Archive for September, 2011

U.S.: Al-Awlaki Believed Dead in Attack

As reported by the Detroit News

American forces targeted al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki’s convoy with a drone and jet attack and believe he’s been killed, a U.S. counterterrorism official said Friday.

The U.S.-born cleric known for fiery anti-American rhetoric has been suspected of ties to the Fort Hood attack and the attempted Christmas Day airliner bombing in 2009.

The counterterrorism official was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Word from the U.S. comes after the government of Yemen reported that al-Awlaki was targeted and killed Friday about five miles from the town of Khashef, some 87 miles from the capital Sanaa. He would be the most prominent al-Qaida figure to be killed since Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials have said they believe al-Awlaki directed, led and planned attempted attacks on the U.S. He was believed to have inspired the Fort Hood shooter, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, and to have played a more direct role in the Christmas 2009 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas.

On Sept. 13, an FBI Special Agent testified in Detroit that al-Awlaki played a key role in the radicalization of so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

Abdulmutallab spent hours listening to al-Awlaki’s video clips posted on the Internet, Special Agent Timothy Waters testified.

Abdulmutallab faces up to life in prison if convicted of a host of charges stemming from his alleged attempt to blow up the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Al-Awlaki’s death “will especially impact the group’s ability to recruit, inspire and raise funds as al-Awlaki’s influence and ability to connect to a broad demographic of potential supporters was unprecedented,” said terrorist analyst Ben Venzke of the private intelligence monitoring firm, the IntelCenter.

But Venzke said the terror group al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula will remain the most dangerous regional arm “both in its region and for the direct threat it poses to the U.S. following three recent failed attacks,” with AQAP leader Nasir al-Wahayshi still at large.

Venzke said al-Awlaki was due to release a new article in the next issue of AQAP’s Inspire magazine justifying attacking civilians in the West.

“The article, which may already have been completed, was announced by AQAP on Tuesday as being entitled, ‘Targeting Populations of Countries at War with Muslims,'” he said.

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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.”

Bacha Khan, Anti-Partition Hero Who Can Help Pakistan Today

By Mauro Vaiani for Pakistanis for Peace

A person once stigmatized as an enemy of Pakistan, has something important to say in the contemporary public discourse in the second Islamic country in the world. His name is Abdul Ghaffar Khan (in the picture), a Pakhtun patriot, social reformer, charismatic leader. He was a lifelong activist in favour of his fellows Pathans living North and South the frontier Durand Line. He became a very close friend of the Mahatma and he himself was called the “Frontier Gandhi”.

Anti-Partition apostle of nonviolence
He was born on 1890 in Utmanzai, a town in Charsadda District, in the North-West Frontier Province, today Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan. He was an apostle of nonviolence, that he considered a form of spiritual jihad for his time and for the future of his people. He founded a nonviolent movement which arrived to count 100,000 members. As he wrote in his 1969 autobiography, “My life and struggle”, “in 1929 we were able to found the kind of organisation we wanted. We decided to call it the Khudai Khidmatgar movement (Servants of God movement). Our motive for choosing that name was that we wanted to awaken in the Pathans the idea of service and the desire to serve their country and their people in the name of God, an idea and a desire which was sadly lacking among them”. The Khudai Khidmatgars were also known, for the color of their uniforms, “Red Shirts”. The founder was called by his followers, as a mark of esteem, Badshah Khan, also spelled Baacha Khan, or more commonly Bacha Khan, that means “king of our nobles”.

Baacha Khan fostered free education for all, women rights, religious freedom, judicial reform. He also was a pioneer of ecology and sustainable development. He believed in self-government for both the settled and the tribal Pakhtuns. He strongly opposed the Partition of India, proposing autonomous provinces in a unified Indian federal framework. When the Partition became inevitable, he renounce to oppose it with riots or violence. He and his Khidmatgars accepted, reluctantly, Pakistan as their new country and decided to be loyal. They hoped the new regime would have given the Pakhtuns a chance to live united in their territory, free to self-govern their own province. The autonomy of the federal units in Pakistan was instead nipped in the bud and their movement was declared illegal.
For the freedom fighter, a new cycle of imprisonment started. Baacha Khan spent one-third of his life in prison, but, more precisely, he spent more time, about 15 years, in Pakistani prisons than he had spent in the prisons of the British Raj, “only” 12.

