NEWS: Pakistan and Afghanistan

Militants escape control of Pakistan, officials say

Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

The growing strength of the militants, many of whom now express support for Al Qaeda’s global jihad, presents a grave threat to Pakistan’s security, as well as NATO efforts to push back the Taliban in Afghanistan. American officials have begun to weigh more robust covert operations to go after Al Qaeda in the lawless border areas because they are so concerned that the Pakistani government is unable to do so. [complete article]

Many Pakistanis see leader as having reigned too long

Today, despite transforming himself from military dictator to civilian president, Musharraf has overstayed his welcome, according to critics including politicians, pollsters and citizens on the street. In a poll taken two months ago, 67 percent of those surveyed said he should resign.

“When he took power, we felt that he’d take us down the right path and then go after two or three years, but now he’s been here eight years, and who can question him, who can tell him to go?” said Abdul Rauf, 40, the owner of a men’s shop in Islamabad’s upper-class Jinnah Shopping Market.

For many, Musharraf’s greatest failure has been his inability to break Pakistan’s addiction to dynastic parties and personality cults, evidenced by the 10 years of corrupt, failed governments led by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, a pair of prime ministers whom Musharraf accused of presiding over an “era of sham democracy.” [complete article]

Allies feel strain of Afghan war

The U.S. plan to send an additional 3,200 Marines to troubled southern Afghanistan this spring reflects the Pentagon’s belief that if it can’t bully its recalcitrant NATO allies into sending more troops to the Afghan front, perhaps it can shame them into doing so, U.S. officials said.

But the immediate reaction to the proposed deployment from NATO partners fighting alongside U.S. forces was that it was about time the United States stepped up its own effort.

After more than six years of coalition warfare in Afghanistan, NATO is a bundle of frayed nerves and tension over nearly every aspect of the conflict, including troop levels and missions, reconstruction, anti-narcotics efforts, and even counterinsurgency strategy. Stress has grown along with casualties, domestic pressures and a sense that the war is not improving, according to a wide range of senior U.S. and NATO-member officials who agreed to discuss sensitive alliance issues on the condition of anonymity. [complete article]

US attacks UK plan to arm Afghan militias

The US general in charge of training the Afghan police has criticised British-backed plans to arm local militias in an attempt to defeat the Taliban. The remarks by Maj-Gen Robert Cone, the second most senior US soldier in Afghanistan, are likely to deepen the row between London and Washington over how to counter the insurgency. [complete article]

Westerners face new threat after suicide squad storms Kabul hotel

A Taleban suicide squad broke into the only luxury hotel in Kabul last night, killing at least seven people, including an American and a Norwegian journalist, and forcing hundreds more to take shelter in a basement as a firefight raged in the lobby.

The attack, by a bomber and at least three men armed with AK47s, appeared to be the first big assault against a civilian target in the Afghan capital since a Taleban resurgence began in 2005. Witnesses described scenes of carnage inside the hotel, as American special forces entered the building in pursuit of the attackers. [complete article]

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