Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Opinion: Trump Gave Pakistan What It Wanted, But Afghan Peace Is Far From Guaranteed

Shamila N. Chaudhary (@ShamilaCh) is a fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Foreign Policy Institute and senior fellow at New America. She served as director for Pakistan and Afghanistan on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.

On Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wrapped up a three-day visit to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of President Trump. The much-anticipated visit followed last year's cuts in U.S. aid to Pakistan and wrangling between the two leaders on Twitter, where Trump accused Pakistan of deceit and Khan retorted that Pakistan wasn't to blame for U.S. failures in Afghanistan.

And it was, of course, Afghanistan that figured centrally in Khan's visit, which took place as U.S.-led peace talks continue with the Afghan Taliban. When describing U.S. policy in Afghanistan in a talk on Tuesday, Khan invoked Albert Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Khan wanted to let everyone know that under his watch and Trump's leadership, the insanity was now over.

By the time he wrapped up his visit, Khan had secured what Pakistan has always wanted: a seat at the table on Afghanistan, and the Pakistani perspective acknowledged. (Trump even said he'd like to mediate between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir, something India sees as a purely bilateral issue. The State Department later walked Trump's statement back).

The extent to which Pakistan will go to protect what it has gained this week remains to be seen, as does the extent to which the U.S. will want to keep Pakistan happy.

This week, Khan hinted at a future meeting in which he would engage directly with Afghan Taliban leadership. If so, such a meeting would present a tremendous opportunity for Pakistan to cement its seat at the table in the broader infrastructure of the peace talks. The United States will unequivocally appreciate and capitalize on the additional channel of communication to pressure the Afghan Taliban — something to which Trump alluded on Monday during his press conference with Khan.

"I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves," Trump said, later remarking that he preferred this to his "plans on Afghanistan that if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days. And I don't want to do — I don't want to go that route." - Read More

Opinion: Trump Gave Pakistan What It Wanted, But Afghan Peace Is Far From Guaranteed

Mired in poverty, Afghans bring their children to work - AP

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Every day before dawn, 10-year-old Kamran goes to work with his father and other relatives at a brick factory on the outskirts of Kabul.

Like many children in Afghanistan, school is a luxury his family can no longer afford. His father, Atiqullah, supports his family of eight as well as several siblings, nieces and nephews. One of Kamran’s uncles is ill and another has passed away, leaving their families in his father’s care.

“My children wake up early in the morning and right after prayers they come here for work, so they don’t have time for school,” said Atiqullah, who like many Afghans has only one name. “These days if you don’t work, you cannot survive.”

The U.S. and its allies have sunk billions of dollars of aid into Afghanistan since the invasion to oust the Taliban 18 years ago, but the country remains mired in poverty. Signs of hardship are everywhere, from children begging in the streets to entire families — including children as young as five or six — working at brick kilns in the sweltering heat.

Shubham Chaudhuri, who recently completed a three-year stint as the World Bank country director for Afghanistan, said more than half of Afghans live on less than a dollar a day, the amount considered necessary to meet basic needs.

“Even more striking was the fact that almost three quarters of the population was close to that level. So I think the state of poverty in Afghanistan today is that it is deep and it is widespread,” he said.

U.N. report released last year said that more than 2 million Afghan children aged 6-14 were engaged in some form of child labor. Laws governing child labor in Afghanistan are poorly enforced, especially in rural areas.

Afghanistan’s economy grew by just 2% last year, the slowest rate in South Asia, held back by the lingering conflict, drought and endemic corruption. The watchdog Transparency International regularly rates Afghanistan among the most corrupt countries on earth. Much of the international aid has ended up in the hands of former warlords who live in gated compounds, cruise around in motorcades and stash their fortunes in the Gulf. - Read More

Mired in poverty, Afghans bring their children to work - AP News

Afghanistan asks for explanation after Trump claims US could wipe it 'off the face of the Earth'

Washington (CNN) - Afghanistan has demanded the United States clarify remarks made by President Donald Trump, who said the country "would be wiped off the face of the Earth" if he wanted to win the war in Afghanistan.

Fallout from the President's remarks rippled through a tense and confrontational meeting in Kabul between the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, according to two sources familiar with their conversation.

During the meeting, Afghan officials said Trump's comments were "unacceptable," given the relationship between the US and Afghanistan. At one point in his Oval Office remarks, Trump referred to dropping America's largest non-nuclear bomb on Afghanistan in 2017, and said that dropping more of them would be the "easy solution" to ending the conflict there.

