Posts Tagged ‘ Afghanistan ’

Pakistan: US Participation a Must in Russia-initiated Afghan Talks

As Reported by Ayaz Gul for The Voice of America

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN —
Pakistan says that Russia-sponsored international talks on Afghanistan must involve the United States for bringing peace to the war-riven country, because Washington is the “biggest stakeholder” there.

Moscow plans to host this week (April 14) a new expanded round of multi-nation “consultations” it has recently launched with the stated goals of developing a “regional approach” for promoting Afghan security and a government-led national reconciliation with the Taliban.

But the U.S. administration has already refused to take part in the conference, questioning Russian intentions and motives.

Speaking to a local television station before the Moscow talks, the Pakistani prime minister’s foreign policy aide, Tariq Fatemi, stopped short of admitting the absence of Washington will not allow the multi-nation process to achieve its mission.

“They [U.S] have their troops present [in Afghanistan], they have invested one trillion dollars there, they are the biggest stakeholder, they have lost hundreds of their soldiers, so they have their interests there,” Fatemi explained.

While Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, India were represented in the last round of talks in Moscow earlier this year, former Soviet Central Asian states have been invited for the first time to attend the April 14 conference.

“We hope and desire that when any such peace initiative will enter into a next stage, America will have to be made part of it,” Fatemi told Aaj TV when asked whether the Russian-initiated process could bring peace to Afghanistan without Washington.

Pakistan believes Russia is “positively” using its influence with the Taliban to encourage them to join peace talks and Islamabad is supportive of any such efforts, Fatemi insisted.

“Russia has told us its major concerns are that if civil war conditions are there in Afghanistan, it can become a center for terrorist organizations like Islamic State, or Daesh, who will then try to infiltrate into bordering Central Asian states,” the Pakistani official explained.

The Taliban’s attacks on rival IS fighters in a bid to prevent them from establishing a foothold in the country apparently encouraged Russia to support the insurgent group. But Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday again warned Moscow against maintaining contacts with the Taliban.

“Anyone who thinks they can help themselves by helping the enemy of their enemy is mistaken. Anyone who thinks that they can differentiate between good and bad terrorism is mistaken,” Ghani said.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Ghani acknowledged Russia is also threatened by terrorism and sympathized with victims of recent terrorist attack in that country.

“We have an intense dialogue with all our interlocutors because a stable Afghanistan is to everybody’s benefit and unstable Afghanistan hurts everyone,” Ghani said when asked whether Kabul plans to attend Moscow talks on Friday. He added he wants Afghanistan “as a center of cooperation” in all efforts aimed at stabilizing his country.

The Russian foreign ministry, while regretting Washington’s refusal to attend the coming talks, had also underscored the United States is an “important player” in settling the Afghan conflict.

“So [the United States] joining the peacekeeping efforts of the countries of the region would help to reinforce the message to the Afghan armed opposition regarding the need to stop armed resistance and to start talks,” it maintained.

Meanwhile, Fatemi said Pakistan has also stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease tensions with Afghanistan and is seeking implementation of a proposed mechanism the two sides agreed to in talks last months that were mediated by Britain.

The mechanism, he explained, would allow establishment of a “channel of communication at different levels” between Islamabad and Kabul to help remove “any misunderstanding” and deal with any terrorist incident on either side of their shared border.

“Talks [between the two countries] at the Army level and at different other levels are currently underway, and at a final stage, if needed, foreign ministers of the two countries will also engage in frequent meetings,” Fatemi said.

Afghanistan and Pakistan each deny allegations they harbor and support anti-state militants engaged in terrorist attacks on their respective soils. Tensions have lately risen because of Islamabad’s unilateral border security measures to prevent terrorist infiltration.

Kabul disputes portions of the 2,600-kilometer border between the two countries and is opposed to fencing them, saying it will further add to problems facing divided families.

Pakistan, Afghanistan trade accusations at U.N. over extremist havens

By Michelle Nichols for Reuters

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Afghanistan and Pakistan traded accusations in the U.N. Security Council on Thursday over the whereabouts of Islamist extremists on their porous border as the United Nations described increased tensions between the neighbors as “unfortunate and dangerous.”

Afghanistan’s U.N. envoy, Zahir Tanin, told a council debate on the situation in Afghanistan that “terrorist sanctuaries continue to exist on Pakistan’s soil and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador, Masood Khan, said “terrorists operate on both sides of the porous border” and many attacks against Pakistan were planned on Afghan soil. He said aggressive policing and border surveillance were needed.

“I reject most emphatically Ambassador Tanin’s argument – root, trunk and branch – that terrorist sanctuaries exist in Pakistan and some elements continue to use terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy,” Khan told the council.

