Scenic Pakistani valley falls to Taliban militants

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — Taliban militants are beheading and burning their way through Pakistan's picturesque Swat Valley, and residents say the insurgents now control most of the mountainous region far from the lawless tribal areas where jihadists thrive.The deteriorating situation in the former tourist haven comes despite an army offensive that began in 2007 and an attempted peace deal. It is especially worrisome to Pakistani officials because the valley lies outside the areas where al-Qaida and Taliban militants have traditionally operated and where the military is staging a separate offensive."You can't imagine how bad it is," said Muzaffar ul-Mulk, a federal lawmaker whose home in Swat was attacked by bomb-toting assailants in mid-December, weeks after he left. "It's worse day by day."
The Taliban activity in northwest Pakistan also comes as the country shifts forces east to the Indian border because of tensions over last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai, potentially giving insurgents more space to maneuver along the Afghan frontier.Militants began preying on Swat's lush mountain ranges about two years ago, and it is now too dangerous for foreign and Pakistani journalists to visit. Interviews with residents, lawmakers and officials who have fled the region paint a dire picture.A suicide blast killed 40 people Sunday at a polling station in Buner, an area bordering Swat that had been relatively peaceful. The attack underscored fears that even so-called "settled" regions presumptively under government control are increasingly unsafe.The 3,500-square-mile Swat Valley lies less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad.A senior government official said he feared there could be a spillover effect if the government lost control of Swat and allowed the insurgency to infect other areas. Like nearly everyone interviewed, the official requested anonymity for fear of reprisal by militants.
Officials estimate that up to a third of Swat's 1.5 million people have left the area. Salah-ud-Din, who oversees relief efforts in Swat for the International Committee of the Red Cross, estimated that 80 percent of the valley is now under Taliban control.Swat's militants are led by Maulana Fazlullah, a cleric who rose to prominence through radio broadcasts demanding the imposition of a harsh brand of Islamic law. His appeal tapped into widespread frustration with the area's inefficient judicial system.Most of the insurgents are easy to spot with long hair, beards, rifles, camouflage vests and running shoes. They number at most 2,000, according to people who were interviewed.In some places, just a handful of insurgents can control a village. They rule by fear: beheading government sympathizers, blowing up bridges and demanding women wear all-encompassing burqas.
They have also set up a parallel administration with courts, taxes, patrols and checkpoints, according to lawmakers and officials. And they are suspected of burning scores of girls' schools.In mid-December, Taliban fighters killed a young member of a Sufi-influenced Muslim group who had tried to raise a militia against them. The militants later dug up Pir Samiullah's corpse and hung it for two days in a village square — partly to prove to his followers that he was not a superhuman saint, a security official said on condition of anonymity.A lawmaker and the senior Swat government official said business and landowners had been told to give two-thirds of their income to the militants. Some local media reported last week that the militants have pronounced a ban on female education effective in mid-January.
Several people interviewed said the regional government made a mistake in May when it struck a peace deal with the militants. The agreement fell apart within two months but let the insurgents regroup.The Swat insurgency also includes Afghan and other fighters from outside the valley, security officials said.Any movement of Pakistani troops from the Swat Valley and tribal areas to the Indian border will concern the United States and other Western countries, which want Pakistan to focus on the al-Qaida threat near Afghanistan.On Friday, Pakistani intelligence officials said thousands of troops were being shifted toward the border with India, which blames Pakistani militants for terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month that killed 164 people. But there has been no sign yet of a major buildup near India.
"The terrorists' aim in Mumbai was precisely this — to get the Pakistani army to withdraw from the western border and mount operations on the east," said Ahmed Rashid, a journalist and author who has written extensively about militancy in the region."The terrorists are not going to be sitting still. They are not going to be adhering to any sort of cease-fire while the army takes on the Indian threat. They are going to occupy the vacuum the army will create."Residents and officials from the Swat Valley were critical of the army offensive there, saying troops appeared to be confined to their posts and often killed civilians when firing artillery at suspected militant targets.The military has deployed some 100,000 troops through the northwest.
A government official familiar with security issues estimated that some 10,000 paramilitary and army troops had killed 300 to 400 militants in Swat since 2007, while about 130 troops were killed. Authorities have not released details of civilian casualties, and it was unclear if they were even being tallied.The official, who insisted on anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, disputed assertions that militants had overrun the valley, but said a spotty supply line was hampering operations. He said the army had to man some Swat police stations because the police force there had been decimated by desertions and militant killings.A Swat militant boasted that "we are doing our activities wherever we want, and the army is confined to their living places.""They cannot move independently like us," said the man, who was reached over the phone and gave his name as Muzaffarul Haq. He claimed the Swat militants had no al-Qaida or foreign connections, but that they supported all groups that shared the goal of imposing Islamic law."With the grace of Allah, there is no dearth of funds, weapons or rations," he said. "Our women are providing cooked food for those who are struggling in Allah's path. Our children are getting prepared for jihad."


President Asif Ali Zardari has pleaded for dialogue to fight terrorism in South Asia but told India not to push Islamabad too hard for action against extremists one month after the Mumbai attacks. In an emotional speech delivered on Saturday on the first anniversary of the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto, he said Pakistan would fight the "cancer" of extremism. His comments came as the United States, Russia and other nations tried to defuse tension between Pakistan and India, which escalated due to statements of Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and even head of Congress Sonia Gandhi. On Friday, officials in Islamabad announced that troops had been moved to the border after the news that there were movements of the Indian army in Rajasthan sector, sending the message loud and clear that Pakistan is ready to meet any eventuality. India has named Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for Mumbai carnage and accused Islamabad of not doing enough to clamp down on it. President Zardari, however, firmly rejected the notion and said: "We have non-state actors. Yes, they are forcing an agenda on us but we shall take action against them because we need it, not because you want it." Earlier, Pranab Mukherjee had demanded of Pakistan "to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and return Indian fugitives hiding in the country. It should fulfill its commitments and must take action against terrorists operating from its soil". He also said that option of unilateral attack was open. Perhaps Indian leadership is under the wrong impression that Pakistan will take it lying down, as Pakistan has not downed any drone despite issuing warnings to NATO. But India is neither a super power nor a partner in war on terror that 'margin' could be given. Nor Pakistan is Afghanistan that any country can do the carpet bombing or surgical strike as demanded by some irresponsible elements in India. In fact the entire thrust of Indian leaders, its think tanks, the US and the West was to bring Pakistan's premier agency into disrepute on the false pretext that it is a state within state. Their real motive is to weaken the ISI and the army, which they consider the main hurdle in their scheme of things and plans for the region. Since allies of the US are not willing to die in Afghanistan, the US is constrained to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. But the US was looking for mercenary army, and according to reports India has offered to send 150,000 troops to Afghanistan. In return, the US wants to establish India as a regional and a global power to look after its interests in the region. Mumbai carnage of 26th November appears to be a ploy to pressurize Pakistan to accept India's hegemony over its neighbours especially Pakistan. When they talk of neutralizing Pakistan's nuclear deterrent, their intent is clear. The US, its allies and India are watching Pakistani leadership, and if it shows any weakness they will continue to pressurize Pakistan more and more. Anyhow, they failed in their objective to bring ISI under civilian rule or reduce its importance. Perhaps our leaders have understood that weakening the premier agency means weakening the army and consequently Pakistan. In fact, Indian leadership's posturing has been the result of Pakistan foreign office's defensive approach in the past. After suicide attack on Marriot Hotel, Pakistan did not even mention that RAW could be involved in the incident. And recently an important government functionary said that Pakistani non-state actors were involved in Marriot Hotel Islamabad attack, thus giving the clean chit to India that it was not involved. But after 26th November's Mumbai terrorist attack, there was a coordinated action by leaders of ruling and opposition parties in their media 'blitz' on Pakistan.
Source.Frontier Post

BENAZIR BHUTTO:Nation remembers her...

