Obama's escalation challenges U.S. military

WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama's escalation of the war in Afghanistan challenges his generals to do more with slightly less than they wanted -- and much, much faster. The odds are against them.
The deployment of 30,000 more troops is a victory for proponents of the buildup within the U.S. military, who say it will breathe new life into a flagging eight-year-old war that would have ended in defeat otherwise.
But Obama did not give General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander on the ground, all of the 40,000 troops he sought -- let alone a more ambitious plan to deploy up to 80,000 extra troops. NATO will not entirely bridge the gap.
Obama, in his speech on Tuesday, also demanded success more quickly, calling for U.S. forces to start pulling out in mid-2011 -- a year and a half sooner than McChrystal thought was advisable.
"He is being asked to do more with less, at least less than he had asked for," said military analyst Kimberly Kagan, who was part of the team that helped McChrystal assess the Afghan conflict during the summer.
"Is it enough? I don't know ... 30,000 forces is a lot of combat power and it has a chance, and I think a reasonable chance, of dramatically changing the situation on the ground."
Commanders are expected to funnel the forces into Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar and opium-producing areas of Helmand province, protecting key population centers.
The reinforcements, all of which are expected to be in place by the end of August, will aim to isolate the Taliban and create the space needed to train the Afghan security forces and build local governance.
McChrystal, a straight-talking former special operations commander said to sleep just four or five hours a night, led Americans into an autumn of soul-searching about the Afghan war after his bleak assessment of the conflict was leaked to the media in September.
He warned the war effort would fail without additional troops, and, worse still, that an escalation alone could not ensure victory.
But his calls to address a crisis of confidence in the Afghan government have raised uncomfortable questions about nation-building -- a grim prospect in an underdeveloped country ravaged by three decades of war, rampant corruption and a booming opium trade.
Obama, in his speech, said Afghanistan's government had to crack down on corruption and deliver services to the people, warning "the days of providing a blank check are over."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced plans to tighten control of multimillion-dollar U.S. contracts as a first step to fighting corruption.
After three months of White House strategy reviews, McChrystal commended Obama for giving him a "clear military mission and the resources to accomplish our task" -- even though he did not get all of the troops he wanted.
McChrystal cited the goal of ramping up training of Afghan security forces -- a crucial step for any handover. There are now about 190,000 Afghan soldiers and police, a number McChrystal has recommended raising to 400,000.
But officials have also spoken bluntly about the obstacles of developing capable Afghan security forces given high attrition rates among recruits and widespread illiteracy.
Less than a third of the Afghan population are literate and officer training includes teaching officers to read, a fact McChrystal warns could take the training well beyond 2013.
For McChrystal and his boss, General David Petraeus, the Afghanistan mission will be a crucial test of counter-insurgency strategy and the lessons of Iraq.
There, a quick "surge" of 20,000 U.S. troops sent to Iraq between January and July 2007 is one of the factors credited with helping to pull that country back from brink.
But both McChrystal and Petraeus have been wary of drawing comparisons to Iraq given the major differences with Afghanistan, which lacks a strong central government or tribal structure after three decades of war.
For his part, Obama rejected comparisons to Vietnam in his speech on Tuesday, as U.S. generals have done for years.
And then there is the Soviet Union. U.S. military strategists are working hard to make sure that Western forces are not seen as occupiers, as they escalate past the peak size of Soviet forces before their withdrawal in defeat in 1989.
Gates has said showing Afghans that U.S. troops improve their lives will help prevent comparisons to the Soviets. He wants U.S. forces to build wells, schools and roads after clearing towns of the Taliban.
But avoiding such comparisons could be difficult. Even the strategy itself drew allusions to the Soviet Union on Tuesday.
"The McChrystal plan calls for what the Soviets did -- holding the cities," said Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University's Center for Peace and Security Studies.
"That did not work for the Soviets and I don't know how it will work with us, given the troop footprint we have."

Separatists, Islamists and Islamabad Struggle for Control of Pakistani Balochistan

By: Chris Zambelis

To say that the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in October 2001 shook Pakistan to its core would be an understatement. Since then, the war in Afghanistan has spilled over into Pakistan on multiple levels. The escalating cycle of violence between Pakistani security forces and a patchwork of tribal militants, particularly the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and foreign fighters aligned with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is a case in point. Many observers of Pakistani affairs have used the deteriorating situation in the tribal agencies along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier as a bellwether of future trends in Pakistan. In this context, it is no surprise that events in Pakistan’s tribal areas seem to draw the most attention. Yet Pakistan’s Balochistan province is also beginning to draw interest as a center of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity.

Reports that the U.S. is seeking Pakistan’s approval for expanding its controversial drone campaign against targets in Balochistan - a clear red line for Pakistan - have raised serious concerns in Islamabad about Washington’s ultimate intentions (The News, [Islamabad], September 29). As the Obama administration escalates its military campaign in Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders have expressed deep concerns about the potential destabilization of Balochistan resulting from the intensified fighting expected in Afghanistan in the coming months (The Nation [Lahore], November 27). As if these concerns were not enough, Balochistan remains a hotbed of ethno-nationalist militancy, drug smuggling, and organized crime. Balochistan is also in the throes of a refugee crisis that has been largely ignored. The confluence of these trends - which indirectly or directly reinforce each other - is making an already dangerous situation worse with severe implications for Pakistan and the wider region.

Geography and Demographics

Balochistan occupies approximately 42 percent of Pakistan’s total landmass, making it the country’s largest province. Yet in spite of its large geographic area, Balochistan is only home to an estimated population ranging between 7 and 12 million, a consequence of its harsh, mountainous terrain and paucity of water sources, making it Pakistan’s least densely populated region and smallest province in terms of total population. The provincial capital of Quetta is home to an estimated 750,000 to 1 million people. Ethnic Baloch represent a slight majority in the province, with ethnic Pashtuns, many of whom are refugees or descendants of refugees from Afghanistan, representing the next largest community, especially in the north. Ethnic Pashtun influence is significant in Balochistan; the provincial capital Quetta, for instance, is a majority Pashtun city, as are other areas of the province. Balochistan is also home to smaller ethnic and religious minorities.

Pakistani Balochistan is situated in a strategic location in southwestern Pakistan due south of the South Waziristan region of the FATA and adjacent to the borders of the neighboring Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan and Afghanistan’s Nimruz, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol, and Paktika provinces. Balochistan lies on the Gulf of Oman, a busy sea passage that connects to the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, and by extension, the wider Indian Ocean. Balochistan is also home to the strategically important Gwadar deepwater seaport. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was motivated largely by Moscow’s pursuit of access to a long coveted warm water seaport giving access to the Indian Ocean.

Balochistan is among Pakistan’s poorest and least developed regions. Paradoxically, it is also rich in natural resources. Balochistan is home to significant natural gas deposits (accounting for at least one-third of total Pakistani consumption) and oil reserves. It is also rich in minerals and metals, including copper, uranium, and gold (Asia Times [Hong Kong], May 9). Balochistan lies along the route of the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline - popularly dubbed the “peace pipeline” - designed to transfer natural gas from Iran to India via Pakistan. Balochistan also lies along the alternative regional pipeline network favored by the United States (precisely because it excludes Iran) known as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. [1]

Ethno-Nationalist Militancy

Balochistan has been a center of ethno-nationalist militancy and violent revolts against the state since the province was forcibly annexed by Pakistan after the partition of India gave rise to an independent Pakistan. Prior to being annexed by Pakistan, Balochistan enjoyed autonomy under British colonial rule. Pakistan’s ethnic Baloch community is underserved and deeply resents what it sees as a calculated effort by Islamabad to suppress Baloch identity and culture. Baloch nationalists argue that Islamabad is actively working to keep the Baloch people impoverished, weak, and disorganized, thus making it easier for the ethnic-Punjabi dominated central government to reap the benefits of Balochistan’s vast natural resources. The latest outbreak of the Baloch insurgency was sparked by the deaths of three prominent Baloch rebel leaders following a period of relative calm. Baloch militant groups such as the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and the Balochistan Liberation United Front (BLUF) accused Islamabad of instigating the latest round of violence.

Baloch militants typically target symbols of the Pakistani state, political leaders, members of the security services and targets associated with the region’s natural resources, such as gas pipelines. Pakistan has always viewed the Baloch with great suspicion, owing in part to their strong sense of national identity and their numbers in Afghanistan and the neighboring Iranian province of Sistan-Balochistan, where ethnic Baloch insurgents led by the obscure Jundallah (Soldiers of God) movement are mounting their own violent campaign against Tehran (see Terrorism Monitor, February 9). While Pakistan and Iran have a history of cooperating closely to suppress Baloch nationalism, as the Baloch separatist aspirations threaten the territorial integrity of both countries, Pakistan is wary of attempts by regional rivals such as India to support Baloch militancy (PakTribune [Rawalpindi], November 19).