He told Reuters in an interview afterward that Tanin had been “ill-advised” to raise the border issues at the Security Council as Kabul and Islamabad were already talking through other channels. Khan blamed Afghan President Hamid Karzai for stoking tensions.

“When President Karzai meets our leadership, he’s most gracious, engaging, he’s a statesman. But when he talks to the media, he says things which inflame sentiment and that’s most unhelpful and destabilizing,” Khan said. “We have given very restrained responses.”

Pakistan’s role in the 12-year-old war in Afghanistan has been ambiguous – it is a U.S. ally but has a long history of supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in a bid to counter the influence of its regional rival India.

Pakistan’s military played a key role in convincing Afghan Taliban leaders to hold talks with the United States, U.S. and Pakistani officials said, but Afghan anger at fanfare over the opening of the Taliban’s Qatar office this week has since delayed preliminary discussions.

“We were talking to multiple interlocutors behind the scenes and we have been asking them to participate in these talks, (telling them) that we think the war should come to an end,” Khan told Reuters.

‘SUCCEED OR FAIL TOGETHER’

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan helped the Taliban take power in Afghanistan in the 1990s and is facing a Taliban insurgency itself. The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, is a separate entity from the Afghan Taliban, though allied with them.

“Stability and sanctity of Pakistan-Afghanistan border is a shared responsibility. Robust deployment of Pakistani troops on our side is meant to interdict terrorists and criminals,” Khan told the council. “This must be matched from the other side.”

A spate of cross-border shelling incidents by the Pakistani military, who said they were targeting Taliban insurgents, has killed dozens of Afghan civilians in the past couple of years.

“We are very concerned with ongoing border shelling,” Tanin told the council. “This constitutes a serious threat to Afghan sovereignty and the prospect of friendly relations between the two countries.”

U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, told the Security Council that the heightened tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan were a serious concern, especially at this stage of Afghanistan’s development.

“Such tensions are unfortunate and dangerous,” he said.

The NATO command in Kabul on Tuesday handed over lead security responsibility to Afghan government forces across the country and most foreign troops are due to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

“It is for the two countries to address these concerns and problems and their underlying reasons, to build trust and to refrain from any step that could contribute to an escalation of tensions and inflamed public sentiments,” Kubis said.

“They share common concerns and interests in fighting terrorism. They can succeed or fail together,” he said.

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.

Pakistan Releasing Taliban Detainees As Part Of Peace Process Ahead Of 2014 Withdrawal

By Rebecca Santana and Kathy Gannon for The Huffington Post

Pakistan-Taliban-_2063733b

Pakistan plans to release more Afghan militant detainees in an attempt to boost the peace process in neighboring Afghanistan ahead of the departure of international troops next year, a top Pakistani official said.

Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani said Pakistan has initiated the process of releasing those Afghan detainees in its custody who they think will help facilitate the reconciliation process. His comments were made during a press conference Friday in Abu Dhabi and relayed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday. He did not give a timetable.

In general, Kabul has pressed hard for Islamabad to release its detainees, with some officials saying that they hope the released Taliban can serve as intermediaries. But Washington is concerned about specific prisoners who they consider dangerous.

Jilani did not specifically mention whether Pakistan would release Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former deputy leader of the Afghan Taliban whom Kabul has been pushing Pakistan to release.

Senior U.S. and Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the U.S. has informed the Pakistani authorities that it was reluctant to see Baradar go free and asked for prior notice so it can try to track his movements.

Pakistan has upward of 100 Afghan prisoners in its custody including Baradar, who was arrested by Pakistan in the southern city of Karachi in 2010. The circumstances of his arrest, like that of most of the detainees, remain unclear. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of providing shelter to some of the Taliban.

The U.S. and Afghan officials said a similar U.S. request for notification upon release has been made for another prisoner, Abdul Samad, according to the officials. Samad, who is from Kandahar, the former Taliban headquarters, is a specialist in making suicide jackets and came to prominence within the Taliban movement after its collapse in 2001.

Several senior Taliban have already been released by Pakistan including former governors and ministers. One of those released was the once-feared Vice and Virtue Minister Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, who oversaw a legion of Taliban fighters who roamed the streets searching for women who were not properly covered, or residents listening to music or watching television, both of which were forbidden under the Taliban.

In November Pakistan also released Anwar ul Haq Mujahed, a senior Taliban commander from eastern Nangarhar province whose release was sought by the Afghan High Peace Council although he had been implicated in several major attacks in eastern Afghanistan against coalition and Afghan forces.

The Afghan peace process has made little headway since it began several years ago, hobbled by distrust among the major players, including the United States. But it appears to be getting a new push in recent months with a high-level peace commission traveling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Pakistani officials releasing 26 Taliban prisoners since November.

