Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pakistani Taliban declare nationwide cease-fire

The Pakistan Taliban are behind much of the violence in Pakistan. The group is believed to be divided, with some factions still committed to war with the state.—File photo
PESHAWAR: The Pakistani Taliban has declared a cease-fire to encourage nascent peace talks with the government, a senior commanders said, a move that appears to show the deadly group’s willingness to strike a deal with state.
The commander said the cease-fire has been in effect for the past month and was valid throughout the country.
”We are not attacking the Pakistan army and government installations because of the peace process,” he said late Monday. The commander is close to Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Taliban.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not the official spokesman of the insurgent network.
His statement adds credence to recent announcements by anonymous Taliban and intelligence officials that government intermediaries recently met Taliban commanders to talk about a possible peace deal.
The government has not officially commented, and on Tuesday the Pakistani army denied it was involved in any talks.
The Pakistan Taliban, an umbrella grouping of militants allied with al-Qaida and based in the northwest close to the Afghan border, has been behind many of the scores of bloody suicide attacks around Pakistan over the last 4 1/2 years. At least 35,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.
The United States wants Pakistan to keep the pressure on insurgents and would likely be concerned about any effort to strike a deal.
Many of its fiercest foes in Afghanistan, as well as al-Qaida operatives from around the world, live alongside the Pakistan Taliban in North Waziristan.
Much remains unclear about the nature of the talks and their potential. Both the army and the militants have engaged in misinformation before. Some reports have said any deal would only cover one region in the northwest, South Waziristan, but could be extended.
The Pakistan Taliban is believed to be divided. Many of its leaders and foot soldiers have been killed in US drone attacks and Pakistani army offensives over the last few years.
Some faction and allied groups are still committed to war against the state, and there been several insurgent attacks over the last month.

Three-Way U.S.-China Drills Possible: Australia

SYDNEY - Defence Minister Stephen Smith on Nov. 22 said Canberra would seriously consider trilateral military training with the United States and China following the announcement of a US troop buildup in Darwin.
Smith said the move was suggested by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono following talks with Australian leader Julia Gillard at last weekend's East Asia Summit in Bali after Beijing criticized the troop boost.
"We don't see it as something which would necessarily occur in the short term, but it's a good suggestion. It's an interesting suggestion," Smith said. "It's a positive suggestion and one which I think in the longer term could fall for serious consideration."
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa expressed reservations about the plan to bring some 2,500 U.S. Marines to northern Australia by 2016-17. The plan was unveiled by President Barack Obama during a flying visit to Canberra last week.
Natalegawa warned that it could inflame relations and create a "vicious circle of tensions and mistrust" in the region, urging transparency, particularly about the motives behind the move.
Indonesia is building up its own military cooperation with U.S. forces.
The United States and its allies have expressed concern over the intentions behind China's military build-up and called for greater transparency.
Smith said Australia already did training and exercises with China and had completed joint live-firing drills with its navy for the first time last year.
"We're working very hard with China and the PLA (People's Liberation Army) to do precisely that, to do some training, to do some exercises, and we encourage China and the United States to do that themselves as well," Smith said.
Such training "reduces the risk of miscalculation or misjudgment", he added.
Jeffrey Bleich, U.S. ambassador to Australia, said there were "a lot of variables" but Washington was interested in strengthening military ties.
"For the broad brushstrokes, yes, we want to work more with the Chinese military, and we're looking for opportunities to cooperate with all countries in the region," Bleich told The Australian newspaper. "If you have a lot of nations rising quickly and not understanding each other's intentions, you're always concerned about the risk of a misunderstanding. You want to be prepared for that."
The U.S. and Chinese navies have held joint search-and-rescue drills.
The two sides would carry out humanitarian rescue-and-disaster relief drills next year and joint anti-piracy drills in the Gulf of Aden this year, they announced in July.
But they do not stage joint live-fire drills like those the U.S. has with its ally South Korea.