Posts Tagged ‘ Benazir Bhutto ’

Salman Taseer Assassination Points to Pakistani Extremists’ Mounting Power

By Karin Brulliard for The Washington Post

One of Pakistan’s most openly progressive politicians was gunned down Tuesday in an act that violently highlighted extremists’ tightening grip on the country even as the beleaguered government struggled to stay in power.

The killing of Salman Taseer, apparently at the hands of one of his own guards, marked the most prominent political assassination in Pakistan since former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s death three years ago.

The razor-tongued governor of Pakistan’s most populous province was known for speaking out on behalf of women and religious minorities, and his slaying stunned the nation and alarmed U.S. officials. It also further rocked Taseer’s ruling Pakistan People’s Party, which is desperately trying to keep its government afloat following a key ally’s defection to the opposition Sunday.

The secular PPP condemned the killing and promised a swift investigation, but its weakened position undermines its ability to crack down on religious extremists.

In timing that underscored those limitations, Taseer was shot in an upscale area of Islamabad as Pakistan’s main opposition party was across town demanding that the government agree within three days to implement a list of reforms, or risk collapse.

After the killing, the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif said it would allow three additional days for the changes, including a slash in government spending and the reversal of unpopular fuel price increases.

Taseer was a chief ally of President Asif Ali Zardari, who in 2008 appointed him governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s wealthiest province. But Sharif’s party rules the province, making Taseer’s assassination a blow to the federal government’s influence there.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the killing in a statement Tuesday, saying she had met Taseer and “admired his work to promote tolerance and the education of Pakistan’s future generations.”

Taseer’s apparent killer cited his boss’s stance against a controversial anti-blasphemy law in justifying his actions. As the embattled, pro-U.S. PPP sought in recent days to win back defecting allies that also include a small Islamic party, it had already said it would not support a proposal to change the blasphemy statutes. That left Taseer one of the few vocal champions of the move, which hard-line religious organizations had labeled a Western conspiracy.

The laws have drawn scrutiny since a Christian woman was sentenced to death in November for allegedly criticizing the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Taseer had called for her pardon, leading religious groups to denounce him as an “apostate” and burn effigies of him during a nationwide strike last week in support of the law. One Muslim cleric has offered $6,000 to anyone who kills the woman, who remains in jail.

Even as Pakistani television stations were dominated Tuesday by commentators condemning rising religious intolerance, supporters of Taseer’s arrested guard, Mumtaz Qadri, 26, created a page for him on Facebook. Page visitors called him a “hero” and praised his “awesome job.” No major unrest over the killing was reported, but authorities said they were on high alert.

“This shows how the religious extremists want to impose their agenda to terrorize the society,” Shahbaz Bhatti, the federal minister for minorities affairs and also a proponent of changing the laws, said in an interview. “This cowardly act cannot stop us who are raising our voice.”

Yet in a country where Taliban militants increasingly flex their muscles through bombings, religious hard-liners have great power to intimidate even though polls show that their views are not widely shared. Last week’s strike by Islamic organizations drew few supporters to the streets, but shops in major cities closed – and many merchants said they did so under threat.

Human rights activists say the blasphemy laws are also abused by extremists, who use them as a tool to persecute minorities or opponents by bullying police and courts into arrests and convictions. The laws were strengthened during the 1980s rule of Islamist military dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq.

Taseer lamented the power of the religious mob in an interview last summer following bombings of mosques belonging to the Ahmadi sect, whose members identify themselves as Muslims but are barred by the constitution from “posing” as such. Taseer – whose appointed position gave him little direct power in Punjab – condemned the provincial government of Sharif’s center-right PML-N for what he called its tolerance of radical religious groups.

“Extremist people are not in the majority,” Taseer said at the time. “This is a very narrow minority, but . . . they are always prepared to do and die. That is their strength.”

On Dec. 24, he had posted on his Twitter account: “My observation on minorities: A man/nation is judged by how they support those weaker than them not how they lean on those stronger.”

Authorities said Taseer’s guard, a member of an elite Punjab provincial police force that provides VIP security, shot the governor multiple times outside the Kohsar market in Islamabad, a small shopping plaza near his residence that is frequented by foreigners. The guard proudly surrendered to police afterward, according to local news reports.

