Posts Tagged ‘ Hamid Karzai ’

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.

Panetta to Confront Pakistan at NATO Summit on Transport Costs

By David Cloud for New York Daily News

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta heads to this weekend’s NATO summit prepared to confront Pakistan over what he considers price-gouging for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and hoping for a “consensus” among allies over the war effort.

In an interview before his arrival in Chicago, where the summit is scheduled to begin Sunday, Panetta all but ruled out paying Pakistan $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops waging the Afghanistan war. Pakistani officials have demanded that amount as a condition for reopening supply routes that have been closed to the alliance since fall.

“Considering the financial challenges that we’re facing, that’s not likely,” Panetta said of the demand.

Before the supply routes were closed in November after a mistaken U.S. attack on two remote Pakistani border posts that killed two dozen Pakistani troops, NATO convoys were paying an average of about $250 a truck, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S. officials say they remain hopeful they can resolve the dispute, perhaps at the summit. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the meetings, although he is not expected to meet one-on-one with President Obama, officials said.

Thousands of trucks a day carrying supplies would go through multiple border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan, making the fees a potentially massive source of revenue for the cash-strapped government in Islamabad.

The U.S. has shifted deliveries to different routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan’s north. But the massive withdrawals of equipment due to unfold over the next 21/2 years as troops leave the country will be “significantly” more difficult if routes in Pakistan aren’t used, the Pentagon acknowledged in a report last month.

The Obama administration hopes the two-day summit will highlight what Panetta called a “consensus” within NATO about how to disengage militarily by the end of 2014. Exhausted after more than a decade of war, the U.S. and its allies want to hand off responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, even though its army and police remain well short of being able to stand on their own.

“Everybody in the alliance recognizes that for this to work, we can’t pick up and leave. We’ve got to remain there to provide support and to assist them in that effort with training, with assistance, with advice,” Panetta said.

But he acknowledged that there would be difficulties, both on the battlefield and within the alliance. Those splits are exemplified by the new French president, Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party leader who campaigned on a vow to withdraw all 3,300 French troops by the end of this year. Hollande met with Obama at the White House on Friday.

Panetta, who plans to meet the new French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Chicago, indicated that the U.S. hopes France will agree to keep some forces in a noncombat role in Afghanistan for the next 2 1/2 years, even if they withdraw all combat troops early.

Yet a more rapid exit by France than planned could lead other allies to speed up their own troop withdrawals.

“There are some countries — Canada, France — that want to bring their combat operations to an end on a faster time track, but that doesn’t have to mean they won’t accept the responsibility to continue to provide the needed support,” Panetta said.

Panetta acknowledged that U.S. efforts to persuade other countries to make long-term financial pledges to fund Afghanistan’s army and police, a key objective of the two-day Chicago summit, is running into difficulties.

“Of course, it’s not easy considering the financial difficulties that a lot of these countries are going through,” he said. “Many of them have come forward and said they would be willing to make a commitment, and I really do think we will be able to achieve the support levels we need.”

In an effort to secure more pledges, the U.S. is asking other countries to commit to providing aid for only three years, though Afghanistan’s armed forces are expected to need foreign assistance for at least a decade, a Western diplomat in Washington said.

A year ago, the Obama administration was hopeful it could draw the Taliban into peace negotiations with Karzai’s government, but Panetta acknowledged that he didn’t see a deal to end the conflict happening “any time soon.”

Peace Effort Takes Karzai to Pakistan .

By Yaroslav Trofimov, Tom Wright and Adam Entous for The Wall Street Journal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday met with Pakistan’s leaders, trying to gain Islamabad’s support for his peace outreach to the Taliban, as U.S. officials worked to keep expectations in check about the strategy’s prospects for yielding direct peace talks with the Islamic militant group.

The Taliban, meanwhile, denied Mr. Karzai’s claim that they have been negotiating with the Afghan government.On the first day of his three-day visit to Pakistan, Mr. Karzai met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who promised Pakistani cooperation in investigating the September assassination of the chief Afghan peace negotiator and voiced support for an Afghan-led peace process. Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, who wields considerable influence over the country’s foreign policy, also took part in the talks.

In Islamabad, Mr. Karzai reiterated that respect for the Afghan constitution and for women’s rights remain his “crucial conditions” for any future deal with the Taliban.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has been skeptical of reconciliation efforts in the past, at a Thursday news conference lauded Mr. Karzai’s remarks—made in a Wall Street Journal interview—about Kabul’s willingness to engage with the Taliban.

“What President Karzai’s statement confirmed is that Afghanistan is very much involved in the process of reconciliation and that is extremely helpful and important to determining whether or not we are ultimately going to be able to succeed with reconciliation or not,” Mr. Panetta said. “The news that Afghanistan has joined those reconciliation discussions is important.”

Mr. Panetta said he didn’t know whether additional three-way sessions between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban have been planned.

Another senior Obama administration official remained cautious about whether such confidence-building contacts would translate into direct peace talks, calling the process “complicated and precarious.”

A day after Mr. Karzai told the Journal that Afghan government representatives have had contacts with U.S. and Taliban officials in an attempt to end the 10-year war, the Taliban said they had no intention of negotiating with “the powerless Kabul administration.”

“If someone met the Karzai administration representing the Islamic Emirate, he is an impostor,” said a statement by the Taliban leadership, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Taliban in the past denied reports of peace talks with the U.S., only to confirm them in recent months.

U.S. officials have confirmed Mr. Karzai’s remarks, saying at least one three-way negotiating session occurred in recent weeks.

Admitting negotiations with Kabul would be fraught will political risks for the insurgent leadership, possibly undermining the morale of Taliban fighters, and weakening the militants’ resolve amid coalition offensives.