Part of the reason for the recent peace push is that Pakistani government and military officials are worried that if American troops leave without a plan in place, Afghanistan could deteriorate into another round of vicious infighting. After the Soviets pulled out in 1989, many of the militants who had helped best that superpower then turned on each other in what played out as a vicious war across the country.

A repeat of that scenario could have horrific consequences for Pakistan, such as a flood of Afghan refugees across its borders and increased fighting in Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the military is already trying to suppress a stubborn insurgency.

The Afghan and U.S. governments have long accused Islamabad of backing insurgents – an allegation Pakistan denies – and say many militant leaders are hiding in the country.

Whether the recent detainee releases will play a significant role in the peace process remains to be seen. The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, said on Thursday that although their release was a positive step, there was no indication of where the former detainees had gone.

He said the Afghan government was trying to ensure they did not return to the insurgency.

He said the Pakistanis so far have taken a “hands-off kind of approach to the people that they have released.”

All officials spoke anonymously as they were not authorized to talk to the media.

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~

Eleven Long Years Of War

As Reported by The Japan Times

Eleven years have passed since America and its coalition allies launched Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban government in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, a little less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed some 3,000 people.

The Taliban government fell within two months, but the fighting dragged on. As the U.S. turned its attention to Iran, the Taliban regained its strength and took control of the southern and eastern areas of Afghanistan. The U.S. has attempted to engage in peace talks with the Taliban but discussions have soon broken down. Nevertheless, it is clear that a negotiated settlement is the only way to bring peace to Afghanistan. It is hoped that the U.S. will make strenuous efforts to resume talks with the Taliban.

On Sept. 20, the U.S. Defense Department announced that, as President Barack Obama had promised, the U.S. completed the withdrawal of some 33,000 soldiers dispatched by the Obama administration during a surge two years earlier. Now about 68,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan and form the core of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Obama administration plans to fully transfer authority over peace and security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) by the end of 2014. Even after foreign combat forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan, about 20,000 foreign soldiers will remain stationed in Afghanistan to train the ANSF.

This year has witnessed a surge of “Green on Blue violence” — attacks on ISAF soldiers by Afghan soldiers and police officers who have fallen under the influence of the Taliban — resulting in the deaths of more than 50 ISAF soldiers.

Combat and other attacks by Afghans, including suicide bombings and the use of improvised explosive devices, have taken the lives of some 2,000 U.S. soldiers and another 1,000 ISAF soldiers since hostilities began. These casualties and the dragging on of a conflict with no possibility of victory in sight has resulted in war fatigue among the public in the U.S. and Europe.

In January, the Taliban announced that it had accepted an invitation to participate in peace talks with the U.S. and agreed to open a contact office in Qatar. But 10 weeks later it announced that it had suspended the talks. Apparently the Taliban did not like Washington’s considerate attitude toward Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who had expressed disapproval of the talks.

The Obama administration is also reluctant to appear as being soft on the Taliban during this election year, but it has made it clear that it is willing to engage in talks with the Taliban if the latter severs ties with al-Qaida and accepts the Afghanistan Constitution, which guarantees the rights of women and minorities. This reasonable position at least opens the door to a negotiated end to the war in Afghanistan.

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.

Latest U.S. Drone Operation in Pakistan Should Be Judged a Success

An Editorial By The Globe and Mail

The use of a drone to kill al-Qaeda’s second-in-command in Pakistan, confirmed on Tuesday by U.S. officials, is good news that has nonetheless provoked a diplomatic protest by Pakistan. The country’s position is understandable, and doubtless its posturing is necessary for domestic consumption. But it does not alter the fact that Pakistan is either unable or unwilling to act against terrorists in its lawless tribal lands and, though they occur in a foreign country, that Washington’s actions are defensive in nature.

Abu Yahya al-Libi was a global jihadi figure who incited attacks on Western targets and served a critical propaganda role for al-Qaeda. His apparent death follows several similar drone strikes against senior al-Qaeda leaders, including Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, that have seriously diminished the terrorist group’s capability and, frankly, have made the world a safer place. What is more, the use of the unmanned stealth weapons has both preserved the lives of U.S. servicemen and women and resulted in limited civilian casualties.

Louise Arbour, the former war crimes prosecutor and Supreme Court of Canada justice, wrote recently in Foreign Policy that the use of drones “stretches legal boundaries to the breaking point and alienates people in Pakistan.” In calling for the rules for use of strike drones to be “clarified,” Ms. Arbour expressed concerns over the “very real risks to civilians.” There is indeed a need for a clarification of the rules. It would be folly to believe that the proliferation of the technology is without implications for international law and policy.

But any such debate must be built upon some pertinent facts. Strike drones are surgically targeted, and those killed are generally not good people (there is always the unfortunate risk of exceptions when terrorists hide among civilians).

