Archive for the ‘ Taliban ’ Category

Progress, For a Price, in Pakistan

By Doyle McManus for The Los Angeles Times

In 2001, on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, President George W. Bush gave Pakistan’s then-leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a choice: He was either with us or against us. Musharraf chose to become an ally, but the question ever since has been whether that shotgun marriage can mature into a healthy adult relationship. At times, the prospect has seemed far from reach.

The world’s second-most-populous Muslim country is caught in a brutal internal struggle between extremism and moderation. Most of its people tell pollsters they don’t like the United States and wish we’d go away. The tribesmen of its western frontier shelter Osama bin Laden and the leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban. And the United States can’t forget how, in the 1980s, Pakistan built nuclear weapons — and then later exported nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran.

But in recent months, there has been progress in the relationship. Military and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan has increased significantly. Pakistan has allowed the CIA to increase its missile strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistani territory. Pakistani authorities have arrested several Taliban leaders and allowed U.S. intelligence officers to question them. And now Pakistan is offering to increase its own military operations in North Waziristan, the presumed lair of Bin Laden. All that cooperation came at a price, of course: a flood of U.S. military and economic aid.

And last week, the Pakistanis came to Washington to press for more. The academic criticism of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is that it is “transactional” — nothing more than a series of bargains between buyers and sellers who don’t trust each other much. That’s still mostly true. Pakistan’s delegation arrived with a 56-page shopping list covering everything from military equipment to education and cultural exchanges. And one Pakistani official, asked during the visit whether his government was truly willing to act against the havens that allow the Taliban to maintain bases in Pakistan, replied frankly: “Yes — but at a price.”

After a series of meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Pakistan’s ebullient foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, declared: “I think we are going to move from a relationship to a partnership.” But he used the future tense. In the meantime, there are things to work out. Pakistan is clearly worried about what happens when the United States begins pulling troops out of Afghanistan in 2011.

Although Obama administration officials have tried to reassure Pakistan that Washington’s commitment to the region is for the long haul, uncertainty remains. “Our fear is . . . that we get into a fight with these guys [the Taliban], and you walk away, and we’re still there,” a Pakistani official said. Pakistan’s powerful army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, spent part of his time in Washington visiting Congress with PowerPoint slides to show that Pakistan has committed more troops to its fight against insurgents than the United States has on the ground in Afghanistan, and that it has suffered almost 30,000 killed and wounded in the process.

According to U.S. officials, Kayani made a strong case that Pakistan can do more if it gets more modern military equipment from the United States, especially helicopters to ferry troops into the rugged badlands where Al Qaeda and the Taliban hide. The United States has helped Pakistan acquire some helicopters, but not as many and not as quickly as the Pakistanis would like. U.S. officials said they would try to speed the delivery of more. In the past, U.S. officials complained that Pakistan used much of its U.S. military aid to bolster its eastern front with India instead of its fight with internal insurgents; but since Pakistan’s 2009 offensive in the Swat Valley, that criticism has been stilled.

The delegation also added a new item to Islamabad’s wish list: a nuclear agreement under which the United States would help Pakistan develop its civilian nuclear energy industry — to mirror a similar U.S. agreement with India, Pakistan’s longtime enemy. The United States told the Pakistanis that would have to wait. The memory of having to clamp sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear weapons program is still too fresh. But it was a sign of improving relations that the idea wasn’t rejected completely.

 In 2001, the United States sought a new relationship with Pakistan mostly because it was next to Afghanistan — and thus a country we would need for moving military supplies and basing drones. But that thinking has slowly evolved. In the long run, with its population of 170 million people — not to mention its cache of nuclear weapons — Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan.

“We’re engaging with Pakistan because we’re afraid of it,” says Christine Fair, a Pakistan expert at Georgetown University. “It’s the scariest country in the region. Because of Afghanistan, it’s been treated as if it were a subsidiary issue. But Pakistan should be the primary issue.” The Americans are working hard to convince the Pakistanis that they are interested in Pakistan’s stability for its own sake, not just because it’s next door to Afghanistan. The Pakistanis are working hard to convince the Americans that they are committed to defeating the extremists in their midst. It’s not a strategic relationship yet. If it’s a partnership, it’s still a wary one. But that’s progress.