The intensity of the conflict already declined dramatically in recent months, Afghan and coalition officials say, though it is unclear whether this drop is due to the spreading news about peace talks, unusually harsh winter weather, or a strategic decision by the Taliban to hold their fire as foreign forces withdraw.

Pakistan, which U.S. officials say provides shelter and support to the Taliban leadership, plays a crucial role in Afghanistan’s peace outreach.

Mr. Karzai’s relations with Pakistan neared a rupture point after the September assassination of former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, the peace negotiator, by purported Taliban peace emissaries. At the time, Afghan officials blamed the killing on Pakistan, something that Pakistani officials denied. Two suspects have since been arrested in Pakistan.

The White House wants to show progress on the reconciliation track before a May summit of North Atlantic Treaty Organization leaders in Chicago. There, NATO leaders are expected to announce plans to shift to a train-and-assist mission in Afghanistan in 2013, giving Mr. Karzai’s security forces the lead role in combat operations before most U.S. and NATO troops pull out at the end of 2014.

Where Pakistan fits into tentative peace talks with the Taliban remains unclear. The U.S. has not kept Islamabad informed about developments in the peace process, Pakistan civilian and military leaders claim.

U.S. and Afghan officials say they are concerned Pakistan might try to undermine peace talks. In January 2010, Pakistan detained a senior Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. Afghan and U.S. officials claim Pakistan arrested him for contacting the U.S. and Mr. Karzai’s government without Pakistan’s knowledge, a claim denied by Pakistan.

Afghanistan has asked for Pakistan to transfer Mr. Baradar to Kabul, but this hasn’t happened so far. Pakistani officials deny they back the Taliban.

Pakistan will stay on the sidelines in the tentative peace process as long as the U.S. remains distrustful of Islamabad, said Imtiaz Gul, director of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies.

“We’re not sure to what extent the U.S. wants Pakistan to play a role,” Mr. Gul said. “The Pakistani role at this moment seems very limited.”

Pakistan’s ability to play a meaningful part in talks has further been hampered by a deterioration in relations with U.S. after an American helicopter strike in November mistakenly killed 26 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border.

U.S. officials say they are still trying to hammer out an agreement with Taliban representatives on a sequence of confidence-building measures aimed at laying the ground for any future direct negotiations on ending the war.

In addition to the establishment of a political office for the Taliban in Qatar, the U.S. wants the Taliban to issue a statement distancing itself from international terrorism and to agree to stop fighting in certain areas of the country.

The U.S., in turn, would transfer of up to five Taliban militants held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar. Key U.S. lawmakers have raised objections to the prospective prisoner transfers.

Officials have identified the five Guantanamo detainees who may be transferred to Qatar as Muhammad Fazl, a former senior Taliban defense official; two former local governors, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Noorullah Nori; former Taliban intelligence official Abdul Haq Wasiq; and top Taliban financier Muhammad Nabi.

Messrs. Haq Wasiq, Fazl and Nori were among the first 20 detainees who arrived at Guantanamo Bay 10 years ago, when the prison was opened on Jan. 11, 2002.

The U.S. has received assurances from Qatar that the five militants, if transferred, won’t be released by the government or handed over to the Taliban. But officials said the men could be freed later as part of a future Afghan-Taliban peace deal.

Pakistan is Helping Afghan Taliban, Says Nato Report

As Reported by The BBC

The Taliban in Afghanistan are being directly assisted by Pakistani security services, according to a secret Nato report seen by the BBC.
The leaked report, derived from thousands of interrogations, claims the Taliban remain defiant and have wide support among the Afghan people. It alleges that Pakistan knows the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

A BBC correspondent says the report is painful reading for international forces and the Afghan government. Pakistan has strenuously denied any links with the Taliban on previous occasions.

“We have long been concerned about ties between elements of the ISI and some extremist networks,” said US Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby, adding that the US Defence Department had not seen the report.

The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul says the report – on the state of the Taliban – fully exposes for the first time the relationship between the Pakistani intelligence service (ISI) and the Taliban.

The report is based on material from 27,000 interrogations with more than 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters and civilians.
It notes: “Pakistan’s manipulation of the Taliban senior leadership continues unabatedly”. It says that Pakistan is aware of the locations of senior Taliban leaders.

The report states: “As this document is derived directly from insurgents it should be considered informational and not necessarily analytical.”
Despite Nato’s strategy to secure the country with Afghan forces, the secret document details widespread collaboration between the insurgents and Afghan police and military.

Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) in Afghanistan, said the document was “a classified internal document that is not meant to be released to the public”.

“It is a matter of policy that documents that are classified are not discussed under any circumstances,” he said.
The report also depicts the depth of continuing support among the Afghan population for the Taliban, our correspondent says.
It paints a picture of al-Qaeda’s influence diminishing but the Taliban’s influence increasing, he adds.

In a damning conclusion, the document says that in the last year there has been unprecedented interest, even from members of the Afghan government, in joining the Taliban cause. It adds: “Afghan civilians frequently prefer Taliban governance over the Afghan government, usually as a result of government corruption.”

The report has evidence that the Taliban are purposely hastening Nato’s withdrawal by deliberately reducing their attacks in some areas and then initiating a comprehensive hearts-and-minds campaign.

It says that in areas where Isaf has withdrawn, Taliban influence has increased, often with little or no resistance from government security forces. And in many cases, with the active help of the Afghan police and army.

When foreign soldiers leave, Afghan security forces are expected to take control. However according to the report, rifles, pistols and heavy weapons have been sold by Afghan security forces in bazaars in Pakistan.

