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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
August 6, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Taliban in Talks With Afghan Government

The Taliban have held secret talks with the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a bid to jumpstart a stumbling peace process (AP), although discussions with representatives of the Afghan High Peace Council have so far been unofficial and viewed as a negotiation on conditions for formal talks. The Taliban's reclusive leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said Tuesday that his group was willing to start peace negotiations, blaming the United States and the Afghan government for the derailment of talks two months ago and calling a boycott on next year's presidential elections. As Western troops continue their 2014 drawdown, controversy has mired the peace process since the official opening of a Taliban political office (Reuters) in June in Qatar.


"The insurgency is again described as 'resilient,' and the report repeats a complaint heard in Washington and Kabul: that so long as the Taliban can find haven in Pakistan, defeating them on the battlefield will be difficult if not impossible. But other than advances in a few areas, including northern Helmand Province, the insurgency is struggling to make gains and consolidate them," writes Thom Shanker for the New York Times.

"Much will depend on a number of 'known unknowns.' One is what role Pakistan intends to play. It claims to have helped bring the Taliban to the table in Doha, but senior Afghan government officials are not yet convinced that Pakistan has become a partner for peace," writes the Economist.

"The United States is desperate to exit the war as soon as possible, and has apparently realized peace talks are the only viable option. Karzai, meanwhile, is desperate to leave office in 2014 with a legacy that features securing some level of peace for his country. Only the Taliban are able to carry on indefinitely at little political or military cost," write Hamdullah Mohib and Lael Mohib for Foreign Policy.



China Finishes Southeast Asia Tour

China's foreign minister, wrapping up a six-day visit to four Southeast Asian countries, said that all claimants in the South China Sea dispute should have "realistic expectations" (SCMP) and take "a gradual approach" to a proposed code of conduct aimed at defusing maritime tensions.

This CFR Backgrounder details the territorial disputes in the South China Seas.

JAPAN: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe vowed at a ceremony marking the eighty-sixth anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing to pursue a world without nuclear arms (JapanTimes).



India Launches Diplomatic Protest with Pakistan

India's defense minister summoned Pakistan's deputy envoy (Dawn) to New Delhi on Tuesday over an attack on an army post in the disputed Kashmir region that killed five Indian soldiers. The attack comes as India and Pakistan were preparing to resume peace talks broken off since January.

PAKISTAN: Rebel separatists in Pakistan's volatile southwest Balochistan province killed at least fourteen people (al-Jazeera), including three security forces personnel.

CFR's Daniel Markey evaluates the U.S.-Pakistani restart in this interview.



U.S., Britain Withdraw Personnel From Yemen

The United States and Britain on Tuesday stepped up security precautions in Yemen (NYT), ordering government personnel and diplomatic staff to leave the capital of Sanaa. The warning came after reports that four suspected al-Qaeda members were killed in an alleged American drone strike in central Yemen.

This CFR Backgrounder gives a primer on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.



Western Governments Raise Concerns over Zimbabwe Election

Western countries showed disapproval of Zimbabwe's recent elections (VOA), in which longtime president Robert Mugabe won against Morgan Tsvangirai. Australia called for a rerun of the poll, and the United States and Britain have expressed doubt in the credibility of the results.

NIGERIA: At least thirty-five people were killed in attacks by militants (BBC) in northern Nigeria, where the government declared a state of emergency in three states in May after four years of attacks by militant group Boko Haram.



Washington Weighs Putin Talks

The White House said Monday it was reviewing whether President Barack Obama will proceed with a summit (SANA/AFP) with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow in early September. Russia had granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who is wanted for leaking details of U.S. surveillance operations.

ITALY: Italy is speculating that Marina Berlusconi, daughter of Silvio Berlusconi, could be her father's political and business heiress (FT) when his People of Liberty party relaunches under its original name of Forza Italia, possibly next month.



Mercosur Raises Concerns with Ban Ki-moon

Foreign ministers from Latin American trade bloc Mercosur expressed concern to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the United States' espionage system (MercoPress), as well as the "affront" to Bolivian leader Evo Morales when his plane was grounded under suspicion that it was transporting U.S. fugitive Edward Snowden.

COLOMBIA: Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos backed away from a self-imposed deadline of November for completing a peace accord (LAT) with FARC currently being negotiated in Havana.



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