Archive for the ‘ President Obama ’ Category

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is a Hero For All Americans

Reported by Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace  1/15/2018

Dr MLK Jr

Today, January 15 is Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday and it is also a federal holiday here in the United States. Understandably, this holiday has very special meaning for African-Americans throughout the United States and across the world. It is a holiday that should also be vigorously celebrated by all other Americans as well. Dr. King not only fought for the rights of African-Americans but he was fighting for the rights of all other minorities in the United States. The rights of white women, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Arabs and Muslims, Jews and Buddhists, Atheists and Agnostics and all other minority groups that reside in the United States owe their freedoms to the legacy and sacrifice of Dr. King.

Can we imagine an America without Dr. King sacrifices? Would Korean-Americans in Southern California have the freedom and equality to own businesses and be successful in living the American dream or would they still have been relegated to second-class citizenship as was the case in the 1960’s? Would doctors from India and Pakistan be able to come to America and pursue such high standards of living while at the same time treating Americans of all races in their practices and making the quality of healthcare better for all Americans or would segregation and Jim Crow laws have prevented them from only seeing minority clients and drinking from Black only fountains? It would be foolish to think that only African Americans would be treated badly history shows that anyone who was not white did not have the privilege to access certain facilities.

Countless white Americans have intermarried with Asians blacks Latinos and other races and former beautiful families over the last several decades. What all these families be possible without the sacrifice and struggles of Dr. King in getting equality for all Americans?

A Barack Obama would not be possible if it was not for the sacrifices of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Young children across America of various ethnic backgrounds now have a role model and a vision that they too can attain the highest office in the land now that the color barrier has been broken in the White House. Without Dr. King, President Obama is not possible and hope does not have a vision.

As a Pakistani-American, I do not take for granted the freedoms that I enjoy today in 2018 and that my children are able to take advantage of as well. I clearly understand that along with Dr. King and many other civil rights leaders of the 60s we would not have the freedoms that we now have and those that we take for granted.

Martin Luther King holiday is a holiday for all Americans of all races including white Americans. He has a legacy that has made this country great and what it is today. MLK Day is a day of celebration and a day for all Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds to reflect upon Dr. King’s legacy and to honor his memory and ultimate sacrifice for all of us to live in a better America and thus a better world today. As Americans, he belongs to us all and we all should celebrate his life and contributions in making us a great country and society.

Stand with Ahmed against Islamophobia

By Haroon Moghul for CNN

(CNN)The last time I wrote about events in Texas, it was so ridiculous it almost seemed funny. This time, though, I confess my reservoir of sympathy has run nearly dry. Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who attends Texas’ MacArthur High School, was arrested for bring a bomb to school.

Except it was a clock.

Ahmed had actually told his teacher that he’d made the clock at home and brought it in to show what he was capable of. Well, one teacher showed us what this country is capable of, too. The police were called, arrested Ahmed on suspicion of building a bomb and the snap of a shocked young teenager in a NASA T-shirt has gone global.

Irving, Texas, is not far from Dallas, the same part of the country that was making a bid for the 2024 Olympics. Before you welcome the world, might I suggest you welcome your own citizens?

On Tuesday, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast asking us to pay attention to Islam’s “jihadism problem.” (A few decades off, but hey, better late than never, guys.) Today, however, America woke up to its Islamophobia problem. It’s a reality American Muslims have endured for years.

Because let’s be real. The clock didn’t look like a bomb. Ahmed just looked to some like someone who might want to make bombs. He’s that very menacing brownish color that racists and bigots associate with either everything south of Texas or some country they probably think is called Terroristan. As it happens, he’s of African, specifically Sudanese, descent. He’s got a doubly Muslim name.

Are you surprised he was arrested?

It’s been 14 years since September 11, and some Americans still cannot believe Muslims are human beings, or American Muslims are Americans or that no people shouldn’t be judged by the actions of people they are completely unrelated to.

And why? Let’s not beat around the bush. We have a whole class of professional bigots — I’ve called them “Islamsplainers” — whose very purpose in the world is to tell us what Islam really is. Except their explanations are based on no evidence, little argument and zero interaction with actual Muslims. They make broad, sweeping, ridiculous generalizations, which would be wholly and completely unacceptable if directed at any other people. Yet America takes them seriously.

It’s trickle-down Islamophobia, the opportunistic and grimy peddling of misinformation, making money and accumulating airtime by alarming Americans with exaggerated fears and wholly decontextualized theses.

Glenn Beck. Bill Maher. Robert Spencer. Pamela Geller. Sam Harris. Maajid Nawaz. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Their views are vile, hateful, ignorant and, frankly, scary. Yet instead of being called out, they continue to receive mainstream endorsement. In fact, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fellow at Harvard, while Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s terrible new book was also published by Harvard Press. Is this what passes for intelligent conversation in supposedly sophisticated circles?

Our professional Islamophobes say the same things, over and over again. They publish the same arguments, over and over again. Glenn Beck’s new book, cleverly titled “It IS About Islam,” is pretty much a rehash of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.” (Probably none of them could invent a clock. Probably they’re just jealous.)

And people who don’t know any better eat it up. They think it’s the truth. They believe Muslim extremism is somehow different from other kinds of extremism. That radicalism is pervasive in Muslim communities. That American Muslims are terrorists. That our cemeteries are secret jihadist training grounds. (Really, we couldn’t think of a better cover story for jihad camp than “Muslim burial ground?”) That all Muslims are either jihadist apologists or jihadist denialists. That the dangerous nature of Muslims requires persistent surveillance.

As Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Dean Obeidallah has shown, Irving has proved especially receptive to these arguments, and its mayor has partaken in the demonization of Islam. People like her are part of the Islamophobia problem and why a 14-year-old kid got arrested for doing the most American of things: Tinkering. Inventing. Creating. For heaven’s sake, he’s got a NASA T-shirt on. He’s looking to the future, the place we used to think we owned. And do you know why we feel like we don’t? It’s not because of people like me, or kids like Ahmed. We believe in America. It’s the racists and bigots that don’t.

When I was 14, I loved “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I watched each episode religiously. I had and still have a man crush on Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. I wanted to marry Counselor Troi in a Sharia-compliant ceremony. I screamed out in agony at the third season finale. I believed I’d become a theoretical physicist. But I didn’t.

Fast forward to today, and instead of being able to focus on what I want, studying what I want, contributing what I feel most able to, I have to talk about my identity 24/7, because who else is going to respond to the racists, the bigots, the misinformants? Who’s going to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s next book, or Sam Harris’ subsequent screed and tell you, once again, that despite all their advantages, they still know next to nothing about Islam, about Muslims, about America’s Muslims?

So yes, I and countless other Muslims will keep fighting the good fight, joining hands with people of conscience and conviction to oppose injustices, inequalities and racism of all kinds. Why? So that the real next generation — Ahmed’s generation — can follow their dreams. Not suffer for some people’s nightmares.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

#IStandwithAhmed, #AhmedMohamed, #Texas, #Irving, #Islam, #Islamophobia, #Mulims, #Clock, #IT, #SiliconValley, #Tech

Why I Plan to Vote for President Obama Again…as an American Muslim

By Irfan Rydhan for Patheos

There have been a lot of discussions going on lately online among Americans, including American Muslims on whether to vote in this year’s presidential elections. Many people, especially Muslims feel that President Obama has disappointed them, thus they will not vote to help re-elect him for a second term. Still others believe that it is no use for us to vote because either party will not help us American Muslims out and a few people also think that it is Haram (unlawful in Islam) to even vote in the first place.