Even her foes must be missing her woefully at this point in time. Late Benazir Bhutto did have her infirmities; after all, a human being she was, whereas infallibility and perfection are exclusively the divine attributes. But she had political instincts that were sharp and strong; she had a vision that was profound and imaginative; creative and constructive she was in her thinking; and her faculties of intellect were tremendous. For her extensive erudition and intimate knowledge, she was well versed with the intricacies of the global politics, too. And a public figure of world status she also was. She thus had all the intrinsic qualities of leadership to steer the nation out of the crises it presently is enmeshed in so direly domestically and internationally. Blighted by colossal personal tragedies and constantly haunted by scheming establishments, she had had a grueling lifetime. A military dictator hanged her revered father in a judicial murder; and her two loving brothers died unnatural deaths. And a woebegone, grieving mother she had to tend on. All the while, military dictators kept hounding her, slapping on her an unending train of detentions, incarcerations, exiles and what not. And the intriguing establishments cut short her two stints in office in collusion with pliant politicos and kept hounding her. Yet she held on, braving the vicissitudes of her circumstances unyieldingly and defying surrender to the Byzantine machinations of the powers-that-be. She did get suck into the politics of confrontation and vendetta of the 1980s and the 1990s, but not volitionally. And victimized she was; victimizer she was not. Instinctively, she was a compassionate person. And of indomitable will. Though a woman, she was a real man in spirit, grit, determination and resilience. After her father's death, his opponents cried doom of his Pakistan People's Party. Adieu PPP, they gloated. She made them to lick the spit. Together with her mother, a youthful Benazir lifted the party's demoralised and distraught rank and file from the abyss of despondency, rid it of the obstructionist fossils and meticulously nursed its budding young blood to transform the PPP into a formidable, kicking political force of the country. And with this reinvigorated party, she triumphantly rode into office in the 1988 poll to become the first Muslim female, and the youngest, chief executive, not just in this country, but in the entire Muslim world. Recognition as a powerful voice for democracy and against dictatorship flowed in torrentially for her from near and afar. She did draw flak, and lot of it, at home for shaking hands with military ruler General Musharraf. But the fact also stands undeniably that it was this handshake that made for the return of democracy to the country, for the evenly fought fairly transparent and free elections, for the resultant emergence of representative legislatures and governments, and the eventual exit of military dictator General Musharraf who many had thought was there to stay for long times to come. On this sad day a year ago, the accursed terrorist assassin's bullet snuffed her out, imparting this grief on a nation that had reverentially and in great indebtedness celebrated just two days earlier the 131st birthday anniversary of its founder, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, an unparalleled leader and an inimitable visionary, who envisioned Pakistan as a moderate, tolerant and forward-looking polity, in which constitutionalism would prevail and extremism will have no place. The assassin may have eliminated her physically. But her spirit will live on. And she will always be remembered by the people of this country, both by her admirers and critics alike.

Taliban ban to keep 40,000 girls from schools in Swat

Taliban ban to keep 40,000 girls from schools in Swat

* Locals say they are helpless, have no option but to accede to Taliban pressure

PESHAWAR: The future of around 40,000 girls in Swat is at stake following a Taliban ban on education for female students.

Shah Duran, the deputy of Swat-based Taliban cleric Fazlullah, has warned the administrations of government and private educational institutions to not enrol girls in schools.

The Taliban on Wednesday issued a deadline for January 15 for the ban to be implemented, following which they said they would bomb the buildings of schools allowing girls to study.

The Taliban have blown up more than 100 girls’ schools in Swat in the past 14 months.

Helpless: Locals say they are helpless and have no other option but to accede to the Taliban’s pressure as the government has failed to provide them with securuty.

“This is terrible,” the principal of a private school in Mingora told Daily Times, requesting that the name of his school should not be mentioned as that would risk his life and property.

He said the Taliban decision had proved that the government had lost its writ in the valley. “This is the question of the future of our children. The Taliban decision will throw more than 40,000 girls out of schools,” he said.

He said the school owners in Swat district were planning to convene a meeting and form a committee with the help of elders to have dialogue with the Taliban.

The announcement has stamped the statement of Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Haji Muhammad Adeel who had told a seminar in Peshawar a fortnight ago that the government had lost control over Swat.

A social worker said people had already started migrating from Swat following threats by the Taliban.

“Things are changing dramatically. We cannot say anything because the people and the whole government is helpless before the armed people,” he said.

The man said his three daughters were studying at an English medium school. He had no other option but to shift his family to some other area to educate his children, he added.

Schools are the most vulnerable target since the beginning of trouble in Swat. According to figures provided by a Swat-based non-government organisation, Pakistan Coalitions for Education (PCE), Taliban have destroyed over 100 of the 490 primary schools for girls in Swat so far.

The destruction of schools and recent threats to teachers and students have forced over 50,000 girls out of schools, the PCE figures said.

Pakistan Says Banned Group Helped Plan Attack on Hotel

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Sunni Muslim extremist group believed to have been involved in the 2002 abduction and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl helped carry out the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad three months ago that killed more than 50 people, according to a top Pakistani official.

The official, Rehman Malik, the government’s senior interior adviser, said that the group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which was banned by Pakistan in 2001 and classified by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, helped organize the Sept. 20 bombing, which deeply shook the confidence of Pakistanis by demonstrating that extremists could perpetrate large-scale attacks close to the seat of power in Islamabad, the capital.

Mr. Malik’s comments on the bombing to the Pakistani National Assembly on Monday represented the first time that the government had formally laid blame for the attack with a specific organization. He had previously suggested that Taliban militants operating from Pakistan’s lawless western tribal lands might have been behind the bombing.Mr. Malik also told the legislators that two men from Toba Tek Singh in Punjab Province had been taken into custody and that the investigation was complete.

According to an investigator, a man associated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi drove the truck used in the bombing from the town of Jhang, where it had been loaded with explosives, to Islamabad, where the keys were given to a suicide bomber.

The motive for the attack was hatred for Americans, said the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy involved in the inquiry. Other officials have speculated that the bombing was in retaliation for airstrikes in Taliban-held western tribal areas by remotely controlled American planes, or for recent Pakistani military operations against militants there.

The driver drove the truck to Islamabad slowly, according to the investigator, making frequent stops to avoid detection. Once in Islamabad, he gave the keys to the suicide bomber, a 22-year-old Afghan named Zakirullah, who drove the truck to the hotel, the investigator said.The militants chose the Marriott as the target because they thought a large number of American marines were staying there, but most of the marines had checked out the day before the attack, the investigator said. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has long had a reputation for carrying out bloody attacks, especially against Shiite Muslims in Pakistan. In 2003, when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell designated the group as a foreign terrorist organization, he said that its involvement in the kidnapping and killing of Mr. Pearl, a Wall Street Journal correspondent, in 2002 “has been confirmed.”

Peshawar Schools under attack
The militants have once more demonstrated that the city of Peshawar is no longer safe. Incidents over the past few months have made it obvious the writ of state has vanished from the city. A spate of kidnappings, murders and attacks on shops selling CDs or video tapes make this obvious. To drive the point home, a band of militants has now attacked three leading private schools, torching buses and attempting to demolish the gate of one with a grenade. The choice of schools – two of them institutes for boys – would suggest the motive was to create panic and target the elite, rather than to shut down schools for girls as has happened across NWFP. Threats to elite schools have been made before, in Lahore, Islamabad and other cities. Nothing can be more terrifying for parents, and indeed other citizens, than the notion that their children are unsafe even at school. All three of the schools picked out by the militants were elite institutions. Four members of the staff were injured at one of the schools, two of them critically, while attempting to prevent the band of some 15 armed militants from entering the premises.
The message to city authorities has been sent out loud and clear. The militants have once more demonstrated an ability to strike at will. Psychologically they have also picked a manner to do so which is most likely to create terror. Security at schools in Lahore was stepped up on Tuesday in response to the terrible incident in Peshawar. Mercifully, no pupil was injured. But there is no guarantee that other attacks will not follow this one. The only way to stop them is to begin an all-out offensive against terrorists of all kinds. Only by doing so can we eradicate the fear that today walks alongside every citizen and now enters school alongside the children who attend these institutions.

Pakistan military on 'red alert'

Tensions between the two neighbours has been high since last month's attacks in Mumbai .

Pakistan media is reporting that the country's military is on high alert over a possible strike by India.Monday's reports come after a ratcheting up of tension between the two countries following attacks in Mumbai last month which killed 163 people.Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pakistan, said the local media attributed its reports to military sources, who were confirming that the navy, air force and army were on red alert."The Pakistani air force have been seen visibly in a number of locations flying close to the Pakistani-India border in what is being described as an aggressive patrolling mode, following reports that India is planning pre-emptive strikes against locations in Pakistan," Hyder reported.
"Chiefs of the three forces are meeting in what is being described as an emergency meeting in general headquarters in Rawalpindi."Only after the meeting is over will we come to know if it is a red alert or a heightened state of alert."Hyder said that observers are saying that the Congress party in India has lost prestige due to the Mumbai attacks and, therefore, may try a show of strength in Pakistan.
Delayed civilian flights
The Reuters news agency quoted a Pakistan airline official as saying the Pakistani air force had conducted an exercise on Monday causing delays to two civilian flights.
"Two of our flights were delayed for some time because the PAF was conducting some exercises, but now everything is back on normal," Muhammad Latif, a spokesman for Pakistan International Airlines, said.The flights were delayed at the airport in Lahore, near the Indian border, Latif said, while dismissing television reports of a high alert at Pakistani airports. An air force spokesman declined to comment when asked about an exercise, saying only: "In view of the current environment, the PAF has enhanced its vigilance."
Divya Gopalan, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Srinagar, in India-controlled Kashmir, said that the Indian media was looking at Monday's reports with some degree of scepticism.
"They are saying that Pakistan is creating an artificial war hysteria to divert attention from the fact that they are under pressure from the Indian security services to deal with the Mumbai terror attacks."

