Posts Tagged ‘ Barack Obama ’

US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at Nato Summit

As Reported By Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian

The rift between the US and Pakistan deepened on Monday as the Nato summit in Chicago broke up without a deal on Afghanistan supply routes.

Barack Obama, at a press conference to wind up the summit, made no attempt to conceal his exasperation, issuing a pointed warning to Pakistan it was in its wider interest to work with the US to avoid being “consumed” by extremists.

Seldom in recent years have the tensions between Washington and Islamabad been on public show to the extent as at the Chicago, overshadowing the two-day Nato summit.

The main point of friction is Pakistan’s closure of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan in protest over drone attacks and a US air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Obama refused to make time during the two-day summit to see the Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari for a face-to-face bilateral meeting. In a press conference, Obama made a point of stressing that the only exchange he had with his Pakistani counterpart was short. “Very brief, as we were walking into the summit,” Obama said.

The US president said he “did not want to paper over the cracks” and that there has been tension between the US-led international force in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few months.

But ultimately, it was in the US interest to have a stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan, Obama said, adding it was in the interest of Pakistan to work with the US to ensure it is not consumed by extremists.

There are fears in the US that the Pakistan government is unstable and that the government could fall, to be replaced by hardliners. The risk for Obama is displaying his annoyance with Pakistan at the Chicago summit is that Zardari could leave the summit feeling humiliated and even less willing to play a positive role over Afghanistan.

Obama declined to meet Zadari one-to-one because Pakistan is refusing to re-open its Afghanistan border to Nato, which means the US and others are having to resupply their military forces through the slower and more expensive routes from the north and Russia.

The president claimed that he never anticipated the Pakistan supply line issue being resolved at the summit and, taking a more optimistic view of the stand-off, he said they were making “diligent progress”.

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues,” Obama said.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, at a press conference in Chicago, reflected the irritation with Pakistan, describing the blocked routes as “frustrating”. Cameron said he expected a deal eventually but not at the summit.

In its final communique, Nato formally committed to its withdrawal of the 130,000-strong force from Afghanistan based on a timetable agreed earlier by Obama and Karzai. All international combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014. But the communique said a smaller force would remain to help “train, advise and assist” the Afghan army.

The communique does not say how many troops will be left but US commanders in Kabul are looking at a Nato force of around 15,000-20,000. Reflecting the public mood in Nato countries tired of the war, the comminque said the withdrawal timetable is “irreversible”.

Obama, at the opening of the second day of the Nato summit on Monday morning, showed his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route and made no mention of Pakistan. Zardari was in the room at the time.

To ram home the point, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, also held a meeting at the Nato summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his “deep appreciation” for their support.

Zardari has demanded an apology from the US for the killing of the 24 Pakistani troops in November in return for reopening supply lines. He is also proposing that the tariff for each vehicle be raised from $250 to $5,000. The US is bitter about this, noting the amount of American military and other aid that goes to Pakistan annually.

In his wrap-up press conference, Obama stood praised the Chicago police for their handling of the demonstrations but also defended the rights of the protesters. “This is part of what Nato defends: free speech and freedom of assembly,” Obama said.

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

Newt Gingrich Creeping Up On Mitt Romney In A Creepy Way

By David Horsey for The Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich is surging and the guy ahead of him, Mitt Romney, as well the guy behind him, Rick Santorum, are rattled.

Only days ago, Romney was sitting on a comfortable lead in South Carolina’s Republican primary race. Santorum was anticipating a positive bump in his numbers, thanks to the endorsement he received from top Christian evangelical leaders and the good chance that a final, official count of votes in the Iowa caucuses would show he actually beat Romney in that state.

Instead, with Saturday’s vote just two days away, the portly, aloof, intellectually promiscuous and thrice-married ex-speaker of the House seems to be winning the minds, if not the hearts, of more and more staunch conservatives in the Palmetto State.

In fact, Gingrich was even getting a bit of love, as well as respect, from a crowd of several hundred jammed into the banquet hall of Bobby’s Bar-BQ Buffet in Warrenville on Wednesday. Every seat was filled; those without seats stood along the walls and those that couldn’t get inside craned their necks to get a peek through the front door.

Gingrich spoke in front of a Model T Ford – a car only a little more ancient than a great many members of the audience. Clever lines that fell flat when Gingrich delivered them at the tea party convention Tuesday got big laughs with this much-less-grim crowd — like his somewhat-stale knee-slapper about letting Barack Obama use a teleprompter when the two debate.

They loved the parts of his stump speech that are well worn – our rights come from God and cannot be taken away by government – and a new attack on Obama spun off the day’s news – the president’s refusal to approve the Keystone oil pipeline is stupidly driving Canada into the arms of China. And they loved Callista, Newt’s exquisitely coiffed wife.

One audience “question” was this: “I think your wife would make a beautiful first lady, don’t you?”  In the receiving line after the event, a Callista fan said, “I’m anxious to see how you do Christmas in the White House.” There seemed to be a lot of warmth for the once-controversial Callista and for her candidate husband, though he is not all that good at exhibiting warmth himself.

In campaign mode, Gingrich is the polar opposite of Mitt Romney. Reportedly a bit shy, Romney, nevertheless, dives in, shakes every hand, signs every autograph, banters with everyone and smiles, smiles, smiles. It may be rehearsed and straight from some “How to Succeed in Politics” primer, but he’s as good at it as any TV game show host.

