Tag Archive | "AfPak"

Hillary Clinton’s “Passion for Pakistan”

Mr Hassan Abbas, author of widely-read book: Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, was invited to conduct an interview on December 10 with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The place was Washington, DC and the topic: Pakistan and the United States’ relations with the Muslim world.

Hasan Abbas says he was pleasantly surprised when out of the blue he received a message from the State Department inviting him to interview Clinton -  for his blog, he says. Abbas thereafter interviews Clinton and later writes on the whole event in his own words as follows:

“I was also provided the opportunity to sit in during the interviews she gave to Riz Khan of Al Jazeera and a Pakistani news channel. Riz Khan’s unending series of jokes were hilarious that kept us in good spirits while we all waited for the Secretary in a small and cozy room at the State Department. His fun performance was as spectacular as it was dramatic. However, I only came to know the next day that he was testing his jokes on us as I heard him repeat all those jokes in his role as the master of ceremony in the inaugural event of the American Pakistan Foundation (APF) in New York. Secretary Clinton was the chief guest at the event and she made a splendid speech warming the hearts of a largely Pakistani-American audience.

Hilary Clinton’s passion for Pakistan was palpable during the conversations I witnessed. She also referred to a special feeling that President Obama has for Pakistan and earnestly hoped that the U.S.-Pakistan relations would benefit from this supporting factor. She admired the way “Pakistan has pulled together to go after those elements of the Taliban that are directly threatening them.” What she left unsaid in this regard also says a lot about how U.S. is viewing the situation in Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

Her views about U.S. role in Afghanistan and globally were also insightful. There is a growing perception that U.S. is giving up the state-building goal in Afghanistan while focusing entirely on military ’surge.’ She dispelled this impression effectively when in response to a question from Riz Khan she argued that, “military effort is essential to providing security, but long-term stability, peace and prosperity can only come through political reconciliation, through development, through the enhancement of the capacity of Afghan institutions, expanding the education system the kind of nuts and bolts that really build and sustain society” and emphasized that she is working hard for these objectives.

The people of Afghanistan deserve this and U.S. owe it to them but the fact remains that U.S. cannot manage this alone. She acknowledged this limitation while responding to a different question “There’s not a problem in the world that the United States can solve alone, but I would quickly add there is not a problem in the world that can be solved without the United States.” While the second part of this notion is a debatable proposition, it is also surprising why U.S. has not involved regional players to stabilize Afghanistan. India, Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and China besides Pakistan, all have stakes in Afghanistan and without a regional settlement U.S. will find it very difficult to turn the tables on growing insurgency in Afghanistan. Accommodating legitimate interests of Afghanistan’s neighbors will help.

Hillary Clinton’s heartfelt concern for women rights in the Muslim world and highlighting a dire need for interfaith dialogue and harmony impressed me greatly. President Obama is lucky to have her on his side at a time when U.S. is aspiring to rebuild its image globally and looking for partners to ‘give peace a chance.’ Her vision and guidance will surely prove to be a valuable asset for this administration.
Here is the transcript of Hasan Abbas’ interview with Hillary clinton as it originally appears on his blog watandost.

HASSAN ABBAS: During your recent visit to Pakistan, you won the hearts of many through your courageous outreach — visiting Badshahi mosque, participating in television talk shows, interacting with students at country’s premier educational institution Government College Lahore, and most importantly going to the mausoleum of Mohammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who gave the idea of Pakistan. Even those who are critical of the U.S. policy were appreciative of these gestures and it served an important message to those Pakistani politicians also who are not in touch with masses. What were the signs of hope that you gauged during this visit?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, the resilience and the courage of the Pakistani people. Everywhere I went, I met people who are speaking out and standing up and working hard, and that was extremely moving to me. I also felt like both the civilian government and the military leadership understood that the threat they faced had to be addressed. And I thought that was very promising, because the terrorist threat to Pakistanis growing and it’s intense and it can only be defeated by the Pakistani people coming together and rejecting it, in the first instance, trying to present a different narrative than the one that the terrorists are putting forth, using military force where they must, but mostly by developing the democratic institutions, by developing the country, clearly demonstrating that Pakistan has no room for those who want to tear down, because the Pakistan people want to build.

HASSAN ABBAS: During the said trip you also visited police offices in Islamabad to pay tribute to the sacrifices rendered by police officials in the fight against extremism. You are the first and so far the only foreign leader visiting Pakistan who thought of this. It is becoming clear in Pakistan that the country will not be able to win this battle especially in areas like Punjab and Karachi unless its law enforcement and police forces are reformed and upgraded. I must confess that this topic is of special interest to me as before my academic career in the U.S., I was a police official in Pakistan. Also Pakistan army cannot be expected to fight everywhere in the country. In this context, will the U.S. be supporting police and law enforcement reform agenda in Pakistan?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we would be honored to do so, because I agree with you that the police truly are on the front lines. They often have to deal with the rush of violence that comes in cities or towns and they don’t have the support they need, they don’t often have the equipment that they need. And as you say, I met a number of police officers, both in Lahore and in Islamabad, who are very committed, but under-resourced. And I am more than happy to consider any request from the Pakistani Government to help the police force, because I agree completely that they’re the front line of defense.

