Posts Tagged ‘ Hillary Rodham Clinton ’

Pakistan, India take Another Cautious Step Forward

By Alex Rodriguez and Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

 

In cautious increments, nuclear archrivals Pakistan and Indiahave been easing the pall of tension that has overshadowed the two nations in recent years, as Islamabad increasingly worries about another neighbor: volatile Afghanistan.

The latest move toward rapprochement came last week, when the Pakistani Cabinet announced it would normalize trade relations with India by granting its longtime foe “most favored nation” status.

The designation has practical ramifications, including the elimination of discriminatory pricing and mutual imposition of lower tariffs and high import quotas. More important, however, it marks the latest in a series of decisions and events that signals a warming in relations between two countries that have fought three wars since their independence after the 1947 partition of British India.

Driving the move toward improved relations with India is Pakistan’s belief that strained ties with traditional allies such as the U.S. and Afghanistan are leaving it increasingly isolated, analysts say. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership pact last month that included the training of Afghan troops by Indian forces — a move that rankled Islamabad.

The steps between the two South Asian neighbors have been small yet striking.

After an Indian military helicopter flying in bad weather strayed into Pakistani-controlled territory Oct. 23, Pakistani troops promptly released the aircraft and its crew and returned them to India, averting a crisis. Earlier this year, the two countries also resumed peace talks scuttled by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Pakistani militants carried out the attacks, and India has accused Pakistan’s ISI spy agency of involvement in the assault.

Both countries are also discussing a deal that would allow Pakistan to import electricity from India to relieve massive power shortages crippling the Muslim nation’s economy. In addition, India didn’t oppose Pakistan’s nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council last month, which passed by a single vote. And, earlier this year, New Delhi didn’t fight a European Union bid to allow duty-free imports of Pakistani textiles, even though it would cost competing Indian textile makers an estimated $1 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts warn that major roadblocks still loom. At the top of that list is the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed by both countries and the cause of two wars since 1947. A dispute over water rights remains unresolved, and New Delhi continues to accuse the ISI of backing militant groups that target India.

Still, bolstering trade relations between the two countries, said Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., “is a good first step. It shows a genuine feeling within Pakistan that the relationship should be normalized.”

Particularly significant is the Pakistani military’s decision to endorse granting MFN status to India. Foreign policy remains the purview of Pakistan’s security establishment, especially when it comes to the country historically regarded by the military as its chief enemy.

“All the stakeholders, including the military … are on board,” Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said in announcing the decision. “Such a big step could not be taken alone.”

The military’s backing of MFN status for India, Hilaly said, likely represents a realization that an easing of tensions with New Delhi may now be in Pakistan’s best interests, particularly at a time when relations with Washington and Kabul have soured. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan assert that their efforts to battle Afghan Taliban insurgents have been hampered by Pakistan’s backing of the insurgency there, a charge that Islamabad denies.

“What has happened is that, with respect to issues that the military faces, the priorities have changed,” Hilaly said. “India is still the main culprit as far as security is concerned, but the eastern front is much less active than the one developing in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Washington have been encouraged by the movement toward trade normalization between Islamabad and New Delhi, especially because economic interdependence is seen as an ideal path toward stability in South Asia. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Pakistan-India relationship “the real game-changer in the region.”

“We have in Pakistan today a leadership, both civilian and military, that wants to see progress with India, and we have the same on the Indian side,” Clinton told lawmakers. “I firmly believe greater regional economic integration would revolutionize the economy in Pakistan.”

Though India extended MFN status to Pakistan in 1996, Pakistan had not reciprocated until now. Observers in India wondered why it took Islamabad so long to see the value in the move. “Not allowing MFN status hurt Pakistan more than India and was shortsighted,” said Satish Chandra, an analyst and former Indian ambassador to Pakistan. “It was an exercise in cutting your nose to spite your face.”

With trade normalization, experts estimate two-way trade could triple to $8 billion within five years. Official trade flows currently run nearly 7 to 1 in New Delhi’s favor, with Indian exports to Pakistan totaling about $2.33 billion versus $332 million in the other direction.

