Archive for the ‘ US-Pakistan Relations ’ Category

Beltway Foreign Policy

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By Roger Cohen for The New York TImes 

“It is not going too far to say that American foreign policy has become completely subservient to tactical domestic political considerations.”

This stern verdict comes from Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In a book called “The Dispensable Nation,” to be published in April, Nasr delivers a devastating portrait of a first-term foreign policy that shunned the tough choices of real diplomacy, often descended into pettiness, and was controlled “by a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisers.”

Nasr, one of the most respected American authorities on the Middle East, served as senior adviser to Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his death in December 2010. From that vantage point, and later as a close observer, Nasr was led to the reluctant conclusion that the principal aim of Obama’s policies “is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion.”

In this sense the first-term Obama foreign policy was successful: He was re-elected. Americans wanted extrication from the big wars and a smaller global footprint: Obama, with some back and forth, delivered. But the price was high and opportunities lost.

“The Dispensable Nation” constitutes important reading as John Kerry moves into his new job as secretary of state. It nails the drift away from the art of diplomacy — with its painful give-and-take — toward a U.S. foreign policy driven by the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and short-term political calculus. It holds the president to account for his zigzags from Kabul to Jerusalem.

It demonstrates the emasculation of the State Department: Nasr quotes Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, telling him of Hillary Clinton that, “It is incredible how little support she got from the White House. They want to control everything.” And it paints a persuasive picture of an American decline driven not so much by the inevitable rise of other powers as by “inconsistency” that has “cast doubt on our leadership.”

Nowhere was this inconsistency more evident than in Afghanistan. Obama doubled-down by committing tens of thousands more troops to show he was no wimp, only to set a date for a drawdown to show he was no warmonger. Marines died; few cared.

He appointed Holbrooke as his point man only to ensure that he “never received the authority to do diplomacy.” Obama’s message to President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan was: “Ignore my special representative.” The White House campaign against Holbrooke was “a theater of the absurd,” Nasr writes. “Holbrooke was not included in Obama’s videoconferences with Karzai and was cut out of the presidential retinue when Obama went to Afghanistan.”

The White House seemed “more interested in bringing Holbrooke down than getting the policy right.” The pettiness was striking: “The White House kept a dossier on Holbrooke’s misdeeds and Clinton kept a folder on churlish attempts by the White House’s AfPak office to undermine Holbrooke.”

Diplomacy died. Serious negotiation with the Taliban and involving Iran in talks on Afghanistan’s future — bold steps that carried a domestic political price — were shunned. The use of trade as a bridge got scant attention. Nasr concludes on Afghanistan: “We are just washing our hands of it, hoping there will be a decent interval of calm — a reasonable distance between our departure and the catastrophe to follow.”

In Pakistan, too nuclear to ignore, the ultimate “frenemy,” Nasr observed policy veering between frustrated confrontation and half-hearted attempts to change the relationship through engagement. “The crucial reality was that the Taliban helped Pakistan face down India in the contest over Afghanistan,” Nasr writes. America was never able to change that equation. Aid poured in to secure those nukes and win hearts and minds: Drones drained away any gratitude. A proposed “strategic dialogue” went nowhere. “Pakistan is a failure of American policy, a failure of the sort that comes from the president handing foreign policy over to the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies.”

In Iran, Nasr demonstrates Obama’s deep ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. “Pressure,” he writes, “has become an end in itself.” The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was “not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure.” The reality was that, “Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”

Opportunities to begin real step-by-step diplomacy involving Iran giving up its low-enriched uranium in exchange for progressive sanctions relief were lost. What was Tehran to think when “the sum total of three major rounds of diplomatic negotiation was that America would give some bits and bobs of old aircraft in exchange for Iran’s nuclear program”?

On Israel-Palestine, as with Iran, Obama began with some fresh ideas only to retreat. He tried to stop Israeli settlement expansion. Then he gave up when the domestic price looked too high. The result has been drift.

“The Dispensable Nation” is a brave book. Its core message is: Diplomacy is tough and carries a price, but the price is higher when it is abandoned.

Another victim of attacks on anti-polio teams dies in Pakistan, bringing 3-day toll to 9

As Reported by The Associated Press

 

Pakistan

 

Another victim from attacks on U.N.-backed anti-polio teams in Pakistan died on Thursday, bringing the three-day death toll in the wave of assaults on volunteers vaccinating children across the country to nine, officials said.

Hilal Khan, 20, died a day after he was shot in the head in the northwestern city of Peshawar, said health official Janbaz Afridi

Since Monday, gunmen had launched attacks across Pakistan on teams vaccinating children against polio. Six women were among the nine anti-polio workers killed in the campaign, jointly conducted with the Pakistani government.

The U.N. World Health Organization suspended the drive until a government investigation was completed.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the killings “cruel, senseless and inexcusable.” Speaking at his year-end news conference Wednesday, Ban said the victims were among thousands across Pakistan “working selflessly to achieve the historic goal of polio eradication.”

The suspension of the vaccinations was a grave blow to efforts to bring an end to the scourge of polio in Pakistan, one of only three countries where the crippling disease is endemic.

Azmat Abbas, with UNICEF in Pakistan said the field staff would resume the work when they have a secure working environment.

“This is undoubtedly a tragic setback, but the campaign to eradicate polio will and must continue,” Sarah Crowe, spokeswoman for UNICEF, said Wednesday.