HASSAN ABBAS: Thank you very much. I am sure this would make a headline in Pakistan. I have been in touch with many of my former colleagues in the country and during my research on the subject, I found that Pakistan police is one of the very few organizations in the country where there is an internal institutional effort for reform. I hope your message of support in this sphere will be welcomed and appreciated in Pakistan. My next question is about U.S. relations with the Muslim world. This U.S. administration has certainly set a new tone of dialogue, reconciliation and respect in this realm. President Obama’s speeches in Turkey and Cairo were absolutely great and gave the right message to the Muslim audiences around the world. What is the follow-up on that? What are the next stages of that relationship?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, it’s a great question because we’ve been working very hard on follow-up, and I recently attended a conference in Marrakesh, Morocco where we announced a number of follow-up actions. The one that was just embraced wholeheartedly was the idea of science envoys. I said at the time that much of the science that we take for granted today was really discovered and refined in prior times by Islamic scholars and scientists. And from astronomy to algebra, there’s so much that we owe to the Muslim world, and there needs now to be a renewed emphasis on science, which is not incompatible with religion, and therefore, we’re going to be sending Nobel science prize winners, former heads of the National Academy of Sciences, and so many others to visit universities and governments to try to rekindle that with our help.

We’re also investing in more English language education programs. We’re investing in more business programs, entrepreneurship programs. We’re going to start a series of interfaith dialogues. There will be a lot of follow-up to Cairo because we have had such demand and we’re going to try to meet it.

HASSAN ABBAS: You are known for your cordial relationship with Pakistani diaspora in the U.S. There is a large Muslim diaspora in the U.S. which I believe can act as a bridge between the U.S. and the Muslim world. Which are the other Muslim diaspora groups in the U.S. that you feel encouraged about and which can play a positive role?

SECRETARY CLINTON:  That’s a great question. Well, I do believe that the Palestinian diaspora has been galvanized around economic development. A number of my Palestinian American friends are making investments in the West Bank because the security has improved so much, thanks to the good work of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. So there is a rather dramatic increase in the economic activity in the West Bank which many American Palestinians are investing in. There are a number of Indian Muslims who are very involved in interfaith and other outreach activities. I do a lot of work with the Bangladeshi community, which is not as involved as the Pakistani community has been in academia or in professional activity, but is really at the grassroots in a lot of countries — or a lot of cities in our country. So I think those are some examples of what we’re working on.

HASSAN ABBAS: My last question is about India-Pakistan relations. The United States has said many times that it would like to facilitate better India-Pakistan relations and I think there’s no doubt about the sincerity of that purpose. But of course, U.S. has its limitations in terms of how much it can do to bring both parties on the table and perhaps India is not very comfortable with the idea of third party mediation because of its stature, and reasons of history. However, President Obama made an interesting statement on the subject during his recent visit to China. European Union also is interested in playing a role in this arena.

Do you think there might be some possibility in future that E.U., China, and United States altogether can take an initiative to bring Pakistan and India together and help them resolve their differences. We continuously hear that peace in the Af-Pak region is considered the most critical issue for the global security concerns. A global approach hence can be relevant. Do you think such an international effort can work?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it could be a guarantor or it could be a positive force for implementation. But I think that the impetus must come from the two countries themselves. And at some point, both countries might say we’ve gotten as far as we can get therefore we need some support, we need some new energy. But we have to start with the two countries and with their commitment to pursuing this dialogue first.


(Mr Hassan Abbas is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society in New York and a senior advisor at the Belfer Center, Harvard Kennedy School. Opinion expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of PKonweb)

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Gen Ashfaq Kayani Asks US to Stop Drone Strikes

PKonweb Monitor

New York: Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has urged the United States to stop the drone strikes, saying it was proving counter productive and creating a negative impact on the global ‘war on terror’.

The new Afghan policy envisages expansion of drone strikes inside Pakistan including Balochistan, but the Washington administration and the Pentagon are indecisive on this matter.

During his meeting with CENTCOM (US Central Command) Chief Gen David Petraeus, who is currently on a visit to Islamabad, Kayani also raised the issue of India’s alleged involvement in destabilization Pakistan through Afghanistan.

Several issues such as the Pak-US defense and Army relations, the security scenario in the whole region, war against terrorism, US policy concerning drone attacks in the country, US’ new Afghan Policy came under discussions during the meeting.

General Petraeus also assuaged Pakistan’s concerns over the Obama administration’s plans of expanding drone strikes in the country.

He added that the US strategy for Afghanistan would not affect Pakistan.

In a separate meeting with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Petraeus briefed the former regarding the revamped Afghan strategy.

