Taliban-U.S. peace talks

Afghanistan's post 9/11 generation wary of any future with the Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Generation Z has grown up in a 17-year window shadowed by warfare and a heavy international presence, but now faces an uncertain future and the possibility of stark change.

Peace talks between the United States and Taliban are ramping up, which could see the hardline group take on a formal role in government, while U.S. President Donald Trump is reported to be mulling cutting the number of U.S. troops, which peaked at 100,000 in the early 2010s and is now at about 14,000.

No one knows what form a new government may take or how much control the Taliban might have under any deal, but for young people who were babies when the Taliban were driven from power by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001, the prospect of peace with the hardline Islamists brings a daunting mix of hope and fear.

For villagers in rural Afghanistan, where traditional ways have always counted for more than central government law, life may not change much.

But for the young of Kabul and other cities, there is much to lose, in particular the freedoms restored after the Taliban were ousted - from playing music, to modeling and adopting trendy haircuts - which they’ve grown up with.

“The thing I’m most worried about is that if they return, I’ll not be able to continue playing music,” said Maram Atayee, a 16-year-old pianist who attends music school in Kabul. 

“It will be great if the government and the Taliban reach a peace deal. At that time there should be access to music for everyone and women’s rights must be protected.”

When the Taliban were last in power, they gained global notoriety for a harsh regime that forced women and girls to stay at home, restricted music and sports and imposed brutal punishment on infractions of a hardline version of Islamic law. - Read More

Afghanistan's post 9/11 generation wary of any future with the Taliban

COMMENTARY: Intelligence Losses Pose Large Risks as U.S. Troops Head Home - RAND

by Jason H. Campbell and Javed Ali

Muchuch has already been written about the potential national security implications of the apparent U.S. policy decisions to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and reduce the current U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by half.

Lost within these larger policy debates and expert views are the inherent risks posed by the reduced access to intelligence precipitated by such decisions. Syria and Afghanistan represent some of the most active and desirable real estate for international terrorist activity, not to mention other threats that also would benefit from continued U.S. intelligence focus.

Military deployments abroad always incorporate intelligence capabilities tailored to achieve the objectives for a wide range of missions. In Syria and Afghanistan, a blend of intelligence capabilities provides awareness regarding terrorist threats, political and regional dynamics, local conditions on the ground for civilian populations and the security and safety of U.S., coalition and (in the case of Afghanistan) host-nation military forces.

Reduced access to human sources, a reduction in airborne coverage from unmanned aerial vehicles and diminished technical collection against phone or computer networks associated with malign actors are among the intelligence losses that would have to be mitigated through other measures, which would place further strain on an already heavily burdened intelligence enterprise that has to manage risk while providing insights for U.S. decision-makers and warfighters on a range of topics.

Making any significant strategic decisions about withdrawing U.S. military forces without adequately accounting for the accompanying loss of raw intelligence and intelligence capabilities almost guarantees that the United States will suffer in its ability to more comprehensively understand threats on the ground.

Diminishing the intelligence footprint in Syria and Afghanistan presents the United States with challenges detecting and disrupting potential terrorist plotting against the West, protecting remaining U.S. forces and other government personnel who stay behind to advance U.S. interests and maintaining necessary relationships with other intelligence elements in the region.

Recent history demonstrates—Afghanistan in the 1990s and Iraq in 2011—that failure to adequately sustain baseline intelligence when disengaging from a conflict can lead to future difficulties for the United States.

To avoid repeating the mistakes of the recent past, the United States would be wise to prioritize its access to intelligence as it deliberates the best path forward in the numerous small footprint missions in which it is currently engaged.

In Afghanistan in the 1990s, the United States and much of the rest of the international community completely disengaged, cutting off funding and ceding almost total influence to Pakistan and regional rivals who quickly made Afghanistan a theater of proxy warfare, but also greatly reduced U.S. intelligence insights into the region.

Later, this reduced access to intelligence left the Clinton administration with a poor understanding of the larger threat that core al-Qaida truly posed to the United States. - Reqd More

Intelligence Losses Pose Large Risks as U.S. Troops Head Home

A US-Taliban peace deal may be on the way. But it could easily fall apart.