However, local officials in the eastern city of Lahore continued the vaccination on Thursday under police escort, and extended the campaign with a two-day follow-up.

Deputy Commissioner Noorul Amin Mengal said about 6,000 Pakistani government health workers were escorted by 3,000 police as they fanned out across the city.

“It would have been an easy thing for us to do to stop the campaign,” he said. “That would have been devastating.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks but some Islamic militants accuse health workers of acting as spies for the United States and claim that the vaccine makes children sterile.

Taliban commanders in the country’s troubled northwest tribal region have also said the vaccinations can’t go forward until the U.S. stops drone strikes in Pakistan.

The insurgent opposition to the campaign grew last year, after it was revealed that a Pakistani doctor ran a fake vaccination program to help the CIA track down and kill Al Qaeda founder Usama bin Laden, who was hiding in the town of Abbottabad in the country’s northwest.

Prevention efforts against polio have managed to reduce the number of cases in Pakistan by around 70 percent this year, compared to 2011, but the recent violence threatens to reverse that progress.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Less than a week since the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut and the death of so many innocent children, we see the ill effects of the Dr Shakil Afridi incident whereby undercover CIA agents using Pakistani doctor under the guise of a polio vaccination program infiltrated and eventually found where OBL was being hidden. The great thing was that we got and killed the bastard.

The negative consequences of this however is now evident as we risk putting up to 33 million Pakistani children in harm’s way as they may not get their polio vaccinations due to Taliban distrust of any medical worker as being a foreign agent. These are horrible consequences and 1 life is not worth 33 million. Very dismayed with the current situation and hoping the Pakistani and American governments can provide better security to all medical teams and doctors if the Pakistani children are to get their critical polio vaccines. 

In Sign of Normalization, Pentagon to Reimburse Pakistan $688 Million

By ERIC SCHMITT and DAVID E. SANGER for The New York Times

Kerry Panetta

The Pentagon quietly notified Congress this month that it would reimburse Pakistan nearly $700 million for the cost of stationing 140,000 troops on the border with Afghanistan, an effort to normalize support for the Pakistani military after nearly two years of crises and mutual retaliation.

The biggest proponent of putting foreign aid and military reimbursements to Pakistan on a steady footing is the man President Barack Obama is leaning toward naming as secretary of state: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has frequently served as an envoy to Pakistan, including after the killing of Osama bin Laden, and was a co-author of a law that authorized five years and about $7.5 billion of nonmilitary assistance to Pakistan.

The United States also provides about $2 billion in annual security assistance, roughly half of which goes to reimburse Pakistan for conducting military operations to fight terrorism.

Until now, many of these reimbursements, called coalition support funds, have been held up, in part because of disputes with Pakistan over the Bin Laden raid, the operations of the C.I.A., and its decision to block supply lines into Afghanistan last year.

The $688 million payment — the first since this summer, covering food, ammunition and other expenses from June through November 2011 — has caused barely a ripple of protest since it was sent to Capitol Hill on Dec. 7.

The absence of a reaction, American and Pakistani officials say, underscores how relations between the two countries have been gradually thawing since Pakistan reopened the NATO supply routes in July after an apology from the Obama administration for an errant American airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011.

Mr. Kerry’s nomination would be welcomed in Pakistan, where he is seen as perhaps the most sympathetic to Pakistani concerns of any senior lawmaker. He has nurtured relationships with top civilian and military officials, as well as the I.S.I., Pakistan’s most powerful intelligence agency.

But if he becomes secretary of state, Mr. Kerry will inherit one of the hardest diplomatic tasks in South Asia: helping Pakistan find a role in steering Afghanistan toward a political agreement with the Taliban. As the United States, which tried and failed to broker such an agreement, begins to step back, Pakistan’s role is increasing.

For a relationship rocked in the past two years by a C.I.A. contractor’s shooting of two Pakistanis, the Navy SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden and the accidental airstrike, perhaps the most remarkable event in recent months has been relative calm. A senior American official dealing with Pakistan said recently that “this is the longest we’ve gone in a while without a crisis.”

Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said, “Pakistan-United States relations are settling down to a more stable trajectory.”

The interlude has allowed the United States to reduce the huge backlog of NATO supplies at the border — down to about 3,000 containers from 7,000 when the border crossings reopened — and to conduct dry runs for the tons of equipment that will flow out of Afghanistan to Pakistani ports when the American drawdown steps up early next year.

Moreover, the two sides have resumed a series of high-level meetings — capped by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s meeting this month with top Pakistani officials in Brussels — on a range of topics including counterterrorism, economic cooperation, energy and the security of Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington, concurred. “There’s greater convergence between the two countries than there has been in eight years,” she said. “It’s been a fairly quick kiss and make up, but it’s been driven by the approaching urgency of 2014, and by their shared desire for a stable outcome in the region.”

The one exception to the state of calm has been a tense set of discussions about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. United States officials have told their Pakistani colleagues that Islamabad’s move to smaller, more portable weapons creates a greater risk that one could be stolen or diverted. A delegation of American nuclear experts was in Pakistan last week, but found that the two countries had fundamentally divergent views about whether Pakistan’s changes to its arsenal pose a danger.

The greatest progress, officials say, has been in the relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan, after years of mutual recrimination. A high-level Afghan delegation visited Pakistan in November, resulting in the release of several midlevel Taliban commanders from Pakistani jails as a sign of good will in restarting the peace process.

