Tag Archive for 'Af-Pak'

Post-uprisings depression

In The Economist, a review of Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (PublicAffairs; 558 pages; $35. Allen Lane; £30) and Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America, and the Future of the Global Jihad by Bruce Riedel (Brookings Institution Press; 180 pages; $24.95):

IT IS a shame that these books should be published at a time when the world is riveted by events in the Middle East. Pakistan’s population is more than half the size of the entire Arab world; for most of the past three decades it has been involved in a war with a superpower, first against it, and now on the same side as it; it suffers from an Islamic insurgency that has killed 30,000 people over the past four years; it is regarded by students of geopolitics as the most likely location of nuclear conflict; and the reasons why it does not work as a country are many and fascinating.

The trouble with Pakistan’s story is that the country is one rather depressing stage on from the Middle East. Its people have risen up bravely against autocrats (three times over, if you count only the generals, or four if, like some Pakistanis, you count Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as well) and had several unsuccessful attempts at democracy. So it ricochets between military and civilian governments, with a state that does not work very well but has not collapsed, and an insurgency that is not turning into a civil war but won’t go away. Unlike the Middle East, it is not full of hope.

Yet for drama, colour and complexity, the place is hard to beat; and Anatol Lieven captures the richness of the place wonderfully. His book has the virtues of both journalism and scholarship—not surprising, since Mr Lieven used to be a reporter for the Times and is now at King’s College, London. He has travelled extensively and talked widely, to generals, shopkeepers, farmers, lawyers and bureaucrats. More:

Reading Woodward in Karachi

Is this the nail in the coffin of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship? Mosharraf Zaidi in Foreign Policy:

Bob Woodward’s books have an uncanny ability to create palpable nervousness in Washington. They almost always expose some government officials in a poor light. But though many figures in his latest, Obama’s Wars, don’t come off particularly well, there is one clear, overwhelming, and irreconcilable villain. It isn’t a member of Barack Obama’s administration, the Taliban, or even al Qaeda. In fact, it’s not a person at all.

In the opening chapter, Woodward introduces his bad guy: “the immediate threat to the United States [comes] … from Pakistan, an unstable country with a population of about 170 million, a 1,500 mile border with southern Afghanistan, and an arsenal of some 100 nuclear weapons.” Never mind the Woodward effect in Washington; in Obama’s Wars, the villain is an entire country.

Relations between the United States and Pakistan have never been more fraught. Last month, NATO helicopters breached Pakistani airspace several times. In the first instance, they engaged a group of suspected terrorists, killing more than 30. On Sept. 30, in another breach of Pakistani territory and airspace, NATO gunships fired on Pakistani paramilitary troops from the Frontier Constabulary (FC). Three Pakistani soldiers were killed and another three were badly injured. No one even attempted to dismiss the incident as friendly fire. In response, Pakistan has shut down the main border crossing and supply route into Afghanistan at Torkham, and militants have attacked convoys bringing fuel to NATO forces. All this comes after the most intense month of U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan since the campaign began.

Into this environment comes Woodward’s account of the Obama administration’s decision to embrace a surge strategy in Afghanistan, which also offers a pretty good window into what American power sees when it looks at Pakistan. Woodward’s emphasis on the “Pak” in AfPak reflects a larger shift in emphasis in official Washington. Perhaps inadvertently, the book is also likely to confirm many of the darkest suspicions that ordinary Pakistanis have about their erstwhile American allies. More:

Pakistan and the global war on terror

An interview with Tariq Ali by Mara Ahmed and Judith Bello in CounterPunch. [via 3quarksdaily]

tariq_aliWhat is the role of Islamophobia in the Global War on Terror. Many American war veterans have described the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as imperialistic, racist and genocidal. Your comments?

Tariq: Well, I think Islamophobia plays an important part in things, because it creates an atmosphere in which people feel, “Oh, we’re just killing Muslims, so that’s alright.” And this situation is becoming quite serious in the United States and in large parts of Europe, where people feel that the fact that a million Iraqis have died is fine because they’re not like us, they’re Muslims. So, Islamophobia is becoming a very poisonous and dangerous ideological construct which has to be fought against.