“Talking to the Taliban is a waste of time,” said one former general.

America’s nearly two-decade war in Afghanistan may finally be drawing to a close.

After six days of negotiations in Qatar last week, the United States and the Taliban, the country’s Islamic insurgent group, have reportedly agreed on the outline of a long-sought deal which would allow US and foreign troops to leave the country, perhaps within 18 months.

If true, this would officially kickstart the end to Washington’s involvement in Afghanistan, and likely hand much of the country back to the Taliban — a group which has outlasted the efforts of three US presidents to destroy it.

On Monday, the Trump administration’s envoy for the peace talks, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the New York Times that “[w]e have a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement.”

That framework as it stands now looks like this: The Taliban, which controlled Afghanistan and harbored al-Qaeda prior to the September 11 attacks, would promise never to allow a terrorist organization to operate in the country again. In return, at least some US troops would leave the country after the Taliban agrees to a ceasefire and engages in talks with the Afghan government.

That’s a potential problem: The Taliban has for years refused to engage with Kabul, but also hinted that it might do so only after foreign troops leave the country.

Asked about Khalilzad’s comments to the Times and other similar reports, a State Department spokesperson told me that “[w]hile discussions were positive, the talks concluded without an agreement.”

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the spokesperson added.

Still, some experts I spoke with called the tentative outline a “breakthrough” and “tremendously good news” — and it is, to a certain extent. It’s the first, and possibly best, chance for the US to establish a semblance of peace between the US-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban so American troops can come home. 

What both champions and critics of the US-Taliban talks told me, though, is that there’s still a long way to go before a final deal is within reach. “There’s at least five or six moving pieces here,” Jason Campbell, who led the Pentagon’s Afghanistan peace talk efforts from June 2016 to September 2018 and now at the RAND Corporation, told me. “If one goes wrong, you’re back to square one. -Read More

A US-Taliban peace deal for Afghanistan in works, but could fall apart ...

Donald Trump’s Chance to Bring Peace to Afghanistan and End America’s Longest War

Afghanistan, in the foreign imagination, has never been associated with certainty. For centuries, visitors and invaders alike have applied conflicting stereotypes to the country—that Afghans are simultaneously courageous and treacherous, honorable and corrupt, courteous and warlike. This week, Afghans themselves face an uncertainty of their own: Donald Trump’s intentions.

On Monday, Trump’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that, after six days of negotiations, he had achieved a “framework” for a peace deal with the Taliban—something that has eluded American diplomats for more than a decade. The Taliban pledged not to allow any organization to carry out an international terrorist attack from the territory of Afghanistan, in exchange for a full withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. The news sparked surprise—and applause—from American diplomats who have tried and failed to negotiate with the Taliban in the past. “I think this is the beginning of a credible process for the first time in ten years,” Dan Feldman, who served as the Obama Administration’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told me.

The moment represents an opportunity for Trump to produce a breakthrough foreign-policy achievement that would both appeal to his base and achieve something that he relishes: outdoing Barack Obama and George W. Bush. It would also end a conflict that has become an abattoir for poorly paid and equipped Afghan soldiers and police. Last week, the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani, revealed that forty-five thousand of them have died since 2014, when Afghan forces took over the responsibility for securing the country from American and nato forces. During the same period, Ghani said, seventy-two foreign soldiers have died. On average, five hundred Afghan security forces have died for every American. “It shows you who is doing the fighting,” Ghani said.

A variety of factors—some serendipitous, some the result of Trump’s repeated calls for an American withdrawal from the conflict—have come together to create this opportunity. “The next several months are critical,” Rick Olson, a retired American diplomat who negotiated with the Taliban during the Obama Administration, told me. The surest way for the President to capitalize on the opportunity, diplomats say, is for him to embrace what is, for him, an uncharacteristic approach: restraint. Trump deserves credit for his willingness to take a risk. He has, apparently, dismissed the concerns of the Bush and Obama Administrations that abandoning Afghanistan could prompt the country to again become a base for terrorist attacks on the United States. But, for peace talks to proceed successfully, he should resist tweeting a demand for an immediate agreement or publicly threatening the unilateral withdrawal of American troops. Dan Feldman argues that this is a moment for Trump to act as a conventional leader. “A traditional, strategic, disciplined President could help quite a bit, by empowering his Special Representative in negotiations, by assuring the Afghan government that we won’t precipitously withdraw and leave a security vacuum . . . and by engaging allies and partners in the region on how to adequately resource and guarantee any settlement,” he said. 