The United States, which was quietly in the background of those meetings, approved of the release of the prisoners, but has still held back on releasing five militants from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a key Taliban demand.

One American official said there was a “big push” to move the talks process forward during the current winter lull in fighting. The United States is quietly seeking to revive a peace channel in Qatar, which was frozen earlier this year after the Taliban refused to participate.

Despite the easing of tensions in recent months, there are still plenty of sore spots in the relationship.

Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, who heads the Pentagon agency responsible for combating roadside bombs, known as improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, told a Senate hearing last week that Pakistan’s efforts to stem the flow of a common agricultural fertilizer, calcium ammonium nitrate, that Taliban insurgents use to make roadside bombs had fallen woefully short.

“Our Pakistani partners can and must do more,” General Barbero told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.

American officials have also all but given up on Pakistan’s carrying out a clearing operation in North Waziristan, a major militant safe haven.

“Pakistan’s continued acceptance of sanctuaries for Afghan-focused insurgents and failure to interdict I.E.D. materials and components continue to undermine the security of Afghanistan and pose an enduring threat to U.S., coalition and Afghan forces,” a Pentagon report, mandated by Congress, concluded last week.

Declan Walsh contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Kerry for Secretary is a great choice now that Susan Rice did not work out. We love Hillary Clinton and as a Democrat and Liberal through and through, as much as we wish Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery and look forward to voting for her as the first woman President of the United States, it is high time to have a man in there as a Secretary working together with Secretary Panetta. John Kerry is a good and honorable soldier who is a patriot and will uphold American interests but will be a person who is very familiar with Pakistan and the need to have a dialogue with the men who man the barracks in Rawalpindi, regardless who happens to be the Prime Minister in Islamabad. We hope he has a speedy confirmation and no obstructionism by the Do Nothing GOP~

Rand Paul Filibuster on Pakistan Aid Could Force Senate Into Overtime

By Lauren Fox for US News and World Report

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul could push the Senate’s session into the weekend if he doesn’t back off of a promise to filibuster all legislation as long as Senate leadership keeps a bill to stop sending aid to Pakistan off of the floor.

The obstruction is a replay of last week’s Senate session when Paul stood in the way of a veterans’ jobs bill in an effort to see his anti-Pakistani funding bill on the floor.

In a letter to his colleagues, Paul requested that his fellow lawmakers join his cause to stop backing Pakistan as long as the country keeps playing “both sides of some of the most important issues while openly thwarting our objectives in the region” and continues holding Shakil Afridi, the man who assisted the U.S. with its efforts to locate and kill Osama bin Laden.

“Dr. Afridi remains under arrest for his role in finding bin Laden, and no country that arrests a man for helping to find bin Laden is an ally of the United States,” Paul wrote in his letter. “If Pakistan wants to be our ally–and receive foreign aid for being one–then they should act like it, and they must start by releasing Dr. Afridi.”

This week, however, Paul has expanded his efforts.

After rebels seized the U.S. embassy in Egypt and Libyan rebels murdered four Americans including Libyan Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Paul is calling for a bill to halt funding to those nations as well.

“I urge you to take immediate action to pass a much-needed bill demanding cooperation and accountability from the countries involved in the recent violence directed at our embassies and consulates,” Paul wrote. “The bill should send a strong clear message to these entities: You do not get foreign aid unless you are an unwavering ally of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the White House has other plans to handle the attacks on the embassies in Egypt and Libya. Because the attackers were not affiliated with the government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will look to Congress to authorize more funding to support Egypt in its quest for democracy.

“Particularly in the light of this kind of extremist and spoiler activity…we think it is absolutely essential that we support those forces in Egypt who want to build a peaceful, stable, democratic country with prosperity restored, jobs for people,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday during a briefing. “And that’s what the assistance that the president has pledged and that we are working with the Hill on is for.”

Paul’s protest won’t endanger the Senate’s ability to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded for another six months, but it could significantly affect the Senate’s ability to stay on schedule.

The House passed the stopgap measure 329 to 91, but Paul’s floor protest could push the Senate into a weekend session.

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

The Supreme Court dismissed Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Tuesday, drastically escalating a confrontation between the government and the judiciary and plunging the political system into turmoil.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry declared that Mr. Gilani’s office had been effectively vacant since April 26 when the court convicted him on contempt charges because he refused to pursue a corruption case against President Asif Ali Zardari, his superior.

Although the decision is unlikely to topple the government, many viewed it as the product of a grudge-driven tussle between Mr. Zardari and Justice Chaudhry, with the prime minister caught in the middle.

“The court has been gunning for the prime minister for a long time,” said Najam Sethi, a veteran political analyst. “Clearly there is a lot of politics in this.”

The order left Pakistan in a state of constitutional uncertainty, with the cabinet effectively dismissed. The court instructed Mr. Zardari to “ensure continuation of the democratic process” — words widely interpreted as an order to arrange the election of a new prime minister.

Legal experts said Mr. Gilani could not appeal the decision but that he may continue in an interim role until a successor is chosen. It was unclear what impact the decision would have on troubled negotiations with the United States to reopen NATO supply lines through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

As word of the ruling spread, Pakistanis held their breath for reaction from the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, whose top leaders held an emergency session at Mr. Zardari’s house. Television stations reported that the party had agreed in principle to accept the court’s ruling, but a final decision was not expected until later Tuesday.