“When trade picks up, there’s more and more confidence to ease political and other differences,” said Shaqeel Qalander, a furniture maker and former president of a business group on the Indian-held portion of Kashmir. “It’s a very good decision.”

Clinton Says US Encouraged by India-Pakistan Talks

By Matthew Lee and Ravi Nessman for The Associated Press

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that the United States was “encouraged” by the ongoing talks between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan and promised to give full support to Indian efforts to protect itself from terror.

Clinton’s visit to India came less than a week after a triple bombing killed 20 people in India’s financial capital of Mumbai, the worst terror strike in the country since 10 Pakistan-based gunmen rampaged through the city in 2008.

Her meetings with top Indian officials Tuesday focused on fighting terror, the U.S. withdrawal plans from Afghanistan and ways to broaden economic and security ties between the United States and India.

She also called for a swift resolution to their dispute over investments in nuclear energy, calling on India to ratify by the end of the year the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage and to adapt its liability laws to conform with the treaty.

The U.S. views India’s new nuclear liability law as too stringent on nuclear plant suppliers, making it difficult for private U.S. companies to compete against state-owned companies in India’s multibillion dollar nuclear reactor market.

Clinton’s trip here is part of a new round of U.S.-India strategic dialogue established last year to deepen ties between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

S.M. Krishna, India’s foreign minister, expressed concerns that the planned U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that began this month could lead to a resurgence in Islamic extremism.

“It is in the larger interests of the region that it is necessary for the United States to work very closely with (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai and the government of Afghanistan and thereby create conditions where terrorists do not take any more advantage in Afghanistan,” Krishna said after 2 1/2 hours of talks with Clinton.

Clinton said she had outlined the drawdown strategy and stressed that the United States will not support Afghan reconciliation with insurgents unless it is inclusive and protects the rights of minority groups, religions and women.

Clinton also assured India of U.S. support in the fight against terror.

“We are allies in the fight against violent extremist networks. And homeland security is a high priority and a source of increasing partnership,” Clinton said.

While the U.S. and India have already signed agreements to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts, “the events in Mumbai have driven home how important it is that we get results,” she said.

Though India has not blamed Pakistan for last week’s attack, it has accused its neighbor of harboring violent extremist groups responsible for other attacks in India and of not doing enough to crack down on those responsible for the 2008 Mumbai siege.

For its part, U.S. officials fear Pakistan is not fully committed to combatting radical plots, such as the failed 2010 Times Square bombing in New York.

“We have made it clear to the Pakistani government that confronting violent extremists of all sorts is in its interest,” Clinton said.

India recently resumed peace talks with Pakistan that broke off following the 2008 Mumbai siege, and the two countries’ foreign ministers are expected to meet next week.

The U.S. is eager for the fragile talks to pick up steam, in part to allow Pakistan to focus its forces on the chaotic Afghan border.

“We are encouraged by the dialogue between India and Pakistan,” Clinton said, calling talks “the most promising approach” to build more confidence between them.

During the meeting Tuesday, Clinton and Krishna agreed to strengthen their countries’ ties in energy, security, education, the economy, science and promoting stability across the region. The two countries also signed an agreement promoting closer cooperation in cybersecurity.

Once frosty relations between India and the United States have warmed considerably in recent years as Washington has looked to India as stable ally in the turbulent South Asia region and its growing economy as a valuable market for U.S. goods.

President Barack Obama hosted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his first state dinner and visited India for three days last year, praising it as a new regional power. Clinton was to meet with Singh later Tuesday.

Growing business ties were among the top issues in the talks.

Western officials have looked to India’s rising economy and its 1.2 billion people as a coveted market to help stimulate growth in their own troubled economies.

“Each of our countries can do more to reduce barriers, open our markets, and find new opportunities for economic partnership,” Clinton said. “Taking these steps is in our mutual interest. We can improve millions of lives and increase both of our nations’ economic competitiveness.”

She praised India’s fight against piracy, and pushed for greater sales of U.S. arms to India — the world’s largest arms importer —as a way of deepening security cooperation between the two nations.

U.S. officials were annoyed earlier this year when Indian officials chose two European companies as finalists for an $11 billion order for 126 fighter jets. However, last month India signed an agreement to buy 10 Boeing C-17 cargo and troop-carrying aircraft for more than $4 billion.