Karzai’s Pakistan Comment Jolts West

By Dion Nissenbaum for The Wall Street Journal

America’s latest attempts to strengthen its relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai received an unexpected jolt over the weekend, as the Afghan leader said he would back Pakistan if it went to war with the U.S.

“God forbid, if any war took place between Pakistan and the United States, we will stand by Pakistan,” Mr. Karzai said an interview broadcast Saturday on Pakistan’s Geo television network. “If Pakistan is attacked and if the people of Pakistan needed Afghanistan’s help, Afghanistan will be there with you.”

The prospects for a U.S. war with Pakistan are remote, and Mr. Karzai’s comments were viewed by some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul as a poorly executed effort to blunt his recent angry comments about Pakistan’s support for Afghan insurgent groups. “This is not about war with each other,” said Gavin Sundwall, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. “This is about a joint approach to a threat to all three of our countries.”

Mr. Karzai’s comments came as a surprise to some Western officials in Kabul, who were heartened by the success of last week’s visit by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In the past, Mr. Karzai has alienated his Western allies with comments suggesting that he might side with the Taliban, or that America could come to be seen as an occupier if its forces didn’t stop killing Afghan civilians.

Mr. Karzai’s latest remarks struck a nerve with some Afghan and Western officials in Kabul who were reminded of the president’s penchant for criticizing the U.S.-led coalition that supports and funds his government. “It was totally careless, unnecessary and, yes, irresponsible,” said one Afghan official. “He hasn’t pleased anyone except, maybe, a few Pakistani generals.”

American officials said, however, that Mr. Karzai’s remarks wouldn’t overshadow Mrs. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Karzai and Mrs. Clinton were united during her trip in demanding that Pakistan stop supporting the Taliban and other Afghan insurgent groups.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have vacillated over the past year between spells of political chill and attempts at a rapprochement.
Mr. Karzai and the U.S. have sought to pressure Pakistan in recent weeks to clamp down on the Haqqani insurgent network suspected of staging a series of deadly attacks on American and Afghan targets.

Afghan officials also accused Pakistan’s spy agency of involvement in last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former Afghan president who had been leading the country’s peace entreaties to the Taliban. Pakistan denied these accusations. Earlier this month, Mr. Karzai unexpectedly flew to New Delhi to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan’s archenemy India. The move angered Pakistani officials, who viewed it as political provocation.

In the Saturday TV interview, Mr. Karzai repeated his characterization of Pakistan as a “brother” and said Afghanistan wouldn’t let the U.S. or any other country dictate its foreign policy. “Afghanistan is a brother,” he said “But, please brother, stop using all methods that hurt us and are now hurting you. Let us engage from a different platform.” Separately, Afghanistan’s interior minister Sunday evaded an apparent assassination attempt near Kabul.

Officials said a suicide bomber targeted a convoy thought to be carrying Interior Minister Bismullah Khan Mohammadi. But the attacker was shot dead before he could do any harm, and the interior minister wasn’t in the convoy, the Interior Ministry said.
–Ziaulhaq Sultani contributed to this article.

Clinton Says US Encouraged by India-Pakistan Talks

By Matthew Lee and Ravi Nessman for The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the United States was “encouraged” by the ongoing talks between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan and promised to give full support to Indian efforts to protect itself from terror.

Clinton’s visit to India came less than a week after a triple bombing killed 20 people in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, the worst terror strike in the country since 10 Pakistan-based gunmen rampaged through the city in 2008.

Her meetings with top Indian officials Tuesday focused on fighting terror, the U.S. withdrawal plans from Afghanistan and ways to broaden economic and security ties between the United States and India.

She also called for a swift resolution to their dispute over investments in nuclear energy, calling on India to ratify by the end of the year the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and to adapt its liability laws to conform with the treaty.

The U.S. views India’s new nuclear liability law as too stringent on nuclear plant suppliers, making it difficult for private U.S. companies to compete against state-owned companies in India’s multibillion dollar nuclear reactor market.

Clinton’s trip here is part of a new round of U.S.-India strategic dialogue established last year to deepen ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

S.M. Krishna, India’s foreign minister, expressed concerns that the planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that began this month could lead to a resurgence in Islamic extremism.

“It is in the larger interests of the region that it is necessary for the United States to work very closely with (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai and the government of Afghanistan and thereby create conditions where terrorists do not take any more advantage in Afghanistan,” Krishna said after 2 1/2 hours of talks with Clinton.

Clinton said she had outlined the drawdown strategy and stressed that the United States will not support Afghan reconciliation with insurgents unless it is inclusive and protects the rights of minority groups, religions and women.

Clinton also assured India of U.S. support in the fight against terror.

“We are allies in the fight against violent extremist networks. And homeland security is a high priority and a source of increasing partnership,” Clinton said.

While the U.S. and India have already signed agreements to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts, “the events in Mumbai have driven home how important it is that we get results,” she said.

Though India has not blamed Pakistan for last week’s attack, it has accused its neighbor of harboring violent extremist groups responsible for other attacks in India and of not doing enough to crack down on those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai siege.

For its part, U.S. officials fear Pakistan is not fully committed to combatting radical plots, such as the failed 2010 Times Square bombing in New York.

“We have made it clear to the Pakistani government that confronting violent extremists of all sorts is in its interest,” Clinton said.

India recently resumed peace talks with Pakistan that broke off following the 2008 Mumbai siege, and the two countries’ foreign ministers are expected to meet next week.

The U.S. is eager for the fragile talks to pick up steam, in part to allow Pakistan to focus its forces on the chaotic Afghan border.

“We are encouraged by the dialogue between India and Pakistan,” Clinton said, calling talks “the most promising approach” to build more confidence between them.

