Posts Tagged ‘ NATO ’

Analysis: Pakistan’s Double-Game: Treachery or Strategy?

By John Chalmers for Reuters

Washington has just about had it withPakistan.

“Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States,” fumed Republican Representative Ted Poe last week. “We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let’s not pay them at all.”

For many in America, Islamabad has been nothing short of perfidious since joining a strategic alliance with Washington 10 years ago: selectively cooperating in the war on extremist violence and taking billions of dollars in aid to do the job, while all the time sheltering and supporting Islamist militant groups that fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has angrily denied the charges, but if its critics are right, what could the explanation be for such duplicity? What strategic agendas might be hidden behind this puzzling statecraft?

The answer is that Pakistan wants to guarantee for itself a stake in Afghanistan’s political future.

It knows that, as U.S. forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, ethnic groups will be competing for ascendancy there and other regional powers – from India to China and Iran – will be jostling for a foot in the door.

Islamabad’s support for the Taliban movement in the 1990s gives it an outsized influence among Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, who make up about 42 percent of the total population and who maintain close ties with their Pakistani fellow tribesmen.

In particular, Pakistan’s powerful military is determined there should be no vacuum in Afghanistan that could be filled by its arch-foe, India.

INDIA FOCUS

Pakistan has fought three wars with its neighbor since the bloody partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of the country in 1947, and mutual suspicion still hobbles relations between the two nuclear-armed powers today.

“They still think India is their primary policy,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and prominent political analyst. “India is always in the back of their minds.”

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani – unprompted – complained that Washington’s failure to deal even-handedly with New Delhi and Islamabad was a source of regional instability.

Aqil Shah, a South Asia security expert at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said Islamabad’s worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which it fears would pursue activities hostile to Pakistan.

“Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns,” Shah wrote in a Foreign Affairs article this week.

Although Pakistan, an Islamic state, officially abandoned support for the predominantly Pashtun Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, elements of the military never made the doctrinal shift.

Few doubt that the shadowy intelligence directorate, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has maintained links to the Taliban that emerged from its support for the Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Until recently, there appeared to be a grudging acceptance from Washington that this was the inevitable status quo.

That was until it emerged in May that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – who was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid – had been hiding out in a Pakistani garrison town just two hours up the road from Islamabad, by some accounts for up to five years.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been stormy ever since, culminating in a tirade by the outgoing U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, last week.

Mullen described the Haqqani network, the most feared faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a “veritable arm” of the ISI and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group’s September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The reaction in Islamabad has been one of stunned outrage.

Washington has not gone public with evidence to back its accusation, and Pakistani officials say that contacts with the Haqqani group do not amount to actual support.

However, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-populist-politician, said this week that it was too much to expect that old friends could have become enemies overnight.

He told Reuters that, instead of demanding that Pakistan attack the Haqqanis in the mountainous border region of North Waziristan, the United States should use Islamabad’s leverage with the group to bring the Afghan Taliban into negotiations.

“Haqqani could be your ticket to getting them on the negotiating table, which at the moment they are refusing,” Khan said. “So I think that is a much saner policy than to ask Pakistan to try to take them on.”

REGIONAL GAME

The big risk for the United States in berating Islamabad is that it will exacerbate anti-American sentiment, which already runs deep in Pakistan, and perhaps embolden it further.

C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research, said Pakistan was probably gambling that the United States’ economic crisis and upcoming presidential elections would distract Washington.

“The real game is unfolding on the ground with the Americans. The Pakistan army is betting that the United States does not have too many choices and more broadly that the U.S. is on the decline, he said.

It is also becoming clear that as Pakistan’s relations with Washington deteriorate, it can fall back into the arms of its “all-weather friend,” China, the energy-hungry giant that is the biggest investor in Afghanistan’s nascent resources sector.

Pakistani officials heaped praise on Beijing this week as a Chinese minister visited Islamabad. Among them was army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the country’s most powerful man, who spoke of China’s “unwavering support.”

In addition, Pakistan has extended a cordial hand to Iran, which also shares a border with Afghanistan.

Teheran has been mostly opposed to the Taliban, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims while Iran is predominantly Shi’ite. But Iran’s anti-Americanism is more deep-seated.

“My reading is the Iranians want to see the Americans go,” said Raja Mohan, the Indian analyst. “They have a problem with the Taliban, but any American retreat will suit them. Iran in the short term is looking at the Americans being humiliated.”

ARMY CALLS THE SHOTS

The supremacy of the military in Pakistan means that Washington has little to gain little from wagging its finger about ties with the Taliban at the civilian government, which is regularly lashed for its incompetence and corruption.

“The state has become so soft and powerless it can’t make any difference,” said Masood, the Pakistani retired general. “Any change will have to come from the military.”

Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for South Asia at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the problem lies with a security establishment that continues to believe that arming and working – actively and passively – with militant groups serves its purposes.

“Until … soul-searching takes place within the Pakistani military and the ISI, you’re not likely to see an end to these U.S. demands, and a real shift in terms of the relationship,” Markey said in an online discussion this week. “This is the most significant shift that has to take place.”

U.S. Refrains From Declaring Haqqani Terrorist Group on Pakistan Concerns

By John Walcott and Viola Gienger for Bloomberg News

The Obama administration isn’t ready to declare the Haqqani group in Pakistan a “foreign terrorist organization” even after Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group attacked the U.S. embassy and American troops in Afghanistan.

“We are continuing to review whether to designate” the Haqqani organization, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said yesterday.
Mullen’s declaration in Senate testimony last week that Haqqani operatives acted as a “proxy” for Pakistan’s intelligence service may have further complicated the question.

Taking the first step — adding the Haqqani group to the list of terrorist organizations — would lead to demands that Pakistan be declared a state sponsor of terrorism. That would put at risk Pakistan’s cooperation as the U.S. tries to snuff out al-Qaeda’s core and other militants in the country’s tribal areas.

For now, the U.S. has designated the Haqqani network’s founder and other leaders. It has made clear to Pakistan that clamping down on the group “is job one, that we want to do it together, and that’s the conversation that we’re having now,” Nuland said.
Designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism would put it in the company of only four other countries — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — and might trigger a nationalist backlash in Pakistan. It would require halting U.S. aid to Pakistan, force the U.S. to oppose World Bank loans to Pakistan, and end cooperation between the two countries in fighting terrorism and trying to stabilize Afghanistan.

Pariah State

Naming Pakistan a sponsor of terrorism “would turn it into a pariah state,” Robert Lamb, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview. “That would complicate a lot of aspects of the relationship, which is complicated enough already. It’s ugly, but it’s not unsalvageable.”

The administration is under new pressure to designate the Haqqanis a terrorist organization alongside 49 others, including al-Qaeda, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

After Mullen testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Haqqani group “meets the standards for designation” as a terrorist organization. So far, said congressional officials, Clinton hasn’t responded.

Congressional Pressure

“I think there’s going to be increasing congressional pressure on them to list the Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization,” said Lisa Curtis, a former CIA analyst and now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation policy group in Washington.
“If we know that the Haqqani network is behind these major attacks on U.S. interests and we fail to confront them, that is a signal of weakness and it simply invites more attacks,” she said.

Nuland and other administration and military officials signaled a reluctance to sanction Pakistan.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said yesterday that the U.S. wants to “maintain a relationship with Pakistan that’s grounded in common interests, to include going after terrorists that threaten both countries.”
“There are differences from time to time,” Little told reporters at the Pentagon. “Those differences have been made public, and we continue to discuss those differences in private. We look forward to working with the Pakistanis to try to resolve them.”

Stretched Thin

Pakistani military officials told reporters in Islamabad on Sept. 25 that they had decided not to take action against the Haqqani group because their forces are stretched too thin.