To those Muslims who say that voting is Haram, I will just respond by saying that you are Stupid. Period.

As an American Muslim, I was happy to vote for Obama in 2008, because I wanted a change from the failed policies of G.W. Bush, like most everyone else. I was also happy to hear that Obama, who had a Pakistani roommate, grew up in Indonesia and had Muslims in his family, although he himself is a Christian, was much more aware and knowledgeable about different cultures around the world – which was (and still is) needed for the leadership of America in this very small world we live in today. I was also happy to hear that Obama would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, close Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba and would try to work for a two state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Of course Obama won the election against John McCain with a safe margin (although some states were very tight and every vote was needed to win in those battleground states – just like this year) and was elected to President of United States of America in November of 2008. This was a historic election, since Obama is the first African-American to be elected as President. This was one of the moments I was most proud to be an American, since no other western country has elected a minority race or ethnic group to the highest position of government before this.

Now 4 years later, many people, especially American Muslims are disappointed that President Obama was not able to keep all his promises. To those people, I will give you some reasons why this happened and also why we should give President Obama a second term in order to continue a lot of the good work he has done to help our country get back on its feet and move in the right direction.

Before President Obama took office in 2009, the economy was already losing 800,000 jobs a month. Now we have seen steady job growth for 30 consecutive months. Obama also saved the US Auto Industry, while his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, wanted to let it die. Although this was a very unpopular move to give federal money help the Auto Industry, Obama stuck with it and in turn saved 1 million Auto jobs in the US and all the government loans made to US Auto Companies were paid back ahead of time.

President Obama decided to take on one of the major problems in the US: The American Healthcare System. The last time a US President was able to successfully pass major healthcare reform was in 1965 with President Johnson’s introduction of Medicare and Medicaid. Since then, most political experts consider major Healthcare reform as political suicide, but President Obama still decided to take it head on and was able to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”). It is not perfect by any means, but definitely a step in the right direction for America, where healthcare costs are some of the highest in the Western world. With “Obamacare,” health insurance companies cannot charge women more than men for the same coverage. Parents can keep their children on their family health plans until the age of 26. Seniors on Medicare will have free preventive services and also lower prescription costs. Romney said he will repeal the Affordable Care Act, and most likely allow Health Insurance companies to go back to running wild and abusing people who have pre-existing conditions (such as being a woman)!

President Obama and the Democrats, although far from perfect, are an inclusive party. Anyone who watched the conventions of the Democrats and Republicans could see with their own eyes, the GOP convention attendees were monolithic and not very diverse. The Democratic convention on the other hand, was the exact opposite. It featured people of all colors, backgrounds, and religions – including American Muslims. Unfortunately, the Republican party, over the past 12 years have moved to the extreme right and have now openly attacked American Muslims who serve in the US Military, Congress and other government positions. People such as Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman and others who are deeply involved with the current direction of the GOP, are self proclaimed Islamophobes who flaunt their Anti-Muslim hysteria. President Obama on the other hand appointed several American Muslims to his administration including Farah Pandith, the first-ever Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the United States and Rashad Hussain, who serves as the U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group representing 57 nations.

President Obama delivered on a campaign promise to address Muslims around the world from a Muslim capital within the first few months of him being elected by speaking at Cairo University in June 2009. Also during Obama’s first trip overseas as President, he also spoke to the Turkish parliament in April of 2009. I don’t remember the last time a US President travelled to and spoke publicly in two Muslim majority countries within their first
term, but it was a major change in US policy from the G.W. Bush era of shoot first and talk later.

President Obama ended the War in Iraq and also started to draw down troops in Afghanistan. By 2014 a majority of US troops will have left Afghanistan. He also ended the use of water boarding by US military prisons. President Obama has decimated Al-Qaida by taking out their leader Usama bin Laden – one of the worst terrorists of the 21st century. Some Muslims complain that Bin Laden should have been captured alive and tried in court. Let me respond this way: Usama bin Laden admitted to destroying the Twin Towers in NY on Sept 11th, 2001 and was the major cause of all the problems we Muslims now have here in the US (and other Western countries). We Muslims should be happy that Bin Laden is dead and that Al Qaida and other extremists are weakened around the world, especially in Pakistan, which has suffered a lot due to their extremism.

In terms of Pakistan, yes there are Drone strikes which no one, including myself likes, because they hurt and kill innocent people in the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province, but do you think that you will have a better chance to end these drone attacks with Obama as President or Romney? This is a current US Military Tactic, which will not stop if Romney is elected as President. In fact, US foreign policy, under Romney will become much worse for Muslims, because he (Romney) has already called “Jerusalem” the capital of Israel (which is Not current US policy) and he will bring the same Anti-Muslim foreign policy team, which G.W. Bush had, back into the White House. They are already pushing for war with Iran, a trade war with China and causing problems with Russia! Now, do we as a country want to move backwards or forward?

President Obama successfully fought to prevent federal student loan interest rates from doubling for more than 7 million students, and capped federal student loan repayments at 10% of income. He also doubled funding for Pell Grants and established a college tax credit. As someone who started his college career at a local community college, I am happy to hear that President Obama is also investing in community colleges and career training programs. Plus, he doesn’t want to cut funding from PBS and fire “Big Bird” like Romney does!

President Obama renewed Unemployment Benefits twice. As someone who was unemployed for almost one full year, this definitely helped me and my family out. Not only that, a program called “Keep Your Home California” which was created because of the Obama Administration’s efforts to help people who lost their jobs to be able to keep their homes. This also directly helped me and my family out by helping us pay our mortgage bill while I was unemployed for 9 months.

To those who say that President Obama did not keep all his promises, such as not closing Gitmo. Let me remind them that Obama was blocked by the Republicans in Congress who did not allow the prison to be closed and the detainees to be tried in American courts (This is a reminder to everyone to vote for their local congressman as well, because the President cannot do anything if Congress is against him). See this article about the House blocking the closure of Gitmo from the Washington Post here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/dec/8/congress-deals-death-blow-gitmo-closure/?page=all

If we as American Muslims really want change in the way that we are seen and perceived in our own country, then we need to step up and get involved in the US political system. We really have no right to complain, because we haven’t really been involved in the affairs of our country’s domestic policies (we have No influence at all in US foreign policy at this point) and only became “active” for the past 12 years. We always complain about how Israel can “get away with anything” and the US supports Israel no matter what. Let me explain briefly why this is. The American Jewish community has been involved in the affairs of the United States for well over 100 years (the ZOA was established in 1897). Not only that, but American Jews have gone into every major field of influence (Media, Politics, Law, Education, etc.) and became leaders in their respective fields. This is not something to condemn, but to applaud. They spread their influence and diversified their skills. We American Muslims on the other hand are disproportionally involved in Medicine, Computer Science and Engineering, and to top it off, we do not donate any money to political campaigns or lobbyists like other minority groups do. Then we complain because we voted once or twice, forwarded some emails and donated $20 for Obama’s campaign and then expect the whole world to change in our favor!

Sorry it doesn’t work like that my friends. US Foreign policy has been developed over decades and policies that were put in place over 70 years ago are still affecting decisions made today. To learn more about this, please read the book: “Obama and the Middle East” which I reviewed here: (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/almihrab/2012/09/before-you-blame-obama-for-the-problems-in-the-middle-east-read-this-book/)

In conclusion, if you want to give up on Obama because you feel that he disappointed you, then don’t vote for Obama. But keep in mind that by not voting or voting for a Third Party Candidate for President instead is basically giving your vote to Romney. Mitt will not only take your free vote, but he will not do anything at all to help American Muslims out. Romney’s foreign policy team is made up of Islamophobes, Pro-Military Extremists and War Hawks who are just waiting to attack Iran (by the way the government of Israel wants Romney to win as well because they felt Obama was too tough on them). But if you care about what is going to happen to this country that we have all either been born into or have come to for a better life, then we should not only vote, but also vote for the only candidate who can relate to us as a minority and has already listened to many of our concerns as American Muslims and has followed through on many of these items. He ended water-boarding torture which was initiated by G.W. Bush and Company. He ended the War in Iraq.