Feldman and Olson both said that a genuine chance for peace exists. Olson said that a central dynamic that has changed is the posture of the U.S. military. American generals are no longer arguing that they need more time to create military pressure on the Taliban. “The D.O.D. wants out,” Olson told me. “This is something they were never really willing to do under Obama.” He added that the Defense Department has shifted its focus to the strategic threats posed by ChinaRussia, and others. “The world has moved on,” he said. “D.O.D. is now thinking about great-power competition.”- Read More

Donald Trump's Chance to Bring Peace to Afghanistan and End ...

Trump rejects peace talks with Taliban in departure from Afghan strategy

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday rejected the idea of talks with the Taliban after a series of deadly attacks in Afghanistan, in an apparent contradiction of his own strategy to end America’s longest foreign war.

Trump condemned the militant group for the carnage in Kabul and pledged to “finish what we have to finish.”

Trump’s comments suggest he sees a military victory over the Taliban, an outcome that military and diplomatic officials say cannot be achieved with the resources and manpower he has authorized.

When he announced an increase in U.S. troops to Afghanistan in August, U.S. officials said the goal was to force the Taliban to negotiate a political settlement.

“I don’t see any talking taking place,” Trump told reporters as he began meeting at the White House with members of the United Nations Security Council.

“I don’t think we’re prepared to talk right now. It’s a whole different fight over there. They’re killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right.” - Read More


Trump rejects peace talks with Taliban in departure from Afghan ...

Sunday, January 27, 2019

This Diet Is Better For the Planet. But Is It Better For You, Too?

What we eat – and how our food is produced – is becoming increasingly politicized.

Why? More people are connecting the dots between diet and health – not just personal health, but also the health of the planet. And the central thesis that has emerged is this: If we eat less meat, it's better for both.

So, how much less? A new, headline-grabbing report — compiled by some of the top names in nutrition science — has come up with a recommended target: Eat less than half an ounce of red meat per day. That works out to about 3.5 ounces — or a single serving of red meat — per week. And it's far less red meat than Americans currently consume on average: between an estimated 2 and 3 ounces per day.

Here's the environmental argument: Agriculture is responsible for up to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and much of the emissions come from red meat production. A lot of land and water are needed to grow the grains to feed the livestock. (About one-third of all the grain produced globally is used as animal feed.)

And, as the World Resources Institute estimates, producing beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the emissions as producing beans, per gram of protein. By one estimate, if people in the U.S. switched from beef to beans, this alone could get the U.S. more than halfway to the greenhouse gas reductions goals set during the Obama administration.

"Many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production," concludes the new EAT-Lancet Commission report. And in order to feed the estimated 10 billion people that will inhabit the planet by 2050, "a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed." - Read More

This Diet Is Better For the Planet. But Is It Better For You, Too?

ډاکټر خلیلزاد په دوحه کې له طالبانو سره د خبرو جزئیات له جمهوررئیس غني سره شریک کړل

د افغانستان د سولې لپاره د امریکا د بهرنیو چارو وزارت ځانګړي استازي ډاکټر زلمي خلیلزاد پرون ماښام ناوخته د افغانستان د اسلامي جمهوریت جمهوررئیس محمد اشرف غني او د حکومت نورو غړو ته د قطر په دوحه کې طالبانو سره د خبرو جزئیات شریک کړل.

ډاکټر خلیلزاد د حکومت مشرتابه ته د معلوماتو ورکولو پر مهال په دوحه کې له طالبانو سره د خبرو په اړه په نړیوالو او کورنیو رسنیو کې خپاره شوي ناسم معلومات او ګنګوسې، رد کړې، وې ویل: د افغانستان د نظام د راتلونکي جوړښت په اړه یې له طالبانو سره هیڅ راز خبرې او بحث نه دی کړی.