From New Delhi, Clinton on Wednesday will move on to the southeastern port of Chennai, where she plans to deliver a speech on the importance of U.S.-Indian relations, the benefits of enhanced bilateral commercial ties and India’s role in South Asia and the greater Asia-Pacific region.

Clinton is in India on the third leg of a 12-day, around-the-world diplomatic tour that has already taken her to Turkey and Greece. After India, she will visit Indonesia, Hong Kong and southern mainland China before returning home July 25.

Pakistani Journalists Defiant at Reporter’s Burial

As Reported by The Associated Press

A Pakistani reporter who investigated terrorism and was found slain after telling a rights activist he’d been threatened by intelligence agents was buried Wednesday. Fellow journalists vowed his killing would not silence them.

Syed Saleem Shahzad wrote for the Asia Times Online and other publications. He delved into topics that were often sensitive in Pakistan, where journalists face threats from insurgents as well as a security establishment that operates largely outside the law.

“We will not shut our voices down,” said Azhar Abbas, a prominent Pakistani journalist. “The journalist community is united on this. We will not stop ”

Pakistan was the deadliest country for journalists in 2010, with at least eight killed in the line of duty, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Six died in suicide attacks, the group said in a report late last year.

Despite the dangers, the media establishment in Pakistan has expanded rapidly over the past decade, and reporters here operate with tremendous freedom compared with many other developing countries.

In recent weeks, the media have carried unusually scathing coverage about the security establishment after it was caught unawares by the May 2 U.S. raid that killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison city in Pakistan’s northwest.

Shahzad’s death could heighten the criticism, though commentators are being careful about how they discuss the alleged link to spy agencies.

After disappearing Sunday from Islamabad, Shahzad’s body was found dozens of miles outside the capital on Tuesday, bearing signs of torture, police said. His death drew numerous condemnations, including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The 40-year-old was buried in his hometown, Karachi, as hundreds of friends, relatives, political figures and fellow journalists mourned.

Sindh province Information Minister Sharjeel Memon called the killing a “cowardly act” and promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. But it’s unclear how much the weak civilian government can do if, as some suspect, Pakistani security agencies played a role.

A spokesman for Pakistan’s premier spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence, called the allegations “absurd.” He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media on the record.

However, Ali Dayan Hasan, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he feared Pakistani intelligence agents were after him.

The agencies pressured him to reveal his sources in October after he wrote a story about Pakistan allegedly freeing a detained Afghan Taliban commander, according to an email Shahzad sent Hasan. Hasan said Shahzad was still worried in recent weeks, but kept up his reporting.

Just last week, Shahzad wrote a story about alleged al-Qaida infiltration of the navy. The report came after a 17-hour insurgent siege of a naval base in Pakistan’s south added to the recent humiliations suffered by security agencies.

Within days, Shahzad vanished, and his wife contacted Hasan as her husband had instructed in case he disappeared.

In a statement, Clinton said Shahzad’s reporting “brought to light the troubles extremism poses to Pakistan’s stability,” and said the U.S. supports the “Pakistani government’s investigation into the circumstances surrounding his death.”

Gadhafi’s vow: Will fight to ‘last drop of blood’

By Maggie Michael and Sarah El Deeb for The Associated Press

A defiant Moammar Gadhafi vowed to fight to his “last drop of blood” and roared at supporters to strike back against Libyan protesters to defend his embattled regime Tuesday, signaling an escalation of the crackdown that has thrown the capital into scenes of mayhem, wild shooting and bodies in the streets.

The speech by the Libyan leader — who shouted and pounded his fists on the podium — was an all-out call for his backers to impose control over the capital and take back other cities. After a week of upheaval, protesters backed by defecting army units have claimed control over almost the entire eastern half of Libya’s 1,000-mile (1,600-kilometer) Mediterranean coast, including several oil-producing areas.

“You men and women who love Gadhafi … get out of your homes and fill the streets,” he said. “Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs.”