'No red alerts'

Asad Durrani, the former head of Pakistani intelligence, told Al Jazeera that Pakistan was asked to do more to deal with individuals behind the Mumbai attacks. He dismissed the notion that the two states were on the brink of war.
"I think the media is building up a scenario in which one may get the impression that we are close to war"
Asad Durrani, former head of Pakistani intelligence
"The media is building up a scenario in which one may get the impression that we are close to war.
"This is not the stage that the two forces are going to go on that sort of alert."

But Brigadier-General Naeem Salik, a retired Pakistani military analyst, told Al Jazeera from Islamabad: "There have been very threatening statements [from India] saying that they do not rule out military options, and they have been talking about punishing Pakistan.
"So it is obviously natural for Pakistan to heighten its alert levels and be on guard. We cannot let the Indians have a free-run and it is a response to what is happening across the borders."
Ravi Sawhney, an Indian security analyst, told Al Jazeera: "It is not threatening talk at all. It is talking facts. We have been assaulted. A terror attack was launched on us. And the perpetrators of that attack were Pakistanis.
"So we have have been telling Pakistan very gently, very firmly, to take action against these people, who committed this heinous crime in Bombay.
"There has a been a flip-flop that has lasted about 10 or 15 days, so our government has told the Pakistanis to please take action, otherwise all options are on the table."
Both Sawhney and Salik said that their countries needed "introspection" to calm the rising tensions.
"Pakistan needs some introspection," Sawhney said. "We have one man who is already in our custody who has given irrefutable evidence that he is Pakistani."

"They should start looking inward and take action against the jihadis and terrorists, not only for our and the international community's sake, but for their own sake."

Salik said: "Talking of introspection, I think it's needed on both sides. There have been incidents of serving Indian military officers involved in the bombing of a Pakistan-bound train in which 68 Pakistanis were killed.
"If we keep blaming others for our own internal problems, then we are going to get nowhere. We both need to talk to each other and co-operate rather than threaten each other."
Last week, Pakistan summoned a senior Indian diplomat in Islamabad to protest against recent alleged airspace violations by Indian warplanes.
Indian fighter jets had crossed into Pakistani airspace over Kashmir and Punjab province, the government said on December 13.
Pakistan said its own fighter jets were scrambled to chase off the intruders, but it also played down the incident by describing the violations as "technical" and "inadvertent".India denied any violation of Pakistani airspace.

Deaf and blind

Aren’t we an unfortunate people that we have an elite so deaf and blind? Neither does it hear the rumblings of war cries coming out from across the eastern border so unsettlingly. Nor does it see the horror of the CIA-RAW axis at work in our tribal region and settled areas so terribly. It is blind even to the thuggery of prowling extremists and indoctrinated murderers. Just consider this. There is a loud talk that the Indians may conduct surgical strikes in Azad Kashmir. They may; they may not. But what is happening in Azad Kashmir? The power-aspirants and power-brokers are spiritedly out in the ring, fighting ferociously to flatten one another. That their territory is under great threat doesn’t seem coming any compellingly to any of these blind wrestlers. It is their own lust for power is what they all have in their avaricious sights. Also, just consider this. A feverish speculation is on in India, triggered and fanned no lesser by its ruling political clans’ and its military establishment’s jingoism, that it may carry out special forces commando raids on specific targets in our Punjab. Maybe; maybe not. Yet doesn’t this call imperatively for complete tranquility, calm and unity among the province’s political forces? Instead, aren’t its two top public functionaries vengefully at other’s throats, unseparable, to knock the other to the floor? Consider this, too. Given the worrisome conditions the nation is presently placed in intricately domestically and internationally, isn’t it that complete harmony should prevail between the state’s various institutions, indispensably? Yet, aren’t the legislature and the judiciary being set against each other visibly? With an elite so deaf and blind that we have the big misfortune to have, do we really need any alien enemies to hurt us and destroy us? Come a foreign threat, even deeply divided polities get together, sink their divisions and stand up unitedly to thwart it. Those that do not, they just get trampled under the alien boots and keep reeling for years no end, as has happened to Iraq in these very times. And those where their elites defy giving a bridle to their own vaulting power ambitions and their own political motives, they just kiss demise, as has occurred to Somali that may still be existing on the world map but on the ground it exists not. So this elite of ours has to choose - between the good of the country and its own good. But it must bear one thing in mind. It is, it must know, what it is because of this country. It has its name, its wealth, its opulence and its privileges, all by dint of this country. If it is hurt in any manner, this elite, too, will lose all its name and all its privileges. And in spite of its mountains of wealth and riches, mostly ill-gotten and slush moolah, it will watch only longingly but unattainably power and the spoils of power having just slipped out of its reach. Hence, if for nothing else, for its own vested interest, this elite must give a pause to its political adventures and power plays, and start worrying and working for the country’s good. The Indians are in a sinister mood; and they are being backed, arguably indeed being egged on, by the Americans against Pakistan. Have no illusions about it. We are, in fact, in the throes of a grand conspiracy targeting our very statehood. And those aliens posing as our friends are in reality the wolves in sheep’s clothing. The noose is being tightened around our neck. And if blinded by its own power pulls and political pressures this elite doesn’t see it, it will rue it woefully later. It must put its ears to the war cries emanating from across the border, listen to them attentively and alter its act accordingly. Visibly, all the inimical forces are getting arrayed on the same front behind India against us. That clearly reduces our elite’s affordability of being deaf and blind to just zero. This elite better understand this.
Saved from:
Dated: Monday, December 22, 2008, Zil Hajj 23, 1429 A.H.

Analysis: Pakistan’s four crises —Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

The international community wants to help Pakistan overcome these crises. However, its help will be of no use if Pakistani society and state institutions do not articulate a pluralist and moderate vision of Pakistan domestically and internationally

The Mumbai terror attacks have resulted in several crises for Pakistan, both in its relations with India as well as its domestic context. Pakistan’s response to these crises will go a long way in determining South Asia’s security profile and the future direction of Pakistani state and society.

Within an hour of the Mumbai attacks, the Indian media accused the Pakistani state as well as a Pakistan-based militant group of engineering the attacks. The initial statements of the Indian prime minister and external affairs minister were carefully worded, but they pointed a finger at Pakistan as well.

Most political analysts in Pakistan expected this response because there is an established pattern of Indian reaction to terrorist attacks on its territory, i.e. expression of varying degrees of anger at Pakistan, ranging from troop mobilisation (2001-02) to diplomatic censure to suspension of bilateral dialogue. The post-Mumbai reaction was not very different from the reaction to the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. A massive propaganda campaign against Pakistan was launched following both campaigns, perhaps to justify troop mobilisation and suspension of normal interaction with Pakistan.

The latest crisis raises a fundamental question about the reality of Pakistan-India relations: is there an atmosphere of cordiality and normalisation, as initiated in 2004, or is there a continuation of the traditional hostility and negativity?

Traditionally, the dialogue process has been a victim of such incidents of terrorism, and is either suspended or slowed down. This time, it has been suspended, and official, semi-official and non-official statements have exposed the fragility of the Indo-Pak friendship. The deep-rooted distrust and hostility between both countries has also been highlighted.

Incidents like Mumbai are a product of domestic and external factors in the age of transnational terrorism. However, the Indians have refused to acknowledge that there could be some domestic sources of and support for terrorism in India. Nor have they acknowledged that more people have been killed in Pakistan by terrorists in 2007-08 than in India since December 2001.

Given the enormity of the problem, Pakistan and India cannot cope with religious extremism and terrorism by quarrelling with each other. By venting anger, both countries play into the hands of the extremists who do not want normal interaction between the two countries.

There are many in both India and Pakistan that overplay narrow nationalist political discourses, backed up by the selective use of history, to argue that conflict rather than cooperation is the normal state, and that the two countries cannot be friends as they represent diametrically opposed nationalisms and worldviews. If such political discourses are to be neutralised, leaders on both sides have to show statesmanship and a long-term worldview.

Military brinkmanship will accentuate the problems between India and Pakistan. There are people in India who advocate dangerous ‘surgical airstrikes’ on specific targets in Pakistan, based on the false assumption that Pakistan’s conventional defence, especially air defence, cannot withstand Indian onslaught. Similarly, Indian notions of ‘limited war’ and ‘Cold Start’ are misleading and dangerous courses of action as both countries possess nuclear weapons.

The other side of the present crisis pertains to the domestic situation in Pakistan, with three major sets of problems.

The first domestic crisis is the denial of the threat posed by religious extremism and militancy to internal order and stability. Though most would oppose violence against innocent people, and some would be critical of religious intolerance, they do not always connect this opposition with the activities of militant Islamic groups.

The government’s ability to control religious extremism and militancy is adversely affected by the polarisation between sympathisers of militant groups and those who favour tough action against them. The government is finding it difficult to convince the ordinary people that the punitive measures adopted against some militant groups post-Mumbai are justified and serve Pakistan’s interests. The task of the government becomes more difficult by repeated Indian statements that express dissatisfaction with Pakistani efforts to control militant groups and demand action — a la the United States.