The threat of Baloch separatism will remain a challenge for Pakistan in its own right. The deteriorating security situation across Pakistan and Afghanistan, however, could severely complicate matters for Islamabad in Balochistan. Baloch rebels, for instance, may see a window of opportunity to escalate their campaign against Islamabad as Pakistan concentrates its efforts on fighting militants in the tribal areas. A potential expansion of the U.S. drone campaign to Balochistan may also provide Baloch militants with another opening to strike at Islamabad. There is evidence to suggest that Baloch rebels are already exploiting the current turmoil in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A series of bomb blasts and abductions in recent years targeting Chinese laborers prompted China to halt construction of the Gwadar oil refinery in Balochistan due to security concerns (Financial Times, August 14). Baloch rebels have also begun abducting international NGO personnel in the province. A senior UNHCR official was kidnapped and his driver killed by members of the BLUF in Quetta in February. BLUF staged the operation in part to highlight the plight of Baloch political prisoners in Pakistani prisons. While the UN official was eventually released, the BLUF’s decision to target UN relief workers represents a major escalation of Baloch militancy (Dawn [Karachi], February 4). Islamabad fears that Baloch rebels may position themselves as a potential bulwark against the spread of Taliban and al-Qaeda-style extremism that is increasingly gripping the province’s ethnic Pashtuns in an effort to gain allies in Washington, thus circumventing Islamabad’s authority and potentially ushering in a new and more dangerous stage of the Baloch separatist movement.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda

U.S. officials identify Balochistan as a critical center of Taliban and al-Qaeda activity. Many observers believe that high-profile al-Qaeda figures and ranking Taliban members, including Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, have fled Afghanistan or Pakistan’s tribal areas for sanctuary in Balochistan. The provincial capital of Quetta is believed to serve as a critical hub for financing and organizing Taliban and al-Qaeda operations (Dawn, September 30). Islamabad’s intelligence service is often accused of protecting Afghan Taliban members in Balochistan, namely the powerful Taliban faction led by Mullah Omar known as the Quetta Shura. Pakistan disputes the very existence of the Quetta Shura, choosing instead to lay the blame for the resurgence of the Taliban and the deteriorating security situation in South Asia on what it describes as the failure of the U.S.-led mission to stabilize Afghanistan (Dawn, September 27). Because of its geographic proximity to the tribal areas, Balochistan is open to a spillover of violence and radicalism. The emergence of Baloch-based militants aligned with the Taliban, namely the obscure Tehrik-e-Taliban Balochistan (TTB), is indicative of the larger concerns regarding the spread of radicalism in the region (The News, March 4).

Because Balochistan borders Afghanistan, including Helmand province—a center for Taliban operations against NATO forces—Islamabad worries that an escalation of the U.S.-led campaign in Helmand and other parts of Afghanistan will compel Afghan militants to use Balochistan as a temporary sanctuary to evade direct engagements with U.S. forces. Afghan militants may also use Balochistan as a staging ground for attacks against NATO forces in Helmand and beyond. In other words, Pakistan fears that Balochistan may go the way of FATA and the NWFP following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, a dangerous scenario, to say the least. Afghan militants may also wreak havoc in Balochistan by launching attacks inside the province, particularly against religious minorities such as the small Shi’a community, a frequent object of radical Sunni Islamist ire. In fact, Balochistan has seen a spike in sectarian attacks over the last few years (AFP, March 4). Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani has expressed concern over a possible influx of militants in Balochistan after U.S. reinforcements arrive in Afghanistan (The Nation, November 27). This is a nightmare scenario for Pakistan since it also has the potential to invite a more aggressive U.S. policy of launching drone attacks in Balochistan.

Tribal militants fleeing the Pakistani military’s offensive in the tribal areas may also use nearby Balochistan as a temporary base. The problems affecting Balochistan are severe, considering that the region serves as one of the crucial logistical hubs sustaining the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan. Convoys ferrying fuel, vehicles, arms, food, and other crucial items to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan travel through Balochistan. The first confirmed attack against a NATO convoy in Balochistan occurred in June in Chaman City, near the Afghan border (Times of India [New Delhi], June 3). Militants struck again in September in an attack against a NATO fuel convoy passing near Quetta, setting eight oil tankers ablaze (UPI, September 9). Vital supply routes used by NATO in Balochistan are likely to come under increasing attack as the escalation in Afghanistan unfolds, consequently raising a new set of challenges.

Opium and Organized Crime

Pakistani Balochistan plays a critical role as one the world’s busiest and most dangerous opium smuggling hubs, where the borders of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran converge. Known as the Golden Crescent, the region is home to scores of powerful organized crime networks, especially criminal organizations engaged in drug smuggling and opium production. Not surprisingly, the rapid expansion of opium cultivation in Afghanistan in recent years has provided a boon to regional drug smugglers.

Ethnic Baloch-led criminal gangs based in Pakistani Balochistan (some of which associate with ethnic Baloch insurgent groups as well as Taliban factions based on mutual business interests as opposed to ideology or politics) figure prominently in the smuggling of opium out of Afghanistan (Asia Times, October 22).

Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan is home to one of the largest refugee populations in the world with almost 1.8 million refugees on its soil. [2] Pakistani Balochistan is home to generations of refugees, mostly ethnic Pashtuns who fled Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979, as well as refugees who fled the country more recently. Balochistan is also home to IDP camps housing upwards of 200,000 ethnic Baloch forced to flee various parts of the province as a result of Islamabad’s military operations against Baloch separatists in the region. [3]

UNHCR estimates that upwards of 2 million people - nearly all ethnic Pashtuns - were forced to flee their homes during the fighting between Pakistani security forces and tribal militants in the FATA and NWFP [4] The massive scale of the displacement of Pashtuns from the tribal areas to other parts of Pakistan, including Balochistan, has caught Pakistani, U.S., and international authorities by surprise. The migration of IDPs into Balochistan and other parts of Pakistan will have a serious social and political impact on Pakistan’s society and economy that may ultimately threaten political stability. Baloch activists, for instance, often accuse Islamabad and the international community of favoring Pashtun refugees and IDPs in Balochistan at the expense of ethnic Baloch IDPs for political reasons. Some Baloch observers believe that Islamabad is exploiting the refugee and IDP crisis in Balochistan to further diminish Baloch influence through demographic changes. [5] The recent decision by the United Nations to withdraw much of its staff from parts of Pakistan - including Balochistan - due to security concerns will also exacerbate matters in the months ahead, adding another set of challenges to Pakistan’s embattled domestic institutions

Pakistani Ruling classes plunder public money

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Dr Babar Awan has disclosed that three political families and some retired army officers got millions of rupees bank loans waived from 30 banks across the country between 1985 and 2003. Without giving details, he said the National Bank of Pakistan had been the main sufferer. A report on this corruption by influential people has been tabled in the National Assembly. Separately, the NA's Public Accounts Committee also sought details of the writing-off of 1,000 Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan loans amounting to Rs 14 billion. Federal minister Syed Naveed Qamar also divulged in the NA the other day that a total of about Rs 60 billion of bank loans have been written off during 1999-2007. Most written off loans were obtained by cement, textile and sugar industries. The Punjab Bank waived Rs 608.74 million and the National Bank of Pakistan Rs 6109 million. The First Women Bank wrote off Rs 12.3 million, SME Bank Rs 1.239 billion, the IDBP Rs 10.763 billion and the Bank of Khyber Rs 1.124 billion. A total of Rs 127.485 billion of loans have been written off between 1999 and 2007 alone. If calculated banks have been writing off loans worth trillions of rupees between 1985 and 2007 and political people, army institutions and industries in addition to influential individuals have been the beneficiaries. This is not all because as, upon the directions, the State Bank has been submitting to superior courts lists of the people obtaining huge loans from almost all Pakistani banks and then getting them written off. What is even more deplorable is that all such scams have gone unnoticed and no corrupt people have ever been proceeded against under any law of the land. No government has ever seemed pushed about this colossal bank robbery particularly since 1985. This is because all political parties, military establishment, business barons and industrial tycoons belong to one ruling class that have virtually developed mafias that are sucking the blood of the common people already subject to severe economic miseries. Banks around the world work for the betterment of society and the welfare of the people but in Pakistan they serve only the already rich and influential. Stopping this corrupt practice is almost impossible at least for the political administration because top bosses are hand in glove with bank loan mafias. In fact, all those belonging to the ruling class are working like mafias. As such, the people cannot expect justice from any government. The only way left may be a judicial commission to probe into this alarmingly high corruption. As a last hope the Chief Justice of Pakistan should appoint a commission to inquire into the issue in depth at least since 1958, fix responsibilities, get the plundered public money back and inflict exemplary punishment on those who have and continue to harm the national and public financial interests. We may request the apex court of the country to also slap disqualification on corrupt political people from pursuing their political ambitions because no corrupt deserves a place in a legislature and government.