Celebratory gunfire by Gadhafi supporters rang out in the capital of Tripoli after the leader’s speech, while in protester-held Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, people threw shoes at a screen showing his address, venting their contempt.

State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli’s Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.

International alarm rose over the crisis, which sent oil prices soaring to the highest level in more than two years on Tuesday and sparked a scramble by European and other countries to get their citizens out of the North African nation. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting that ended with a statement condemning the crackdown, expressing “grave concern” and calling for an “immediate end to the violence” and steps to address the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel called Gadhafi’s speech “very, very appalling,” saying it “amounted to him declaring war on his own people.” Libya’s own deputy ambassador at the U.N., who now calls for Gadhafi’s ouster, has urged the world body to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect protesters.

“This violence is completely unacceptable,” added Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Holbrooke Mentioned Afghan War Before Surgery

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung for The Washington Post

As friends and colleagues from four decades of diplomatic life reflected on the intensity of Richard C. Holbrooke’s dedication, many were not surprised to learn that concerns about the Afghanistan war were apparently among his final thoughts.

After Holbrooke’s death Monday, The Washington Post, citing his family members, reported that the veteran diplomat had told his physician just before surgery Friday to “stop this war.”  But Tuesday, a fuller account of the tone and contents of his remarks emerged.

As physician Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present.

Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said.

The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke’s exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy. Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent.

Holbrooke’s statement was seized upon quickly by critics of the Afghan war debate, some of whom interpreted it as a clarion call to end the conflict. Others viewed his comment as a last-breath disavowal of the Obama administration’s war policy, which has involved a troop surge – which Holbrooke publicly supported – to combat the Taliban. But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley cast Holbrooke’s words simply as “humorous repartee.”

Crowley said the comment “says two things about Richard Holbrooke in my mind. Number one, he always wanted to make sure he got the last word. And secondly, it just showed how he was singularly focused on pursuing and advancing the process and the policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bring them to a successful conclusion.”

Holbrooke’s deputy, Frank Ruggiero, has been named to fill his post as special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in an acting capacity, Crowley said, adding that no significant move had been made to select a permanent replacement.

Pakistan Urges US to Intervene in Kashmir Dispute

As Reported by The Associated Press

Pakistan called Friday for President Barack Obama to intervene in its longstanding dispute with India over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, the cause of two of the three wars the nuclear-armed rivals have fought.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi made the unusually blunt appeal for Obama to seek a resolution of the dispute when he visits India next month, saying he should “redeem the pledge” he made as a candidate.

The conflict over Kashmir has been the main source of friction between India and Pakistan since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Pakistan has frequently sought outside intervention to resolve it but India vehemently opposes such involvement and the United States has traditionally stayed above the fray.

Qureshi, speaking next to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the closing day of three days of U.S.-Pakistan talks, said Obama must get involved because a crackdown against suspected Muslim militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir threatens the entire region.

“It is in the U.S. strategic interest to work for peace, stability and resolution of the disputes in South Asia,” he said. “The starting point in this quest is justice for the Kashmiri people.”

“President Obama has always understood the importance of a Kashmir solution,” Qureshi said. “His coming visit to the region is the time to begin to redeem the pledge that he made earlier.”

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama suggested that the U.S. should encourage India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute so Pakistan could better focus on fighting extremists on its own territory and Afghanistan. Although he did not advocate direct mediation, his comments were met with disdain in India.

Obama will not visit Pakistan on his upcoming trip but he plans to spend several days in India, which has cracked down on violent anti-Indian protests in Kashmir since June. The violence has killed at least 111 people, mostly teenage boys and young men in their 20s. Authorities have imposed off-and-on curfews in an attempt to halt the unrest.

Quershi expressed astonishment that the U.S. and other major powers had said little about India’s response to the protests.

“People of conscience have protested the use of force against the defenseless people of Kashmir, in particular the targeting of the Kashmiri youth,” he said. “But the Kashmiri mothers are baffled by the deafening silence of the world’s leadership. History has proved that the force of arms cannot suppress the legitimate aspirations of the Kashmiri people.”

India and Pakistan fought two wars for control of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where rebels have sought independence from India or incorportation with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Kashmir since fighting began in earnest in 1989.