هغه زیاته کړه: د موقت حکومت موضوع په بشپړه توګه ناسمه ده او په دغو خبرو کې په هیڅ وجه نه ده مطرح شوې او دا زما په صلاحیت او مسوولیت کې نه راځي، زما د صلاحیت موضوع دا ده چې یوازې بین الافغاني مذاکراتو ته زمینه برابره کړم.

ډاکټر خلیلزاد څرګنده کړه، طالبانو سره یې د اوربند په مسئله بحث کړی خو تر اوسه په کې کوم پرمختګ نه دی شوی.

ډاکټر خلیلزاد وویل، طالبانو سره په خبرو کې امریکا په ټینګار سره ویلي چې په افغانستان کې دوامدارې سولې ته د رسېدو یوازینۍ حللاره بین افغاني مذاکرات دي.

هغه زیاته کړه، طالبانو په افغانستان کې د بهرنیو ځواکونو د وتلو غوښتنه کړې ده خو تر اوسه امریکایان ورسره هیڅ ډول پرېکړې ته نه دي رسېدلي او زیاته یې کړه: که چېرې د بهرنیو ځواکونو په اړه هر ډول تصمیم نیول کېږي دا به په ټاکلي وخت له افغان دولت سره په همغږۍ په تفصیلي ډول تر بحث لاندې نیول کېږي.

ډاکټر خلیلزاد په دې اړه چې ایا طالبان به د بین الافغاني مذاکراتو په اړه تصمیم ونیسي او که نه، وویل، د پاتې موضوعاتو د تعقیب لپاره به بیا له طالبانو سره وګوري.

په پای کې د افغانستان د اسلامي جمهوریت جمهوررئیس محمداشرف غني د افغانستان د سولې لپاره د امریکا د بهرنیو چارو وزارت د ځانګړي استازي ډاکټر زلمي خلیلزاد څخه د راپور د شریکولو په خاطر مننه وکړه او د بین الافغاني مذاکراتو د پيل په خاطر یې د امریکا د متحدوایالتونو د دولت هڅې وستایلې. - Read More
ډاکټر خلیلزاد په دوحه کې له طالبانو سره د خبرو جزئیات له جمهوررئیس ...
Office of the President of Afghanistan

U.S peace envoy visits Kabul to consult president on talks with Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Sunday to try to secure cooperation from Afghanistan’s president after breakthroughs in peace negotiations with Taliban leaders in Qatar.

With Khalilzad and his boss U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well Taliban officials, hailing progress toward ending America’s longest war, he must now win over President Ashraf Ghani — whose government the Taliban have so far kept out of the process.

Six days of talks ended in Qatar on Saturday with key parts of a draft pact mapped out, including an 18-month timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops after the completion of a deal, according to Taliban officials.

The draft also includes assurances from the hardline Islamic group that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the U.S. and its allies - a core U.S. demand. Similar assurances involving other groups are given to Pakistan in the draft pact.

The Taliban also want to be part of an interim government after any ceasefire, Taliban sources said.

It was not clear whether the draft described by the Taliban sources was acceptable to both sides or when it could be completed and signed.

A fresh round of talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban is expected to take place on February 25 in Doha, two senior Taliban sources said.

While he has not been directly involved up until now, Ghani’s role is likely to grow as a full deal gets closer and diplomacy intensifies.

Without going into detail on Saturday night, Khalilzad said in tweets that nothing could be agreed without an intra-Afghan dialogue and a full ceasefire.

“He (Khalilzad) will inform Ghani and his officials about all the developments, seek their opinion before traveling back to Washington,” a senior Afghan official said on conditions of anonymity.

Khalilzad is also due to brief top regional diplomats on Monday morning. - Read More

U.S peace envoy visits Kabul to consult president on talks with Taliban ...

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Trump Leaves Behind Mess for Afghans to Clean Up - Foreign Policy

Reports of the withdrawal of U.S. troops took Afghans by surprise. And it gives the Taliban exactly what they want.