Most political parties condemned the killing, and the government announced a three-day mourning period, during which political activity would be suspended. Zardari, to whom Taseer was close, called the assassination “ghastly.”

“The governor of Punjab was the bravest person in our government, and the stands he took for women, minorities and on the blasphemy law were incredibly brave and will never be forgotten,” Farahnaz Ispahani, a Zardari spokeswoman, said in an interview.

Taseer, who began his political career as a PPP student activist, was a successful businessman who played polo and smoked heavily. With his flashy sunglasses and frequent Twitter dispatches, Taseer, 66, cut a rather shocking figure in a country dominated by conservative social mores.

Critics assailed him for fathering a child with an Indian journalist while he was still married to the mother of his other children. In 2008, minor scandals broke out when opponents published photos online of him holding wine glasses at parties and of one of his daughters wearing shorts and dancing.

Despite the alleged gunman’s confession, Taseer’s killing was sure to be swept up in the conspiracy theories that permeate Pakistani politics, particularly in times of turmoil. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said investigators would seek to determine whether the suspect acted alone or was “asked” to carry out the attack.

In the hours after the killing, some criticism centered on the PML-N-led Punjab government, which provided Taseer’s police guard. There was no indication Tuesday night that the party played a role.

But the PML-N might yet bring down the PPP, whose government faces growing criticism over corruption, a floundering economy and a ham-handed response to last year’s devastating floods. The ruling party’s coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, withdrew from the government Sunday, weakening its mandate by depriving it of a parliamentary majority.

A united opposition could pass a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani, leading to his ouster and potentially triggering early elections. That has appeared unlikely, because of divisions among opposition parties. But Sharif threatened Tuesday to “ask the opposition parties to come forward and we will give them our full support” if the government does not show progress on reforms within 45 days, according to the Associated Press.

Like many in the PPP, Taseer often criticized opposition parties for stoking political instability in a country that has been ruled by the military for half its 63-year history and where an elected government has never completed its term.

Religious extremism, Taseer said last summer, would be quashed only by the “continuous, functional position of a democratic system.”

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A Brave Man Killed

A New York Times Editorial

Some twisted person has created a Facebook page in support of Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the bodyguard accused of assassinating Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Mr. Taseer was a brave man who had called for the repeal of Pakistan’s outrageous anti-blasphemy law.

Whoever killed Mr. Taseer must be condemned and repudiated, not extolled. Otherwise, Pakistan will certainly continue on a downward spiral in which intolerance and self-destruction triumph.

The governor’s death is a tragedy not just for Pakistan but for all who understand that just and stable societies need honest debate and full respect for minorities. Pakistan cannot afford to lose any fair-minded leaders, especially at a time when it is struggling with a virulent insurgency, an unraveling economy and an unraveling central government.

Mr. Taseer — a longtime ally of President Asif Ali Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 — was Pakistan’s most prominent defender of the rights of women and minorities. He had pressed hard for repeal of the blasphemy law, which imposes a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of insulting Islam.

The law is popular with the Muslim majority but is routinely manipulated to settle personal rivalries and persecute minorities. And Mr. Taseer had been particularly outspoken, calling for leniency for a Christian mother of four who was sentenced to death under the law, in a case that stemmed from a dispute in her village.

Pakistani officials, who have the bodyguard in custody, say he killed Mr. Taseer because of the governor’s opposition to the blasphemy law. But there are far too many unanswered questions: Did the suspect act alone? Why did the Punjab police assign a religious conservative to protect Mr. Taseer? News reports first said nine bullets were fired into Mr. Taseer, and hospital officials later said he was hit 24 times. Yet other members of the security detail did not shoot to stop Mr. Qadri, who surrendered with his hands up.

Pakistani authorities need to investigate thoroughly and share their full findings with the Pakistani people.

The United States and the international community must make clear their outrage over this killing. So must every Pakistani. The country’s political leaders and the Pakistani media also need to consider whether the way they have shaped the debate on the blasphemy law — some have argued that mentioning reform is blasphemy punishable by death — is further fueling conflict.

Ultimately, only Pakistanis can save their nation, and they must answer the more profound questions: Do they want a country in which Muslims and non-Muslims can peacefully co-exist? Or one in which religious zealots, espousing the most intolerant interpretation of Islam, kill anyone brave enough to defend the defenseless? That would be the true blasphemy.