He also went in exile in Afghanistan, where he supported local Pashtun cultural, social and economical development, fighting backwardness, clanism, family feuds. He gave in Afghanistan many speeches in favor of “Pakhtunistan”, which were free of every kind of chauvinism, fostering freedom and self-government of his people, within the Pakistani federation, firmly anchored to a commitment for peace in all South Asia, all over the world.
“I am looking forward to the time when free, general elections will be possible again in Pakistan. – he wrote in his 1969’s autobiography – For only then will the world know which way my people are going and whom do they follow. This is the main conflict between me and the rulers of Pakistan.”. This champion of Pakhtun patriotism remained unheeded. He won’t see general and local fair election either under the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, nor under Yahya Khan, nor under the civil but still authoritarian rule of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, nor under Zia Ul-Haq.
He couldn’t see the general elections of December 1988, when Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfiqar Ali, became Prime Minister, for he died in Peshawar on January 20.

He had requested to be buried in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. He hoped this way to witness the need of friendship, and mutual understanding, among all Pakhtuns, between Afghanistan and Pakistan. His last wish succeeded in leaving a footprint in the heart of many throughout South Asia. As one can read in Rajmohan Gandhi’s biography of Bacha Khan (New Delhi, 2004) his funeral resulted a mammoth rally: “Though the Afghan struggle was not yet over, the Kabul government and the mujahedin both announced a ceasefire for the event. Tens of thousands of the Frontier’s mourning Pakhtuns accompanied the coffin and crossed the Durand Line. Pakistan’s military ruler, Zia-ul Haq (who would be killed in a plane crash later in the year), and India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi (also destined for a violent death), were present for the last rites.” (see Gandhi R., Ghaffar Khan, 2004, p. 263).

Political heritage

After decades of oblivion, his political heritage are now again gaining momentum among Pakhtuns. An important political player in the re-established Pakistani democracy, the Awami National Party (ANP), wrote in its manifesto that it “draws its inspiration from the example and teachings of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, affectionately known to his people as Baacha Khan. He spent his entire life in the struggle for freedom and justice. He and his Khudai Khidmatgars offered great sacrifices in the fight against colonialism, imperialism and all other forms of oppression. In a broader sense, Baacha Khan saw politics as the highest form of public service and often described himself as only a social worker. His objective was to liberate the masses of South Asia and, particularly, his own people, the Pakhtuns, from the shackles of ignorance and poverty, so that they could rise to their full potential.” (cf http://awaminationalparty.org/).
The ANP was led in the past by Bacha Khan’s son, Abdul Wali Khan, and today the most prominent figure is his grandson, Asfandyar Wali Khan. In the 2008 elections, the Awami National Party won the majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and elected its first Chief Minister since the independence, in coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party. ANP is allied with PPP also in other provinces and at the federal level.
The parable of the Taliban regime and the political violence that still sets fire through the area, has been a terrifying experience for everybody but especially for Pakhtuns. Baacha Khan is being rediscovered, as a source of inspiration for a better future. He was a devout Muslim believer, but he refused terror and was also alien from any bigotry. His political action was centered on peace and social reformation. He sacrificed as a satyagrahi in nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience, firstly against the British Raj, but later also against Pakistan authoritarianism and military rule.
His spiritual heritage helped ANP to defeat the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, the Islamist coalition, which was in power in Pakhtunkhwa before 2008. It was a highly symbolic victory. In the name of Baacha Khan, the modern ANP defeated the Islamists, as well as the ancient Khudai Khidmatgars had always defeated the Muslim League in both the elections hold in the province, under the British rule, on 1936 and 1946. Many hope that this political change could represent the end of a cycle, dominated by a tangle of Islamist and nationalist ideologies, which have painfully marked the history of the Frontier, of all Pakistan, Afghanistan.

Several notable cultural foundations and charities are working in South Asia to promote peace and human rights through the rediscover of Badshah Khan’s life, thought and action. We must nominate the Baacha Khan Trust (see http://www.baachakhantrust.org/), whose chief aim is propagation of Ghaffar Khan’s philosophy, his vision of renaissance for the oppressed and marginalized Pakhtuns communities, and for peace in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the whole South Asia.
Nowadays efforts to make the public opinion and new generations aware of the figure and the teachings of Baacha Khan would certainly help the stabilization of the so called Afpak area. After 60 years of political authoritarianism and violence in Pakistan and 40 years of civil war in Afghanistan, it’s probably time to know something more about Bacha Khan.