It sometimes irritates people but I do compare it to the anti-Semitism that existed in the 20s and 30s and 40s of the last century. And I do wonder whether all the education that people are being given, and rightly so, about the killing of the Jews and the Judeocide of the Second World War is having an impact. What sort of education is it if they can’t relate what happened then to some of the things that are happening now. Education which just centers on one atrocity and that’s all, where people feel very opposed to that [one atrocity], but they can support other atrocities, is in my opinion not a proper education. And some of the level of ignorant comment on Islam and the Islamic world in the United States is deeply shocking. That’s all it is. It’s ignorance. More:

CIA says it gets its money’s worth from Pakistani spy agency

Greg Miller in the New York Times:

The CIA has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Pakistan’s intelligence service since the Sept. 11 attacks, accounting for as much as one-third of the foreign spy agency’s annual budget, current and former U.S. officials say.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency also has collected tens of millions of dollars through a classified CIA program that pays for the capture or killing of wanted militants, a clandestine counterpart to the rewards publicly offered by the State Department, officials said.

The payments have triggered intense debate within the U.S. government, officials said, because of long-standing suspicions that the ISI continues to help Taliban extremists who undermine U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and provide sanctuary to Al Qaeda members in Pakistan.

But U.S. officials have continued the funding because the ISI’s assistance is considered crucial: Almost every major terrorist plot this decade has originated in Pakistan’s tribal belt, where ISI informant networks are a primary source of intelligence. More:

India’s faff-Pak policy

Gloating over every terror attack in Pakistan and outsourcing India’s future to the Americans is delusional, says Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

But you have to now debate if it will be good for India that Pakistan continues to slide. Or, do we have the wherewithal to deal with whatever is left behind, if Pakistan does not survive? Can we deal with five anarchic, angry “stans” instead of one next door to us, with no central authority to share a hotline with? Would we prefer to live with a nuclear-armed anarchy that listens to nobody? What use will coercive diplomacy be then? Who will we bomb?

It is time therefore to stop jubilating at the unfolding tragedy in Pakistan. India has to think of becoming a part of the solution. And that solution lies in not merely saving Pakistan — Pakistan will survive. It has evolved a strong nationalism that does bind its people even if that does not reflect in its current internal dissensions. It is slowly building a democratic system, howsoever imperfect. But it has a very robust media and a functional higher judiciary. Also, in its army, it has at least one national institution that provides stability and continuity. The question for us is, what kind of Pakistan do we want to see emerging from this bloodshed? What if fundamentalists of some kind, either religious or military or a combination of both, were to take control of Islamabad? The Americans will always have the option of cutting their losses and leaving. They have a long history of doing that successfully, from Vietnam to Iraq and maybe Afghanistan next. What will be our Plan-B then? More:

Pakistan is its own worst enemy

As the Pakistan Army turns its guns on Waziristan, Manan Ahmed argues that the dysfunctional state remains its own worst enemy. From the National:

On May 11, Rehman Malik, the ubiquitous and consistently enervated Pakistani interior minister, declared the military’s ongoing operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley a resounding success. “We haven’t given them a chance,” he boasted. “They are on the run. They were not expecting such an offensive”. He added that the operation, then barely a week old, had already killed 700 Taliban. Over the summer the declarations of victory continued: prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani called the conflict “a great success”; the Pakistan Army spokesman, Major Gen Athar Abbas announced that “we have beaten the Taliban decisively in Swat”.

Since the army maintained a media blackout in the region, there were few voices to dissent from these cries of victory. But the extent of the army’s achievement remains unknown: areas of Swat are still under Taliban control, and many militants simply fled the territory for more favourable terrain elsewhere. What is clear, however, is that the army campaign – waged with heavy artillery and aerial strikes – forced some three million civilians to flee.

After declaring victory in Swat, and under pressure from the Americans to “take the fight to the Taliban”, the Pakistan army announced that it would soon proceed towards Waziristan, the hunting-ground for the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP), whose founder and leader, Baitullah Mehsud, was assassinated by a US drone in early August. The targets struck back with a wave of terrorist attacks in October, many directed against the state itself – killing over 250 Pakistanis and injuring hundreds more. More here:

Obama’s quest for a Pakistan policy

Mushahid Hussain in the News, Pakistan:

Hillary Clinton’s visit with a difference was probably the most significant event in Pakistan-American relations since the advent of President Barack Hussein Obama. She came, she saw, but while she did not quite conquer the “hearts and minds” of Pakistanis, Hillary at least earned their grudging admiration. She showed more guts than the bunkered-up Pakistan rulers, who refuse to leave the comfort and safety of their “5-star prisons” in Islamabad.