Pakistan Police Officers to be Arrested Over Death of Benazir Bhutto

By Delacn Walsh for The Guardian

A Pakistani court has ordered the arrest of two senior police officers in connection with Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, reviving hopes for a breakthrough in Pakistan’s most pressing political mystery.

An anti-terrorism court ordered the arrest of Rawalpindi’s former police chief, Saud Aziz, and his deputy Khurram Shahzad, who ordered the crime scene to be washed down less than two hours after the killing, destroying critical evidence.

“They were responsible for Bhutto’s security,” said special investigator Chaudhry Zulfiqar. “They ordered the crime scene to be hosed down despite resistance from other officials.”

A strongly-worded UN report into Bhutto’s death last April said the decision to wash the crime scene did “irreparable damage” to the subsequent investigation. Investigators speculated that Aziz had been influenced by powerful military intelligence agencies.

Aziz and Khurram, who are now retired from the police, could not be contacted today. They are due to be formally charged on 11 December along with five men already in custody.

The warrants are the latest twist in a torturously slow police investigation. Three years after Bhutto was killed in a suicide blast as she left an election rally in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007, Pakistanis have little idea of who was behind her death.

Pervez Musharraf, who was president at the time, initially blamed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but officials from Bhutto’s party, the PPP, have said that other forces, possibly including elements of Pakistan’s powerful military, played a role in her death.

Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Zardari, has vowed to unveil her killers, but made little progress in an investigation bogged down by controversy, recrimination and conspiracy theories – one popular rumour in Pakistan has it that Zardari himself was responsible.

The three-man UN investigation into the killing, headed by Chilean diplomat Heraldo Muñoz, published its report last April in an effort to bring some clarity. It dismissed the allegations against Zardari and blamed Musharraf for failing to protect Bhutto, while accusing police and intelligence officials of hampering the investigation into her death.

The UN team said that Aziz stalled the investigation for two days after Bhutto’s death, deliberately prevented a postmortem on her body, and gave the order to sanitise the crime scene just 100 minutes after Bhutto’s death. As a result crucial DNA evidence was lost and investigators gathered just 23 pieces of evidence instead of the “thousands” that would be expected, Muñoz’s team noted.

The UN focused on the actions of Aziz, who witnesses said was “constantly talking on his mobile phone” as doctors scrambled to save Bhutto’s life in a Rawalpindi hospital.

The UN received “credible information” that the Pakistani intelligence agencies had intervened. But Aziz refused to say who he spoke with, and tried to blame the failure to carry out an autopsy on Zardari – something that was “highly improper”, the UN said. “It suggests a preconceived effort to prevent a thorough examination of Ms Bhutto’s remains.”

The strongly-worded report represented a watershed in moribund efforts to solve the mystery of Bhutto’s death – Pakistan’s greatest political trauma since the dictator General Zia-ul-Haq died in mysterious circumstances in 1988. But it fell short of identifying those behind her death, and government efforts to advance the probe has since floundered.

Bhutto’s own party has been split by divisions. Last week Zardari suspended the membership of Naheed Khan, Bhutto’s confidante, following simmering tensions that included criticism of his failure to find Bhutto’s killers. Critics have also raised questions about the role of Rehman Malik, Bhutto’s security chief and now Pakistan’s interior minister.

The main suspect in custody remains a teenager from the tribal belt accused of helping the Bhutto assassins. His case, and those of the police officers, will be heard in camera at Adiala jail outside Rawalpindi.

But the government has not probed the role of the other parties mentioned in the UN report – former president Pervez Musharraf, currently in exile in London, and the intelligence services that are considered beyond the control of the civilian authorities.

‘Bhutto’: For Pakistan’s Heroine, A Hagiography

By Ella Taylor for National Public Radio

A new documentary about Benazir Bhutto lets a full hour go by before entertaining the mildest doubts about its subject, the hugely popular prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated on her triumphant return to Karachi from exile in 2007.

Bhutto is smart and thorough on the inflamed history of Pakistan. But as a portrait of the first woman elected head of state in an Islamic nation, it comes closer to hero-worship than to considered biography. Front-loaded with glowing testimonials from family and FOB’s East and West, the movie gives a startling degree of face time to its own co-producer, Mark Siegel, a political consultant and close friend of Bhutto who co-authored a book with her.

