Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Stirring the hornet’s nest in Pakistan’s northwest

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The United States has a set of expectations  that it wants Pakistan’s government to meet, Secretary of State of  Hillary Clinton said ahead of her short trip to Islamabad  last week, the kind of language Washington has frequently employed to bring its conflicted partner in the war against militant Islam to heel, each time  there has been a crisis. Clinton didn’t elaborate, saying only at the end of her meetings in Islamabad that she expected Pakistan to take decisive steps in the days ahead.

But on Monday, Pakistan’s The News reported that the military was preparing to launch an air and ground offensive against militants in North Waziristan, a demand that the United States has repeatedly made over the last two years. It said the decision was taken during discussions that Clinton and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of State Admiral Mike Mullen had with Pakistani government and military leaders.

North Waziristan is a redoubt of the Haqqani network, the most powerful of the insurgent groups in eastern Afghanistan and in and around Kabul where it has carried out a wave of bombings against civilians as well as foreign forces. Pakistan has held off going into the forbidding mountains saying it needed to consolidate its operations in southern Waziristan following the offensive there in 2009.

But in the wake of the international opprobrium Pakistan’s military has come under following the killing of Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan, its space for manouevre has become less.  The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month U.S. officials as saying  they hoped to use Islamabad’s embarrassment over failing to find bin Laden—he was killed in a house a short distance from the country’s elite military academy—to press for tougher Pakistani action against the Haqqanis and other militant groups that are focused on attacking U.S. forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

In Pakistan’s Gwadar port, Chinese whispers grow

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First, China helped develop Pakistan’s Gwadar port from scratch on the Baluchistan coast to take the pressure off the country’s main port of Karachi, a few hundred miles to the east. Now Pakistan’s defence minister has said that it would like its long-time ally to build a naval base at Gwadar, which sits on the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.

China, which provided more than 80 percent of the port’s $248 million development cost, has moved quickly to distance itself from Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar’s remarks about a naval base in Gwadar. The foreign ministry said China was not aware of any such proposal.

Pakistan military: the enemy within ?

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The breach of security at a major Pakistani navy base in the southern city of Karachi has, inevitably, raised questions of complicity, which must be the greatest worry once the night-long siege by the militants ends and the military has finished counting its losses.

That a group of 15 or more attackers armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades could gain access to the inner perimeter of the Mehran base and succeed in  blowing up one U.S.-supplied P -3 Orion maritime aircraft and damaging another aircraft, while holding off security forces for more than 12 hours speaks of a large, complex attack that needs some level of help from within.   One former Pakistani navy official told a TV channel that the attack appeared to have been planned from a map of facility.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Taliban talks – a necessary but not sufficient condition for peace

We have known for months that the United States has begun direct talks with representatives of the Taliban. And as I wrote in this story, the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 2 should make it easier for the Taliban to break with al Qaeda, a fundamental requirement for including them in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan. But lest anyone should think these talks, combined with bin Laden's death, would somehow produce an early end to the Afghan war,  it is important to remember that engaging with the Taliban is only a necessary but far from sufficient condition for a political settlement.

As Thomas Ruttig  writes at the Afghanistan Analysts Network,  any deal between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was simply meant to open the exit door for foreign troops would not serve the interests of Afghans.  "... they need an end of the bloodshed that will also physically reopen spaces for economic and political activities, a debate about where their country is going. A deal which does not address the main causes of the conflict (namely the monopoly over power of resources concentrated in the hands of a small elite, then possibly with some additional Taleban players) will not bring peace.

Pakistan : four probes and a killing

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Pakistan has launched four separate investigations into the life and death of Osama bin Laden on its soil, according to U.S. Senator John Kerry. The army, the air force and the intelligence establishment are running a probe each while parliament last week ordered an investigation by an independent commission to be set up for the purpose.

It’s not entirely clear who is investigating what but a common theme running through the probes is to find out how did the United States launch a heliborne  operation so deep in the country, hunt bin Laden down in his compound after a shootout in the outer wing  and fly away with his corpse, without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. Indeed the military and the government only got to know about it after the Americans told them once they were safely out of Pakistani airspace.

from India Insight:

Are Kashmiri militants ready to return home from Pakistan?

Hundreds of Muslim militants based in the Pakistani part of Kashmir are ready to give up arms and return to their homes in the Indian part of the Himalayan region following New Delhi's formal approval of a rehabilitation policy for rebels.

The policy was introduced by India last year for militants who had crossed over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir to be trained and join militant groups fighting New Delhi's rule in Kashmir.

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons and the bin Laden raid

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In conducting a raid deep inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden, the United States pushed the boundaries of military operations,  inter-state ties and international law, all of which are the subject of a raging debate in the region and beyond. 

 One of the less talked-about issues is that the boots-on-ground operation by the U.S. Special Forces also blows a hole in a long-held argument that states which have nuclear weapons, legitimately or otherwise,  face a lower chance of a foreign strike or invasion than those without them. Thus  the United States didn’t think twice before going into Afghanistan within weeks of the September 11 attacks or striking against Libya now because there was no nuclear threat lurking at the back of the mind. Even Iraq was a tempting target because it was not known to have a well-established nuclear arsenal  although the whole point of the invasion was that it had weapons of mass destruction. That only turned out to be untrue.

from Bernd Debusmann:

Pakistan and questions over foreign aid

In the flurry of statements on the killing of Osama bin Laden, a remark from Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, Husain Haqqani, spoke volumes about how U.S. foreign aid tends to be perceived by its recipients. It's not enough.

"The United States spent much more money in Iraq than it did in Afghanistan," Haqqani said in a television interview. "And then it spent much more in Afghanistan than it did in Pakistan. So were there cracks through which things fell through? Absolutely."

from Gregg Easterbrook:

With bin Laden dead, why doesn’t the U.S. leave Afghanistan?

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq citing two justifications: to depose Saddam Hussein and to destroy Iraq’s banned weapons program. Within a year, Hussein and his accomplices were imprisoned, and it had been discovered there was no Iraqi banned weapons program. Having achieved its goals, why didn’t the United States leave? Seven years later, this question haunts the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, citing two justifications: to find Osama bin Laden, and break up al Qaeda. Bin Laden is now dead, and al Qaeda broken.

from FaithWorld:

Even without bin Laden, Pakistan’s Islamist militants strike fear

(Supporters of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden shout anti-American slogans, after the news of his death, during a rally in Quetta May 2, 2011/Naseer Ahmed)

The death of Osama bin Laden has robbed Islamist militants of their biggest inspiration and al Qaeda itself has dwindled to a few hundred fighters in the region, but Pakistan remains a haven for militants with both ambition and means to strike overseas. Worse, there are signs that groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure), nurtured by Pakistan's spy agency to advance strategic interests in India and Afghanistan, are no longer entirely under the agency's control.

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