The Afghanistan Speech

New York Times

Americans have reason to be pessimistic, if not despairing, about the war in Afghanistan. After eight years of fighting, more than 800 American lives lost and more than 200 billion taxpayer dollars spent, the Afghan government is barely legitimate and barely hanging on in the face of an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency.

In his speech Tuesday night, President Obama showed considerable political courage by addressing that pessimism and despair head-on. He explained why the United States cannot walk away from the war and outlined an ambitious and high-risk strategy for driving back the Taliban and bolstering the Afghan government so American troops can eventually go home.

For far too long — mostly, but not only, under President George W. Bush — Afghanistan policy has had little direction and no accountability. Mr. Obama started to address those problems at West Point, although the country needs to hear more about how he intends to pay for the war and how he will decide when Afghanistan will be able to stand on its own.

The president’s prolonged and leak-ridden policy review had fanned doubts here and abroad about Mr. Obama’s commitment. He showed no reluctance on Tuesday night. He said he decided to send more troops because he is “convinced that our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” which he called “the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda.”

“This is no idle danger,” Mr. Obama said, “no hypothetical threat.” He warned that new attacks were being plotted in the region, and raised the terrifying prospect of an unchecked Al Qaeda taking over a nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Mr. Obama’s decision to send an additional 30,000 troops — and ask NATO allies for several thousand more — is unlikely to end the political debate. Republicans are certain to point out that it is still short of the 40,000 requested by the top field commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and object to the president’s pledge of a quick drawdown. Many Democrats and the president’s own vice president had opposed any escalation.

At this late date, we don’t know if even 100,000 American troops plus 40,000 from NATO will be enough to turn the war around. But we are sure that continuing President Bush’s strategy of fighting on the cheap (in January 2008, the start of Mr. Bush’s last year in office and more than six years after the war began, there were only 27,000 American troops in Afghanistan) is a guarantee of defeat.

Mr. Obama said he planned to move those 30,0000 troops in quickly — within six months — to break the Taliban’s momentum, secure key population centers, speed up training of Afghan security forces and then hand over control to Afghan authorities. He said he expected to be able to start drawing down American forces in July 2011. But he made no promise about when all American combat troops would be gone, saying only that the decision would be based on conditions on the ground.

Over all, we found the president’s military arguments persuasive.

The Afghan people have no love for the Taliban’s medieval ideas and brutality, but the Karzai government’s failure to provide basic services or security has led many to conclude that they have no choice but to submit. Driving the Taliban back swiftly and decisively from key cities and regions should help change that calculation. Coupled with an offer of negotiations, it may also peel away less committed fighters.

There is no point in doing that unless there is a minimally credible Afghan government to “hold” those areas. There is no chance of that unless Mr. Karzai ends the corruption and appoints competent officials. One of Mr. Obama’s biggest challenges is figuring out how to goad him into doing that, without further damaging the Afghan leader’s legitimacy, or driving him even deeper into his circle of unsavory cronies and warlords.

In his speech Mr. Obama sought to put Mr. Karzai on notice, but more gently than we would have. “The days of providing a blank check are over,” he said, vowing that his government “will be clear about what we expect from those who receive our assistance.”

We hope that the president and his aides — who failed to stop Mr. Karzai from trying to steal his re-election — are a lot more specific and a lot more forceful with the Afghan leader in private.

Mr. Obama faced a similar balancing act with Pakistan. He forcefully argued that Pakistan’s survival also depends on defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban but gave the Pakistani government more credit than we would have for seeing that.

Pakistani officials insist they understand the threat but question Washington’s staying power. Mr. Obama said the United States will support Pakistan’s “security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent.” But it will take a lot more cajoling and pressure to finally persuade Islamabad to stop hedging its bets and fully take on the extremists.

For years President Bush sought to disguise the true cost of the Afghan and Iraq wars. So it was a relief to hear the president put a credible price tag on his escalation — he said it is likely to cost an additional $30 billion next year — and promise to work with Congress to pay for it. He and Congress need to address that issue quickly and credibly.

We are eager to see American troops come home. We don’t know whether Mr. Obama will be able to meet his July 2011 deadline to start drawing down forces.

For that to happen, there will have to be a lot more success at training Afghan forces and improving the government’s effectiveness.

Still, setting a deadline — so long as it is not set in stone — is a sound idea. Mr. Karzai and his aides need to know that America’s commitment is not open-ended. Mr. Obama’s generals and diplomats also need to know that their work will be closely monitored and reviewed.

Otherwise, Mr. Obama will be hard pressed to keep his promise that this war, already the longest in American history, will not go on forever.

Pakistan People’s Party !!!

Pakistan People’s Party, the largest political party of the country with a sustained and significant support base in all parts of the country, has turned 42 and the journey continues. People’s Party is undeniably the most effective political outfit with a decidedly anti-establishment hue to emerge from the indigenous political discourse in the history of this country. The roller coaster politics of Pakistan has been through many upheavals since that chilly last day of November in 1967 when the party was founded. People’s Party too, has inevitably turned many colours to readjust to the changing ground realities and has earned thumping accolades as well as biting criticism for its policies and practices. The foundation day of the People’s Party offers a propitious opportunity to take stock of the past, present and the future of the party currently in power.

People’s Party emerged from the political void created by our first encounter with the military adventurism of the Ayub regime. Equipped with the dual promise of democracy (the Westminster model) and socialism (the opaque and populist Afro-Asian brand of the 1960s), Mr. Bhutto rode the crest of unprecedented popularity in the then West Pakistan. The 1971 debacle tolled the bell for the Yahya regime and People’s Party was entrusted with power in the remaining Pakistan. The formidable task of “picking up the pieces” of a country battered in military, political and economic terms was undertaken in earnest and with a fair amount of success. The Simla Accord restored a semblance of peace with India. The passage of a largely consensual constitution furnished a rudder to the ship of the nation. The bid for nationalisation initiated a process that dovetailed with the economic aspirations of the have-nots. However, the federation module made shipwreck on the rock of provincial autonomy. Similarly, the half-baked nationalisation was stymied partly by the powerful stakeholders and partly by the inept stewardship of the enterprise. People’s Party’s first stint in power is stamped by the transformation of a territorial conflict with a neighbouring state into the raison d’etre of the nation itself, the initiation of the nuclear programme, the accommodation of the religious diction in political discourse, precipitating the flight of capital and the beginning of our Afghan imbroglio. The whole inventory reads like a roster of continued political debate. However, the defining feature of the party, right up to the “judicial murder” of Z.A. Bhutto, was its incremental departure from its original economic and political ideals. The forced removal of Mr. Bhutto from the political scene marked the end of the first phase of the PPP as a political party and the beginning of a political cult that may appear to revolve around the Bhutto family but in fact is rooted deeply in the dreams and aspirations of the people. Under Benazir Bhutto, PPP may have undergone a metamorphosis from a left leaning to a liberal democratic centre-left outfit, but it has successfully engendered a pattern of political dynamics interweaving two distinct strands, i.e. unwavering commitment to the people and a series of courageous sacrifices by the leadership. While conceding the chequered record of successes and failures, People’s Party continues to signify the basic contradiction in the body politic of this country, the democratic dispensation embodying the economic and political aspirations of the people as against the national security narrative supported by the retrogressive forces of all hues and colours. Reassuringly, given the present political spectrum, the party seems wedded to carrying on in the spirit of national reconciliation and a pluralist polity.