As long as sections of the Pakistani populace, especially Islamist political parties and groups, continue to deny Pakistan’s drift towards extremism and militancy, Pakistani society will continue to face problems rediscovering its tolerant and moderate character. If Pakistan wants to maintain strong links with the international community, it will have to pay heed to what the international community, especially its friends and allies, are advising.

Pakistan does not have the option of defying the United Nations or isolating itself from the international system. Pakistan needs international support to put its economic house in order, as well as to cope with the difficult internal and external security situation.

The lack of consensus among political forces is the second internal crisis. Political forces diverge not only on how to cope with the Taliban challenge in the tribal areas and Swat, but also disagree on a host of domestic political issues. Though leaders of the two major political parties — the PPP and the PMLN — maintain that they would pursue their agendas in a manner that the on-going democratic experiment is not derailed, they periodically engage in dangerous political manoeuvring.

Nawaz Sharif’s strident statement in a TV interview on December 18 indicates that he wants to exploit the government’s predicament caused by international pressure regarding terrorism to force the government to accept his political demands. This is an unusual move, which does not fit into Nawaz Sharif’s known political style. If this becomes his new political profile, Pakistan is likely to drift towards confrontation between the two major parties, which will have a negative impact on the government’s efforts to cope with external pressures.

If the major political parties cannot sustain working relations, the future of the democratic experiment can be jeopardised. The internal political balance will then shift in favour of non-democratic forces.

The third major crisis pertains to the direction of the Pakistani state and society. It is important to develop consensus on the nature and direction of the Pakistani political system. If Pakistan is to become a modern democratic state that believes in equal citizenship for all irrespective of religion, caste or gender, and derives its ethical inspiration from Islam as envisaged by the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it will have to control the groups that use force to enforce their vision of Islam. It also cannot allow militant groups to pursue their international agendas from Pakistani territory. Their activities force Pakistan into an extremely embarrassing diplomatic situation, raise doubts about the viability of Pakistan as an effective state and a responsible member of the international community.

The international community wants to help Pakistan overcome these crises. However, its help will be of no use if Pakistani society and state institutions do not articulate a pluralist and moderate vision of Pakistan domestically and internationally.(Daily Times)

Obama's Afghan Dilemma

President-elect Barack Obama says that Afghanistan is "the right war." "It's time to heed the call from General [David] McKiernan and others for more troops," Obama said in late October, referring to the US commander in Afghanistan. "That's why I'd send at least two or three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan." He's coupled that with tough talk about hitting Al Qaeda anywhere, including next door in Pakistan. "If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out," Obama said in the second of his three debates with John McCain. "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda."

Despite such rhetoric, however, nearly two years ago Obama began assembling a cast of experts steeped in the intricacies of South Asian affairs, and they have provided him with a far richer and more sophisticated view of the Afghanistan-Pakistan tangle than emerged in the campaign. "The format of presidential debates does not lend itself to a nuanced discussion," says Bruce Riedel, wryly. A former CIA specialist on South Asia who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush, Riedel led an advisory task force on Afghanistan-Pakistan for Obama. Interviews with Riedel and other Obama advisers--who made it clear they were not speaking for the president-elect--suggest that Obama intends to reorient US policy in the region significantly, and a key plank in that reorientation includes negotiations with the enemy. But assertions by the US command and the Obama team that we can both "surge" and negotiate overlook the glaring reality that sending more troops into the Afghan quagmire and urging the Pakistani government to escalate the war it is fighting against its own people will make the crisis worse, not better.

The outlines of Obama's strategy, which aren't likely to be articulated fully until after the inauguration, include a repudiation of the strident "global war on terror" rhetoric that marked President Bush's years and that only inflamed Muslim attitudes toward the United States. Campaign sloganeering aside, Obama may try to curtail the indiscriminate use of air power in Afghanistan against often ill-defined targets ("just air raiding villages and killing civilians" was how he put it in 2007), though how he'll do that while adding more troops and escalating the war isn't clear. He'll slow down, if not halt, the provocative cross-border attacks into Pakistani tribal areas against insurgent bases, even as he reserves the right to hit bin Laden. The incoming administration will take steps to strengthen the fledgling civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan against the machinations of the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which maintains covert ties to a wide range of extremist groups, including the Taliban. And it will support a major boost in economic aid to both countries.

Nearly all of Obama's advisers--along with members of a parallel task force at the Center for American Progress, a think tank likely to be the source of many Obama appointees--insist that a central part of a new US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan must be to facilitate a peace process between Pakistan and India, its giant neighbor to the east. For decades, Pakistan's military and the ISI have lent covert support to Islamist terrorist groups, in Afghanistan and in the disputed territory of Kashmir, as part of a strategy of asymmetric warfare against India. A Pakistan-India accord would strengthen Pakistan's civilian government and undercut the rationale for the army and ISI's ties to the Taliban, allied Afghan Islamist warlords and Kashmiri Islamist militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, suspected of involvement in the Mumbai terror attack. Wendy Chamberlin, US ambassador to Pakistan on 9/11 and a member of Obama's Pakistan task force, is a strong supporter of efforts to forge a Pakistan-India accord. "I argued for it [in 2002]," she says. And I got dismissed."

Many of Obama's advisers are open to the notion of bringing Iran into the mix, pointing out that Iran was helpful in 2001 in building the original coalition behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Iran's role was also highlighted in a September report by a private working group led by Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission. They suggested connecting Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Iran in a regional economic community, concluding, "The U.S. should...reconsider its opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." Tariq Ali, a British-Pakistani scholar and author of The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, has called for creation of a South Asian Union to facilitate a regional economic resurgence.

Even as they favor eventual talks with "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban movement, some of Obama's advisers and Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, defend their call for a surge by arguing that their first priority is to stabilize Afghanistan militarily. "Trying to divide your enemy is always a smart thing to do," says Riedel. "But until we break the momentum that the Taliban has today, where they feel that they're the winner, I don't see that you have any credible chance of persuading even a small number of Taliban to break. They think they're winning, and if you look at the numbers, you can make a pretty convincing case."

In the first ten months of this year, 255 US and NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, more than all those who died in the first four years of the war in Afghanistan put together. Entire swaths of southern Afghanistan, in provinces along the Pakistan border south and east of Kabul, are controlled by the Taliban and their allies. Lately they have been able to strike with impunity even within Kabul, the Afghan capital. The CIA has been warning for more than two years that Afghanistan was spinning out of control. A forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate, representing the views of sixteen US intelligence agencies, warns that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" and, according to the New York Times, "casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence there." The enemy has also evolved as a fighting force. Already by 2006, according to a report for West Point by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Taliban were fielding battalion-size units of more than 400 fighters. In some provinces the Taliban and their allies are creating a parallel state, appointing governors and provincial officials and establishing Sharia-style courts.

The counterinsurgency is made all the more difficult by the nature of the enemy, an exceedingly complex, multiheaded Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It goes far beyond Mullah Omar's Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. "Calling it the Taliban is a failure to understand what's going on," says Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan and terrorism at the RAND Corporation. "It's a movement, not an organization," explains Chas Freeman, president of the Middle East Policy Council and a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "What we conveniently have been labeling 'the Taliban' is a phenomenon that includes a lot of people simply on the Islamic right." In all, the US military has identified at least fourteen separate insurgent organizations in Afghanistan, and according to Riedel, there are as many as fifty separate Islamist formations in neighboring Pakistan [see Anand Gopal, page 17, for more on the insurgency].

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anthony Cordesman, a sober-minded, conservative military analyst, sounded the alarm. "We are running out of time," he wrote. "We currently are losing, and the trends have been consistent since 2004...we face a crisis in the field--right now." The situation, he said, is far more urgent than anything that can be solved by economic aid or nation-building efforts. "At least during 2009-10, priority must be given to warfighting needs." McKiernan, the US commander, has called for at least four more brigades, perhaps as many as 25,000 troops. He warned that the mission in Afghanistan will require a "sustained commitment" lasting many years, and the United States has announced plans to help more than double the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA), to 134,000 troops. "This is a decades-long project," says Ashley Tellis, a former National Security Council specialist on South Asia, who adds that it will take at least ten years before the United States can withdraw and let the ANA fight its own battles. "The transition alone will take a decade, until you can switch to the ANA," he says.

But surging troops into Afghanistan would be akin to sending the fabled 600 into the valley of death. As in Vietnam, tens of thousands more troops will only provide the Taliban with many more targets, sparking Pashtun nationalist resistance and inspiring more recruits for the insurgency. Advocates of sending additional US forces into this maelstrom have yet to articulate exactly how another 25,000 can turn the tide. Tariq Ali says that pacifying the country would require at least 200,000 more troops, beyond the 62,000 US and NATO forces there now, and that it would necessitate laying waste huge parts of Afghanistan. Many Afghan watchers consider the war unwinnable, and they point out that in the 1980s the Soviet Union, with far more troops, had engaged in a brutal nine-year counterinsurgency war--and lost. British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sherard Cowper-Coles has warned against precisely the escalation that Obama and Petraeus advocate. Sending more troops, he says, "would have perverse effects: it would identify us even more strongly as an occupation force and would multiply the targets [for the insurgents]." A top British general, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, says, "We're not going to win this war.... It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat."