During the meeting Tuesday, Clinton and Krishna agreed to strengthen their countries’ ties in energy, security, education, the economy, science and promoting stability across the region. The two countries also signed an agreement promoting closer cooperation in cybersecurity.

Once frosty relations between India and the United States have warmed considerably in recent years as Washington has looked to India as stable ally in the turbulent South Asia region and its growing economy as a valuable market for U.S. goods.

President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his first state dinner and visited India for three days last year, praising it as a new regional power. Clinton was to meet with Singh later Tuesday.

Growing business ties were among the top issues in the talks.

Western officials have looked to India’s rising economy and its 1.2 billion people as a coveted market to help stimulate growth in their own troubled economies.

“Each of our countries can do more to reduce barriers, open our markets, and find new opportunities for economic partnership,” Clinton said. “Taking these steps is in our mutual interest. We can improve millions of lives and increase both of our nations’ economic competitiveness.”

She praised India’s fight against piracy, and pushed for greater sales of U.S. arms to India — the world’s largest arms importer —as a way of deepening security cooperation between the two nations.

U.S. officials were annoyed earlier this year when Indian officials chose two European companies as finalists for an $11 billion order for 126 fighter jets. However, last month India signed an agreement to buy 10 Boeing C-17 cargo and troop-carrying aircraft for more than $4 billion.

From New Delhi, Clinton on Wednesday will move on to the southeastern port of Chennai, where she plans to deliver a speech on the importance of U.S.-Indian relations, the benefits of enhanced bilateral commercial ties and India’s role in South Asia and the greater Asia-Pacific region.

Clinton is in India on the third leg of a 12-day, around-the-world diplomatic tour that has already taken her to Turkey and Greece. After India, she will visit Indonesia, Hong Kong and southern mainland China before returning home July 25.

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.”

Ahmed Rashid on Negotiating With the Taliban

By Amar C Bakshi for CNN Global Public Square

Intrepid Pakistani author and journalist Ahmed Rashid wrote an op-ed in the Financial Times describing the Obama administration’s secret decision to ramp up talks with the Afghan Taliban, trying to find a negotiated solution to a decade-long conflict. In a follow-up phone call, Rashid said that the Obama administration ought to announce these talks publicly and pressure Afghanistan’s neighbors to get behind them.

Amar C. Bakshi: What is the shift in U.S. policy toward Afghanistan?
Ahmed Rashid: For a very long time there was a lot of division about whether the U.S.would talk to the Taliban or not. Those divisions have now more or less ended. There is much greater determination to set in motion not just secret talks but everything around it that has to happen.

For example, the Taliban are very keen to open an office somewhere in one of the Gulf countries or maybe Turkey. There is nowU.S.support for that. There would presumably be international support for that also. These are the kinds of steps that are needed to get a political process going.

There is the acknowledgement that an over-dependence on a military strategy is not going to work in the long-term. Secondly, the economic and international situation is really not in favor of a long-term military strategy. What is needed now very much is a political strategy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton herself has said this several times in the past few weeks.

What would a deal with the Taliban look like?
We are a very, very long way away from that. Many questions are being raised. For example, would there be a power-sharing with the present government? How would it take place? How would the constitution accommodate something like that? There are all sorts of social and legal issues about the constitution and Islamic law.

One of the key steps that the Americans have taken is that for the last two years or so, the Obama administration has been talking about preconditions – that the Taliban has to renounce Al Qaeda, accept the constitution and President Karzai. Now what we’re seeing is that talks are going on without any preconditions. These preconditions, or red lines, are something that everyone assumes will be accepted by the Taliban at the end of the talks rather than at the beginning. That is a very positive thing because I don’t think either side could go into their talks with their preconditions.

There are Taliban preconditions that seem to be watered down too because the Taliban were insisting that they wouldn’t talk until the American forces started to leave. But they seem to be willing to put that aside for the time being.

Why is this shift happening now?
The overall international and economic situation is very, very dire. First of all, the majority of European countries want to pull their troops out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible and that includes some of the leading nations like Britain, Germany and Canada.

Economically they can’t do it. They’re cutting their defense budgets. They are in recession.

And secondly the huge expenditure by the Americans themselves: Something like $108 billion is going to be spent on Afghanistan this year on the war effort. This is clearly not sustainable with all the economic crises that President Obama is facing right now.

What can the U.S. do to help make India and Pakistan see eye-to-eye on Afghanistan?
That is obviously a very crucial part of it. The big tussles going on over Afghanistan right now is between India and Pakistan in a battle for influence there. I think the U.S. needs to play a more upfront role – privately at least – to bring the two countries together if not on the other issues that divide them like Kashmir and larger issues, then certainly on Afghanistan. I think that’s very doable.

The more we get into this endgame and negotiations – the more the world realizes that the Americans are talking to the Taliban – I think it becomes very imperative for both the governments in India and Pakistan to accept the fact that they will have to work with each other if they want to be part of the ultimate equation.

Does Pakistan want to see stability in Afghanistan?
Pakistanis very keen to see stability in Afghanistan. An end to the war in Afghanistan could have a very dramatic effect on containing terrorism inside Pakistan too and containing the Pakistani Taliban. So I think Pakistanis very keen to see stability.

The question at the moment is: If the U.S. is going to take the lead – or the United Nations or whoever we are going to see in the months ahead take the lead on this – they have to bring together all the neighboring countries, of which Pakistan is probably by far the most important, but all of the neighboring countries have to agree to some king of on non-interference in Afghanistan.

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are being exacerbated by upheavals throughout the Middle East. How might Saudi Arabia and Iran see eye-to-eye in Afghanistan?
For the last 30 years, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been rivals in Afghanistan. For example, the Saudis backed the Taliban regime in the 90s. The Iranians very strongly opposed it.