Mitt’s even good with babies. At a rally on the outskirts of Columbia on Wednesday night, he held a baby for the cameras and then pretended to walk off with her, delighting the crowd – even the child’s mother. And the baby never cried.

In contrast, Gingrich seems more like the queen of England. On Monday afternoon, at the end of his remarks at Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse in Myrtle Beach, Gingrich remained on the speaker’s platform while the crowd lined up like kids waiting to see a department store Santa. They were shuffled through rapidly; the candidate barely made eye contact, offered the tiniest of smiles and made the briefest request for support.

Is he merely reserved? Awkward? Overly formal? Or simply a man with a busy mind and a lot to get done; sort of like a college professor who resents wasting attention on the undergrads who mob him after class.

Of course, Gingrich actually is a former college professor, and his campaign speech is a lively academic ramble. He interprets history, dives into interesting new economic theories, wickedly picks apart the fallacious ideas of competing practitioners of the political arts and uses terminology that tells you he’s oh-so-much smarter than your typical governor of Texas or Massachusetts.

Gingrich drops names of the intellectual and political elite he has known and boldly lays claim to a major share of the legacy of two presidents, Reagan and Clinton. He brags that his candidacy is so historically significant and so utterly different from any other that it is nearly incomprehensible to the dullards in the media. In front of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, after presenting a litany of intractable problems faced by the nation, he said of himself, “If you have a leader who knows what he is doing, we can turn this around in a year.”

Just one year? The guy seems so full of himself that it is surprising he has caught on with so many voters. He is not the cliche candidate Americans are supposed to prefer – somebody you’d want to have a beer with because he’s just like you. Yet, here he is, still very much in the race and on the verge of messing up smiling Mitt Romney’s big-money campaign.

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

Republicans Sharply Criticize Pakistan in Debate

By Arshad Mohammed for Reuters

Pakistan took a lot of criticism in Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, with a leading candidate saying it was nearly a failed state and another suggesting the United States cut its foreign aid to zero.

But it is unclear whether any of their ideas is likely to be imposed on a country that has nuclear weapons and whose cooperation is seen as vital to stabilizing Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out from there by the end of 2014.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Pakistan has multiple centers of power including the relatively weak civilian leadership, the military and the powerful intelligence agency know as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

“The right way to deal with Pakistan is to recognize that Pakistan is not a country, like other countries, with a strong political center that you can go to and say, ‘Gee, can we come here, will you take care of this problem?'” Romney said.

“This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation,” he said.

Polls point to Romney as the Republican who would be the most likely among the party’s crop of candidates to defeat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 U.S. presidential election. The Republicans begin choosing their nominee in state contests beginning in January.

Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that every country, including Pakistan, should see its U.S. aid eliminated each year and then should convince the United States why it deserves any money at all.

“Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries,” Perry said in response to a question about whether Islamabad was playing a double game with Washington.

“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages … that they don’t deserve our foreign aid … because they’re not being honest with us,” he added.

“American soldiers’ lives are being put at jeopardy because of that country … and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America,” he said.

‘FRIEND OR FOE’

Businessman Herman Cain had difficulty offering a direct response when asked whether Pakistan was ultimately an ally or adversary. “There isn’t a clear answer as to whether or not Pakistan is a friend or foe,” Cain said.”

U.S. officials have long argued that the Taliban and other militants enjoy safe havens in Pakistan from which they attack U.S. soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

They privately argue Pakistan plays a double game, taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid while elements of its government tolerate militant groups such as the Haqqani network blamed for a September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan says it has made more sacrifices than any other country in the war against militancy, losing about 10,000 members of its military and security forces.

There have been growing questions in Washington about whether U.S. troops should to go after Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, an idea sure to be deeply unpopular in a population already embittered by U.S. drone strikes.

Some Republican candidates argued that the United States has little choice but to nurture relations with Pakistan, citing the fact that it has nuclear arms and that it has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan must be a friend of the United States for the reason that Michele (Bachmann) outlined. Pakistan is a nuclear power,” said former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, referring to fellow Republican candidate Bachmann.

“It’s important for us, with a nuclear power with a very vast number of people in Pakistan who are radicalizing, that we keep a solid and stable relationship and work through our difficulties,” he added.

Al Qaeda’s Roots Grow Deeper in Pakistan’

As Reported in Zee News

Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent “war on terror” launched by United Stated-led forces against al Qaeda, the terrorist outfit “continues to pose a serious threat to the world as it keeps surviving and thriving mainly on the Pakistan-Afghanistan tribal belt”, a senior Pakistani journalist and author has said.

“In these rugged areas, it [al Qaeda] has established an effective jihadi network that increasingly exploits its Pakistani affiliates to carry on the global jihadi agenda of Osama bin Laden, despite his May 02 killing in a United States military raid in Abbottabad in Pakistan,” Amir Mir wrote in a piece for Asia Times Online.

Until recently, analysts have been mostly focusing on the dangers posed by the growing Talibanisation of Pakistan, he noted.

“Yet, it has now become abundantly clear that the time has come to pay more attention to the bigger dangers posed by the Pakistanisation of al Qaeda,” he added.

Mir, who has written several books on the subject of militant Islam and terrorism, the latest being ‘The Bhutto murder trail: From Waziristan to GHQ’, said that the al Qaeda leadership’s choice of using the FATA region, especially the North and South Waziristan tribal agencies as their hideout, has enabled the terror outfit to build a new power base, separate from Afghanistan.

