Posts Tagged ‘ Washington ’

Pakistan Reveals Efforts to Hunt Down Osama Bin Laden

Jon Boone and Jason Burke for The Guardian

For almost a year, Pakistan‘s security establishment has been in a state of deep fury and embarrassment over the killing of Osama bin Laden. But its annoyance, US diplomats note, has not been directed at how the world’s most wanted man could have lived inside the country for so long, but rather at how a US team could have got in and out of its territory undetected.

So far, there have been no arrests of sympathisers who might have helped Bin Laden move around Pakistan undetected before settling in the town of Abbottabad. Authorities appear more concerned with investigating what they see as a gross violation of sovereignty that badly damaged the prestige and reputation of the powerful Pakistani military.

The only known arrest has been of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who worked in Abbottabad as part of the CIA effort to try to pinpoint the al-Qaida chief. A Pakistani commission investigating Bin Laden’s death recommended Afridi be charged with “conspiracy against the state of Pakistan and high treason”.

But amid efforts on both sides to improve the terrible state of US-Pakistani relations, bitter recriminations are starting to give way to a modest effort by Pakistan’s intelligence service to put itself a little nearer the centre of events that led to Bin Laden’s killing.

Last week, a security official in Islamabad gave the Guardian details of three hitherto unknown ground missions conducted by joint CIA-Pakistani teams to capture Bin Laden.

One was in the north-western mountainous area of Chitral in 2005, though the target turned out to be a “near identical lookalike”. Two were in 2006, including one in a village called Barabcha on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan’s Baluchistan province.

A former US official confirmed there had been some joint operations in the past, particularly in Chitral, but was unaware of the specific incidents.

“The big picture is there have been cases where [the Pakistanis] have moved on information we have given them,” said the former US official in Washington.

According to the Pakistani security official, efforts by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to capture Bin Laden continued even after “the intelligence chief of a western country came to us and gave us a written report Bin Laden was dead” – in 2008.

He also said the al-Qaida operative who eventually led the CIA to Bin Laden was identified as the terrorist leader’s personal courier by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a senior detained militant in 2003, during interrogation by ISI. That information was passed to US agencies, he said.

This claim contradicts statements by US officials who say that Mohammed, the chief organiser of the 9/11 attacks, downplayed the importance of the courier, then known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and that it took several more years for his true importance to be recognised.

Shaukat Qadir, a retired brigadier who has launched a personal investigation into the Bin Laden case, has also been boosting the perception of Pakistan’s efforts as he prepares to publish a book on the subject. Based on briefings from intelligence officials, he said ISI had also been interested in Abbottabad in the months before the raid, and had even begun watching the man who would turn out to be al-Kuwaiti.

The agency became suspicious of the man, also known as Arshad Khan, when they ran a check on him after he told locals he had business interests in Peshawar, something that turned out to be false.

Their investigations became urgent when he was seen bulk-buying medicines in Peshawar useful for treating ailments Bin Laden was thought to suffer from.

“When they learned about the medicine, their suspicions were aroused and the passed those suspicions on to the CIA, probably around December 2010,” he said.

Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA analyst and expert on Islamist militancy, said ISI’s three previous attempts to net Bin Laden “probably looked like wild goose chases from Washington’s perspective”.

“This is an effort by the Pakistanis to try to rebut the very widespread notion in the US that they must have been somehow willing accomplices of Bin Laden’s presence in their country,” he said.

Underlying the distrust between the two ostensible allies is the decision by the US not to share any of the material which the US Navy Seals took away from the house, including huge amounts of data on computer hard drives.

For its part, Pakistan is holding on to tens of thousands of documents taken from the Abbottabad house, although the Pakistani security official described these as mere “scraps” compared with the vast amount of information held by the US.

Some of the Pakistani-held documents are believed to have been seen by European and US intelligence services.

The Pakistani official said close counter-terror co-operation between the two sides was wrecked by the killing on the streets of Lahore of two Pakistani civilians by a CIA contractor, Raymond Davis, in January 2011.

“In 2009, there were 150 joint operations between us and the Americans, one every two days,” he said. “Raymond Davis put a stop to everything.”

But Riedel said Washington’s suspicions of Pakistan ran far deeper. There was “near total consensus” within the administration not to share any intelligence on Bin Laden, despite the damage they knew it would do to US-Pakistani relations.

“My judgment is that if we had told the Pakistanis in anything but the last five minutes, Osama would be alive today,” he said. “He would have escaped.”

Muhammad Amir Rana, director of a thinktank that tracks security trends, said it is much too late for Pakistan to try to take credit for tracking Bin Laden. He said the time to “reconcile and share responsibility” was in the immediate aftermath, when Barack Obama publicly thanked Pakistan for its support. “Unfortunately, they badly miscalculated – they thought Osama was a big figure, they were worried about the reaction of al-Qaida and the public in Pakistan,” he said.

But the wave of retaliatory attacks feared by some in Pakistan never happened, underling al-Qaida’s enfeebled state.

Pakistani Panel Demands End to US Drone Attacks, Apology for NATO Air Strike

As Reported By The Voice Of America

A Pakistani parliamentary committee — tasked with laying out new terms of engagement with the United States and NATO — on Tuesday demanded an end to U.S. drone strikes and an apology from Washington for a NATO strike last year that mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The report, read to a joint session of both houses of parliament by committee chairman Mian Raza Rabbani, calls on the United States to review its activities and cease all drone attacks inside Pakistan.

Rabbani said that “drone strikes are counterproductive, cause loss of valuable lives and property, radicalize the local population, create support for terrorists and fuel anti-American sentiments.”

U.S. lawmakers, however, are rejecting those calls. Independent Senator Joe Lieberman told VOA the drone strikes are critically important to America’s national security, adding he does not believe they should stop.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the drones are needed due to the lack of a more aggressive effort by Pakistan to root out terrorists and radical militants along its border with Afghanistan.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that although sovereignty is a big issue for any country, he would like to see Pakistan embrace the idea that extremism has no welcome home in Pakistan. He said drone strikes have been effective and that, in his words, “it is not in Pakistan’s long-term interest to be seen by the world-at-large as a safe haven for terrorists.”

