Sunday, 10 February 2013

Withdrawal of Nato Troops from Afghanistan

The much awaited withdrawal of Nato troops has started. The first phase of withdrawal from Afghanistan began on Sunday with the entry of 25 containers into Pakistan. Security sources confirmed that the Convey would be provided with routine security for its journey from Torkham to Karachi. Custom officials also confirmed that several containers were examined and cleared after these entered into Pakistan.

US General, Joseph Dunford has assumed command of Nato forces in Afghanistan on Sunday, He took over the charge from General John Allen as the coalition prepares to withdraw the bulk of combat troops by next year. Marine General Dunford will likely be the last commander of the United States’ longest war. He has been entrusted the enormous task of taking the combat soldiers along with their equipment back home after more than 11 years and overseeing the transfer of Afghan security duties to local forces.

With the commencement of withdrawal two other more pressing issues also need resolution; on top of the agenda is release of Taliban. Pakistan has agreed to give a formal role to Afghan High Peace Council in the release of remaining Taliban detainees. Pakistani authorities would consult the Council through a new coordination mechanism being put in place before setting more Taliban prisoners free. The new mechanism gives a say to the Council about who should be released for being useful in the peace and reconciliation process.

It has been agreed between Pakistan and Afghanistan to put in place arrangements to strengthen coordination of Taliban detainee releases from Pakistani custody in support of the peace and reconciliation process. Pakistan has already released 26 Taliban. Those released included some high-profile Afghan commanders and political leadership of the Taliban regime.

“We would send lists of Taliban prisoners that we intend to release to the Afghan High Peace Council which would comment on the names in those lists,” Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani told the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

However, rather odd situation seems to prevail with regards to CIA-operated drone attacks. The Senate Committee was told that Pakistan could not afford to shoot down US. “We cannot bear the fallout of shooting down drones,” said Jilani while listing the options available for Pakistan to deal with US drones violating Pakistan’s airspace.

He said Pakistan’s policy for dealing with drones is two pronged — reiterating the policy position that drone strikes were counter-productive and a violation of international law; and holding talks with the US for getting them stopped. But, he underscored that the best possible option for Pakistan was to rid its tribal areas of all foreign militants.

“We need to have a comprehensive policy for expelling all foreign fighters having sanctuaries in Fata,” Jilani said. His views were endorsed by Senator Mushahid Hussain who said the presence of foreign fighters gave excuse to other countries to violate our sovereignty.

Pakistan estimates that some 1900 — 3000 people have been killed in US drone attacks. Chairman Foreign Affairs Committee Senator Haji Adeel noted that there were about 473 Pakistanis among those killed by drones. He said that relationship of Pakistani victims with the targets of the drones was not clear.

Another dimension is that the former commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal said that there was widespread resentment against drone strikes in Pakistan. Earlier he had said that US drone strikes were “hated on a visceral level”. 

He warned that too many drone strikes in Pakistan without identifying suspected militants individually can be a bad thing. He asked the Americans how they would react if a neighboring country like Mexico started firing drone missiles at targets in Texas.

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