The point right now is that with the tensions in the Gulf – the Saudis accusing the Iranians of destabilizing Bahrain and Saudi Arabia– they are both searching for allies.

The Saudis have recently been approaching the Afghans and the Pakistanis to ally with them against Iran. That is something that neither country can afford to do – neitherAfghanistannorPakistan. Secondly, you need the compliance of both Saudi Arabia and Iran for any eventual Afghan peace settlement.

So taking sides on this Iran-Saudi dispute in the region is not a good idea. It is not very helpful, especially if you want to bring the two countries into the peace agreement.

So a major diplomatic lift is needed?
Yes, absolutely. We’re talking about a huge diplomatic effort, which the former U.S. Af-Pak Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, had started. It needs a very big push by the United States, NATO and the European countries.

It needs some public diplomacy. Things need to be done and said in public so that people around the world can see that there is movement on this. As well, of course, a great deal of private diplomacy is needed such as dealing with this Iran-Saudi Arabia issue, bringing India and Pakistan together. A mixture of private and public diplomacy is needed.

We might see some of that public diplomacy in July when President Obama marks the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The quicker the United States gets on with this, the better it is going to be. One of the big steps it should take in the public realm is admitting that the U.S. is having talks with the Taliban and set out a roadmap as to what the President would like to see. The quicker we see the administration doing this, the faster this process will move.

Veteran US Diplomat To Replace Holbrooke as Pakistan-Afghan Envoy

By David Usborne for The Independent, UK

The long and fractious search for a replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke as a special US envoy to both Pakistan and Afghanistan is over, but the job of filling his shoes is looking more impossible than ever, not least because of an expected exodus of top American officials from Kabul this year.

Marc Grossman, who was a top-rank US diplomat for three decades until he moved to the private sector in 2005, has agreed to take on the post after others turned it down. His appointment is expected to be announced by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during a speech in New York on Friday.

The death from a torn aorta of Mr Holbrooke, a giant on the diplomatic stage, left a void in America’s diplomatic front in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some in the White House resented the wide remit he enjoyed dealing with both countries, Mrs Clinton was adamant she needed someone of similar stature in his place.

Several high profile names were passed over for the job or turned it down, including Strobe Talbott and John Podesta, both of whom served former President Bill Clinton. Another who declined to don the Holbrooke mantle was Frank Wisner, another former diplomat who unsuccessfully sought to mediate with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt before his ouster last week.

Mr Grossman, currently chairman of the Cohen Group which advises companies on ventures overseas, will take the job at a particularly tricky juncture. Relations between Washington and Islamabad are at an all time low, and in Afghanistan the clock is ticking on the start of US troop withdrawals this summer.

The diplomatic and military team he will inherit in Afghanistan will meanwhile begin to dissolve almost the moment he arrives there. Among those set to depart are Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador there, as well as all four of the top US officials in the embassy.

It is widely expected, meanwhile, that the top military commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, will be rotated out before the end of the year. The number two military officer there, Lt Gen David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations, is also set to leave. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon concede that finding replacements for the departing officials will be difficult.

Violence in Afghanistan is still at critical levels. On the political level, the US is striving to overcome long-running tensions with President Hamid Karzai, while trying to push forward a process of reconciliation talks with elements of the Taliban and other insurgent groups that are seen as crucial to achieving stability, and step up training of Afghan soldiers and police officers.

“Afghanistan is keen to work closely with the new Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy in better coordination and understanding,” commented Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for Mr Karzai, who had a prickly relationship with Mr Holbrooke.

The latest downturn in relations with Pakistan follows the arrest of an American at the US embassy on charges of murder. So far the Pakistani government has ignored calls from Washington that the accused, Raymond Davis, who is on the embassy staff, be given diplomatic immunity in the case. He has claimed that he shot the two men in self defence as they attempted to rob him.

In Islamabad yesterday on a mission to try to resolve the stand-off was Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arguably the only person available in Washington with the stature to get the Pakistani government to focus on the issue. Bilateral talks that were scheduled to take place at the State Department next week have been postponed by Mrs Clinton because of the dispute.

The biggest challenge of all for Mr Grossman will be winning the trust and respect of leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan while navigating the sometimes conflicting priorities of his various bosses in Washington at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House.

Leading players on their way out:

General David Petraeus

Unexpectedly pulled into Afghanistan after the sudden departure of General Stanley McChrystal last year, Petraeus is drafting withdrawal plans for President Obama. Once he has presented the President with options for the best exit strategy, which he is expected to do in July, there are suggestions that he could look to stand down. He has denied that he could seek the Republican presidential nomination for 2012.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

With his relationship with President Karzai strained at best, there have long been rumours in Washington of Eikenberry’s return home; any departure, though, was held up by the exit of McChrystal, when it was felt that another change at the top of Afghan policy would be unhelpful. A similar logic may have applied after Richard Holbrooke’s death. One of Grossman’s key tasks will be identifying the best candidates to replace him.

Lt. General David Rodriguez

Named as deputy commander in Afghanistan in 2009, Rodriguez has considerably more experience in the country than Petraeus, and holds responsibility for day-to-day operations, with particular expertise in counter-insurgency. If suggestions that he could be going home soon prove correct, there are fears that a shortage of top-class military leadership with knowledge of the country could be exposed.

Richard Holbrooke: The Death of a Peacemaker

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President George H.W. Bush once described him as the “most persistent advocate I’ve ever run into.” President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, died earlier today after complications from heart surgery. He was a gifted diplomat and a tough negotiator who was considered one of the superstars of international diplomacy. Richard Holbrooke died Monday evening at George Washington University Hospital after doctors had performed emergency surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta, the largest artery in the human body responsible for carrying blood from the heart to all parts of the body.