If tensions escalated, Pakistan might again, as it did in a previous diplomatic confrontation, cut supply lines to U.S., NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan from its port city of Karachi. Alternative land or air routes are more costly and difficult.
The Pakistanis, said two U.S. intelligence officials, also might abandon secret agreements that permit unmanned U.S. drones to collect intelligence and attack targets in designated areas of Pakistan.

The U.S. already is restricted from operating over the Haqqanis’ suspected base in North Waziristan or the border city of Quetta, home to the main Afghan Taliban group. They also might expel some or all of the classified number of U.S. intelligence officers and special operations forces who are training Pakistani troops and helping target drone attacks, the officials said.

ISI Role

Designating the Haqqani network a terrorist organization would do little to stop the group, said Curtis of the Heritage Foundation. The Haqqanis, she said, probably still would be able to garner financial support from their allies in the Persian Gulf region and backing from the Pakistan spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, known as ISI.
A U.S. designation of the Haqqanis isn’t likely to change Pakistani policy either, said Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University in Washington.

The ISI and the Pakistani military regard the Haqqani network and other militants as allies in their campaign to maintain Pakistani influence in Afghanistan and prevent arch- rival India from getting a toehold on Pakistan’s western border, said Fair and other specialists.
“They believe that the Haqqanis would protect Pakistan’s interest in any future setup in Afghanistan,” Curtis said.
Rejecting the charges that his government uses the Haqqanis as a proxy, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a Sept. 25 statement that U.S. policy on Afghanistan shows “confusion and policy disarray.”

“We may just let this ride,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a former Afghanistan and Pakistan intelligence analyst at the State Department and director of the Center for Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “We know what direction the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is going, and now we have no idea what the bottom looks like.”

Pakistan’s Bitter, Little-Known Ethnic Rebellion

By Carlotta Gall for The New Times

A slim figure in a dark suit, Brahumdagh Bugti, 30, could pass for a banker in the streets of this sedate Swiss city. But in truth he is a resistance leader in exile, a player in an increasingly ugly independence war within Pakistan.

He has been on the run since 2006, when he narrowly escaped a Pakistani Army operation that killed his grandfather and dozens of his tribesmen in the southwestern province of Baluchistan. And since then, the government’s attempt to stamp out an uprising by the Baluch ethnic minority has only intensified, according to human rights organizations and Pakistani politicians.

The Baluch insurgency, which has gone on intermittently for decades, is often called Pakistan’s Dirty War, because of the rising numbers of people who have disappeared or have been killed on both sides. But it has received little attention internationally, in part because most eyes are turned toward the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal areas.

Mr. Bugti insists that he is a political leader only, and that he is not taking a role in the armed uprising against the government. He was caught up in a deadly struggle between his grandfather, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, a former minister and a leader of the Bugti tribe, and Pakistan’s military leader at the time, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, over control of Baluchistan’s rich natural resources and the establishment of military bases in the province.

Baluch nationalists have never accepted being part of Pakistan and have fought in five uprisings since the country’s formation in 1948. Their demands range from greater control over Baluchistan’s gas and natural resources, fairer distribution of wealth (Baluchistan suffers from the lowest health, education and living standards in the country), to outright independence.

When the Pakistani Army shelled their ancestral home in Dera Bugti in December 2005, Mr. Bugti took to the hills with his grandfather, who was 80 and partly disabled, and they camped for months in mountain caves. Then, in August 2006, the military caught up with them. “I escaped, but he could not,” Mr. Bugti said.

From a hide-out two miles away, he watched the military assault, a furious three-day bombardment by attack jets, helicopter gunships and airborne troops. On the evening of the third day, the government triumphantly announced that Nawab Bugti had been killed. Thirty-two tribesmen died with him, Mr. Bugti said. The day after learning of his grandfather’s death, Mr. Bugti gathered his closest tribal leaders, and they urged him to leave and save himself, he said.

Pakistan and neighboring Iran were hostile to the Baluch, and the only place to go was Afghanistan, though it was consumed by the war with the Taliban. It took 19 days, on foot, to trek from a mountain base near Sibi to the Afghan border. But he had an armed tribal force and scouts with him and made the escape without incident, crossing into Afghanistan along a mountain trail, he said.

Although he had few contacts there, tribal links and traditions of hospitality assured him a welcome. He sent for his wife, his two children — a third was born in Afghanistan — and his mother, and after an elaborate dance to confuse government watchers, they crossed the border to join him days later.

Yet Afghanistan was not a safe haven. The family moved about 18 times over the next 18 months, and despite never going outside, he said, they became the target of repeated suicide bomb attacks by the Taliban and Qaeda militants, who they believe were sent by the Pakistani military. At least one bomb attack, in the upscale residential Kabul neighborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan, was specifically aimed at Mr. Bugti, a Western diplomat and an Afghan intelligence official said.

The Pakistani government has branded Mr. Bugti a terrorist, the leader of the militant Baluch Republican Army, and has made no secret of its desire to kill or capture him. It has repeatedly demanded that Afghanistan hand him over and has accused India of supporting Baluch rebels through its consulates in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s remonstrations over Mr. Bugti became so insistent that the United States and other NATO members urged Afghanistan to move Mr. Bugti elsewhere, Western diplomats and Afghan officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the politics involved. In October 2010, he and his family arrived in Switzerland and sought political asylum.

Though Mr. Bugti says he supports only peaceful political activism rather than armed resistance, he does share the rebels’ demand for independence for the Baluch. “I support the political struggle and the idea for liberation because the Baluch people demand it,” he said.

He formed a political party shortly after his grandfather’s death, distancing himself from the established parties. The manner of his grandfather’s death, his call for political opposition to the government and his youth have won him broad support beyond his own Bugti tribe, among the educated Baluch middle class and student movements and appointed representatives in every district.

“We got a very good response from all the Baluch,” he said.

It proved to him that people in Baluchistan still hoped and believed in political change, he said. Yet government retribution was swift. Eight members of his political party in Baluchistan have been killed, five members of its central committee are missing since its formation in 2007 and the top leaders have been forced into exile. Even the party’s 76-year-old secretary general, Bashir Azeem, was detained for two months in 2009 and tortured — including being beaten and hung upside down, in a case documented by Human Rights Watch.

It is part of an increasingly deadly government crackdown on political and student nationalist leaders in the province over the last 18 months, politicians and human rights officials say. “They are trying to kill the activists, anyone who is speaking out,” Mr. Bugti said.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented a rising number of abuses by the Pakistani security forces in Baluchistan. Amnesty International describes the use of “kill and dump” tactics, under which activists, teachers, journalists and lawyers, even teenagers, have been detained and their bullet-ridden bodies dumped on roadsides at a rate of about 20 a month in recent months.

Human Rights Watch says hundreds of people have disappeared since 2005 in Baluchistan, and it has documented 45 cases of enforced disappearances and torture by Pakistani security forces in the province in 2009 and 2010. Human Rights Watch has also reported a growing trend of retaliation by armed rebels on non-Baluch settlers, including the targeted killings of 22 teachers.

Despite the end of General Musharraf’s rule and Pakistan’s return to a democratic government in 2008, military repression of the Baluch has only increased, Mr. Bugti and others say. Members of the civilian government say they have no power over the military, and the army is obsessed with crushing an uprising that it sees as an effort by India to undermine Pakistani sovereignty.

Mr. Bugti has called on the United States to end aid to the Pakistani Army, which, he said, was diverting resources from intended counterterrorism goals and using them to suppress the Baluch. “If the U.S. stopped the military and financial assistance, they could not continue their operations for long,” he said.

The increased violence has pushed the Baluch far beyond their original demands for greater autonomy and recognition of their rights and toward an armed independence movement. “Ninety-nine percent of the Baluch now want liberation,” Mr. Bugti said.

“The people are more angry and they will go to the side of those using violence, because if you close all the peaceful ways of struggle, and you kidnap the peaceful, political activists, and torture them to death and throw their bodies on roadsides, then definitely they will go and join the armed resistance groups,” he said.

