Archive for November, 2011

Obama Refrains From a Formal ‘I’m Sorry’ to Pakistan

By Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times

The White House has decided that President Obama will not offer formal condolences — at least for now — to Pakistan for the deaths of two dozen soldiers inNATO airstrikes last week, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage America’s relationship with Pakistan, administration officials said.

On Monday, Cameron Munter, the United States ambassador to Pakistan, told a group of White House officials that a formal video statement from Mr. Obama was needed to help prevent the rapidly deteriorating relations between Islamabad and Washington from cratering, administration officials said. The ambassador, speaking by videoconference from Islamabad, said that anger in Pakistan had reached a fever pitch, and that the United States needed to move to defuse it as quickly as possible, the officials recounted.

Defense Department officials balked. While they did not deny some American culpability in the episode, they said expressions of remorse offered by senior department officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were enough, at least until the completion of a United States military investigation establishing what went wrong.

Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

On Wednesday, White House officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to say anything further on the matter in the coming days.

“The U.S. government has offered its deepest condolences for the loss of life, from the White House and from Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, referring to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, “and we are conducting an investigation into the incident. We cannot offer additional comment on the circumstances of the incident until we have the results.”

The American and Pakistani accounts of the NATO strikes vary widely. A former senior American official briefed on the exchange said Wednesday that the airstrikes came in the last 15 to 20 minutes of a running three-hour skirmish, presumably with Taliban fighters on one or both sides of the border. That is at odds with the Pakistani account that its troops were in a two-hour firefight with the Americans.

Pakistan, rejecting the American account, has blocked all NATO logistical supplies that cross the border into Afghanistan, given the Central Intelligence Agency 15 days to vacate the Shamsi air base from which it has run drone strikes into Pakistani tribal areas and announced that it will boycott an international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development next week in Bonn, Germany.

With everything at stake in the relationship with Pakistan, which the United States sees as vital as it plans to exit from Afghanistan, some former Obama administration officials said the president should make public remarks on the border episode, including a formal apology.

“Without some effective measures of defusing this issue, Pakistan will cooperate less rather than more with us, and we won’t be able to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who specialized in Pakistan.

But David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,” said Pakistani officials need to understand that in the next year, the Obama administration will be less accommodating to Pakistani sensibilities.

“I do think that it’s important for them to recognize that political dynamics in the United States will lead to a hardening of U.S. positions, and the president will have less and less flexibility to accept the kind of behavior that he has in the past,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “The prognosis for U.S.-Pakistani relations is bleak.”

America’s strained ties with Pakistan have been buffeted by crises this year, from the killing of two Pakistanis by a C.I.A. contractor to the raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The headaches of the relationship have meant that Pakistan has few friends inside the administration. As one former senior United States official who has been briefed on the administration’s recent deliberations put it, “Right now there are no Pakistan friendlies” at the White House.

But the administration desperately needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the American plan to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan by 2014. Several senior American officials have said Pakistani help is essential to persuade the Taliban to negotiate for peace.

Twice recently, the administration has solicited help from Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, to deliver messages to Islamabad to help defuse crises in the relationship.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was guarded in his comments about the border episode. “We all appreciate how deeply this tragedy has affected the Pakistani people, and we have conveyed our heartfelt condolences through multiple channels,” Mr. Kerry said in an e-mail. “Ultimately, the only way to move the ball forward is to focus on areas where our interests align and where we can really make progress. Our two countries need each other.”

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Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Happened on the Border?

As Reported by The New York Times

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

Washington and Islamabad need to work together, urgently, to ensure that this incident does not destroy their deeply troubled relationship. The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging as it is — to pursue the fight against the Taliban. And without American support, Pakistan’s fragile government will be even more vulnerable to extremist attacks.

So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger. The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.

On Saturday, after the first reports, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement offering their “deepest condolences for the loss of life.” We’re not sure why President Obama waited until Monday to add his voice.

We are also puzzled, and concerned, by the delay in opening a full and transparent inquiry. On Saturday, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said he would “thoroughly” investigate the incident. But that was never going to be enough.

It took until Monday for Gen. James Mattis, leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, to announce a more formal investigation and to name Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark to lead it. The inquiry will include representatives of NATO and General Allen’s team. Significantly, Central Command said Pakistan and Afghanistan would be invited to participate. Islamabad and Kabul should both agree. The panel needs to move ahead quickly and credibly, with full disclosure no matter what it finds.