Afghan officials also told Khalilzad that Trump should show more respect for Ghani's leadership. The State Department declined to comment, but previously unplanned follow-up meetings will take place in Kabul on Wednesday. - Read More

Afghanistan asks for explanation after Trump claims US could wipe it ...

Monday, July 22, 2019

WATCH: Trump wants Pakistan to help ‘extricate’ U.S. from Afghanistan - PBS

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Monday that he could win the war in Afghanistan in a week, but that he doesn’t want to kill millions of people and wipe Afghanistan “off the face of the earth.”

He’s trying to persuade Pakistan to help get a deal with the Taliban that would end America’s longest war.

“I could win that war in a week” but “I don’t want to kill millions of people,” Trump said.

Afghanistan is high on Trump’s agenda as he meets with Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. Their testy relationship may be improving. Trump says Pakistan can use its influence with the Taliban to help the U.S. “extricate” from Afghanistan.

Pakistan, which is suffering economically, wants to reset relations with the U.S. in hopes of securing more investment, trade and possibly a restoration of American aid that Trump cut.

Khan said he’s never believed that there was a military solution to the war. He said he thinks the U.S. and the Taliban are closer to a peace deal than ever before.

Trump and Khan — a former sports star — are both unpredictable and their relationship has been rocky. Monday’s visit was meant to smooth tensions and address complex problems facing both nations.

In recent years relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have resembled a yo-yo. They reached rock bottom under former President Barack Obama when the U.S. carried out the raid on al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan without giving Islamabad a heads-up. The relationship didn’t improve when Trump took office. - Read More

WATCH: Trump wants Pakistan to help 'extricate' US from ... - PBS

Trump Tries Cooling Tensions With Pakistan to Speed Afghan Peace Talks - NTtimes

WASHINGTON — President Trump, who on Twitter last year accused Pakistan’s leaders of “nothing but lies & deceit,” welcomed the country’s prime minister to the White House on Monday in an effort to mend relations and seek help in ending the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Seated next to Prime Minister Imran Khan in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump gushed about the prospect of improved relations and trade with Pakistan and said he expected that Mr. Khan would help negotiate peace in Afghanistan so United States troops can come home.

“There is tremendous potential between our country and Pakistan,” Mr. Trump said during a 40-minute question-and-answer session with reporters from both countries. “I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves.”

Administration officials believe pressure from Pakistan could push the Taliban into a permanent cease-fire in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he wants to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan and end the 18-year war.

“I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people,” Mr. Trump said, describing what he said were prepared military plans in Afghanistan. “If I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth. It would be gone in 10 days.”

Mr. Khan — like Mr. Trump a celebrity-turned-leader who once was Pakistan’s star cricket player — agreed quickly that seeking peace in Afghanistan is the better option.

“There is no military solution in Afghanistan,” Mr. Khan said. “If you go all out military, there would be millions and millions of people who would die.”

Mr. Khan arrived in the United States on Sunday, landing at Dulles International Airport in Virginia where a picture of him riding the airport’s people mover with other travelers sparked a minor social media uproar about the lack of pomp and circumstance.

The prime minister received more of an official welcome on Monday at the White House, where Mr. Trump greeted him in front of the West Wing before a bilateral meeting and a working lunch. - Read More

Trump Tries Cooling Tensions With Pakistan to Speed Afghan Peace ...

Trump, Pakistani PM talk Taliban, Afghan peace talks at White House

Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump said the US has made "a lot of progress" toward ending the war in Afghanistan in negotiations with the Taliban in recent weeks and made clear his disdain for the US' ongoing US military presence in Afghanistan.

Welcoming Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to the Oval Office on Monday, Trump diminished the US' 18-year war in Afghanistan as one where the US has "acted as policemen, not soldiers" and suggested the US could swiftly end it through brute military strength that would leave "10 million people" dead. That option, he said, is not one he intends to pursue.

"We've been there for 19 years and we've acted as policemen, not soldiers," Trump said, mischaracterizing the length of the war. "Again, if we wanted to be soldiers we could end it in one week, 10 days."

Trump at several points suggested he had been presented with a plan that would win the US war in Afghanistan in 10 days, but that would result in massive casualties.

"We're like policemen. We're not fighting a war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win it in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don't want to kill 10 million people," Trump said.

The US has instead been pursuing a diplomatic strategy to end the war -- with US-Taliban talks held in Qatar -- while still keeping up military pressure on the Taliban.

Trump's comments came as he welcomed Khan to the White House for the first time on Monday with Afghanistan peace talksand Pakistani support for a range of militant groups topping the agenda. Senior administration officials said that Trump would press the Pakistani prime minister to crack down on militants in Pakistan and provide more support for ongoing the US-Taliban peace. But while Trump said Pakistan had previously been "subversive" to US efforts to combat the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan, he suggested that unhelpfulness was in the past.