Rabbani also demanded an unconditional U.S. apology for the NATO airstrike in November that killed the 24 Pakistani soldiers. He said “the condemnable and unprovoked NATO/ISAF attack” represents “a breach of international law and constitutes a blatant violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Washington has expressed regret for the loss of life and accepted partial responsibility for the airstrike, but has so far refused to apologize, saying NATO forces acted in self-defense.

Pakistani lawmakers are expected to eventually approve the panel’s recommendations. But, ultimately, Pakistan’s government and powerful army have the final say in the U.S.-Pakistani relationship.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland Tuesday said she would not comment on the issue until the process is completed.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar told reporters outside of Parliament that Pakistan needs to balance good diplomatic relations with its own interests.

Pakistan Wants U.S. Drones Out

By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan for Bloomberg News

Pakistan has told the White House it no longer will permit U.S. drones to use its airspace to attack and collect intelligence on Al-Qaida and other militants, according to officials involved.

Eliminating drone missions would aid the resurgence of extremist groups operating along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, said Peter Singer, author of “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”

Pakistan’s ambassador to Washington, Sherry Rehman, met Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Antony Blinken, on Friday and told him that Pakistan’s political parties have agreed that the drone flights over Pakistan must end, officials involved said.

Pakistan’s sovereignty over its airspace and the civilian casualties that have resulted from drone strikes are emotional issues in Pakistan, where public opinion heavily favors terminating drone missions.

The only chance for a compromise, Pakistani officials said, may be if the United States agrees to share intelligence and coordinate strikes first. The United States has resisted giving information to Pakistan in advance because of fears that some in Pakistan’s security forces might warn the targets of impending strikes.

The drone program has been part of U.S. counter-terrorism strategy in Pakistan since 2004, officials and experts say. The administration authorized 53 drone attacks in 2009 and 117 in 2010, compared with 35 in 2008 under former President George W. Bush, according to Bill Roggio, a U.S. military analyst whose website, the Long War Journal, maintains a database of the campaign.

The drone program is “critical” because it provides better real-time surveillance and reconnaissance than satellite imagery does, Seth Jones, a senior political scientist for the RAND Corp. research institute, said in an interview.

Singer said that “for several years, Pakistan has openly said, ‘How dare you violate our sovereignty,’ but it turned out the CIA was flying from Pakistani bases with Pakistan’s permission.” This time, it’s possible “they really mean it,” after a series of high-profile disputes have damaged relations, Singer said.

Punishing Pakistan Is Not The Way To Go

By Nancy Birdall for Foreign Policy

In the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs, Stanford political scientist Stephen Krasner claims that “current U.S. policy toward Pakistan has failed” and recommends that the United States take a radically different approach: credibly threaten to sever all forms of cooperation, including all U.S. aid – military and civilian – to force Pakistan into cooperating with the United States on security matters. Center for Global Development President Nancy Birdsall responds.

Stephen Krasner (“Talk Tough to Pakistan: How to End Islamabad’s Defiance,” Jan/Feb 2012) wants to change the Pakistani government’s behavior. He argues that its failure to cooperate with the United States on Afghanistan and on terrorism is not due to its weakness as a state. Instead, it is a rational response of Pakistan’s military leadership, whose priority is to defend itself against India – with a nuclear deterrent and support for terrorists and the Afghan Taliban. Therefore, the only way the United States can win cooperation from Pakistan is to threaten “malign neglect”- cut off military and civilian assistance, sever intelligence cooperation, maintain and possibly escalate drone strikes and initiate unilateral cross-border raids. If that isn’t enough, then the U.S. could move on to “active isolation” — declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, making it a pariah, and impose sanctions.

If only it were this easy. Krasner fails to mention that the U.S. has tried this approach before. In the 1990s it cut off military and civilian assistance to Pakistan and imposed sanctions in an effort to dissuade Pakistan from developing a nuclear capability. We all know how that story ended. But let’s suppose this time the threats or the follow-through worked and brought the military and intelligence establishment to heel in Pakistan. Let’s suppose the United States got what it wanted on the security front – helping assure a timely U.S and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Would that solve the problem Pakistan poses for America’s security in the long run? No.

What Krasner doesn’t say is that the U.S. wants something more than compliance from Pakistan’s military and intelligence communities with its immediate security needs. The U.S. wants a capable and stable civilian government that plays by the rules of the international community. It wants a democratic state that would not abuse and misuse its nuclear capability and that would find its way to peaceful relations with India.

In other words the U.S. has a long-run vision for Pakistan, very much in its own interests, as well as a set of short-term demands. In the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (known as Kerry-Lugar Berman, or KLB) Congress recognized the resulting need for a two-track approach. That legislation made U.S. security assistance (not actually authorized in the legislation) conditional on Pakistani cooperation on security matters. But its fundamental purpose, and the money it authorized for civilian aid, was the rebuilding of a serious partnership with the civilian government and the people of Pakistan. With KLB as the framework, since 2009 the Obama Administration has engaged fully with the civilian government and with civil society and private sector leaders in Pakistan on a range of issues — energy, water, agriculture, macroeconomic issues, private investment and trade.

In short, the purpose of U.S. civilian aid to Pakistan is to help build a better state. It is not to bribe or reward the “government” (neither the military nor the civilian leadership). Withholding military aid would likely not punish the military anyway. It would, however, reduce the resources available to the civilian government, since the evidence is that the military can get what it wants from the government’s overall available resources. And withholding civilian aid obviously would not punish the military. It would, however, take away a modest tool of America – investing to educate kids, create jobs, and strengthen civil society and representative institutions and thus give Pakistan a better shot at becoming a stable, prosperous and democratic country in the long term.