During the meeting Gilani welcomed Obama’s affirmation of strong ties between the two countries and said Pakistan and the US share the common strategic objectives for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan as well as combating terrorism.

Posted in Balochistan, News, Politics, USAComments (0)

MERAY MUTABIQ With Dr. Shahid Masood on Geo: Dec 13

Decisive war in Afghanistan, Pakistan in the eye of the storm, crisis of leadership, Zardari’s future. Guests: Gen. (R) Hameed Gul (Former DG ISI), Lt. Gen. (R) Asad Durrani (Former DG ISI), Muhammad Saleh Zafir (Analyst)..

Posted in Meray Mutabiq, Talk ShowsComments (0)

Zardari on His Own After US Pulls Support

By Shaheen Sehbai

WASHINGTON: The (US) State Department, specifically Hillary Clinton, has almost categorically declared that they are no longer interested in saving President Asif Ali Zardari if he falls in his current battle for survival, waging in the superior courts of Pakistan. But the message Pakistanis have been sent is to get over with the in-house turmoil and transition as quickly as possible to stabilise the democratic system and focus on the war on terror.

When Ms Clinton claims that she has “no preferences” in Pakistan, it is a clear signal that Zardari is no longer the choice and Washington would shed no tears if he was to be consumed by the current judicial and accountability process. Clinton and all other spokesmen, however, stress repeatedly that they want the system to continue and make its own corrections.

This message from Washington is also accompanied by a quiet but significant reshuffle within the Obama administration, especially dealing the AfPak policy. Richard Holbrooke, who was the point man and spearhead, is no longer in that driving seat and others are calling the shots.

There is a strong feeling that many assessments and evaluations of Holbrooke about Pakistan, Zardari, the Chief Justice and Mian Nawaz Sharif turned out to be wrong and Washington had to face the embarrassment finding itself on the wrong side of the fence and the popular tide.

The Holbrooke camp in the State Department, insiders revealed, was banking too much on the assessments and claims of some Pakistani diplomats and pro-Zardari analysts in the US think tanks. The views of these people were given too much weight while other voices which differed were stifled. Thus a policy emerged, which was based on biased opinions and wishful thinking of some excited diplomats who saw Pakistani politics from their own prism while sitting away from the country and refusing to even visit the actual ground to know the new realities emerging there.

There was a big section of policymakers at Foggy Bottom, the nick name for the State Department, who were worried about the independent analysis and comments in the Pakistani media, which differed widely with the assessments of Pakistanis living in Washington. These media analysts were trashed and rubbished before the US officials but when things started to happen as predicted by these media pundits, officials were taken by surprise.

The unexpected release of the lists of the corrupt with an officially certified stamp shocked many. Despite political pressures on bureaucrats, especially in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and FIA, the lists were not trimmed or tailored and even details of dirty money were given to the superior courts, which left an impression in Washington that the grip of the Zardari group had weakened and some other power centres were playing a balancing and much-needed stabilising role from behind the scene.

According to an informed insider, the National Security team of President Obama was often found wondering what was going on as President Zardari was showing a bewildering lack of interest in running the country when major military operations were launched against the terrorists in Swat, Malakand and Waziristan.

“At times, they were so baffled they would ask us where our president was as his foreign tours were never ending and even the itinerary was not officially announced. So when one leg of the tour would end, officials would be wondering where the president might pop up now. In one visit while he was leaving the US, he did not return to Islamabad for 16 days and was flying off to unannounced destinations, mostly for business deals,” a source, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

All this lack of focus and attention, coupled with the growing political and media clamour to chop some heads for massive corruption, which had re-emerged as issue number one after the Zardari regime failed to handle the NRO in parliament and the courts kept insisting that they would not allow this bad law to survive, the Washington minds started changing fast, sources say.

The main issue worrying the US policymakers has been how quick and smooth the transition would be, if Zardari was knocked out of the system by the courts or his powers were substantially cut, how much stress and strain the democratic set-up would be subjected to and whether it would survive the shocks. More importantly, who would be the major players to step up and take charge to keep the system going while dealing with the aftershocks of a Zardari knockout.

Insiders say for a while the US leadership was looking at Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as a stabilising factor because he had maintained his liaison with the opposition leader Mian Nawaz Sharif while keeping himself away, tactfully, from the damage the scrapping of the NRO would cause within the top PPP leadership.

But with the Zardari camp getting prematurely restless, or pre-emptively striking first, and launching the Sindh Card under the garb of a Topi campaign, US thinkers and evaluators are worried that the transition would not be non-violent. They think Gilani would not be allowed to take charge unless he continued to play second fiddle to Zardari but that would not change the equation.