Clinton, With Initiatives in Hand, Arrives in Pakistan

By Mark Landler for The New York Times

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived here Sunday for high-level deliberations with Pakistani leaders, the latest in a series of encounters that the Obama administration hopes will chip away at decades of suspicion between Pakistan and the United States.

Hillary Rodham ClintonMrs. Clinton will announce a raft of initiatives to help Pakistan in public health, water distribution and agriculture, to be funded by $500 million in American economic aid. Among other things, the United States will build a 60-bed hospital in Karachi and help farmers export their mangoes.

Yet these projects, however beneficial to this economically fragile country, do not disguise several nagging sources of friction between the two sides. American officials still question Pakistan’s commitment to root out Taliban insurgents in its frontier areas, its motives in reaching out to war-torn Afghanistan and its determination to expand its own nuclear program.

Pakistan plans to buy two nuclear reactors from China — a deal that alarms the United States because it is cloaked in secrecy and is being conducted outside the global nonproliferation regime. Administration officials said they did not know if Mrs. Clinton planned to raise the purchase.

Relations could be further tested if the Obama administration decides to place a major Pakistani insurgent group, the Haqqani network, on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. Islamabad maintains ties to the group through its intelligence service, and it is seeking to exploit those connections as a way to extend its influence over Afghanistan.

For all that, tensions between the two sides have ebbed since Mrs. Clinton’s last visit here in October, when she was peppered with hostile questions in public meetings and bluntly suggested that people in the Pakistani government know the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar.

“We needed to change the core of the relationship with Pakistan,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. “The evolution of the strategic dialogue, and the fact that we are delivering, is producing a change in Pakistani attitudes.”

Mr. Holbrooke noted a U-turn in Pakistan’s policy on issuing visas to American diplomats. For months, Pakistani officials had held up those applications, creating a huge backlog and frustrating the United States. But Pakistan issued 450 visas in the last five days, he said.

Mr. Holbrooke conceded that public-opinion polls toward the United States had yet to show much of a change. Mrs. Clinton may receive more criticism on Monday at a town-hall meeting in Islamabad. Her visit, which was not announced due to security concerns, is being conducted under tight security.

Vali Nasr, a senior advisor to Mr. Holbrooke, said it was unrealistic to expect “to change 30 years of foreign policy of Pakistan on a dime.” But he said, “On foreign policy issues, we’re seeing a lot more convergence.”

The United States is encouraged by the burgeoning dialogue between President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Pakistani leaders, including the chief of the staff of the army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Any resolution of the war, Mr. Holbrooke said, must involve Pakistan.

While American officials would like to see a more aggressive Pakistani military push in North Waziristan, the stronghold of the Haqqani network, they praise the military’s campaigns in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley, where Taliban insurgents had also made gains.

Pakistan’s battle against insurgents has exacted a fearful civilian toll. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 45 people, and injured 175, in an attack on a 1,000-year-old Sufi shrine in Lahore. Many Pakistanis blame the American-led war in Afghanistan for fomenting anti-Pakistan terrorism.

A coalition of protest groups issued a statement Sunday, timed to Mrs. Clinton’s arrival, which calls for an end to the war in Afghanistan and for Americans and Pakistanis who are involved in clandestine air strikes on Pakistani targets to be tried for war crimes.

Mrs. Clinton is to meet General Kayani on Monday, after meetings on Sunday with President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. She was also scheduled to meet Pakistani business leaders and the head of the Pakistani opposition, Nawaz Sharif.

Mrs. Clinton has brought a shopping-bag full of commitments for Pakistan, drawn from the $7.5 billion in non-military aid, over five years, pledged by Congress last year. The emphasis is on basic services like electricity and water, politically-charged issues in this country, particularly during the hot summer.

“Our commitment is broad and deep,” said Rajiv Shah, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who is with Mrs. Clinton. “We will not do what we’ve done in the past.”

Administration officials said the project to upgrade Pakistan’s creaky power grid, which involves building hydroelectric dams and rehabilitating power plants, had helped reduce chronic power outages. But on the day Mrs. Clinton landed, television reports here warned of further outages.

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