Fears that U.S. President Donald Trump would decide to reverse course and withdraw troops from Afghanistan are not new. But the latest reports of dramatic plans to bring back 7,000 troops has shocked several sources I have spoken to in the U.S. and Afghan governments. The withdrawal represents nearly half of all U.S. forces in Afghanistan, slashing its armed presence down to its lowest levels since 2002. The news broke a day after Trump’s decision to pull forces from Syria and hours after the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis was made public.

It is not necessarily the announcement itself that caught many by surprise, but the timing. Zalmay Khalilzad was appointed as the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation in September, raising hopes that a peaceful settlement to America’s longest war was in sight. Khalilzad—a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan under the George W. Bush administration—has shuttled across the region with a relentless energy since then, and a U.S. delegation concluded three days of talks with the Taliban in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. There has been more momentum now for talks than ever before, which Trump’s decision significantly undermines.

The reduction in troop numbers diminishes U.S. leverage over the Taliban in negotiations, given that the latter’s stated priority is the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan. While the United States has pummeled Taliban targets with airstrikes, now at an all-time high, this has not yet eroded their control or dented their military capacity. The U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction reported this fall that Afghan government control had fallen to 56 percent of the country’s districts, a record low, and that Afghan National Security Forces casualties had hit a record high. Exact casualty numbers are classified, but the New York Times estimates an average of 50 Afghan soldiers are killed each week. Afghan forces remain deeply reliant on U.S. support to maintain current levels of control and protect cities vulnerable to Taliban capture.

The Taliban refuse to meet directly with the Afghan government; at the recent talks in Abu Dhabi, a delegation from the Afghan government waited in vain at a nearby hotel in the hope of a face-to-face meeting with the Taliban. There are many within the Taliban who oppose negotiations and advocate waiting out Washington’s patience and money. As the old saying goes, the West may have the watches, but the Taliban have the time. The Taliban have little incentive to agree to any deal quickly, particularly now that Trump has clearly demonstrated a desire to get out—regardless of the cost.

The situation on the ground in Afghanistan has only gotten worse in recent months, with escalating violence and an increasingly unstable government. The National Unity Government has been paralyzed by infighting and division ahead of presidential elections scheduled for April 2019. Results from parliamentary elections held in October have still not been announced. Given the level of disorganization, chaos, and violence that plagued those elections, presidential elections would be farcical if held as planned in the spring. Yet reports that the United States wanted the Afghan government to postpone elections and create an interim government to negotiate peace were met with defiance and outrage in Kabul.

A withdrawal of U.S. troops may force a reckoning within the Afghan government, which was reportedly caught unawares by the announcement. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s most pressing concern to date has been re-election rather than peace, and his intransigence has increasingly frustrated the United States and its allies in the international community. At a donor conference in Geneva in late November, Ghani announced his peace plan with a five-year timeframe, conveniently tying peace talks to his next presidential term should he win in April. Ghani’s plan is little more than a strategy to tighten his faltering grip on power, disguised as reconciliation.

The Afghan president is facing increasing discontent and open opposition from key political backers, many of whom oppose or have publicly expressed doubt about talks with the Taliban. This is not surprising. Many of these individuals have significantly benefited from the war and from U.S. support. They would lose considerable influence and power in any settlement with the Taliban. Some may dig in their heels or look for exit plans. Others, particularly within Jamiat-e-Islami or other old mujahideen factions, may accelerate efforts to re-arm their militias in anticipation of a full U.S. withdrawal.

If Trump were to rashly withdraw the remaining U.S. forces without a sound deal, a gradual decline into a new and more vicious phase of civil war is all but guaranteed. In the vacuum created by U.S. disengagement, regional actors such as Pakistan and Russia would throw their support behind Afghan proxies much as they did during the early 1990s. And while Afghanistan is no longer a major safe haven for international terrorist groups, that could quickly change.

It is clear that the current U.S. administration does not have the appetite or endurance to see through a political end to the war that would avoid this. Peace will take years of sustained effort. There is an alternative: handing the process over to a third party. The United States could back the establishment of an independent peace process focused on three core areas: Taliban-U.S. dialogue regarding an American drawdown of troops, intra-Afghan dialogue on a postwar political settlement, and shoring up support from regional actors. 