Pakistan’s leaders, as ever, are playing a very dangerous game. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed in an interview on CNN, that “business as usual will not be there.” His government has already shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, ordered a base used for drone strikes evacuated and threatened to boycott a conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. Some news reports are also quoting ordinary Pakistanis demanding that their government retaliate militarily against American forces across the border.

Before things get out of control, Pakistan’s leaders need to lower their rhetoric and make clear that it is in their country’s interest to work with the Americans to find out what happened and ensure it will not happen again.

There are many questions that need to be answered. Who first fired on the American-Afghan force? Pakistan’s army is far too cozy with the Taliban. Were fighters sheltering near the Pakistani outposts? What about Pakistan’s claim that the NATO strikes continued for two hours even after Pakistan alerted allied officials? What needs to be done differently going forward?

The two sides need answers if there is any hope of finding a way back from the brink.

U.S.-Pakistan Ties Further Strained by Air Strike

By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy Newspapers

Tension between Pakistan and the United States rose Sunday over a U.S. air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, as the two sides offered widely disparate accounts of what might have happened.

NATO officials said Afghan and U.S. troops operating inside Afghanistan early Saturday had been fired on from the Pakistani side of the border and had requested close air support to help defend themselves. What happened next is still under investigation, officials said.

But Pakistan’s chief military spokesman said he did not believe that there had been any fire directed at the Americans from Pakistan, and said he did not believe the attack could have been inadvertent.

Major Gen. Athar Abbas said the military outpost on a mountain top at Salala in the Mohmand part of Pakistan near the Afghan border was well-marked on maps that both Pakistan and NATO have, and that the U.S. air assault lasted for more than an hour.

“I cannot rule out the possibility that this was a deliberate attack by ISAF,” Abbas said, referring to NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. “This was a visible, well-made post, on top of ridges, made of concrete. Militants don’t operate from mountaintops, from concrete structures.”

The incident sent U.S.-Pakistani relations to their lowest point since the May raid on Osama bin Laden’s hideout, when U.S. troops entered Pakistan without notifying Pakistani officials and killed the al Qaeda leader. U.S. officials believe bin Laden had lived for years in Abbottabod, the site of Pakistan’s premier military academy.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a prepared statement that Saturday’s events were a “tragic unintended incident.” But NATO provided no details on what happened. U.S. Army Col. Greg Julian, a NATO spokesman, said officials are still investigating.

The Pakistan positions hit are about 300 yards inside Pakistan, Abbas said, and ISAF troops made “no attempt” to contact the Pakistani side using the established border coordination system. He said that the map references to the Pakistani positions had been previously passed to ISAF.

Taliban fighters often use Pakistan’s tribal area as a sanctuary, from which to launch artillery or rockets, or as a place to retreat under fire from NATO.

Pakistan announced Saturday that it would “review” all military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with the United States and ISAF forces in response to the incident.

Pakistan also closed its border with Afghanistan to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF, and announced that American forces would be expelled from Shamsi, a remote air base in Pakistan that was turned over to U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and used as a launching point for the U.S.’ controversial drone program.

On Sunday, Pakistan raised the possibility that it would also boycott a conference next month in Bonn, Germany, on Afghanistan’s future. Pakistan’s cooperation is considered vital for stabilizing Afghanistan and bringing the Taliban into negotiations.

Pakistan Stops NATO Supplies After Deadly Raid

By Shams Momand for Reuters

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.

Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.

NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.

“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties,” said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. “We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don’t know the size, the magnitude,” he said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killings were “an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” adding: “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office said it would take up the matter “in the strongest terms” with NATO and the United States, while army chief Kayani said steps would be taken to respond “to this irresponsible act.”

“A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression.”

Two military officials said up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.

The attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants. Across the border is Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which has seen years of heavy fighting.

“Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons,” the Pakistani military statement said.

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured.”

Dempsey’s spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, could not confirm the closure of the Pakistani border crossing to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF forces. However, he noted that “if true, we have alternate routes we can use, as we have in the past.”

POORLY MARKED

Around 40 troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead. “They without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” said a senior Pakistani officer, requesting anonymity.

The border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometres in some places, military officials have said.

However, Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts identified.

“When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory.”

The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.

A senior military source told Reuters that after the meeting that set out “to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place.”

BLOCKED SUPPLIES

Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments account for about two thirds of the alliance’s cargo shipments into Afghanistan.

Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.

The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.

A meeting of the cabinet’s defense committee convened by Gilani “decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines,” according to a statement issued by Gilani’s office.

The committee decided to ask the United States to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi Air Base, a remote installation in Baluchistan used by U.S. forces for drone strikes which has long been at the center of a dispute between Islamabad and Washington.

The meeting also decided the government would “revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani service personnel, led to the closure of one of NATO’s supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. NATO apologised for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

Pakistan’s jailing of a CIA contractor and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions.

“This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this,” said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk.

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately “things will get back to normal.”

Pakistan’s New U.S. Envoy Faces Tough Task Ahead

As Reported by Xinhuanet

A journalist-turned politician, Ms. Sherry Rehman, will soon proceed to Washington to assume responsibility as Pakistan’s new ambassador where she would face tough task as how to bridge the trust gap with the United States.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani appointed Sherry Rehman as Pakistan’s new ambassador in Washington a day after her predecessor Hussain Haqqani resigned over a recent claim by a Pakistani-American business tycoon that he had been asked by Haqqani to deliver the alleged President Asif Ali Zardari’s memo to the former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen, seeking Washington’s help to rein in the powerful army.

Haqqani, who was summoned to Pakistan this week after the memo controversy dragged the country into crisis, was asked by the Prime Minister to quit during a meeting attended by the President, the Army Chief General Ashaq Pervaiz Kayani and Intelligence Chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Sherry Rehman, a former Information Minister and current member of the National Assembly or Lower House of the parliament, is also a central leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party. She was chosen for the key post only because of her association with the ruling party as she has no diplomatic career. Islamabad routinely appoints ambassadors to the United States on a political basis. Several retired military men have also served as the country’s ambassadors to the U.S..

The Pakistani government has designated a political loyalist and the woman ambassador to the U.S at a time when mistrust between the two key allies in the so-called war on terror is at peak. Pakistan and the U.S. cooperation is considered a key to stability in Afghanistan as Washington is mounting pressure on Islamabad to take measures in “days and weeks” to encourage the Taliban, the dreaded Haqqani network and other Afghan armed groups to join the peace and reconciliation process in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

“It’s like that old story – you can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbors. Eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard, ” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while standing along with her Pakistani counterpart in Islamabad last month in a blunt message to Pakistan.

The first major challenge the Pakistan new ambassador will have to face is how to address to the U.S. concern about the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, which the U.S. officials say are operating from Pakistan’s tribal region. Washington seemed to be in haste on the Afghan peace process in view of its troops’ withdrawal, which already began in July and will be completed by 2014.

The Pakistani Taliban is also an issue for the U.S. as the CIA says that they are sheltering Afghan armed militants in the country’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan. In view of its frustration, the U.S. routinely uses its spy aircraft to hit targets in Pakistan tribal regions, which is also a source of tension in bilateral relationship and the U.S. is in no mood to stop drone strikes despite Pakistan’s criticism.

The new Pakistani ambassador will also have to convince the U.S. administration to unblock the suspended military aid to Pakistan. The U.S. withheld some 800 million US dollars in assistance to the country’s armed forces in July just two months after Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid, the U.S. unilateral action had itself worsened relationship. The U.S. has also attached tough conditions with the civilian aid for Pakistan.

Pakistan is nowadays under fire during the Presidential nomination campaign in the U.S. and even on Tuesday Republican presidential candidates attacked Pakistan in their foreign policy debate. The Republican presidential hopefuls ganged up on Pakistan and questioned whether the United States could trust it. Texas Governor Rick Perry called Pakistan unworthy of U.S. aid because it had not done enough to help fight al-Qaida.

Criticism at Pakistan by the Republican hopefuls shows how much tough environment she would face after she assumes the office of ambassador in the coming days. She vowed on Wednesday, a day when she was designated as ambassador, to work for improvement of ties with the U.S..