“As a result, despite Pakistan’s extensive contribution to the “war on terror”, many questions persist about the extent to which al Qaeda and its allied groups are operating within Pakistan,” he observed.

He said that al Qaeda’s success in forging close ties to Pakistani jihadi groups has given it an increasingly secure haven in Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas, which have “replaced Afghanistan as the key training and indoctrination grounds for al Qaeda recruits to be used in operations abroad and for training those indoctrinated and radicalised elsewhere.”

The journalist also said it appears that al Qaeda not only remains in business in its traditional stronghold in the Waziristan tribal region, it has “also clearly advanced to the urban areas in all four provinces of Pakistan”.

“This is confirmed by the growing belief of the Barack Obama administration that if there is one country that matters most to the future of al Qaeda, it is Pakistan,” he added.

Obama, Zardari Discuss Strained US-Pakistani Ties

As Reported by The Voice of America

U.S. President Barack Obama called his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, Wednesday to discuss strained bilateral relations and the situation in the region.

A Pakistani statement said the two leaders agreed to take appropriate action to repair the ties between Washington and Islamabad on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.  It also said President Obama appreciated Pakistan’s effort in the fight against militancy.

President Zardari said the fight against extremism was in Pakistan’s own interest and that it had to fight it to the finish.

The two presidents also agreed on “regular contacts and interaction at appropriate levels for the resolution of issues.”

Ties between the two countries worsened significantly after the May 2 raid by U.S. special forces that killed Osama bin Laden in the northern Pakistani city of Abbottabad.  The military operation has embarrassed Islamabad, which was not informed beforehand of the raid.

Also Wednesday, Pakistan’s army said it was questioning four more officers about suspected ties to the banned Islamic extremist group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the four army majors are being questioned for suspected links with the group, but have not been detained.

The interrogation of the officers comes a day after the army said it detained Brigadier General Ali Khan over his links to the group.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir is an international Islamist organization that calls for a return to a pan-Islamic Caliphate under Islamic law.  Although the group does not advocate violence, it is believed to have links to militant groups.

Many critics in Pakistan and around the world say the Pakistani military is deeply infiltrated by extremist groups, making suspect its loyalty in the international effort against terrorism.

The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has raised questions as to whether members of Pakistan’s military or intelligence knew the al-Qaida leader was hiding out not far from the capital.

Pakistan Aid Depends on Security Cooperation, Panetta Says

By Roxana Tiron for Bloomberg News

An accelerated counterterrorism campaign in the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is “vital” for the U.S. to defeat al-Qaeda there and prevent its return, according to CIA Director Leon Panetta, who is nominated to succeed Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Any decisions on future U.S. security assistance “will be informed” by Pakistan’s response to the “concrete steps” the U.S. has set for counterterrorism cooperation, Panetta said in a 79-page set of answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee in advance of his confirmation hearing scheduled for June 9.

Last month, the U.S. found and killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden who was hiding in a compound in the city of Abbottabad, 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of the capital, Islamabad.

The U.S. “train-advise-equip” programs with Pakistani military and paramilitary forces have been important in eliminating terrorist sanctuaries and disrupting the al-Qaeda network, Panetta said.

“It is vital, however, that Pakistan live up to its end of the bargain, cooperating more fully in counterterrorism matters and ceasing to provide sanctuary to Afghan Taliban and other insurgent groups,” he said.

Pakistan continues to lack the necessary military and civilian capacities to “hold” and “build” in areas along the border region that have been cleared of al-Qaeda forces, Panetta said.

Seeking Results

“If confirmed, I will work the Congress to ensure that the support we provide is yielding the results we seek,” he said.
Since 2009, Pakistan has undertaken counterinsurgency operations against extremist organizations in the northwest, including in Swat, South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur “with varying levels of success,” said Panetta.

“Pakistan’s level of commitment is reflected in the enormous casualties it has suffered as a result of terrorism in the last few years, including more than 11,000 military personnel killed or wounded in action and more than 30,000 civilian causalities in recent years,” he said.
Panetta said that while, bin Laden’s death is a “significant blow” to al-Qaeda, the core group and its offshoots “remain a vary dangerous threat” in the region and to the U.S. homeland.

“There is a risk that decentralized affiliates may pose an increased threat to the United States,” he said
Panetta said that President Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strategy is “sound” and the U.S. has made “the progress necessary to give the President meaningful options for his decision,” on how many U.S. forces to withdraw beginning in July.
The military gains in Afghanistan are “helping to create the conditions for reconciliation,” between Afghanistan’s government and the Taliban insurgents.

Pakistan Leaders Must Make Choice After Clinton’s Warning

By The Bloomberg News Editorial Board

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan last week, she noted that U.S.- Pakistani relations were at a turning point after the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was up to the Pakistanis, she said, to decide “what kind of country they wish to live in.”

The brutalized body of investigative journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad, which turned up outside of Islamabad on May 31, may provide a clue to the answer.
Shahzad disappeared after publishing the first of two promised articles linking elements of the Pakistan navy to al- Qaeda following a deadly May 22 attack on a Karachi naval station. Last fall, after being questioned about a different story by Pakistan’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Shahzad wrote that he was threatened by the spy agency.

Alternatively, it could be that foul play like Shahzad’s murder will become a thing of the past in Pakistan. While in Islamabad May 27, Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen demanded authorities take “decisive steps” to crush the violent extremists the government has long supported, which would end the need to intimidate journalists who expose that support. Whichever way the Pakistan government goes, the May warnings by the U.S. ought to be the last.