He is about to bring back the troops home from Afghanistan. He has helped to bring America back on its feet from an economic stimulus package which has helped save the US Auto Industry and bring continued job growth for the past 30 months. He has helped America take a step in the right direction by creating the Affordable Care Act which will help cover 30 million Americans, mostly children, who would not have had health insurance before. That candidate is President Barack Obama. Now go out and vote for him on November 6th.

Why Do Republicans Dislike Muslims?

By Dr Hesham A. Hassaballa for Patheos

For many years of my adult life, I was a Republican and voted with the GOP in almost every election. For several of those years, in fact, I was in the Republican Party organization in my local township. I felt at home in the Republican Party, with its insistence on personal liberty and limited government. Moreover, I felt that it was more “faith-friendly,” with people of faith being more welcome among Republicans than Democrats.

In 2008, however, that all changed. With the repeated whispers among Republicans that Obama was a “Muslim,” as if that was some sort of plague or flaw, I was totally soured against the GOP, and I officially left the Party. Since then, I have periodically wondered whether I made the right decision. In 2011, in a column I wrote for Patheos, I came to the conclusion that I had done the right thing.

Since then, it seems that the Republican Party has decided that demonizing Islam and Muslims is good politics. Never mind that American Muslims are some of the most successful Americans around. Never mind that American Muslims are just the sort of people who would be good allies of the Republican Party. Never mind that American Muslims are an important part of the fabric of our country and marginalizing them—as with any other minority—can only hurt the country going forward.

No. It seems that the Republican Party does not want any Muslims in its ranks, and it is quite content with that.

Now, that last sentence that I wrote may have been out of emotion and without much basis in fact. But, in fact a recent poll by the Arab American Institute backs up that contention with actual fact. According to the survey, 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Muslims. Only 26 percent have a favorable view of Muslims. Now, when asked about “Muslim Americans,” it got a little better: 47 percent have unfavorable views versus 35 percent with favorable views.

According to the survey, “Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.”

As a whole, Republicans are just not that into Muslims. But, does that explain the seemingly endless demonization of Islam and Muslims from members of the Republican Party? Is it a personal bias and dislike of Muslims that leads Republican lawmakers from more than a dozen states to try an enact laws that ban “Sharia law”? It would be easy to draw this conclusion and move on.

But as I read on in the study, I was struck by something that really explained a lot behind this negative attitude toward Muslims. When asked, “Do you personally know anyone who is Arab or Muslim?” 49-63 percent of respondents answered in the negative, the most being among Romney voters. Among those who said they knew an Arab or Muslim, 56-65 percent had a favorable view.

That is the key, and it actually gave me a lot of hope. Simply put, we need to know one another better. I suspect that many of the negative feelings toward Muslims found in this study are due to the fact that most of the respondents do not know a Muslim. Once they know a Muslim, they realize that Muslims are Americans just like them who love their country deeply and wish for many of the same things that they do.

It’s going to take a lot of effort, for both the American Muslim community and their neighbors of other faiths. That work, however, is critical to our cohesion as a nation and a people. There are forces of hatred and division that are actively at work to make sure that this divide amongst us stays as wide as possible. We have to make sure that these efforts end up in miserable failure.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook. Hassaballa’s column, “An American Islam,” is published monthly on the Muslim portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Quips a Sign That U.S.-Pakistan Bond Soured

By Sebastian Abbot and Rebecca Santana for The Associated Press

You know a friendship has gone sour when you start making mean jokes about your friend in front of his most bitter nemesis.

So it was a bad sign last week when the U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta joshed in front of an audience of Indians about how Washington kept Pakistan in the dark about the raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden a year ago.

“They didn’t know about our operation. That was the whole idea,” Panetta said with a chuckle at a Q&A session after a speech in New Delhi, raising laughs from the audience. The bin Laden raid by U.S. commandos in a Pakistani town infuriated Islamabad because it had no advance notice, and it was seen by Pakistan’s powerful military as a humiliation.

The U.S. and Pakistan are starting to look more like enemies than allies, threatening the U.S. fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants based in the country and efforts to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan before American troops withdraw.
Long plagued by frustration and mistrust, the relationship has plunged to its lowest level since the 9/11 attacks forced the countries into a tight but awkward embrace over a decade ago. The United States has lost its patience with Pakistan and taken the gloves off to make its anger clear.

“It has taken on attributes and characteristics now of a near adversarial relationship, even though neither side wants it to be that way,” said Maleeha Lodhi, who was serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, and was key in hurriedly assembling the two countries’ alliance after the terror attacks.

The latest irritant is Pakistan’s refusal to end its six-month blockade of NATO troop supplies meant for Afghanistan. Even if that issue is resolved, however, the relationship may be on an irreversible downward slide. The main source of U.S. anger is Pakistan’s unwillingness to go after militants using its territory to launch attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.

On the Pakistani side, officials are fed up with Washington’s constant demands for more without addressing Islamabad’s concerns or sufficiently appreciating the country’s sacrifice. Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting a domestic Taliban insurgency fueled partly by resentment of the U.S. alliance.

Panetta’s comments about the bin Laden raid may have been unscripted, but others he made while in India and Afghanistan seemed calculated to step up pressure on Pakistan. He stressed Washington’s strong relationship with India — which Islamabad considers its main, historic enemy — and defended unpopular American drone attacks in Pakistan.

He also said in unusually sharp terms that the U.S. was running out of patience with Islamabad’s failure to go after the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, considered the most dangerous militant group fighting in Afghanistan.

Many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target the Haqqanis and other Afghan militants based on its soil because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw, especially in countering the influence of India. Over the past 18 months, the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has suffered repeated crises.

In January 2011, a CIA contractor sparked outrage when he shot to death two Pakistanis in the city of Lahore who he claimed were trying to rob him.
In November, American airstrikes killed 24 Pakistani troops at two Afghan border posts. The U.S. has said it was an accident, but the Pakistani army claims it was deliberate.

Pakistan retaliated by kicking the U.S. out of a base used by American drones and closing its border to NATO supplies meant for troops in Afghanistan. Negotiations to reopen the supply route are slow but under way.
But Pakistani officials have said the route will not reopen without some kind of apology. The U.S. has expressed its regret over the incident but has refused to apologize for fear it could open the Obama administration to GOP criticism.

Afridi Sentence Pushes U.S.-Pakistan Relations From Bad to Worse

As Compiled by Araminta Wordsworth for The National Post

Full Comment’s Araminta Wordsworth brings you a daily round-up of quality punditry from across the globe. Today: One country’s freedom fighter is another nation’s traitor, from Benedict Arnold on down.

That’s the fate of Shakil Afridi. The Pakistani doctor is now behind bars, serving a 33-year sentence for treason and excoriated by fellow citizens.

His crime: helping the Americans track down the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

The physician organized a fake vaccination drive in Abbottabad, a leafy town about an hour north of Islamabad where the al-Qaeda chief had been bunked down, apparently for years. Nurses went from house to house, taking DNA samples. Among the doors they knocked on was that of bin Laden.