Self-government

His Red Shirts were able to provide “local leadership for education and development, and stood up for the dignity and rights of their community. They balanced affirmations of the rights and dignity of all people with teachings about responsibility and sacrifices needed to serve those same communities.” – Ali Gohar, founder and guide at the Just Peace International center, in Peshawar, recently wrote, adding that the beauty of this kind of nonviolent struggle is again alive in 2011 Arab Spring heroes cf http://www.khyberwatch.com/index.php?mod=article&cat=MediaWatch&article=391).

“You all know that I believe in the principles of non•violence. – he said on August 31, 1966, talking in Afghanistan on the Pakhtunistan Day, as reported in his 1969’s autobiography – I am convinced that there will be no peace in the world till the problem of the Pakhtuns has been solved. I am telling both the Russians and the Americans the same thing: if they really want peace, they should solve the problem of the Pakhtuns. What do we want? We keep on telling Pakistan to consider us their brothers and not to make us their slaves. We were never the slaves of the British and you should not expect us to be your slaves.”. Heared today, these words are somehow prophetic and should encourage a serious reflection.

The Pathans, both in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, still need an accountable local self-government, in order to take on full responsibility of their own territories. They can hardly be governed from Kabul, or from Islamabad. May be they can resolve their own way their problems, included terror-related and security’s ones.

The recent Pakistani devolution can be seen as a historical accomplishment on the way indicated by Baacha Khan. This is what many political leaders, not only ANP’s ones, strongly believe. Federalism was part of the independence struggle and the only way to make the idea of Pakistan into a lasting reality.

Unfortunately, the centralized, bigoted and corrupt, republic chosen by Afghani Pashtun leadership, after the fall of the Taliban regime, is much farer from Baacha Khan’s ideal of decentralized responsible and accountable self-government. The present solution resembles too much like the 1973 republic. It may be not reveal the right solution for the future of such a vast, diverse, and bitterly divided, country.

Don’t let anybody deceive you in the name of Islam

Abdul Ghaffar Khan, along all his existence, advocated for reforms, social justice, change through education, and, last but not least, peaceful coexistence of all communities, without any kind of ethnic, religious, caste, clan, social discrimination.
He strongly demanded his fellow Pakhtuns, to strive against ignorance, bigotry, prejudices, family feud and political violence. His message, which follows the furrow of modern nonviolent revolutions, which have already brought down more than an empire, can drive the Islamist factions and wider Muslim public opinion to a radical rethinking.

His teaching was prescient and it is today more relevant than ever: “And you, misguided Pathans, you do not even stop to think whether this is Islam or not, you just swallow anything you are told… I want you to promise me that you will never let anybody deceive you in the name of Islam.” (from Baacha Khan’s speech in Afghanistan, on Pakhtunistan Day, 31 August 1967, as reported in Baacha Khan’s autobiography, 1969).

-Mauro Vaiani is a Geopolitics PhD Candidate at the University of Pisa in Italy and is a Facebook group member and contributor of Pakistanis for Peace. His page at the university is at http://www.sp.unipi.it/hp/vaiani and he can be reached via email at mauro.vaiani@sp.unipi.it

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.”

Saudi Arabia to Allow Women to Vote

By Jeffrey Fleishmam for The Los Angeles Times

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia surprised his ultraconservative nation Sunday by announcing bold reforms that for the first time will give women the right to vote, run for local office and serve on the Shura Council, the king’s advisory board.

The measures by an aging monarch who has battled Islamic hard-liners for years will marginally improve the standing of women in a country that still forbids them to drive or leave the house without their faces covered. The moves appear likely to enrage religious conservatives while advancing at least a veneer of change in one of the world’s most repressive states.

“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia [Islamic law], we have decided … to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term,” the king said in a five-minute speech to his advisors.

He added: “Women will be able to run as candidates” in the 2015 municipal election “and will even have a right to vote.”

The announcement suggests that the ailing 87-year-old king seeks a legacy as a reformer, despite making only modest inroads on human rights. Abdullah built the country’s first coeducational university and has granted 120,000 scholarships to students, many of them women, to study outside the country. Each move was opposed by clerics and religious ultraconservatives in the royal family.

Allowing women to vote is “hugely significant,” said Lubna Hussain, a Saudi writer. “The king is implementing the reform promises he made when he became leader. It shows he is not willing to pander to religious fundamentalists … who are quite weakened and don’t seem to have the voice they used to.”

