On Thursday, it was reported that Pakistan’s prime minister, Yusuf Gaza Gilani, warned the Obama administration of the dangers of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan. The prime minister expressed concerns that any such troop increase would lead to militants fleeing across the border into Balochistan, Pakistan’s restive northwest province, which is already gripped by insurgency.
Gilani’s comments comes just days before President Obama unveils his long anticipated new strategy for the Afghanistan war. It is widely expected that the president will order an increase of around 30,000 troops in Afghanistan, to prosecute a more ambitious counter-insurgency doctrine recommended by current US and ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal.
In a further blow to NATO’s Afghan strategy, the most senior officer in the German Bundeswehr resigned over a coalition air strike in Afghanistan’s northern Kunduz province. Speaking in the Bundestag on Thursday, German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg announced that General Wolfgang Schneiderhan had ‘released himself from his duties at his own request’. General Schneiderhan’s resignation is reported to be in response to accusations that the government had misled the public regarding the number of civilian casualties incurred by a NATO air strike in Kunduz, carried out in September at the behest of a German colonel. The Afghan government reported that 69 Taliban fighters were killed and 30 civilians, but independent reports cite a civilian death count between 70 and 100. Commentators state that the F16 fighter bombers carrying out the air strike failed to perform a warning run required by new rules of engagement put in place by General McChrystal. Peter Wichert, a senior German defence official, also resigned over the incident.
The openSecurity verdict: Pakistan has seen a dramatic rise in terrorist attacks in recent months; a trend linked by analysts to the increasingly robust approach taken by the government against Taliban strongholds in Pakistan’s unstable northwest frontier province. Such attacks supplement a long standing insurgency in Balochistan. Until recently this latter struggle was waged predominantly by Balochistani separatists, but Pakistani army offensives in Swat and South Waziristan have resulted in a flow of Taliban militants to Balochistan to continue the struggle against the Pakistani state.
The prime minister appealed to the US to consult Pakistan in any new change in strategy; though this is unlikely to reflect a genuine belief that Pakistan can influence American policy in this regard. Rather, his comments are thought to be aimed at the domestic audience in Pakistan, where there is continued resentment of the coalition presence in Afghanistan held to be culpable for the spate of suicide bombings in Pakistan’s northwest.
The prime minister’s comments reflect the deep uncertainty surrounding any US surge in Afghanistan. While there may be immediate conventional military gains, the long term ramifications, particularly regarding the stability of Pakistan and security of its nuclear arsenal, are unclear. The resignation of General Schneiderhan is indicative of another aspect of ISAF’s efforts: the integrity of the coalition itself.
General Schneiderhan’s resignation comes at a time when the Bundestag is debating extending the mandate of the German contribution to ISAF, currently comprising 4,500 troops. Against the background of further military escalation in Afghanistan, additional incidents like the Kunduz air strike are inevitable. If their casualties continue to include the careers of senior defence officials and army chiefs, the prospects for continued international military engagement in Afghanistan will be bleak.
IAEA criticises Iran nuclear site
On Thursday and Friday, Iran was criticised heavily by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its uranium enrichment facility at Qom. On Thursday, the outgoing director of the IAEA, Dr Mohammad ElBaradei, declared that Iran had been stonewalling investigations into whether it had been researching nuclear weapons designs. On Friday, the IAEA’s governing body voted overwhelmingly to censure Iran over its nuclear programme. In addition to the vote, which was carried by 25 to three, the governing body also voiced ‘serious concern; over the potential military applications of Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as demanding the immediate cessation of activity at the Qom plant.
Indian defence minister expresses concern over China-Pakistan alliance
On Friday, Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony said that increasing military ties between China and Pakistan were a source of concern for India. In his speech, Antony said that ‘we have to carry out continuous appraisals of Chinese military capabilities and shape our responses accordingly’. In the context of the subcontinent, relations between Pakistan and India suffered considerably from the terrorist attack on Mumbai a year ago today, carried out by Laskar-e-Taiba, an organisation which reportedly enjoys the backing of Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence agency.
Conversely, ties between Pakistan and China have warmed in recent months, with the two countries agreeing to a defence pact last year, and Pakistani President Zadari giving support for Beijing’s policy against Muslim Uighur activists in China’s restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region. This latter move provided the Chinese government with a vital diplomatic windfall from a Muslim country in the midst of international condemnation over its handling of Uighur riots in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.
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