Unlike the aloof and abrasive Holbrooke, Hillary reached out to the “real” Pakistan. She got a peep into the emerging Pakistani society — dynamic, vibrant, outspoken and self-confident. She seemed taken aback, used as visiting high-level Americans are to a sanitised Islamabad, where the officially-certified truth of the fawning ruling elite links sycophancy and servility to their self-perpetuation.

A profile of this “new” Pakistan is instructive, with three key ingredients. First, while the “old” Pakistan was politically a “one-window operation” — monolithic and centrally-guided — today’s multiple power centres go beyond the military-security Establishment or the traditional political elite, and these now include the fiercely-independent media, an assertive civil society, confident young men and women with faith in their country’s future, and a free judiciary that for the first time is truly an autonomous player. More:

Victory (for a crooked, corrupt and discredited government)

Patrick Cockburn in the Independent:

hamid_karzaiThe election in Afghanistan has turned into a disaster for all who promoted it. Hamid Karzai has been declared re-elected as President of the country for the next five years though his allies inside and outside Afghanistan know that he owes his success to open fraud. Instead of increasing his government’s legitimacy, the poll has further de-legitimised it.

From Mr Karzai’s point of view he won through at the end and showed that nobody is strong enough to get rid of him. For the US President, Barack Obama, the election has no silver lining. It has left him poised to send tens of thousands more US troops to fight a war in defence of one of the world’s most crooked, corrupt and discredited governments. “It is not that the Taliban is so strong, but the government is so weak,” was a common saying among Afghans before the election. This will be even truer in future.

The US and its allies may now push for a national unity government between Mr Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, his main rival for the presidency. This might look good on paper, or at least better than the alternative of Mr Karzai ruling alone. But enforced unity between men who detest each other will institutionalise divisions. Its value will largely be in terms of propaganda for external consumption. More:

Outline of the republic

Basharat Peer, the author of Curfewed Night, a memoir of the Kashmir conflict, and a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, uncovers lessons from last spring’s Swat valley campaign. From the National:

On the morning of May 27, Tariq Ali, a 42-year-old clerk at Rescue 15, a police helpline centre in Lahore, reported to work after a weekend visit to his family a few hours outside the city. He shared an office with two other clerks and a police officer. The building faced a shopping complex with a Toyota dealership and an immigration consultancy. Next door to Rescue 15 was an unmarked residence, known to locals as the Lahore office of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s dreaded spy agency. Half an hour after Ali arrived, shots rang out over the noise of passing traffic. Police sirens sounded, and Ali rose from his desk. Some of his colleagues ran to fetch weapons. Ali was still unsure what to do when an enormous blast threw him onto the floor. A suicide bomber had exploded a car inside the office compound.

“I saw a black wind filled with shards of glass tear into my office. Then the ceiling and the walls came crashing on us,” Ali told me, a week later, lying on his bed in the intensive care ward of Gangaram Hospital, surrounded by fellow policemen, his brother and his teenage son. Ali’s face was burnt, and the glass had cut most of his back, his lips, and both his eyes, one of which the doctors had sewed up – the other one was bandaged. The attack killed 23 people, including the officer who shared Ali’s office, and injured 150. More:

Karzai’s brother on CIA payroll

From the New York Times:

Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials.

The agency pays Mr. Karzai for a variety of services, including helping to recruit an Afghan paramilitary force that operates at the C.I.A.’s direction in and around the southern city of Kandahar, Mr. Karzai’s home.

The financial ties and close working relationship between the intelligence agency and Mr. Karzai raise significant questions about America’s war strategy, which is currently under review at the White House.

The ties to Mr. Karzai have created deep divisions within the Obama administration. The critics say the ties complicate America’s increasingly tense relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to build sustained popularity among Afghans and has long been portrayed by the Taliban as an American puppet. The C.I.A.’s practices also suggest that the United States is not doing everything in its power to stamp out the lucrative Afghan drug trade, a major source of revenue for the Taliban. More:

Al-Qaida and the Taliban

A look at the insurgent groups on Afghan-Pakistan border. From AP:

Afghan Taliban: A hard-line Pakistani-sponsored movement that began forming during the 1970s as part of the mujahadeen, or freedom fighters, who battled the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan until the Russians were ousted in 1989.