There are of course real questions about the effectiveness of U.S engagement with the civilian government – with aid and dialogue – given the prevailing suspicion there of U.S. motives, the inherent difficulties of operating in a complex and insecure environment, and the bureaucratic shortcomings of the U.S. aid system itself. But then those are reasons to put relatively more emphasis on other forms of engagement: trade, investment, and encouraging the normalization of relations with India. They do not warrant bullying the weak civilian government that the U.S. wants to strengthen.

Krasner begins and ends his article by invoking the testimony of former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen during his last appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Krasner is right in pointing out that Mullen was critical of Pakistan’s role in supporting extremist organizations and the need to get tough with Pakistan. Yet, Krasner fails to mention the conclusion Mullen reached in his statement. Mullen recognized that the U.S. has a variety of objectives in Pakistan and the region, and that by focusing too intensely on short term interests, the U.S. will end up short-changing itself over the long haul: “We must also move beyond counter-terrorism to address long-term foundations of Pakistan’s success – to help the Pakistanis find realistic and productive ways to achieve their aspirations of prosperity and security.” Mullen concludes, “Isolating the people of Pakistan from the world right now would be counter-productive.”

Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a Washington, DC based think tank.

World’s Youngest Microsoft Prodigy Arfa Laid to Rest

By Tariq Butt for The Gulf Today

Funeral prayers of the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) Arfa Karim Randhawa, who passed away on Saturday night after protracted illness, were held in Lahore on Sunday.

The prayers, held in Cavalry Ground, were attended by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and her close family members. Her coffin was draped in the national flag. She was 16. The teenage genius suffered an attack.

She got recognition and became her a source of inspiration for young and old across Pakistan. Arfa had an epileptic attack on Dec.22 and had been in a coma since.

Well-wishers prayed and watched her progress closely.

On Dec.29, doctors said there was no hope for her survival, and that her life support could be switched off any time. However, she had then miraculously responded to certain stimuli, as recently as Jan.13.

Two more funeral prayers will be held for Arfa, one in Faislabad and another in her ancestral village where she is to be buried.

As Pakistanis mourned the loss of the child prodigy, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also expressed their grief and sorrow over the sad demise of Arfa. They prayed to Allah Almighty to rest the departed soul in eternal peace and grant courage to the bereaved family to bear the loss with fortitude.

Jamaat-e-Islami head Syed Munawar Hasan expressed grief at the death.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain said that Pakistan has lost “precious talent” in Arfa. He expressed grief at Arfa’s demise and has sympathised with the bereaved family members and prayed for Arfa’s soul.

Arfa became the world’s youngest Microsoft certified professional in 2004 at the age of nine. She was also invited to the Microsoft headquarters in the US by Bill Gates for being the world’s youngest MCP.

Gates had also offered to conduct the child legend’s treatment in the US, but the doctors advised against transporting her to the US due to the risk involved. However, the doctors continued her treatment in consultation with specialists in the United States.

Arfa had earned the Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal in the field of science and technology and the Salam Pakistan Youth Award in 2005 for her achievements. She is also the youngest recipient of the President’s Award for Pride of Performance.

She earned her first flight certificate by flying a plane at a flying club in Dubai at the age of 10, and was invited by Microsoft in 2006 to be a keynote speaker at the Tech-Ed Developers Conference, where she was the only Pakistani among over 5,000 developers.

Arfa represented her country Pakistan on a variety of international forum. She was also included as the honourable guest by IT Professionals of Dubai for two weeks stay in Dubai. During that trip, Arfa was awarded by a number of medals and awards from various tech societies and computer companies working in Dubai.

Arfa was a genius who had left an indelible mark on the international IT scene, winning millions of hearts in Pakistan and abroad for her excellence. The death of the child sensation had left millions of people, along with her family, relatives and friends, grieved over this national tragedy.

Obama Refrains From a Formal ‘I’m Sorry’ to Pakistan

By Helene Cooper and Mark Mazzetti for The New York Times

The White House has decided that President Obama will not offer formal condolences — at least for now — to Pakistan for the deaths of two dozen soldiers inNATO airstrikes last week, overruling State Department officials who argued for such a show of remorse to help salvage America’s relationship with Pakistan, administration officials said.

On Monday, Cameron Munter, the United States ambassador to Pakistan, told a group of White House officials that a formal video statement from Mr. Obama was needed to help prevent the rapidly deteriorating relations between Islamabad and Washington from cratering, administration officials said. The ambassador, speaking by videoconference from Islamabad, said that anger in Pakistan had reached a fever pitch, and that the United States needed to move to defuse it as quickly as possible, the officials recounted.

Defense Department officials balked. While they did not deny some American culpability in the episode, they said expressions of remorse offered by senior department officials and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were enough, at least until the completion of a United States military investigation establishing what went wrong.

Some administration aides also worried that if Mr. Obama were to overrule the military and apologize to Pakistan, such a step could become fodder for his Republican opponents in the presidential campaign, according to several officials who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

On Wednesday, White House officials said Mr. Obama was unlikely to say anything further on the matter in the coming days.

“The U.S. government has offered its deepest condolences for the loss of life, from the White House and from Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, referring to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, “and we are conducting an investigation into the incident. We cannot offer additional comment on the circumstances of the incident until we have the results.”

The American and Pakistani accounts of the NATO strikes vary widely. A former senior American official briefed on the exchange said Wednesday that the airstrikes came in the last 15 to 20 minutes of a running three-hour skirmish, presumably with Taliban fighters on one or both sides of the border. That is at odds with the Pakistani account that its troops were in a two-hour firefight with the Americans.

Pakistan, rejecting the American account, has blocked all NATO logistical supplies that cross the border into Afghanistan, given the Central Intelligence Agency 15 days to vacate the Shamsi air base from which it has run drone strikes into Pakistani tribal areas and announced that it will boycott an international conference on Afghanistan’s security and development next week in Bonn, Germany.