By Mwaqar
I am not Zardari’s fan but its really amazing that people have forgotten Nawaz Shrif’s corruption, to me entire Pakistani elite is corrupt and are bunch of thugs, criminals and thieves. The only thing Pakistan needs is a REVOLUTION and firing squad to get rid of all these criminals. The fact is, No one has any idea how the NRO is going to play out in the courts. But everyone knows that corruption is rampant in Pakistan and there are no effective means to check it. Ousting Zardari will neither fix the system nor validate the continuation of democracy in Pakistan .
Nawaz Sharifs Ehtesab Bureau was basically a Punjabi way of removing all political opposition to primacy of Punjab from Sindh. Corruption was used as a pretext although no one ever asked how Nawaz Sharif became Pakistan’s richest man in between 1985 and 1997? No one asked how Nawaz Sharif awarded the Lahore Islamabad Motorway to Daewoo before last date of award of the project? No one has asked how Shahbaz Sharif awarded NLC 8 Billion Rupees of Lahore Ring Road without bidding and NLC sub contracted the same work to civilians within 7 days without bidding? HOW IS IT THAT ALL THE CRIMES AND CORRUPTION IN PAKISTAN IS IN SINDH,PUKHTUNKHWA,BALUCHISTAN, WHILE THE MAJORITY PUNJAB MUCH LARGER IN POPULATION IS COMPOSED OF ALL ANGELS .
NRO is just a name in the struggle of Pakistan’s so called custodians , also known as establishment , the generals , the Punjab centered political clique to paint all who are outside their group as bad guys.
The question of NRO is of social justice and morality that an elite group of people are allowed keep themselves away from any judicial process for their alleged crimes.
But I don't think our bureaucracy, generals, feudal parties, corrupt capitalists , bhatta khors don't consider them selves as in need of any morality. These thugs and criminals don’t care that ordinary Pakistanis are poor, they are selling kids and kidneys or committing suicides because of poverty ,they don’t have clean drinking water, electricity, proper medical benefits and the list of their miseries goes on in Jinnah’s Pakistan.
One person of the family stands in line for flour, another stands in line to get sugar. When they come home, no electricity, gas, water. Very productive – these politicians have taken money from agencies and steal money. I think these people should be banned from running. These corrupt politicians , rulers, elite and slaves of bourgeois are all power hungry. None of them is truly a leader of public. A public leader only comes in power to help the public. They represent and defend the rights of their community. As long as these political leaders are in the political scene, no real progress can take place. The time has come to start things from scratch; to have the Pakistan "Born Again". This can only accomplish when the Pakistani public, stop believing in this charade of democracy. It is only good for amusement. "Somebody" has to give a sudden halt to this and form a government of technocrats (loyal ordinary citizens of Pakistan) who can rule for good 25-30 years and "build the nation": infrastructure, economy, healthcare and education geared towards making citizens of Pakistan virtuous, compassionate, tolerant and knowledgeable.
The reason I talk about revolution is, because we need to put this country on the right track , to debar all the corrupt politicians or bureaucrats and army generals from ever holding public offices again...otherwise this vicious cycle will continue to play on...also if everybody loves the animal of democracy so much, the least that can be done by all political parties is to first institute democratic norms within their own ranks rather than to operate like dynasties in a kingdom...also they should bring in statutes within their own ranks to debar corrupt leaders, otherwise the monstrous shamble of corruption and destruction would carry on for ever, lets break the vicious circle now... otherwise 3 yrs from now, we will be watching Nawaz or Shahbaz as PM making the same inaugural speech they were making 10 yrs ago... "Aziz humwatanon, pichli hakoomat nay iss mulk ko loot kar deewalaya kar diya. Muslim League phir se taraqqi ka safar shuroo karey gi .
The people should rise up against the system. Because, it is the system that is flawed.

Lets see how other countries have eradicated corruption from their ranks. Some cleaned the top leadership as in Malaysia and some made it a criminal office punishable to death as is the case in China. The death penalty is an effective means of state-driven innovation, especially against entrenched or widespread defective social structures. Its use against corruption is not in itself new, and it is still applied effectively in China. The recent NRO scandal is a quick reminder, that in the heavy population developing countries. Corruption, self-enrichment, and nepotism are part of the political culture in - so much so, that they form a major argument against democracy itself. Though many countries have signed Protocol Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits the use of the death penalty in peaceful times, however including china & Pakistan some 59 countries have not signed that protocol. The death penalty is legal in 59 countries and 25 of them used it last year to execute almost 9,000 people and Belarus is the only European country where the death penalty is still used. Pakistan is amongst those 59 who awards death sentence freely but In Pakistan you can hang a poor guy not big thugs and criminals. Pakistani Society continues its descent into Anarchy and lawless. The powerful and the rich remain accountable to no one, free to plunder the national trust. The Corrupt should be hung from telephone and electric poles in the street for all the public to see that Corruption will not be tolerated. These corrupt politicians ARE the reason of Pakistan's downfall. Such a strong blow to Pakistan's prosperity SHOULD ONLY be dealt with IRON HAND: Capital Punishment should be enforced for such chronic criminals.
Pakistani politicians desire to enter in politics is to enhance their personal wealth, powers and ego. They entirely forget main objective of democracy which is to serve the people and the country. From day one they been fighting like dogs and cats, not to serve the nation but to themselves and this is the unfortunate reality.
The military establishment's filthy blood-stained hands need to be kept out of Pakistani politics. Pakistani Generals need to understand that they need to improve their skill in defending the country instead of running it into the ground .
The nation is still at war with the terrorist. Beside terrorists plague Pakistanis have other several major problems such as poverty, IDPs issues, security of people and nation, energy crises, inflation, unemployment, lack of justice for individuals, civil laws etc. All these issues require full attention of all branches of our government.
Away from Pakistan for three decades but still carrying a sympathetic heart, I watch events unfold in Pakistan like a soap opera. Politicians of all persuasions appear on television claiming honesty and virtue, prepared to sacrifice all for the country. Who are they kidding? We all know deep down most of them are corrupt and will not hesitate to further their personal cause before the country’s. You only have to look at the gap between haves and the have nots. People taking their own lives in desperation because they can’t feed their children, while the elite live in palaces, eat well and travel to foreign countries with disproportionate entourage on public funds. These political parties are behaving like the sugar mills owners. They are just after their personal benefits and do not care a bit for the country’s interests. Pretty hopeless people in the present dark situation! Pakistan is cursed with evil politicians. Masses have no choice. Only a Messiah will liberate the oppressed.
We can only hope that one day a revolutionary benevolent leader can steer this nation out of its misery.

Democracy and politicians

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi
Daily Times

Both the government and the opposition are strong in verbal commitment to democracy but their political discourse and activities are not always helpful to democracy

The current domestic political situation does not promise a secure future for democracy in Pakistan. If anything, the people’s trust in the political institutions and leadership in power is fast eroding, increasing the space for manoeuvre for state-institutions and non-democratic forces.

Pakistan began the current democratic era with a lot of optimism for the future of democracy for understandable reasons. The relatively fair and free general elections in February 2008 brought forward two genuinely popular parties — the PPP and the PML-N. The regional political parties that acquired salience were willing to cooperate with the nationwide political parties.

Twenty months later, the optimism of the earlier days has waned and a large number of political observers are expressing doubts if the present political arrangements at the federal level can stay intact until the second anniversary. The Zardari-Gilani combine may find it extremely difficult to sustain itself without making drastic changes in personnel at the top and policy management.

These threats are not being posed by the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups. It is ironic that the threat comes primarily from within the political class that is sharply polarised and different political parties and leaders cannot rise above their narrow partisan interests. Both the government and the opposition are strong in verbal commitment to democracy but their political discourse and activities are not always helpful to democracy. The PPP-led government wants to hold on to power on its terms for as long as possible and use state patronage to advance its partisan agenda. The opposition, especially the PML-N, cannot hide its desire to knock out President Asif Ali Zardari from the presidency and force mid-term elections on Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The PML-N pursues its confrontation with the government in an election campaign style. The general pattern is to pick up a particular issue and launch a massive political offensive in a now-or-never style. The PML-N’s political discourse on the restoration of the Chief Justice after the PML-N Punjab government was replaced with governor’s rule was non-democratic and highly confrontational. Later, the issue of the trial of General Musharraf was taken up. This was replaced with the Kerry-Lugar bill and then the NRO. The opposition to the NRO was based on the hope that its abolition would revive corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari and reopen criminal proceedings against some MQM activists.

The PML-N adopted a highly moral disposition of not condoning corruption through the NRO and maintained that none of its leaders benefited from the NRO. However, the information available on November 12 showed that some PML-N members in Punjab benefitted from the NRO. On the same day the cases were discovered in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) record going back to the year 2000 that accused Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif of money laundering. Some PML-N leaders have described these charges as political victimisation by NAB. Hopefully, they would now view the NAB cases against the PPP leaders in the same manner.

The political leaders are unable to recognise that their never-ending effort to delegitimise each other undermines the political institutions and processes. The charges they often frame against each other are subsequently used by the military to exclude them from any role in politics.

Another development that adversely affects democracy is the tendency of the opposition to rely more on extra-parliamentary pressures and make only limited use of parliament. For example, the PML-N spearheaded the long march for the restoration of the chief justice but it did not move any resolution or adjournment motion in the National Assembly on this issue. Similarly, its members bitterly criticised the Kerry-Lugar bill (mostly outside parliament) but they never moved a resolution in the National Assembly condemning its provisions or rejecting it altogether.

The main constraint on the capacity of parliament to function as the supreme law-making body and the pivot of power is not necessarily the 17th amendment that enhanced the powers of the president. The constraints are political, which will continue to adversely affect the performance of parliament even if the powers of the president are reduced. The political leaders need to assign primacy to parliament in their political gaming. The National Assembly often faces a quorum problem; its meetings are brief and attendance poor. The National Assembly barely meets the constitutional requirement of minimum working days. The political parties rely more on extra-parliamentary measures, i.e. street protest, press conferences, political talk-shows on private sector television networks, etc, to advance their political agendas.

If the opposition role has not been helpful to democracy, the PPP and its allies have not shown much interest in strengthening the civilian institutions and processes. The political institutions and leaders have lost credibility with the people, mainly because of poor governance and the failure of the government to address their socio-economic problems.

The federal government’s poor management of the key policy issues like the restoration of the chief justice, the sugar crisis, the Kerry-Lugar bill, the NRO, gas load management and two weekly holidays shows that it suffers from poor policy making and management, failure to pre-empt a difficult situation, and a lack of consultation with the stakeholders for policy-making.

