Posts Tagged ‘ US ’

Nominee Questions Pakistan’s Battle Plan

By Julian E Barnes for The Wall Street Journal

WASHINGTON—The Marine general chosen by President Barack Obama to lead the Afghanistan war raised doubts about Pakistan’s willingness to go after militants who cross the Afghan border to attack U.S. and allied troops.

In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. John Allen also said he believed that the Afghan insurgency’s momentum has been halted and even reversed in key parts of the country, and backed Mr. Obama’s troop drawdown plans.

But Pakistan, as a haven for militants, looms large over the war in Afghanistan. Gen. Allen said Pakistan continues to “hedge” against a precipitous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by supporting anti-American militant groups, including the Haqqani network.

The statements were a rare public show of military skepticism about Pakistan’s intentions, reflecting the military’s increasing view that relations with Pakistan are deteriorating.

Gen. Allen, deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, argued that it would be ultimately in Islamabad’s interest to expel militant groups from their sanctuaries in Pakistan.

“We will encourage and will continue to encourage our Pakistani friends to bring pressure to bear upon those safe havens,” he said. “It’s not just good for the outcome of our strategy and for the president’s vision on the outcome in Afghanistan; it’s good for Pakistan as well.”

Appearing alongside Gen. Allen, Adm. William McRaven, nominated to lead Special Operations Command, also said Pakistan is unlikely to move against the frontier militant havens anytime soon.

The admiral oversaw the Navy SEAL team that last month killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in a Pakistani garrison town.

The officers’ testimony shined a light on the fragile state of U.S.-Pakistan relations, which have grown combative in the wake of the bin Laden raid.

Military leaders have made plain they are displeased with the declining cooperation by Pakistan, but insist the U.S. can’t walk away from the relationship.

“We’re giving them $4 billion,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R., Mass.). “And yet sometimes we don’t know if they’re in or they’re out, are they with us or [are] they not?”

After Adm. McRaven said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is likely hiding in Pakistan, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) demanded Pakistan hand him over.

Pakistani officials have said limited military capacity—not lack of will—is inhibiting their operations against militant groups.

Gen. Allen said he backs President Obama’s decision to pull 10,000 troops out of Afghanistan this year, and the remaining 23,000 surge troops by the end of next summer. After the drawdown, the U.S. would still have 68,000 troops in the country, he said.

But he acknowledged that the military didn’t recommend a drawdown schedule as aggressive as the one Mr. Obama chose.

Under questioning from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.), a critic of the Obama administration’s drawdown plan, Gen. Allen suggested that if conditions deteriorate he would advise Mr. Obama to alter the plan.

“It is my responsibility to the chain of command and to our commander-in-chief to ensure—should I be concerned about the progress or the execution of the campaign—that I so advise the chain of command,” he said.

Neither the Afghan Taliban nor the Haqqani network has directly targeted the Pakistani government. And Islamabad remains wary of a hasty U.S. withdrawal and sees the militant networks as potential future allies in Afghanistan.

Gen. Allen said even as troops leave Afghanistan, the military would continue to implement its current counterinsurgency strategy, which is aimed at protecting civilians from the insurgents while helping the government extend its reach and legitimacy.

Sen. Graham asked if Gen. Allen would have enough forces to continue that strategy, which requires large numbers of troops to secure population centers.

“How can we maintain counterinsurgency if all the surge forces have gone?” Sen. Graham asked.

Veteran US Diplomat To Replace Holbrooke as Pakistan-Afghan Envoy

By David Usborne for The Independent, UK

The long and fractious search for a replacement for the late Richard Holbrooke as a special US envoy to both Pakistan and Afghanistan is over, but the job of filling his shoes is looking more impossible than ever, not least because of an expected exodus of top American officials from Kabul this year.

Marc Grossman, who was a top-rank US diplomat for three decades until he moved to the private sector in 2005, has agreed to take on the post after others turned it down. His appointment is expected to be announced by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, during a speech in New York on Friday.