Shahbaz Sharif, a senior leader of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, which instigated the court action, hailed the decision. “It upholds the supremacy of the law and the Constitution,” Mr. Sharif said.

But it calls into question the validity of all executive decisions made since April 26, including the passing of the federal budget. One commentator said it “opened a massive legal can of worms.”

Speculation swirled about the identity of a replacement prime minister; among the names circulating were those of the foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and various stalwarts from the party’s electoral heartland in Sindh Province and southern Punjab.

Any candidate, however, will need the approval of the P.P.P.’s coalition partners — smaller, ethnically centered parties based in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, who are likely to seek fresh concessions from Mr. Zardari in exchange for their votes in Parliament.

The court decision advanced the likelihood that general elections, scheduled to take place by next spring, could be brought forward.

Equally, however, Mr. Zardari may wish to first resolve some of the governance failures that have marred his government’s reputation, notably widespread power outages and system failures that have continued for years. The court decision coincided with street agitation in Punjab, the country’s most populous province, where rioters burned buildings and clashed with police in several cities on Monday and Tuesday to protest power outages.

“Law has become subservient to politics, but this government had it coming. It has been singularly inept,” said Mr. Sethi, the analyst. “They had six months to anticipate the power crisis, and now it is upon them.”

In dismissing Mr. Gilani, the court chose the strongest option. It could have referred Mr. Gilani’s case to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which could have taken up to three months to adjudicate the case.

It comes at the end of a tumultuous week for the court itself. Last week, a billionaire businessman made explosive accusations in court and in the media that he had given $3.7 million in kickbacks to Justice Chaudhry’s son in order to swing several cases his way. The furor over those accusations, centered on the judge’s son, Arsalan Iftikhar, is now likely to fade as the country grapples with its latest political crisis.

Mr. Gilani’s dismissal stems from longstanding demands by the court that Mr. Gilani write a letter to the authorities in Switzerland to seek to reopen a dormant corruption investigation into Mr. Zardari’s finances that started in the 1990s.

Mr. Gilani refused, arguing that he was unable to do so because the president enjoyed immunity from prosecution. And the prime minister signaled long ago that he was ready to be dismissed or face prison in the case.

After Mr. Gilani was convicted on contempt charges on April 26, the speaker of Parliament examined calls for his dismissal from public office. The court intervened after the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, ruled that Mr. Gilani should not be dismissed.

“What will happen to independence of judiciary if speaker or Parliament tries to scrutinize judicial rulings?” Justice Chaudhry said on Tuesday. “No one can undo a court verdict except a court of appeals.”

Pakistan Probe Says Ex-Envoy to US Wrote ‘Treasonous’ Memo to Washington

By Asif Shahzad for The Associated Press

A judicial investigation has concluded Pakistan’s former ambassador to the U.S. did write a secret letter to American officials requesting their help in reining in the powerful army last year, a lawmaker and state media said Tuesday. The finding could lead to treason charges against the envoy.

The former envoy Husain Haqqani was a close aide to President Asif Ali Zardari and a member of his party. Zardari himself could be threatened if any evidence surfaces showing he ordered, or knew of, the memo.

Haqqani, who resigned from his post after the scandal broke and currently lives in America, has denied he wrote the memo and said the commission’s report was “political and one-sided.” Many independent observers have also concluded that the probe was politicized.

The commission was investigating politically explosive allegations that Haqqani sought U.S. assistance last year in warding off an alleged army coup in the aftermath of the U.S raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. The scandal pitted the weak civilian government against the army, and drew in other the feuding power brokers in Pakistan — the Supreme Court, the opposition and the media.

The dispute over the letter and other politically driven clashes between Pakistani state institutions, as well as an increasingly hostile relationship with Washington, have intensified strains on the shaky elected government as it struggles against Islamist militancy and economic stagnation. Some analysts have predicted events could end in a destabilizing stalemate, conditions that in the past have led to coups and other military interventions.

Allegations of collusion between Washington and Pakistani officials may also complicate American efforts to rebuild security cooperation with Pakistan, thrown into disarray in November by U.S. airstrikes that accidentally targeted Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border and killed 24 of them.

The United States wants Pakistan to resolve its political turmoil and focus on fighting militancy and helping in its campaign in neighboring Afghanistan. But anti-Americanism is rife in Pakistan, and few politicians are willing to publicly help Washington. Pakistan has yet to reopen supply lines for NATO and US troops that it blocked after the November airstrikes. On Monday, US officials said a negotiating team in Pakistan seeking to get the supply lines reopened was returning home, the latest sign of stalled relations between the two countries. Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, on a visit to Pakistan, said his government wanted to see the supply lines reopened.

“Those lines of communication affect us as well,” he told reporters, but added it was an issue for Islamabad and Washington to resolve.

The commission called witnesses and sought telephone records from Haqqani, who did not appear before the probe. Many other Pakistani observers have been skeptical of the investigation. Haqqani’s chief accuser in the case was an American-Pakistani businessman with a history of making unsubstantiated allegations and who once appeared in a music video featuring naked female mud wrestlers.

The commission read out its finding in the Supreme Court. Opposition lawmaker Khwaja Asif, who was present, said it concluded Haqqani tried to undermine Pakistan’s constitution and was not “loyal to the state.” The court ordered Haqqani to appear before it after two weeks.