Pakistan Taliban: Formed more recently, the group is known as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban Movement. It initially was led by Baitullah Mehsud. Largely a loose federation of various tribal and regional faction united by Mehsud, the group is located mainly in strongholds along the northwestern tribal belt, where the militants are also believed to be providing safe havens for senior al-Qaida leaders, including bin laden.

Al-Qaida: Established by bin Laden in 1988 with the stated goal of uniting Muslims to defeat the West and form an Islamic caliphate.

Full story here:

Also from AP: Know your enemy:

For eight years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. has focused mostly on Afghanistan’s Taliban as an unabashed ally of al-Qaida.

Now, however, forced to choose between sending more troops in an intensified counterinsurgency campaign against Afghanistan’s Taliban or largely maintaining troop levels and using more drone strikes to take out al-Qaida along the border, U.S. officials must first determine which enemy is the greater priority. More

Stanley McChrystal’s long war

A profile in the New York Times:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal stepped off the whirring Black Hawk and headed straight into town. He had come to Garmsir, a dusty outpost along the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, to size up the war that President Obama has asked him to save. McChrystal pulled off his flak jacket and helmet. His face, skeletal and austere, seemed a piece of the desert itself.

He was surrounded by a clutch of bodyguards, normal for a four-star general, and an array of the Marine officers charged with overseeing the town. Garmsir had been under Taliban control until May 2008, when a force of American Marines swept in and cleared it. Since then, the British, then the Americans, have been holding it and trying, ever so slowly, to build something in Garmsir – a government, an army, a police force – for the first time since the war began more than eight years ago.

The Marines around McChrystal, including the local battalion commander, Lt. Col. Christian Cabaniss, looked surprised, even alarmed, when McChrystal removed his protective gear. But as the group walked the rutted streets into Garmsir’s bazaar, they began taking off their helmets, too.

“Who owns the land here?” McChrystal asked, peering up the street and into the shops. “Is it owned by the farmers or by landlords?”

It was the sort of question a sociologist, or an economist, would ask. No one offered an answer.

“If you owned 200 acres here, would you live on it, or would you live somewhere else?” McChrystal asked. More:

Held by the Taliban

A New York Times reporter, David Rohde, and two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 and held for seven months in Pakistan. Below, the five-part series offering his account.

7 Months, 10 Days in Captivity

The car’s engine roared as the gunman punched the accelerator and we crossed into the open Afghan desert. I was seated in the back between two Afghan colleagues who were accompanying me on a reporting trip when armed men surrounded our car and took us hostage.

Another gunman in the passenger seat turned and stared at us as he gripped his Kalashnikov rifle. No one spoke. I glanced at the bleak landscape outside – reddish soil and black boulders as far as the eye could see – and feared we would be dead within minutes.

It was last Nov. 10, and I had been headed to a meeting with a Taliban commander along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and our driver, Asad Mangal. The commander had invited us to interview him outside Kabul for reporting I was pursuing about Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The longer I looked at the gunman in the passenger seat, the more nervous I became. His face showed little emotion. His eyes were dark, flat and lifeless. More:

Inside the Islamic Emirate

A young Taliban driver with shoulder-length hair got behind the wheel of the car. Glancing at me suspiciously in the rearview mirror, he started the engine and began driving down the left-hand side of the road.

It was some sort of prank, I hoped, some jihadi version of chicken – the game where two drivers speed toward each other in the same lane until one loses his nerve.

Which lane he drove down showed what country we were in. If he continued driving on the left, we had crossed into Pakistan. If he drove on the right, we were still in Afghanistan.

A mile down the road, traffic signs appeared in Urdu.

We’re in Pakistan, I thought to myself. We’re dead. More:‘You Have Atomic Bombs, but We Have Suicide Bombers.’

A nervous-looking Pakistani soldier pointed a rocket-propelled grenade at our pickup truck in late January. The Taliban guard beside me loaded his rifle and ordered me to put a scarf over my face. A group of Pakistani civilians standing nearby moved out of the way, anticipating a firefight.