In the case of the latest attack, American officials say Mr. Libi was the only person who died. Local tribesmen dispute this, saying others died, but they confirm no civilians were harmed. The same can hardly be said of the consequences of U.S. inaction in the face of al-Qaeda’s threat. This operation was then, by any reasonable measure, a success. Ms. Arbour and others concerned about drone wars need to reflect on the question of proportionality.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteUntil and unless Pakistan goes after the terrorists in its borders earnestly, the drone strikes and their often effectiveness in killing top wanted members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban will most likely continue, despite the collateral damage to Pakistan’s sovereignty and loss of civilian lives.

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.”

NATO Summit May Pose Few Political Risks For Obama

By Lynn Sweet for The Chicago Sun Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama’s biggest diplomatic stake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Too Early to Consider Al-Qaeda a Dwindling Force

By Paul Koring for The Globe and Mail


Amid an uneasy anniversary of the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a daring U.S. special forces raid, there’s a temptation to consider the war won.

Al-Qaeda’s infamous leader is dead; the cunning mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide hijackings, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, goes on trial this week in Guantanamo; while missile-firing Predator drones have grimly decimated al-Qaeda’s commanders in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia

More than a decade later, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, $1.2-trillion in spent bullion, 6,000-plus lost American lives – and perhaps 50 times that many other lives – the “war on terror” is, at least, a defunct term, banned by President Barack Obama’s administration as it shifted rhetorical focus in the struggle against violent, extremist Islam.

But the broader conflict remains unresolved and may have become far more complicated.

No significant terrorist strike has hit an American target since 2001. The Madrid and London bombings of 2004 and 2005 were the last major attacks on Western cities. Al-Qaeda has been battered and decapitated. Yet the threat still looms.

“It’s wishful thinking to say al-Qaeda is on the brink of defeat,” warns Rand analyst Seth Jones. Yet even in the Muslim world, support for al-Qaeda is way down. Only in Egypt does its approval rating top 20 per cent, according to a recent Pew Research poll. In Pakistan, where bin Laden was killed in a violation of Pakistani sovereignty and anti-U.S. fervor runs high, barely 13 per cent hold a positive view of al-Qaeda, and in much of the Arab world support is mired in single digits.

The violent fringes of radical Islam seem to have lost traction among even disenfranchised and repressed Muslims. At the same time, political Islam is emerging as a key force in the change sweeping aside repressive regimes in the Middle East.

As the terror threat and fear of another spectacular attack like the catastrophic destruction of New York’s twin towers diminishes, the nature of the struggle against radical, repressive Islam remains unfinished and the West’s role is increasingly unclear.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan is winding down. The coalition of Western nations that sent combat troops – including Canada – is falling apart as nations head for the exits. The dream of transforming Afghanistan from a haven for terrorists run by Taliban brutes into a modern democracy where girls go to school in an oasis of central Asian stability has been eclipsed by harsher realities.

The war’s aims have been reduced to propping up the Karzai regime, talking to the Taliban and hoping Afghanistan doesn’t slide back into a narco-state run by warlords or return to a Taliban fiefdom.

Neighbouring Pakistan, once the supposedly key ally in former president George W. Bush “war on terror” may pose an even greater threat than Afghanistan should it collapse.

Meanwhile, as popular uprisings topple repressive regime across the Arab world, the inherent contradictions in Western policy are being exposed. Backing dictators and monarchs as long as they repressed radical Islamists, kept cold peace with Israel and the oil flowing, was the pragmatic, successful, strategic policy for decades.

In its place is a rapidly evolving effort to stay on the right side of history. So Washington jettisoned longtime loyal ally, Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and then sent warplanes to back the Libyan rebels who ousted and killed Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Still backing pro-democracy forces isn’t a one-size-fits-all shift in policy. Mr. Obama’s support for the Saudi royal family remains unflinching while the unfolding violence in Syria seems to have hamstrung the West.

Al-Qaeda’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, continues to issue calls to arms, urging jihadists to seize the moment. That rallying cry seems, so far, to have had little resonance among the tens of millions of Muslims seeking – and in some nations tasting – freedom across the Arab world. But there has been a spate of suicide bombings – hallmarks of extremist jihadists – in Syria.

If moderate, democratic, freely-elected governments – likely including Islamists – fail to deliver in Egypt and elsewhere, the unfulfilled expectations of tens of millions may provide new recruiting grounds for the extremists.

“Al-Qaeda franchises are still a major factor,” former White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke told ABC. “Groups calling themselves al-Qaeda or claiming affiliation … have large, armed formations in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Nigeria, and in the Magreb and the Sahel regions of Africa. They are conducting military-styled attacks in some countries and waves of bombings in others. They are participating in the ‘Arab Spring’ fighting in Libya and Syria.”

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.