Retired Justice Nasira Javed said the commission was working on orders from the Supreme Court and criminal proceedings against Haqqani on treason charges could now begin.

The release of the findings came just hours before the Supreme Court heard testimony from a billionaire property developer who claimed that the son of Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry accepted $3.5 million worth of shopping and foreign trips to influence judges at the court. The case is embarrassing for Chaudhry, and is seen by some as part of a campaign by supporters of Zardari’s government to tarnish his image. Chaudhry recently convicted Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani, an ally of Zardari, of contempt of court for not opening corruption charges against the president.

Alluding to that case, ex-envoy Haqqani said the “commission’s report has been released to distract attention from other more embarrassing developments.”

Supporters of Haqqani and the government accuse the Supreme Court and the army of working against Zardari and the political party he heads. His movement claims a long history of persecution by the army in Pakistan

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.

Pakistan: Between a Rock and A Hard Place

By Yekaterina Kudashkina for The Voice of Russia

Interview with Dr. Theodore Karasik – the Director of Research and Development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai.

Particularly you have to first understand that the situation in Pakistan is rather icy politically, as well as on the religious scale. Pakistan now finds itself between a rock and a hard place when it comes to how it fits into the US and Western plans to halt fighting in Afghanistan as well as to get rid of terrorist events in the northwest frontier province. So, the Pakistani press is going to be very inflamed though, not only because of the NATO Summit, but also because of the sentencing of the doctor who outed Bin Laden for a sentence of 33 years.

Apparently what happened was that the US had managed to find a Pakistani physician who was able to pinpoint the location of Bin Laden’s compound and as a result of the leakage of this information in the US and foreign press this doctor was arrested and tried very quickly in Pakistan and sentenced to 33 years in jail for giving up Bin Laden’s position. This is a political trial where Pakistanis want to make an example of this individual by arguing that he managed to fail the state by giving up the secret of where Bin Laden was hiding.

Do you think that this case is going to further deteriorate the relations between the US and Pakistan or is it just a root in development?

I think it is a bit of both. I think that will embarrass the US-Pakistani relations. I think that will be pressuring the United States of why did the US revealed the identity of this doctor. There is also a discussion about how this relationship with Pakistan and the United States will continue in terms of transport of nonlethal goods to Afghanistan.

Now, talking about that issue. Do I get it right that the negotiations are still under way in Islamabad regarding the transportation routes agreement, the new one?

Yes, the negotiations are still ongoing in Islamabad about transferring nonlethal goods into the Afghan theatre. And Pakistanis are using this episode to put political pressure on US to make concessions, particularly when it comes to military aid or paying of very high prices for use of this supply lines.

Are we talking about concessions in terms of money or in some other aspects?

It’s a combination of both money and political support for the Zardari Government.

Is the US prepared to offer a political support for Zardari Government in the present circumstances?

At this time I would say that the United States is going to play quite tough with Pakistan. Let’s face it – Pakistan is just barely above a failed state. And the US needs to make sure that Pakistan does not descend in the total chaos while at the same time applying pressure on Pakistan to guarantee that the state remains somewhat coherent together.

The signals of the resumption of negotiations in Islamabad were generally seen as a sign that perhaps they could be ameliorating. And then came Zardari’s visit to Chicago. By the way, why would the Pakistanis be so disappointed with the results of his visit? What were their expectations?

I think that they were expecting to be treated more as an equal and key to solving the Afghan problem as well as to part of trying to help with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. But instead you had this political issues popup and then you had Zardari acting in a very strange way by missing the key events like the group of progress of all the leaders and so on. I think that they left Chicago messed.

Does the United States want to ameliorate them and what needs to be done if there is a certain desire to make them better?

Clearly a lot of problems need to be discussed and we need to find the right remedies that would help both countries work together in this difficult time. I think it is going to get more difficult as tensions build over what to do with Afghanistan and the withdrawal from Afghanistan of NATO forces. Pakistan has an important role to play in all this because of the supply routes as we talked about previously. So, I think we are going to be entering a period of more jostling for position, negotiation that could get quite ugly at some points.

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.

Panetta to Confront Pakistan at NATO Summit on Transport Costs

By David Cloud for New York Daily News

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta heads to this weekend’s NATO summit prepared to confront Pakistan over what he considers price-gouging for transport of supplies to Afghanistan and hoping for a “consensus” among allies over the war effort.

In an interview before his arrival in Chicago, where the summit is scheduled to begin Sunday, Panetta all but ruled out paying Pakistan $5,000 for each truck carrying supplies across its territory for NATO troops waging the Afghanistan war. Pakistani officials have demanded that amount as a condition for reopening supply routes that have been closed to the alliance since fall.

“Considering the financial challenges that we’re facing, that’s not likely,” Panetta said of the demand.

Before the supply routes were closed in November after a mistaken U.S. attack on two remote Pakistani border posts that killed two dozen Pakistani troops, NATO convoys were paying an average of about $250 a truck, a senior U.S. official said.

U.S. officials say they remain hopeful they can resolve the dispute, perhaps at the summit. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari accepted a last-minute invitation to attend the meetings, although he is not expected to meet one-on-one with President Obama, officials said.

Thousands of trucks a day carrying supplies would go through multiple border crossings from Pakistan to Afghanistan, making the fees a potentially massive source of revenue for the cash-strapped government in Islamabad.