The sentence has been greeted by outrage in Washington, where relations with Islamabad are going from bad to worse. Americans believe they should at least get co-operation for the $1-billion in aid they dish out to Pakistan each year.

Pakistanis meanwhile are affronted by perceived infringements of their sovereignty — chiefly the US Navy SEALs’ raid that killed bin Laden, which was carried out without notifying Islamabad; but also U.S. drone attacks, a friendly fire accident that killed about 30 government troops, and the CIA’s continuing clandestine operations.

Reporting from Islamabad for The Guardian, Jon Boone explains the Pakistani position.

For some Americans the Pakistani doctor who worked on a clandestine operation to track down one of the U.S.’s greatest enemies is a hero who should be given citizenship. But for Pakistan’s security agencies Dr. Shakil Afridi, a 48-year-old physician who once led campaigns to vaccinate children against polio on the Afghan frontier, is a villain.

On Wednesday a representative of the country’s main spy agency said Afridi had got what he deserved when he was sentenced to 33 years in prison for conspiring against the state, for his role in trying to help the CIA track Osama bin Laden to his hideout in the garrison town of Abbottabad.
American lawmakers quickly responded, hitting Pakistan in the pocketbook, writes David Rogers at Politico.

Angered by the prosecution of a Pakistani doctor for helping the CIA locate Osama bin Laden, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to cut another $33-million from an already much-reduced military aid package: $1-million for each of the physician’s 33-year prison sentence.
The 30-0 roll call followed a brief but often bitter discussion that underscored the deteriorating relationship between Washington and the Islamabad government, which remains an important ally in the war in Afghanistan.

“We need Pakistan. Pakistan needs us,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, who helped to craft the amendment. “But we don’t need a Pakistan that is just double dealing.” Judson Berger at Fox News believes the Obama administration was caught flat-footed by Afridi’s conviction.

Former U.S. intelligence officers accused the Obama administration of dropping the ball … — with one openly challenging the State Department’s claim that it pressed his case “regularly” with Islamabad.

Officials are now raising a slew of concerns with how the U.S. government has handled the case.
Peter Brookes, a former analyst and adviser with several intelligence agencies who is now a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News on Thursday that the U.S. should have had a plan to get him out of Pakistan immediately following the raid.

But CNN’s national security contributor Fran Townsend told the program Starting Point Afridi probably thought he was “safe enough” in Pakistan and didn’t want to leave, especially without his extended family.

The United States is working to secure Afridi’s release, and Townsend confirms that [U.S. Secretary of ] State Hillary Clinton has intervened on the doctor’s behalf. Although she believes that Afridi may face some jail time, Townsend says that she ultimately thinks he’ll be released through negations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Pakistan will use it as a leverage point,” Townsend explains. “They’re going to want some concession, some commitment from the United States that there will be no use of Pakistani citizens inside their own territory by American intelligence.”

Her view of Afridi as a bargaining chip is confirmed by the BBC’s M. Ilyas Khan, who explains the significance of trying Afridi under Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tribal law .

A trial by a regular court could have gone on for months, involving a proper indictment, witnesses and lawyers, all under the glare of television cameras.

But the political officer in Khyber has made sure that it stays secret and swift … Analysts say the Pakistani establishment has done this not only to defy the Americans but also to send a message to all Pakistani contacts of American diplomatic missions to desist from repeating Dr Afridi’s “mistake.”

They also point to an enduring feeling in Pakistan that at some point it has to mend fences with its Western allies, in which case the release of r Afridi could be one of the bargaining chips.

As and when that happens, the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province can legally order his release.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- The jailing of Dr Afridi is not only another stain in the US-Pakistani relations, such as the hiding of OBL, but rather it is another carriage of injustice in a nation that is guilty of it daily with its population. From the lack of providing rights and freedoms to many of its citizens to the downright shameful behavior towards its religious minorities and women, it regularly is guilty of miscarriage of justice.

Please don’t even get us started on failing miserably to provide basics such as power, clean water, security from home grown terrorists or even a remotely functioning democracy. This action, as well as others in the last thirteen months illustrate, in our view, simply no reason other than, we are sad to say, that Pakistan has essentially told the Americans that we are not with you.

US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at Nato Summit

As Reported By Ewen MacAskill for The Guardian

The rift between the US and Pakistan deepened on Monday as the Nato summit in Chicago broke up without a deal on Afghanistan supply routes.

Barack Obama, at a press conference to wind up the summit, made no attempt to conceal his exasperation, issuing a pointed warning to Pakistan it was in its wider interest to work with the US to avoid being “consumed” by extremists.

Seldom in recent years have the tensions between Washington and Islamabad been on public show to the extent as at the Chicago, overshadowing the two-day Nato summit.

The main point of friction is Pakistan’s closure of Nato supply routes to Afghanistan in protest over drone attacks and a US air strike in November that killed two dozen Pakistani troops.

Obama refused to make time during the two-day summit to see the Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari for a face-to-face bilateral meeting. In a press conference, Obama made a point of stressing that the only exchange he had with his Pakistani counterpart was short. “Very brief, as we were walking into the summit,” Obama said.

The US president said he “did not want to paper over the cracks” and that there has been tension between the US-led international force in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last few months.

But ultimately, it was in the US interest to have a stable, democratic and prosperous Pakistan, Obama said, adding it was in the interest of Pakistan to work with the US to ensure it is not consumed by extremists.

There are fears in the US that the Pakistan government is unstable and that the government could fall, to be replaced by hardliners. The risk for Obama is displaying his annoyance with Pakistan at the Chicago summit is that Zardari could leave the summit feeling humiliated and even less willing to play a positive role over Afghanistan.

Obama declined to meet Zadari one-to-one because Pakistan is refusing to re-open its Afghanistan border to Nato, which means the US and others are having to resupply their military forces through the slower and more expensive routes from the north and Russia.

The president claimed that he never anticipated the Pakistan supply line issue being resolved at the summit and, taking a more optimistic view of the stand-off, he said they were making “diligent progress”.

“We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan. Neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues,” Obama said.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, at a press conference in Chicago, reflected the irritation with Pakistan, describing the blocked routes as “frustrating”. Cameron said he expected a deal eventually but not at the summit.

In its final communique, Nato formally committed to its withdrawal of the 130,000-strong force from Afghanistan based on a timetable agreed earlier by Obama and Karzai. All international combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014. But the communique said a smaller force would remain to help “train, advise and assist” the Afghan army.

The communique does not say how many troops will be left but US commanders in Kabul are looking at a Nato force of around 15,000-20,000. Reflecting the public mood in Nato countries tired of the war, the comminque said the withdrawal timetable is “irreversible”.

Obama, at the opening of the second day of the Nato summit on Monday morning, showed his displeasure with the Pakistan government by singling out for mention the Central Asia countries and Russia that have stepped in to replace the Pakistan supply route and made no mention of Pakistan. Zardari was in the room at the time.

To ram home the point, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, also held a meeting at the Nato summit with senior ministers from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Panetta expressed his “deep appreciation” for their support.

Zardari has demanded an apology from the US for the killing of the 24 Pakistani troops in November in return for reopening supply lines. He is also proposing that the tariff for each vehicle be raised from $250 to $5,000. The US is bitter about this, noting the amount of American military and other aid that goes to Pakistan annually.

In his wrap-up press conference, Obama stood praised the Chicago police for their handling of the demonstrations but also defended the rights of the protesters. “This is part of what Nato defends: free speech and freedom of assembly,” Obama said.

