January 28, 2009


Obama, Iran and Afghanistan (Kaveh L Afrasiabi, 1/29/09, Asia Times)

An Afghanistan-centered dialogue may prove a productive first step on the complex path of US-Iran relations. In a way, this would be a back-to-the-past approach, with shades of how the US and Iran cooperated in the aftermath of 9/11 tragedy on a common anti-Taliban strategy.

"The difference between then and now is that the US officials are now distinguishing between the 'good Taliban' versus the 'bad Taliban' and hoping to sow divisions between them and reach a compromise with the former, perhaps as part of an emerging post-Karzai scenario," said a Tehran University political scientist. The scholar added that he believes Iran does not like this "new approach" and finds it "simplistic and defeatist".

In addition to the traditional reasons Tehran is opposed to the Taliban's resurgence is that the insurgents are involved in the opium business. The narcotics trade has skyrocketed in recent years, compared to the anti-drug stance during the era of Taliban rule. This is one of the key features of the "new Taliban" as far as Tehran is concerned, while partly blaming the rise on the British components of the coalition force put in charge of drug trafficking.

Tehran is pleased with Obama's prioritization of the war in Afghanistan and may be willing to allow NATO to use the Iran corridor to transport its goods from Europe, particularly now that Russia is sending mixed signals about its permission for such a route. Still, this is a risky proposition for Tehran and could cause a backlash in the form of anti-Iran terrorism or require a NATO commitment to assist Iran with its porous borders with Afghanistan.

We may none of us like each other much, but the simple fact of the matter is that Iran, Shi'a Iraq, Kurdistan, Israel, India, Russia, and America have a common interest in putting down the Sunni extremists of Afghanistan/Pakistan, so we will be allies.

A battle before a battle (Syed Saleem Shahzad, 1/29/09, Asia Times)

Restive North-West Frontier Province is not the destination of choice these days. Those who travel there go for business or family reasons, and the flight I took from the southern port city of Karachi to Peshawar was half empty; clearly, the region is no longer on the tourist map.

After touring the city for an afternoon and speaking to a variety of people, I was struck by its eerie similarity to Baghdad when I visited that capital soon after the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 - it has the distinct atmosphere of impending chaos.

That evening I chatted with a senior al-Qaeda member who told me that the group considered NWFP and southwestern Balochistan province as already wiped off the map of Pakistani as they were now militant country. Although not entirely accurate, it portends a chilling turn in the "war on terror" in which Washington will be more concerned over the stability and security of Pakistan rather than that of Afghanistan.

The indications are that a major battle will be fought in Pakistan before the annual spring offensive even begins in Afghanistan this year.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2009 8:59 AM
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