In the driver’s seat of our vehicle was Badruddin Haqqani, a senior commander of the Haqqani network, one of the Taliban’s most hard-line factions and the group that was holding me and two Afghan colleagues hostage in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Obeying the guard, I covered my face. The soldier was in the lead vehicle of a Pakistani Army supply convoy in North Waziristan. After surveying the road, the soldier got back in his truck, and the convoy rumbled forward.

I hoped that the Pakistanis might somehow rescue us. Instead, I watched in dismay as Badruddin got out of the truck and calmly stood on the side of the road. As trucks full of heavily armed government soldiers rolled by, he smiled and waved at them. More

‘You Have Atomic Bombs, but We Have Suicide Bombers.’

A nervous-looking Pakistani soldier pointed a rocket-propelled grenade at our pickup truck in late January. The Taliban guard beside me loaded his rifle and ordered me to put a scarf over my face. A group of Pakistani civilians standing nearby moved out of the way, anticipating a firefight.

In the driver’s seat of our vehicle was Badruddin Haqqani, a senior commander of the Haqqani network, one of the Taliban’s most hard-line factions and the group that was holding me and two Afghan colleagues hostage in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Obeying the guard, I covered my face. The soldier was in the lead vehicle of a Pakistani Army supply convoy in North Waziristan. After surveying the road, the soldier got back in his truck, and the convoy rumbled forward.

I hoped that the Pakistanis might somehow rescue us. Instead, I watched in dismay as Badruddin got out of the truck and calmly stood on the side of the road. As trucks full of heavily armed government soldiers rolled by, he smiled and waved at them. More:

A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope

Two deafening explosions shook the walls of the compound where the Taliban held us hostage. My guards and I dived to the floor as chunks of dirt hurtled through the window.

“Dawood?” one guard shouted, saying my name in Arabic. “Dawood?”

“I’m O.K.,” I replied in Pashto. “I’m O.K.”

The plastic sheeting covering the window hung in tatters. Debris covered the floor. Somewhere outside, a woman wailed. I wondered if Tahir Luddin and Asad Mangal, the two Afghans who had been kidnapped with me, were alive. A guard grabbed his rifle and ordered me to follow him outside.

“Go!” he shouted, his voice shaking with fury. “Go!”

Our nightmare had come to pass. Powerful missiles fired by an American drone had obliterated their target a few hundred yards from our house in a remote village in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Dozens of people were probably dead. Militants would call for our heads in revenge. More:

A Rope and a Prayer

I stood in the bathroom of the Taliban compound and waited for my colleague to appear in the courtyard so we could make our escape. My heart pounded. A three-foot-tall swamp cooler – an antiquated version of an air-conditioner – roared in the yard a few feet in front of me. I feared that the guards who were holding us hostage might wake up and stop us. I feared even more that our captivity would drag on for years.

It was 1 a.m. on Saturday, June 20, in Miram Shah, the capital of the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan. After seven months and 10 days in Taliban captivity, I had come to a decision with Tahir Luddin, the Afghan journalist I had been kidnapped with, to try to make a run for it.

By then, we had concluded that our captors – a Taliban faction led by the Haqqani family – were not seriously negotiating for our release. In the latest of countless lies, they announced that the United States would free all the Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in exchange for us. We found the statement ludicrous and insulting. As they had a dozen times in the past, our captors claimed that a deal was near. Then nothing happened. More:

When Afghanistan was “the Paris of Central Asia”

From the 1930s to the 1970s, Afghanistan had a semblance of a national government and Kabul was known as “the Paris of Central Asia.” Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times:

Washington – From presidential confidants in the White House Situation Room to anchors on cable television to ruminators at the city’s think tanks, the view has settled in: Afghanistan is an ungovernable collection of tribes that has confounded every conqueror since Alexander the Great. Like a lot of received wisdom, it may well be correct.

But as President Obama debates whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan, and whether, more pointedly, he might be sending them down a black hole of civic hopelessness, American and Afghan scholars and diplomats say it is worth recalling four decades in the country’s recent history, from the 1930s to the 1970s, when there was a semblance of a national government and Kabul was known as “the Paris of Central Asia.”