The Sindh Card is not considered as a major threat in Washington because whatever rumpus has been generated by loyal friends and cronies of the president has been limited only to these few individuals and none of the mainstream PPP leaders have joined the Topi-Ajrak campaign. Gathering a few hundred or a few thousand people on the roads is not considered to be a major sign of success, given the support and backing of the administrative machinery. It is also viewed as a sign of weakness that people like Zulfikar Mirza, one of the top three accomplices of Zardari, has been shouting threats and warnings at the media and other individuals, without apparently any serious provocation. “The sense of insecurity appears to be much greater than it actually may be,” was one comment.

In this scenario, the sudden U-turn by President Zardari to turn to Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, a hitherto shunned and discarded leader of the PPP, has also caught the attention of US decision makers. The top think tanks in Washington have kept a close eye on the career of Chaudhry Aitzaz for a long time and at every time of leadership crisis in the PPP, he has been weighed and assessed as an alternative. So again, he has come on the radar at this time as he is seen as a uniter and not a divider like Zardari.

An important member of the think tank community revealed an interesting episode with Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan in mid 2006 when he was visiting Washington and suddenly there was an interest in the decision makers to meet and assess him as a potential leader for Pakistan. At that time, General Musharraf was strong and looking for options to strike a deal with PPP minus Benazir. The meeting was arranged by some friends of Ahsan at a Virginia home and some 10-12 top think tank guys and some 2-3 mysterious but serious looking fellows with some funny visiting cards also turned up to talk to this barrister from Pakistan. An eyewitness said it was like a 90-minute job interview for Pakistan’s top slot and Chaudhry Aitzaz impressed everyone.

But there was a problem in that session, the eyewitness recalled. “A former PPP senator who drove Mr Ahsan to the interview site was also present and the US guys had not anticipated his presence. So the talk was mostly general and Chaudhry Aitzaz was very guarded. As expected, the news quickly traveled to Benazir Bhutto who was reportedly very angry with Aitzaz Ahsan. More such sessions were also planned by the US side but whether they materialised later is not known.

Given such US interest in Aitzaz, it may not be beyond the capacity of Zardari’s handlers in Washington or this side of the Atlantic that they may have pushed him to patch up with Aitzaz Ahsan as a consensus candidate to keep the democratic system going while he himself may be forced to take a back seat if the excited courts and judges knock him out of the real power game. Their real interest is that a stable, credible and effectively political and democratic government runs Pakistan and helps them fight the AfPak war. Mr Zardari, it appears, has been written off, as he cannot deliver this US target.  (The News)

Posted in News, Politics, USAComments (0)

Climate Change Can Topple Governments

By Anjum Niaz

The Pakistan army may shun a coup; the US army may not. Or if the 17-member bench of the Supreme Court fails to trigger a government change, worry not, climate change can! According to the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, climate change can topple governments; feed terrorist movements and destabilise entire regions. Climate change is therefore the matrix for corruption and terrorism. Pakistan is being warned of the possibility of a US intervention. What’s heat got to do with it? What’s drought got to do with it? What’s an inept ruler got to do with it?

"It gets real complicated real quickly," said Amanda Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for strategy, working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning. The prospect of famines, drought, floods, mass migration and storms caused by climate change can gun-trigger the American military to enter our territory.

Last August prophets of climate change warned the world that ’shaky’ countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan will become a ‘hotbed of terrorism,’ if not the future headquarters of Al Qaeda, should drought, deluge, earthquakes, pestilence, mass migration (read population explosion) and various other natural disasters occur. The US military has been alerted and Las Vegas (of all the places!) is the epicentre of strategists getting exercised over Pakistan facing the prospects of famine, water crisis and pestilence. The military in America will respond.

Remember what Dick Cheney said: "If there’s a 1 per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response." The then vice-president spoke of a new type of threat from Pakistan: a ‘low-probability, high-impact event.’

Senator Kerry is paying serious attention to the National Intelligence Council (the source of US security intelligence) warnings that scourges like ‘poverty, environmental degradation and the weakening of national governments,’ are hot button issues screaming for action.

America may have unilaterally given itself the authority for ‘military intervention’ should a natural or man-made catastrophe was to hit Pakistan. In the 2005 earthquake, the then American ambassador Ryan Crocker planned taking charge of relief efforts. He convinced Musharraf that the Americans could do a better job than the Pakistanis. Crocker and his team of army men landed at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat to set up their disaster management headquarters. "Big beefy colonels toting their cell phones and walkie-talkies roamed the corridors barking orders at us," an eyewitness told me. "We were running like scared chickens trying not to get trampled." Fortunately, saner voices prevailed and the Americans were finally told to vacate the premises.

When the army action began in Swat this summer, the American embassy in Islamabad again approached Prime Minister Gilani. Ambassador Anne Patterson offered to help with the logistics. The NWFP government invited the US to help them with the IDPs (internally displaced persons). A junket was organised by the Humanitarian Dialogue for the politicians and non-governmental organisations from NWFP and FATA in Geneva.

The press release from Geneva said: "Participants were able to reach a consensus that effective humanitarian delivery depends on a transparent and structured dialogue with militant actors by humanitarian agencies with the full knowledge, support and agreement of the government."