The presidency’s constant effort to dominate policymaking and management has exposed the presidency and made it vulnerable to criticism. President Zardari has become more controversial now than was the case when he contested the presidential elections in September 2008.

The presidency appears to rely on the advice of people who have a poor rapport and reputation inside and outside the PPP. The decisions on key issues are taken without paying much attention to the ground political realities. Consequently, the presidency had to backtrack on the restoration of the chief justice and other judges. It was completely out of touch with the domestic political realities when it agreed to the language of some provisions of the Kerry-Lugar bill in the pre-approval stage. The refusal of the coalition partners to support the NRO shows that the presidency did not consult them before sending it to the National Assembly. The unnecessary delay in amending the constitution in the context of the Charter of Democracy has done maximum damage to the credibility of the presidency.

The sugar crisis shows the inability of the presidency and the federal and provincial governments to force the mill owners to bring the sugar to market at a fixed price. The gas load management issue is another example of a self-created problem by not taking the relevant business quarters into confidence.

The opposition and the government need to mend their ways if they want democracy to become viable. Greater responsibility falls on the government, which needs to improve governance relating to the socio-economic problems of the people if it wants to retrieve its credibility at the popular level. The presidency needs to step back from its overstretched role and the prime minister needs to bridge the gap between official rhetoric and performance. The president and the prime minister need to replace some advisers/ministers with people who enjoy better credibility in the PPP and the opposition circles. The political status quo at the federal level has become non-viable.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Peshawar ruined by unholy mingling of religion, evil

By Dr. S. Amjad Hussain

THE images of dead and dying people keep flashing in my mind as I think of the devastating car bomb that destroyed part of my hometown of Peshawar last week. It left more than 100 dead and twice as many injured. There was no room in the hospitals to deal with the injured and the dying. Carpenters could not keep up with the demand for coffins.
This latest atrocity - an onslaught against civility and decency - hit home for me, figuratively and literally, because it was in that neighborhood within the walled city that I was born and raised.
Peshawar is an ancient city that has stood on the crossroads of Asia for over two millennia. Its reputation as a frontier town on the wild and turbulent western frontier of the Indian subcontinent aside, it has been called the city of flowers and also the city of colors because it took its hues from the rainbow of languages spoken in the bazaars and caravan serais.
There the great Indian plains and the Central Asian steppes converged and gave rise to a unique and fascinating culture that carried the echoes of far away lands. It was in this milieu that I was born, raised, and steeped in the culture and languages of the city. When I left Peshawar in 1963 for America, I shed a few tears as most young men and women do when they leave home. I took with me nothing but a few snapshots and a rich album of memories.
Those vivid and vibrant memories of the people and places and a yearning for the city sustained me during my wanderings, and these are the memories I mourn today.
I am at a loss to understand why a bunch of functionally illiterate religious bigots are destroying the intricate fabric of a society and killing innocent people.
The Taliban, I guess, are driven by a weird and short-sighted philosophy that reinforces their belief that the end justifies the means. The end in this case is to control the country so they can enforce an imported version of Islam that is alien to the people of Pakistan.

These chimeras, the beasts born out of an unholy mingling of religion and evil, are not what we, on the frontier, believe to be religiously inclined and pious. Even the most orthodox of the orthodox would not cross the limits prescribed by Islam.
Those limits restrict the faithful to waging war only in defense. There are injunctions against destroying property and vegetation, killing livestock, or tampering with water supplies. It further lays out that women, children, and old people must not be harmed. The majority of victims in Peshawar were women and children.
The terrorists melt into the community and neighborhoods. They talk the language of religion, which resonates with gullible, ordinary people. They portray American support of the Pakistani government as the cause of all the turmoil. Nowhere in this line of macabre reasoning is any mention of what religion teaches.
Most people do not subscribe to this brand of Islam, but they are afraid to say so in public. Open and public dissent is the quickest way to get into the crosshairs of the Taliban.
On my frequent visits to Peshawar, I found most people to be trapped in that warped and distorted logic. Many deny that a Muslim could ever commit such an atrocity. And others, a growing number of urban youth among them, think the Taliban would cure Pakistani society of all its ills. They seem to have forgotten what the Taliban did in neighboring Afghanistan when they ruled the country from 1996 to 2002.
Eight months ago, the Taliban bombed the tomb of Rahman Baba, a 17th century Sufi Pashtun poet, that is in Peshawar. His devotional and romantic poetry has inspired and given spiritual sustenance to generations of Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns alike.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban believe only in the austere and harsh Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, and they are committed to destroying anything that gets in their way, including the tomb of an ancient poet-saint, which stood as a symbol of religious tolerance and brotherhood of mankind. I wept when I saw the desecrated tomb.
So as I think of my devastated neighborhood, I can't help but think of people I knew and their children and their children's children, some of who still live along the narrow alleys in nondescript houses. It was a place whose everyday rhythm was accented and punctuated by the five daily calls for prayers from the corner mosque. The mosque, like the people and the houses, was also destroyed in the blast.
I have often profiled the neighborhood of Muslim Meena Bazaar, as the area is called, and the people who lived there, in my articles and books about Peshawar. In my writings, I have celebrated the ordinary lives of my extraordinary neighbors: artisans, traders, shopkeepers, teachers, and the like. I have always considered myself a sum total of all those people.
Last week, a part of me died with them.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.

Misleading statements can end Pakistan’s credibility

If we go by the recent statement of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, the two most dangerous countries on this planet are Pakistan and Afghanistan. This statement of Moon is neither prejudiced, nor does he belong to any enemy country of Pakistan or Afghanistan rather this statement is the harsh reality of the world today. The question is that who is responsible for notoriety of these two neighbouring countries? This is clear that the decisions of the political bosses of these countries and the misleading statements of Pakistani leadership are behind the current scenario.

The relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan based Taliban is not new. Pakistan was the first country to recognize the Taliban government of Afghanistan, who captured power by ousting the democratic Najeeb government. Since then the Taliban has deepened its roots in Pakistan. The same Taliban is now eyeing power in Pakistan and therefore Pakistan Army has started operation ‘Rah-e-Nijaat’ against them. But the intentions of Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan are not new.

A decade ago, these Talibans had pasted posters in all major cities of Pakistan in which their plans were clearly mentioned. Through these posters, they made it clear that they want to enforce Sharia’h law in Pakistan. Pakistan’s courts would give verdicts based on the holy Quran. Gold coins would be used as currency during the Taliban regime etc.

The question is that when a decade ago, the Taliban sympathizers were launching such campaigns, was the Pakistani administration asleep then? Was India directing this terrorist organization named Tehrik-e-Taliban a decade ago? Or the Pakistani administrators, according to their habit, were doing nothing while these enemies of humanity were prospering in Pakistan?

The entire world knows all these facts that how the former President of Pakistan, Gen. Zia-Ul-Haq encouraged the extremist and Jehadi ideology during his ten year regime. Since then the tradition of patronizing extremist Islamists by the Pakistani rulers has continued. This has today become an incurable disease that the Pakistan Army itself is finding a way out of this trap or in other words ‘Rah-e-Nijaat’ with them .

Ignoring all these facts, the Interior Minister of Pakistan, Rehman Malik recently shocked the entire world by saying that India is helping Taliban for creating disturbance in Pakistan. How much truth is there in his statement, he himself and the Pakistani people better know. What is conveyed by such misleading statement of Malik? Pakistan has previously too accused India for deteriorating situation in Baluchistan. And now a new misinformation campaign is launched by accusing India of supporting the Taliban. The world knows that Taliban, Tehrik-e-Taliban or any organization sympathizing with Taliban ideology see India as their enemy, and not friend. These organization uses to threaten India from time to time. In these circumstances, how can India ‘help’ these organizations? What the Pakistani Interior Minister wants to tell through such statement, while Pakistan has no such proof through which it can prove India’s involvement in destabilizing Pakistan by helping the Taliban.

On the contrary, there are thousands of evidences which can prove that the terrorists and extremists operated along with the Pakistan administration and the proofs which army and these inhuman organizations are created to created disturbance in India. Ajmal Aamir Kasaab, the only terrorist caught alive in 26/11 is the living example. Kasaab has repeatedly told in his confession how he was sent to Mumbai with the help of Pakistani administration. To clean itself from the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan is now adopting such cheap tactics of misleading statements. The fact is that, the Talibans, so called protectors of Islam, don’t even deserve to be called human beings. It doesn’t seem that there is any other administration than Pakistan, which had ever expressed sympathy with the cruel Talibans. The world still remembers that during the NATO attack on Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, the Taliban spokesman used to address the world media from Pakistan and even he was arrested from Pakistan. Therefore it is not going to help Pakistan by accusing India. Other countries too can’t digest this. In fact, there is danger of Pakistan losing its own credibility by such absurd statements.