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US-Pakistan Talks Mark ‘Intensification’ of Partnership

By Suzanne Presto for Voice of America News

The United States and Pakistan will hold their first strategic dialogue at the ministerial level in Washington next Wednesday (March 24). U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke told reporters at the State Department Friday that these talks mark a “major intensification” of the U.S.-Pakistan partnership. Wednesday’s talks will be co-chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

Holbrooke says delegations from both sides will include senior officials of their nation’s defense, diplomacy, finance and agriculture departments. The U.S. delegation will also include aid and trade officials, and Pakistan’s will include officials who handle water, power and social issues.
“This is a partnership that goes far beyond security, but security is an important part of it,” he said. Holbrooke told reporters Friday that U.S. officials want to see aid money for Pakistan distributed more quickly.

“We are doing more. We will announce more. We want to do as much as the Congress will support,” Holbrooke said. The Obama administration has made improving and broadening relations with Pakistan a top priority, but U.S. policies and drone strikes targeting militants in the region remain unpopular. Holbrooke said the U.S. supports Pakistan as it seeks to strengthen democratic institutions and economic development, handle energy and water problems, as well as defeat extremists. “Everyone is aware of the popular public-opinion polls, and we think that our support for Pakistan deserves more recognition among the people,” he added.

Speaking to reporters in Islamabad Thursday, Foreign Minister Qureshi said Pakistani and U.S. officials have been talking a lot, and in his words, “the time has come to walk the talk.” Holbrooke responded to Qureshi’s statement that next week’s talks would be a good opportunity to rebuild confidence and trust on both sides. “The first time I went to Pakistan, Foreign Minister Qureshi introduced me to the phrase “trust deficit,” and so I have heard it many times,” he said. “The last time I was there, we both said in a press conference that we thought we had made huge advances in that,” Holbrooke added. Secretary of State Clinton last visited Pakistan in October, where she spoke with officials and students alike.

Holbrooke said there are plans to hold the next set of strategic talks in Pakistan, likely within the next six months. He underscored that these bilateral talks do not replace the trilateral talks among the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan which he said are expected to resume later this year.

A Victory For Obama, From An Unlikely Quarter-Pakistan

By Fareed Zakaria for Newsweek

President Obama gets much credit for changing America’s image in the world—he was probably awarded the Nobel Prize for doing so. But if you asked even devoted fans to cite a specific foreign-policy achievement, they would probably hesitate. “It’s too soon for that,” they would say. But in fact, there is a place where Barack Obama’s foreign policy is working, and one that is crucial to U.S. national security—Pakistan.

There has been a spate of good news coming out of that complicated country, which has long promised to take action against Islamic militants but rarely done so. (The reason: Pakistan has used many of these same militants to destabilize its traditional foe, India, and to gain influence in Afghanistan.) Over the past few months, the Pakistani military has engaged in serious and successful operations in the militant havens of Swat, Malakand, South Waziristan, and Bajaur. Some of these areas are badlands where no Pakistani government has been able to establish its writ, so the achievement is all the more important. The Pakistanis have also ramped up their intelligence sharing with the U.S. This latter process led to the arrest a month ago of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban, among other Taliban figures.

Some caveats: most of the Taliban who have been captured are small fish, and the Pakistani military has a history of “catching and releasing” terrorists so that they can impress Americans but still maintain their ties with the militants. But there does seem to be a shift in Pakistani behavior. Why it’s taken place and how it might continue is a case study in the nature and limits of foreign-policy successes.

First, the Obama administration de-fined the problem correctly. Senior ad-ministration officials stopped referring to America’s efforts in Afghanistan and instead spoke constantly of “AfPak,” to emphasize the notion that success in Afghanistan depended on actions taken in Pakistan. This dismayed the Pakistanis but they got the message. They were on notice to show they were part of the solution, not the problem.

