Archive for the ‘ President Obama ’ Category

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~

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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.

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