Clergy and intelligence agencies are playing dirty game on the blood of innocent Pashtun

We strongly condemn the inhuman incident of car bomb in Peshawar city in which more than 100 innocent civilian mostly women and children martyred and more than 200 seriously wounded. Pashtun Democratic Council consider it as a genocide of the Pashtun nation by the barbarian negative and anti-Pashtun forces which are bent upon to annihilate this nation but one has to understand that neither Changez khan nor Sikandar have ever succeeded to annihilate this nation. Those terrorists who are playing as agents of the conspirators who are sitting miles away from the pashtun area should try to understand that playing havoc with own nation is treachery. Today Pashtun ask the question as to who are doing this barbarism with them. The answer is simple that only and only Pakistani establishment, military, ISI and their partner militants (Terrorists) are responsible for this enmity against Pashtun. Pakistani religious clerics and religious parties are trying to hoodwink the people and international community about the real situations. In Pakistan mulla-military have formed an alliance to wipe out the pashtun. Mulla has been working for the nefarious designs of the ISI and establishment. ISI and Pakistan never ever want to see a prosperous, developed and peaceful democratic Afghanistan and for this purpose these two forces with the connivance of some hidden forces have joined hands to sabotage the development in the region. Today we hear religious parties in Pakistan asking Americans to go back to America from Afghanistan and at same time they denounce Lugar bill. American forces are sitting in more than 100 countries of the world but no where there happens any violence or opposition to American forces but here in Pakistan clergy is mobilizing people against the Americans and international community. It means that Pakistan through its clergy sees the dream to the capture Afghanistan after the departure of the Americans. All the nationalist and democratic Secular political and tribal Pashtun are being or have been assassinated by the notorious hands of the terrorists. The sole aim of self made insurgency in Pashtun region is the handi work of the intelligence agencies and it is quite foolish to believe that Americans and Indians are doing it. No one except the Pakistani intelligence agencies are responsible. This is just to befool the people and international community and divert the attention from the real players in region. Today we see that a particular religious party Jumati Islami, known as B-team of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been protesting Kerry Lugar bill. They both know that the bill in question is meant to develop the social sector in Pashtun areas including FATA and malakand, Swat etc. When this religious party was in government in Musharraf era then there was no hue and cry over such donations. But when Americans made their mind to spend the money on development and for the betterment of the People of Pashtun region then religious parties started hue and cry saying that now the dooms day will fall on them. This is once again a conspiracy against the pashtun and they do not love to see Pashtun be educated and prosperous. They are doing this nefarious job to keep the pashtun backward and ignorant; their sole aim is to use them against foreign forces in Afghanistan. Now international community including Americans should realize the gravity of situations and leave Pashtun be their friends. Americans do know where are the centers of terrorism? They are situated in Punjab. Then what are the hurdles which stop Americans and international community to hit the real centers of terrorism. Only fighting against Pashtun will not prove to be real solution. Unless and until the sources are targeted the problem will not be solved and this process will continue. Pashtin will be dying, American and NATO forces will be martyred in Afghanistan and the real conspirators will get dollars and lead a comfortable life. Oh, Americans and international community for God sake leave Pashtun to lead a peaceful life and go to the real places from where the terrorism originates, I mean Punjab and Islambad. Fault does not lie in Pashtun region rather it is in Islamabad. We once again condemn the attacks on innocent Pashtun and demand of international community to come behind terrorists and annihilate their nests in Punjab and befriend Pashtun which is the only and real solution if interested. We condole the death of all those Pashtun women, children and young who embraced martyrdom in suicide attacks in Peshawar and other parts of the Pashtunkhwa. The clothes of Pashtun women and children were hanging through the walls of high buildings and most of our women were made nude and naked but still Pashtun and international community both are slumbering in ignorance. We Pashtun know our enemy well and enemy is still busy making conspiracies against us.

(The Writer is Chairman Pashtun Democratic Council and can be reached at his email pashtundemocraticcouncil@gmail.com, www.musazai.blogspot.com)

Pakistan Doubles Down Against the Taliban

The letter was simple and direct. "To the brave and honorable people of the Mehsud tribe," it started, in both Urdu and Pashtu, the two languages of Pakistan's troubled tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan. "The operation [by the Pakistan army] is not meant to target the valiant and patriotic Mehsud tribes but [is] aimed at ridding them of the elements who have destroyed peace in the region." Dropped from helicopters above the mountain scrubland of South Waziristan the day before 28,000 Pakistani troops went in to wrest control of a militant stronghold, the letter was signed by General Ashfaq Kayani, chief of the Pakistani military. To drive home the point that Pakistan's most powerful man was speaking directly to a people largely ignored by the country's laws and politics, his photograph, flanked by the Pakistani flag and the crossed-swords insignia of the military, was splashed across the top of the note.

The unprecedented letter, along with an army operation in a part of the country that has seen little of the central government since Pakistan's birth in 1947, signals an extraordinary about-face for the nation's military establishment. For decades, Pakistan's armed forces have been obsessed with India, its foe in four wars, rather than the enemy within. But is the change of heart enough to stop Pakistan's endless death spiral toward becoming a nuclear-armed failed state?

No general wants to take war to his own people. Kayani was forced to do so by a surge of violence radiating from the South Waziristan headquarters of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a group of several militant organizations seething with grievances against the state and influenced in part by al-Qaeda. The 10,000-strong TTP, which was led by Baitullah Mehsud until he was killed by a U.S. drone in August, is largely made up of members of his Mehsud tribe, though an increasing number of militants from the Pakistani heartland of Punjab, along with an estimated 1,500 Uzbek and Arab fighters, have joined the force. Since Mehsud's deputy, Hakimullah Mehsud, assumed leadership in August, there has been an escalation of violence throughout the country that has seen dozens of suicide-bomb attacks, lethal raids on security installations — including the army headquarters — and more than 200 deaths.

The attacks, which have targeted an Islamic university, shopping centers and police academies, have done the seemingly impossible: turned Pakistani public opinion against militants who had formerly been considered holy warriors fighting international forces in Afghanistan. That has allowed the army to go in with popular support. "This operation is not against an area or a tribe," says military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas. "The objective is to regain the space lost last year when Baitullah Mehsud declared war on the state of Pakistan."

An Ideal Place for Jihad
Truthfully, Pakistan never had that space to begin with. South Waziristan is part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which are governed by political officers rather than elected officials. The people of FATA have few constitutionally protected rights and privileges. Central government's presence is minimal; so is development. It is the ideal place for a militant group seeking to set up an Islamic caliphate from which to launch a global jihad.

Three times, the army has gone into South Waziristan, only to be forced into ignoble retreat. But Kayani, 57, seems determined to win this time. He is leading his army into a war that is both guerrilla in nature — the militants know the terrain and have local support — and conventional in its goals. "For the military, the goal is limited: to degrade and destroy these elements and not let them use South Waziristan as a sanctuary from which to spread terrorism in the rest of Pakistan," says Rifaat Hussain, of Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University. "But for the TTP, it is a battle for survival. If they lose, the whole movement is finished."
It is not the first time Kayani has led an operation against militants. This summer he fought an offshoot of the TTP in the Swat Valley, where a failed peace accord had encouraged the local Taliban to attempt a takeover of an entire district. That experience proved the turning point for the army. Intelligence operatives revealed the extensive links between the Swat militants and those fighting for Baitullah Mehsud, fueling fears of a nationwide insurgency. The army "realized that the gains they had made in Swat would not be sustainable unless and until they go after these guys in South Waziristan," says Hussain. "The government does not want to be in the position where these guys have made themselves so strong that the Taliban take root in Punjab, because then the game is up."

For all its intentions to root out insurgency, the military has been forced to make risky deals. Most civilians have fled the area of fighting in South Waziristan, enabling the army to use extensive airpower against militants without fear of collateral damage. But there are only 28,000 ground troops in an area the size of Rhode Island, fighting a well-fortified enemy that has bunkers, ammunition depots, land mines and an extensive network of caves. To prevent TTP fighters from escaping over the border to Afghanistan, the army has reached out to what it perceives to be the lesser evil — militant groups that may have fought the government in the past but that detest the TTP more.
As recently as February, the leader of one such group, Maulvi Nazir of the Ahmedzai Wazir tribe, joined forces with Baitullah Mehsud and declared war on Islamabad, Kabul and Washington. The alliance ended with Mehsud's death, and Nazir resumed his tribe's long rivalry with the Mehsuds. Both Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadur, another local militant, have entered into nonaggression pacts with the army and have been promised money and reconstruction projects in exchange for their neutrality. The Haqqani network, led by former Afghan warlord Jalaluddin Haqqani — one of the U.S.'s most-wanted militants, whose network has concentrated its efforts on attacking NATO forces in Afghanistan — is also expected to remain passive throughout the operation, military officials tell TIME. Army spokesman Abbas defends these agreements. "If you have to defeat the main serpent, would you like to isolate that from the others or deal with them all at once?" he asks. Hussain thinks the tactic makes sense in the short term but worries that in time, the groups that are neutral now may just become a new threat. Baitullah Mehsud, he points out, was once an ally of the Pakistani military.

