Merkel Successor Given Poisoned Chalice?

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer
Prime Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of Saarland answers questions from reporters in Berlin, Germany, September 19, 2014 (Bundesrat/Henning Schacht)

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the woman Angela Merkel is grooming to be her successor, was sworn in as Germany’s defense minister last week, replacing Ursula von der Leyen, who was elected president of the European Commission.

The appointment came as a surprise, for two reasons:

  1. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was elected head of the ruling Christian Democratic Union in December, has claimed she had no interest in a cabinet position.
  2. The defense portfolio is considered a poisoned chalice in Berlin. Read more “Merkel Successor Given Poisoned Chalice?”

Germany Seeks Active Role to Ensure Inclusive Afghan Peace Process

Heiko Maas
German foreign minister Heiko Maas attends a memorial service at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, March 11 (Auswärtiges Amt/Thomas Imo)

A week after a Taliban attack in Kabul left six people dead and over a hundred wonded, an all-Afghan peace summit is due to start in Doha on Sunday. Germany is co-sponsoring the meeting with Qatar.

Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, made the announcement and said, “only Afghans themselves can decide the future of their country.”

Potzel has become a familiar face in Afghanistan. Just a few weeks ago, he held meetings with key stakeholders across the Afghan political spectrum. In May, he had at least two meetings with the Taliban.

Germany wants to play an active role in the peace process and ensure that it is inclusive. The Afghan government’s exclusion from bilateral talks between the Taliban and the United States is a concern in Berlin. The Germans believe only an all-Afghan process can pave the way to a sustainable settlement. The hope is that the Doha meeting will be a step in that direction. Read more “Germany Seeks Active Role to Ensure Inclusive Afghan Peace Process”

German Policymakers Worry About Losing Afghan Gains

American transport aircraft Afghanistan
An American C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, March 7, 2014 (USAF/Brian Wagner)

Despite American president Donald Trump earlier ruling out negotiations with the Taliban, recent talks in Qatar could pave the way for a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The prospect is welcomed by many here in Germany, although policymakers worry about the impact on civilian engagement and developmental assistance. Read more “German Policymakers Worry About Losing Afghan Gains”

Pakistan’s Political Star Imran Khan Down, Not Out

The political tsunami that Pakistan’s Imran Khan promised, and was so sure of achieving, never came. His party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, fell almost a hundred seats short of Nawaz Sharif’s conservative Muslim League which is now set to form a government.

The former cricketer’s meteoric rise in the past few years was perhaps the most notable feature of this month’s election. The massive turnout at his rallies in politically significant cities including Karachi and Lahore and the apparent appeal of his proclaimed “new Pakistan” led many to believe that he would be able to challenge the dominance of the Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s Muslim League.

Two things seemed to work in Khan’s favor: his personal reputation and a general anti-incumbency sentiment in Pakistan. The latter was restricted not only to the People’s Party government but extended to the entire political system which included Sharif, a former premier. Khan exploited it well by focusing on issues that were bound to find a receptive audience. In particular, he launched a strong critique against corruption, the perks and privileges enjoyed by government officials, especially the unofficial exemption from paying taxes, and Pakistan’s alliance with the United States and the resultant drone strikes on its soil. Read more “Pakistan’s Political Star Imran Khan Down, Not Out”

Indo-Iranian Cooperation in Afghanistan Faces Challenges

India reaffirmed on Saturday its willingness to develop Iran’s Port of Chabahar during the seventeenth meeting of the India-Iran Joint Commission in Tehran. With an initial investment pledge of some $100 million, the move further strengthens the emerging partnership between the two countries in Afghanistan.

The Chabahar port is critical to India’s Afghanistan policy. In the absence of direct physical access to the country and a hostile Pakistan denying Indian goods transit, the Iranian harbor is the most viable access point India has to Afghanistan and the rest of Central Asia. Read more “Indo-Iranian Cooperation in Afghanistan Faces Challenges”

Pakistan Releases Taliban for Role in Afghan Peace Process

During a recent visit to Pakistan, Afghanistan’s foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul secured the release of several Taliban prisoners in an effort to push the political reconciliation process forward in his country. The announcement came only a few weeks after Pakistan’s decision to release Taliban prisoners during the visit of an Afghan High Peace Council delegation to Islamabad.

Both countries have also agreed to provide a safe passage to travel for talks and work jointly to get at least key leaders of the Taliban removed from the United Nations sanctions list.

Pakistan, through these talks, is attempting to safeguard its strategic interests in Afghanistan and once again using the Afghan Taliban to facilitate it. As far as Pakistan is concerned, the Taliban, whatever its past experiences with them, still form the only political faction in Afghanistan that could possibly ensure its interests there.

Pakistan, however, does not expect the Taliban to be capable of securing a military victory or controlling the country as it did before the 2001 invasion. It is unlikely that Pakistan itself would want to see complete Taliban domination in Afghanistan in the future either. A broad based government representing the various political factions, including the Taliban, would be more acceptable.

Thus, by showing an eagerness to assist the Afghan peace talks, Pakistan is seeking to secure a place for the Taliban in a future representative political setup without a protracted armed struggle that could see the insurgents completely excluded from the process. Read more “Pakistan Releases Taliban for Role in Afghan Peace Process”

India’s Future Role in Afghanistan Severely Limited

Afghan president Hamid Karzai reiterated the importance of India’s assistance for his country during his visit to New Delhi this month. He urged the country, and in particular its private sector, to further increase its investment in Afghanistan. The importance of Indian engagement in Afghanistan has been acknowledged by the Americans as well who are pushing India to step up its involvement in Afghanistan post 2014, especially in the security realm.

There is no doubt that India has played a major role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan since 2001. Having contributed close to $2 billion in aid over the past decade, India is the fifth largest donor nation to Afghanistan.

Although India has committed to increase its involvement in Afghanistan, there are some major limitations to its engagement that need to be highlighted. Read more “India’s Future Role in Afghanistan Severely Limited”

Foreign Investment in Afghanistan Faces Obstacles

The recently concluded summits on Afghanistan held in New Delhi and Tokyo aimed at attracting foreign investments to Afghanistan in the hope that economic growth will simultaneously instill a sense of security and political stability. Although the Afghan government has managed to achieve its target amount — the participating countries pledged $16 billion for the next four years — any investment in the country is likely to face obstacles.

Security is the most obvious impediment for any development task undertaken in Afghanistan. Read more “Foreign Investment in Afghanistan Faces Obstacles”

Iran Denounces US-Afghan Strategic Partnership

Iran denounced the recently signed Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. It sees the basing of American forces in the country and across the Persian Gulf as a security threat and has even reached out to the Sunni Taliban to balance this perceived threat.

The Iranians have long voiced discomfort with the prospect of a long-term American presence on its eastern border. They have attempted to use their clout within the political system of Afghanistan and the means of bribery to influence Afghan parliamentarians to vote against any security pact with the United States. Read more “Iran Denounces US-Afghan Strategic Partnership”

The Futility of Talking to the Taliban, For Now

The face-saving strategy of the United States to facilitate an honorable withdrawal from Afghanistan — reaching a political settlement with the Taliban — seems to be failing.

Last month, Mullah Omar’s Taliban leadership announced their decision to suspend the peace negotiations. The official reason given for the pullout was the delay and apparent reluctance of the Americans to release prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an important prerequisite for the talks to be held.

However, the fact that the suspension came in the wake of the massacre of seventeen civilians in Kandahar by an American soldier clearly suggests a link between the two. Read more “The Futility of Talking to the Taliban, For Now”