With everything at stake in the relationship with Pakistan, which the United States sees as vital as it plans to exit from Afghanistan, some former Obama administration officials said the president should make public remarks on the border episode, including a formal apology.

“Without some effective measures of defusing this issue, Pakistan will cooperate less rather than more with us, and we won’t be able to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” said Vali Nasr, a former State Department official who specialized in Pakistan.

But David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official and the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power,” said Pakistani officials need to understand that in the next year, the Obama administration will be less accommodating to Pakistani sensibilities.

“I do think that it’s important for them to recognize that political dynamics in the United States will lead to a hardening of U.S. positions, and the president will have less and less flexibility to accept the kind of behavior that he has in the past,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “The prognosis for U.S.-Pakistani relations is bleak.”

America’s strained ties with Pakistan have been buffeted by crises this year, from the killing of two Pakistanis by a C.I.A. contractor to the raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

The headaches of the relationship have meant that Pakistan has few friends inside the administration. As one former senior United States official who has been briefed on the administration’s recent deliberations put it, “Right now there are no Pakistan friendlies” at the White House.

But the administration desperately needs Pakistan’s cooperation in the American plan to withdraw militarily from Afghanistan by 2014. Several senior American officials have said Pakistani help is essential to persuade the Taliban to negotiate for peace.

Twice recently, the administration has solicited help from Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, to deliver messages to Islamabad to help defuse crises in the relationship.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kerry was guarded in his comments about the border episode. “We all appreciate how deeply this tragedy has affected the Pakistani people, and we have conveyed our heartfelt condolences through multiple channels,” Mr. Kerry said in an e-mail. “Ultimately, the only way to move the ball forward is to focus on areas where our interests align and where we can really make progress. Our two countries need each other.”

Pakistan Stops NATO Supplies After Deadly Raid

By Shams Momand for Reuters

NATO helicopters and fighter jets attacked two military outposts in northwest Pakistan Saturday, killing as many as 28 troops and plunging U.S.-Pakistan relations deeper into crisis.

Pakistan shut down NATO supply routes into Afghanistan – used for sending in nearly half of the alliance’s land shipments – in retaliation for the worst such incident since Islamabad uneasily allied itself with Washington following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Islamabad also said it had ordered the United States to vacate a drone base in the country, but a senior U.S. official said Washington had received no such request and noted that Pakistan had made similar eviction threats in the past, without following through.

NATO and U.S. officials expressed regret about the deaths of the Pakistani soldiers, indicating the attack may have been an error; but the exact circumstances remained unclear.

“Senior U.S. civilian and military officials have been in touch with their Pakistani counterparts from Islamabad, Kabul and Washington to express our condolences, our desire to work together to determine what took place, and our commitment to the U.S.-Pakistan partnership which advances our shared interests, including fighting terrorism in the region,” said White House national security council spokesman Tommy Vieter.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar spoke by telephone, as did General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan confirmed that NATO aircraft had probably killed Pakistani soldiers in an area close to the Afghan-Pakistani border.

“Close air support was called in, in the development of the tactical situation, and it is what highly likely caused the Pakistan casualties,” said General Carsten Jacobson, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

He added he could not confirm the number of casualties, but ISAF was investigating. “We are aware that Pakistani soldiers perished. We don’t know the size, the magnitude,” he said.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said the killings were “an attack on Pakistan’s sovereignty,” adding: “We will not let any harm come to Pakistan’s sovereignty and solidarity.”

Pakistan’s Foreign Office said it would take up the matter “in the strongest terms” with NATO and the United States, while army chief Kayani said steps would be taken to respond “to this irresponsible act.”

“A strong protest has been launched with NATO/ISAF in which it has been demanded that strong and urgent action be taken against those responsible for this aggression.”

Two military officials said up to 28 troops had been killed and 11 wounded in the attack on the outposts, about 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Afghan border. The Pakistani military said 24 troops were killed and 13 wounded.

The attack took place around 2 a.m. (2100 GMT) in the Baizai area of Mohmand, where Pakistani troops are fighting Taliban militants. Across the border is Afghanistan’s Kunar province, which has seen years of heavy fighting.

“Pakistani troops effectively responded immediately in self-defense to NATO/ISAF’s aggression with all available weapons,” the Pakistani military statement said.

The commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen, offered his condolences to the families of Pakistani soldiers who “may have been killed or injured.”

Dempsey’s spokesman, Colonel David Lapan, could not confirm the closure of the Pakistani border crossing to trucks carrying supplies for ISAF forces. However, he noted that “if true, we have alternate routes we can use, as we have in the past.”

POORLY MARKED

Around 40 troops were stationed at the outposts, military sources said. Two officers were reported among the dead. “They without any reasons attacked on our post and killed soldiers asleep,” said a senior Pakistani officer, requesting anonymity.

The border is often poorly marked, and Afghan and Pakistani maps have differences of several kilometres in some places, military officials have said.

However, Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said NATO had been given maps of the area, with Pakistani military posts identified.

“When the other side is saying there is a doubt about this, there is no doubt about it. These posts have been marked and handed over to the other side for marking on their maps and are clearly inside Pakistani territory.”

The incident occurred a day after Allen met Kayani to discuss border control and enhanced cooperation.

A senior military source told Reuters that after the meeting that set out “to build confidence and trust, these kind of attacks should not have taken place.”

BLOCKED SUPPLIES

Pakistan is a vital land route for nearly half of NATO supplies shipped overland to its troops in Afghanistan, a NATO spokesman said. Land shipments account for about two thirds of the alliance’s cargo shipments into Afghanistan.

Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.

The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.

A meeting of the cabinet’s defense committee convened by Gilani “decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines,” according to a statement issued by Gilani’s office.