The U.S. has shifted deliveries to different routes through Russia and other countries to Afghanistan’s north. But the massive withdrawals of equipment due to unfold over the next 21/2 years as troops leave the country will be “significantly” more difficult if routes in Pakistan aren’t used, the Pentagon acknowledged in a report last month.

The Obama administration hopes the two-day summit will highlight what Panetta called a “consensus” within NATO about how to disengage militarily by the end of 2014. Exhausted after more than a decade of war, the U.S. and its allies want to hand off responsibility for fighting the Taliban to Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government, even though its army and police remain well short of being able to stand on their own.

“Everybody in the alliance recognizes that for this to work, we can’t pick up and leave. We’ve got to remain there to provide support and to assist them in that effort with training, with assistance, with advice,” Panetta said.

But he acknowledged that there would be difficulties, both on the battlefield and within the alliance. Those splits are exemplified by the new French president, Francois Hollande, the Socialist Party leader who campaigned on a vow to withdraw all 3,300 French troops by the end of this year. Hollande met with Obama at the White House on Friday.

Panetta, who plans to meet the new French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Chicago, indicated that the U.S. hopes France will agree to keep some forces in a noncombat role in Afghanistan for the next 2 1/2 years, even if they withdraw all combat troops early.

Yet a more rapid exit by France than planned could lead other allies to speed up their own troop withdrawals.

“There are some countries — Canada, France — that want to bring their combat operations to an end on a faster time track, but that doesn’t have to mean they won’t accept the responsibility to continue to provide the needed support,” Panetta said.

Panetta acknowledged that U.S. efforts to persuade other countries to make long-term financial pledges to fund Afghanistan’s army and police, a key objective of the two-day Chicago summit, is running into difficulties.

“Of course, it’s not easy considering the financial difficulties that a lot of these countries are going through,” he said. “Many of them have come forward and said they would be willing to make a commitment, and I really do think we will be able to achieve the support levels we need.”

In an effort to secure more pledges, the U.S. is asking other countries to commit to providing aid for only three years, though Afghanistan’s armed forces are expected to need foreign assistance for at least a decade, a Western diplomat in Washington said.

A year ago, the Obama administration was hopeful it could draw the Taliban into peace negotiations with Karzai’s government, but Panetta acknowledged that he didn’t see a deal to end the conflict happening “any time soon.”

Pakistan Reveals Efforts to Hunt Down Osama Bin Laden

Jon Boone and Jason Burke for The Guardian

For almost a year, Pakistan‘s security establishment has been in a state of deep fury and embarrassment over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But its annoyance, US diplomats note, has not been directed at how the world’s most wanted man could have lived inside the country for so long, but rather at how a US team could have got in and out of its territory undetected.

So far, there have been no arrests of sympathisers who might have helped Bin Laden move around Pakistan undetected before settling in the town of Abbottabad. Authorities appear more concerned with investigating what they see as a gross violation of sovereignty that badly damaged the prestige and reputation of the powerful Pakistani military.

The only known arrest has been of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who worked in Abbottabad as part of the CIA effort to try to pinpoint the al-Qaida chief. A Pakistani commission investigating Bin Laden’s death recommended Afridi be charged with “conspiracy against the state of Pakistan and high treason”.

But amid efforts on both sides to improve the terrible state of US-Pakistani relations, bitter recriminations are starting to give way to a modest effort by Pakistan’s intelligence service to put itself a little nearer the centre of events that led to Bin Laden’s killing.

Last week, a security official in Islamabad gave the Guardian details of three hitherto unknown ground missions conducted by joint CIA-Pakistani teams to capture Bin Laden.

One was in the north-western mountainous area of Chitral in 2005, though the target turned out to be a “near identical lookalike”. Two were in 2006, including one in a village called Barabcha on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

A former US official confirmed there had been some joint operations in the past, particularly in Chitral, but was unaware of the specific incidents.

“The big picture is there have been cases where [the Pakistanis] have moved on information we have given them,” said the former US official in Washington.

According to the Pakistani security official, efforts by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to capture Bin Laden continued even after “the intelligence chief of a western country came to us and gave us a written report Bin Laden was dead” – in 2008.

He also said the al-Qaida operative who eventually led the CIA to Bin Laden was identified as the terrorist leader’s personal courier by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a senior detained militant in 2003, during interrogation by ISI. That information was passed to US agencies, he said.

This claim contradicts statements by US officials who say that Mohammed, the chief organiser of the 9/11 attacks, downplayed the importance of the courier, then known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and that it took several more years for his true importance to be recognised.

Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier who has launched a personal investigation into the Bin Laden case, has also been boosting the perception of Pakistan’s efforts as he prepares to publish a book on the subject. Based on briefings from intelligence officials, he said ISI had also been interested in Abbottabad in the months before the raid, and had even begun watching the man who would turn out to be al-Kuwaiti.

The agency became suspicious of the man, also known as Arshad Khan, when they ran a check on him after he told locals he had business interests in Peshawar, something that turned out to be false.

Their investigations became urgent when he was seen bulk-buying medicines in Peshawar useful for treating ailments Bin Laden was thought to suffer from.

“When they learned about the medicine, their suspicions were aroused and the passed those suspicions on to the CIA, probably around December 2010,” he said.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and expert on Islamist militancy, said ISI’s three previous attempts to net Bin Laden “probably looked like wild goose chases from Washington’s perspective”.

“This is an effort by the Pakistanis to try to rebut the very widespread notion in the US that they must have been somehow willing accomplices of Bin Laden’s presence in their country,” he said.

