Posts Tagged ‘ US-Pakistani relations ’

Political Instability Rises as Pakistani Court Ousts Premier

As Reported by Delcan Welsh for The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 Acquits 4 Men in Times Square Bomb Plot

By Reza Sayah for CNN

A Pakistani court has acquitted four men accused of taking part in a botched 2010 plot to detonate a bomb in New York’s Times Square.

Attorney Muhammad Imran Safdar said his client, Humbal Akhtar, and three others were acquitted Saturday: Muhammad Shouaib Mughal, Shahid Hussain and Faisal Abbasi.

The latter remains in custody to face charges on a separate case, the lawyer said. He did not provide additional information about the other case.

The four were accused of assisting Faisal Shahzad, who tried to explode a car bomb in Times Square on May 1, 2010. The bomb failed to detonate.

Prosecutors said Shahzad carefully selected a highly populated target and intended to strike again if he wasn’t caught the first time.

He was arrested two days later in New York while trying to leave the country on a flight bound for Pakistan.

Shahzad pleaded guilty and admitted to getting training from the Taliban, and was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010.

Akhtar welcomed the acquittal, his lawyer said.

“He hugged me and thanked me for my efforts,” Safdar said. “He was so happy and relieved. It’s been a tough time for them but this was a day of liberty for them.”

His wife said he was resting at home and enjoying his time back with his three children.

“We said in the beginning, all these allegations were fabricated. Now it’s been proven in court,” said Rahila Humbal, the wife. “Thank God … justice prevailed.”

Authorities had accused the four of providing financial and logistical support to Shahzad, which they denied.

The lawyer said the case against the men was weak and blamed what he described as a deficient Pakistani court system for dragging out the hearing for nearly two years.

“These men are law abiding citizens. They would never imagine doing what they were accused of,” he said.

Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts are closed off to the public. Despite the charges, the government never made public any evidence that linked the four men to the plot.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteAnother sign that Pakistan does not see the fight against terror as its fight also but rather the US’s alone.

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.

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.”