The death from a torn aorta of Mr Holbrooke, a giant on the diplomatic stage, left a void in America’s diplomatic front in Afghanistan and Pakistan. While some in the White House resented the wide remit he enjoyed dealing with both countries, Mrs Clinton was adamant she needed someone of similar stature in his place.

Several high profile names were passed over for the job or turned it down, including Strobe Talbott and John Podesta, both of whom served former President Bill Clinton. Another who declined to don the Holbrooke mantle was Frank Wisner, another former diplomat who unsuccessfully sought to mediate with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt before his ouster last week.

Mr Grossman, currently chairman of the Cohen Group which advises companies on ventures overseas, will take the job at a particularly tricky juncture. Relations between Washington and Islamabad are at an all time low, and in Afghanistan the clock is ticking on the start of US troop withdrawals this summer.

The diplomatic and military team he will inherit in Afghanistan will meanwhile begin to dissolve almost the moment he arrives there. Among those set to depart are Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador there, as well as all four of the top US officials in the embassy.

It is widely expected, meanwhile, that the top military commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, will be rotated out before the end of the year. The number two military officer there, Lt Gen David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations, is also set to leave. Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon concede that finding replacements for the departing officials will be difficult.

Violence in Afghanistan is still at critical levels. On the political level, the US is striving to overcome long-running tensions with President Hamid Karzai, while trying to push forward a process of reconciliation talks with elements of the Taliban and other insurgent groups that are seen as crucial to achieving stability, and step up training of Afghan soldiers and police officers.

“Afghanistan is keen to work closely with the new Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy in better coordination and understanding,” commented Siamak Herawi, a spokesman for Mr Karzai, who had a prickly relationship with Mr Holbrooke.

The latest downturn in relations with Pakistan follows the arrest of an American at the US embassy on charges of murder. So far the Pakistani government has ignored calls from Washington that the accused, Raymond Davis, who is on the embassy staff, be given diplomatic immunity in the case. He has claimed that he shot the two men in self defence as they attempted to rob him.

In Islamabad yesterday on a mission to try to resolve the stand-off was Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and arguably the only person available in Washington with the stature to get the Pakistani government to focus on the issue. Bilateral talks that were scheduled to take place at the State Department next week have been postponed by Mrs Clinton because of the dispute.

The biggest challenge of all for Mr Grossman will be winning the trust and respect of leaders in both Pakistan and Afghanistan while navigating the sometimes conflicting priorities of his various bosses in Washington at the State Department, the Pentagon and the White House.

Leading players on their way out:

General David Petraeus

Unexpectedly pulled into Afghanistan after the sudden departure of General Stanley McChrystal last year, Petraeus is drafting withdrawal plans for President Obama. Once he has presented the President with options for the best exit strategy, which he is expected to do in July, there are suggestions that he could look to stand down. He has denied that he could seek the Republican presidential nomination for 2012.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry

With his relationship with President Karzai strained at best, there have long been rumours in Washington of Eikenberry’s return home; any departure, though, was held up by the exit of McChrystal, when it was felt that another change at the top of Afghan policy would be unhelpful. A similar logic may have applied after Richard Holbrooke’s death. One of Grossman’s key tasks will be identifying the best candidates to replace him.

Lt. General David Rodriguez

Named as deputy commander in Afghanistan in 2009, Rodriguez has considerably more experience in the country than Petraeus, and holds responsibility for day-to-day operations, with particular expertise in counter-insurgency. If suggestions that he could be going home soon prove correct, there are fears that a shortage of top-class military leadership with knowledge of the country could be exposed.

Will India Win Coveted UN Seat?

By Sunil Sharan for The Huffington Post

Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao says Pakistan is hypnotically obsessed with India but she and her bosses too are fixated on a coveted prize, a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council. The mandarins of New Delhi must be pleased as punch to have had over to visit leaders of all five permanent member countries in quick succession. Inexorable appears the march but will India find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? And, if it does, what are the implications for itself as well as for Pakistan?

First in was David Cameron of Britain, who arrived during the summer and offered unstinting support, whetting local appetite for the main American course. And, did he fail to disappoint? No sir, Barack Obama set the cat amongst the pigeons by endorsing India for the seat, the first time ever by the US. India rejoiced while Pakistan recoiled.