The committee decided to ask the United States to vacate, within 15 days, the Shamsi Air Base, a remote installation in Baluchistan used by U.S. forces for drone strikes which has long been at the center of a dispute between Islamabad and Washington.

The meeting also decided the government would “revisit and undertake a complete review of all programs, activities and cooperative arrangements with US/NATO/ISAF, including diplomatic, political, military and intelligence.”

A similar incident on Sept 30, 2010, which killed two Pakistani service personnel, led to the closure of one of NATO’s supply routes through Pakistan for 10 days. NATO apologised for that incident, which it said happened when NATO gunships mistook warning shots by Pakistani forces for a militant attack.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan were strained by the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan in May, which Pakistan called a flagrant violation of sovereignty.

Pakistan’s jailing of a CIA contractor and U.S. accusations that Pakistan backed a militant attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul have added to the tensions.

“This will have a catastrophic effect on Pakistan-U.S. relations. The public in Pakistan are going to go berserk on this,” said Charles Heyman, senior defense analyst at British military website Armedforces.co.uk.

Other analysts, including Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, predicted Pakistan would protest and close the supply lines for some time, but that ultimately “things will get back to normal.”

Fate of Pakistan’s Zardari May Hinge on Scandal of Purported Memo

By Alex Rodriguez for The Los Angeles Times

Did he, or didn’t he?

All over Pakistan, people are asking whether Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari approved a memo asking for Washington’s help in reining in the country’s powerful military.

The answer could play a role in whether Zardari, already deeply unpopular with both the public and the military, stays in power.

The scandal scorching the airwaves in Pakistani cities and towns now has a name — Memogate — and it is sparking talk of early elections. At the center of it all is Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, who says a senior Pakistani diplomat asked him to convey a letter to Washington seeking its help in preventing a military takeover of Zardari’s administration.

In return, the letter stated, the Zardari government would eliminate a wing of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, or ISI, that maintains links with Afghan insurgent groups, and would give U.S. troops “a green light” to root out Afghan militants hiding out in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Ijaz says Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, asked him to be the intermediary and that Zardari had endorsed the memo. The explosive allegations prompted Haqqani to offer his resignation as a way of defusing the controversy, though he denies either writing the memo or asking Ijaz to pass it on to Washington.

Unless Haqqani can show that the memo was fabricated, he could be ousted from his post. But analysts say the crisis also casts a shadow on Zardari, who has been criticized by many Pakistanis for his closeness to the American government, which they mistrust, as well as his failure to solve the country’s myriad economic and infrastructure ills.

“It might be a game-changer in the political arena, with the military concluding there’s no way it can trust the Zardari government,” said Pakistani columnist and legal expert Babar Sattar. “If the military isn’t willing to let this go, it could reduce the term of this government. That might be the only resolution: to hold early elections.”

If genuine, the memo sheds a harsh light on the deep rifts between Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders. Although Zardari is president, the military, led by army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, holds ultimate power in Pakistan, as it has for most of the country’s 64-year history. The military thinks Zardari is too acquiescent to Washington’s demands.

The memo purportedly was drafted a week after U.S. commandos killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden during a secret nighttime raid on his compound in the Pakistani military city of Abbottabad, about a two-hour drive from the capital. It portrays a civilian government convinced that the country’s military leaders were planning a coup against Zardari.

The rationale, Ijaz said in an Oct. 10 op-ed piece in the Financial Times newspaper, was that the military was being heavily criticized by the public and the media for allowing the raid to occur, and needed to make Zardari a scapegoat to deflect blame.

“Request your direct intervention in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to Gen. Kayani that delivers Washington’s demand for him and [ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus,” stated the memo, which was delivered to the then-chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen. The memo was published on the website of Foreign Policy magazine and by the Pakistani newspaper the News.

“If true, it shows that the civilian government really panicked,” said security analyst Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general. “It’s extraordinary that they would get so nervous that they would write all this. It shows the deep divide between the civilian leadership and the military.

“If it’s a phony memo, it would recoil back at the [military].”

If the military was behind such a move, it could be aimed at discrediting or weakening Zardari’s government.

“The more likely, but far from certain, scenario? The boys are up to their tricks again,” Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani newspaper, wrote Friday, referring to the military.

To back up his claims, Ijaz gave the News email that he says he and Haqqani exchanged at the time the memo was drafted and later conveyed to Mullen. On May 10, after the memo was delivered to Mullen, Ijaz allegedly emailed Haqqani, saying, “Ball is in play now — make sure you have protected your flanks.”

Republicans Sharply Criticize Pakistan in Debate

By Arshad Mohammed for Reuters

Pakistan took a lot of criticism in Saturday’s Republican presidential debate, with a leading candidate saying it was nearly a failed state and another suggesting the United States cut its foreign aid to zero.

But it is unclear whether any of their ideas is likely to be imposed on a country that has nuclear weapons and whose cooperation is seen as vital to stabilizing Afghanistan as the United States prepares to pull out from there by the end of 2014.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said Pakistan has multiple centers of power including the relatively weak civilian leadership, the military and the powerful intelligence agency know as the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

“The right way to deal with Pakistan is to recognize that Pakistan is not a country, like other countries, with a strong political center that you can go to and say, ‘Gee, can we come here, will you take care of this problem?'” Romney said.

“This is instead a nation which is close to being a failed state. I hope it doesn’t reach that point, but it’s really a fragile nation,” he said.

Polls point to Romney as the Republican who would be the most likely among the party’s crop of candidates to defeat President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November 2012 U.S. presidential election. The Republicans begin choosing their nominee in state contests beginning in January.

Texas Governor Rick Perry suggested that every country, including Pakistan, should see its U.S. aid eliminated each year and then should convince the United States why it deserves any money at all.

“Then we’ll have a conversation in this country about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries,” Perry said in response to a question about whether Islamabad was playing a double game with Washington.

“Pakistan is clearly sending us messages … that they don’t deserve our foreign aid … because they’re not being honest with us,” he added.