The director, Duane Baughman, also a political consultant, helped get Michael Bloomberg and Hillary Clinton elected, so he knows how to brand a public figure, dead or alive.

Not that this particular public figure needs much enlarging. Bhutto’s sense of mission and her personal courage, as she returned again and again to try and democratize a nation whose military leaders blithely murdered their opposition, are beyond dispute. Like her adored father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first democratically elected head of state (and the creator of its nuclear program), she struggled to bring basic services to a country mired in poverty, illiteracy and chronic conflict across its volatile borders with India, Afghanistan and Iran — to say nothing of its ambivalent dependency on a United States worried to death by the Taliban, al-Qaida and the enriched uranium in Pakistan’s nuclear arsenals.

About Bhutto’s failings and mistakes, however, the film is discreet to the point of squeamishness. Luckily, this magnificently complicated woman’s contradictions tumble out anyway. Almost despite itself, the movie offers a riveting melodrama about a daddy’s girl born into a close but feuding Western-educated dynasty known both for its populist politics and its champagne tastes. (The Bhuttos were thought of — admiringly, Baughman implies, though given the straits in which most Pakistanis live, one wonders — as the Kennedys of Pakistan.)

From grieving family and friends (inevitably, Arianna Huffington was a pal at Oxford), we learn of a serious-minded young woman freed from her burqa by Dad while still in her teens. At Harvard, where she roomed with Kathleen Kennedy, she absorbed feminism and leftist politics.

After Bhutto’s murder, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party — and the nation’s new president. After Bhutto’s murder, her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, became co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party — and the nation’s new president.
Yet later she willingly submitted to an arranged marriage with a Karachi playboy-entrepreneur, Asif Ali Zardari, who has been Pakistan’s president since the fall of Pervez Musharraf in 2008. She prayed to Allah in public, yet worked hard to bring schooling to girls in an Islamic state vehemently opposed to rights for women.

Bhutto inherited her father’s charm, charisma and elegant tailoring, as well as his preference for backroom wheeler-dealing. Remarkably, her father chose Benazir over her two brothers as his successor, and her political career eerily echoed his, zigzagging between triumph, prison, exile and return to repeated rapturous welcomes from adoring masses.

Bookended by footage of the sniper fire and suicide bombing that killed her, Bhutto faithfully follows the hectic arcs of her life and death. Yet the movie glides smoothly past the corruption charges — never proved or disproved — that led to Bhutto’s exile and her husband’s imprisonment, effectively dismissing them as trumped up by her enemies. Much time is spent, meanwhile, on the moving but sentimental memories of her tearful family, topped up with new but unedifying audiotapes of Bhutto herself outlining her ideals, the harshness of her incarceration in a Pakistani prison and the loneliness of exile in Dubai.

Bhutto could stand a less adulatory tone — and more reliable skeptics than her clearly disgruntled niece, for instance, when it comes to topics such as Bhutto’s role in the mysterious plane crash that killed the military dictator responsible for her father’s murder. Despite herself, and for all her efforts toward reconciliation, Bhutto proved an enormously polarizing figure.

Perhaps she had no choice, in a country so riven by internal strife and external threat. At its best, Bhutto is a fascinating study in the difficulties of bringing democracy to a radically unstable nation plagued by its colonial legacy, by the cowboy politics of a dictatorial military, by daily terrorism and the sporadic interventions of world powers arguably less interested in rural voting rights than in pushing their own interests on the global stage.

Bhutto’s untimely death at 54 years old was a private tragedy and a tremendous loss for a country desperate for moderate leadership. But she was a heroine, not a saint. Eliding this distinction, Bhutto unwittingly diminishes her.

Pakistan Looks Ahead to End of Afghan War

By Olivia Ward for The Toronto Star

As NATO forces prepare to pull out of Afghanistan, worries about the country falling back to Taliban control are paramount. But in neighbouring Pakistan, where suicide bombings and brazen attacks on security forces have become regular occurrences, the stakes are also high.

“What happens in Afghanistan affects us and vice-versa,” says Akbar Zeb, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Canada. “We have four million Afghan refugees still living in Pakistan, and it’s in our interest to have a stable country where we can send them back. A Taliban takeover won’t be just detrimental to Afghanistan. It would harm Pakistan and the whole region.”