Pakistan signed away its sovereign rights to the UN agencies, allowing them unhindered access to the militants.

Today the UN conference on climate change is taking place in Copenhagen as is the surge of US troops in Afghanistan. Connect the dots for a complete picture. ‘Af-Pak’ will pop out. That’s target 2010!

(The article first appeared in The News Intl. Views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of PKonweb)

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Pakistan’s Window of Hope

By Syed Talat Hussain

The American road-ahead policy presents Pakistan with a unique all-round policy opportunity to shape the strategic environment in Afghanistan, close festering sources of terrorism in tribal areas, and most crucially, regain broad-based clout with Washington. In other words, the ambitious multiple agenda the US has set for itself in Afghanistan, and partly also in the borders areas of Pakistan, provides exceptional room for Pakistan to make strong purposeful manoeuvres to earn solid diplomatic gains.

Take Afghanistan’s internal challenges first. Even though the US has lowered the bar for its nation-building stride, still it is committed to a tall order. In just under two years, endemic corruption has to be rooted out, drug lords’ formidable empire has to be torn down, and the economy has to be built-up and made self-sufficient. This is not all. In this tight time-frame, administrative efficiency has to reach a level where all of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts must have, in the words of General James Jones, the national security advisor, “economic development, good governance, and security”. Also included in the dreamland of benchmarks are “good and competent governors” for all the 34 provinces of the country.

It would be a miracle if even a fraction of this wish list comes true, especially by a weak and politically emaciated president whose second term election President Obama believes was marred by fraud. But Pakistan should resist the temptation of being the Jeremiah, the prophet of doom. Nor prepare to dance with vicarious joy in the event that the situation in Afghanistan defies Washington’s hopefulness. Instead it should, and seriously, partner in these efforts regardless of whether these are doomed to failure or destined for success. It is obvious that to make the first review of the progress in Afghanistan — in the middle of next year perhaps — a worthwhile exercise, the Obama administration will pull every stop to bring about visible change in all these indicators. Therefore, Washington is likely to be far more receptive to productive suggestions on pursuing its development agenda from other countries than it has been so far. Pakistan can step in with plans that enhance Afghans’ capacity to move in the right direction — infrastructure, education, agriculture, irrigation, basic science, technology, water management or many of the dozens of areas where it has expertise to proffer.

Much of Pakistan’s soft clout in Afghanistan in the coming months would be shaped by its ability to tag along with the world’s nation-building efforts. If Islamabad baulks at becoming a strong and willing partner in these, others would fill the gap.

Helping rebuild the Afghan National Security Force, the army and the Afghan National Police, is another area Pakistan ought to eye for gaining goodwill and diplomatic ground in Afghanistan. Many of Islamabad’s objections to the conduct of the Afghan National Army (ANA) deployed on the border with Pakistan are sound. The ANA has lived up to its reputation of being a force viscerally hostile to Pakistan. Elements from the erstwhile Northern Alliance dominate the ANA. Its members are mostly Darri and Persian speaking. They have been trained over the past many years to mistreat Pashtuns, which is part of the problem in Afghanistan.
While this history makes them structurally inimical to Pakistan, the fact remains that for the Obama administration to build a truly national army, the institution’s ethnic imbalance shall have to be rectified.

Pashtuns, former Taliban, even the personal armies of warlords, have to be integrated into the national army to become viable and take over responsibility of stabilising Afghanistan and paving the way for the start of the pull out of US troops. It is not known yet how much Washington would be willing to allow the Pakistan army to team up in efforts to train the ANA. However, for an Afghan force to be functional and effective in the south and the east of Afghanistan, its ethnic composition has to be such that Pakistan’s contribution to its training must be welcomed in any serious effort in building it up along strong durable lines. At any rate, Pakistan must make a solid gesture on this project: ditto should be done on Afghan police reforms. Remember, Pakistan cannot afford to be left out of the efforts to create institutions that would play a critical role in defining Afghanistan’s trajectory in the coming months. Also, international confidence that an Afghan national security force has come of age will help endorse Pakistan’s long-standing argument that the prospects of durable peace are inversely related to foreign troop level in Afghanistan. They will have to leave for peace to be fully restored and the Afghan resistance to be neutralised politically. Then there is the issue of safe havens inside North Waziristan and the presence of the Quetta Shura in Balochistan. On the face of it, the room for agreement between Washington and Islamabad is the least on this benchmark. US officials believe removing these sanctuaries is the first and foremost task to bring about a strategic shift in violence in Afghanistan. Members of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment see the ‘safe havens’ refrain a stratagem Washington and its allies use to hide their long and spectacular military failure inside Afghanistan to stem the rising tide of the resistance. Beneath this mutual recrimination, however, lies the hard fact that Pakistan and the US have consistently cooperated with each other in combating cross-border movement of the Taliban. Their military operations, not always conceived in perfect harmony, have seen both parties alternately play the hammer and the anvil to smash and squeeze the militants moving across. In the last surge-related operation in Helmand, Pakistan ended up sealing a long stretch of the border with Afghanistan to disallow any spillover effect. A much deeper and wider cooperation will be required to manage far bigger and bloodier operations in the coming weeks.