He sees little hope of change from within Pakistan and seeks intervention by the United Nations and Western nations. “We have to struggle hard, maybe for 1 year, 2 years, 20 years,” he said. “We have to hope.”

Arab Spring Hardening Into Summer of Stalemates

As Reported by USA Today

Among the protest banners in Cairo’s Tahrir Square was a hand-drawn map of the Arab Spring with black target symbols covering each country hit by anti-government uprisings since the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were ousted earlier this year.

A rebel fighter walks in a old and abandoned Catholic Church used by Gadhafi forces as a military camp near Misrata, Libya, on May 25.
But the bull’s-eyes could easily be replaced with question marks as the groundswell for change has splintered into scattered and indecisive conflicts that have left thousands dead and Western policymakers juggling roles from NATO airstrikes in Libya to worried bystanders in Syria and Yemen.
The stalemates could shift into a deeper holding pattern in August during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when the pace of daily life traditionally slows as the Islamic world observes a dawn-to-dusk fast and other customs such as temporary truces.

It’s a huge and traumatic undertaking to shove aside regimes with decades in power — and sway over nearly every decision down to who gets hired as street sweeper. Iran did it with the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein cleaned the slate for Iraq and ushered in years of near civil war.

But no such wholesale change appears in the pipeline with the present revolts. That has raised concern that even if the leaders fall, the pillars of the regimes could survive, as happened when military rulers took temporary control after Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
“Half revolution doesn’t work,” a headline last week in Egypt’s Al-Ahram Al-Massai newspaper said after demonstrators returned to Tahrir Square to press for swifter political reforms and bolder legal action against officials from Mubarak’s regime who were accused of corruption and killing protesters.

But even a halfway mark appears farther along than most of the rebellions against the Mideast’s old guard. Cores of loyal security forces in Yemen and Syria keep the regimes hanging on despite relentless protests. In Libya, Moammar Gadhafi could face a moment of truth as rebels press closer to the capital Tripoli and NATO warplanes hammer military sites, yet the anti-Gadhafi militias have no clear leader to prevent possible power grabs to control the country’s oil riches if he is ousted.

The country where the Arab Spring began, Tunisia, has been shaken by unrest — including a rise in ultraconservative Islamists — ahead of planned elections in October to elect an assembly that will write a new constitution. Some political groups are urging further delays in the election to give new parties a chance to organize.

Egypt, meanwhile, is questioning when — or if — the ruling military council will surrender power. The caretaker rulers effectively announced a delay of the elections on Tuesday when they said preparations for the vote would start Sept. 30.

“Bring down the military junta,” chanted some of the 30,000 protesters Tuesday in Tahrir Square. Hours later, the military made clear its patience was wearing thin — with Maj. Gen. Mohsen el-Fangari wagging his finger and warning protesters against “harming national interests.”

Mubarak is under arrest and faces trial next month over the deaths of nearly 900 protesters in the uprising that ended his 29-year-rule in February. In a transcript of his interrogation published by two newspapers Thursday, he claimed to have had no control over security forces who attacked demonstrators.

“No one would have paid any attention to me or my orders,” he said when asked why he did not stop the violence. He claimed he gave clear orders that no force be used against the protesters, and blamed top aides for keeping him in the dark about the gravity of the protests that led to his downfall.
Only in tiny Bahrain have authorities apparently tipped the scales clearly in their favor. Security forces — aided by Saudi-led reinforcements — smothered an uprising by the kingdom’s majority Shiites seeking greater rights from the Sunni rulers. A so-called “national dialogue” began this month, but it’s unlikely that the 200-year-old ruling dynasty will give up any significant hold on power and may need a heavy hand to keep Shiite-led protests from reigniting.

“It’s not over, but we are in an ugly situation now,” said Christopher Davidson, a lecturer on Middle East and Gulf affairs at Britain’s Durham University.

That’s why the definition of the Arab Spring is increasingly being stretched. It’s both about the current showdowns and the long-term spillover. The upheavals — supercharged by the instant communications of the Web — have given the region a crash course in the clout of the streets. The view from the top is suddenly less comfortable.

Even monarchs have acted swiftly after relatively small-scale clamor. Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said promised 50,000 new civil servant posts and allocated $2.6 billion for job programs. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has set in motion plans for an elected government in coming years.
In the tightly ruled United Arab Emirates, officials have opened the vaults to fund development programs in poorer regions outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi and plan to expand voting rights in September’s balloting for a federal advisory council. It’s been trumpeted as a “great leap” for democracy in a country that jailed five activists just for posting Internet appeals to form a true parliament.

“No matter what happens, countries gripped or just touched by the Arab Spring will never go back to what they were,” said Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That leads to the bigger question: How deep can the changes go?
Syrian protesters, for example, know that even if President Bashar Assad falls, the underpinnings such as the rank-and-file military and public works staff cannot be purged as well without sending the country into a tailspin.

Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the anti-Assad Local Coordination Committees, which track the protests in Syria, said the opposition has no plans to dissolve the army or even the ruling Baath Party if he is overthrown but will seek to weaken the powers of security agencies. “At the beginning of the uprising when we chanted, ‘the people want to bring down the regime,’ we did not mean President Assad, but the security agencies that interfere in everything from a marriage certificate to the opening of a shop,” said Idilbi, who is based in Beirut.

Yemen’s president isn’t even in the country, yet his regime fights on. A blast last month sent Ali Abdullah Saleh to Saudi Arabia for extensive medical treatment, including more than eight operations. But his son, Ahmed, kept the regime’s crucial Republican Guards forces intact.
Washington believes no credible alternative exists for the current regime as an ally to fight Yemen’s al-Qaida affiliate, which has been declared a major threat to U.S. interests. But President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, has urged Saleh to accept a proposal that would transfer power to his vice president in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

“The current crisis showed that neither side can win,” said Ahmed Obeid bin Dagher, the deputy secretary general of the ruling party. “If there is no national consensus through dialogue, then al-Qaida will be the alternative.” Jordan-based political analyst Labib Khamhawi sees such calls by regime insiders as bids for survival: Protect the system, not necessarily the leader.

“I think it will be very difficult to imagine that the Libyan, Yemeni or Syrian presidents will remain in power,” he said. “The faces will be changed, but the system might continue to exist.” Among the kings and sheiks in the Gulf, however, there’s not even room for those concessions.
The region’s anchor power, Saudi Arabia, which has not seen protests take off, is staking out a role as “sort of the Arab Spring counterrevolution,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar.

“The Arab Spring revolutions may have their moments of self-doubt or seem stalled at times, but they are authentic expressions for change and, to use an overused phrase, on the right side of history,” said Hamid. “What began in Tunisia and Egypt is a long, long way from being finished.”

In Pakistan, Truck Decoration a High-Octane Art Movement

By James Parchman for The New York Times

MURIDKE, Pakistan — Here on the historic Grand Trunk Road, some 40 miles north of Lahore and a few hours south of the former bin Laden hideout of Abbottabad, a mosque’s call to Friday afternoon prayers was overwhelmed by Pakistani pop music spilling from open-air markets. The barks of bus conductors calling out destinations added to the din.

The passing parade of motorized rickshaws, farm tractors, buses and highway cargo trucks looked as if a re-enactment of ’60s peaceniks making the pilgrimage to Woodstock might be under way. A panorama of red, yellow and green, mixed with plastic whirligigs, polished mahogany doors and gleaming stainless steel cover plates, was a magical sight for a visitor with a love for anything on wheels.

It was not only the variety of vehicles — all are common across South Asia — that elicited this reaction, or even their Partridge-Family-meets-Ken-Kesey color schemes. Rather, it was the fascinating quantity and surrealistic detail of their decoration, unlike anything I’d seen in my travels around the world.

A deeper understanding of the origins and meanings of the decoration craft was gained over days of mingling with the truck drivers and the owners of decorating shops in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.