This may be a pipe dream, as all parties still seem convinced they can secure the best deal themselves and are likely wary of handing over any part of the process to anyone else. However, it is the only responsible policy choice. It would tie the United States, the Taliban, and the Afghan government, along with regional actors, to a long-term process that would, hopefully, prioritize the stability of the country and preserve at least some of the gains made over the past 18 years. It is not only the future of Afghanistan at stake, but also the security of the region and the United States. - Read More

Friday, January 25, 2019

Trump Signs Bill Reopening Government for 3 Weeks in Surprise Retreat From Wall - NYTimes

WASHINGTON — President Trump agreed on Friday to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations continued over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border, backing down after a monthlong standoff failed to force Democrats to give him billions of dollars for his long-promised wall.

The president’s concession paved the way for the House and the Senate to both pass a stopgap spending bill by voice vote. Mr. Trump signed it on Friday night, restoring normal operations at a series of federal agencies until Feb. 15 and opening the way to paying the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay for 35 days.

The plan includes none of the money for the wall that Mr. Trump had demanded and was essentially the same approach that he rejected at the end of December and that Democrats have advocated since, meaning he won nothing concrete during the impasse.

Mr. Trump presented the agreement with congressional leaders as a victory anyway, and indicated in a speech in the Rose Garden that his cease-fire may only be temporary: If Republicans and Democrats cannot reach agreement on wall money by the February deadline, he said that he was ready to renew the confrontation or declare a national emergency to bypass Congress altogether. - Read More

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CNN Anchor, Fareed Zakaria’s Conversation With President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani During World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting (2019) In Davos, Switzerland. - Office of the President

Fareed Zakaria: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for coming to this. If I may start before welcoming our honored guest with a few ground rules, we are very appreciative with our audience here at with. This show is also being taped for my CNN program and will be watched by many millions more, so as a courtesy, I would ask that you genuinely turn off your phones so that they do not interrupt the recording. And also if you could just hold off any applause, comments, we’d like to be able to broadcast this in a way that many people can take advantage of the wisdom of our special guest.

So, Henry Kissinger once said, “Those who don’t need introductions crave them the most”. I think this is not true of the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, entirely rare figure in the modern world and being a genuinely world-class academic, genuine thought leader, a person who had worked at the highest levels of the international system, who then went on to lead a country and has been very successful. So with that, Ashraf Ghani, pleasure to have you.

President Ghani: well, thank you for that marvelous introduction. It is great pleasure to see you and to have opportunity to exchange views with you.

Fareed Zakaria:  So the first thing I am going to ask you is what appears to be some breaking news. It is not confirmed. There are reports that, in Doha, there has been some kind of a deal made with the Taliban involving with withdrawal of the American troops and presumably some kind of deal that the Taliban accepts. Is there any truth to these reports? What can you tell us about these negotiations?

President Ghani: Well. Thank you. Peace is an imperative. A war that has gone on for 17 years must come to an end. This war is multidimensional, it is very strong levels of interrelationships and it is not as simple to arrive at a date and think that the war as simply ends because of that—because the side of the government of Afghanistan—we have binding legal agreements with the United States and NATO, bilateral agreements and of course, multinational agreements internationally regarding assistance, trade and others.

The Taliban have a series of interrelationships that are below the surface. They have relationships with all known terrorist groups; they have relationships with the largest criminal mafia on earth, which after cocaine is the heroine mafia. They have an organic relationship with the state of Pakistan that has provided them sanctuary, resources, support and others, and they have patron client relationships with the others. This is a cluster of relationships.

US is committed to see a timeline to the engagements, but to just think that a relationship has arrived, I think, is exaggerated. We need to be able to get the relationship because the dimension that is national namely the Taliban and the Afghan people and the Afghan government, must be resolved politically, but the dimensions that continue the violence and the reason that the international forces are present in Afghanistan is not because of Afghanistan, but because 9/11 on one estimate cost the United States government and society $500 billion.

How do we deal with all these sets of relationship? We have a roadmap, we have detailed discussions. Let us not also forget that Ambassador Khalilzad, my old friend, and especial envoy, was not able to meet with Taliban representatives in Pakistan. Does Doha have that authority and the function of Ambassador Khalilzad’s office is that the Afghan government and the Taliban into face-to-face discussions and negotiations. Within that, then the larger issues of US presence and other international issues will be addressed.