It is in Pakistan’s core national interest to ensure that safe havens do not become Washington’s excuse for pinning the blame for poor performance in the battles with the Taliban on us. It also serves Pakistan’s paramount security concerns that the wild militant groups in the tribal belt are brought under the heel. The new and vicious wave of urban terrorism has rendered useless the distinction between North and South Waziristan militancy. Government officials themselves admit that much of this terrorism is now flowing out of Mir Ali. This is where Wali ur Rehman, Hakeemullah Mehsud and the other big fish are. Cleaning up this area is critical to making operation Rah-e-Nijat relevant to securing the people from the game of death the terrorists are playing. A hard hit at these safe havens will also take the US pressure off Pakistan and give Islamabad and Washington time to plan about the Quetta Shura.

Pakistani policy makers have a substantial window of opportunity to make wise choices — something they did not do when George W Bush and his neo-con cabal were sending forces into Afghanistan. Pervez Musharraf’s thoughtlessness landed the country in a heap of unintended problems. This nation cannot afford a repeat of a similar mistake now that Washington is seriously thinking about going home.

(The article first appeared in the Daily Times)

Posted in Afghanistan, Editor's Choice, Syed Talat HussainComments (0)

Strategy and War in Pakistan and Afghanistan

By Ahsan Butt

On the heels of today’s devastating attack in Lahore, which killed 45 people and injured about one hundred, we were treated to a front page article in the NYT that would be of interest to many Pakistanis. The article describes the Obama administration’s efforts to cajole the Pakistan government and military to "do more". In essence, the message that has been delivered is: do the job, or get out of the way. The administration has explicitly threatened drone strikes in Quetta and boots on the ground in FATA if Pakistan doesn’t act against those actors that threaten Afghanistan and allied forces, but not Pakistan directly. On cue, the NYT editorial page joins in the fun, and urges Pakistani military and civilian leaders to realize that this war is for the nation’s survival, and that more must be done in confronting the so-called Afghan Taliban. Well, I love a good lecture from the NYT any time I can get one, so I’m grateful for that. But let’s deal with some of the questions that this set of events has engendered.

1. What exactly will it take for opinion-makers and decision-makers in the West to draw a connection between their strategies and the enormous physical toll on Pakistan? To be clear, I am not arguing for or against particular strategies. What am I arguing for is a comprehensive evaluation of the implications of various theories of war and conflict. The NYT and Obama administration both have a theory of this war, and that’s fine; everybody does, and who’s to say, prima facie, who’s right and who’s wrong? But surely — surely — there should be some allusion to what Pakistanis are going through right now? Some signal that the some two and half thousand deaths in the last two years, the nearly five hundred dead in the last two months, somehow, some way, factor into the calculus?

The NYT editorial comes close, when discussing why the military doesn’t strike against the Taliban in Balochistan when it says "In part, they are hesitating because of legitimate fears of retaliation." But why, pray tell, are these fears legitimate? Doesn’t the NYT bear some responsibility for educating its readers to explain what real retaliation looks like? Real numbers, perhaps? This is not a minor quibble, though it may look like it is to outsiders because I am picking apart at a sentence or two in an entire editorial. The central point remains that people simply have no clue about the lives lost in this war in Pakistan. So let me help you with that:

There are no candlelight vigils, no Facebook groups, and no Fareed Zakaria specials for Pakistani victims of militant violence. To some extent, this is the result of image problems. Pakistan is a "bad actor" in the international system, and as such, deserves little sympathy. After all, wasn’t it Pakistan itself that gave rise to these groups in the first place? Indeed it was. But it is a strange moral and strategic compass that blames women and children shopping at Moon Market for the sins of GHQ and the ISI.

2. Do people understand that Balochistan is an entire problem unto itself? Newsflash, brainiacs at the NYT editorial board: there has been a low level civil war simmering in Balochistan since 2004. This follows the medium level civil war in Balochistan in the mid 1970s. Both times, the military went in, and both times, as the Pakistani military is wont to do, there wasn’t a great deal of demonstrated concern for collateral damage.

The people of Balochistan have been denied basic political and economic rights, both by the central government and their nationalist so-called leaders for fifty years now. The last month has seen significant developments in this conflict, with the center — in the hands of the PPP — presenting a reform package aimed at placating Balochi nationalism, without much success (at least at this early juncture). If you opened a Pakistani newspaper in the last thirty days, you would know this. It has dominated the news, even more so than the Taliban war.

Why do I bring this up? Because launching drone strikes in Balochistan, and the inevitable civilian casualties that will result, will exacerbate this problem in very serious and predictable ways. I feel stupid even writing this. But apparently it is needed.