Described only days ago by President Obama as a “towering figure in American diplomacy,” Holbrooke was a career diplomat who started his career in 1962 as an officer during the Vietnam War where he initially worked at the US Agency of International Development. He continued to work on Vietnam issues during the war under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was a part of the delegation that presided in Paris for the peace negotiations to end the war. He also served as the director of the Peace Corps in Morocco in the early 1970’s as well as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Carter administration. He was in charge of US ties with China when relations between the two countries were “normalized” in late 1978.

Later in his career, he also held senior positions at a few prestigious Wall Street firms before returning to diplomacy under the Clinton administration. During this time he was credited with his most illustrious achievement to date when he helped orchestrate the Dayton peace agreement which ended the horrific war and genocide in Bosnia. He later went on to write a memoir titled “To End a War” and become somewhat of a celebrity in the Balkans, and is widely believed to have become the Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton if she had won. He also went on to serve as the US ambassador to Germany as well as the United Nations under President Bill Clinton before being tapped by the incoming Obama administration with the herculean task of being the special envoy of the United States to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His last assignment was arguably his most difficult as he himself stated that “There’s no Slobodan Milosevic. There’s no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy. There’s also al Qaeda, with which there’s no possibility of any discussion at all.” He mentioned that in the AfPak region, (a term he is credited with having coined), there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.”

Such was the difficulty of his last assignment that some close to him are speculating whether the high level of stress and travels associated with shuttling between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad might have been a factor in causing a tear in his aorta. Certainly the complex and high strung meetings with Karzai and Zardari as well as the delicate balancing acts of diplomacy along with military operations in a region of the world described as “the most dangerous in the world” possibly took a toll on his health.

But to those that knew Richard Holbrooke, he was a man capable of taking on and winning the challenges of this and any difficult assignment as he had done so many times in his career. A New York Times reporter once wrote “if you want somebody to pull the trigger, or close a deal, think Holbrooke.”

Tonight in Washington DC, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the thousands of employees of the US State Department mourn the death of this icon of American diplomacy and celebrate his lifelong service to the United States and the American people in search of peace in troubled spots the world over. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a job vacancy has sadly opened up in the dangerous AfPak region of the world for an assignment that no one is capable of fulfilling quite like Mr Holbrooke. For the sake of the success in the Afghan war, peace and stability in Pakistan and securing America’s vital national interests in the region and around the world, let us hope that his successor will be half as capable a diplomat and negotiator as the late Richard C. Holbrooke, truly a giant of American diplomacy.

-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.

Obama Prays for Holbrooke’s Recovery

As Reported by The Associated Press

Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s diplomatic point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, remained in critical condition Saturday night after surgery to repair a tear in his aorta. President Barack Obama Saturday expressed support for Holbrooke’s family in the difficult hour and prayed for his recovery.

“Earlier today, I spoke to Richard Holbrooke’s wife Kati and told her that Michelle and I are praying for Richard. Richard Holbrooke is a towering figure in American foreign policy, a critical member of my Afghanistan and Pakistan team, and a tireless public servant who has won the admiration of the American people and people around the world. I know that Secretary Clinton, Admiral Mullen, Tom Donilon, and other members of our team have been with him at George Washington hospital, and we continue to pray for his recovery, and support his family in this difficult time,” Obama said in the statment.

Holbrooke, 69, was rushed to George Washington University Hospital on Friday morning after he had chest pains during a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, The Washington Post reported. He was almost immediately taken into surgery that extended for 21 hours into Saturday, the paper added.

With Holbrooke in intensive care only blocks away, President Obama’s senior national security advisers met at the White House on Saturday to discuss a major internal assessment of the war in Afghanistan. Obama will review the assessment Monday, with release to the public scheduled for later in the week.

Meanwhile, according to the Post, the U.S. administration officials said that Holbrooke’s condition would not affect the war review, compiled over the past month by the National Security Council staff from assessments made by Holbrooke and his staff and by the military coalition led by Gen Patreaus.

Holbrooke’s long diplomatic experience has given him a unique perspective within the administration and has positioned him perhaps better than anyone to navigate the often messy intersection of diplomacy, counterinsurgency and politics, the newspaper noted. Holbrooke, the newspaper reported, has been a strong advocate of a negotiated settlement of the war and of massive increases in development and governance aid. Under his direction, the number of U.S. civilian officials in Afghanistan has more than tripled, to exceed 1,000. He experienced health problems in August, when he underwent treatment for heart problems.

How to End the War in Afghanistan

As Reported on CNN

New York (CNN) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has started talks with representatives of the Taliban, a move that analyst Fareed Zakaria says could bring an end to the nine-year-long war.

Karzai convened a meeting Thursday with the Afghan Peace Council, which was formed to help negotiate with the Taliban. Referring to the militants, Karzai said, “I call on them once again to use this opportunity and say ‘yes’ to this endeavor. I want them to come and bring peace to this land.”

The author and host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” spoke to CNN on Thursday. Here is an edited transcript:

CNN: Hamid Karzai has launched a council to help negotiate with the Taliban? What’s the significance of that step?

Fareed Zakaria: I think it’s about time. If you look at any good study of civil wars, what you find is that most of them end in a negotiated settlement. Maybe because Americans have the memory of our civil war in which the North crushes the South, we somehow think that that’s how civil wars end. But that’s actually is very unusual.

What normally happens is some kind of settlement that is negotiated in which the losers are reintegrated into the political order. Civil wars are unlike normal wars, because the winners and losers are going to have to live with one another.

CNN: How does that apply to Afghanistan?