The U.S. administration has continued to insist, as President Barack Obama did in a May 22 interview with the BBC, that the Pakistanis have “generally been significant and serious partners against the terrorist threat to the West.” This simply isn’t the case.

Victim, Sponsor

For much of the past decade, Pakistan has been both a victim and a sponsor of Islamic militants. Its soldiers are fighting bravely against homegrown terrorists seeking to install an Islamic government. In 20 attacks in May, these radicals killed some 150 people.

At the same time, the Pakistani army, led by General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is a longstanding patron of violent groups targeting Afghanistan and India.
Guided by excessive fear bordering on paranoia about India, Pakistan’s military and intelligence services believe that nurturing those extremists is an effective way to frustrate India’s regional ambitions. The ISI largely created and continues to support the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, the principal groups battling U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the fledgling government in Kabul. It also backs Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160 people.

Double-Dealing

President George W. Bush’s administration tried to end this double-dealing by giving Pakistan billions in economic and military assistance. Yet Bush didn’t make the aid contingent on a crackdown on extremists. The Pakistanis cooperated somewhat with U.S. efforts to dismantle al-Qaeda but refused to act against other groups, including the Afghan Taliban, which was given refuge inside Pakistan’s borders.

The Obama administration accelerated the failed Bush policy, substantially increasing military and economic assistance, again without imposing rigorous conditions. And Pakistan continued to ignore administration warnings about continued support for extremists.
In one incident reported by the Washington Post, Obama’s first national security adviser, James Jones, warned officials in Islamabad that there would be “consequences” if a terrorist attack directed at the U.S. was traced to Pakistan. Yet when a man who had trained at a terrorist camp in that country attempted to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in May 2010, the U.S. administration did nothing. Shortly thereafter, Obama watered down Jones’s words, telling Kayani that a “successful” attack would have consequences.

Meaning Business

So when U.S. authorities learned that Osama bin Laden might be housed in a villa in a Pakistani garrison town, they dispatched Navy Seals to capture or kill him without so much as notifying the Pakistanis in advance. The raid provoked great outrage from officials in Pakistan. Since then, emotions have cooled. Clinton and Mullen have delivered their warnings, public and private. And this time, the Americans may mean business.

Will the Pakistanis respond?

Shahzad’s murder is a bad sign. On the other hand, reports from Pakistani tribal leaders suggest that the Pakistani army may be preparing a serious campaign in North Waziristan, where the leaders of the Haqqani Network and other extremist groups live.
It will soon be clear whether Clinton’s latest message got through. If not, the administration must consider new ways to persuade Pakistan to change course, recognizing that the country is behaving more like an adversary than a partner.

Gaddafi Stadium Name Must Go

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

It has been over three months since the Arab Spring arrived on Libyan shores. The Libyan Civil War started there in February of 2011 after Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt begrudgingly relinquished power in the neighboring North African nations. At first it had appeared that Mubarak would resort to thuggery and despotic abuse of his powers. But due to the brave people in Tharir Square in Cairo, he eventually was forced out by the Egyptian army and under American pressure once the Obama administration calibrated their stance to not support a long time ally in Mubarak and instead follow the popular opinion of the people of Egypt against his autocratic rule.

Unfortunately for the people of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi is not ready to step down from over 40 years at the helm of Libyan society. His army brutally quashed a rebellion against his rule and when it appeared that many thousands more would be killed by his troops, the US and NATO forces intervened and bombed Libyan government forces. The standoff between the Libya forces of Gaddafi and the US and NATO bombings have left Libyans in the middle as their nation continues to suffer several months into the fighting.

A brutal dictator like that who cares more about holding onto power than the fate of his nation does not deserve any honors. Instead he deserves to be tried for murdering many innocent people and if found guilty he should be hanged.

Therefore it is a shame that in Pakistan, one of the country’s most important stadium continues to bare the name of the Butcher of Tripoli. Yes, Gaddafi stadium in Lahore, a venue for many Pakistan Cricket Board sanctioned domestic and international cricket matches, is named after the Libyan dictator.

The stadium was built in 1959 and was originally named Lahore Stadium. However it was renamed in 1974 to Gaddafi stadium in honor of the Libyan ruler who had given a speech in favor of Pakistan’s right to pursue nuclear weapons at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic States Conference (OIC). The stadium also houses the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

But now, as Qaddafi continues to kill his own people in the most brutal of ways, it is time that Pakistan’s Cricket Board changes the name of the country’s premier stadium back to Lahore stadium since honoring this man responsible for indiscriminately killing his fellow citizens unnecessarily further looks negatively upon Pakistan.

A country that already has a grave public relations image problem can surely give itself a break by doing something as simple as changing the name of this stadium. Afterall, what does it say of Pakistan if it continues to honor a man like Gaddafi? Do Pakistanis not care that this man is responsible for killing thousands of his own people?

It is time to put pressure on the Pakistan Cricket Board and on the government to immediately change the name of the stadium. I know that Pakistan has many other problems inside this fractured and unstable nation to think that changing the name of Gaddafi stadium can fix all that ails the country. Nay, it is merely a drop in the bucket. There are countless other problems facing the country that are too many and too complex to list here. But one easy fix the country can do to help improve its image is to change the name of this stadium.