Here’s how it will play out: Balochi grievances will congeal into both an anti-Pakistan narrative and an anti-anti-Taliban one. The storyline will be that the state has sold out Balochi land to foreign forces, when it wasn’t even theirs to sell. Balochistan has long chafed under the hard-nosed attitude of Pakistani central governments, both military and civilian, toward provincial autonomy and federalism. Can you imagine how it will react if and when Pakistan gives the go-ahead for American drones to strike in Quetta? Or even less ambitiously, can you imagine the military making a foray into Balochistan again? At this time?

Get a clue, NYT.

3. Are the Obama administration’s ultimatums empty threats? I have to say, upon reading the news article for the first time, that’s what I thought. Why? Because surely they know that they cannot do either of the things they are threatening to do if Pakistan does not comply. They can’t use drones without the explicit permission of the Pakistani government; that much is clear from the carefully calibrated ways in which the policy first got underway under the Bush-Musharraf partnership, and expanded considerably under the Obama-Zardari partnership. And they can’t use Special Ops without risking considerable blowback from the Pakistani military especially; the last time it happened, the military leadership let them know in no uncertain terms that it was not on.

So if they can’t do it, why would they threaten to do it? That was my logic the first time I read the piece. And then I sat back, and reflected. And it dawned on me that looking at the credibility of the threat is probably the wrong prism with which to analyze it.

No, what matters more here is the content of the threat: two very big sticks. The Obama administration has seriously broken with the Bush team on this in a significant way. The threats are louder and more ominous, but the sweet talk is gentler and more wide-ranging. While the Bushies generally cared only about the military status quo in the country, we hear time and again from this administration the potential of a broader strategic partnership. The NYT editorial even referenced Obama’s promises of "what one aide described as a partnership of "unlimited potential" in which Washington would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table." Such promises lack the credibility of the threats above, perhaps even more so, but they do an adequate job of conveying a sense of urgency that was, I daresay, absent from the Americans before. Bigger sticks, yes, but also bigger carrots. The logic, I think, is that by raising the stakes of a bad strategic choice by the Pakistani military, you increase the likelihood of a good strategic choice.

Of course, all this assumes that this is a choice, which brings me to…

4. Is the Pakistan military not going after the Afghan Taliban because of a lack of willingness or a lack of ability? I’ve talked about this at length before, but it’s not immediately clear to me why the military is not going after the Afghan Taliban at this point in time. The Americans seem to think it’s because they don’t want to and that they don’t consider them a threat; to the contrary, the Americans believe that the Pakistani military thinks of the Afghan Taliban as a strategic ally in its rivalry with India. And certainly, there is little evidence disproving this hypothesis.

On the other hand, it is an hypothesis that is not falsifiable, at least right now. That is because assuming the military even wanted to, it couldn’t do so. They are mired in a whack-a-mole war right now, jumping from Swat to the wider Malakand division to the northern areas of FATA (Bajaur, Khyber) to South Waziristan. All these operations have been undertaken against sworn enemies of the Pakistani state and groups involved in the killing of Pakistani civilians. In other words, they have their hands full with anti-Pakistan groups, rendering action against anti-US/NATO groups basically impossible. So as things stand, we simply cannot know if this is a matter of intentions or a matter of capabilities.

One piece of idle speculation: why are we so sure that the Pakistani military cannot turn against the Afghan Taliban for now, and then cultivate them later? To be clear, I am not arguing for this position by any stretch. But I do think we need to consider the military’s incentives here.

Consider that the American theory of the military’s goals is that they (the military) want an ally in post NATO Afghanistan, and thus are not acting against the Afghan Taliban right now. But why does that ally have to be this particular incarnation of the Afghan Taliban? Is it not at least plausible that if the Pakistani military leadership really did want to exert influence in Afghanistan through a local proxy, that they could cultivate that proxy at a later time? It’s not as if they don’t have the practice or know-how; hell, they’ve been doing it for nearly twenty years. Why not go after the Afghan Taliban now, satisfy the Americans, and then make a new Afghan Taliban in 2012 to make everyone’s lives miserable?

Make no mistake, such a strategy would make everyone’s lives miserable — both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. But that’s my view, one of a poor pathetic liberal who doesn’t understand the world and the way it works. The Pakistani military could, and probably would, see things differently. So why does everybody assume a logic on behalf of the military that may not hold?

