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US-Afghanistan open talks on post-2014 military aid
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) Nov 15, 2012

Pakistan hangs soldier in first execution in four years
Lahore, Pakistan (AFP) Nov 15, 2012 - A Pakistani soldier convicted of murder was hanged early Thursday in the country's first execution for four years, officials said.

Mohammad Hussain was condemned to death by a court martial in February 2008 for killing a superior over a personal dispute and was hanged at Mianwali jail after clemency pleas were rejected.

According to rights campaigners there are more than 8,000 prisoners on death row in Pakistan, which has had an unofficial moratorium on executions in recent years, with President Asif Ali Zardari regularly issuing stay orders for condemned prisoners.

"Mohammad Hussain was executed in the presence of military officers," Farooq Nazeer, chief of prisons in the central province of Punjab, told AFP, adding the army chief had rejected his petition for mercy.

Nazeer said the hanging was not a civilian execution and the government does not intervene in military cases. He said the last execution in Pakistan was in November 2008, soon after the end of military rule.

France condemned the execution.

"This decision constitutes a step backwards in Pakistan's move towards greater respect for human rights," foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot told reporters.

Amnesty International termed it "a blow to the country's progress away from using the death penalty".

"The death penalty is no less offensive to human dignity and the right to life just because the person to be killed happens to be a soldier," said Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Programme, Polly Truscott, in a statement.

Britain should withdraw from Afghanistan 'quickly': Ashdown
London (AFP) Nov 16, 2012 - Britain should accept defeat and move all of its soldiers out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible, former Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown wrote in Friday's The Times newspaper.

"All that we can achieve has now been achieved," wrote the peer.

"The only rational policy is to leave quickly, in good order and in the company of our allies. This is the only cause for which further lives should be risked," he added.

Pressure is mounting on Prime Minister David Cameron to bring forward the 2014 deadline for bringing home British troops following a series of insider attacks.

Ashdown said it was "crystal clear that we have lost in Afghanistan", adding the only achievement was in driving out Al-Qaeda.

However, the former soldier argued the failure had been political, not military.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said in September he was considering bringing some British troops back from Afghanistan earlier than expected.

"I think that the message I am getting clearly from the military is that it might be possible to draw down further troops in 2013," Hammond told The Guardian in an interview at Camp Bastion in Helmand province.

The government has said it intends to pull out all its 9,500 combat troops by the end of 2014.

Ashdown led the party between 1988 and 1999 following careers as a Royal Marine and as an intelligence officer for the UK security services.

He was the international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002 to 2006.

The United States and Afghanistan launched crucial talks Thursday on the status of US forces remaining in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal of combat troops in 2014.

A key element of any agreement will be the question of immunity for US troops from prosecution in local courts, but this was not discussed in the first round of talks, negotiators said.

In Iraq, Washington pulled out all of its troops after failing to get Baghdad to grant its soldiers immunity, and President Hamid Karzai has warned there could be similar problems in Afghanistan.

The issue has been highlighted by the massacre of 16 villagers earlier this year, allegedly by a rogue US soldier who was flown out of the country and is facing hearings in the United States.

The number of troops who will stay in the country and their roles in the fight against insurgents led by Taliban Islamists are also unlikely to be dealt with in the early rounds of talks, according to sources close to the negotiations.

"We were very encouraged by today's round that we could speak frankly with each other," US chief negotiator and deputy special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, James Warlick, told a news conference.

"And I am very confident that the rounds ahead will lead to the conclusion of a document which is in both of our countries' interest.

"This document is intended to provide legal authorities for United States armed forces and its civilians component to continue a presence in Afghanistan with full approval of the government," he said.

Afghanistan's chief negotiator and ambassador to Washington, Eklil Hakimi, said the security agreement was one of the most important elements of the long-term strategic partnership deal already signed with Washington.

"In this agreement, the quantity, quality, defence cooperation and security presence of the US in Afghanistan after... 2014 are included," he said.

The negotiations would be based on Afghanistan's national interests and sovereignty and ensuring peace and stability, strengthening democracy and the capability of Afghan armed forces, Hakimi said.

Both men said the deal, which could take a year to negotiate, would pose no threat to any other country in the region.

Iran, in particular among Afghanistan's near neighbours which include China, Pakistan, India and former Soviet Central Asian states, has made clear its objection to any military deal between Washington and Kabul.

The US has stressed that it is not seeking permanent bases in Afghanistan. It is also considered likely to shy away from a security guarantee, which would require it to come to the nation's assistance against aggressors.

That, however, is seen as one of the targets of Afghan negotiators.

US President Barack Obama flew to Kabul to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Karzai in May, but it did not cover the legal status of any troops remaining behind after the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat forces.

The US has some 68,000 troops in the NATO force of more than 100,000 and is expected to leave an as yet unspecified number to help train, advise and assist Afghan forces in the war against Taliban insurgents.

US military officers have said they envisage a follow-on force of around 15,000 personnel, but the number, and their role, is expected to be announced soon by the new administration of US President Barack Obama.

The negotiations come against a background of relations strained by perceived atrocities by US troops and an increasing number of so-called green-on-blue attacks, in which Afghan forces turn their weapons against their NATO allies.


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