Zakaria: The Taliban, which is mounting this insurgency, is not a foreign element within the body politic. The Taliban is basically the political representative of the conservative elements of the Pashtun community.

The Pashtuns are 50 percent of Afghanistan. … It is a political force in Afghanistan. Coming to terms with it politically and seeing if there’s some way it can be reintegrated into the political order makes sense. You’re not going to kill every member of the Taliban. They’re not going to be exiled to a foreign land. They’re going to be there at the end of the day so it’s better to to have them in the tent.

CNN: The U.S. military view seems to be that the talks haven’t yielded progress so far, and a senior defense official told CNN, “We don’t think the Taliban believe that they’re losing to the degree that they’d come to terms in large numbers.” Are the talks premature because the effects of the U.S. military buildup haven’t been felt yet?

Zakaria: First the very fact that the Taliban are coming to the table in a way they had not been willing to before suggests that they are feeling some pressure.

But I also think you can’t get too hung up with this idea that you have to negotiate from a position of strength. Ideally we would have them totally prostrate on the floor and that would be the time to negotiate. But the reality is that this is a very mixed military campaign. I don’t know if it’s going to be dramatically better one year from now or three years from now.

This is a little like somebody who owns a stock, who says, it’s at six now, I need to sell it, but I’m going to wait till it goes to eight. Well maybe it will go to eight, maybe it will go to four.

You might as well start talking at this point. First of all you learn a lot in the process of negotiations. And secondly, the military campaign could move in many different directions. If the surge starts succeeding even more, that will be reflected in our negotiating posture.

CNN: Is there an idea yet of what a negotiated settlement might involve?

Zakaria: It seems as though the Taliban demands are that they want all foreign troops out. They don’t want to accept the Afghan constitution and they don’t want to lay down their arms.

Now those are obviously their opening demands. Foreign troops aren’t going to be out, but one could point out that President Obama has said there is going to be a reduction of foreign forces next year.

On the Afghan constitution, there is a compromise there where there could be a few amendments to the constitution. But on laying down their arms, that it seems to me you can’t really compromise, they would have to lay down their arms. Could some elements be integrated into the militia, or the Afghan national army? Perhaps — that’s what happened in Iraq.

CNN: Isn’t there also a clashing conception of society, with the Taliban being a closed society that doesn’t recognize an elevated role for women as opposed to a potentially democratic kind of society that’s envisioned by the Afghan constitution?

Zakaria: Yes, it is the kind of society envisioned by the Afghan constitution. But Afghanistan is a fairly conservative society. While the extreme elements of the Taliban have draconian visions which are obviously not supported by the Afghans — the polls bear this out — it’s also true that on issues of women’s rights and some of the more progressive elements of the Afghan constitution, the Karzai government is in a minority and those rights are not popularly supported.

There are clashing visions, but there is probably a reality of Afghanistan which is a lot more progressive and open than the Taliban believe but is still a society that is somewhat conservative, and often tribal, and with very traditional views on something like women’s rights.

The key is creating a situation where these rights are guaranteed but not fetishizing it. For example, one of the things the Afghan constitution has is a requirement for 25 percent representation of women in parliament. We don’t have such a requirement either in the U.S. Constitution or in the amendments. Many European countries don’t.

Is it conceivable that something like that could be compromised? Perhaps, and that’s the kind of thing where we’d have to be creative in coming up with a solution that moderates and some elements of the Taliban could live with.

CNN: Is this an honorable exit for the United States?

Zakaria: I think so, and it’s not really an exit, it’s a reduction in our forces and in our role. And I think it would be appropriate. We’ve been there for nine years. It’s not the only battleground, the only place where al Qaeda operates. There are many more members of al Qaeda in Pakistan than in Afghanistan.

You’re trying to create a political settlement, and a self-sustaining political framework in Afghanistan that can survive the departure of American troops. And finally you’re leaving enough troops in there where you could still prosecute a fairly vigorous counterterrorism operation against those elements of the Taliban or al Qaeda that continue to plot and plan to do violence to civilians, foreigners, westerners.

And I do think, if we could get this kind of a settlement, it would be an honorable way for the United States to begin reducing its exposure in Afghanistan.

Fareed Zakaria is an author and foreign affairs analyst who hosts “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN

Karzai Questions Allies’ Willingness to Act on Pakistani Terror Havens

As Reported by the Voice of America

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is questioning the willingness of Western allies to go after terrorist sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan.

Mr. Karzai said Thursday that the war against terrorism is “not in Afghanistan’s homes and villages” but in the sanctuaries and training centers that lie outside the country.

The Afghan leader told reporters in Kabul that only international forces have the ability to tackle such insurgent forces.

President Karzai’s comments come after the website WikiLeaks released thousands of classified U.S. military documents that allege Pakistan’s intelligence agency was actively collaborating with Afghan Taliban militants.

Pakistan has dismissed the allegations.

Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit called Mr. Karzai’s remarks “incomprehensible.”  He said Pakistan’s ambassador in Kabul was seeking clarification, noting the neighboring nations have been closely cooperating against terrorism.

President Karzai on Thursday also condemned  WikiLeaks’ release of the military documents and said their leak endangers the lives of Afghans who worked closely with NATO forces.  He said he has ordered a government review of the files.

The 91,000 documents also contain details of civilian casualties allegedly caused by coalition forces.  

U.S. officials have also condemned the documents’ release and launched an investigation into the source of the leak.

Clinton, With Initiatives in Hand, Arrives in Pakistan

By Mark Landler for The New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Hillary Rodham ClintonMrs. Clinton will announce a raft of initiatives to help Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by $500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Relations could be further tested if the Obama administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may receive more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight security.