There is absolutely no reason that the stadium should be associated with a lunatic such as Qaddafi. The name should never have been changed to begin with no matter what support he gave to Pakistan’s nuclear aspirations. He has never been a good or stable leader. In fact, the man is thought to have been directly responsible for numerous acts of terrorism in the 1970’s and ’80’s including the Pan Am Lockerbie bombing. And this was BEFORE he started killing his own people in order to quash a rebellion against his rule!

In light of the many recent embarrassments for the nation such as Osama Bin Laden’s hiding in their country, the continued imprisonment of Asia Bibi, the killings of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistanis must decide whether or not they want to join the community of nations or become a pariah state much like North Korea, Libya and Iran. Changing the name of the stadium is a small step, but it is indeed a step in the right direction.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

U.S.-Pakistan Ties And The Curse of Secrecy

By Myra MacDonald for Reuters

When President Barack Obama telephoned Pakistan’s president to say U.S. forces had found and killed bin Laden, he offered him a choice. He could say Pakistan helped find bin Laden, or that it knew nothing, according to a senior western official. Pakistan initially chose to stress the former – that it had helped – but later shifted to condemning what it called the U.S. violation of its sovereignty.

The story illustrates the complicity between the United States and Pakistan in their deliberately ambiguous relationship. This ambiguity has its uses. It allows Washington to keep working with Pakistan in the face of angry questions at home about why Osama bin Laden was living there. And it lets Pakistan cooperate with the United States, for example on drone attacks, while trying — not particularly successfully — to minimize the domestic backlash.

But the result of that ambiguity has been a disconnect between the leadership of both the United States and Pakistan and their own people, who have little knowledge of the understandings being reached in the many high-level meetings between the two countries (and which will continue despite the deep distrust on both sides.)

As Christine Fair says in her interview with NBR, ”the Obama administration has had no illusions about Pakistan.” When it took office, it had full knowledge of Pakistan’s reluctance to eradicate militant groups, and indeed of the rapid expansion of its nuclear programme. But she added, “the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been willing to look the other way when it deems necessary.”

And for all the furious debate in both countries about the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, “the leaderships of both countries know that they need each other in ways that are both humiliating and difficult to explain to publics that are ever more outraged and appalled by the perfidy of the other.”

The problem with this pattern of public fury and private reconciliation is that it leaves very little room to build trust between the two countries and almost no scope for properly informed public debate. Some secrecy is of course needed in war and diplomacy. But with the United States and Pakistan, it has become the automatic default position.

This secrecy and complicity did not just start with bin Laden and drone strikes. It goes way back to U-2 spy planes flying over the Soviet Union – Gary Powers, shot down in Russia in 1960, took off from Peshawar. It goes back to the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979-1989, when Washington knew Pakistan would be forced to lie to the Soviet Union about its involvement for fear of inviting Russian retaliation on its own soil. It goes back to the United States turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons programme in the 1980s.

The United States is now talking about establishing new ground rules for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. So how about introducing some openness into those new ground rules?

Consider one example where transparency just might be less damaging than secrecy.

The United States, which has begun tentative direct talks with representatives of the Taliban, wants Pakistan to facilitate the process of reconciliation. So does Pakistan (though they may not see eye-to-eye on how it should work.) As far as I understand from conversations with officials from various countries, including from Pakistan, these talks are not about reaching a straight-forward power-sharing agreement with the Taliban that would allow U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. Rather they are one part of a wider and complex process meant eventually to bring all Afghan parties into a broad political settlement.

Yet such is the secrecy around the talks that there is a serious risk that if enough people believe the Taliban are about to return to power, their opponents will prepare for civil war, building up arms and funding in a way that makes this a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, writes here about his visit to the country in March, “there is a desperate need to clarify U.S. intentions. From President Hamid Karzai to his opponents to non-political Afghans, I found everyone asking what our long-term goals are. Afghanistan is a traumatized nation after 30 years of conflict. Doubts about American intentions lead to conspiracy theories, hedging strategies and even talk of civil war if too much haste to reach a political settlement means the Taliban could be returned to power — something that many Afghans who suffered under the Taliban’s savage rule are determined to resist at all costs. ”

I have written before that there is rather greater strategic convergence between the United States and Pakistan than appears on the surface. Both want stability in Afghanistan. Pakistan – rather than wanting to reinstall a Taliban government in Kabul – has been insisting for a while it wants a stable and neutral Afghanistan. Both the United States and Pakistan want stability in Pakistan- such a statement of the obvious that it is often overlooked.

Meanwhile, India – always the elephant in the room in discussions about Pakistan – has begun a slow but steady attempt at peace-making – its focus nowadays being very much on doing what it takes to build its economy. Pakistan desperately needs to salvage its own economy – a view, analysts say, also promoted by army chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, who sees the country’s security as coming from its economic strength. If a political settlement in Afghanistan and an India-Pakistan thaw were to open up trade across the region, all three countries would benefit and the gain of one would not necessarily be at the expense of the other (this idea at the moment is largely aspirational – but the fact that it is on the table at all shows how much times have changed.)

So arguably, both the United States and Pakistan are roughly on the same page on what needs to happen. Yet their relations are a tactical and emotional disaster. Those long decades of secrecy have not helped. As Najam Sethi wrote in his column, the “carefully contrived and mutually agreed ambiguity has now run aground.”

If something needs to change in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, there is one approach that has not been tried yet. Try breaking that habit of confining neary everything to secret understandings between military and political leaderships, and instead trusting the people of the countries affected — and that includes Afghanistan — to have a properly informed debate about what is the best way to bring stability to the region.