Karachi, situated on the Arabian Sea, is Pakistan’s major seaport. It is also the cargo hub of the country, and with 13 million people has a great many local and intercity buses. As such, the city supports a considerable customizing industry: When Saudi Aramco World magazine published an article about the trade in 2005, more than 50,000 people in Karachi were said to be employed decorating buses and trucks.

What I found at the Pakistani workshops was a pride of design and a willingness to answer questions — and to show off their creations to a former long-haul trucker.

Sparing no expense

At a driver’s cafe near Karachi’s 3-mile-long International Truck Yard (where I turned down an offer of boiled camel meat and cow-leg soup) workers took me by the hand to the shop of Masallah the truck decorator. My Dockers and Rockports were as out of place as their long-shirted, working-class shalwar kameez outfits and leather sandals, called chappals, would have been in one of New York City’s outer boroughs.

But my full beard may have helped in gaining their confidence and a look inside their truck cabs. Government safety agencies equivalent to OSHA were nowhere to be seen in the truck yards, and workers, many of whom were children of the owners, were being showered with sparks from their grinders and cutting torches.

Many of the trucks being outfitted at Masallah’s carried identification plates from Balochistan province. Their owners were prospering thanks to a steady demand for hauling loaded sea containers from Karachi’s port to landlocked Afghanistan. Their cargo, typically including supplies for U.S. and NATO military operations, make a trip of 500 miles by the southern route to Kandahar or 1,200 miles by a northern route to Kabul.

Pakistani truck owners can easily spend more on their trucks than on their homes. One driver from the Gwadar area of Balochistan told me he had just bought a Hino truck chassis for the equivalent of $35,000 and brought it straight to Masallah’s workshop. There he might spend another $25,000 for its body, paint and decoration. During the several weeks required to complete the work, he would sleep inside or under the truck, on his bedroll.

Adding decorative touches like ribbons, spinners, flags and polished steel cutouts in the shape of animals to a small bus costs an owner at least $800. This is considered an advertising expense; a highly decorated bus is usually the first choice of customers when there are several options.

Nissan and Hino tandem-axle trucks of the flat-front cabover design, many assembled in Pakistan, are the popular choices for cargo-haulers today, replacing the revered Vauxhall Bedford, a British model with a traditional cab. The Bedford was the mainstay of Pakistan’s cargo network since the early days of Pakistan’s independence.

The Bedford is still prized for its sturdy chassis and ability to continuously haul outsize loads. Many have bodywork with a high-crowned front prow, which lends itself to decoration and gives the truck the look of a sailing ship.

As is the case in the United States, offering a sharply decorated truck can be a powerful incentive for recruiting drivers. Pakistani bus and truck owners usually allow their drivers, whose average wages are about $75 a month, to work out their own designs in conjunction with the owner of the decoration shop.

Big business

Predictably, mass production has changed the business over the years. Adornments are no longer exclusively handmade.

“Pakistani buses were originally decorated using carved woodwork and individual paintings,” said Kurram Awan, the owner of a small shop of truck-decorating supplies in Lahore.

“Now, my shop sells over 1,000 different items, including braids, reflectors, flashing lights and antennas,” he said.

He added that the Pashtun drivers (Pashto speakers from the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan) spent the most on decorations.

Durriya Kazi, an artist and teacher in Karachi, has long been a proponent of Pakistan’s folk art. She sees bus and truck decorating as an integral part of that tradition, noting the importance of distinguishing between sculpture as defined by the art gallery and the rich activity of actually making things that exists all over Pakistan.

In 2006, Kazi was instrumental in a program intended to spread Pakistan’s bus decoration skills to Melbourne, Australia, where a tram was transformed into a replica of a minibus used on Karachi’s W-11 route, resplendent in all its finery.

Another Pakistani with expertise in the subject is Jamal Elias of the University of Pennsylvania, a professor and the author of “On Wings of Diesel: Trucks, Identity and Culture in Pakistan” (Oneworld, 2011). His book explores the tradition of Pakistani truck decoration, and looks deeper into the “nature of response to religious imagery in popular Islamic culture.”

In an e-mail, Elias said that the creative inputs of decorators included several major themes, which could be combined across the cab and body of the truck or bus. These include Islamic religious images like the horse of Muhammad and depictions of the mosques at Mecca.

Other possibilities include images of a fish, representing good fortune, or the elegant eyes of a woman, representing beauty.

The End of AfPak

By Scott Malcomson for The New York Times

Remember how after 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s attacks on us could be linked to almost anything, from shopping habits to the rediscovery of Western values to carbon-pricing schemes? Something similar appears to be happening with Bin Laden’s death. Jihadism sure isn’t what it used to be. After 10 years, it seems, the time has come to go home. Troops are and will be coming back to the United States from Iraq and Afghanistan. The military budget will be cut. The outgoing secretary of defense feels able to openly mock NATO because, presumably, he thinks he can afford to — because it doesn’t matter all that much. The global war on terror is being downgraded from Armageddon to something more out of Leviticus: a tricked-out police action, just as John Kerry, in this magazine, always said it should be. On Sunday, Helene Cooper and Mark Landler reported that “American success in the counterterrorism campaign would seem to bolster arguments for a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan.” By Tuesday morning, they were reporting that President Obama would announce his withdrawal plans on Wednesday. Meanwhile, a Harris poll revealed that 51 percent of Americans and 54 percent of Britons believed “the death of Bin Laden meant it was time to bring troops from their countries home.”

That isn’t quite how it looked when I was in Washington a few weeks ago and spoke with about a dozen current and former American officials and with Pakistanis. The impression they each gave was that American withdrawal would be speeded not because of Bin Laden’s death but because of Pakistan’s reaction to it. After the initial shock, Pakistan’s (government-influenced) press latched onto a narrative of “national humiliation” as a result of the American raid, rather than, say, one of jubilation at the demise of a killer whose fantasies have brought Pakistan nothing but misery. A younger generation of military officers — Pakistan is dominated by its military — seemed at times about to revolt in reaction to the insult to Pakistan’s sovereignty. And the Inter Services Intelligence (I.S.I.), Pakistan’s ubiquitous military intelligence outfit, reacted, as was subsequently reported, by scouring the neighborhood around Bin Laden’s house for … evidence of how the C.I.A. found out he was there, and to determine who had been helping the Americans.

Finally, the Pakistan government did not respond to the Bin Laden raid by pressing its new advantage and rolling up terrorist networks across the land. No, it did not do that at all. So Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, went to Islamabad and on May 27 presented a list of demands. These included the arrest or elimination of Ayman al-Zawahiri (of Al Qaeda), Ilyas Kashmiri (a long-sought semi-free-agent and former Pakistani military man), Sirajuddin Haqqani (of the AfPak-border based Haqqani network) and Atiya Abdur Rahman (Al Qaeda), and the shutting down of bomb factories in Pakistan.

By June 3, Kashmiri was dead. But this promising start now seems isolated. The other wanted men are still at large. The bomb-makers might well be getting tipped off. The revolt by younger Pakistani officers seemed only to get worse.

In short, the U.S. and Pakistan are really not getting along. Among members of Congress, beating up Pakistan has become ritualized; Senators McCain and Rogers were doing it again on the Sunday programs. I wondered: How many times can Pakistan be abandoned? As Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer and the head of President Obama’s first major AfPak review, shows in his excellent new book, “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Islamist Jihad,” embrace and abandonment have formed the pattern of American-Pakistani relations since the majority-Muslim nation was formed out of the breakup of British India in 1947. Harry Truman’s lack of interest yielded to Dwight Eisenhower’s enthusiasm for Pakistan as an anti-Communist bulwark and a base for spying on the Soviets. The relationship was and remained built around security and intelligence. Lyndon Johnson reversed course when India and Pakistan went to war in 1965; he cut off both, but Pakistan had, unlike India, been a strong ally, and it felt betrayed. This set the pattern: ultimately, Pakistan was tactical and India was strategic.