"What began as a punitive raid aimed at beheading Al Qaeda and chastising its Afghan household staff has somehow morphed--with no real discussion or debate--into a prolonged effort to pacify Afghanistan and transform its society," says Freeman. "This moving of the goal posts gratified neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike. Our new purpose became giving Afghanistan a centrally directed state--something it had never had. We now fight to exclude reactionary Muslims from a role in governing the new Afghanistan." Freeman suggests that this is an untenable goal, and that it is time to co-opt local authorities and enlist regional allies in search of a settlement.

Those who insist the war is winnable, including US and NATO commanders, also say that it can't be won without taking the war across the border to Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas, an escalation that's already under way. But this poses a whole new set of problems. The situation in Pakistan is only slightly less dire than in Afghanistan. The country emerged this year from nearly a decade under a US-backed military dictatorship and faces a daunting set of challenges. A multipronged insurgency based in the tribal areas is spreading its influence into the neighboring North-West Frontier Province, and it has reached all the way to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, where assassinations and suicide bombings occur regularly. The new government is weak and divided, with little or no control over the Pakistani army and ISI. And its economy is virtually bankrupt: with inflation at 25 percent and vast unemployment, the country is desperately seeking $10 billion to $15 billion in immediate financial aid.

Yet the fragile Pakistani state is being pushed to the breaking point by the Bush administration. Since August, nearly two dozen CIA Predator missile attacks in tribal areas have inflamed much of the country against the United States. Already, before the spate of attacks, public opinion polls showed that 86 percent of Pakistanis say the goal of the United States is to "weaken and divide the Islamic world," 84 percent say the United States is a greater threat than Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and 89 percent oppose Pakistan's cooperation with the US "war on terror." Many Pakistanis blame the United States for its fifty-year record of propping up military dictators, which makes it hard for the United States to support even its allies, such as President Zardari. "Right now, we're kind of the kiss of death," says Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who was part of Obama's Pakistan task force.

Since 9/11, Pakistan has received more than $11 billion in US aid, but almost all of it has flowed into the coffers of Pakistan's army and ISI, with little or no oversight. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, between 2002 and 2007 only 10 percent of US aid was devoted to development and humanitarian assistance. That avalanche of cash to the military has allowed the ISI free rein to support its network of Islamist extremists, which it has built up systematically since the 1980s. As long as ISI helped nab an occasional Al Qaeda bigwig, even as it tolerated or supported the Afghan Taliban and other Islamist radicals, the United States went along. "We've got to put an end to this dirty game, where Pakistan uses surrogate terrorist groups," says Chamberlin.

Even those fighting the war have difficulty distinguishing friends from enemies. Michael Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflicts, who oversees a Pentagon anti-terrorism force, isn't sure. Asked if ISI is on our side or not, he pauses. "It's complicated. I'll put it that way," he says finally. "It's not black and white." Last summer Zardari attempted to bring ISI under the control of the civilian-run Interior Ministry, but the idea was quickly shot down. "That lasted eight hours," says Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars, a book about the CIA and Afghanistan that Obama was recently seen carrying. "Somebody told the ISI about the announcement, and they said, 'No, that won't be happening.'" Then, in the fall, Pakistan's army chief of staff installed a new set of generals atop the ISI, though there was widespread skepticism that the move reflected a real policy change by the army.

Yet Pakistani attitudes are slowly changing, even inside the military, analysts say. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto a year ago and the massive bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September alarmed many generals about the threat to Pakistan from its Islamist creations. "Pakistan has had a tolerance and a see-no-evil attitude toward the Taliban," says Riedel. "But the Afghan Taliban has also created a Pakistani Taliban, which is a Frankenstein the Pakistani army can't control. So it still has relations with parent Taliban, but the infant Taliban is now increasingly a threat to the cohesion of the Pakistan state, and it's a physical threat to the Pakistani army and even to the ISI. This is the classic case of a covert action program getting out of control."

As a result, of late the army is scrambling to control a crisis of its own making, without much success. It has launched a three-pronged military offensive in the tribal areas and nearby districts, but--having spent a half-century preparing for a tank war with India--the Pakistani army is not well equipped to fight a counterinsurgency war. And in the tribal areas the Pakistani army, which is mostly Punjabi, is seen as a foreign force by local Pashtuns, while many Pakistani officers and enlisted men are loath to fight against their compatriots in what they see as America's war. Both the military and the Pakistan government have tried to build tribal militias to combat the Taliban, but so far this effort hasn't paid off. And the government has tried to encourage the holding of tribal jirgas, or councils, to generate grassroots opposition to the dominance of Taliban-like elements in and around the tribal areas. That, too, hasn't worked well, since the Taliban have engaged in murderous counterattacks, including gruesome killings and suicide bomb attacks aimed at the jirgas. Many in Pakistan are operating under outdated assumptions about the tribes in the northwest, says Christine Fair, an independent expert on South Asia who took part in the Center for American Progress study. "The jirgas used to be made up of secular tribal leaders," she says. "Now, they meet in mosques and madrassas." Since the US-backed anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, madrassas, or religious schools, have become factories and recruiting areas for militant Islamists.

Part of the solution, stressed by all of Obama's aides, is more economic support to both countries, targeted toward building infrastructure, improving agriculture, providing microcredit for small business and constructing schools and clinics. One member of Obama's task force on Pakistan is Jonah Blank, a senior staff member at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is a key aide to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Blank was a driving force behind the Biden-Lugar-Obama bill to provide $1.5 billion a year for ten years in economic support to Pakistan. A parallel effort for Afghanistan, including what Obama calls a Marshall Plan-style mobilization, is also under way. "Call it a democracy dividend," says Blank. "The civilians can say, 'See? We deliver.'"

But economic development takes a long time to be felt, and the crisis is now. If the wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan aren't going to be resolved militarily--and they won't be--the solution to both crises, now inextricably linked, must be a diplomatic one: first, negotiations with many of the forces opposing the two governments and the US presence in the region, and, second, progress toward a Pakistan-India accord.

In Pakistan, the Zardari government and the Parliament have strongly endorsed talks with the Taliban, better organized than the faltering accords announced in 2004 and 2006. In Afghanistan, Karzai declared in mid-November that he is open to direct talks with Mullah Omar. And in late October, tribal elders and dozens of Pakistani and Afghan officials convened a two-day "mini-jirga" intended to be the start of a dialogue with the Taliban. Owais Ghani, governor of the North-West Frontier Province and a leader of the secular, nationalist ANP party, said at the mini-jirga: "We will sit, we will talk to them, they will listen to us, and we will come to some sort of solution."

Karzai's offer to Mullah Omar, which was unprecedented, followed two years of quiet discussions in South Asia, Europe and the Middle East among Pakistani and Afghan officials, former leaders of the Taliban and members of Saudi Arabia's royal family, including King Abdullah. Among the participants: Karzai's brother and Nawaz Sharif, a Pakistani politician with close ties to the religious establishment who spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia. According to news reports, London and Paris provided logistical and diplomatic support for the contacts. The Pakistani daily Dawn reported that French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner is supporting talks between Karzai and "moderates within the Taliban," and he has invited Iran and Pakistan to Paris to participate in talks on Afghanistan.

So far, Mullah Omar has rejected Karzai's offer of direct talks, and the Taliban continues to insist on the withdrawal of US and NATO forces before any deal. A deal with the Islamist insurgency, or at least enough of it to make it stick, is an exceedingly difficult undertaking, and most of Obama's advisers are skeptical that it can work. India, Iran and Russia, which supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in the decade before 9/11, won't look with favor on a US-Saudi effort to allow the Taliban back in power, so their concerns will have to be taken into account. The fragmented nature of the Taliban movment makes it hard to figure out whom, exactly, to negotiate with. And though parts of the movement may be pragmatic enough to strike a deal, other parts are likely to fight to the bitter end.

The Obama team is far more supportive of an urgent diplomatic initiative to bring Pakistan and India toward an accord. But after the Mumbai attack, with its potential to bring the two countries back to the brink of war, that is a task that has just become far more difficult. "This requires great subtlety and a degree of sophistication that, I have to say, is not the norm in American diplomacy," says Riedel. "It calls for a stretch. I think the way to start is with very, very quiet conversations between the United States and India, and I think that the new relationship that we have with India gives us a better platform than ever before." India, Riedel says, is worried that the United States will seek a deal with Pakistan at India's expense. But closer US-India ties, cemented by a recent deal over India's nuclear program, give Washington new credibility to assure New Delhi that its interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan, where India is worried about a Taliban resurgence, will be protected.