(Ahsan Butt is a PhD student in political science at the University of Chicago and contributes to the blog Five Rupees, where this was originally published. )

Posted in Articles, Balochistan, Blogs, Editor's ChoiceComments (0)

US Allegations and “Do More” Demand Uncalled For

DAWN editorial: “Tiresome and wholly unnecessary is how we would describe the American complaints about Pakistan’s alleged reluctance to act against Al Qaeda militants taking refuge on Pakistani soil. On a day that Pakistan Army officers and their family members were brutally attacked in Rawalpindi, the US consul general in Peshawar thought it fit to allege that the leadership, or some elements thereof, of Al Qaeda, in addition to the Afghan Taliban, has taken refuge in Balochistan and that the authorities here know of their presence in the province. Let us be clear: few could rationally argue that there are no Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan, including Balochistan… What advantage, however perverse, does Pakistan gain from protecting and enabling Al Qaeda?…The Americans need to realize something quite obvious to Pakistanis: publicly aired allegations and threats undermine the position of the US in the country…”

Read all of it at:


Posted in Dawn, EditorialsComments (0)

JAWAB DEYH With Iftikhar Ahmed: Dec 4

Dissecting and making sense out of President Obama’s new Afghan policy, its implications for Pakistan. Guests: Dr Rasool Buksh Raees (Political Science Professor L.U.M.S), Gen (R) Hameed Gul, Najmuddin Shaikh (Ex Foreign Secy)

Posted in Afghanistan, Jawab Deyh, Talk ShowsComments (0)

DUNYA TODAY With Dr. Moeed Pirzada: Dec 4

Obama’s new Afghan policy is military-centric - has no political solution in it. Guests: Tariq Fatemi (Ex-Amb USA & Analyst), Dr. Maleeha Lodhi (Ex-Amb UK & USA), Rustum Shah Muhammad (Ex-Amb Afghanistan)

Posted in Dunya Today, Talk ShowsComments (0)


Prominent political analyst Najam Sethi discusses and analyzes Obama’s new Afghan policy calling it "too little too late". He also takes a dig at its implications for Pakistan..

Posted in Talk Shows, Tonight With Najam SethiComments (0)

Pakistan Only Wants Money & Weapon: Senator Menendez

An influential democratic senator on Friday said that Islamabad was not interested in developing a strategic relationship with the Obama administration in tackling terrorism and is interested only in money and weapons that came through the unconditional aid granted by the US.

“I get no sense that we have a Pakistan strategy. We have been talking about offering them a strategic relationship. They don’t seem to want a strategic relationship,” New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said at a hearing on Afghanistan convened by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“They want the money, they want the equipment, but at the end of the day, they don’t want a relationship that costs them too much,” Menendez said.

Menendez, who is a vocal critic of Obama Administration’s policy on Pakistan, also opposed the idea of providing unconditional aid to the Islamic republic. “It seems to me the more we build up our troops in Afghanistan, the more reliant we become on the Pakistanis for — in a variety of ways. So I just don’t get the sense, at this point in time, of a comprehensive policy that says that I should vote for billions of dollars more to send our sons and daughters in harm’s way in a way that we will ultimately succeed in our national security goals,” he said.

Menendez said that any aid to Pakistan needs to be conditional and be linked with Islamabad’s seriousness and progress made by them in taking action against terrorism. “I hope I can be convinced before that vote comes. But as of right now, I am not,” said Menendez who has authored several legislations and amendments in the US Congress in this regard.

Meanwhile testifying for the second day on Obama’s new war plan, the president’s chief military and diplomatic advisers said Pakistan was a critical component of the strategy.

"We have a lot of work to do in trying to convince them that we’re not trying to take over their country, that we’re not trying to take control of their nuclear weapons, and that we are actually interested in a long-term partnership with them," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Posted in Afghanistan, News, Politics, USAComments (0)

Talk Shows


    Topic: Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict against NRO and its fallout. Guests: Nadeem Afzal Chand (PPPP), Shazia Marri (PPP), Khawaja M. Asif (PML-N), Ahmed Bilal Mehboob (Exec Dir. PILDAT)

  • LATE EDITION With Asma Shirazi on ARY: Dec 16

    Discussion on Supreme court deliberations on NRO and its unanimous verdict against it. Guests: Iqbal Haider, Justice (R) Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, Ch. Aitzaz Ahsan, Senator Prevaiz Rasheed (PML-N)


    Discussion on Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict today against NRO including order to restore all cases, removal and replacement of NAB chairman, reprimand against Malik Qayyum for unauthorized withdrawal of Swiss cases. Guest: Athar Minallah (Sr Atty), Ch Aitzaz Ahsan (Sr Atty)

  • CAPITAL TALK With Hamid Mir on Geo: Dec 16

    Historical day of Dec 16: Fall of Dhaka and NRO verdict. Guests: Justice (R) Fakhruddin G Ibrahim (Ex Judge Supreme Court), Muhammad Afzal Sindhu (State Min. for Law and Justice), Iqbal Haider (Ex- Law Minister), Roedad Khan (Petitioner against NRO), Justice (R) Saeed uz Zama Siddiqui (Ex-CJ SC)

  • OFF the RECORD With Kashif Abbasi on ARY: Dec 16

    Supreme Court’s deliberations on petition against NRO as the nation awaits verdict. Guests: Dr Babar Awan (PPP), Imran Khan (PTI)..

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