Now, after almost 10 years of intense engagement, Pakistan and the U.S. appear set for another split; at least that was the consensus among the officials I spoke with. There was a pervasive sadness in these conversations. It was due in part to the sheer human effort that has gone into the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. A lot of spies and soldiers and diplomats and politicians have put years of their lives into making “AfPak” work, which requires making Pak work. A lot (not all) of that effort seems to be going down the drain, along with much of the billions of taxpayer dollars that financed it.

There is also personal sadness in that the AfPak effort was associated toward the end with Richard Holbrooke, whose death late last year brought the foreign-policy world up short. Holbrooke did not take great care of himself, so objectively his death could not be entirely a surprise, and among people over 70 the reactions I heard were more of the well-what-did-you-expect variety. But in the 35-to-65 range it was different. Holbrooke represented, very attractively, the assertion of youth and hope against experience. Even at 69 he had a distinct eagerness, even boyishness, alongside the baritone gravitas. He attracted bright young people. He could be young and old at the same time. Once he was gone, that sort of generational bridging disappeared. (Older figures are few in this administration.) The sense of continuity (as well as of optimism) is weakening. There’s something missing now.

There was also a sense of ideological loss of direction. For all their differences, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush shared a tangible optimism about American governmental involvement abroad. President Obama is different, and even if he weren’t the national mood is. The people’s representatives in Congress are vying to bring troops home faster, and if there is an internationalist remaining in the House he or she is keeping quiet. The Republican candidates for president seem to have settled on anti-war isolationism as a winning position. Obama’s great strength in foreign policy — his ability to repackage, and optimize, American power in a multipolar world — is the strategy that dare not speak its name, or it will bring accusations of “declinism.”

Finally, there is the tremendous sadness of Pakistan itself. The country doesn’t have enough water. It lacks the electricity to develop its industries. Literacy, by some reckonings, is actually declining. Democracy has been restored but the government is hardly stable. The one truly semi-stable institution, the military, is struggling against itself, just as Pakistanis are dividing, and attacking each other on an increasing scale (which is saying something).

But, in a way, the saddest thing of all, from a foreign-policy point of view — Pakistani or American — is that the one great card Pakistan has to play is to make itself a problem. Pakistan formed itself into a regional player through building its army, running terrorist proxies in Kashmir and Afghanistan, indulging in enough Islamist millenarianism to make itself frightening, and developing nuclear weapons. None of these strategies have a good future. But in the absence of a long-term committed relationship — what Holbrooke promoted as a “strategic partnership” — with the United States or, perhaps, with China, Pakistan is left with fear as its most successful export.

There was some discussion in Washington as to whether Mullah Omar’s name was on that list that Clinton and Mullen presented in Islamabad. It almost doesn’t matter. The doubt itself is the message: Pakistan stays valuable because it has terrorist “ties” or “links” or “proxies” or whatever. As national existential dilemmas go, Pakistan’s is particularly nightmarish. The U.S. will leave them to it — abandonment again — and choose the happier relationship with India. Secretary Clinton will be at the regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in late July, helping to take her longtime initiative of eastward Indian engagement, and the integration of the United States into East Asian political structures, to a new level. This is part of a long-term strategy of accommodating the rise of China and of India.

And Pakistan, after 10 years, will be left behind; as the line in Washington goes, “There is no good solution.”

All Confused On the Western Front: NATO and Libya’s Rebels Don’t Jibe

By Steven Sotloff for TIME

“Where is NATO?” the rebel asks, with no small amount of frustration. It is just after midnight, Friday, June 17, and he is holed up in Dafniyah, a hamlet west of the revolutionary enclave of Misratah on the coast of western Libya. Like all the fighters in the dry fields outside the rebel city, Ashrf Ali, 30, had anticipated that the military alliance would launch a bombing campaign in the early hours of the morning last Friday, hitting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s troops to allow the rebels to push further inland. Instead, NATO planes have merely buzzed the sky in routine reconnaissance and patrol sorties, leaving Ali and his fellow fighters unable to advance.

Throughout parts of Libya under rebel control, people are frustrated with NATO. Between its slow pace of attacks and the errant strikes that have killed rebel fighters, the speculation now is that the Western coalition lacks the resources and resolve to help the rebels topple Gaddafi.

The chief problem plaguing both NATO and the rebels is lack of coordination. Rebel leaders complain that they must jump through hoops to reach NATO officials. Field commanders requesting air strikes and relaying troop movements have no direct communication with the alliance’s military command in the region, much less headquarters in Brussels, which must issue the ultimate orders. Instead, they call their senior officers via satellite phone at a rebel command center in Benghazi. The officers then relay the information to NATO officials in the same building, who only then contact Brussels. The byzantine process squanders valuable time in a war where seconds are precious.

Unable to order airstrikes, rebels in the field are forced to wait for unannounced NATO bombings before they can advance. “I never know what to tell my fighters,” says Sa’adun Zuwayhli, 29, a field commander in Dafniyah, which is how far the rebels have advanced out of Misratah in their excruciatingly slow advance toward Gaddafi’s capital Tripoli. “Advance, retreat, hold — they are all guesses until we see the bombs from NATO,” he laments.

The rebels never know when NATO will fly in to their rescue. During a fierce offensive by Gaddafi’s forces between June 7 and June 10, one that left more than 70 rebel dead under a barrage of long-range Grad rockets, the soldiers of “Free Libya” waited for a NATO counterattack that never materialized. The coalition’s failure to defend the rebels angered their commanders. “NATO is to be blamed for Friday’s deaths,” Misratah’s military council spokesman Ibrahim Bayt al-Mal told journalists. The alliance’s officials have responded to such comments in the past by noting that their mandate extends only to protecting civilians, not toppling Gaddafi.

The lack of direct communication between the two sides has left NATO unable to differentiate between Gaddafi’s forces and rebel fighters, leading to friendly fire incidents in which rebels were attacked. In April, two errant bombings in the rebel-held areas killed at least 20. Last Saturday, NATO mistakenly targeted a rebel convoy in which at least four were injured. The coalition immediately released a statement explaining that “a particularly complex and fluid battle scenario” led it to believe that the rebel column was a Gaddafi battalion because his forces “had recently been operating” in the area. All three attacks occurred in the area between the cities of Ajdabiyah and Brega in eastern Libya.

NATO’s explanation, though, did not satisfy rebel leaders. “We are upset when civilians die,” explained the rebel’s military spokesman in Benghazi Ahmad Bani. Libyans in Misratah were even blunter. “We are fighting against a dictator with advanced weapons. We can’t be fighting NATO as well,” says Khalid Elaas, 39. “They need to figure out how to run this campaign or the people will be burning pictures of NATO leaders next to those of Gaddafi’s.”

NATO’s actions have left Misratah’s rebels not only angry, but puzzled as well. After the military alliance introduced helicopters last week for the first time, it dropped illustrated Arabic leaflets declaring, “NATO forces will take all the steps necessary to destroy the war instruments that threaten civilians.” But instead of reaching their intended targets, the leaflets landed in rebel held positions, leaving the fighters there perplexed.

Confusion is the least of the rebels’ worries. By the time the sun rises on Friday, Ashrf Ali is exasperated, having waited all night for an offensive that never materialized. “If NATO does not get its act together, this war is never going to end,” he complains, as he heads for a nearby canvas tent to get some sleep.

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.

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.

More Military Aid to Pakistan?

By Aaron Mannes, Rennie Silva and V.S. Subrahmanian for The Huffington Post

As part of the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, the United States has granted Pakistan over $2 billion in military equipment over the next five years. This aid is intended to support American policy objectives and help stabilize Pakistan, but it may be achieving the opposite.