India is deeply involved in Afghanistan now, and its role there is causing a degree of paranoia in Pakistan. India, along with Iran and Russia, helped oust the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001. India has provided $1.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan since then, and it has opened consulates in four Afghan cities that, Pakistan fears, could be bases for Indian intelligence. It is against that threat, historically, that Pakistan has supported right-wing Islamists. But India is a power with global ambitions, a thriving economy and powerful armed forces, and it is becoming clear in Pakistan that it can no longer compete with India, which is causing an outbreak of realism inside the Pakistani army. Ashley Tellis, now of the Carnegie Endowment, has had extensive contacts with Pakistan's military. "The mainstream of the Pakistani army no longer sees India as the main threat," he says. "There may be some of the far right, among the Islamists, who believe that India is the central danger." But Tellis says they are a minority. "To protect their institutional interests, they know that they must have a rapprochement with India."

The opportunity for a dialogue with elements of the Taliban and the possibility of a peace process between Pakistan and India constitute the true exit strategy for the United States in Afghanistan. But to nail down a deal with the insurgents, the United States will have to offer them what they most want, namely, a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
"What the insurgents do seem to agree about is that foreigners shouldn't run their country, and that the country should be run according to the principles of Islam," says Chas Freeman.

"We need to recall the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place," he says. "Our purpose deny the use of Afghan territory to terrorists with global reach. That was and is an attainable objective. It is a limited objective that can be achieved at reasonable cost. We must return to a ruthless focus on this objective. We cannot afford to pursue goals, however worthy, that contradict or undermine it. The reform of Afghan politics, society and mores must wait."

Meanwhile, the stage is set. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan want peace talks with Islamist insurgents and the Taliban. Outside powers, led by Saudi Arabia and quietly supported by Britain and France, are facilitating behind-the-scenes contacts between the Taliban and key Afghan and Pakistani leaders. Neighboring states, including India, Russia and Iran, while hardly enamored of the Taliban, might underwrite a truce. And the possibility of a regional economic pact linking Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India could tie it all together.

Al Qaeda, pushed into remote redoubts in Pakistan's mountains, is most certainly still plotting against the United States. But many, perhaps most, of its fair-weather allies on the Islamic right, including the Taliban, might very well be persuaded to make a final break with Osama bin Laden and his like if they can get a better deal, including a share of power in Kabul. Will President Obama seize the moment? Will he have the courage to offer an end to US occupation of Afghanistan if the Taliban-led movement abandons its ties to Al Qaeda?

How Obama should fight al Qaeda and its allies

Peter Bergen:
U.S. needs stronger understanding of terrorist networks
U.S. leaders must realize that Afghan policy is long-term and regional, he says
He urges help for Pakistani counterinsurgency efforts, settlement of Kashmir dispute
Bergen also says new president should solicit matching funds from Gulf nations
By Peter Bergen
CNN National Security Analyst
Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst. His most recent book is "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader." This commentary is based in part, on a paper Bergen wrote for the New America Foundation, where he is a senior fellow, and an article he wrote for The New Republic in September, "A Man, A Plan, Afghanistan."

(CNN) -- The Mumbai attacks remind the world that the intertwined problems of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan will be the most extreme foreign policy challenge that President Obama will face as he assumes office.

To dismantle al Qaeda and its allied jihadist groups, such as the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Tayyiba that carried out the Mumbai attacks according to Indian and American officials, and also to bring peace to the entire South Asian region, the Obama administration should take the following measures:

1. Fight al Qaeda and its allies

Seven years after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. government must continue to improve its understanding of terrorist networks throughout the region to identify the linkages between jihadist groups from the Taliban to al Qaeda to the Kashmiri militant organizations such as Lashkar-e-Tayyiba that threaten not only the South Asian regional order but also global peace.

One of the building blocks of such a database should be the identification of suicide attackers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which could be accomplished using DNA samples, accounts on jihadist Web sites, good intelligence work and media reports.

The mapping of the social networks of terrorists should also include identification of the clerical mentors of suicide bombers, as it seems likely that only a relatively small number have convinced their followers of the religious necessity of martyrdom. Armed with such intelligence, the United States and NATO could ask Pakistan, where most of the suicide attackers originate, to rein in especially egregious clerics.

2. It is a regional problem requiring a regional solution

A careful study by the United Nations released last September found that suicide attackers in Afghanistan are mostly drawn from religious schools across the border in Pakistan. In 2007, there were more than 50 suicide attacks in Pakistan and some 140 in Afghanistan, many of them carried out by the Taliban.

The United States must re-conceptualize its Afghan policy as a regional problem. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are embedded in a sea of ethnic Pashtuns who live on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In fact, there are more Pashtuns in Pakistan than there are in Afghanistan -- some 40 million altogether, according to the CIA World Factbook-- making them the largest ethnic grouping in the world without a state.

The next U.S. president should take every opportunity to make it clear that America's commitment to Afghanistan is not just until the next election cycle, but for years to come.

The American public, which understands that Afghanistan's reversion into a failed state would be a prelude to al Qaeda regaining a haven in the country, will support this approach.

Pakistan is holding on to its radical groups to assert de facto control over Afghanistan should the Americans withdraw; only a long-term U.S. commitment will persuade Pakistan's government to end its tolerance for the militant groups headquartered on the country's western border.

To help combat al Qaeda and the Taliban in Pakistan, the United States has earmarked $750 million in development funds for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the seven tribal agencies along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, and $400 million to bolster the Frontier Corps, the local paramilitary force.

This is a good start, but it may be premature: The FATA is in the grip of a violent insurgency, and even the less violent agencies, such as Khyber, are unsafe. Reconstruction in such a context may not be possible.

A further problem is that the FATA, arguably one of the most strategically important places on the planet, is an information black hole, off-limits to all but locally based journalists. The Pakistani government should be encouraged to lift its de facto ban on travel there by international journalists -- as well as the similar bans in effect regarding Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

To help tamp down the insurgency in FATA and other areas of the NWFP, America should help the Pakistanis build up their counterinsurgency capabilities. The Pakistani army is built for a land war with India, not for fighting terrorists and insurgents.

Pakistani officers should be encouraged to attend counterinsurgency courses at American war colleges, and the United States should support such courses at Pakistan's National Defense University. None of this would cost a lot of U.S. dollars and would yield potentially large results, as the new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has done in Iraq.

Small amounts of U.S. aid in support of de-radicalization programs for jailed Pakistani militants could also yield large returns. Such programs that use clerics, psychiatrists and even former militants to work with jailed terrorists have had some success in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Singapore, but have not been tried in Pakistan.

Pakistani officials would benefit from learning about best practices in countries that have already spent years building up their own counter-radicalization programs.

3. A regional grand bargain

The United States must also put serious diplomatic effort into settling the Kashmir dispute, which the Indians and Pakistanis have been moving forward on for the past several years with scant American support. Kashmir is a core grievance for many Pakistani Muslims and a training ground for jihadist terrorists, some of whom end up working with al Qaeda.

An equitable Kashmir settlement would curtail militancy and likely lead those elements of the Pakistani establishment who aid Kashmiri jihad groups allied with al Qaeda and the Taliban to withdraw their support.

As part of a regional grand bargain aimed at satisfying Pakistan, the United States should encourage Afghanistan to formally recognize the Durand Line of 1893 that demarcated Afghanistan's border with the British Raj and is the de facto border with Pakistan today.

Afghanistan does not recognize the Durand Line and so technically claims territory deep inside Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. For Afghan leaders to continually complain about Pakistani incursions over a border they don't formally acknowledge as the international border makes no sense.

Finally, a regional grand bargain could be accomplished in part by the new U.S. president convening a meeting of key concerned states, as happened at the Bonn Conference in late 2001, and which set the course for the Afghan political compact that held up reasonably well until the past year or so.

The key players include Iran, Russia, India, China, Pakistan and NATO countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, all of which have an interest in preventing the continued rise of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Such a conference would have the side benefit that Pakistan would finally get the message that the continued existence of a haven for militants on its western border is intolerable to the international community, including key allies such as China and the UK.

4. Matching funds from regional partners

The new president should solicit matching funds from the Gulf nations, which are now sitting on one of the largest wealth transfers in history in the form of windfall oil profits. Those countries have so far done almost nothing to help the poorest Muslim country in the world.

In the 1980s, Saudi Arabia matched U.S. expenditures in Afghanistan dollar for dollar in the effort to defeat Soviet occupiers. It should do at least as much today to help with reconstruction, as should its neighbors. After all, the Gulf countries are belatedly beginning to realize that they are also threatened by the rise of global militant jihadists.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Peter Bergen. His letter to the president about rescuing the war in Afghanistan appeared last month on

India-Pakistan conflict to cause a severe crisis: US think-tank

A top US think-tank warned the incoming Obama administration on Friday not to allow a military conflict between India and Pakistan as it would generate a grave and severe crisis.The Washington-based Brookings Institution also warned that a failure against the Taliban in Afghanistan would create serious problems for the United States and the international community.“A complete state failure in Pakistan would generate a grave and severe crisis, as would any serious military confrontation between India and Pakistan,” said a memo the think-tank has written for the Obama administration which assumes control on Jan 20.The “memo to the president” by Brookings security expert Vanda Felbab-Brown painted a bleak picture of a growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, an Al Qaeda stronghold in that country’s mountainous border with Pakistan and of troubling Pakistani political and economic weakness.
Across the border in Afghanistan, failure against the Taliban would indicate how limited the United States and the international community can be in helping countries achieve security and development,” it said.