Fareed Zakaria: But there is no breakthrough, you are saying, in recent days.

President Ghani: Not in that sense. There is discussion but the discussion needs to be shared back. A discussion that does not involve the region will not last. Afghanistan has national dimensions, neighborhood dimensions, the regional dimension, from India to Russia, the Gulf, Islamic and international. If we don’t get all the pieces right, one piece alone doesn’t suffice.

Fareed Zakaria:  How would you respond the people in America, maybe another western countries that have sent troops for seventeen years; this has gone on for 17 years. What have we got now different? We have failed in some sense, they would argue.

President Ghani: No, absolutely, but the first thing is, the United States is not there because it is fighting in Afghanistan. It is fighting for its security. Second, we have engaged in a very open dialogue. The United States as a sovereign power, as a global power, is entitled to leave. But we need to get the departure right. Are the fundamental reasons that brought the United States to Afghanistan—are those objectives accomplished? The first issue is cost. We completely agree that the cost must come down, must become more efficient. So the first thing I request is that everything under the sun should not be built under the war in Afghanistan. When the US navy needs money, when the US army needs money, the US air force, it bills it under Afghanistan. What is the cost of the war in Afghanistan?

Second, the number of troops. We are engaged in a discussion, we had initiated this to see that the number corresponds the essential needs, because every US soldier essential at least cost a million dollars a year. On making it more efficient—this is crucial. And we understand that our relationship is based on mutual interest which flows from mutual threats on the one hand, and mutual goals on the other.

So my answer first, I pay tribute to every mother and father who have lost their children in Afghanistan. This has included the highest levels of government, like Secretary Kelly, chief of staff, who lost his son in Helmand.

Second, over a million American soldiers, men and women in uniform, have seen action in Afghanistan; we pay tribute. But the job that we started together needs to move.

Thirdly, since I have become president, a hundred thousand troops left. Over 45,000 Afghan security personnel have paid the ultimate sacrifice. The number of international casualties is less than 72. So it shows you who is doing the fighting and the support is mutual. We need to get a stable Afghanistan as an entity that can ensure security of America and Europe and others on the one hand, but more fundamentally our own democratic rights and institutions and our right to live in peace and harmony.

Fareed Zakaria:  And if I look at Afghanistan today, what I am struck by is, you have a functioning democracy; you are up for elections, your elections again in July. There have not been major terrorist attacks in recent months. The economy seems to be moving forward. Is it fair to say that Afghanistan has turned the corner?

President Ghani: Afghanistan is turning the corner. My first tribute is to the Afghan women. Afghan women have come to voice their own. In 33 provinces of Afghanistan there have been discussions, and the last one is taking place now. We are going to have the first Jirga – the gathering – of all Afghan women in the coming month. These are people who grow, come from the grass roots. What do they want? A democratic, orderly system. Second is the youth, the youth of Afghanistan has really come to its own. Please understand that Afghanistan of today is a very different Afghanistan in terms of demographic composition. And three are the poor.

Fareed Zakaria:  Different even from Afghanistan of 9/11 in 2001.

President Ghani: Absolutely. Because this generation—we lost three generations to war. This is the first generation that has gone directly from refugee camps and internally displaced people to the best universities on earth, educational capability. We are now able to staff a modern administration and run it, so the ownership and leadership that has come. It is also networked generation. They talk. They are rooted on the ground, but they are able to talk to all our neighbors and to that the global community in a language.

And the economy is beginning to move fundamentally, but the most important thing is our constitution. As you mentioned presidential elections will take place in July. The people of Afghanistan will select their leaders. From 1747, when the last incarnation of continuous Afghan State has taken place until I succeeded president Karzai, with couple of exceptions, every succession involved a conflict. And in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet-backed regime, there was no agreement on rules of the game; Kabul was destroyed. The country went to a level of deprivation and destitution that didn’t know. Why? Because a number of people who had all been friends could not agree on rules of the game. The rules of the game are now placed in the constitution. - Read More

| President of Afghanistan CNN anchor, Fareed Zakaria's conversation