Underlying the distrust between the two ostensible allies is the decision by the US not to share any of the material which the US Navy Seals took away from the house, including huge amounts of data on computer hard drives.

For its part, Pakistan is holding on to tens of thousands of documents taken from the Abbottabad house, although the Pakistani security official described these as mere “scraps” compared with the vast amount of information held by the US.

Some of the Pakistani-held documents are believed to have been seen by European and US intelligence services.

The Pakistani official said close counter-terror co-operation between the two sides was wrecked by the killing on the streets of Lahore of two Pakistani civilians by a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, in January 2011.

“In 2009, there were 150 joint operations between us and the Americans, one every two days,” he said. “Raymond Davis put a stop to everything.”

But Riedel said Washington’s suspicions of Pakistan ran far deeper. There was “near total consensus” within the administration not to share any intelligence on Bin Laden, despite the damage they knew it would do to US-Pakistani relations.

“My judgment is that if we had told the Pakistanis in anything but the last five minutes, Osama would be alive today,” he said. “He would have escaped.”

Muhammad Amir Rana, director of a thinktank that tracks security trends, said it is much too late for Pakistan to try to take credit for tracking Bin Laden. He said the time to “reconcile and share responsibility” was in the immediate aftermath, when Barack Obama publicly thanked Pakistan for its support. “Unfortunately, they badly miscalculated – they thought Osama was a big figure, they were worried about the reaction of al-Qaida and the public in Pakistan,” he said.

But the wave of retaliatory attacks feared by some in Pakistan never happened, underling al-Qaida’s enfeebled state.

Taliban Storm Pakistani Prison: Nearly 400 Freed

By Zulfiqar Ali and Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Pakistani Taliban militants stormed a prison in northwest Pakistan early Sunday and freed 390 prisoners, including 20 militants, local officials said.

The attack occurred about 2:30 a.m. at a prison in Bannu. The town is considered the gateway to North Waziristan, a tribal region along the Afghan border that has long been a stronghold for Taliban insurgents and several other militant groups.

Local police officials said as many as 200 Taliban militants drove up in pickups, lobbing hand grenades to break through the jail’s main gate.

Once inside, a two-hour firefight broke out between the attackers and roughly 30 jail guards. The militants began freeing prisoners after the guards ran out of ammunition, officials said. No one was seriously injured or killed in the attack.

One of the prisoners freed was Adnan Rashid, on death row for an assassination attempt on former Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf when the general was president, police said.

Officials said the jail’s 944 prisoners, including some militant commanders, recently had been moved to the Bannu jail after authorities received intelligence that Taliban militants might be planning major raids on detention centers holding insurgents.

In recent years, Pakistan has sent more than 140,000 troops to battle the Pakistani Taliban across much of the tribal region along the Afghan border. The army has retaken large stretches of territory, but the militants still cling to pockets of resistance throughout the tribal belt and continue to carry out periodic attacks on a variety of targets, including military checkpoints, mosques and markets.

Like the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani movement is made up of factions united by the goal of toppling the government and imposing Sharia, or Islamic law. It maintains links with Al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban and other Pakistani militant groups ensconced in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

Authorities in Islamabad, the capital, have blamed the Pakistani Taliban for some of the country’s worst terrorist attacks, including the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

Pakistani Parliament Approves Proposals on US Ties

As Reported By The Associated Press

Pakistan’s parliament on Thursday unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the United States, a decision that could pave the way for the reopening of supply lines to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan.

The guidelines allow for the blockade on U.S. and NATO supplies to be lifted, but also call for an immediate end to American drone strikes against militants on Pakistani soil.

However, the lawmakers did not make a halt in the CIA-led missile attacks a prerequisite to reopening the supply lines, as some lawmakers had been demanding. The government and the army will use the recommendations as the basis for re-engaging with Washington.

Ties between the U.S. and Pakistan all but collapsed in November after U.S. airstrikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, after which Islamabad blocked the supply lines in protest. Washington wants the relationship back on track.

The U.S. State Department expressed respect for the Pakistani parliament’s decision. “We respect the seriousness with which parliament’s review of U.S.-Pakistan relations has been conducted,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “We seek a relationship with Pakistan that is enduring, strategic, and more clearly defined. We look forward to discussing these policy recommendations with the Government of Pakistan and continuing to engage with it on our shared interests.”

About 30 percent of supplies used by NATO and U.S. troops in landlocked Afghanistan are transported through Pakistan. Washington also needs Islamabad’s cooperation to negotiate an end to the Afghan war because many insurgent leaders are based on Pakistani soil.

The drones are a source of popular outrage in the country and have fueled anti-U.S. sentiment, although Pakistan’s powerful army has tacitly aided the missile attacks in the past, weakening Islamabad’s official stance that they are a violation of sovereignty.

Washington has ignored previous entreaties by the parliament to end the strikes, and is seen as unlikely to change its policy now.

Despite calls by Islamists for a permanent supply line blockade, few inside the Pakistani government or the army believed this was desirable, given that Pakistan relies on the U.S. and other NATO countries for its economic survival and diplomatic and military support.

Soon after the deadly airstrikes on the border, the Pakistani government called on parliament to draw up new guidelines for Islamabad’s relations with the U.S. The government’s move was widely seen as way to give it political cover for reopening the routes.