NATO Summit May Pose Few Political Risks For Obama

By Lynn Sweet for The Chicago Sun Times

With the American public — and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — focused on the economy, President Barack Obama may not have much at stake politically if there are diplomatic flaps at the NATO Summit in Chicago.

And since Obama already signed a “Strategic Partnership Agreement” with Afghanistan to have most U.S. troops out in 2014 — he flew to Kabul for the May 1 signing — there may not be much of a price to pay domestically if pressure comes from the new president of France and other NATO partners in Afghanistan to shorten the timetable.

And if all heck breaks loose in Obama’s hometown from protesters? Well, a riot in a president’s hometown at a global summit is obviously not good. But the ramifications may not be far reaching. As political time goes, the presidential election is light-years away.

“Nobody in November will remember what happened,” an Obama team source told me. It will be a short news cycle on the cable outlets “and a month in the [Chicago] papers.”

Romney’s team headquartered in Boston is hardly paying attention to the NATO gathering and was not, when I visited on Friday, sizing it up as an obvious political opportunity for them because they want an almost exclusive focus on the economy.

The rapidly expanding Romney operation (overlooking the Charles River) on Friday was ramping up the “message of the week” theme for this week — on government spending. Romney hits the Chicago area on Tuesday for a fund-raiser at the Winnetka home of Pat Ryan — the insurance mogul and civic activist — and his wife, Shirley.

The Romney campaign could mull commenting on some policy difference that emerges — but that would depend on the specifics and if strategically it paid for them to go off message. Same goes if protests get ugly or it there is some serious security incident. It all depends on the situation, I’m told.

Obama’s biggest diplomatic stake

The biggest diplomatic stakes for Obama are the package of issues surrounding Afghanistan, made more complex because of the election of a new French president.

Three announcements are expected at the Chicago NATO Summit: When in 2013 the combat mission in Afghanistan shifts to supporting the Afghan National Security Forces; how much support, financial and otherwise the “ANSF” will get from NATO partners; and agreement on a “roadmap” for NATO’s post-2014 role in Afghanistan.

France’s new president, Francois Hollande — a Socialist — will be sworn in on Monday. He campaigned on a platform to pull out French combat troops by the end of 2012.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Chicago NATO Summit on Thursday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon was asked by committee chair Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) about Hollande.

Obama at the last NATO Summit — in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010 — got the Afghanistan partners to agree to the 2014 timetable, Gordon noted.

“The French assure us that they are committed to our common success in Afghanistan, and I’m sure we’ll find a way forward that ensures that common success. All I can do is speak to our own view, which is that this principle of ‘in together, out together’ remains critical,” Gordon said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has much more at stake in the summit — as Obama’s former chief of staff, he grabbed the Summit, seeing it as a terrific opportunity to showcase Chicago. But he neglected to get buy-in from rank-and-file Chicagoans who see the inconveniences more than the advantages.

Emanuel has just one portfolio for the NATO Summit as host mayor. Though he once did while in the White House, Emanuel this week doesn’t have to worry about the future of NATO, transatlantic security, ballistic missiles, Russia, free and fair elections in Afghanistan and how to make NATO allies take on their fair share of financial responsibilities and spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense.

Obama wanted the summit to be in Chicago in part because he wanted to show off for foreign leaders a city that relishes it diversity — with almost every ethnic group that is part of NATO and its partners.

The last U.S. NATO Summit was in 1999; this is the first outside of Washington.

“In addition to the opportunity to showcase one of our nation’s great cities, our hosting of the summit in Chicago is a tangible symbol of the importance of NATO to the United States. It is also an opportunity to underscore to the American people the continued value of this alliance to security challenges we face today,” Gordon said at the Senate hearing.

Emanuel, on the other hand, wanted the summit to drum up business for Chicago.

My thought is Emanuel far more than Obama owns the summit if things go wrong — and will likely bear the brunt even though the Secret Service is taking the lead coordinating security.

Emanuel will find it harder to change the subject if there are horrible demonstrations. Obama, working off a national and global stage — will be able to move on if all that goes wrong are protests.

“Foreign policy in the minds of the American people right now is not nearly as important as it has been in past elections,” Brookings Institution scholar William Galston told me. “… They are focused almost exclusively on the economy.”

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley noted when we talked that demonstrations at world summits “are not unique to Barack Obama or to America today.

“Demonstrations happen every time there is a big gathering now of any leaders of the world anywhere,” Daley said.

I asked Daley if the fact the summit is in hometown Chicago raises the stakes for Obama.

He said no. “Just cause it was his hometown people would say, ‘boy, he could not control his home therefore we are not going to vote for him as president.’ … I don’t see it. … Obviously, it wouldn’t help. But I don’t see the American people holding him responsible for what may or may not happen by demonstrators who come from all over the country and all over the world to the city.”

Haley’s Comment

As Reported By Robert Walker for The Huffington Post

Like a comet streaking across the heavens, Governor Nikki Haley’s comment on The View about women not caring about contraception is drawing a lot of attention. And rightly so.

Poll after poll suggests that women do care about contraception. Case in point: Mitt Romney’s plan to shut down the family planning clinics run by Planned Parenthood has cost him dearly. His support among women has dropped precipitously in the past few months as voters learn more about his views on family planning.

When Haley and other Republican leaders opine about the lack of voter interest in contraception, it’s more wishful thinking than political insight. They recognize that the positions taken by the GOP presidential aspirants on family planning may help them in the primaries, but it will undoubtedly hurt them in the general election. As a result, they want to change the subject in the worst way.

Unfortunately for them, comments like those made by Governor Haley do nothing to shift voter attention to the issues they want to talk about, like deficits and the economy. To the contrary, they reinforce the idea that Republicans are tone-deaf on women’s issues.

Haley’s comment, in particular, appears to suggest that Republican leaders, even women like her, don’t care about a women’s access to contraception. Before making her claim, maybe she should have checked in with another Republican leader, Senator Olympia Snowe, who earlier this week said that the political attacks on contraception were “retro.”

What’s even more “retro,” however, is the unspoken half of Haley’s comment. By suggesting that women don’t really care about contraception, she’s suggesting that men could care even less. So much less that it’s not even worth discussing.

Polls, of course, suggest to the contrary. While men may feel less strongly than women do, they also care about contraception. Most men recognize that they also benefit when women are able to determine the number and timing of their pregnancies. Some men may want to keep women “barefoot and pregnant,” but it’s a pretty small minority. This is, after all, the 21st century.

As governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley ought to appreciate the critical need for family planning services. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. According to the Guttmacher Institute, South Carolina’s rate of unintended pregnancy is significantly higher than the national average. In 2006, 52,000 South Carolina residents had an unintended pregnancy, a rate of 58 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Guttmacher report that births resulting from these unintended pregnancies cost the state and federal governments $254 million in 2006.

And South Carolina’s teenage pregnancy rate, while it’s been declining in recent years, is still about 25 percent higher than the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control.

A poll released earlier this year indicated that 95 percent of South Carolinians believe that teenage pregnancy is an important issue, with 85 percent supporting school-based sexuality education. Maybe, Governor Haley should go on a listening tour in South Carolina before declaring that women don’t care about contraception.

Many regard Governor Haley as a rising political star in the political firmament. She’s frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential selection. Given Romney’s “gender gap,” adding a woman to the ticket might be a smart move, but, maybe he should find a woman who understands how women — and men — genuinely feel about contraception.

Governor Haley’s comment, like the famed Halley’s comet, will soon fade from public view, but the issue of contraception will not fade anytime soon. The war on contraception is real. State cutbacks, like those in Texas, are forcing family-planning clinics to close their doors, and if GOP leaders succeed in their efforts to eliminate Title X, the federal program that provides low-income women with improved access to family planning, more shutdowns will inevitably occur.