"I don't think Pakistan respected the United States, I don't think Pakistan respected its presidents," Trump said. "And I don't blame them because they were dealing with the wrong presidents." - Read More


Trump Offers to Mediate Kashmir Conflict, as Pakistan's Imran Khan ...

Trump Meets Pakistani Leader Khan as U.S. Presses to End Afghan War - WSJ

WASHINGTON—President Trump welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House on Monday, where U.S. officials hope the president can persuade Pakistan to pressure the Afghan Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government.

The meeting comes as Pakistan has been cooperating with the U.S. to press the Taliban to strike a peace deal, with the goal of allowing the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

The U.S. approached the meeting with cautious optimism, a senior administration official said on Friday. The official said the U.S. was appreciative of Pakistan’s initial steps, but added: “We are reaching a critical juncture.”

“Khan is saying the right things,” the official said. “But what we really need to see to prove that this is something different are, you know, actual arrests and convictions, as well as evictions of those Taliban and Haqqani leaders who don’t support peace.” The Haqqani network is a major Taliban-aligned insurgent group in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan’s visit, the official said, is an “opportunity to incentivize Pakistan to use its full leverage and influence with the Taliban to advance the peace process in Afghanistan.”

The meeting follows Mr. Trump’s decision last year to hold the first sustained U.S. talks with the Taliban, an approach Pakistani officials have advocated for years. Mr. Trump is seeking to conclude a deal with the Taliban by September—an agreement that could allow the U.S. to exit Afghanistan, where it has thousands of troops, a year before Mr. Trump seeks re-election.

Mr. Trump was set to hold a bilateral meeting with Mr. Khan in the Oval Office, followed by an expanded working lunch. The visit was scheduled to last a little over two hours.

The two leaders were set to discuss potential cooperation on trade, energy and women’s issues, the official said, describing the encounter as a rapport-building meeting.

The Pakistani prime minister was to be accompanied at the White House by his army chief, Gen. Qamar Bajwa, according to Pakistani officials. Pakistan’s military, which controls which policy toward Afghanistan and has long been accused by Washington of supporting the Taliban, has given strong backing to Mr. Khan. - Read More
Trump Meets Pakistani Leader as U.S. Presses to End Afghan War

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Afghanistan Facing Strong Headwinds to Growth, World Bank says

Kabul, July 21, 2019 – Afghanistan’s economy grew by around two percent in 2018 despite progress in economic policies, likely leading to further increases in poverty and deterioration in living standards, according to the World Bank’s recent Afghanistan Development Update.

Released today, the latest edition of the biannual publication highlights the negative combined impacts of conflict, drought and political uncertainty on the Afghan economy, resulting in the lowest growth rates among South Asian economies in 2018.

“Afghanistan faces challenges of insecurity, election-related political uncertainty, potential declines in international security support, in addition to the drought in 2018” said World Bank Afghanistan Country Director Henry Kerali“Any one of these shocks would normally generate strong headwinds to growth. Afghanistan has faced all of these concurrently”.

The Development Update publication notes that economic management remains strong in Afghanistan and prospects are improving for 2019, with growth expected to accelerate to 2.5 percent with the easing of drought conditions. Government policies have continued to support low inflation, improved revenue collection, and a limited fiscal deficit.

According to the report, slow growth generally reflects the impact of negative shocks rather than deterioration in government policy. In fact, government has, by many measures, maintained progress with policy reform even during these difficult times. Government revenues reached a new high of nearly 190 billion afghanis in 2018, up seven percent from 2017, the Update notes, while budget execution rates also reached record levels. The government spent 92 percent of the available national budget in 2018 and is on track to repeat this strong performance in 2019. - Read More

Afghanistan Facing Strong Headwinds to Growth, World Bank says

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Afghanistan talks agree 'roadmap to peace' - BBC News

A landmark peace conference between the Taliban and influential Afghans, including government officials, has agreed a "roadmap for peace" that could hasten the end of the 18-year war.

A statement called for an end to civilian casualties and the protection of women's rights within an "Islamic framework".

The non-binding agreement comes as the US and Taliban continue to negotiate an American withdrawal.

The US toppled the Taliban in 2001.

A seventh round of talks between American negotiators and the insurgents is expected to resume later on Tuesday. They hope to reach an agreement that would see US troops pull out in return for a commitment that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for terrorism.

The Taliban are refusing to hold direct negotiations with the Afghan government until the US announces a timetable for the withdrawal. - Read More

Afghanistan talks agree 'roadmap to peace' - BBC News