We Should Hold Our Nose And Remain Engaged In Pakistan

By Joel Brinkley for Tribune Media Services

America’s involvement in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be the most complex foreign-policy dilemma the nation has ever faced. With the death of Osama bin Laden, along with Pakistan’s furious response, the knot is more tangled.

Right now, Afghan officials are reviling their Pakistani counterparts. Pakistan is flirting with China. American officials are threatening to curtail aid to Islamabad. Afghanistan is establishing what it calls the High Peace Council for reconciliation talks with the Taliban, while the United States is already saying the peace talks will almost certainly fail.

Meantime, Afghan Taliban leaders are trying to talk nice. Oh, we’re happy to let girls go to school, they are cooing through thin smiles. Just let us back into the government. At the same time, their fighters opened fire on an unarmed roadwork crew, massacring 36 workers and wounding 20 others.

Pakistani soldiers fired on a U.S. military helicopter flying along the Pakistan-Afghan border. But the government did display a small flash of grace. It gave the U.S. permission to haul away the ruined tail of the helicopter that crashed just outside Osama bin Laden’s home.

Think back to previous conflicts. Even the decisions behind the Vietnam War, one of the most traumatic events in American history, seem relatively simple by comparison. Now we are dealing with two nations led by perfidious, double-dealing scoundrels who take pleasure in disparaging us.

In a chorus over the last few days, President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials have been declaiming: You’re fighting the wrong war in the wrong place. They have their own self-interested motivations for saying that. Actually, though, they are correct.

Most analysts believe bin Laden left the tribal areas of Pakistan and moved to a compound just outside the capital to escape the rain of American drone missiles that were killing some of his minions.

Does it make any sense to believe that bin Laden would pull out all by himself, leaving behind his key aides and allies, like Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader? Of course not. Sooner or later we will learn that a half-dozen of them, at least, are hiding in full sight inside Pakistan, in their own high-walled compounds.

One frequent Afghan observation is well-taken, that all of the al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders of note are in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The United States acknowledged years ago that few if any al-Qaeda operatives remained in Afghanistan.

But now Pakistani leaders are insulting and reviling the U.S., and senior members of Congress are threatening to withhold aid. As Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican, put it during a recent Foreign Relations Committee hearing, “Why are we spending our kids’ and our grandkids’ money to do this in a country that really doesn’t like us?

“It’s a hard sell to the American people.”

But the United States can’t stop providing aid to Pakistan and pull out of the country. For one thing, most of the supplies for the 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan are trucked in from Pakistan, and Pakistanis have already shown their eagerness, if provoked, to attack these caravans and torch the trucks. Look at the map, and you won’t find another politically possible supply route.

Pakistan is an extremely unstable country. Its leaders hold onto their pathological obsession with India and refuse to recognize the dire threat that the Taliban and other militants pose from within. What would happen if the government fell, and Islamic militants seized Pakistan’s 100-plus nukes?

Meanwhile, the Afghan war continues, to deprive al-Qaeda of a home there once again. But if the U.S. pulled out and al-Qaeda returned, they’d be doing the U.S. military a great favor. We’ve been trying to get at them in North Waziristan for a decade now with limited success at best. Move back to Afghanistan and they would be easy targets.

What could Karzai do about it?

This summer, President Obama is going to announce the first troop withdrawals from Afghanistan. The number being bandied about now is roughly 5,000 troops. He should ramp it up, withdraw faster. After all, now we are caught in the middle of a civil war between the previous and the present governments.

As for Pakistan, we have to hold our noses and remain engaged. The possible alternatives are simply too ugly to imagine. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it at the height of the rancor last week, like it or not, “we need them, and they need us.”

The Tangled Reality of US/Pakistan Relations

By Mark Urban for The BBC

WASHINGTON – The current crisis in US/Pakistan relations is not the first – but it is the most difficult one since 9/11, and it could easily be aggravated further by the intelligence arising from the raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.

For this reason, Washington insiders are not so sure that diplomatic moves to ease the problem will succeed.

Senator John Kerry has just been in Islamabad asking for “action not words” from the Pakistani authorities. He says he has gained some agreement for practical steps but, apart from gaining the return of remnants of the US helicopter that was destroyed at the compound, has not yet specified what these might be.

This morning he and other members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations will be holding hearings on Pakistan, including the question of how the billions given in aid could be used more effectively to buy the kind of counter terrorist cooperation that the Americans are after.

Juan Zarate, counter terrorist adviser to President George W Bush, argues that the kind of benchmarks that congressmen have advocated in the past for linking aid to performance on specific actions against militant groups could prove counter-productive in the short term because the Pakistanis consider this “humiliating”.

He poses the further question, “what happens tomorrow if we have to go after Ayman al-Zawahiri?”, referring to the former Al Qaeda number two and presumed leader after Bin Laden’s death.

The question of what leads are thrown up by the intelligence trove from the raided Abottabad compound is now in itself a key factor in whether Mr Kerry and members of President Barack Obama’s administration are able to soothe the relationship. Myriad questions arise from the material seized on flash drives and laptops.

Pakistani officials insist there was no contact between their Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Bin Laden – but what about possible ties with the courier who owned the house and was the key figure in sheltering him?

Will phone numbers leading to ISI officials be found in Bin Laden’s effects? Will there be intelligence that allows the CIA to quickly pinpoint Dr al-Zawahiri or other key figures who might now take control of Al Qaeda?