The national security committee presented a first set of proposals last month but opposition parties riding a wave of anti-American sentiment rejected them, seemingly unwilling to share any fallout ahead of elections this year or early next.

But on Thursday the opposition voted with government lawmakers to approve a revised set of guidelines, which differed little from the original ones. Opposition lawmakers didn’t explain why they had dropped earlier objections, but they could have come under pressure from the army or extracted other, unrelated concessions from the government.

The guidelines call for NATO and the U.S. to pay Pakistan more for the right to ship supplies across its soil and stipulate that no arms or ammunitions be transported. Western forces have only ever trucked fuel and other nonfatal supplies across Pakistan because of the risk they could fall into the hands of insurgents.

“We believe that the world has heard the voice of the people of Pakistan,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told parliament. “I would like to assure the house that our government will implement the recommendations that have been made in both letter and spirit.” Gilani did not say when the supply lines would reopen.

Western officials have said Pakistan would come under intense criticism if routes remained blocked during a NATO conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war.

Washington’s public line has been that it is waiting for the parliament to finish its review before calling for Pakistan to reopen the routes. It has refused to apologize for the border incident in November, and last week put a $10 million bounty on the head of a militant leader believed close to Pakistan’s security forces.

Behind the scenes, however, negotiations have been going on between the U.S. and Pakistan over the supply line issue and drone strikes. It was unclear whether there has been any new agreement on the strikes, which Washington believes are key to keeping al-Qaida on its back foot.

U.S. officials had said they had offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. For most of the Afghan war, 90 percent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but NATO has increased its reliance on an alternate, so-called “northern” route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition.

Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go through Pakistan.

Pakistani militant taunts US: ‘I will be in Lahore tomorrow’

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

One of Pakistan’s most notorious extremists mocked the United States during a defiant media conference close to the country’s military headquarters Wednesday, a day after the US slapped a $10 million bounty on him.

“I am here, I am visible. America should give that reward money to me,” said Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, referring to the fact that the bounty was given to a man whose whereabouts are not a mystery. “I will be in Lahore tomorrow. America can contact me whenever it wants to.”

Analysts have said Pakistan is unlikely to arrest Saeed, founder of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, because of his alleged links with the country’s intelligence agency and the political danger of doing Washington’s bidding in a country where anti-American sentiment is rampant.

Saeed, 61, has been accused of orchestrating the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people, including six American citizens. But he operates openly in Pakistan, giving public speeches and appearing on TV talk shows.

He has used his high-profile status in recent months to lead a protest movement against US drone strikes and the resumption of NATO supplies for troops in Afghanistan sent through Pakistan. The supplies were suspended in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Hours before Saeed spoke, US Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in the nearby capital, Islamabad, for talks about rebuilding the two nation’s relationship. In a brief statement, Nides did not mention the bounty offer but reaffirmed America’s commitment to “work through” the challenges bedeviling ties.

Increasingly ‘brazen’ appearances
The US said Tuesday it issued the bounty for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction in response to his increasingly “brazen” appearances. It also offered up to $2 million for Lashkar-e-Taiba’s deputy leader, Hafiz Abdul Rahman Makki, who is Saeed’s brother-in-law.

The rewards marked a shift in the long-standing US calculation that going after the leadership of an organization used as a proxy by the Pakistani military against archenemy India would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.

This shift has occurred as the US-Pakistani relationship steadily deteriorated over the last year, and as the perception of Lashkar-e-Taiba’s potential threat to the West increased.

Bounty backfire?
The US may be hoping the bounty will force Pakistan to curb Saeed’s activities, even if it isn’t willing to arrest him. But the press conference he called at a hotel in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Wednesday was an indication that is unlikely, and the bounty may even help him by boosting his visibility.

At the hotel, located near the Pakistani army’s main base and only a half hour drive from the US Embassy in Islamabad, Saeed was flanked by more than a dozen right-wing politicians and hardline Islamists who make up the leadership of the Difa-e-Pakistan, or Defense of Pakistan, Council. The group has held a series of large demonstrations against the US and India in recent months.

Some in the media have speculated the movement has the tacit support of the Pakistani military, possibly to put pressure on Washington.

“I want to tell America we will continue our peaceful struggle,” said Saeed. “Life and death is in the hands of God, not in the hands of America.”

Denies involvement in Mumbai massacre
He denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and said he had been exonerated by Pakistani courts.

Pakistan kept Saeed under house arrest for several months after the attacks but released him after he challenged his detention in court. It has also resisted Indian demands to do more, saying there isn’t sufficient evidence.

The bounty offers could complicate US efforts to get the NATO supply line reopened. Pakistan’s parliament is currently debating a revised framework for ties with the US that Washington hopes will get supplies moving again. But the bounties could be seen by lawmakers and the country’s powerful army as a provocation and an attempt to gain favor with India.

Origins in the Kashmir dispute
Saeed founded Lashkar-e-Taiba in the 1980s allegedly with ISI support to pressure India over the disputed territory of Kashmir. The two countries have fought three major wars since they were carved out of the British empire in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

Pakistan banned the group in 2002 under US pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa — even doing charity work using government money.

The US has designated both groups foreign terrorist organizations. Intelligence officials and terrorism experts say Lashkar-e-Taiba has expanded its focus beyond India in recent years and has plotted attacks in Europe and Australia. Some have called it “the next Al Qaeda” and fear it could set its sights on the US

* Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report from Islamabad.