The new rights for women come as Saudi Arabia has bristled at demands for political freedoms that have sparked spirited rebellions across the Arab world and toppled such longtime allies of the king as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. When rumblings of revolt echoed in Saudi Arabia, the government, whose security forces are omnipresent, promised $130 billion in salary raises and spending for social and religious programs.

Such largesse and attempts at modernization have kept Abdullah popular even as challenges to the royal family have been quickly crushed. Saudi dissidents and human rights groups have condemned the government for crackdowns that have occasionally damaged the king’s image and led to criticism that his family’s reliance on religious conservatives to stay in power makes him too cautious a reformer.

The king is the counterbalance to influential anti-reformist forces, including Prince Nayif ibn Abdulaziz, the interior minister, who many believe may succeed Abdullah. Nayif is sympathetic to fundamentalist Wahhabi clerics who uphold the segregation of sexes and have resisted the monarch’s attempts at modest reforms to ease religion’s grip on schools, courts and other institutions.

Yet discriminatory laws, such as those preventing women from driving, have become an international embarrassment for the kingdom, a key U.S. ally that relies on oil wealth to expand its diplomatic stature. A number of women were arrested over the summer for defying the driving ban. Analysts predicted that by allowing women to vote the king has opened the possibility for wider rights debates.

But others said the latest reforms were diversions that did little to change the plight of women in a country where they can be flogged for adultery and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male guardian.

“It’s a mixed feeling. On one hand he opens the door for her and on the other hand she is still banned from driving,” said Mohammad Fahad Qahtani, a college professor and human rights advocate. “It doesn’t save her from horrible treatment by government agencies and the courts. It’s a symbolic gesture, but it is in no way enough to improve the lives of women.”

He added: “These rights to vote are still, if you see how it’s worded, are contingent on Islamic jurisprudence. So we’ll have to see in coming years what happens. The devil could be in the details. But maybe it’ll get some international praise for the regime.”

Sunday’s announcements “represent an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, and we support King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia as they undertake these and other reforms,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.

The change will not alter the Saudi power structure. Municipal councils have little authority and only half their members are elected. The Shura Council, a body akin to a parliament but with no legislative power, advises the king on economic, social and international affairs.

But liberals and activists believe that even a little nudge forward in the kingdom is significant.

“It’s almost like a watershed,” said Hussain, who has written eloquently over the years on women’s rights. “You’ll now have women in [the Shura Council] taking up women’s causes. Before it was men talking for us. It’s quite revolutionary and it will open up a Pandora’s box.”

Pakistani Commanders Meet After US Criticism

By Sebastian Abbot for The Asssociated Press

Pakistan’s army chief convened a special meeting of senior commanders Sunday following U.S. allegations that the military’s spy agency helped militants attack American targets in Afghanistan, the army said.

The government also summoned home the country’s foreign minister early from a trip to the United States to attend a meeting of all major political parties to discuss the American allegations of support for the militant Haqqani network.

Senior Pakistani officials have lashed out against the allegations, accusing the U.S. of trying to make Pakistan a scapegoat for its troubled war in Afghanistan. The public confrontation has plunged the already troubled U.S.-Pakistan alliance to new lows.

Pakistan’s leaders have shown no indication they plan to act on renewed American demands to attack the Haqqani network in its main base in Pakistan, even at the risk of further conflict with Washington, which has given the country billions in aid.

U.S. officials have implied that American forces could carry out unilateral raids inside Pakistan against the Haqqani network, operations that could have explosive implications in a country where anti-American sentiment is widespread.

Pakistanis were outraged by the covert U.S. commando raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad in May. The U.S. did not tell the Pakistani government about the operation beforehand for fear bin Laden would be tipped off.

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik warned the U.S. on Sunday against sending troops into Pakistan.

“Any aggression will not be tolerated,” Malik told reporters in Islamabad. “The nation is standing united behind the armed forces, which is the front line of Pakistan’s defense.”

The top U.S. military officer, Adm. Mike Mullen, last week accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency of supporting Haqqani insurgents in planning and executing a 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan on Sept. 13 as well as a truck bomb that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.

Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, widely considered the most powerful man in Pakistan, has dismissed the allegations, saying they were baseless and part of a public “blame game” detrimental to peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Kayani presided over Sunday’s commanders meeting but would not provide detail on the discussions.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s office issued a statement saying Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar was summoned back to attend a meeting of all major political parties on “threats emanating from outside the country.”