“American soldiers’ lives are being put at jeopardy because of that country … and it’s time for us as a country to say no to foreign aid to countries that don’t support the United States of America,” he said.

‘FRIEND OR FOE’

Businessman Herman Cain had difficulty offering a direct response when asked whether Pakistan was ultimately an ally or adversary. “There isn’t a clear answer as to whether or not Pakistan is a friend or foe,” Cain said.”

U.S. officials have long argued that the Taliban and other militants enjoy safe havens in Pakistan from which they attack U.S. soldiers in neighboring Afghanistan.

They privately argue Pakistan plays a double game, taking billions of dollars in U.S. aid while elements of its government tolerate militant groups such as the Haqqani network blamed for a September attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Pakistan says it has made more sacrifices than any other country in the war against militancy, losing about 10,000 members of its military and security forces.

There have been growing questions in Washington about whether U.S. troops should to go after Taliban safe havens in Pakistan, an idea sure to be deeply unpopular in a population already embittered by U.S. drone strikes.

Some Republican candidates argued that the United States has little choice but to nurture relations with Pakistan, citing the fact that it has nuclear arms and that it has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan.

“Pakistan must be a friend of the United States for the reason that Michele (Bachmann) outlined. Pakistan is a nuclear power,” said former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, referring to fellow Republican candidate Bachmann.

“It’s important for us, with a nuclear power with a very vast number of people in Pakistan who are radicalizing, that we keep a solid and stable relationship and work through our difficulties,” he added.

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.”

Pakistan, US Pledge to Strengthen Alliance

As Reported By The Khaleej Times

Pakistani and US diplomats on Thursday vowed to strengthen their troubled alliance two days after Washington acknowledged for the first time that it is waging “war” against militants in Pakistan.

US special envoy, Marc Grossman, on Thursday met Pakistani leaders in Islamabad as US drone strikes killed 10 militants, including a commander in the Haqqani network that the US military has linked to Pakistani intelligence.

“We tried to think about the future and way to keep our strategic dialogue going,” Grossman told a joint press conference with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.

“We also talked about how can we continue in a systematic way to identify the interests that we share with Pakistan, and there are many, and then find ways to act on them jointly,” he added.

Grossman said they had been preparing for conferences on the future of Afghanistan, in Istanbul next month and in the German city of Bonn in December.

US officials openly acknowledge that the relationship with Pakistan is complicated, but say it is important to persevere no less because Pakistan is a key stakeholder in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan.

Khar said both sides would “build on this partnership which is not only important for the two countries but also for the region and the whole world”.

On Tuesday, acknowledging for the first time that the US is waging a war in Pakistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described Washington’s relationship with Islamabad as “complicated”.

“And admittedly, there are a lot of reasons for that. We are fighting a war in their country,” Panetta said.

He said the two countries sharply disagreed over “relations they maintain with some of the militant groups in that country,” a reference to Washington’s demand that Islamabad crack down on the Haqqani network.

A covert CIA drone campaign that the US government declines to discuss publicly has seen around 30 missile attacks in Pakistan since American troops killed Osama bin Laden near the capital Islamabad on May 2.

Analysis: Pakistan’s Double-Game: Treachery or Strategy?

By John Chalmers for Reuters

Washington has just about had it withPakistan.

“Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States,” fumed Republican Representative Ted Poe last week. “We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let’s not pay them at all.”

For many in America, Islamabad has been nothing short of perfidious since joining a strategic alliance with Washington 10 years ago: selectively cooperating in the war on extremist violence and taking billions of dollars in aid to do the job, while all the time sheltering and supporting Islamist militant groups that fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has angrily denied the charges, but if its critics are right, what could the explanation be for such duplicity? What strategic agendas might be hidden behind this puzzling statecraft?

The answer is that Pakistan wants to guarantee for itself a stake in Afghanistan’s political future.

It knows that, as U.S. forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, ethnic groups will be competing for ascendancy there and other regional powers – from India to China and Iran – will be jostling for a foot in the door.

Islamabad’s support for the Taliban movement in the 1990s gives it an outsized influence among Afghanistan’s Pashtuns, who make up about 42 percent of the total population and who maintain close ties with their Pakistani fellow tribesmen.

In particular, Pakistan’s powerful military is determined there should be no vacuum in Afghanistan that could be filled by its arch-foe, India.

INDIA FOCUS

Pakistan has fought three wars with its neighbor since the bloody partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of the country in 1947, and mutual suspicion still hobbles relations between the two nuclear-armed powers today.

“They still think India is their primary policy,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and prominent political analyst. “India is always in the back of their minds.”

In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani – unprompted – complained that Washington’s failure to deal even-handedly with New Delhi and Islamabad was a source of regional instability.

Aqil Shah, a South Asia security expert at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said Islamabad’s worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which it fears would pursue activities hostile to Pakistan.

“Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns,” Shah wrote in a Foreign Affairs article this week.

Although Pakistan, an Islamic state, officially abandoned support for the predominantly Pashtun Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, elements of the military never made the doctrinal shift.

Few doubt that the shadowy intelligence directorate, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has maintained links to the Taliban that emerged from its support for the Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Until recently, there appeared to be a grudging acceptance from Washington that this was the inevitable status quo.

That was until it emerged in May that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden – who was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid – had been hiding out in a Pakistani garrison town just two hours up the road from Islamabad, by some accounts for up to five years.

Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been stormy ever since, culminating in a tirade by the outgoing U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, last week.

Mullen described the Haqqani network, the most feared faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a “veritable arm” of the ISI and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group’s September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

The reaction in Islamabad has been one of stunned outrage.

Washington has not gone public with evidence to back its accusation, and Pakistani officials say that contacts with the Haqqani group do not amount to actual support.

However, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-populist-politician, said this week that it was too much to expect that old friends could have become enemies overnight.