But a careful examination shows him adhering closely to what he told Bob Woodward in the book, Obama’s Wars. In lieu of the seat, he expects India to resolve Kashmir. At a press conference with Manmohan Singh, Obama characterized Kashmir as a long-standing dispute making the latter stutter that the K-word was not scary. Only then did Obama hand over the endorsement in India’s Parliament but couched in such diplomatese that countless local hair were split over when “the years ahead” would dawn.

Next waltzed in Nicolas Sarkozy of France. The French, like the British, have consistently seen merit in India’s case. Sarkozy though, true to type, proved an enigma. He first tagged on the applications of Africa, the Arabs and pretty much the rest of the world onto India’s, befuddling his hosts, who are willing to concede as equal aspirants only “self-appointed frontrunners” Germany, Japan and Brazil. Just as they were about to give up on him, Sarkozy warmed the cockles of India’s heart by throwing in 2011 as early as when it could make it.

But soon came the caveat. Sarkozy, just like Obama before him, cautioned that with great power status came great responsibilities. Whereas Obama wanted India to be more mindful of human rights violations of countries such as Iran and Myanmar, Sarkozy wanted India to send military forces to keep world peace. With India already being one of the foremost contributors to UN peacekeeping missions throughout the world, the mandarins of New Delhi must have been left wondering what more was being asked of them.

No matter, three down, two to go. By now the state jets were landing at Delhi airport almost on top of one another. Wen Jiabao, the leader India was least looking forward to, came with the master key to entry. Shortly before his visit, WikiLeaks revealed China’s opposition to any council expansion. Indian hopes were up nevertheless but Wen remained inscrutable, willing only to acknowledge an understanding of India’s aspirations. No one in India knew quite what to make of him and since Wen was off to Pakistan next, all the country could do was wait with clenched teeth to hear what he would say there.

Rounding off the passage to India was Dmitry Medvedev. Relations between Russia and India have frayed considerably since the heady days of the cold war, so much so that Russia has waffled on India’s bid. Medvedev signaled that the waffle still needed baking, voicing support for India while reiterating that reforming the council was tough and required consensus.

All the while Pakistan protested vociferously against what it deemed an indulgence of Indian hegemonism. But what will India gain with a permanent UN seat? Could it block Pakistani claims on Kashmir? True a permanent member wielding veto power can stonewall but the veto seems unattainable for seekers since they themselves have forsaken it. And, while India sees red when the K-word is uttered in the UN by Pakistan, no ascension to permanency can make it strangle the latter. Nor can it efface any past security council resolutions.

So then, what is it? Nothing comes to mind but the obvious, the acceptance that any arriviste craves. Even that appears a false hankering because ever since its early years, Gandhi’s legacy and Nehru’s charisma burnished the country with global influence disproportionate to its economic and military capabilities. A bee once in one’s bonnet is hard to get rid of though. And, as every journey must have a fitting end, India has found a destination to its liking.

Flush with cash, New Delhi wants to beef up its military. All of the recent visitors bar China are major suppliers of defence equipment to India. As bees flock to honey, they arrived armed with catalogues of the most terrifying stuff. Inherent was a delicate diplomatic quid-pro-quo. The more arms you buy from us, the more we will push your candidacy. As Islamabad keeps raising the bar for India’s seat, so too will India have to up its arms binge.

Lost in Pakistan’s current rhetoric was its vote in October to put India in the security council for two years beginning January 1, 2011. Once on, we will never get off is the new mantra of India’s brave. India seemingly returned the favor by taking in stride the sale of Chinese nuclear reactors to Pakistan. Is there more afoot than meets the eye?

Every country is entitled to its obsession. Pakistan’s is obvious. By continually thumbing its nose at a NATO mired in Afghanistan, it has put the K-word in spotlight, albeit on the backstage. A deal has been blessed by the powers that be. Both the seat and Srinagar are not far away.