Gilani slapped down the U.S. allegations in a separate statement issued late Saturday.

“We strongly reject assertions of complicity with the Haqqanis or of proxy war,” Gilani said in a statement. “The allegations betray a confusion and policy disarray within the U.S. establishment on the way forward in Afghanistan.”

Pakistan claimed to have severed its ties with Afghan militants after the 9/11 attacks and supported America’s campaign in Afghanistan, but U.S. officials have long suspected it maintained links. The comments by Mullen, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were the most serious yet accusing Pakistan of militant ties, although he didn’t cite any specific evidence.

Despite the seriousness of the U.S. claims, which appear to accuse Pakistan of state-sponsored terrorism, Mullen and other U.S. officials have said Washington needs to keep engaging with Islamabad, a reflection of its limited options in dealing with the country. Washington is also concerned about the danger of further instability in the nuclear-armed state.

The head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. James Mattis, called for continued cooperation after a meeting with Kayani in Islamabad. In a statement issued Sunday by the U.S. Embassy, Mattis emphasized “the need for persistent engagement among the militaries of the U.S., Pakistan and other states in the region.”

Mattis also met with the Pakistani military’s chief of staff, Gen. Khalid Wynne, who expressed his concern about “negative statements emanating from the U.S.” and stressed the need to address “the irritants in the relationship,” according to a statement issued by the military.

Around half of the U.S. war supplies to Afghanistan are trucked over Pakistani soil, and even as it accuses Islamabad of complicity with Afghan insurgents, Washington knows that it will likely need Islamabad’s cooperation in bringing them to the negotiating table.

Gilani also called for greater cooperation.

“Let’s avoid mutual recrimination and recommit ourselves to working together for eliminating terrorism and for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan,” he said.

Pakistan Warns U.S. Against Hot Pursuit On Its Soil

As Reported by The Detroit Free Press

Pakistan’s foreign minister today warned the United States against sending ground troops to her country to fight an Afghan militant group that America alleges is used as a proxy by Pakistan’s top intelligence agency for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

The warning came as a top U.S. military commander was in Pakistan for talks with the army chief at a time of intense strain between the two countries. The U.S. Embassy said Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Pakistan late Friday, and that he will meet the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington are in crisis after American officials stepped up accusations that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence was aiding insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan, including those who took part in an attack on the U.S. Embassy last week in Kabul.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in an interview today that there are red lines and rules of engagement with America, which should not be broken.

“It opens all kinds of doors and all kinds of options,” she told Pakistan’s private Aaj News TV from New York. The comment was in response to a question about the possibility of U.S. troops coming to Pakistan.

Khar, however, insisted that Pakistan’s policy was to seek a more intensive engagement with the U.S. and that she would like to discourage any blame game.

“If many of your goals are not achieved, you do not make someone a scapegoat,” she said, addressing the U.S.

The U.S. allegations have seen a strong reaction from Pakistan.

Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, said on Friday that the charges were baseless and part of a public “blame game” detrimental to peace in Afghanistan. Other Islamabad officials urged Washington to present evidence for such a serious allegation. Khar warned the United States is risking losing an ally in the war on terror.

The row began when Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday accused the ISI agency of supporting Haqqani insurgents in planning and executing last week’s 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy and a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.

Kayani said the allegations were “very unfortunate and not based on facts.”

The claims were the most serious yet by an American official against nuclear-armed Pakistan, which Washington has given billions in civilian and military aid over the last 10 years to try to secure its cooperation inside Afghanistan and against al-Qaida.

The Haqqani insurgent network is widely believed to be based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. The group has historical ties to Pakistani intelligence, dating back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The relationship between the two countries has never been smooth, but it took one of its hardest hits when U.S. commandos slipped into Pakistan on May 2 without informing the Pakistanis of their mission and killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad.

Pakistanis for Peace Editorial Note– We hope that the United States and Pakistan can get through this incredibly difficult period in their long and close relationship. The United States should present the concrete evidence that it has that there is collusion on the part of individuals in the Pakistani government with the terrorists and the Pakistanis for their part must do a lot more to end terror networks within their borders, and this certainly includes sending troops into North Waziristan, Quetta and any other city in the country where the terrorists are based. The already unstable and dangerous neighborhood that is South Asia can not afford further deterioration in US-Pakistan relations.