The memo reminded the Obama team that they needed to match security measures with efforts to build the rule of law and achieve sustained economic development in Afghanistan, and to boost security in Pakistan.
Mr Obama vowed during his election campaign to boost US troop levels in Afghanistan, convince Nato allies to increase their troop contributions and to press for better governance in Afghanistan.He also threatened to hit alleged terrorist targets inside Pakistan if the Pakistani government failed to remove them.There are 65,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including more than 30,000 from the United States, which plans to send 20,000 additional troops.The memo urged Mr Obama to step up counterinsurgency aid and training for the Pakistani military and undertake military action against major jihadist targets in Fata. But she also urged him to avoid civilian casualties.“The war in Afghanistan is not being won,” the memo warned. “Tensions are running high between India and Pakistan … Your administration will need to deal urgently with many interrelated dimensions of the crisis” in South Asia.
Ms Felbab-Brown noted that the Afghan people were questioning the performances of the government of President Hamid Karzai and were “deeply troubled by the growing insecurity, the weakness and corruption of the government, the rise in criminality and the lack of rule of law.” Across the border in Pakistan, the Taliban and Al Qaeda were now threatening the security of Pakistan itself, she warned.“The current tensions between India and Pakistan easily could escalate into a proxy war in Kashmir or Afghanistan, if not into a direct military confrontation,” she warned.
“Highly dangerous in itself, an escalation would—as before—divert Pakistan’s military resources away from its border with Afghanistan and weaken the government’s resolve to take on the jihadist groups.”The author advised the Obama administration to seek multilateral engagement with Pakistan, noting that the Pakistani civilian leadership of President Asif Ali Zardari had repeatedly indicated its willingness to reach accommodation with India and counter the terrorist threats facing both countries. The memo has the following recommendations for the Obama administration:
Increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, seeking a similar contribution from US allies and pressing the Afghan government to meet more of the needs of its population and tackle corruption and the opium trade.
It also urges an increase in non-military aid to Pakistan while holding it accountable for disrupting Taliban safe havens and providing security along the border with Afghanistan.
The memo notes that the Biden-Lugar bill that would commit $15 billion in development aid to Pakistan over 10 years provides a vehicle for assistance. While beefing up economic assistance, the Obama administration needs to stress to Pakistan that jihadist terrorism now threatens its own security and that combating terrorism is in its own national interest.


I was shocked to read some news reports and statements of PML(N) Leaders over the name Pakhtunkhwa and it seems like they are generating new issue of hate and divide in this province. Lets not make it a political issue. one should not politicize an issue for own interest.
I see no reason for denying Pukhtoons the legitimate name of their province on the grounds that this will increase ethnic tension. On the contrary, if anything, it will defuse the existing tension. Lets not forget what happened to East Pakistan when West Pak denied them their right of Bengali language. The problem is Pakistani politicians never learn from history, these politicians needs to understand that Pakistann’ s imposition of Urdu on east Pakistan was a mistake. It seems like some opportunist politicians of PML(N) IN THE province are trying to create political tension over Pakhtunkhwa. People in Pakhtunkhwa wants to be recognized as a nationality in their own right and for this they want their living place to be given their name Pakhtunkhwa. Why can Punjabis have Punjab, Sindhis Sindh , Baloochis Balouchistan , but Pakhtoons can't have Pakhtoonkhwa ???why Pakhtoon are being treated like occupied Palestine who will breakaway at the first chance...? and if do decid to break off , trust me with all its might, Pakistan can't prevent that. Pakistan couldn't beat Bengalis into submission and it can never force Pakhtoon into submission. Its stupid that some people who consider themselves super patriotic imply that Pakhtoons are any less patriotic than themselves. Let me remind those self declared super Pakistanis that Punjab did not have any option except joining Pakistan. Punjab had to chose between joining Pakistan or cleaning after the Hindus. But we Pakhtoon had a choice to join our brothers in Afghanistan, with whom we share not only our ancestry but our culture, our history, our tradition, and our language, but Pakhtoons decided to stay with Pakistan .
How can someone from Punjab or Sindh or any other part of Pakistan give us a lecture on patriotism..? I think these people are the one who needs a lesson in patriotism101, because by suppressing minorities right and denying them their identity they are weakening Pakistan NOT Pakhtoons.. Its tragic that Pakistani politicians did NOT learn any lesson from history. Bengalis were at the forefront in the struggle for Pakistan but when Pakistan suppressed them and denied them their rights and their identity what happened ..? We all know the end result. By calling Bengalis traitors because they demanded their rights they were converted into traitors. Alas we could learn from history because if we don't , history is doomed to repeat itself. Acceptance of history is a good sign, no wonder, but learning no lesson from it is unforgivable. Pease someone help me to Understand how renaming NWFP is gonna break Pakistan or divide people in this province? and please don't give me the crap about patriotism and Islamic unity. Whats wrong with Pakhtoons having their identity in Pakistan like Punjabis, Sindhis, and Balouchis..? it’s the politicians who are making mess over the name not the people living in this province. Sindh, punjab and Balochistan are border provinces too why they are not called ,east-south,north-east or south west provinces why these provinces are call with identity of race reside in side that territory? We are unanimous on one thing that people from this province are all pathan if all are not Pashtun. So please take back the British name and give us our own name. The usage of Pakhtunkhwa in Pushtu poetry dates back to the middle ages. The word is a combination of two words - that is Pakhtun and Khwa. Pakhtun or Pashtun is a noun while Khwa means side. Culturally there is no doubt that the land was called Pakhtunkhwa in Pushtu literature since 15th century .The word Pakhtunkhwa was also used in the modern poetry by contemporary poets like Qanaldar Momand (1930-2003) long before it was suggested as the nomenclature for the NWFP.
The name NWFP is certainly a misnomer today since it does not satisfy the aspirations of the people of the province. Three of the four provinces the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan, got their own identity either through their environment or inhabitants. But the NWFP has been named neither after the historical and cultural background of the inhabitants nor derived its name from environment. Since the name (NWFP)does not reflect the true ethnic identity of its inhabitants, therefore a demand for its change is a logical consequence but unfortunately the matter has turned into a controversial issue again by so called politicians.
Those opposing the word Pakhtunkhwa argue that the name will not represent non Pashto speaking population of the province. The argument is unjustified and impractical. There is hardly any country in the world which does not have ethnic minorities. Even in Pakistan ;Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan have large number of people who do not speak the language their names ostensibly suggest. The 74 percent population of NWFP speaks Pashto as mother language in present day NWFP and the proportion will greatly increase when FATA will ultimately be merged in the province, choosing a proper name for the province is the fundamental right of its residents. It would help strengthen the federation besides removing the sense of deprivation among people of the smallest province of the country.

It is time that politicians belonging to different factions of Muslim League too come out of their mindset and start and objectively treating the demands the smaller provinces. It will help us build a stronger and more vibrant federation. Instead of debating again and again over this issue, politicians are wasting their time, they should either spend their time on development of this province or quit politics. There is no need to challenge the Pakhtunkhwa issue as it has been passed with overwhelming majority in the provincial assembly, members of this assembly should discuss how to solve the problems in this province. Renaming the NWFP province to Pakhtunkhwa has a long political history in Pakistan. Pakhtoons and nationalist groups, which are passionate about naming their inhabited land after their identity as Pakhtoons, have been demanding the change of the province’s name for decades. But a number of political groups and opportunist politicians are not in favor of calling NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa and they are trying to divide people in Pakhtunkhwa. These members of assembly should be discussing creating jobs, hiring police officers, opening new schools, colleges and universities, hospitals and providing clean water and electricity to their voters and keeping province safe, rid Province of violence and terror, generate productive employment for youth, provide education, health care, and bring progress to the doorstep of workers, farmers and small businesses elimination of child labor etc . These are the issues people elected these assembly members to solve.



In Pakistan Democracy has severely been threatened by Taliban and religious fanatics and militant activities. These militants are not merely the sudden attackers to any vulnerable area. They are very competent and bearing high intelligence and power of innovation in taking decision timely in fulfilling their target. What a great commitment they possess overall? Most of these militant are from poor background and have no education. These militants are inter-connected globally and aided by opportunist weapon traders, drug mafia and opportunist politicians and sometimes they have been well supported as well as guarded by rival countries. Pakistan’s internal administration ,police department and intelligence agency would require to be upgraded and more efficient to intercept the militants action with greater accuracy. Terrorist activities have been appeared as a common problem to every nation and should be tackled in coordinating manner by a compact relationship between every nation in the world and it might be rival or friendly country. Militants are global enemy. Blaming someone is not wise rather than finding own fault. When I was in Pakistan, We used to hear bomb blasts in Beirut, middle east, Africa ,violence in Somalia etc and used to say thank God we are not living there, used to love peaceful streets of Peshawar, but now I hear it’s a night mare living in Peshawar ;where mostly our puckhtoons are target of barbarian ignorant Taliban; my heart and feelings go for all those innocent people who were recently target of this barbarian act of violence just before Eid in Peshawar.