John McLaughlin, deputy director of the CIA until 2004, argues that even in this current difficult moment for US/Pakistan relations, America will reserve the right to act unilaterally against terrorist targets in Pakistan.

He believes though that ties can slowly be re-built with Pakistan, despite the fact that the raid, mounted without their leaders’ foreknowledge, gave them their “biggest shock for a generation”.

At previous moments of tension between the two countries, accommodations have been found. Intelligence about Al Qaeda suspects has flowed or the army has been sent in to one of the restive tribal areas on the Pakistan border. The US has signed off on new aid payments.

What tends to happen though is that within months, the Americans again accuse the Pakistanis of foot dragging in the fight against militancy, and Islamabad for its part counters with arguments that the US routinely violates its sovereignty.

The tangled reality of the situation is made worse by the fact that Pakistani ministers, mindful of anti-American sentiment in their country, will often not admit publicly to their agreement to drone strikes or other steps. Many people I have spoken to here compare the relationship to a dysfunctional marriage in which both sides need one another but find the reality of daily life increasingly unbearable.

There are those who see ways though in which the two countries might navigate their way through the perfect storm of recrimination and resentment that the Bin Laden operation has produced.

Juan Zarate and some others believe that if the materials seized in the raid produce some nugget of intelligence that leads to the discovery of Dr al-Zawahiri or other key figures, the US may chose to trust the Pakistanis with this knowledge, and make them partners in acting upon it.

If the exploitation of the intelligence went wrong and a leak was suspected the US could use this to place further pressure on Pakistani ministers. But if it all went well, trust might be re-built. The problem is though that there are many within the secret side of US counter terrorism who, because of the way that Osama Bin Laden hid for years where he did, are no longer prepared to take that risk.

U.S. Attorney Sends a Message to Wall Street

By Benjamin Weiser and Peter Lattman for The New York Times

Every few days during the trial of Raj Rajaratnam, the Galleon Group’s co-founder, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, would quietly enter the courtroom and take a seat in the last row of the gallery.

From that unassuming vantage point, Mr. Bharara watched his colleagues try to persuade a jury to convict the former hedge fund titan of securities fraud and conspiracy.

The consistent presence of Mr. Bharara at the largest insider trading case in a generation — and the office’s resounding victory on Wednesday — signaled that the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan was back as the sheriff of Wall Street.

Over the last decade, the New York attorney general, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, the Manhattan district attorney and even the Justice Department in Washington angled for their share of financial fraud cases, an area traditionally dominated by the Southern District. For example, Eliot Spitzer grabbed headlines when he was New York attorney general by focusing on malfeasance at investment banks.

But Mr. Bharara has not-so-quietly reaffirmed his office’s leading role in pursuing corporate crime with this landmark insider trading case, which relied on aggressive prosecutorial methods and unprecedented tactics. For the first time, federal authorities used wiretaps to listen in on stock traders swapping illegal tips.

“What this case has done,” said Neil M. Barofsky, a former Southern District prosecutor who recently served as the special inspector general for the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, “goes well beyond simply putting a billionaire hedge fund manager behind bars.”

“The case will impact an entire industry,” Mr. Barofsky said. He said that Mr. Bharara “did more than just oversee and support the prosecution — he made sure that the target audience, traders on Wall Street, fully understood the extraordinary lengths that his office will go to discover these crimes, and that justice will be served.”

It has been 21 months since Mr. Bharara, 42, was appointed United States attorney by President Obama.

In that short tenure, his staff has ventured far beyond Wall Street, prosecuting some of the nation’s — and the world’s — most prominent defendants. Among them: Faisal Shahzad in the Times Square bomb plot; agents in a Russian spy ring; Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the first Guantánamo Bay detainee to be tried in the civilian system; Viktor Bout, a Russian accused of being an arms trafficker; a Somali man charged with piracy; and four men charged in a plot to bomb synagogues in the Bronx.

Not every case has gone smoothly. In Mr. Ghailani’s trial, the jury acquitted him of more than 280 counts of murder and conspiracy and convicting him of a single count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property. Nonetheless, Mr. Ghailani received a life sentence.

Some academics and newspaper columnists have also criticized Mr. Bharara for not filing criminal charges against senior executives at the center of the financial crisis. Last week, when his office filed a civil mortgage-fraud lawsuit against Deutsche Bank, he said there was not enough evidence to justify a criminal complaint.

Mr. Bharara was an infant in 1970 when he came to the United States from India with his parents. He grew up in Eatontown, N.J., and earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School.

After several years in private practice, including a stint at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in New York, Mr. Bharara became a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, handling organized crime, narcotics and securities fraud cases. In 2005, he became chief counsel to Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, leading a Congressional inquiry into the firings of United States attorneys.

Some lawyers have wondered aloud whether Mr. Bharara may have political aspirations like his predecessors, including former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who filled the post in the 1980s. As with Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Bharara is a charismatic figure who is comfortable in front of cameras, can talk tough and has a knack for the witty sound bite. At a news conference announcing Mr. Rajaratnam’s arrest, Mr. Bharara riffed off a famous line from the movie “Wall Street.”

“Greed, sometimes, is not good,” he said.

Unlike Mr. Giuliani, whose political ambitions seemed barely hidden while he led the prosecutor’s office, Mr. Bharara has told friends he has no interest in elected office.

“Everything about Preet’s record suggests that he’s a federal prosecutor for all the right reasons,” said Randy Mastro, a lawyer at Gibson Dunn and a former top deputy under Mayor Giuliani. “The best prosecutors are often those who don’t have political ambitions.”