Vali Nasr, a senior advisor to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including the chief of the staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175, in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday, timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton is to meet General Kayani on Monday, after meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years, pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly during the hot summer.

“Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in the past.”

Administration officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed, television reports here warned of further outages.

U.S. Identifies Vast Riches of Minerals in Afghanistan

By James Risen for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.

The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.

An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.

The vast scale of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth was discovered by a small team of Pentagon officials and American geologists. The Afghan government and President Hamid Karzai were recently briefed, American officials said.

While it could take many years to develop a mining industry, the potential is so great that officials and executives in the industry believe it could attract heavy investment even before mines are profitable, providing the possibility of jobs that could distract from generations of war.

“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.” The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion.

“This will become the backbone of the Afghan economy,” said Jalil Jumriany, an adviser to the Afghan minister of mines. American and Afghan officials agreed to discuss the mineral discoveries at a difficult moment in the war in Afghanistan. The American-led offensive in Marja in southern Afghanistan has achieved only limited gains. Meanwhile, charges of corruption and favoritism continue to plague the Karzai government, and Mr. Karzai seems increasingly embittered toward the White House.

So the Obama administration is hungry for some positive news to come out of Afghanistan. Yet the American officials also recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact. Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country.

The corruption that is already rampant in the Karzai government could also be amplified by the new wealth, particularly if a handful of well-connected oligarchs, some with personal ties to the president, gain control of the resources. Just last year, Afghanistan’s minister of mines was accused by American officials of accepting a $30 million bribe to award China the rights to develop its copper mine. The minister has since been replaced.

Endless fights could erupt between the central government in Kabul and provincial and tribal leaders in mineral-rich districts. Afghanistan has a national mining law, written with the help of advisers from the World Bank, but it has never faced a serious challenge.

“No one has tested that law; no one knows how it will stand up in a fight between the central government and the provinces,” observed Paul A. Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of defense for business and leader of the Pentagon team that discovered the deposits.

At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, which could upset the United States, given its heavy investment in the region. After winning the bid for its Aynak copper mine in Logar Province, China clearly wants more, American officials said.

Another complication is that because Afghanistan has never had much heavy industry before, it has little or no history of environmental protection either. “The big question is, can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?” Mr. Brinkley said. “No one knows how this will work.”

With virtually no mining industry or infrastructure in place today, it will take decades for Afghanistan to exploit its mineral wealth fully. “This is a country that has no mining culture,” said Jack Medlin, a geologist in the United States Geological Survey’s international affairs program. “They’ve had some small artisanal mines, but now there could be some very, very large mines that will require more than just a gold pan.”

The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency.

The Pentagon task force has already started trying to help the Afghans set up a system to deal with mineral development. International accounting firms that have expertise in mining contracts have been hired to consult with the Afghan Ministry of Mines, and technical data is being prepared to turn over to multinational mining companies and other potential foreign investors. The Pentagon is helping Afghan officials arrange to start seeking bids on mineral rights by next fall, officials said.

“The Ministry of Mines is not ready to handle this,” Mr. Brinkley said. “We are trying to help them get ready.” Like much of the recent history of the country, the story of the discovery of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth is one of missed opportunities and the distractions of war.

In 2004, American geologists, sent to Afghanistan as part of a broader reconstruction effort, stumbled across an intriguing series of old charts and data at the library of the Afghan Geological Survey in Kabul that hinted at major mineral deposits in the country. They soon learned that the data had been collected by Soviet mining experts during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, but cast aside when the Soviets withdrew in 1989.

During the chaos of the 1990s, when Afghanistan was mired in civil war and later ruled by the Taliban, a small group of Afghan geologists protected the charts by taking them home, and returned them to the Geological Survey’s library only after the American invasion and the ouster of the Taliban in 2001.

“There were maps, but the development did not take place, because you had 30 to 35 years of war,” said Ahmad Hujabre, an Afghan engineer who worked for the Ministry of Mines in the 1970s.

Armed with the old Russian charts, the United States Geological Survey began a series of aerial surveys of Afghanistan’s mineral resources in 2006, using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment attached to an old Navy Orion P-3 aircraft that flew over about 70 percent of the country.

The data from those flights was so promising that in 2007, the geologists returned for an even more sophisticated study, using an old British bomber equipped with instruments that offered a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface. It was the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted. The handful of American geologists who pored over the new data said the results were astonishing.

But the results gathered dust for two more years, ignored by officials in both the American and Afghan governments. In 2009, a Pentagon task force that had created business development programs in Iraq was transferred to Afghanistan, and came upon the geological data. Until then, no one besides the geologists had bothered to look at the information — and no one had sought to translate the technical data to measure the potential economic value of the mineral deposits.

Soon, the Pentagon business development task force brought in teams of American mining experts to validate the survey’s findings, and then briefed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Mr. Karzai.

So far, the biggest mineral deposits discovered are of iron and copper, and the quantities are large enough to make Afghanistan a major world producer of both, United States officials said. Other finds include large deposits of niobium, a soft metal used in producing superconducting steel, rare earth elements and large gold deposits in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan.

Just this month, American geologists working with the Pentagon team have been conducting ground surveys on dry salt lakes in western Afghanistan where they believe there are large deposits of lithium. Pentagon officials said that their initial analysis at one location in Ghazni Province showed the potential for lithium deposits as large of those of Bolivia, which now has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.

For the geologists who are now scouring some of the most remote stretches of Afghanistan to complete the technical studies necessary before the international bidding process is begun, there is a growing sense that they are in the midst of one of the great discoveries of their careers. “On the ground, it’s very, very, promising,” Mr. Medlin said. “Actually, it’s pretty amazing.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: