Archive for the ‘ Pakistan Floods 2010 ’ Category

A US Pilot’s Tale: The Gauntlet of Goodwill

By John Bockmann for The Express Tribune

I’m a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot with Task Force Denali, a US Army aviation battalion sent from Alaska to provide flood relief to Northern Pakistan. I blogged about my first impressions of Pakistan nearly two months ago, and I’d like to share some more thoughts about my new friends here.

Surrounding our barracks and the control tower, hangars, airfield, and base itself are Pakistani military guards and commandos – tough, well-trained men armed with assault rifles and pistols tasked with maintaining security 24 hours a day.

I didn’t know what to make of these guys when I first saw them. Take, for example, the sturdily built sergeant (whom I now know as Ishaq) with a graying beard and long mustache whose appearance alone made him perfect to work for security.

“Where is your card?” He demanded one night as I waited by the control tower. I had ventured outside without my security badge affixed to my jacket. “Kidr ja rahe ho? (Where are you going?)” He continued sternly. “Here, sit down. Speak to my officer.” He motioned toward a chair and a gentleman wearing civilian clothes.

I produced the card from one of my cargo pockets, thankfully, and was able to excuse myself to the barracks, but Ishaq had made an impression. I vowed never to go anywhere without my security badge prominently displayed.

I mentioned the incident to some of my fellows, and they shared similar stories of this tough-looking sergeant. So the next time I saw him, I gave him some distance. Surprisingly, Ishaq called out to me. “How are you?” he asked, smiling, and we made small talk for a few minutes. The time after that, he gave me a hug and a handshake, and we chatted as if we were old friends. Within a few days, I had progressed from stranger to brother.

Working closely with Pakistanis for the past three months, I have seen that gestures of friendship like Ishaq’s are commonplace. They usually stand when someone enters the room, hug him, shake his hand, and offer chai. They love conversation and want to hear about each other’s families and speak about their own. Even people in far-flung villages will ply us with tea and food, inviting us to try our best at Urdu. This interaction is called “gupshup”, and as another commando friend told me today, “Zindagee sirf gupshup hay.” Life is just chitchat.

As I am writing this, I hear my American friends bantering outside the barracks. Some are playing a spirited game of dominoes. Others are telling jokes and laughing. Gupshup is not unique to Pakistan, but somehow Pakistan’s gupshup is unique. It’s in-your-face. I find myself unable to maintain a demure affect because everyone is so curious and welcoming. “Bockmann!” I hear as I walk to the washroom or hangar. “Assalamu aleikum! Keah hal hay? (Peace be with you! How are you?)”

Suffice to say, there is practically no way to go anywhere without saying hello to everyone, once they know you. I call it the “Gauntlet of Goodwill.” Friends, strangers, soldiers, and civilians – everyone greets us warmly. My friend Naeem calls me “brother” and asks how our family in America is doing. This makes me feel at home.

I hardly imagined Pakistanis would treat us so well! They are often critical of our government and society – as well as their own – but they see the good as well, and they are among the most courteous, genuine, and caring people I have ever met.

My American friends and colleagues can attest to this. Fellow pilots CW2 Denoncour, CPT Powers, and even our battalion commander, LTC Knightstep, have shared plenty of “doodh patii” (milk tea) with our hosts. CW2 Jenkins and PFC Mahadeo are regulars in the afternoon cricket matches. Several Pakistani friends have brought gifts for our families, as we bring stuffed animals for children in the villages. We have celebrated Eid and comforted each other in times of loss. Surely, this is not just flood relief but friendship.

Henry David Thoreau insisted that “No exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another,” but I disagree. I’m glad we travelled from America to fly our humanitarian missions here because not only are we filling a profound need, but meaningful friendships are being made. Indeed, our gupshup and chai have brought minds “much nearer to one another” on topics ranging from politics and cricket to religion and movies.

After three months in Pakistan, I have come to appreciate this country for its breathtaking landscape and mouth-watering food. But more than these, I love it for its people, my friends: Ishaq, Naeem, and all the rest of the “Gauntlet of Goodwill”.

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More Military Aid to Pakistan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Win Back Pakistan

By Michael O’Hanlon for Foreign Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atif Aslam, Todd Shea & Lanny- We Will Rise Again

Please watch this video and donate to help the people suffering as result of the Pakistan Floods of 2010.

To donate please visit link below:
https://secure.unicefusa.org/site/Donation2?df_id=8320&8320.donation=form1

New U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Delivers Flood Relief

By Gunnery Sgt Bryce Piper for The Defense Video & Imagery Distribution Sysem

 U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron P. Munter distributed flood relief supplies today at a World Food Program distribution point at Hassan Khan Jamali, Pakistan.

As the newly-appointed ambassador, Munter participated in the operation to see and participate in the Pakistan and U.S. military flood relief efforts conducted in Sindh province.

“It is an honor to have the chance to work with the Pakistani military and the American military together, who are working to help the Pakistani people,” said Munter. “This is a place that I think all of us will remember as a symbol and as a reality of our cooperation, what we can do when we work together, when we face problems together. And I’m very, very grateful to the Pakistanis and Americans who’ve done all this work.”

Munter arrived at the Pakistan military’s Pano Aqil Cantonment in the afternoon and then flew to the Hassan Khan Jamali relief site where he and a team of Pakistani and U.S. military members unloaded approximately four tons of food aid from two helicopters. Pakistanis waiting at the site collected the humanitarian supplies for distribution in the surrounding area.

This was the ambassador’s first trip to flood-affected areas of Sindh since arriving in Pakistan Oct. 27.

In addition to delivering food aid, Munter and his wife Marilyn Wyatt had an opportunity to meet with local flood victims. The couple flew to Hassan Khan Jamali aboard a U.S. CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. 26th and 15th MEUs have been conducting humanitarian relief efforts from Pano Aqil Cantonment since Sept. 3, 2010.

The Marines there have delivered more than 3.7 million pounds (over 1.6 kilograms) of food and other supplies to more than 150 locations throughout Sindh Province, flying more than 450 heavy-lift helicopter sorties.

Since Aug. 5, 2010, U.S. military aircraft and personnel, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pakistan military, have provided humanitarian airlift for the delivery of more than 20 million pounds (over 9 million kilograms) of relief supplies and the transport of more than 27,000 displaced persons throughout Pakistan.

In addition to humanitarian airlift, the U.S. Government is providing more than $398 million to assist Pakistan with relief and recovery efforts, while USAID and other U.S. civilian agencies continue to provide assistance to flood victims.

U.S. efforts are part of a multi-national humanitarian assistance and support effort lead by the Pakistani government to bring aid to flood victims.

The Pakistan Paradox

By Bret Stephens for The Wall Street Journal

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

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

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

So how do we finesse the Pakistan paradox?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flood Relief: A US Helicopter Pilot’s Tale

By John Bockmann for The Express Tribune

I am an American helicopter pilot in Pakistan.  My colleagues and I came because Pakistan and its people are enduring the aftermath of a devastating flood.  We were ordered to be here, and we miss our homes, but most of us are glad to help because we believe it’s the right thing to do.

I did not know much about Pakistan before I arrived here.  I knew of the food.  I knew of monsoons and Mohenjo Daro, Karachi and the Khyber Pass, but I had no concept of what Pakistan looked, felt, or sounded like. I even thought many Pakistanis would want us to leave.

I had no idea what the people would be like in person.  I wondered if they would resemble the images I’d seen on TV – would they protest our presence in the streets?  Would they tolerate us?  Or would they simply ignore us and go about their business?

After a few weeks of packing and planning, we were ready to deploy.  Full of excitement and some anxiety, I kissed my wife, took one last picture and was gone. We flew on a cargo jet from Alaska to Islamabad and the flight took so long I hardly knew whether it was day or night when we finally arrived.  Shouldering my gear, I headed to the terminal, weaving among Pakistani military and civilians on the tarmac.  A US Marine captain guided my group inside where we filled out information cards and relaxed in the cool quietness, surveying our area; smooth stone floors, low-slung furniture, and ceiling fans spinning high above.  The captain was talking to a Pakistani man who had been helping us.  Before we left, the man shook my hand and looked me in the eyes. “Thank you for coming to my poor country,” he said quietly.

I wanted to convey the depth of my feelings toward him and his homeland, but all I said was, “You would probably do the same for us” as I walked away.

That was my first interaction with a Pakistani here.

The days since arriving have passed quickly.  Every day we take rice, flour, blankets, housing materials, cooking oil – anything – up and down the Swat and Indus River Valleys.  We also bring sick, injured, and displaced people to hospitals and hometowns.

My first mission took us up the Indus river valley, and I embarrassed myself by constantly exclaiming its beauty.  Below me was the Karakorum Highway – the old Silk Road into China – and the valley itself, with terraced farmland overshadowed by majestic, snow-capped mountains.

Along with the beauty, though, I see reminders of the flood, bridges that are broken or missing and roads and fields that have been washed away.  I am beginning to see widespread reconstruction now as well and feel hope for the people in these villages.  They will soon have another way to get help.

I realize that some who read this will question our intentions and some may even wish us ill.  I certainly did not imagine that cheering throngs would greet us at each village though – we are always welcomed.  I did not expect our goodwill to be taken at face value by all of Pakistan, but we have received immense support.

I have learned in my time here that Pakistani people are truly gracious.  Strangers have invited me for chai and conversation.  Almost anyone will shake my hand and ask my name, inquire about my health and how I am getting along.  Instead of a handshake at our first meeting, I have sometimes been embraced.  “Strangers shake hands,” my new friend Mahmood explained, “but brothers hug each other.”

This warms my heart.  My mission, our mission, is straightforward, noble, and good.  I am deeply grateful to those who support us here, for we need all the help we can get in order to help those in need.   I am honored to do this work. I feel at home here beyond anything I could have expected.

Ah, home!  I miss my home, my wife and family; each day I wonder when I will see them again. But we have a humanitarian mission to accomplish.  Since I must be away, I’m glad that I am here, doing work that’s needed and good.

When I do return home, I will bring with me hundreds of pictures, dozens of journal entries, six duffel bags, and several recipes for local dishes that I have enjoyed, but I will also bring innumerable memories that I will treasure for life — memories of Pakistan and its people.  They have surprised me with friendship.  I hope that through our work of compassion we may surprise them with friendship as well.

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