The Pakistani army's relationship with its lesser-evil militants is unlikely to please the U.S. These are groups that have trained their guns principally on U.S. and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan and have assisted Afghan Taliban who have established bases on the Pakistani side of the border. But Shuja Nawaz, director of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center, says the army is not strong enough to take on the Afghan Taliban based in Pakistan and their friends in the tribal regions. The army, he says, doesn't have "the numbers or the equipment to do that."
It does, actually; it's just that most of Pakistan's army is still based far from its western border with Afghanistan, along its eastern frontier with India. The military establishment has belatedly recognized the threat posed by internal militants, but it is difficult to overestimate Pakistan's continuing paranoia about India. Many commanders serving today cut their teeth during wars with India and remain convinced that the country is bent on destabilizing Pakistan and taking back all the disputed territory of Kashmir. That is why analysts like Nawaz say the only real solution to Pakistan's militancy is a regional détente with India. That, he says, would allow "Pakistan to divert resources — not just troops but monetary resources — to the civil sector for better governance."
Maybe. On the other hand, Pakistan's civilian officials have hardly done much to improve lives when they have had the chance. It was governmental neglect that enabled militants to establish a foothold in the tribal areas in the first place. Unless the government can follow the army's offensive with development, infrastructure, jobs and justice, extremist groups will always thrive in the tribal areas. Taking the battle to the militants in South Waziristan, says Lieut. General Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, the former governor of Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, "is a requirement, but not a solution — a first field dressing to a battle wound." The solution, as is usually the case in regions that breed insurgencies — and not just in Pakistan — is better governance. No sign of that yet.

Clinton's Pakistan visit reveals widespread distrust of U.S.

We don't really trust your country.

No matter how hard Clinton tried to reassure audiences in Lahore and Islamabad with talk of providing economic aid where it's needed most, Pakistanis seized on her visit as the perfect moment to lash out at a U.S. government they perceived as arrogant, domineering and insensitive to their plight.

At a televised town hall meeting in Islamabad on Friday, a woman in a mostly female audience characterized U.S. drone missile strikes on suspected terrorist targets in northwestern Pakistan as de facto acts of terrorism themselves. A day earlier in Lahore, a college student asked Clinton why every student who visits the U.S. is viewed there as a terrorist.

The opinions Clinton heard weren't the strident voices of radical clerics or politicians with anti-American agendas. Some of the most biting criticisms came from well-mannered university youths and respected, seasoned journalists, a reflection of the breadth of dissatisfaction Pakistanis have with U.S. policy toward their country.

In those voices, a sense that Pakistan was paying a heavy price for America's "war on terror" rang clear.

"You had one 9/11, and we are having daily 9/11s in Pakistan," Asma Shirazi, a journalist with Geo TV, told Clinton during the Islamabad town hall meeting.

Clinton's visit came at a time when Pakistanis' suspicions about U.S. intentions in their country were at an all-time high.

A five-year, $7.5-billion aid package to Pakistan recently signed into law by President Obama has stoked much of the animosity. Measures in the legislation aimed at ensuring the money isn't misspent have been perceived by Pakistanis as levers that Washington can use to exert control over their country.

Pakistanis also continue to be incensed by U.S. reliance on drone missile strikes to take out top Al Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan's lawless tribal areas along the Afghan border.

CIA-operated drone strikes have killed at least 13 senior Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas in the last 18 months. But Pakistani government and military leaders say the strikes have also killed hundreds of civilians and amount to violations of Pakistan's sovereignty.

At the Islamabad town hall meeting, a female student from a university in Peshawar, a city shaken by a car bomb blast Wednesday that killed 118 people, summed up the anger over the drone attacks.

"What is actually terrorism in U.S. eyes?" the woman asked. "Is it the killing of innocent people in, let's say, drone attacks? Or is it the killing of innocent people in different parts of Pakistan, like the bomb blast in Peshawar two days ago? Which one is terrorism, do you think?"

Pressed by the forum's moderator whether she thought U.S. drone missile strikes were tantamount to terrorism, Clinton answered, "No, I do not."

On the one occasion when Clinton struck her own assertive tone, the message appeared to get through. Her suggestion to Pakistani journalists in Lahore that elements within the Pakistani government likely were aware of the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leaders but were not acting on the information struck a chord on the opinion pages of major Pakistani newspapers.

"If we are honest, we cannot deny that much of what she said was true," remarked an editorial that appeared today in the News, a major English-language Pakistani daily.

Clinton repeatedly acknowledged the mutual lack of trust that has held back the relationship, and she stressed the Obama administration's commitment to addressing crucial issues for Pakistanis that reach beyond terrorism, such as shoring up Pakistan's beleaguered electricity grid and improving schools and healthcare.

Pakistanis, however, clearly remained unconvinced that Washington was as interested in improving quality of life in Pakistan as it was in tracking down terrorists. And on several occasions during her trip, Clinton was confronted by Pakistanis who blamed the previous U.S. administration's policies in Afghanistan for the militancy now wreaking havoc across Pakistan.

"Look, Madame Secretary, we are fighting a war that is imposed on us," journalist Shirazi told Clinton. "It's not our war. That was your war, and we are fighting that war."

Assessments of Clinton's trip in today's Pakistani newspapers were gloomy.

"One cannot help feeling that [Clinton's trip] was an abortive exercise," remarked an editorial in the Nation, an English-language newspaper, "and she went away fully conscious of that failure."

Waiting for Obama to get down to war

THIS past week has seen appalling terrorist violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bombings in Pakistan were designed in part to coincide with the visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As always, these bombings were designed to kill, but they were also designed for the evening news in every Western country that has troops in Afghanistan and a stake in Pakistan.

The war is going very, very badly in both countries. Meanwhile, the whole world waits for yet another US review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan policy.

To simplify rather drastically, the two possible alternatives are counter-insurgency, which often travels under the acronym COIN, and counter-terrorism, or CT.

COIN is advocated by General Stanley McChrystal, US commander in Afghanistan. He wants 40,000 more US troops. Right now there are 68,000 Americans in Afghanistan, 35,000 from other nations and roughly 170,000 Afghans divided between the police and army.

CT is advocated by US Vice-President Joseph Biden. It is based on the idea of lowering the number of US troops in Afghanistan and concentrating the US effort on killing terrorists as they emerge.

President Barack Obama has a mandate to win in Afghanistan. All through the election campaign he promised to give the Afghanistan campaign the resources it needed.

He then held a policy review after he came into office and declared in March: "To focus on the greatest threat to our people, America must no longer deny resources to Afghanistan because of the war in Iraq."

But as Der Speigel asked, can a Nobel Peace Prize winner wage and win a war in Afghanistan? The Obama administration seems overwhelmed. It is simultaneously dealing with healthcare reform, the fallout from the financial crisis, the Afghanistan/Pakistan disaster and the demand for a global warming agreement.

One response of hard-pressed leaders is to commission further study, so that while that's under way they can concentrate for a time on one of the other pressing issues. But while understandable, that's nowhere near good enough for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

At the moment the allies look, perhaps not entirely accurately, as though they are losing in Afghanistan, while Pakistan increasingly appears caught in a monstrous civil war that will challenge every institution in that fragile, broken-backed society.

To try to understand what's going on, it's helpful to disaggregate the forces at work. In Afghanistan, the US-led coalition, of which Australia is part, in alliance with the government of Hamid Karzai, is fighting the Taliban.

This Taliban is made up of several different forces. There is the central, and profoundly ideological, group led by Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban government. There are regional Taliban movements as well, some of which were in government with Omar. Beyond this, smaller tribal groups and clans have made alliances of convenience with the Taliban. Some elements of the Taliban are less ideologically committed than the Mullah Omar group.

The top Taliban leadership base themselves in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

At the same time, there are now Pakistani Taliban, whose leadership is also based in Pakistan's tribal areas. They, too, are increasingly allying themselves with other Islamist movements within Pakistan. The Afghan Taliban were initially sponsored by the Pakistani military, who have also sponsored other Islamist extremist groups, mainly to attack India.

However, the Pakistani state is in danger of being eaten by the monsters it created. The recent wave of attacks against Pakistani military bases shows there is now an all-out war against the Pakistani state by the Pakistani Taliban.

The Pakistani military, having recently retaken control of the Swat Valley, is now involved in a massive, anti-Taliban campaign in Waziristan.

One of the world's foremost experts on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Anthony Cordesmann, told me this week he's sceptical about what the Pakistani military will be able to achieve in Waziristan. "Tactically, they'll be able to smash their way in all right," he said. "But it's another question whether they can clear, hold and build. They are basically a flat-land army designed to deal with India. They have some heavy learning experiences ahead of them.

"Whether they can adapt and learn effectively is the question."

There is some consolation to be had from the fact that the Pakistani military now sees the Pakistani Taliban as unambiguously its enemy, and the enemy of the Pakistani state.