Military aid for Pakistan has a clear, if narrow, logic: to ensure the supply lines for the 100,000 American and NATO ally troops deployed to landlocked Afghanistan. The United States has few viable alternatives to the Pakistani-controlled routes into Afghanistan. When Pakistan recently shut down the Torkham crossing into Afghanistan (after an accidental border clash with a NATO helicopter that left two Pakistani soldiers dead and four wounded), supply trucks backed-up and Pakistani Taliban set fire to over 100 vehicles. Though there was no immediate danger of shortages, the event signaled how difficult US-led operations in Afghanistan could become without support from Pakistan’s military.

Despite its indispensable role in the war in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s own stability is in doubt and military aid has been of limited utility. Since 9/11 the United States has delivered over $18 billion in aid to Pakistan, about two-thirds of which has been military. In that period, violence by Pakistan-based terrorists both within Pakistan and without has increased substantially. According to the National Counter Terror Center’s World Incidents Tracking System, 110 Pakistanis were killed in terror attacks in 2004. By 2007 that number had jumped to 400, and in 2008 the casualty figure more than doubled to nearly 900.

As illustrated by the recent bombing of the Criminal Investigation Building in Karachi which killed 20, American aid has not enabled Pakistan’s security forces to control the violence. Instead, Pakistan has become a base for terrorism not only targeting the Pakistani state but also India, as demonstrated by the 2008 Mumbai massacre and a deadly series of 2006 commuter train bombings in Mumbai which killed over 200 people. India’s response to these attacks has been muted, but its restraint is finite. Open hostilities with its neighbor to the east would be devastating for Pakistan, and could even trigger a nuclear exchange.

Although several thousand Pakistani soldiers have died fighting Islamist extremists, the Pakistani security establishment has been slow to adopt counter-insurgency methods of war fighting. Instead, it has preferred to continue its India-centric focus. Investigations of U.S. military aid intended to help Pakistan fight the Taliban find that it is often re-purposed to counter India. “I’ll be the first to admit, I’m India-centric” Pakistani army chief of staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told Bob Woodward in his latest book, revealing a long-term strategy that is at odds with US interests.

Pakistan’s ongoing use of Islamist terrorists as proxies against India is especially troubling. President Zardari, who has stated “the undeclared policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hound was abandoned,” claims that Pakistan has turned against Islamist militants. But Pakistan’s generals have not received the memo, as investigations into the Mumbai attack show that links between at least some elements of the ISI and Lashkar-e-Taiba continue.

Pakistan has pursued some Taliban forces in its tribal areas, while leaving others alone to support future Pakistani interests in neighboring Afghanistan. Under such circumstances, America’s military aid is at best fueling Pakistan’s longstanding rivalry with India, and at worst enabling its enemies.

Pakistan’s high defense spending has robbed critical social programs of necessary resources. Pakistan continues lag behind comparable countries in general development indicators such as literacy and infant mortality, while its infrastructure is stretched to keep up with the needs of its fast-growing population. Under-funded and corrupt government institutions compound the situation. As Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders cynically seek to distract the public from these shortcomings, it is little surprise that Islamist groups often fill the vacuum by providing critical services or that the Pakistani people increasingly fall under their spell.

The long-term development shortfalls of Pakistan’s government have been exacerbated by a series of disasters including the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2008 economic crisis, and last summer’s massive flooding. The latter, which caused nearly $10 billion in damage, has created millions of refugees and devastated an irrigation system that was strained to meet the demands of Pakistan’s agricultural sector before the flooding. Today, its failure threatens to cripple a vital sector of the Pakistani economy for years to come.

American development aid cannot counter decades of Pakistani neglect, but it can play a productive role in addressing critical needs. Providing Pakistan with more military capability-capability that could contribute to regional instability if it is used on American allies-is unlikely to achieve either.

How to Win Back Pakistan

By Michael O’Hanlon for Foreign Policy

Nine years into the war in Afghanistan, the United States should have a clear idea of Pakistan’s interests there. It’s time to take these lessons to heart — and start applying the right incentives. As recent intelligence findings reported in late October confirm, Pakistan remains at the heart of the U.S.-led coalition’s problems in Afghanistan — where the war is hardly lost, yet hardly headed for clear victory either. Indeed, Pakistan arguably remains the most complex ally the United States has ever had in wartime, making President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s challenges in dealing with Stalin (a far worse leader, but at least one who knew the outcome he wanted) seem simple by comparison.

Nine years into the campaign, we still can’t clearly answer the question of whether Pakistan is with us or against us. America needs bold new policy measures to help Islamabad — in all its many dimensions and factions — make up its mind.

The crux of the problem is this: Despite allowing massive NATO logistics operations through its territory and helping the United States pursue al Qaeda operatives, Pakistan tolerates sanctuaries on its soil for the major insurgencies fighting in Afghanistan. These include the Afghan Taliban (otherwise known as the Quetta Shura Taliban because its principle base remains in Quetta in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan) as well as the Haqqani and Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin (HiG) networks. The Haqqanis straddle the border between the Afghan provinces of Khost, Paktia, and Paktika as well as North Waziristan and other tribal areas within Pakistan; HiG is further north, operating in and around the Khyber Pass connecting Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan with Peshawar and points east in Pakistan. Thus, all three major Afghan insurgent groups have home bases in Pakistan, and despite the occasional drone strike are generally beyond NATO’s reach as a result.

Pakistan has done some worthy things against extremists in its remote northern and western areas in recent years. Specifically, it has recognized the so-called Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP) as a mortal threat to the Pakistani state and responded accordingly. After suffering hundreds of bombings and assassination attacks by the TTP, including the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 2007 and several thousand casualties a year to its troops and citizens since roughly that time, it has responded in force, particularly over the last year and a half or so. It has swung about 100,000 troops previously guarding the border with Pakistan’s nemesis India to the northwestern tribal regions and cleared several major areas including South Waziristan, Bajaur, and the Swat Valley. This is all to the good.

Pakistanis argue, however, that limited numbers of ground troops combined with the past year’s admittedly devastating floods prevent them from doing more. Quetta, North Waziristan, and other key places remain dens of iniquity, havens for extremists who continue to attack NATO and Afghan troops across the border and then return home for rest, regrouping, and fresh recruiting. Major command-and-control hubs are permanently located within Pakistan as well, and key insurgent leaders like Mullah Omar (to say nothing of Osama bin Laden) probably remain safely ensconced on Pakistani territory where U.S. forces cannot get at them.

But even if limited Pakistani capacity is part of the problem, there’s more at stake. Pakistan worries that President Barack Obama’s promise to start reducing U.S. troops in Afghanistan come July will lead to anarchy and civil conflict next door, and it is retaining proxies that it can use to ensure that its top goal in Afghanistan — keeping India out — can be accomplished come what may. Pakistan would rather have the Taliban and the Haqqanis back in power, especially in the country’s south and east, than any group like the former Northern Alliance, which it views as too close to New Delhi. It is this strategic calculation, more than constrained Pakistani resources, that constitutes Obama’s main challenge in Afghanistan. And it could cost him the war.

Under these circumstances, part of the right policy is to keep doing more of what the Obama administration has been doing with Pakistan — building trust, as with last month’s strategic dialogue in Washington; increasing aid incrementally, as with the new five-year $2 billion aid package announced during that dialogue; and coordinating militarily across the border region. But Obama also needs to think bigger.

First, he needs to make clear America’s commitment to South Asia, to wean Pakistan away from its current hedging strategy. Obama has frequently used general language to try to reassure listeners in the region that there will be no precipitous U.S. withdrawal next summer. But few fully believe him. Hearing stories like Bob Woodward’s accounts of how the vice president and White House advisors have generally opposed a robust counterinsurgency strategy in favor of a counterterrorism-oriented operation with far fewer U.S. troops, they worry that next summer’s withdrawal will be fast. Obama needs to explain that he will not revert to such a minimalist “Plan B” approach under any imaginable circumstances. More appropriate would be a “Plan A-minus” that involves a gradual NATO troop drawdown as Afghan forces grow in number and capability, without necessarily first stabilizing the entire south and east, should the current strategy not turn around the violence by next summer or so. This would represent a modification to the current plan rather than a radical departure. The president can find a way to signal that this is in fact his own thinking, sooner rather than later — ideally before the year is out.