He told Reuters that, instead of demanding that Pakistan attack the Haqqanis in the mountainous border region of North Waziristan, the United States should use Islamabad’s leverage with the group to bring the Afghan Taliban into negotiations.

“Haqqani could be your ticket to getting them on the negotiating table, which at the moment they are refusing,” Khan said. “So I think that is a much saner policy than to ask Pakistan to try to take them on.”

REGIONAL GAME

The big risk for the United States in berating Islamabad is that it will exacerbate anti-American sentiment, which already runs deep in Pakistan, and perhaps embolden it further.

C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research, said Pakistan was probably gambling that the United States’ economic crisis and upcoming presidential elections would distract Washington.

“The real game is unfolding on the ground with the Americans. The Pakistan army is betting that the United States does not have too many choices and more broadly that the U.S. is on the decline, he said.

It is also becoming clear that as Pakistan’s relations with Washington deteriorate, it can fall back into the arms of its “all-weather friend,” China, the energy-hungry giant that is the biggest investor in Afghanistan’s nascent resources sector.

Pakistani officials heaped praise on Beijing this week as a Chinese minister visited Islamabad. Among them was army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the country’s most powerful man, who spoke of China’s “unwavering support.”

In addition, Pakistan has extended a cordial hand to Iran, which also shares a border with Afghanistan.

Teheran has been mostly opposed to the Taliban, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims while Iran is predominantly Shi’ite. But Iran’s anti-Americanism is more deep-seated.

“My reading is the Iranians want to see the Americans go,” said Raja Mohan, the Indian analyst. “They have a problem with the Taliban, but any American retreat will suit them. Iran in the short term is looking at the Americans being humiliated.”

ARMY CALLS THE SHOTS

The supremacy of the military in Pakistan means that Washington has little to gain little from wagging its finger about ties with the Taliban at the civilian government, which is regularly lashed for its incompetence and corruption.

“The state has become so soft and powerless it can’t make any difference,” said Masood, the Pakistani retired general. “Any change will have to come from the military.”

Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for South Asia at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the problem lies with a security establishment that continues to believe that arming and working – actively and passively – with militant groups serves its purposes.

“Until … soul-searching takes place within the Pakistani military and the ISI, you’re not likely to see an end to these U.S. demands, and a real shift in terms of the relationship,” Markey said in an online discussion this week. “This is the most significant shift that has to take place.”

Pakistan Warns U.S. Against Hot Pursuit On Its Soil

As Reported by The Detroit Free Press

Pakistan’s foreign minister today warned the United States against sending ground troops to her country to fight an Afghan militant group that America alleges is used as a proxy by Pakistan’s top intelligence agency for attacks in neighboring Afghanistan.

The warning came as a top U.S. military commander was in Pakistan for talks with the army chief at a time of intense strain between the two countries. The U.S. Embassy said Gen. James Mattis, head of U.S. Central Command, arrived in Pakistan late Friday, and that he will meet the army chief, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Ties between Islamabad and Washington are in crisis after American officials stepped up accusations that Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence was aiding insurgents in neighboring Afghanistan, including those who took part in an attack on the U.S. Embassy last week in Kabul.

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said in an interview today that there are red lines and rules of engagement with America, which should not be broken.

“It opens all kinds of doors and all kinds of options,” she told Pakistan’s private Aaj News TV from New York. The comment was in response to a question about the possibility of U.S. troops coming to Pakistan.

Khar, however, insisted that Pakistan’s policy was to seek a more intensive engagement with the U.S. and that she would like to discourage any blame game.

“If many of your goals are not achieved, you do not make someone a scapegoat,” she said, addressing the U.S.

The U.S. allegations have seen a strong reaction from Pakistan.

Kayani, the Pakistani army chief, said on Friday that the charges were baseless and part of a public “blame game” detrimental to peace in Afghanistan. Other Islamabad officials urged Washington to present evidence for such a serious allegation. Khar warned the United States is risking losing an ally in the war on terror.

The row began when Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday accused the ISI agency of supporting Haqqani insurgents in planning and executing last week’s 22-hour assault on the U.S. Embassy and a truck bombing that wounded 77 American soldiers days earlier.

Kayani said the allegations were “very unfortunate and not based on facts.”

The claims were the most serious yet by an American official against nuclear-armed Pakistan, which Washington has given billions in civilian and military aid over the last 10 years to try to secure its cooperation inside Afghanistan and against al-Qaida.

The Haqqani insurgent network is widely believed to be based in Pakistan’s North Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. The group has historical ties to Pakistani intelligence, dating back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The relationship between the two countries has never been smooth, but it took one of its hardest hits when U.S. commandos slipped into Pakistan on May 2 without informing the Pakistanis of their mission and killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad.

Pakistanis for Peace Editorial Note– We hope that the United States and Pakistan can get through this incredibly difficult period in their long and close relationship. The United States should present the concrete evidence that it has that there is collusion on the part of individuals in the Pakistani government with the terrorists and the Pakistanis for their part must do a lot more to end terror networks within their borders, and this certainly includes sending troops into North Waziristan, Quetta and any other city in the country where the terrorists are based. The already unstable and dangerous neighborhood that is South Asia can not afford further deterioration in US-Pakistan relations.

Panetta: ‘No Choice’ in US Relations with Pakistan

By David Gollust for Voice of America

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the United States has no choice but to maintain close relations with Pakistan, despite government links with Islamic militants including the Haqqani network. The State Department, meanwhile, put sanctions on another Haqqani network commander.

Panetta, who took over as defense secretary in June after two years of heading the CIA, declined comment on news reports that Pakistan allowed China to inspect the wreckage of an advanced U.S. helicopter lost in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

But at a public forum with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Washington’s National Defense University, the defense chief was unusually candid about U.S. problem issues with Pakistan.

Panetta said Pakistan has “relationships” with the Haqqani network – militants based in western Pakistan who conduct cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and with Lashkar-e-Taiba militants who have attacked India.