Second, the administration used both sticks and carrots. For his first state dinner, Obama pointedly invited Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—clearly not Pakistan’s first choice. Obama made clear that America would continue to pursue the special relationship forged with India under the Bush administration, including a far-reaching deal on nuclear cooperation. But at the same time, the White House insisted it wanted a deep, long-term, and positive relationship with Pakistan. Sens. John Kerry and Dick Lugar put together the largest nonmilitary package of U.S. assistance for the country ever. Aid to the Pakistani military is also growing rapidly.

Third, it put in time and effort. The administration has adopted what Central Command’s Gen. David Petraeus calls a “whole of government” approach to Pakistan. All elements of U.S. power and diplomacy have been deployed. Pakistan has received more than 25 visits by senior administration officials in the past year, all pushing the Pakistani military to deliver on commitments to fight the militants.

Finally, as always, luck and timing have played a key role. The militants in Pakistan, like those associated with Al Qaeda almost everywhere, went too far, brutally killing civilians, shutting down girls’ schools, and creating an atmosphere of medievalism. Pakistan’s public, which had tended to downplay the problem of terrorism, now saw it as “Pakistan’s war.” The Army, reading the street, felt it had to show results.

These results are still tentative. Pakistan’s military retains its obsession with India—how else to justify a vast budget in a small, poor nation? It has still not acted seriously against any of the major militant groups active against Afghanistan, India, or the United States. The Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani group, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and many smaller groups all operate with impunity within Pakistan. But the Pakistani military is doing more than it has before, and that counts as success in the world of foreign policy.

Such success will endure only if the Obama administration keeps at it. There are some who believe that Pakistan has changed its basic strategy and now understands that it should cut its ties to these groups altogether. Strangely this naive view is held by the U.S. military, whose top brass have spent so many hours with their counterparts in Islamabad that they’ve gone native. It’s up to Obama and his team to remind the generals that pressing Pakistan is a lot like running on a treadmill. If you stop, you move backward, and, most likely, you fall down.

Lahore bombing is Pakistan’s bloodiest this year

By Saeed Shah for The Guardian

A bombing in the eastern city of Lahore has killed at least 43 people – the fifth terrorist attack this week as extremists in Pakistan demonstrate their continued ability to strike.

The bloodiest terrorist strike in Pakistan this year was carried out by two attackers wearing suicide jackets who walked into a busy market in a high security military district and blew themselves up. The target appeared to be passing military vehicles but most of the victims were civilians. Shops in the market were ripped apart, with children crossing the road and people waiting at a bus stop among the victims. About 10 soldiers were killed and 100 injured, said the Lahore police chief, Parvaiz Rathore.

“There were about 10 to 15 seconds between the blasts. Both were suicide attacks,” a senior local government official, Sajjad Bhutta, said at the site. “The maximum preventative measures were being taken but these people find support from somewhere.” The bombers struck at 1pm, around the time of Friday prayers, in the cantonment area, home to the local army garrison and one of Lahore’s most upmarket residential districts.

Lahore is the bustling cultural hub of Pakistan and had enjoyed several weeks of relative peace. It is the capital of the eastern Punjab province, Pakistan’s most densely populated area and its political heartland. The suicide bombings were followed in the evening by three smaller blasts in a residential area across town. They caused panic but damage was reported to be minor. The authorities repeated their regular assertion that the Taliban and other extremist groups have been defeated. The provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah , said: “We broke their networks. That’s why they have not been able to strike for a considerable time.”

But it was the second bombing this week in Lahore. A car bombing on Monday at a police interrogation centre killed 14 people. Other attacks this week included a gun and grenade assault on a US Christian aid agency’s office in the north-west, killing six of its staff, all Pakistani nationals. “They (the extremists) are trying to project their power, telling the government that they are still alive,” said analyst Imtiaz Gul, author of The al-Qaida Connection. “They are still far from broken. It’s going to be a long haul.”

In 2009 that Lahore was dragged into the bloody insurgency in Pakistan, which claimed around 3,000 lives last year, with a series of spectacular attacks including a gun assault on the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team. The last major attack in Lahore was in December when a market was bombed, killing at least 49 people. The launch of a military offensive in South Waziristan, on the Afghan border, the base of the Pakistani Taliban, in October last year was accompanied by a vicious spate of terrorist reprisals but the country had been relatively peaceful this year.

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