Archive for the ‘ United States ’ Category

What Happened on the Border?

As Reported by The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Saeed Shah and Nancy A. Youssef for McClatchy Newspapers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pakistan Stops NATO Supplies After Deadly Raid

By Shams Momand for Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POORLY MARKED

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOCKED SUPPLIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Reported by Xinhuanet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An American Muslim’s Thanksgiving

By Dr. Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Hip Hop Troupe Praises Pakistan’s Rich Music

As Reported by Dawn.com

Pakistan has very rich music and through concerts we can open up conversations about different cultures and can make real relationships. The people we have met and worked with in Pakistan are amazing.

These were some of the views members of a United States hip hop troupe ‘FEW Collective’ that is currently visiting Pakistan as part of US cultural diplomacy programme shared with Dawn. The troupe is expected to perform in Lahore on Monday (tomorrow).

The troupe consists of six people — DJ Asad Jafri, Alsarah, a Sudanese-born singer and songwriter, Aquil Charlton, writer and performer, Manal Farhan, a performing artiste, Braveonk Daniel Haywood, dancer, and Jonathan St. Clair, aka Super Inlight, a multidisciplinary performing and teaching artiste.Throwing light on hip hop music and dance, Charlton said this genre of performing arts like rapping emerged in the United States at house parties in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Charlton said The band ‘FEW Collective’ was formed in 2005 and its objectives included to convey positive message through the hip hop forum, to become the voice of the young and voice of the marginalised wanted to stand as an example for types of positive things that could happen and could bring young people from different backgrounds together and fuse their thoughts.
He said hip hop had four elements i.e. DJ, graffiti, break dance and know yourself, but ‘FEW Collective’ stood for ‘Fifth Element
Warriors’ since we are fighting for the knowledge.

St. Clair said the group had performed in Algeria, Morocco and China while Pakistan was their fourth destination.

Farhan said that Asad Jaffri, also her husband, had visited Pakistan a couple of times since his family belongs to Karachi. She said it’s been great here in Pakistan.

Asad Jaffri is also running a community-based non-profit charity organisation – Inner-city Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

Based in Chicago, IMAN organises works for social justice, provides direct services, and cultivates arts in urban communities.

Since 1997, IMAN has utilised arts as a vehicle for social change and to build bridges among communities and cultures. It also works closely with an international network of over 400 artists. This work includes artistic retreats, developmental workshops, and cultural exchanges. Through national and international efforts, IMAN stresses the importance of arts in creating mutual understanding, connecting cultures, and building community. Delivering a vast array of stories, music, movement and visual arts from rich cultures, IMAN highlights the work of Muslim artists and powerful artistic movements around the world.

The group members told Dawn that they had listened to Pakistani music which was very rich and they had also prepared a song ‘Dam Mast Qalandar’ in fusion with Pakistani instrumentalists.

During their stay in Lahore, they also worked and interacted with students of the BNU and LACAS.

The FEW is an artistic collective that believes in the power of art to engage, educate and inspire. It combines traditional forms of music, dance, and art with the elements of hip hop and theatre to address contemporary issues.

As representatives of hip hop culture, its members acknowledge the evolution of music, visual art, the spoken word, and dance as basic elements of the culture and knowledge as a master element.

Some know them as the Fifth Element Warriors, others relate them as From Every Walk, but they know themselves as always Finding Eternal Wisdom. The FEW specialises in hip hop theatre, concerts, arts workshops, team-building sessions and
leadership development.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– This is a great initiative by the US State Department to help foster better understanding between the two countries who have hit a rough stretch after 60+ years of a close friendship and mutual regard between the people of the two nations.

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