Both groups are listed by the United States as terrorist organizations. Despite complaints that Pakistan has withheld visas for U.S. citizens being posted there, Panetta said the relationship remains essential.

“There is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan,” said Panetta. “Why? Because we are fighting a war there. We are fighting al-Qaida there. And they do give us some cooperation in that effort. Because they do represent an important force in that region. Because they do happen to be a nuclear power that has nuclear weapons, and we have to be concerned about what happens with those nuclear weapons. So for all of those reasons, we’ve got to maintain a relationship with Pakistan.”

Secretary of State Clinton said the Obama administration considers relations with Pakistan to be of “paramount importance.”

She said there have been “challenges” in bilateral ties for decades with valid complaints on both sides, and that she credits the Islamabad government with lately recognizing its shared interest with Washington in confronting terrorism.

“I was very pleased when the Pakistanis moved into [the] Swat [Valley] and cleaned out a lot of what had become a kind of Pakistani Taliban stronghold,” said Clinton. “And then they began to take some troops off their border with India, to put more resources into the fight against the Pakistani Taliban. Now, as Leon [Panetta] says, we have some other targets that we discuss with them – the Haqqanis, for example. And yet it’s been a relatively short period of time, two-and-a-half years, when they have begun to reorient themselves militarily against what is, in our view, an internal threat to them.”

The State Department on Tuesday designated a key Haqqani network commander – Mullah Sangeen Zadran – a terrorist under a 2001 White House executive order, freezing any U.S. assets he has and barring Americans from business dealings with him.

At the same time, Sangeen was designated a terrorist by the U.N. sanctions committee, which will subject him to a global travel ban, an asset freeze and an arms embargo.

A State Department statement said Sangeen, is a “shadow governor” of Afghanistan’s southeast Paktika province and a senior lieutenant of network leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. It said Sangeen has coordinated the movement of hundreds of foreign fighters into that country and that he is linked to numerous bomb attacks and kidnappings.

U.S., Pakistan, Through Thick and Thin

By Gerald F Seib for The Wall Street Journal

One diplomat long involved in the tempestuous U.S.-Pakistan relationship likens it to a Catholic marriage: There may be problems, but divorce isn’t an option.

And so it is that, almost a month after U.S. Navy SEALs entered Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, the two troubled partners find themselves not in divorce court but in an awkward but unmistakable process of reconciliation.

Signs of healing are popping up. Despite its anger and embarrassment at being left in the dark about the bin Laden raid, Pakistan’s intelligence service has begun cooperating again on a series of sensitive matters. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen have just held the obligatory kiss-and-make-up talks in Pakistan, which U.S. officials describe as blunt but useful in moving forward.

And despite widespread anger in Congress over Pakistan’s harboring, either willfully or unknowingly, the world’s leading terrorist, Obama administration officials seem to be squelching the desire to extract revenge by cutting Pakistan’s aid.

There remains the danger of a rupture, and there still could be long-term damage. Street-level anger on both sides means the relationship can’t stand too many more shocks just now.

In particular, it seems likely that one result of the trauma will be a scaling back of the drone wars—America’s use of armed drones to launch strikes inside Pakistan to attack operatives of the Taliban movement fighting U.S. forces next door in Afghanistan.

The drones likely will continue to be used against top Taliban leaders when found, but less often against lower-priority targets, and probably under new and clearer rules of cooperation with the Pakistanis, say those familiar with the effort.

Still, the reality is that the two countries don’t have much choice but to move on. Regardless of how much love is flowing at any moment, they simply need each other.

The American war against al Qaeda globally and against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan simply can’t be won without the cooperation of Pakistan. Much as Americans are infuriated by the way elements of Pakistan’s government and intelligence service hedge their bets by playing both sides in the struggle against extremism, there’s no doubt that Pakistani intelligence has been crucial in the fight.

For its part, Pakistan has, in its fit of pique over the bin Laden raid, made its best show of playing the China card to demonstrate to the U.S. that Pakistanis can find good, powerful friends in Beijing if Americans don’t treat them better. By coincidence, this has been proclaimed, officially by the two countries, the year of China-Pakistan friendship, which is a useful card for Pakistan to play right now.

But Pakistan’s post-raid overture showed the limits of the China option as much as anything else. Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a four-day trip to China soon after the bin Laden operation, and came away with a Chinese pledge to speed up delivery of some previously promised fighter jets.

Mr. Gilani’s other takeaway from his visit promptly proved dubious. His defense minister announced that Pakistan had invited China to take over management of a big Pakistani port at Gwadar, and to build a new naval base there. In response, the Chinese said, essentially, “We have no idea what you’re talking about.” Whatever was discussed, it appears to be less than originally advertised.

Pakistanis as well as Americans know China has its limits as an alternative big-power friend for Islamabad. American aid can’t easily be replaced, and China doesn’t tend to dole out assistance easily. Meanwhile, the U.S. is the top market for Pakistani exports, while China ranks fifth. China’s big textile industry actually is a key international competitor to Pakistan’s own textile sector.

Ultimately, the Chinese are less likely to be helpful to Pakistan in the war against extremism than will the U.S. China tends to use partnerships abroad to solve its problems, not to help friends solve theirs.

In the meantime, real and meaningful steps have resumed in the U.S.-Pakistani intelligence relationship. Pakistan has allowed American officials to speak with the bin Laden wives found in his compound. It has returned the tail section of a U.S. helicopter lost in the raid; there was stealth technology embedded in it—technology the U.S. feared an angry Pakistan might instead share with China.

And Pakistan has agreed to allow American officials into the bin Laden compound to search for more intelligence on al Qaeda operations run from there.

The U.S. now seeks more help in fighting the Taliban inside Pakistan, and there will be a three-way American-Afghan-Pakistani meeting to discuss Afghanistan next month.

All isn’t bliss between Washington and Islamabad—not by a long shot—but those aren’t the actions of partners headed their separate ways.