Mr. Mastro, who overlapped for a time with Mr. Bharara at Gibson Dunn, added, “But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be drafted into running.” Ellen Davis, Mr. Bharara’s spokeswoman, said in a statement on Thursday: “Preet loves his job and has no desire to run for public office now or ever.”

Mr. Bharara has not commented publicly on the Rajaratnam verdict, other than a short statement in a news release. But in a series of speeches, he has explained his aggressive approach to corporate crime.

“When sophisticated business people begin to adopt the methods of common criminals, we have no choice but to treat them as such,” Mr. Bharara said weeks after revealing the use of wiretaps in building a case against Mr. Rajaratnam. “To use tough tactics in these circumstances is not being heavy-handed; it is being even-handed.” He has taken that approach in other areas of financial crime.

His office secured convictions in two high-profile criminal cases against bank executives accused of stealing proprietary computer code related to high-frequency trading businesses, including a case against a former programmer at Goldman Sachs. More recently, Mr. Bharara’s prosecutors charged the operators of three popular online poker sites with fraud and money laundering.

And Mr. Bharara continues to pursue insider trading cases. Over the last 18 months, his office has charged 47 individuals with insider trading crimes, 36 of whom have pleaded guilty or been convicted. At a recent news conference, he indicated there was more to come.

“I wish I could say we were just about finished, but sadly we are not.”

Pakistan’s Man in Washington

 By Chris Frates for Politico

 As Pakistan’s top Washington lobbyist, it’s Mark Siegel’s job to convince U.S. officials not to take out their anger on the country despite the fact that Osama bin Laden spent at least five years living in relative comfort outside Islamabad.

It’s not an easy sell.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum wonder aloud how the world’s No. 1 terrorist could be living in plain sight unbeknownst to the Pakistanis. Siegel has to make the pitch that it’s in America’s national security interests to continue its relationship with Pakistan and to keep the billions of dollars in foreign aid flowing.

It’s a message that Siegel’s firm, Locke Lord, is getting paid good money to sell; the firm brings in almost $1 million a year representing Pakistan.

In addition to Siegel, the firm has about half a dozen lobbyists representing the country including Harriet Miers, an aide to former President George W. Bush and a one-time U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Siegel is uniquely positioned to make the country’s case to skeptics on the Hill. He’s been friends with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s family for almost three decades and has a direct line to Islamabad.

“The Pakistanis insist to me that they were not aware that Osama bin Laden was at that venue. The president made that very clear to me,” Siegel told POLITICO after speaking with Zardari this week. “I think if they had known, they would have been happy to nab him themselves.”

His connection to Zardari isn’t lost on those he lobbies, like House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King, who met with Siegel on Tuesday.

“It wasn’t so much what Mark was saying to me on Tuesday, it was what I was saying to him knowing, or feeling confident that it was going to go directly back to the president,” said King (R-N.Y.). “There is a real question of credibility and trust and faith. You can’t have the No. 1 mass murderer of Americans living in plain view in Pakistan all these years while Pakistan is claiming to be our ally and getting $3 billion a year.”

Pakistan, King said, must investigate and credibly explain how bin Laden was able to go undected and demonstrate that its intelligence services and military have not been penetrated by al Qaeda.

“Mark’s basic job is almost to tread water, to keep everything afloat until something can be done,” King said. “I think he’s trying to prevent something from happening too quickly to have the relationship severed. He wants to make sure that he keeps it together and so you can have extensive talks between the two governments.”

But King’s not the only one critical of Pakistan these days.

The Obama administration – which didn’t give its ally a heads up that Americans would be swooping into their country to take out bin Laden for fear of leaks – has been describing the relationship between the two countries with the ambiguous “it’s complicated” tag usually reserved for Facebook profiles.

And Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin told ABC News Thursday that he thinks high-level Pakistani intelligence knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts and he has “no doubt” the country knows the location of other top-level targets.

“None of the people on the Hill are suggesting to me that anybody in the civilian government knew that Osama was there,” Siegel said, drawing a distinction between Zardari and the country’s military and intelligence branches.

Tony Podesta, a lobbyist who represents Egypt, knows something of representing a vilified client that is nevertheless a U.S. military ally in an unstable part of the world.

“You want to take it back to the long term strategic interests of the U.S. and to facts rather than supposition. It makes no long term strategic sense for any kind of reckless decisions to be made at this moment,” Podesta said. “That’s where he’ll leave it.”

Siegel has been friends with Zardari’s family for almost three decades, having met Zardari’s late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in 1984 when a mutual friend asked him to host a dinner party for her. The two would go on to write a book together and when Bhutto became prime minister, Siegel represented her government.

This week, Siegel said he has been reminding lawmakers that Pakistan has been a strong ally and that President Barack Obama and other administration officials have praised the country’s cooperation in fighting al Qaeda and terrorism. Pakistan itself has been a victim of terrorism – 30,000 civilians have been killed by terrorists in the last decade, he added.

Even before this week’s killing of bin Laden, Locke Lord has been active on the Hill. In February and March, firm lobbyists accompanied the Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani on meetings with House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and Kay Granger, chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee on state-foreign operations.

Last year, the firm successfully lobbied for $1.5 billion in economic and social aid over the next five years — a sum that has to be reauthorized each year. The firm is also lobbying to secure foreign aid and create duty-free “reconstruction opportunity zones” inside Pakistan’s tribal lands and Afghanistan.

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