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Dunford takes charge of NATO in Afghanistan
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) Feb 10, 2013

Former Pakistani PM wants Taliban talks
Lahore, Pakistan (UPI) Feb 8, 2013 - Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for Islamabad to have open, direct talks with the Taliban.

Sharif heads Pakistan's Pakistan Muslim League (N), a center-right, fiscal conservative political party that is Pakistan's second largest political party. It holds nearly 20 percent of the country's parliamentary votes.

"There is a need to take the Taliban's offer seriously because the people of Pakistan want peace," Sharif said. "I ask the government to initiate result-oriented peace talks with the Taliban without any delay."

Sharif's remarks came after the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan on Sunday said it would enter discussions with the government if three top politicians, including Sharif, acted as guarantors for the negotiations. They also designated Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hasan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman as possible guarantors.

In a video released this month, the TTP set conditions for negotiations with the government. In addition to requests for the three guarantors, the group set a condition of the release of TTP militants being held by the Pakistani government.

"It will be difficult for anyone to become a guarantor because of the government's credibility record," Sharif said. "However, we fully support talks between the Taliban and the government for peace in Pakistan."

He added that, for the sake of the Pakistani people, the TTP and the government should begin talks with an "open heart for the peaceful resolution of problems," The Frontier Post reported.

Sharif released a statement that conflict in the country wasn't the solution and that Pakistan was a paying a heavy price attempting to use violence to solve its problems. He said the PML-N has always supported the resolution of issues through dialog and consequently supported talks with the TTP despite that the government of President Asif Ali Zadari's record wasn't such that it could give any guarantees.

TTP spokesman Ehsnaullah Ehsan said in a video interview: "We have responded positively to the government peace talks offer but it seems to be non-serious. However, despite the government's non-seriousness, we feel there should be a chance given for restoration of peace through talks.

"We can't trust the military, in the past when peace deals were made, the politicians had been sabotaged by the army. So this time the government must act if it is serious, but we need guarantees from the military as indirectly they are the rulers.

"My organization and I demand that if the government wants the peace talks to make headway, it has to give us three guarantors ... It will restore the TTP's confidence if these three are nominated as guarantors and we will feel the government is sincere in negotiations."

About the possible inclusion of Abdul Qadeer Khan, father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, in peace talks, Ehsanullah said: "Dr. Abdul Qadeer is Pakistan's asset and he has done miracles for the Ummah. I if he is nominated for the process his name would be also be significant, but I have not yet heard if he has been nominated by the government."

US General Joseph Dunford assumed command of NATO forces in Afghanistan on Sunday, taking over from General John Allen as the coalition prepares to withdraw the bulk of its combat troops by next year.

Dunford will likely be the last commander of the United States' longest war, tasked with bringing forces home after more than 11 years and overseeing the transfer of Afghan security duties to local forces.

Despite the persistence of the Taliban's bloody insurgency against President Hamid Karzai's government and NATO forces, Allen, who leaves to become the alliance's supreme commander based in Europe, said: "We will be victorious."

Dunford, a Marine general like Allen who earned the nickname "Fighting Joe" for his leadership in Iraq, took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in a ceremony at the group's headquarters in Kabul amid tight security.

Allen said victory over the insurgency led by the Taliban would "never be marked by a date, a point in time in the calendar" but insisted the effort would prevail.

"The insurgency will be defeated over time by legitimate and well-trained Afghan forces," he said.

"Afghan forces defending Afghan people and enabling the government of this country to serve its citizens -- this is victory, this is what winning looks like."

Dunford, a 35-year veteran of the US Marine Corps who has not served in Afghanistan before, said his assumption of command meant continuity not change, and insisted: "What has not changed is the inevitability of our success".

Bismillah Khan, Afghanistan's defence minister, thanked Allen for his "honest and earnest efforts" to ensure security in the war-torn country and said there had been "great progress" during his tenure.

Allen was the fourth ISAF commander under US President Barack Obama. His 19-month command was punctuated by a series of crises, from the accidental burning of Korans at a US base to images of American soldiers urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters.

There was also controversy about Allen's own conduct after he became embroiled in the sex scandal that brought down David Petraeus, the CIA director -- and Allen's predecessor as ISAF chief.

Last month the Pentagon exonerated Allen over emails he sent to a woman tied to the Petraeus affair, which defence officials had said were potentially "inappropriate".

But perhaps the most difficult aspect of Allen's time at the head of ISAF has been the surge in so-called "green on blue" insider attacks, in which Afghan security forces turn their weapons on their NATO allies.

The attacks have risen sharply in the last year, with more than 60 foreign soldiers killed in 2012, breeding mistrust between Afghan and NATO troops and threatening to derail their mission to train local forces to take over security duties.

Afghan soldiers and police are taking on responsibility for battling the militants from NATO's 100,000 troops who will leave by the end of next year -- more than a decade after a US-led invasion brought down the Taliban regime.

Waheed Mujda, an Afghan political analyst and former official in the Taliban regime, said Allen did not inspire the affection among Afghans enjoyed by Petraeus' predecessor Stanley McChrystal.

"In David Petraeus and General Allen's missions in Afghanistan, their operations and bombardment of houses were increased and night raids were also increased which led to civilian casualties," Mujda said.

It is still unclear how many troops Washington will leave behind in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Reports last month citing the US Defense Department suggested that between 3,000 and 9,000 troops would stay to focus on preventing Al-Qaeda, which was sheltered by the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, from regaining a foothold in Afghanistan.

The number of foreign soldiers battling the Taliban-led insurgency has already fallen to 100,000 from about 150,000. Of those, 66,000 are US troops, down from a maximum of about 100,000.


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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UPI) Feb 8, 2013
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