That’s why it’s so critically important that women — and men — pledge to speak out in support of reproductive health and rights. Don’t let the Governor Haleys of the world speak for you.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– We profiled Governor Nikki Haley a few days before she was elected as the first Indian born female governor as well as minority woman governor of a US state and wished her well here. However, her party and ideals diametrically are opposed to ours as Democratic voters in the US elections as many Pakistani Americans now are. Thus, some of her ideas and beliefs are not necessarily our own, but we still wish her well as she is a fellow Desi~

U.S. and Pakistan Take Step to Mend Relations

By Salman Masood and Declan Walsh for The New York Times

President Obama took a symbolic step toward improving ties with Pakistan on Tuesday when he met with Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of a nuclear summit meeting in South Korea.

But even as the two leaders made polite, if freighted, comments about improved cooperation, harsh debate in Pakistan’s Parliament on Tuesday made clear that there may be very little political upside for any Pakistani warming toward Washington.

Speaking in Seoul, President Obama acknowledged “strains” in the relationship and voiced his support for a parliamentary review process in Pakistan that aims to get the relationship back on its feet. “I think it’s important for us to get it right,” he said at a joint news conference.

But Mr. Obama added that Pakistan must also respect pressing American security concerns centered on “national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.”

Mr. Gilani replied that he would help work with Mr. Obama “to have all the peace, prosperity and progress of the whole world.”

Relations between the two countries plunged steeply after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden last May, then worsened further after American warplanes fired airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan in November.

The border strikes caused Pakistan to close NATO supply routes into Afghanistan and expel American officials from a remote air based used by the C.I.A. to launch drone strikes against militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the northwestern Pakistani tribal belt. More recently, a Pakistani parliamentary committee on national security demanded an end to drone strikes and an unconditional American apology for the airstrikes.

In Islamabad on Tuesday, Parliament was supposed to start a long-awaited debate that would pave the way toward re-engaging diplomatically with the United States. But the opposition stalled the debate, with some lawmakers expressing fury at news reports that the government had already promised to reopen the NATO supply lines.

Ayaz Amir, an influential lawmaker with the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N party, questioned why Pakistan even bothered blocking the supply routes if it was assumed they would start right back up again. “We are fooling ourselves, and we are also fooling the Pakistani people,” he said.

The most scathing criticism came from Maulana Fazalur Rehman, an influential religious politician, who warned that if the government failed to win broad political backing for its review of American ties, he would take his protests onto the streets.

“We will not let such a decision to be implemented in the field,” he said.

Mr. Rehman asserted that given urgent efforts by the Americans to start negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, American weapons transported through NATO supply lines could ultimately be turned back on Pakistan, earning loud applause from fellow lawmakers. And he asked how the government intended to bring covert American operations in Pakistan under the law of the land.

Raza Rabbani, a senior government lawmaker, responded that the parliamentary committee’s recommendations on American policy were “broad policy guidelines” and not a final decision.

The session was adjourned until Wednesday evening, when the formal debate is due to begin. Meanwhile, outside Parliament, a newly formed alliance of religious parties and extremist groups, the Defense of Pakistan Council, held a large street rally against the reopening of the supply routes.

“If Parliament compromises on the security and sovereignty of the country, then we cannot guarantee the security of the lawmakers,” said Maulana Sami ul-Haq, head of the alliance, as hundreds of protesters chanted anti-American slogans.

Afghan Village Massacre Will Compound US Problem

By Amin Saikal for The Sydney Morning Herald

US forces are stumbling from one disaster to another in Afghanistan. The latest is the killing of at least 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier in Kandahar province, the spiritual seat of the Taliban.

It comes shortly after the American burning of copies of the Koran that set off a week of riots across Afghanistan in which some 30 Afghans were killed. This latest incident is set to heighten anti-American sentiment in the country, with serious repercussions for the international forces and their Afghan partners.

President Barack Obama and the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, General John Allen, have profusely apologised and promised an immediate investigation. The perpetrator is described as a rogue soldier, who recently had a nervous breakdown. This is unlikely to placate many Afghans, especially in the ethnic Pashtun-dominated areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Taliban-led insurgency is at its peak. Nor will it deter the Taliban from capitalising on the incident to once again castigate the US and its allies as infidel occupiers, and the Karzai government as their stooge.

It is also bound to add to the complexity of the new strategic partnership that Washington and Kabul are currently negotiating to establish the parameters for US military-security involvement in Afghanistan after the US and its allies have withdrawn most of their troops from Afghanistan by 2014. While Karzai will find it expedient to become more demanding in the negotiations to show that he is not an American lackey, the Obama administration may need to make more concessions to Karzai, despite the fact that he has proved to be an incompetent and untrustworthy partner, who has continued to preside over a corrupt and dysfunctional government for more than a decade.

Rogue actions in conflicts are not unusual. There were many during the Vietnam War and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The present US-led military involvement in Afghanistan has not been free of them either. An American soldier has just been convicted of premeditated murder of three Afghans two years ago.

American and ISAF troops have also been killed by rogue Afghan soldiers for one reason or another. However, what makes the latest incident alarming is that it has been enacted by a soldier who had a nervous breakdown, and yet was still on duty. He committed a massacre in a zone of insurgency where the Taliban had not been active for six months. Inhabitants across the region now will become more receptive to the Taliban than ever before.

All this does not augur well for a smooth withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, and the current efforts by Washington, and, for that matter, the Karzai government, to reach a political settlement with the Taliban as part of the US-led NATO exit strategy. As the anti-US and anti-Karzai government feelings escalate, the more they will play into the hands of the Taliban and their supporters, most importantly Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence, ISI, to drive a hard bargain. The Taliban and ISI have never found the situation more conducive to their belief that the final victory is ultimately theirs. All they now need to do is await the substantial drawdown of foreign troops and further ineffectiveness and humiliation of the Karzai government. As one Taliban commander joked: ”We have the time and the Americans have the watch.”

It is most unfortunate that after some $450 billion in military expenditure, more than $60 billion in reconstruction costs, and 3000 foreign troops, mostly American, killed, and thousands of Afghans sacrificed, stability, security and good governance still elude most Afghans. The biggest question that will confront the US and its allies by 2014 is: what was that all about?

If it was for the purpose of destroying al-Qaeda and its harbourers, the Taliban, this objective has not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his ranking operatives, but the network remains operative, especially in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. As for the Taliban, the US now wants to negotiate a political deal with the militia.

If it was for rebuilding and securing Afghanistan, this goal is nowhere near fruition. The country continues to teeter on the verge of the return of the Taliban to power and civil war, with the prospects of Afghanistan’s neighbours intensifying their scramble for influence.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University and the author of Modern Afghanistan.

Pakistan is a Nation at Odds With Itself, U.S.

By Stephen Magagnini for The Sacremento Bee

KARACHI, Pakistan — On a moonlit Thursday night in February, a television network executive hosted an elegant affair for journalists and diplomats at his villa above the Arabian Sea.

Karachi’s privileged dined on lamb, shrimp, chicken, mutton and fettuccine in mushroom sauce, and were surprised by a quartet of wandering minstrels, soulful Sufi poets who serenade for their supper, uncorking ballads about love.

On the south side of this city of 18 million, a group of Afghan refugees, who scrape out a living collecting cardboard and other recyclables in a slum straddling a swamp of open sewage, were mopping up gravy with roti – Pakistani bread.