Second, Obama should offer Islamabad a much more expansive U.S.-Pakistani relationship if it helps win this war. Two major incentives would have particular appeal to Pakistan. One is a civilian nuclear energy deal like that being provided to India; Pakistan’s progress on export controls in the wake of the A.Q. Khan debacle has been good enough so far to allow a provisional approval of such a deal if other things fall into place as well. Second is a free trade accord. Struggling economically, Pakistan needs such a shot in the arm, and a trade deal could arguably do even more than aid at this point.

But the key point is this: Pakistan should be told that these deals will only be possible if the United States and its allies prevail in Afghanistan. Small gestures of greater helpfulness are not adequate; bottom-line results are what count and what are needed. If Afghanistan turns around in a year or two, the deals can be set in motion and implemented over a longer period that will allow the United States to continually monitor subsequent Pakistani cooperation in the war.

It may seem harsh to Pakistan that America would put things in such stark terms — but in fact, it is not realistic that any U.S. president or Congress would carry out such deals if the United States loses the war in Afghanistan partly due to Pakistani perfidy. As such, these terms are really just common sense, and they are based on political realism about America’s domestic politics as well as its strategic interests.

America’s current strategy for the war in Afghanistan is much improved. But it is not yet sound enough to point clearly toward victory. The most crucial problem is the role of Pakistan in the war, and so far, the Obama administration is not thinking creatively enough about how to fix it.

Deadly Bombings in Pakistan Target Mosques, Killing More Than 70 Worshippers

By Owais Tohid for The Christian Science Monitor

Two deadly bombings today in Pakistan targeted mosques and killed more than 70 worshipers, following an increasingly deadly pattern of Pakistani Taliban attacks on tribes that dare to defy its influence.

In the town of Dara Adam Khel, in Pakistan’s northwest territory, a young suicide bomber detonated his load amid 300 worshipers during Friday prayers. He killed at least 67 people and injured more than 100.

On Friday evening, four grenades were hurled inside a mosque in the Suleman Khel village, which is on the outskirts of Khyber tribal region. The blasts killed at least four people.

The bombing in Dara Adam Khel appeared to be targeting the Akhoorwaal tribe because it has been resisting Taliban expansion. Pakistani Taliban claimed the responsibility.

“There is no right for traitors of mujahids and Islam to live,” read a message from the Taliban, quoting notorious leader Tariq Afridi. Mr. Afridi is the commander of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is commonly known as the Pakistani Taliban and is linked with Al Qaeda.

The attack was seemingly designed for maximum impact, as the bomb was detonated in the middle of Friday prayers, and combined two increasingly common Taliban targets: the mosque and the jirga (council of tribal elders). The targeted mosque was inside the hujra, or congregation spot, of the tribal council leader.

The suicide attack was one of the deadliest in series of attacks by Al Qaeda and Taliban across Pakistan in which hundreds of people have lost their lives this year.

Taliban commanders are trying desperately to strengthen their hold across the region, say analysts. The US continues drone attacks on the semi-autonomous tribal region of North Waziristan along Pakistan-Afghanistan border while pressuring Pakistan to increase operations there. What’s more, Pakistani security forces are ramping up operations in other tribal regions.

The bombing was meant to “terrorize tribesmen,” says Brig. Mehmood Shah (ret.), a Peshawar-based analyst. “Taliban want to control the region so they are targeting locals who have raised voice against them. They want to eliminate the dissent,” he says.

“It is the worst revenge tactic and showing that they are desperate and weakened,” says Mr. Shah.

Dara Adam Khel lies about 31 miles south of Peshawar and links Orakzai and Khyber tribal region in the west through a hilly terrain. Pakistan’s security forces have been pounding the area with bombs in a bid to rout militants in the ongoing operation. The forces have also been going after them in Khyber region where the militants attack NATO supply convoys.


Eyewitnesses of the mosque attack described the moments before the blast occurred.

“I saw a young boy walking toward the worshipers. The moment he raised his arms, he exploded,” says Mohammad Nasir.

The attack triggered terror alerts and warnings for additional attacks by Taliban across the country, especially in the northwest.

“It’s a cowardly act. The terrorists might try to carry out more attacks but we are not afraid,” says Provincial Minister Mian Iftikhar, whose only son was assassinated by the Taliban three months ago. “It’s a long battle against terrorists and extremists. They can be defeated once we remain united.”

“The US, Afghanistan, and Pakistan should have to continue to wage war to eliminate terrorism,” he says.

In Dara Adam Khel, members of the Akhoorwaal tribe vowed to continue fighting the Taliban.

“We will not let the sacrifices of our tribesmen be in vain. We won’t let them convert our future generation into terrorists and destabilize the country. We will start mobilizing other tribes in our war against terrorists,” says tribesman Javed Ur Rehman Akhoorwaal.

Pakistan Looks Ahead to End of Afghan War

By Olivia Ward for The Toronto Star

As NATO forces prepare to pull out of Afghanistan, worries about the country falling back to Taliban control are paramount. But in neighbouring Pakistan, where suicide bombings and brazen attacks on security forces have become regular occurrences, the stakes are also high.

“What happens in Afghanistan affects us and vice-versa,” says Akbar Zeb, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada. “We have four million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan, and it’s in our interest to have a stable country where we can send them back. A Taliban takeover won’t be just detrimental to Afghanistan. It would harm Pakistan and the whole region.”

Zeb said that under the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, relations have improved with Afghanistan, and contrary to reports of friction, there are “frequent contacts” between the two countries that would be helpful in creating stability.

But he added that Canada, and other Western countries, should not repeat the mistakes of the post-Soviet era, when the West lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew.

During the rule of Pakistan’s military leader, President Pervez Musharraf, groups of Taliban-linked militants got a foothold in Pakistan, but were not seen as a danger to the country until internal attacks began to spread. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and suicide bombings took the lives of hundreds of civilians. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military began a massive campaign against the Taliban along the Afghan border.

“We have managed to clear a lot of areas from the Taliban,” said Zeb. “Military campaigns are the only language they understand. But they alone won’t help to win the war. We have border regions with a lot of poverty, and backward elements that have been ignored for a long time.”

Canada has announced support for road and rail projects linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to speed trade between the two countries.

“It’s a very good initiative, but scope is limited,” said Zeb.”We wish the projects were larger and not just (confined to) those that involve both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Talks with Islamabad are also ongoing on the use of ports in Karachi for shipping out Canadian troops and military supplies from Afghanistan.

But as the war continues, Pakistan has also been urged to be tougher on the Taliban. In the past two years it has carried out attacks against the militants in its border regions with some success, while American-launched drone strikes have killed high-ranking Taliban. The catastrophic floods that wiped out some of the most important agricultural areas of Pakistan brought a temporary truce, but militant attacks have resumed since the waters receded.

Last week, talk of a peace deal between the notorious Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and an opposing tribe in the remote northwest raised fears that it could open the way for Taliban access to strategic border areas. But the U.S. has also urged a Pakistani offensive against the network in North Waziristan, a volatile region where 400,000 civilians are vulnerable to displacement.

According to Pakistani officials, the country has lost some 7,000 security forces in a decade of fighting the militants — more than three times the coalition deaths in Afghanistan. Meanwhile 30,000 Pakistani civilians have died. The border region, a tangle of mutually hostile tribes, remains a haven for militants.

“It’s a difficult balance for Pakistan,” said Zeb. “Foreign troops may leave, and for them Afghanistan is a distant land. We’re Afghanistan’s neighbours. We helped with the fighting in the decade-long war against the Soviets. And we have to live with the outcome of this war.”