Afghans and Americans alike describe the country in those days as a poor nation, but one that built national roads, stood up an army and defended its borders. As a monarchy and then a constitutional monarchy, there was relative stability and by the 1960s a brief era of modernity and democratic reform. Afghan women not only attended Kabul University, they did so in miniskirts. Visitors – tourists, hippies, Indians, Pakistanis, adventurers – were stunned by the beauty of the city’s gardens and the snow-capped mountains that surround the capital. More:

How many troops has each country sent to Afghanistan?

From www.informationisbeautiful.net


Why Pakistan’s military hates America’s new aid package.

Ayesha Siddiqa at Foreign Policy:

To the surprise of many Americans, Pakistan does not seem too excited at the prospect of receiving U.S. aid. The conditions in the Kerry-Lugar bill, which would provide Pakistan with $7.5 billion in economic aid over the next five years, have been derided by Pakistani opposition parties as “humiliating.” The Pakistani daily Dawn even reported that Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, will be replaced due to his role in negotiating the bill. The armed forces are also not too pleased with the assistance package. Last week, the military high command urged the civilian government to review the aid package and the conditions that Islamabad must meet to qualify for receiving financial assistance. The generals would like the government of President Asif Ali Zardari to renegotiate the deal with Washington. If they do not, many in Pakistan think relations between the civilian government and the military might get tense.

The military’s discomfort relates to the conditions in the bill that appear to infringe on aspects of government where it has traditionally held sway. Apparently, Pakistan will have to ensure that it provides information on and possible access to people like A.Q. Khan, the infamous nuclear scientist accused of helping countries such as Libya develop their nuclear weapons programs. It will have to show evidence of eliminating all terrorist networks, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad, which are traditionally considered as part of the war in Kashmir rather than the war in Afghanistan. Finally, Islamabad will have to satisfy Washington regarding civilian control of the military. These conditions are bound to make the military uncomfortable because they are seen as affecting issues in the military’s exclusive domain. More:

The Professor Of Terror

Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed has a strategy and an army full of faithfuls. Harinder Baweja tracks the Mumbai terror attack mastermind. From Tehelka:

hafiz_saeedThe closest an Indian journalist can currently get to this very pious professor, Hafiz Saeed, the Amir of the Lashkar-e- Taiba (LeT), India’s most wanted man are his lawyer, AK Dogar and his son-in-law, Khalid Waleed. Speak to the lawyer and the conversation goes something like this:

You’re representing a man the Indian government thinks is the mastermind of 26/11.

If Karl Marx is the mastermind of all socialists, then Hafiz Saeed is a mastermind. He is a masterly religious scholar who runs 140 schools all over Pakistan.

But Hafiz Saeed openly calls for jihad.

I have read books about Mahatma Gandhi…

Are you comparing Hafiz Saeed to the Mahatma?

I can’t dare to do that. Muslims have a different point of view. We don’t go by Jesus Christ’s principle of turning the other cheek.

Hafiz Saeed is well known as the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which was behind the Mumbai attacks…

The Indian government has not a shred of evidence, no tangible proof that Hafiz Saeed was in any way connected to the Mumbai attacks. Jihad is a word that means struggle, even if it done through monetary assistance and charity work. All over the world, there is a feeling that Muslims are terrorists…

Lets talk specifics. Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive has testified to the role of your client.

My dear lady, such evidence will not even be admissible in an Indian court of law. Any statement made by an accused is not credible evidence… More:

Can the Taliban really distance themselves from al-Qaida?

Jason Burke in the Guardian:

The Taliban have always been adept communicators. Their latest effort – Statement of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on the Occasion of the Eighth Anniversary of the American Attack on Afghanistan – was posted on one of several websites they regularly use. Then it was emailed – in English – to individuals and organisations that the movement specifically wanted to reach. This is normal practice for any press officer for a government, NGO or major retailer anywhere in the world.

It is unclear whether the statement represents a genuine shift in position or a clever attempt to influence an ongoing debate. It could of course be both. The Taliban stand to benefit even if they are not serious, as their intervention will fuel the increasingly acrimonious and muddled debate on Afghan strategy in the west and the public disillusionment with the war. Or they will gain if the statement is taken seriously and they are genuinely interested in repositioning themselves as independent from al-Qaida. More:

Taliban claim they pose no threat to west

Network of militants is robust after Mumbai siege

Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba has persisted, even flourished, since 10 recruits killed 163 people in a rampage through India’s financial capital. Lydia Polgreen and Souad Mekhennet in the New York Times:

Hafiz Saeed

Hafiz Saeed

Indian and Pakistani dossiers on the Mumbai investigations, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, offer a detailed picture of the operations of a Lashkar network that spans Pakistan. It included four houses and two training camps here in this sprawling southern port city that were used to prepare the attacks.