About 900 Afghans live in this fetid slum, down the street from poor Pakistanis and water buffalo. They earn about $60 a month and survive on bottled water, chewing tobacco and roti.

“We’re happy in Pakistan,” said 33-year-old Shaezhad, leader of a cardboard collection station. “We get food and respect.”

At the party across town, talk-show hosts and other Pakistani elites blew cigarette smoke into the faces of U.S. journalists, criticizing U.S. foreign policy and the toll the war in Afghanistan has taken on their country.

Many Pakistanis resent American aggression in the region and want more respect from U.S. policymakers, but they don’t hold individual Americans responsible. Yet everywhere we went, we were held to answer for U.S. wars and Americans’ deep misunderstanding of Pakistan.

“You are arrogant, playing video games with our lives,” Abdul Moiz Jaferii, political analyst for CNBC Pakistan, said over lunch one day in Karachi. He was referring to U.S. drone attacks that have killed Pakistani and Afghan civilians.

“And we hate America because the U.S. has always been the biggest, closest ally of the military dictators. You have done nothing to help democracy.”

The impact of the war in Afghanistan has permeated nearly every pore of this country of 180 million. More than 2 million Afghan refugees have fled to Pakistan, and some have brought a culture of violence. Since 9/11, 35,000 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist attacks by suicide bombers and other war-related violence, according to Pakistan’s intelligence agency. The victims include 6,000 soldiers and 29,000 civilians.

The unpredictable violence and the kidnapping of foreign workers have created a climate of fear in this country. We weren’t allowed to visit villages outside urban areas, where 40 percent of Pakistanis live. Two shotgun-wielding security guards protected our buses in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. We entered our hotels through metal detectors and were rarely allowed to interact with average citizens in public places.

Pakistan – strategically located between Afghanistan, India, China and Iran and influenced by Saudi Arabia – remains an enigma to many Americans, who aren’t sure whether it’s friend or foe, democracy or military dictatorship.

Pakistan has provided critical support to NATO troops in the Afghan war – drones are launched from here, NATO supplies are sent through this country, and Pakistani troops have helped recapture terrorist strongholds along the volatile Afghan border.

But distrust of the United States in the wake of deadly drone attacks and the deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a cross-border battle in November is such that rather than calling for more U.S. aid to build needed power plants, schools and hospitals, a growing number of Pakistanis want nothing to do with the United States. The government of Punjab – Pakistan’s most powerful state with about 90 million people – has decided to reject U.S. aid.

The killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. Navy SEALs in Abbottabad in the heart of this country embarrassed and angered the Pakistan military and made Americans question why bin Laden was allowed to live in essentially a resort town. Some U.S. politicians have called for an end to the $18 billion in financial aid pledged since 9/11.

An Islamic republic?

Some of the world’s largest, most beautiful mosques are here, and to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on Feb. 4, 10,000 people named Muhammad gathered in prayer in Karachi.

We saw few women wearing hijabs, or head coverings, except those at Islamabad’s Faisal Mosque, which can hold 10,000 people for Juma, or Friday prayer.

Professional women drive cars, dress like their counterparts in U.S. cities and run government ministries, clinics and newsrooms. Women, who constitute 52 percent of the population, are increasingly getting advanced degrees. There’s a Pakistani proverb: “Every girl who goes to university gets a husband.”

Despite Islam’s ban on liquor, at a party in Islamabad guests of both sexes repaired to a speakeasy in the basement to drink wine or Johnny Walker Black and smoke cigars.

Though most marriages are still arranged, as many as 20 percent are “love marriages,” said Samina Parvez, director general of the government’s external publicity agency. “The divorce rate is also increasing – it’s about 10 or 15 percent,” Parvez said. “The majority of us are not practicing Muslims.”

Kamoran Sani, sales and marketing director for the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi, declared, “What you’ve heard about the Islamic Republic of Pakistan’s a big farce. There are orgies, voyeurs’ lounges, raves.”

A diverse nation

Pakistan didn’t become a nation until the British sliced India into Muslim and Hindu majority states in 1947. Pakistan – an Urdu acronym for Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh province and Baluchistan (“stan” means nation) – varies wildly from region to region.

“There is no such thing as Pakistan,” Jaferii said. “First comes your family, then your clan, third your region, fourth your province – the nation comes a distant fifth.”

Much of rural Pakistan is a feudal society dating back to the 13th century. Mullahs, or religious leaders, still invoke blasphemy laws exacting punishment against those accused of insulting Islam. Last year, the governor of Punjab was killed by his bodyguard for criticizing the law as he sought a pardon for a Christian woman sentenced to death.

But Pakistan has tremendous religious and ethnic diversity. Muslims include Sunnis, Shiites, Ismaelis, Ahmadis and Sufis – each practicing their own brand of Islam. At Lahore University of Management Sciences, I chatted with Muslims, Hindus and Christians who were all friends.

From the Sufi love poems to Pashtun folk songs about social justice, music plays a key role in Pakistani identity.

In the center of Karachi there’s a Catholic church – St. Patrick’s Cathedral, built by the Jesuits in 1931. There’s a Jewish cemetery. Sikhs worship throughout Pakistan. The ancient city of Taxila was occupied by Alexander the Great and reflects Persian, Moghul, Buddhist and Christian traditions.

Pakistan’s future

Sixty percent of Pakistan’s population is under age 30; half is under age 20. Half the kids haven’t been to school, and fifth-grade students are reading at a second-grade level, said Nadeem ul-Haq, deputy chairman of the government’s planning commission.

“We have 2 million kids a year entering the labor force. What are these kids going to do?” ul-Haq said. There is no building boom to provide jobs, and foreign investments have been scared away by terrorism.

“Entrepreneurship is the key thing we need to focus on,” he said. “Overseas Pakistanis have been very entrepreneurial, sending back $13 billion a year to their poorer relatives.”

From 7-Elevens to Silicon Valley firms and venture capital funds, ex-pat Pakistanis are thriving in the United States. The 500,000 Pakistanis in the United States, including 100,000 in California, send $100 million a year to charities in Pakistan, said Ahson Rabbani, CEO of I-Care, which connects donors with 30 nonprofits.

In Northern California, Pakistanis raised more than $100,000 for Pakistani flood relief efforts spearheaded by cricket star Imran Khan, who may lead the country if his party wins the next election. Khan has gained credibility by building a cancer hospital for the poor in honor of his late mother. His party includes a women’s wing that has direct access to him.

Philanthropy is playing a growing role in Pakistan, financing schools in poor villages and slums. The Citizens Foundation is educating 100,000 students.

“I mentored six girls,” said Karachi journalist Samia Saleem. “One was 13 and said she didn’t want to get married – she wants to be a teacher.”

Ali Shah Haider, 17, wants to be a commercial pilot. “I sleep from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., then go to work at the textile factory from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. to support my family – there are 12 of us. I do my homework between shifts.”

A nation’s dreams

Though life seems cheap in Pakistan, the people are upbeat survivors who often describe life as bo hat acha, which means “great!” in Urdu, their main language.

Last year 1,575 people were killed in Karachi, where 2 million weapons are in circulation, said Francisco Quinones of Arcis International Security. A doctor was killed in Karachi the day before we landed. Violence has been blamed on the Taliban, rival political gangs, Sunni and Shia militants, rogue security forces, and Afghan refugees.

Some refugees have been recruited by the Taliban. Others like Shaezhad, who collects recyclables in the slums of Karachi, are glad to be alive under the green and white crescent flag of this country.

Still, he wants to go home to Afghanistan. “We want our land back, we want to live with respect and we want employment.”