Pakistani soldiers are infinitely more likely to be effective fighting for their own country, than they are in meeting international obligations to police international terrorism, where perhaps they don't see their own interests fundamentally at stake.

However, the Pakistani military has still not severed its links with the Afghan Taliban, which it believes might come back into power in Afghanistan and which might, in Pakistani eyes, rule Afghanistan in a way which is compatible with Pakistani interests.

This is so even though the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban are in broad alliance and frequent contact.

So where is al-Qa'ida in all this? The best intelligence guess is that al-Qa'ida's leadership is also headquartered in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Al-Qa'ida has a symbiotic relationship with the Afghan Taliban. Those who favour the Biden CT approach against the McChrystal COIN approach often argue that it should be possible to detach al-Qa'ida from the Taliban, and fight the former and make a deal with the latter.

The problem is there is very little historical evidence that this can be accomplished. After the 9/11 terror attacks, Washington gave the Taliban government in Afghanistan every chance to give up Osama bin Laden or at least expel him. Even though Mullah Omar knew that sticking with bin Laden could see his government destroyed and his rule over Afghanistan ended, he did stick.

Since then, if anything, the relationship between al-Qa'ida and the Taliban has grown closer. Al-Qa'ida has trained the Taliban in every terror trick they know, so that Taliban insurgent operations have become ever more sophisticated. They also acknowledge the Taliban's leadership. At the same time the Taliban continues to provide hospitality and support to al-Qa'ida. Osama bin Laden may move around a lot, but he almost certainly isn't hiding in caves. He is staying as an honoured guest with old and deep friends.

Stephen Biddle, who was a member of McChrystal's assessment team, has written a devastating critique of the CT approach as a way of lessening the US troop commitment. He summarises McChrystal's COIN approach as being focused on protecting the Afghan population, expanding its army and police, reforming government, providing economic development, weaning Taliban fighters away from Mullah Omar and targeting those who refuse. To do this effectively requires doing it all, and it requires more resources.

Biddle goes through the alternative approaches of CT. One is: train the Afghans, don't fight on their behalf. This won't work, he says, because effective training effectively requires more US troops. The only really effective training involves mentoring by integrating coalition troops with Afghan troops in battle. This requires a lot of coalition troops.

Another suggestion is the greater use of unmanned aircraft to attack al-Qa'ida leaders. But to be effective this requires human intelligence which is only available from a sympathetic government and a large presence on the ground. Yet another is to buy off warlords. This is indeed also part of the COIN strategy, but the warlords won't stay bought if they think the US and its friends are losing or withdrawing. They'll take coalition money and then join the enemy when it turns up in force anyway.

Another line favours sending civilian aid rather than troops, but no aid project survives in contemporary Afghanistan without security protection. The Taliban will never allow civilian aid to prosper if it has the power to obliterate it. The final piece of CT advice is to tread softly, because having too many foreign troops annoys the Afghans and creates a bigger backlash. But tread softly was Donald Rumsfeld's policy and it got Afghanistan into the mess it's in today. There are enough foreign troops already to annoy a lot of Afghans, but not enough to provide security.

The situation has been vastly complicated by the corrupt presidential election and the loss of credibility for Karzai's government. And the polls are bad for the Afghan war in America. But this is exactly when presidential leadership is most needed. A Taliban victory in Afghanistan would put huge pressure on nuclear-armed Pakistan, empower al-Qa'ida terrorists and could well see Taliban-style terror armies replace al-Qa'ida as the jihadist modality of preference, such that similar groups emerge in Central Asia and even other parts of South Asia.

It is overwhelmingly in US, and Australian, interests for this not to happen. Whatever strategy the US adopts must be coherent and resourced to succeed.

The world continues to wait, and wait, for Obama to make up his mind.

It's Pakistan's war too

As a car-bomb attack in Peshawar tragically demonstrates, Pakistanis and the U.S. have a common enemy in Islamist extremists.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton set out for Pakistan this week on a charm offensive, hoping to curtail anti-Americanism by speaking directly with students and journalists not simply about fighting terrorism but about economic development and other issues of common interest. Then a car bomb tore though a crowded market in the northwestern city of Peshawar, slaughtering more than 100 men, women and children, instantly drawing attention back to the conflict.

More than anything Clinton can say, a series of assaults that have taken the lives of more than 500 civilians this year should serve to convince typical Pakistanis that this is not just a U.S. war. The United States and Pakistan have a common enemy in Islamist extremists, and the Pakistani state is fighting for its survival.

Militants around the world have cynically targeted marketplaces to weaken support for governments that fail to protect their people, even though killing innocents rarely wins over public opinion in the long run. That's a point the Obama administration also should note. More than 500 civilians have died in U.S. missile strikes against the Taliban by unmanned drone aircraft, Pakistani officials say, which may partly explain why polls show that a majority of Pakistanis regard the United States as an enemy.

The Peshawar bomb appears to be the work of the Pakistani Taliban, which is fighting not for its brethren in Afghanistan but to destabilize the government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Officials regard the bombing as retaliation for a 30,000-troop Pakistani military offensive in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan. Despite his many shortcomings, Zardari sounds as if he understands that he has no choice but to fight back. We hope that the often-ambivalent Pakistani army is convinced it must continue the offensive and ultimately defeat the Pakistani Taliban. Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif also should speak out against the bombing and help unify the country against radicals who want to control it.

The United States is aiding Pakistan's military with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons, helicopters and surveillance equipment, and U.S. Special Forces soldiers are training Pakistani counterinsurgency troops. All of this is done under the radar, so to speak, to avoid a backlash against the United States. But while it's true that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, is shoring up the nuclear-armed Pakistani government to protect U.S. interests and those of its allies, it's also time for Pakistanis to acknowledge that it's in their interest as well to keep extremists at bay. This is Pakistan's conflict too.

Pakistan’s war for survival


A car stuffed with 150kg of explosive material has been blown up with remote control in a busy bazaar of Peshawar, killing over a hundred innocent citizens and injuring over two hundred. This is the big escalation that should convince the nay-sayers in the war against terrorism in Pakistan. The enemy has clearly defined himself and cannot be interpreted as a “wronged party” whose cause must be “understood” as a part of the process of removing the “roots” of terrorism.

It is too late for that kind of diagnosis. Now it is the survival of Pakistan which is at stake and the lives of the women and children of the NWFP which have to be answered for. The NWFP government has understood what the killers are trying to do. It says, “We may all die in the process but we will not stop fighting the terrorists”. This statement comes from a mind that knows that the war against terrorism has gone beyond the point where “talks” could bring peace. This is the attitude which must prevail in Pakistan so that the country can stand united against the Taliban and their foreign killers.

The terrorists have now turned to killing common people gathered in markets and other public places. This was the second such “blind” attack in Peshawar telling us that now the war is no longer tied to any ideology but is a war to the end. The new strategy has been embraced because the post-Baitullah action from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has not been too effective. There are signs of failure written all over the attacks suffered by Pakistan. In these cases the TTP “success” was limited to creating fright; and in most cases the terrorists have been traced with remarkable ease.

TTP’s new leader Hakimullah has always been reputed to be less scrupulous in his thinking than his predecessor Baitullah. His approach has become more unscrupulous after the scattering of the TTP and the arrest of a large number of second-echelon Taliban leaders. He is reckless and unmindful of the unpopularity the TTP will earn among the people. The new development — as in the case of the GHQ attack — is that intelligence against the elements that assist the TTP has improved. The attacks against the FIA headquarters and the two police centres in Lahore were of weak intent and were thwarted in their objective by the response of the police.

Action by the Pakistan Army has helped in strengthening the resolve of the common man to endure the hardship of war against the Taliban. Where it has operated, local populations have formed their own private militias and begun to hunt elements that killed their women and children. Once intimidated by warlords in Khyber and Malakand, they are now willing to defend the state if the state is willing to fight back. The “normalisation” of the Swat-Malakand region, once predicted to be of long haul, has taken place rapidly because of the support of the people who were subjected to the cruelty of the utopia that people like Sufi Muhammad had promised them over the past quarter century.

The war is going well in South Waziristan but the impression it makes in the rest of the country is mixed because of the lack of unity over the war among our politicians. They are in fact divided over matters other than war and treat war against terrorism as a kind of distraction. Sitting in parliament, the political parties have given the go-ahead to the war against terrorism but continue to differ over its details. The two mainstream parties are locked in a battle for another kind of survival. The PMLN says it supports the war against terrorism but differs in detail when it pleads for a focus on the “root cause”. The truth is that it is already too late to look for the “root cause”.

The root cause of war is in fact clear and present: the terrorists are killing our women and children. They are damaging our economy by scaring away domestic and international investment. They want Pakistan to collapse into a “state of nature” to serve them as the hub of their global terror. Pakistan has to fight them and see to it that the international community is lined up behind it with every kind of support and sympathy.