I am surprised that there are so many religious groups in Pakistan, mostly operating from Punjab , who are using name of Islam and are involve in terrorism, few months ago Governor of pukhtoonistan mentioned that terrorists have roots in Punjab; killing not only their own citizens but spreading hate and killings everywhere, Islam or any other religion does not allow killing of innocent people whether they are in Khyber or Mumbai. we all know that how this happened, it starts from Zia era when these so called religious groups were given money and weapons to fight against Soviets in Afghanistan with the help of CIA and other Western powers, when Soviets left Afghanistan, everyone forgot about their so called freedom fighters, those freedom fighters used to get red carpet reception at White House. when these so called freedom fighters turned into monsters, now they are called Taliban . One can feel sympathy for Zardari's plight. He and his new civilian government did not train or a ssist the Pakistani terrorist organizations that probably carried out attacks in Mumbai. Nor is it his fault that al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other dangerous groups operate in Waziristan and the FATA Areas of western Pakistan, from which they launch attacks . For that we can thank elements of the Pakistani military, Pakistani intelligence and the late military dictatorship of Zia and Pervez Musharraf. Reversing decades-old policies of support for these groups may be impossible for any Pakistani leader, especially when the only forces capable of rooting them out are the same forces that created them and sustain them. So if the world is indeed not to be held hostage by non-state actors operating from Pakistan, what can be done? In my previous letters on this forum I said several times that Pakistani nation and Govt needs to end and stop supporting these terror groups before we see foreign troops walking on Pakistani streets, after Mumbai attacks it is very much clear that entire world is loosing patience with Pakistan, A clear vision to sanitize the terror camps and the mullah power in Pakistan should be discouraged. It is very much necessary to do this to protect the world from terror and protect innocent citizens in Pakistan itself who are getting killed by suicide attacks of these barbarians who are called Taliban . I hate to say this but lets admit that Pakistan has become the training ground for the terrorists. We have to start now to see the end of this may be in 3 to 5 years time. That would mean cleaning up the mess in the political, military, intelligence and administration in Pakistan .Senseless killing of innocent human beings in the name of Islam is wrong and Islam doe not allow such actions. It is an act which is destroying a noble faith. The real sufferers are the God fearing true Muslims. It is a culture that is supported by some mullahs, for whatever reason. They have been able to create a feeling of hate in the hearts of Muslims against others w ho are non-believers. The result of this that everybody is suffering.
Can't the majority of Muslims who do not support terrorism rise and throw such barbarians out of Islam. It is an internal problem of Islam and my request to my Muslim brothers and sisters is that it time they wake up and save Islam. The mullahs, media and politicians all seem to be living in denial and misleading its own people. Pakistanis should stand up and wage the true "jihad" against the terrorists. Pakistan is a great nation but dark clouds loom over Pakistan. If people don’t start taking action against these terrorists, this great country would be destroyed in no time. Today its Mumbai and Pukhtoonistan, tomorrow it will be Karachi. There are no doubts that these dirty worms of LeT did the act in Mumbai , Taliban in Pukhtoonistan , these men should be castrated and be-headed publicly. Terrorism has no religion. A terrorist can neither be a Hindu nor a Musalman nor a Christian. No religion preaches viole nce and hatred.
While Pakistan itself is fighting a big war against terrorism and losing a lot of lives in the cowardly acts of terrorism, it is in the greater interest of Pakistan and to that extent India also, that we jointly make an exercise to flush out terrorists and their breeding grounds. Where are the fatwas against these terrorists. It is time for people of Pakistan to come out from illusion that India or America is the biggest threat to them. People of Pakistan have to realize that today's war cannot be won with arms and terror, but only with economy, peace and stability. Provide employment and right education to all citizens to avoid them to become terrorists. How long the population of Pakistan will sit back and allow the fragmentation of the country? People took to the streets to reinstate a judge, but no one is showing up, when the militants are taking the country apart. In a true democracy, people will be on the street demanding action and letting the militants know that they are not welcome. Instead of blaming others for the situation look inward and be proactive. What will take to make Pakistanis understand that Taliban and Al Qaeda do not have their interests at heart, but their goal is to take Muslim countries back to their perception of 7th century, and to pursue that goal they disregard the Quran and are willing to destroy hard built assets. These assets will not be easy to replace. World looks at the silence of the majority of Pakistanis as tacitly supporting the destructive force. Don't blame each other for terrorism instead try to reach the roots of terrorism. If there is peace in the country, then India or any other country can't dare to threaten Pakistan. These countries know our weak point, we don't have unity, all the political parties quarreling with each other, every one blames others, nobody accepts his mistakes, so try to be united, fare with the nation, give them some rel ief. Once everything is controlled in the country, then India will not dare to even blame on Pakistan.
Present Pakistani regime and Military needs to think seriously and sincerely before its too late and I repeat one more time, before someone else send tanks, army and turn Pakistan into stone age, we must get rid of these fanatics. Get rid of the bloody trash, the potential suicide bombers, kidnappers of ambassadors and Chinese engineers, murderers of innocent men women and children, get rid of ignorant in this country who authorized rapists of women, the dishonorable honor killers of daughters, sisters the unwashed barbarians, who bury girls alive and their immoral apologists, who become then education ministers , these assorted vermin that have infested Pakistan for decades and have multiplied like rabbits need not be tolerated any more ,it is time to ship this garbage abroad to undertakers around the world who want them. They are not Muslims ,they are anti- Islam , they are the biggest enemy of Islam and its billion Muslims followers all over the world. They are hell bent on demeaning the Muslims diminishing them, putting them on defensive everywhere making them unwelcome suspicious characters wherever they reside. They are a bloody dark blot on the otherwise shining forehead of the Muslim community from Africa to Europe from Asia to Americas. These rabid dogs of religious extremism, communalism and sectarianism with their foaming mouths spouting nothing but poisons of pure hatred and bigotry against other communities, other sects of their own communities, against other's ethnicity, other religions and other countries , are not only the biggest danger to world peace and democracy , they pose a very mortal, a very urgent threat to Pakistan's very own existence. It is absolutely wrong for the world to accuse the government of Pakistan for the carnage in Bombay -- the government of Pakistan led by peace makers like Zardaris, Gilanis, Qur eishis, Asfandiyaris and others of Pakistan can be accused neither of the crime of commission, nor of the crime of omission because the government is only a few months old infant and the plague Jihadi terrorism is decades old. It is a golden opportunity for the Government of Pakistan to redeem itself -- to absolve itself of the stigma of harboring terrorism , the government and its army should restore the good name of Pakistan by throwing away all its stinking bad eggs to whoever wants to take them home to make omelets of them -- send them to India if the Indians want them -- to USA if the Americans want them -- to England if the Brits want them to Russia if the Russians want them or of course to China if the Chinese want them get rid of them one and all , or arrest them and kill them and hang their bodies in public places.. Its time for Pakistanis to stand behind present Govt, you can’t afford another martial law or war with anyone ,India provides solid proofs of Mumbai terror or not, we must admit that there are elements in Pakistan who are involve in suicide bombings and other barbarian activities. Pakistan needs to replace the social services provided by terror groups and their fronts like the Jamaât-ud Dawa if it is to seriously root out terrorism. Pakistani Govt should ban all these so called religious groups to form charity etc work, it’s the responsibility of the Govt to help poor citizens not those groups who help and then misuse poor people. Pakistan is not responsible for all this mess and I do agree to some extend with the critics who blame other foreign powers in supporting so called Pakistani terror groups but lets admit that we are also responsible to some extend of this mess, lets confess that our hands are not clean either. President Zardari should disclose names or groups of those ‘’NON STATE ACTORS’’ and people involve in terrorism; those people should be arrested and punished. Its also media’s responsibility to start programs on Radio/TV and educate people about the dangers of terrorism. When extremist distort and totally misinterpret the Prophet Mohammad's teachings, they act like a bunch of crazed teen-agers high on Ecstasy with loaded weapons, It's a shame .Its not ‘’jihad’’ to kill innocent people, There are many levels of Jihad: Struggling to remove poverty; fighting against material and corruption; struggling against all kinds of social, political, and economic injustices; struggling to restore basic human rights; fighting against tyranny and oppression; constantly exerting to advance human knowledge; fighting against environmental pollution. No covert operations are allowed in Islam. Above all, Jihad must be done for the good of humanity which, in Islam, is referred to as fighting in the cause of God. Under no circumstances, are they allowed to exploit the weak and the vulnerable. Suicide attacks are horrific acts of genocide similar in psychotic madness as to what surged through the veins of Hitler.