The writer edits a website on India: http://www.scooptime.com.

Pakistan Rejects U.S. Drone Expansion

By Alex Rodriguez for The LA Times

Pakistan has rejected a request from the U.S. to expand a drone missile campaign against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, a decision that limits Washington’s use of one of its most effective tools against insurgents hiding in the nation.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said Islamabad would not allow the U.S. to carry out drone strikes outside the tribal belt along the Afghan border and repeated the government’s request that Washington abandon its use of drones in Pakistan on the grounds that the program violates the country’s sovereignty.

Basit did not say which additional areas the U.S. wanted to target. However, the Washington Post reported Saturday that the request focused on areas outside the southern city of Quetta, where Afghan Taliban leaders have hideouts.

“We are allies of the United States in the war against terror,” Basit said. “However, Pakistan will not compromise on sovereignty.”

Islamabad’s refusal comes as little surprise, given the animosity that the drone campaign has stirred among Pakistanis for years, but even as the government publicly condemns the drone program, it tacitly allows the missile strikes to take place. Pakistan even provides intelligence to facilitate the targeting of the strikes.

The drone missions are deeply unpopular in Pakistan, where they are viewed as an illustration of President Asif Ali Zardari’s willingness to acquiesce to most demands that Washington makes. Allowing an expansion of the drone program could further aggravate the vulnerability of Zardari’s government, already weakened by its mishandling of this summer’s catastrophic floods and the country’s ongoing economic troubles.

Any expansion of the drone campaign into Baluchistan, the province where Quetta is located, would also represent a dramatic departure in policy for Islamabad because it is not part of the semi-autonomous tribal region where the drones are permitted now.

In addition, the Quetta region is a heavily populated area; the city itself has a population of 900,000. The core leadership of the Afghan Taliban insurgency, known as the Quetta Shura and headed by Mullah Muhammad Omar, has used Quetta and its outlying regions as a sanctuary for years.

In recent months, the U.S. has dramatically stepped up its use of drone strikes in the tribal areas. So far this year, the U.S. has carried out 101 drone missile strikes in northwest Pakistan, compared to 53 in 2009.

The attacks have focused largely on North Waziristan, a primary stronghold of militants and commanders belonging to the Haqqani network, an Afghan Taliban wing regarded by the U.S. as one of the biggest threats facing coalition forces in Afghanistan.

According to the Long War Journal website, which keeps track of drone missile strike statistics, 92 of the attacks this year occurred in North Waziristan.

India, Pakistan And U.S. Strategic Dialogue

By Apoorva Shah for The American Enterprise Institute

At this week’s first U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C., talks between the two countries will cover the spectrum of bilateral and multilateral issues, from trade and economic cooperation to terrorism and regional security. 

American participants may even feel the need to bring up India’s strained relationship with Pakistan. But it would serve them well to first consider a Times of India story from earlier this year, which went almost unreported in the United States.

According to an interview in the Indian newspaper with former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, India and Pakistan in 2007 were days away from reaching a comprehensive accord on their territorial dispute over Kashmir, the axis of the countries’ six-decade-long rivalry and casus belli of three wars between the two nations.

Kasuri, Pakistani leader General Pervez Musharraf’s chief diplomat from 2002 to 2007, said in April that the secret deal had been in progress for more than three years and would have led to a full demilitarization of both Indian- and Pakistani-occupied areas of Kashmir and would have awarded the region a package of loose sovereignty at a point “between complete independence and autonomy.” Not only were Indian and Pakistani leaders on board (including, most importantly, the Pakistani military), so was every Kashmiri leader except for one hard-line separatist, Syed Ali Shah Gilani.

The accord was slated to be signed during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s scheduled visit to Islamabad in February and March of 2007, but before the trip ever occurred, a country-wide lawyers’ protest in Pakistan had turned into a broader opposition campaign against General Musharraf. The rest of the year would be one of the most tumultuous in Pakistan’s history, marked by the siege of the Red Mosque in July, the return of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in October and her subsequent assassination in December, and the return of popular leader Nawaz Sharif from exile in September.