Zeb said that under the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari, relations have improved with Afghanistan, and contrary to reports of friction, there are “frequent contacts” between the two countries that would be helpful in creating stability.

But he added that Canada, and other Western countries, should not repeat the mistakes of the post-Soviet era, when the West lost interest in Afghanistan and Pakistan as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew.

During the rule of Pakistan’s military leader, President Pervez Musharraf, groups of Taliban-linked militants got a foothold in Pakistan, but were not seen as a danger to the country until internal attacks began to spread. Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and suicide bombings took the lives of hundreds of civilians. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military began a massive campaign against the Taliban along the Afghan border.

“We have managed to clear a lot of areas from the Taliban,” said Zeb. “Military campaigns are the only language they understand. But they alone won’t help to win the war. We have border regions with a lot of poverty, and backward elements that have been ignored for a long time.”

Canada has announced support for road and rail projects linking Afghanistan and Pakistan to speed trade between the two countries.

“It’s a very good initiative, but scope is limited,” said Zeb.”We wish the projects were larger and not just (confined to) those that involve both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Talks with Islamabad are also ongoing on the use of ports in Karachi for shipping out Canadian troops and military supplies from Afghanistan.

But as the war continues, Pakistan has also been urged to be tougher on the Taliban. In the past two years it has carried out attacks against the militants in its border regions with some success, while American-launched drone strikes have killed high-ranking Taliban. The catastrophic floods that wiped out some of the most important agricultural areas of Pakistan brought a temporary truce, but militant attacks have resumed since the waters receded.

Last week, talk of a peace deal between the notorious Taliban-linked Haqqani network, and an opposing tribe in the remote northwest raised fears that it could open the way for Taliban access to strategic border areas. But the U.S. has also urged a Pakistani offensive against the network in North Waziristan, a volatile region where 400,000 civilians are vulnerable to displacement.

According to Pakistani officials, the country has lost some 7,000 security forces in a decade of fighting the militants — more than three times the coalition deaths in Afghanistan. Meanwhile 30,000 Pakistani civilians have died. The border region, a tangle of mutually hostile tribes, remains a haven for militants.

“It’s a difficult balance for Pakistan,” said Zeb. “Foreign troops may leave, and for them Afghanistan is a distant land. We’re Afghanistan’s neighbours. We helped with the fighting in the decade-long war against the Soviets. And we have to live with the outcome of this war.”

Pakistan’s Musharraf is Launching a Long-Shot, Long-Distance Bid to be President Again

By Zain Shauk for The Houston Chronicle

Former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf hopes to retake the leadership of his country, and he is actively campaigning — in Texas.

Musharraf, who relinquished his presidency in 2008, has a set of Houston meetings planned this week with wealthy Pakistani-Americans and corporate leaders.

He is scheduled to meet today with former President George H.W. Bush and Joanne King Herring, a longtime advocate for development in Afghanistan and Pakistan who was played by actress Julia Roberts in the film Charlie Wilson’s War.

Musharraf, a London resident, announced this month the creation of a new political party and a plan to run in Pakistan’s 2013 parliamentary elections.

But he has kicked off his campaign in the U.S., a decision that could say more about the perceived influence of the Pakistani-American community in cities such as Houston than Musharraf’s chances for success, experts say.

Musharraf said he believes connecting with Pakistanis in America will give him enough backing — financially and politically — to carry him to victory in Pakistan.

“I do need financial support, and I would ask the American Pakistani diaspora to support me … because I see darkness in Pakistan,” Musharraf said. “Because I don’t see a political party or a leader in Pakistan to be able to tackle the problems that Pakistan is facing.”

While Musharraf enjoys backing from the Pakistani-American elite, experts say he will be hard-pressed to develop a political base within his country and likely does not stand a chance against more established parties.

He is also in no position to campaign within Pakistan. Safety is a concern after multiple assassination attempts during his presidency, and he would likely face prosecution in connection with several criminal cases currently pending in Pakistani courts, experts said.

Still, Musharraf’s interest in wooing deep-pocketed Pakistani-Americans is revealing, said Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asia program at Johns Hopkins University.

Not only do Pakistani-Americans play a role in financially supporting candidates, but their meetings in America are covered by Pakistani news media and seem to give politicians the idea that they are gaining traction, Andersen said.