The Pakistan Paradox

By Bret Stephens for The Wall Street Journal

Any serious observer of the war in Afghanistan will tell you that we can’t win without striking hard at the safe havens the Taliban and its allies enjoy in Pakistan. That means going beyond drone strikes and deploying ground forces in places like North Waziristan.

Any serious observer of Pakistan will also tell you that such strikes would complicate, and perhaps fatally compromise, our relations with the country whose cooperation we require to win in Afghanistan.

Both observations are on the mark. Isolating the battlefield is a cardinal rule of warfare. So long as the Taliban can shrink away to Pakistan to lick their wounds and plot their return—as they have in the wake of their recent reversals in Kandahar—then we have failed to isolate them. Yet if Pakistan should begin to turn against us—as they briefly did earlier this month following the accidental killing of Pakistani border guards in a NATO strike—then we are the ones who will be isolated.

So how do we finesse the Pakistan paradox?

It helps to see the country for what it is. Pakistan suffers from an abandonment complex rooted in historical facts, especially the Pressler Amendment that cut off Pakistan-U.S. military ties throughout the 1990s. Those fears are compounded by a national paranoia that is the product of conspiracy theory, misplaced indignation and jingoism. The country’s elites typically divide between secularists, mainly feudal aristocrats or corrupt parvenus like President Asif Ali Zardari, and Islamists of either conservative or radical bent.

Standing astride the Islamist-secular divide is the military, which profits from cultivating both connections and is Pakistan’s most competent—and least accountable—institution. Down below is an ethnically fractious and largely destitute population of 170 million people, just emerging from a flood that swamped 20% of the country.

From this unsavory stew it’s unrealistic to expect a high degree of clarity or consistency in Pakistani policy. At best it leans one way or the other, never very far and rarely for very long. Mr. Zardari’s government has deployed the army against the Taliban, or parts of it, and consented to a dramatic increase in Predator strikes. But that’s happening concurrently with the intelligence service, or ISI, providing material aid to the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network, and failing (or more likely refusing) to break up the so-called Quetta Shura of Mullah Mohammed Omar.

If there’s an overarching logic here it’s that Islamabad wants to preserve its options. Uncertainty about U.S. staying power in Afghanistan helps explain why Pakistan will not entirely forsake its erstwhile clients in the Taliban and the mujahedeen. Pakistani fears are further exacerbated by America’s recent tilt toward India. And while the Obama administration has made much of its aid packages for Pakistan—$1.5 billion a year on the civilian side, followed last week by the announcement of another $2 billion for the military—Pakistani officials complain that only a small fraction of the funds have been disbursed.

What, then, to do? First, instead of publicly lecturing Pakistanis on how they need to get tough with the Taliban, the administration would do better to make good on its existing commitments. Say what you will about Mr. Zardari’s abilities, he has aided the U.S. military effort in a way his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, supposedly a pro-American strongman, never did.

That’s a relationship to build on, quietly and incrementally, not to tear down. So it would be helpful if the administration doesn’t repeat the mistake of blabbing to Bob Woodward, whose book may have helped Mr. Obama seem more presidential but didn’t do any favors to his presidency.

Equally helpful would be to stop mindlessly demanding that military assistance to Pakistan go toward fighting the Taliban instead of arming against India. The missing ingredient in Pakistan’s counterinsurgency effort isn’t the right military tool kit, such as night-vision goggles or Apache helicopters. It’s the will of the Pakistani general staff to cooperate more fully in the fight. If that cooperation can be secured by selling conventional weapons such as F-15s and M-1 tanks to Pakistan, so much the better.

(As for India, it has less to fear from a reasonably well-armed, confident Pakistani army that has strong ties to the U.S. than it does from a poorly armed Pakistan that mistrusts the U.S. and continues to consort with jihadists as a way of compensating for its weakness.)

Finally, the administration ought to understand that Pakistan’s reluctance to defeat the Taliban at any price is a mirror image of our own reluctance. The July 2011 “deadline” to begin withdrawing troops was bound to affect Islamabad’s calculations, and not for the better. The sooner we junk it, the better the cooperation we’ll get.

It’s an old American habit to lament the incompetence and duplicity of our wartime allies, and Pakistan abounds in both qualities. But unless we are prepared to deal with Pakistan as an adversary, we must make do with it as a friend.

Top of the Agenda at US-Pakistan Meetings: Mending Relations

By Howard LaFranchi for The Christian Science Monitor

If Osama bin Laden is really living comfortably in a house in northwest Pakistan, can we finally get him?

One might assume that the question would come up during this week’s three-day “strategic dialogue” between the United States and Pakistan – given the news out of NATO earlier this week that the Al Qaeda leader is no longer believed to be roughing it in a remote, no-man’s-land cave.

But instead, topic No. 1 at the three days of Washington meetings that begin Wednesday is likely to be relations-mending.

US-Pakistan ties, already roiled by frequent US drone attacks in Pakistani territory, suffered an abrupt setback over a NATO helicopter attack on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border late last month that killed several Pakistani soldiers. The US apologized for the incident, but not before the Khyber pass border crossing was closed and dozens of bottled-up trucks transporting fuel and supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan were torched.

It is in the still-touchy aftermath of the border incident that the US is expected to offer Pakistan a multiyear, multibillion-dollar security package aimed at enhancing the ability of Pakistani security forces to take on domestic Islamist militants.

The US already offers Pakistan about $1.5 billion a year in military assistance through what is now a year-to-year program. The proposal to be presented at this week’s meetings is for a package of military hardware, training, and counterinsurgency materials stretching over several years – something the Pakistanis have been seeking for a while. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had said at the last session of the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue in Islamabad in July that the US was “working on a multiyear package.”

Such a package for security assistance would presumably mirror a five-year, $7.5 billion development assistance package for Pakistan that the US approved last year.

US officials acknowledge that Pakistani security forces are stretched thin – especially after the summer’s devastating floods – and could use more supplies and training if they are to go after militants in their havens. But at the same time, US officials continue to harbor suspicions that some of the Taliban and other militant groups, in particular those involved in fighting in neighboring Afghanistan, continue to enjoy protection from certain elements of the Pakistani security structure.

The claim from a NATO official about Mr. bin Laden, reported by CNN, included the widely held contention that the Al Qaeda leadership is protected by elements within the Pakistani intelligence services.

Earlier this month, the White House submitted an assessment of Pakistan to Congress that is critical of the country’s antimilitancy campaign and suggests its existing capacities would allow it to do much more to confront the Taliban and Al Qaeda. A softer version of that assessment was offered at the State Department this week, when spokesman P.J. Crowley commended Pakistan for “aggressive action within its borders” before adding, “Clearly, this is an ongoing threat, and more needs to be done.”

At a State Department briefing Tuesday, the deputy US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Frank Ruggiero, said that while the Pakistanis have taken “some substantial steps” against organizations threatening the security of both countries, the US will call on Pakistan to do more – such as taking its campaign into North Waziristan.

Confronted with America’s you-can-do-more attitude, the Pakistanis are responding with requests of their own. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, has a list of things he says the US could do to build his country’s confidence in the US partnership. Among them are a civilian nuclear energy deal like the one the US has signed with India, a wider door for Pakistani products to enter the US, and more US pressure on India to resolve issues of interest to both India and Pakistan, such as Kashmir.

Mr. Qureshi, who is to meet with Secretary Clinton on Friday, has already previewed the proudly independent tone he is likely to employ when meeting with senior Obama administration officials.

“We are an ally, not a satellite,” Qureshi said Monday in comments at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics in Cambridge, Mass. “We have to protect our borders. You have to respect our sovereignty,” he said, alluding to the recent helicopter border shooting.

Qureshi said the “trust deficit” affecting relations between the two countries has been furthered by such interventions in Pakistani territory, although he acknowledged that the outpouring of US relief assistance after the summer flooding was viewed much more positively.

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