Among the organizers, the Pakistani document says, was Hammad Amin Sadiq, a homeopathic pharmacist, who arranged bank accounts and secured supplies. He and six others begin their formal trial on Saturday in Pakistan, though Indian authorities say the prosecution stops well short of top Lashkar leaders.

Indeed, Lashkar’s broader network endures, and can be mobilized quickly for elaborate attacks with relatively few resources, according to a dozen current and former Lashkar militants and intelligence officials from the United States, Europe, India and Pakistan.

In interviews with The Times, they presented a troubling portrait of Lashkar’s capabilities, its popularity in Pakistan and the support it has received from former officials of Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment.

Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, helped create Lashkar two decades ago to challenge Indian control in Kashmir, the disputed territory that lies at the heart of the conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors. More:

Arundhati Roy on Democracy Now!

Author Arundhati Roy on the Human Costs of India’s Economic Growth, the View of Obama from New Delhi, and Escalating US Attacks in Af-Pak. Click here for transcript.

Could Afghanistan become Obama’s Vietnam?

Peter Baker in the New York Times:

Washington: President Obama had not even taken office before supporters were etching his likeness onto Mount Rushmore as another Abraham Lincoln or the second coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Yet what if they got the wrong predecessor? What if Mr. Obama is fated to be another Lyndon B. Johnson instead?

To be sure, such historical analogies are overly simplistic and fatally flawed, if only because each presidency is distinct in its own way. But the L.B.J. model – a president who aspired to reshape America at home while fighting a losing war abroad – is one that haunts Mr. Obama’s White House as it seeks to salvage Afghanistan while enacting an expansive domestic program.

In this summer of discontent for Mr. Obama, as the heady early days give way to the grinding battle for elusive goals, he looks ahead to an uncertain future not only for his legislative agenda but for what has indisputably become his war. Last week’s elections in Afghanistan played out at the same time as the debate over health care heated up in Washington, producing one of those split-screen moments that could not help but remind some of Mr. Johnson’s struggles to build a Great Society while fighting in Vietnam. More:

Eyewitness: Pakistan

In the New York Times, Joshua Kurlantzick reviews “To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan,” by Nicholas Schmidle:

schmidle_bookTaking office in January, Barack Obama promised a radically different vision of foreign policy from that of his predecessor. But on perhaps the most critical issue, the new king looks a lot like the old one. In Pakistan, President Obama has retained the Bush administration’s targeted drone missile attacks against suspected militants and may quietly be expanding the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert battle against jihadis along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

As Nicholas Schmidle, a contributor to publications including The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Slate, reveals in a richly reported book based on his two years traveling across Pakistan, United States policy does not change because Pakistan, sadly, does not change. Birthed in 1947 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the lawyer son of a rich merchant, the country remains in the grip of venal, feudal, wealthy politician-landlords like the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, for whom democracy means one vote one time, after which the victors go on to dominate indefinitely. Worse, greed and graft have led Islamabad’s ruling class to ignore large portions of the population, who remain illiterate, and their incompetent governance has opened the door to Islamists’ offering average Pakistanis promises that the first Mayor Daley would have recognized – safe and orderly streets – not through machine politics but through the brutal application of Shariah law. More:

Finding Osama: Eight years and counting …

Osama bin Laden is believed to be in mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. But is he any nearer to being captured? Julian Borger and Declan Walsh in the Guardian:

osama_bin_ladenHe is still alive. That is the one thing that can be said about Osama bin Laden these days with any degree of certainty. At least, he was still alive at the beginning of the month, when an audio tape was delivered to al-Jazeera bearing words in a familiar voice.

The tape, aired by al-Jazeera on 3 June, is genuine, according to British and US intelligence, and his references to recent events are proof that it is contemporary. It is a muttered sermon, mainly devoted to decrying Barack Obama on the day the new US president arrived in Saudi Arabia on the start of a Middle East tour – to sow “seeds of hatred”, Bin Laden claimed.