The United States on Wednesday acknowledged the impending change of guard at the Pakistani embassy in Washington as they praised deposed Ambassador Husain Haqqani for his services and announced their anticipation of working with Pakistan’s new Ambassador Sherry Rehman to continue strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries. In Washington too, the State Department spokesman on Wednesday said the U.S. looks forward to working together with her as both countries “continue to build a strong, cooperative relationship between our two countries.”

The former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S. had also good ties with the U.S. administration and his role was praised by the State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, but even then the relationship had been worst during his tenure. Now Sherry Rehman will not only have to address to the U.S. concern but also to serve the interests of Pakistan where a majority of the people are against the U.S. policies.

An American Muslim’s Thanksgiving

By Dr. Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

I know how much I didn’t know 15 years ago.

After landing at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York as an exchange visitor, I was faced with a culture shock. I knew the word “Manhattan” but I didn’t know what it actually meant. Was it a fruit? A car? A newspaper? I knew the name Michael Jordan but I didn’t know who he actually was. A singer? A scientist? A politician? I knew Thanksgiving was an important holiday in America but I didn’t know what to do on thanksgiving? Eat? Pray? Love?

Don’t forget. This was 1996, when internet was not ubiquitous and search engines meant using a pillow sized book called Yellow Pages. But despite spending a lot of time, the Yellow Pages could not expand my understanding of the above three queries.

So I did what we doctors do best: read a book. It was a book about American cultural literacy.

Reading about the history of thanksgiving, however, opened up a Pandora’s Box of controversies. Is it a Christian holiday? Is it a secular holiday? Is giving thanks to God a good idea or should we be thanking our fellow human beings? Or is it a reminder of the “genocide of the native Americans” and therefore should not be celebrated at all.

This was all too complicated for a medical doctor who was now having second thoughts about learning the history of Manhattan or Michael Jordan. “Who knows … they may turn out to be just as controversial?” I thought.

Which left me with the loaded question: What should I, as a Muslim in America, do on Thanksgiving?

One good thing about medical residency was that sometime a holiday would simply pop-up on your schedule and you literally had to do something with it. So my first reaction to “do something” with my first Thanksgiving was to thank God. Thank Him for giving me peace, security and opportunity in America.

To that end, I found a rainbow of Quranic verses exhorting Muslims to thank God in various ways. Here is one for each color in the rainbow.

Want a promising violet, try: “… If you are grateful, I will, surely, bestow more favors on you;” (14:8); How about an acknowledging indigo: “(Abraham was) thankful for His bounties; God chose him and He guided him unto a straight path” (16:121); Or the true blue thanks of another prophet “Assuredly, he (Noah) was a grateful servant” (17:3); Or a the combination of a green encouragement with a yellow warning: “Remember Me so that I will remember you, and give thanks to Me and do not be ungrateful to Me” (2:152); Or consider the simply orange truth: Surely, Allah is gracious towards mankind, but most of them are not thankful…’ (10:61); and if all fails, here is the red hot chastisement: “If you are thankful I will add more unto you. But if you show ingratitude My punishment is terrible indeed” (14:7).

But God was simply missing from most American Thanksgiving celebrations. Why? Because many atheists claim that giving thanks to our fellow human beings, those who make a true difference in our day to day lives, is more important than thanking a nebulous (in their opinion) entity.

There is much credence, (in my opinion), to the atheist’s point of view of thanking our fellow humans. Prophet Muhammad also reminded Muslims, “The one who does not give thanks for a small blessing will not give thanks for a great blessing, and the one who does not give thanks to people will not give thanks to Allah” (Abu Dawud). By helping the poor, respecting the elders, giving up his seat for a guest, showing unconditional love and exercising fairness in every day affairs, the prophet taught Muslims an important lesson. Thank you is not just a word; it’s an attitude.

Making the thanksgiving holiday a focal point of the Native American controversy is an over simplification. So I will leave it for a separate discussion.

15 years later, as a naturalized US citizen, there is much that I still don’t know about a lot of things. But I do know what an American Muslim should do on Thanksgiving: Give thanks.

Let’s thank our beautiful country, let’s thank our living constitution, and let’s thank the people around us. Only then can we truly thank God.

By the way, adding Turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, and a pumpkin pie to the day would be a fantastic idea too.

Faheem Younus is the Adjunct Faculty for Religion, CCBC; Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, UMD

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