Former Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif also visited U.S. communities while campaigning, he said.

“Whether it works is not important,” Andersen said. “The perception among them (politicians) is that it works.”

Wide-ranging itinerary
U.S. communities don’t play a visible role in Pakistani elections, but Musharraf could stand to gain from his current North America tour, said Jamal Elias, an expert on contemporary Pakistan and chairman of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania.

Musharraf’s itinerary will include stops in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Toronto. He visited Dallas last week.

“Appearing statesman-like is going to help him in Pakistan,” Elias said. “It’s not going to build a constituency, but it may help him.”

There are more than 75,000 people of Pakistani origin in the Houston area, which includes more than 800 doctors, executives in the energy and information technology industries and scores of business owners, according to the Consulate of Pakistan in Houston.

Many of them have in the past contributed financially to political parties in Pakistan and will likely do so again, said M.J. Khan, a former Houston city councilman and member of the Pakistani community.

Khan said he does not send money to Pakistani political candidates, but knows U.S. residents in Houston and elsewhere who do. “They’re an educated community, and they send a lot of resources to Pakistan,” Khan said. “So I think every politician in Pakistan feels the Pakistani-American community is an important group to reach out to.”

Tactics questioned
Some community members – including Sajjad Burki, president of a Houston chapter for a political party headed by Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan – were not sure of the former president’s legitimacy as a candidate. Burki questioned Musharraf’s campaign tactics and priorities.

“It doesn’t make sense for him to be creating a political party and campaigning abroad rather than campaigning in Pakistan,” he said.

Herring, who is hoping to build support for Musharraf’s candidacy, said she planned to back him because of his support for her development efforts in Afghanistan.

“I think that Musharraf is interested in my plan,” Herring said. “I know he is. He supports it.”

Seeks ‘legitimacy’
Musharraf, a retired general, said he hopes a possible election to office will give him “the legitimacy that maybe I didn’t have in the past” as someone who had seized control of the government in a 1999 military coup.

He spent much of a luncheon Tuesday discussing the threats to Pakistan created by instability and lack of development in Afghanistan. Asked how he would solve that and a host of other challenges, Musharraf paused and smiled at his audience.

“First of all, get me elected,” he said.

For Better or Worse, White House Bets on Pakistan’s Civilian Government

Reported by Josh Rogin for Foreign Policy magazine

The Obama administration has always been clear that the path to winning the war in Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. But if Bob Woodward’s new book is accurate, the White House considers its war effort much more dependent on the success and survival of Pakistan’s civilian government than was previously known.

Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars,” which hit bookstores Monday, sheds new light on the Obama administration’s vast outreach to the Pakistani civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari. It paints a picture of an administration working hard to court the Pakistanis while remaining somewhat confused about Pakistani thinking on a range of issues.

Obama himself was confused about the nature of Pakistani intentions during two crucial decision points in his administration’s Afghan policy — the March 2009 strategy rollout and the deliberations in November 2009, which resulted in a troop surge and a huge expansion of covert operations in Pakistan. However, based on advice from the majority of his key advisers, he nonetheless tried to entice Pakistan to commit to a deep and long-term partnership with the United States by offering the Zardari government incentive after incentive, with relatively few pressures.

According to Woodward’s account, the centrality of Pakistan was championed early on by Bruce Riedel, the Brookings scholar who was brought on as a key figure in the Obama administration’s March 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.

Riedel, who referred to Islamist extremists in Pakistan as the “real, central threat” to U.S. national security, personally convinced Obama, only two months after he took office, that Pakistan needed to be the centerpiece of his new strategy. Riedel’s plan involved arming the Pakistani military for counterinsurgency and increasing economic and other forms of aid to the civilian government. This marked the beginning of the term “Af-Pak,” which drove the administration’s belief that stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan were inextricably linked.

Riedel’s Pakistan focus was not due to his confidence that the civilian government could control the military and intelligence services. In fact, he referred to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani as a “liar” with regards to the activities of the secretive Inter Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which is widely suspected of aiding the Taliban insurgency. Then Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair reportedly echoed Riedel’s views on this matter.

