Amid Taliban violence, key players differ on containment strategy

The divergent approaches of the U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan highlight the complexity of developing a unified front on terrorism.

As Taliban violence surges, American, Pakistani, and Afghan leaders pursued clearly divergent approaches this week, underscoring the complexities of devising a coherent strategy to contain the problem.

While Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been trying to negotiate for peace with the Taliban, US drones fired once again on Taliban targets in Pakistan. And while the US Army prepares to change its military commander in Afghanistan, Pakistan has announced a new head of its troubled intelligence wing.

President Karzai disclosed on Monday that he has been trying to broker a peace accord with the Taliban. "The negotiations ... are increasingly seen as the only solution to the violent insurgency gripping Afghanistan," the Financial Times reports.

Karzai said he had sought help in negotiations from Saudi Arabia, to no avail, The New York Times adds:

As the Afghan war intensifies and American commanders call for increased troop levels, President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he had repeatedly sought the intervention of the Saudi royal family to bring the resurgent Taliban to peace negotiations.
But Mr. Karzai said his appeals had failed to yield any talks, and his tone suggested a degree of frustration with the Saudi government for not having acted more decisively. Nor was there any indication that senior Taliban leaders were ready for talks on any grounds that the Karzai government and its Western backers would be likely to accept.
On the contrary, the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, issued a new call on Monday for Afghans to continue their "holy war" against American and other Western troops, and promised that those heeding his call would be rewarded with a collapse of American power in the world, just as the former Soviet Union collapsed after its 10-year occupation of Afghanistan.

As Karzai held out an olive branch, the US military took a different approach, continuing to pound targets in Pakistan, Britain's Guardian newspaper reports.

A suspected US drone killed at least six people in a missile strike in a Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan near the Afghan border, officials said today....
Two missiles were fired at a house in the Khushali Torikhel area near Mir Ali town at around midnight, according to local media reports. Pakistani intelligence officials said the missiles struck the home of a local Taliban commander
The officials said a US drone aircraft – not Pakistani forces – fired the missiles. Pakistani media reported that among the dead were a number of foreign militants.

Pakistan took its own tack today to revise its counterterrorism strategy, replacing the chief of the InterServices Intelligence, or ISI, Pakistan's clandestine service, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

Pakistan named a new head of its main intelligence service, a change sure to be scrutinized by American officials who have questioned the powerful spy agency's loyalties in the war on terror.
Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, the new chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, oversaw military offensives against militants in Pakistan's restive northwest tribal areas in his most recent job as director general of military operations.

The AP outlined why taking on the Taliban is a directive with particular importance for the ISI:

Pakistani intelligence helped create the Taliban. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect rogue ISI elements may still be giving the Taliban sensitive information to aid militants in their growing insurgency in Afghanistan, even though officially, Pakistan is a U.S. ally in fighting terrorism.

An editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times called the new appointment a welcome move.

..[T]he new [director general of] ISI is handpicked by ... General Ashfaq Kayani, and not by [Prime Minister Yousaf Raza] Gilani. He was ... in charge of the anti-terrorist operations in [the Federally Administered Tribal Areas] and directly responsible for implementing the policy of the [Chief of Army Staff] there, first under General Musharraf and then under General Kayani....
Significantly, neither the [prime minister] nor President Asif Zardari has tried to influence General Kayani's choice, indicating a welcome degree of trust between the new military and new political leadership.... Clearly, under Gen Pasha, the ISI will be retooled to deal with the internal threat to the state from terrorism in FATA. This is great news.

General Pasha's appointment comes as the US military is changing its command in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gen. David Petraeus, credited with turning around Iraq's crippling security scenario, is expected to take command "of all American forces in the Middle East and Afghanistan on Oct. 31," reports The New York Times.

In an interview with the paper, he says the battle with the Taliban is likely to worsen.

As he prepares to take up his post as head of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus said in an interview this week that he expected the fight against the insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan to get worse before it got better.
General Petraeus's experience in Iraq has allowed him to develop a comprehensive approach to fighting the counterinsurgency. But the general was careful not to take any lessons from Iraq too hastily, and said he would not be directing things in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a "several-thousand-mile screwdriver" from Central Command.
"People often ask, 'What did you learn from Iraq that might be transferable to Afghanistan?' " he said. "The first lesson, the first caution really, is that every situation like this is truly and absolutely unique, and has its own context and specifics and its own texture," he said.
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