But that is where the certainty ends, the facts peter out and the guesswork begins. We do not know what he looks like these days. His last 10 messages have been audio only. There has been no video of him since September 2007, and even that raised questions over exactly when it had been made. More:

[Image: FBI Most Wanted]

Pakistan and the Bomb

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in the Wall Street Journal. A former CIA officer, Riedel chaired President Obama’s strategic review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan is a unique nuclear weapons state. It has been both the recipient of technology transfers from other states and a supplier of technology to still other states. It has been a state sponsor of proliferation and has tolerated private sector proliferation as well. Pakistan has engaged in highly provocative behavior against India, even initiating a limited war, and sponsored terrorist groups that have engaged in mass casualty terrorism inside India’s cities, most recently last November in Mumbai. No other nuclear weapons state has done all of these provocative actions.

The origins of the Pakistani nuclear program lie in the deep national humiliation of the 1971 war with India that led to the partition of the country, the independence of Bangladesh and the destruction of the dream of a single Muslim state for all of south Asia’s Muslim population. The military dictator at the time, Yaqub Khan, presided over the loss of half the nation and the surrender of 90,000 Pakistani soldiers in Dacca. The Pakistani establishment determined it must develop a nuclear weapon to counter India’s conventional superiority. more:

India is in peril. Obama is making it worse

Brahma Chellaney says that India is indeed ‘the sponge that protects us all’ from terrorism emanating from Pakistan. The new President’s strategy is compounding the Af-Pak problem. In the Spectator:

One of the most striking things about the larger Asian strategic landscape is that India is wedged in an arc of failing or troubled states. This harsh reality is India’s most glaring weakness; its neighbourhood is so combustible as to impose a tyranny of geography. Today, Pakistan’s rapid Talebanisation tops India’s concerns. After all, the brunt of escalating terrorism from Pakistan will be borne by India, which already has become, in the words of ex-US official Ashley Tellis, ‘the sponge that protects us all’.

As Pakistan has begun to sink, top US intelligence and security officials have made a beeline to India for discussions, including the new CIA director Leon Panetta (who came to New Delhi on his first overseas visit), the FBI director Robert Mueller, the joint US chiefs of staff chairman Mike Mullen and the administration’s special envoy Richard Holbrooke. The fact that President Obama, in his first 100 days, has helped put together $15.7 billion in international aid for Islamabad shows that the United States will not allow Pakistan to become a failed state.

The real threat is of an Islamist takeover of Pakistan. Yet Obama’s strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan (or ‘Af-Pak’ in Washingtonese) inspires little confidence. Throwing more money at Pakistan and keeping up the pretence that the badly splintered and weakened al-Qa’eda poses the main terrorist threat risks failure.


How the West lost its way in the East

In The Independent, Patrick Cockburn, who has reported on the Afghanistan conflict since 2001, charts the fatal mistakes:

After seven long years in which it seemed a sideshow to the bigger conflict in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan has reached a critical point. The US must now choose how far it will become further embroiled in a messy conflict which affects its relations with Pakistan, India and the wider Middle East including Iran. At a moment when the world is convulsed by the worst economic disaster since 1929, Washington will have to decide if it really wants to invest time, money, military and political resources in beating back the ragged bands of Taliban who increasingly control southern Afghanistan.

At the end of last year, the White House was talking about repeating what was deemed to have been the success of the “surge” in Iraq. Some 30,000 extra US troops were sent to Iraq pursuing more aggressive tactics and the Sunni Arab insurgency seemed to wind down soon after. But the real turning point in Iraq was probably the defeat of the Sunni Arabs by the Shia. Nothing of this sort is likely to undermine the Taliban in Afghanistan just as their guerrilla attacks are inflicting more casualties than ever.


Pakistani and Afghan Taliban Unify in Face of U.S. Influx

From The New York Times:

In interviews, several Taliban fighters based in the border region said preparations for the anticipated influx of American troops were already being made. A number of new, younger commanders have been preparing to step up a campaign of roadside bombings and suicide attacks to greet the Americans, the fighters said.

The refortified alliance was forged after the reclusive Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, sent emissaries to persuade Pakistani Taliban leaders to join forces and turn their attention to Afghanistan, Pakistani officials and Taliban members said.