Inside the administration, Blair argued that Obama was approaching Pakistan with too many carrots and not enough sticks. He at one point advocated bombing inside Pakistan and conducting raids there without the Pakistani government’s approval. “I think Pakistan would be completely, completely pissed off and they would probably take actions against us … but they would probably adjust,” he once told Obama.

Obama, however, opted to pursue a less confrontational path. He concluded the central task would be convincing the Pakistani leadership to throw its lot in with the United States He said at the time of the initial strategy review in March 2009, “that we had to have a serious heart-to-heart with Pakistani civilian, military and intelligence leaders.”

Later that year, when making the decision to send an additional 30,000 “surge” troops to Afghanistan, Obama knew that his plans to also expand the U.S. military presence in Pakistan and widen drone strikes would be a hard sell to the Zardari government. In an attempt to sweeten the deal, Obama framed the policy as a new “strategic partnership” with Pakistan, even tying the success of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to the survival of Zardari and the legacy of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto.

“I know that I am speaking to you on a personal level when I say that my commitment to ending the ability of these groups to strike at our families is as much about my family’s security as it is about yours,” Obama wrote in a letter to Zardari delivered by National Security Advisor Jim Jones and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan.

Zardari’s response to that letter reinforced what many in the administration already suspected: Pakistan’s government was in the grips of an internal struggle over whether to embrace the United States. Zardari’s initial response focused heavily on India, though the Pakistani president only referred obliquely to his country’s strategic rival. Woodward reports that the White House believed the letter was written by the Pakistani military and the ISI. However, the Zardari government did end up accepting Obama’s offer.

Obama’s top advisors told the U.S. president that he would have to accept something short of complete success in convincing Pakistan to turn away from its longstanding obsession with the military threat it perceives from India.

When Obama had a meeting with Zardari in May 2009, he told the Pakistani president the he did not want U.S. taxpayers to be funding Pakistan’s military buildup against India “We are trying to change our world view,” Zardari told Obama, “but it’s not going to happen overnight.”

At times, Obama was downright puzzled by his advisors’ advice regarding Pakistan. For example, intelligence reports confirmed that Pakistani officials were afraid that the United States would leave Afghanistan too early, as they believed had occurred after the end of the resistance to the Soviet regime in the 1980s. On the other hand, Pakistan worried that if the United States was too involved in Afghanistan, it might aid in the establishment of a larger Afghan army than Islamabad was comfortable with.

“What am I to believe?” Obama asked his senior staff. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates all told him these were the types of contradictions that were commonplace when dealing with Pakistan.

For its part, the Pakistani government was just as confused and puzzled by the Obama administration. Woodward recounts one anecdote, in which Zardari tells the former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad that he believed the United States was involved in orchestrating attacks by the Pakistani Taliban against the Pakistani civilian government.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, a key go-between, tried several times to explain to the Obama administration how to court Pakistani leaders, comparing the dynamic to “a man who is trying to woo a woman.”

“We all know what he wants from her. Right?” Haqqani said in a meeting with Jones, Deputy National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and the NSC’s Gen. Doug Lute.

“But she has other ideas. She wants to be taken to the theater. She wants that nice new bottle of perfume,” Haqqani told them. “If you get down on one knee and give the ring, that’s the big prize. And boy, you know, it works.”

Haqqani said the “ring” was official U.S. recognition of Pakistan’s nuclear program as legitimate. He also warned that the Pakistanis would always ask for the moon as a starting point in negotiations. He compared it to the salesmanship of rug merchants.

“The guy starts at 10,000 and you settle for 1,200,” Haqqani told the Obama team. “So be reasonable, but never let the guy walk out of the shop without a sale.”

Although the Obama administration has had some success improving the relationship between the two governments, Pakistan’s civilian leadership still faces a series of difficulties in its goal of exerting control over its entire national security structure. Stability has also been threatened by the enormous pressures resulting from the war that it is waging inside its own borders, and political attacks leveled against it from the media and the courts. Zardari’s perceived sluggish response to the devastating flood crisis has cost him even more credibility among the Pakistani public.

But while the end of Zardari regime has often been predicted, it appears that he will remain in place for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is aware of how crucial his cooperation remains for the success of the mission in Afghanistan.

When Woodward sat down for his interview with Obama earlier this year, he asked the president if the situation was still that Pakistan is the centerpiece of the U.S. strategy. “It continues to this day,” Obama replied.

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