Today's AfPak news round-up.
McChrystal's last report: Don't expect any progress this year. According to a report submitted by the former commander to NATO and allied defense ministers, the combination of Afghanistan's "ineffective or discredited" government and Pakistan's failure "to curb insurgent support" are to blame for the emergence of a "resilient and growing [Afghan] insurgency." McChrystal also seems to criticize at President Obama's 2011 withdrawal plan, claiming a "divergence of coalition expectations and campaign timelines" is also hampering the mission. The briefing, which undermined the White House's plan to pull out some troops from the country in time for the 2012 presidential elections, reportedly influenced Obama's decision to fire the general last week. [Independent]
Washington lowering expectations in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's recent claim that the Taliban form part of Afghanistan's "political fabric" indicates that American officials are beginning to accept the idea of a peace deal with the Taliban, says Dan De Luce of AFP. He says Afghanistan's burgeoning insurgency, together with U.S. troops' disillusionment with the Afghan government, have persuaded U.S. officials to take a closer look at second-best options, like peace with the Taliban, that would allow U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan more quickly. [AFP]
Karzai reportedly met with leading insurgent leader. The Afghan president is believed to have met face-to-face with Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of a leading anti-government faction. Haqqaqni is reported to have been accompanied by Pakistan's army chief and the head of its intelligence service, the ISI. Both the Afghan and Pakistani governments have denied these reports, but observers say the recent firing of Afghanistan's stridently anti-Taliban interior minister and intelligence chief indicate Karzai is working to mend ties with insurgents. [Al Jazeera English]
Top British general: Talks with Taliban should start "pretty soon." General Sir David Richards, giving his "private view" in an interview on BBC Radio 4, added that "If you look at any counter-insurgency campaign throughout history there's always been a point at which you start to negotiate, probably through proxies in the first instance." He said talks with the Taliban would not preclude a continued military offensive, which he said would help soften the Taliban's bargaining position. Richards, before being appointed chief of Britain's armed forces last year, served as a NATO commander in Afghanistan. [Guardian]
CIA Director defends $100M Blackwater contract. Leon Panetta told ABC News yesterday that Blackwater, now called Xe Services, was awarded a contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, because it underbid its competitors by "about 26 million dollars," and because it is one of only a few companies capable of providing security in the country. He says that, given the circumstances, "there really was not much choice but to accept that contract." [Times of India]