This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.
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1) While U.S. officials prefer to focus on low-level fighters while hoping that an additional 30,000 troops can pummel the Taliban into a weaker negotiating position, President Karzai’s government has stressed the need to reach out to the Islamist movement’s leadership, the Washington Post reports. “It’s questionable why the United States just wants to reintegrate the low level of the Taliban and not the leadership,” said Karzai’s policy chief. “That’s something they are concerned about, but from the Afghan side, we are trying to include everyone in negotiations.” In public statements, the Taliban has predicated any negotiation on the departure of foreign troops. Former Taliban members have described this as political posturing and have said that less dramatic steps could bring the Taliban leadership to the table. Among them, they said, were recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate political movement, removing bounties on Taliban commanders and eliminating a U.N. sanctions blacklist, under which more than 100 people associated with the Taliban are subject to asset freezes and travel bans. “The list is ridiculous. Many of these people, they are here in Kabul, they have been working with this government for years,” said Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, who once represented the Taliban at the UN and who remains on the sanctions list. “They want to negotiate,” said Arsallah Rahmani, a former Taliban minister. “The problem is the Taliban doesn’t trust the Americans.”
2) Human Rights Watch said Colombia must act to halt rising violence, including against trade unionists, if it is to secure congressional approval for a trade agreement with the US, Reuters reports. President Obama said in the State of the Union speech he wanted to improve commercial ties with Colombia. Murder rates have climbed in Colombia as thousands of criminals, led by former right-wing militia chiefs, reorganize their cocaine-smuggling and extortion organizations. HRW says the Colombian government doesn’t want to confront the problem because that would be admitting that “paramilitary demobilization was largely a fraud.”
3) The killings of three U.S. soldiers in Pakistan were likely in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes, the New York Times reports. The US military involvement in training Frontier Corps recruits in development assistance was little known in Pakistan until the attack, the Times says. “People are going to be very suspicious,” said a former Pakistani official who is now involved in US assistance projects. “There is going to be big blowback in the media.” The US says it has about 200 military service members in Pakistan.
4) President Obama announced he would not put North Korea back on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, after a classified study determined that the country “does not meet the statutory criteria” for that designation, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials said there was no evidence that the North had aided terrorists or conducted terrorist acts for many years.
5) The UN Independent Expert on foreign debt and human rights called for the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s external debt, the UN says. More than half of Haiti’s debt is owed to mulilateral creditors, including the IDB and the World Bank, the UN says. Cephas Lumina criticized the IMF’s recent loan to Haiti. “It is unrealistic to expect that the people of Haiti can muster the resources to start servicing this debt in five years’ time. It is also inappropriate to make Haiti pay back its emergency assistance,” Lumina said.
6) Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said pressure for tighter sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program could block chances of a diplomatic settlement to the dispute, the New York Times reports. His remarks seemed a direct rebuff of efforts by the US to secure broad international support for tougher penalties against Iran, the Times says.
7) Some human rights activists say there has been an escalation of repression against political activists in Honduras since the election in November, In These Times reports. The Committee for the Families of Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH) says it has confirmed the deaths of seven opponents of last year’s coup in January alone. “Killings that have occurred since the elections have received very little attention in the foreign press,” noted Dan Beeton of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
8) Israel’s foreign minister Lieberman warned Syria’s president Assad that the Assad family would lose power in any war with Israel, ratcheting up a war of words, the New York Times reports. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he is ready to talk to the Syrians without preconditions, but Syria expects a guarantee from Israel that it is willing to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Lieberman said Syria “will have to give up on its ultimate demand for the Golan Heights.” But some Israeli commentators are calling on the government to pursue peace talks.
9) Human rights organisations in Mexico and the US are pressing Congress to raise concerns about abuses of women by Mexican security forces in the U.S.-backed drug war, Inter Press Service reports. The Washington Office on Latin America says the Mexican government is not fulfilling the requirements of the U.S. Mérida Initiative, because no progress has been made in investigating and prosecuting human rights abuses committed by Mexican troops.