Azhar Abbas, the managing director of Geo TV news who hosted the party in Karachi, said that “democracy is taking hold” in his Pakistan despite the violence many here believe followed the U.S. war on terror.

The business editor of daily newspaper the News, Amir Zia, said the United States can still play a positive role in Pakistan. “If Americans pull out without getting the job done, the Islamic extremists will say it’s a victory and will become much more organized.”

But at the National Defense University, business and technology expert Bilal Munshi called Pakistan “a psychologically scarred nation suffering from a mass form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).”

If the 4 million young people entering the workforce each year get jobs, “we will be a power … but if they don’t see a future they’re going to pick up the gun, and you’re going to be in real trouble.”

The U.S. can help develop Pakistani schools, Bilal said, “but don’t interfere in our internal affairs – let us do things our way.”

Peace Effort Takes Karzai to Pakistan .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End of a Geopolitical Affair

By Pramit Pal Chaudhri for The Hindustan Times

In Pakistan’s current crisis, why is its military is so reluctant to consider simply seizing power? One reason is that General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani cannot count on the US looking the other way. At a minimum, Washington would have to slap sanctions on an economically faltering country. At a maximum, it would be the last straw in a bilateral relationship at its lowest ebb since it was first woven in the 1950s.

Pakistan’s establishment claims it has been used and abused by the US, the most serious violation being that country’s stealth attack on Abbottabad that led to Osama bin Laden’s death. There has been the Raymond Davies affair, the endless drone attacks and the increasingly public accusation of double-dealing by senior US officials – the most notable being Admiral Mike Mullen’s linking of the Inter-Services Intelligence with terrorist groups.

There is some satisfaction for India in all this. It has been persistently claiming the existence of a military-terrorist nexus. Many in Washington agree. After Abbottabad, there is no one in Washington who doesn’t. The US-Pakistan relationship, says Daniel Twining of the German Marshall Fund, “was really at a historic high for the past decade but is diminishing.” But it might not matter as much to the US if relations fall apart, he says.

Other events are undermining the basis of the US-Pakistani bond. Islamabad had expected the US to totally retreat from Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan’s Taliban allies in charge. Instead, the US will leave a substantial force behind along with many drone bases. The US is talking with the Taliban, but only desultorily with groups that Islamabad patronises.

With the US Congress also pulling the plug on aid to Pakistan, what is left? The answer is nukes. “If Pakistan didn’t have nuclear weapons, with Al Qaeda almost gone, no one would care a fig about that country,” said one ex-US ambassador to the region. As they realise this, Islamabad is getting more paranoid about the security of its “strategic assets.” The more unstable they look, the more willing the US will be to try and do something risky to salvage Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

US officials are talking about a “new normal” in their Pakistan relations. This would cut ties to the bare bones: counterterrorism cooperation, limited military transit requirements, Afghan talks, narcotics and some humanitarian assistance. “We’ll have to work with the Pakistan military on a limited basis while negotiations with the Taliban proceed,” says John Schlosser, a former state department South Asia hand.

There seems to be no real understanding among Pakistanis that their leverage is dwindling or how much Abbottabad vapourised their credibility in the US. A parliamentary committee report on how to change the US relationship bizarrely demanded, for example, a civilian nuclear agreement.

It could get worse. “The relationship will fall further if the US finds [Al Qaeda chief] Zawahiri in Pakistan. Or there are terror strikes on India or the US,” says Bruce Riedel, former AfPak advisor to Barack Obama.

The worst thing is that Washington is decoupling just at a time when Pakistan, economically and otherwise, can least afford to lose their most generous international partner.

Newt Gingrich Creeping Up On Mitt Romney In A Creepy Way

By David Horsey for The Los Angeles Times

Newt Gingrich is surging and the guy ahead of him, Mitt Romney, as well the guy behind him, Rick Santorum, are rattled.

Only days ago, Romney was sitting on a comfortable lead in South Carolina’s Republican primary race. Santorum was anticipating a positive bump in his numbers, thanks to the endorsement he received from top Christian evangelical leaders and the good chance that a final, official count of votes in the Iowa caucuses would show he actually beat Romney in that state.

Instead, with Saturday’s vote just two days away, the portly, aloof, intellectually promiscuous and thrice-married ex-speaker of the House seems to be winning the minds, if not the hearts, of more and more staunch conservatives in the Palmetto State.

In fact, Gingrich was even getting a bit of love, as well as respect, from a crowd of several hundred jammed into the banquet hall of Bobby’s Bar-BQ Buffet in Warrenville on Wednesday. Every seat was filled; those without seats stood along the walls and those that couldn’t get inside craned their necks to get a peek through the front door.

Gingrich spoke in front of a Model T Ford – a car only a little more ancient than a great many members of the audience. Clever lines that fell flat when Gingrich delivered them at the tea party convention Tuesday got big laughs with this much-less-grim crowd — like his somewhat-stale knee-slapper about letting Barack Obama use a teleprompter when the two debate.

They loved the parts of his stump speech that are well worn – our rights come from God and cannot be taken away by government – and a new attack on Obama spun off the day’s news – the president’s refusal to approve the Keystone oil pipeline is stupidly driving Canada into the arms of China. And they loved Callista, Newt’s exquisitely coiffed wife.

One audience “question” was this: “I think your wife would make a beautiful first lady, don’t you?”  In the receiving line after the event, a Callista fan said, “I’m anxious to see how you do Christmas in the White House.” There seemed to be a lot of warmth for the once-controversial Callista and for her candidate husband, though he is not all that good at exhibiting warmth himself.

In campaign mode, Gingrich is the polar opposite of Mitt Romney. Reportedly a bit shy, Romney, nevertheless, dives in, shakes every hand, signs every autograph, banters with everyone and smiles, smiles, smiles. It may be rehearsed and straight from some “How to Succeed in Politics” primer, but he’s as good at it as any TV game show host.

Mitt’s even good with babies. At a rally on the outskirts of Columbia on Wednesday night, he held a baby for the cameras and then pretended to walk off with her, delighting the crowd – even the child’s mother. And the baby never cried.

In contrast, Gingrich seems more like the queen of England. On Monday afternoon, at the end of his remarks at Rioz Brazilian Steakhouse in Myrtle Beach, Gingrich remained on the speaker’s platform while the crowd lined up like kids waiting to see a department store Santa. They were shuffled through rapidly; the candidate barely made eye contact, offered the tiniest of smiles and made the briefest request for support.

Is he merely reserved? Awkward? Overly formal? Or simply a man with a busy mind and a lot to get done; sort of like a college professor who resents wasting attention on the undergrads who mob him after class.

Of course, Gingrich actually is a former college professor, and his campaign speech is a lively academic ramble. He interprets history, dives into interesting new economic theories, wickedly picks apart the fallacious ideas of competing practitioners of the political arts and uses terminology that tells you he’s oh-so-much smarter than your typical governor of Texas or Massachusetts.

Gingrich drops names of the intellectual and political elite he has known and boldly lays claim to a major share of the legacy of two presidents, Reagan and Clinton. He brags that his candidacy is so historically significant and so utterly different from any other that it is nearly incomprehensible to the dullards in the media. In front of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, after presenting a litany of intractable problems faced by the nation, he said of himself, “If you have a leader who knows what he is doing, we can turn this around in a year.”

Just one year? The guy seems so full of himself that it is surprising he has caught on with so many voters. He is not the cliche candidate Americans are supposed to prefer – somebody you’d want to have a beer with because he’s just like you. Yet, here he is, still very much in the race and on the verge of messing up smiling Mitt Romney’s big-money campaign.