By August of the following year, public opposition had peaked, and Musharraf was forced to resign his post as president, ending his decade-long tenure as leader of Pakistan. After Musharraf’s ouster, it appears that the deal had lost much of its momentum.

Then in November, the accord suffered another setback as ten Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists took India’s largest city, Mumbai, hostage for almost 72 hours, killing more than 160 people and injuring scores more. The attack was quickly coined “India’s 9/11,” and the evidence pointed directly to Pakistan, where the gunmen had been trained and equipped.

In protest, India cut off all diplomatic talks with Pakistan almost immediately; there were even rumors that the country was preparing military action against its northern neighbor. Within a span of less than two years, the India-Pakistan relationship had traveled the spectrum from apparent rapprochement and compromise to mutual suspicion and renewed hostility.

Since then, the signs have only appeared to worsen: for example, in 2009, when Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor publicly introduced revisions to his country’s “cold start” military strategy.

This military modernization and training program, which was developed in response to the army’s sluggish mobilization to the Pakistani border following the December 2001 terrorist attacks on the Indian parliament, remained mostly under the radar for most of the early 2000s, relegated to defense journals and the occasional news article.

It was only following the 2008 attacks that “cold start” began to receive renewed attention from the media on both sides of the border and was more publicly discussed by Indian military officials like General Kapoor. Indeed, it appeared as if the next breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations would occur through hard rather than soft power.

Concomitantly, India and Pakistan’s post-Mumbai attempts to return to diplomatic talks also appeared fraught with danger and seemed to only fuel more discord rather than reconciliation.

In February this year, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir resumed high-level talks for the first time since November 2008, but both sides appeared unprepared (they could not even agree on the specific subject of the talks prior to sitting down) and spent more time bickering through separate press conferences.

For example, while Bashir accused India of covertly supplying weapons to militants in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, Rao complained that Pakistan had “not gone far enough” in the 2008 Mumbai attack investigation. As India presented a dossier of evidence against one of the Mumbai attack perpetrators, Pakistan responded by calling it a “piece of literature not a dossier.”

It’s hard to see how any progress could be made on improving Indo-Pakistani relations in the midst of this hostility. But does Kasuri’s revelation provide hope that a resolution on Kashmir could be revived? First, excepting Musharraf and Kasuri, many of the supporters of the failed 2007 accord—including Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan’s current track II special negotiator Riaz Mohammed Khan, and, on the Indian side, Prime Minister Singh—still hold high-level positions in their respective governments.

And second, the secrecy of the original deal shows that outward indifference, or even enmity, between the two countries can belie an internal desire for change. In a relationship where hostility is status quo and where amicable relations seem aberrant if not bizarre, a furtive accord lets ruling elites make slow, institutional changes in the relationship while preserving outward form and precedent. It also allows deal-makers to keep tempestuous domestic politicians and party leaders at arms length while deliberating sensitive issues.

Even India’s traditionally hyperactive media seems to understand: A subsequent editorial in the Times of India noted, “the fact that such a deal exists emphasizes the importance of maintaining contact with Islamabad.”

So what can we expect in the months ahead? Indian officials will undoubtedly continue to pressure Pakistan to confront Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terrorist groups that plan to attack India, and another attack could indeed result in Indian military action. There will also be more bickering between the sides—on water rights, “most-favored-nation” clauses, and even cricket.

Yet the revelation of the secret deal should be both a lesson and a sign of hope. It is a lesson because it proves that progress on an entrenched conflict like Kashmir can occur without the United States’ public mediation.

American officials at the U.S.-India Strategic Dialogue this week should keep in mind that the accord was pursued during the final years of the Bush administration, in which the United States made it a point to separate the U.S.-India relationship from the more sensitive Indo-Pak relationship.

It is a sign of hope because, despite the outward appearance of discord between the countries, internally, leaders on both sides have—at least at some point in recent memory—wanted to move forward on a resolution.

As Pakistan continues its domestic offensive against terrorists and India pursues closer economic engagement with its northern neighbor, wanting change may be the best sign that change is on the way.

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