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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Could you pass bin Laden to the left please?

osamaWhatever Osama bin Laden once aspired to, it was not to be passed around the table like a bottle of port  in the British Raj nor worse, handed on quickly  in a child's game of Pass the Parcel. Yet that is the fate which for now appears to be chasing him.

For years, the default assumption has been that bin Laden is hiding somewhere in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last month, I heard a Pakistani official say that bin Laden was last heard of in Pakistan's traditional enemy India in 2003 - in Bangalore and Hyderabad to be precise -before he disappeared without trace.  Then Fox News came up with a story about how he was living in luxury in Iran. Not to be outdone, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad then suggested he was more likely to be hiding in Washington.

Anyone want to guess where bin Laden is reported to be next?  He definitely seems to be acquiring the taint of the unwelcome guest.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On U.S., India and Pakistan: maybe some transparency would help

biden karzaiAccording to the Wall Street Journal, "President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration's efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer. "

"The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents," it says.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

wagah2Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week -  in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new "strategic dialogue"; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan's star has been rising in Washington while India's has been falling. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Seeking Saudi cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan

saudiPrime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the first visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader since 1982, seeking to build economic ties and to enlist the kingdom's help in improving regional security. While much of the focus is likely to be on securing oil supplies for India's growing economy, the visit is also part of the complex manoeuvres by regional players jostling for position on Afghanistan and beyond.

Singh told Saudi journalists ahead of the visit that he would discuss with Saudi King Abdullah how to promote greater stability and security in the region.  "Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people. We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security," he said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the Kabul attack

kabulAs discussed in my last post, the place to watch for developments on relations between India and Pakistan right now is more likely to be Kabul than Kashmir. That may have been graphically illustrated when Taliban fighters attacked Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people, including up to nine Indians.

It is too early to say whether the attack specifically targetted Indian interests or whether it was aimed at foreigners more generally. But India has blamed earlier attacks on its interests in Afghanistan on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency -- its embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

arghandabRegular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument -- much touted during President Barack Obama's election campaign -- was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan -- including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China -- to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.

The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One.  It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries -- including in staunch U.S. ally Britain -- turns against the long war in Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India's growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a "grand bargain" from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Can China help stabilise Pakistan?

forbidden cityWhen President Barack Obama suggested in Beijing last month that China and the United States could cooperate on bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and indeed to "all of South Asia", much of the attention was diverted to India, where the media saw it as inviting unwarranted Chinese interference in the region.

But what about asking a different question? Can China help stabilise the region?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and Afghanistan: “the bad guys don’t stay in their lanes”

Given the debate about whether the United States should refocus its strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan more narrowly on hunting down al Qaeda, it's worth looking at what happened immediately after 9/11 when it did precisely that.   In a new book about his years fighting terrorism, former French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguiere casts fresh light on those early years after 9/11. At the time, he says, the Bush administration was so keen to get Pakistan's help in defeating al Qaeda that it was willing to turn a blind eye to Pakistani support for militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, nurtured by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to fight India in Kashmir.   Basing his information on testimony given by jailed Frenchman Willy Brigitte, who spent 2-1/2 months in a Lashkar training camp in 2001/2002, he writes that the Pakistan Army once ran those camps, with the apparent knowledge of the CIA. The instructors in the camp in Pakistan's Punjab province were soldiers on detachment, he says, and the army dropped supplies by helicopter. Brigitte's handler, he says, appeared to have been a senior army officer who was treated deferentially by other soldiers.   CIA officers even inspected the camp four times, he writes, to make sure that Pakistan was keeping to a promise that only Pakistani fighters would be trained there. Foreigners like Brigitte were tipped off in advance and told to hide up in the hills to avoid being caught.   Reluctant to destabilise Pakistan, then under former president Pervez Musharraf, the United States turned a blind eye to the training camps and poured money into the country. In return, Pakistan hunted down al Qaeda leaders -- among them alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, captured in 2003. "For the Bush administration, the priority was al Qaeda," writes Bruguiere. "The Pakistan Army and the ISI would focus on this - external - objective, which would not destabilise the fragile political balance in Pakistan."   Pakistan denies that it gave military support to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and has banned the organisation. But India at the time accused western countries of double standards in tolerating Pakistani support for Kashmir-focused organisations while pushing it to tackle groups like al Qaeda which threatened Western interests. Diplomats say that attitude has since changed, particularly after bombings in London in 2005 highlighted the risks of "home-grown terrorism" in Britain linked to Kashmir-oriented militant groups based in Pakistan's Punjab province.   Last year's attack on Mumbai, blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and more recently the arrest in Chicago of David Headley, linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba and accused of planning attacks in Denmark and India (pdf document), has underlined international concern about the threat posed by the group.   But for Bruguiere, one of the major lessons was that Islamist militants can't be separated into "good guys and bad guys", since they were all inter-linked.    "You should take into account, this is crucial, very, very important," Bruguiere told me in an interview. "Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistan movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda. Lashkar-e-Taiba has decided to expand the violence worldwide."   Bruguiere said he became aware of the changing nature of international terrorism while investigating attacks in Paris in the mid-1990s by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These included an attempt to hijack a plane from Algiers to Paris in 1994 and crash it into the Eiffel Tower -- a forerunner of the 9/11 attacks. The plane was diverted to Marseilles and stormed by French security forces.

This new style of international terrorism was quite unlike militant groups he had investigated in the past, with their pyramidal structures. "After 1994/1995, like viruses, all the groups have been spreading on a very large scale all over the world, in a horizontal way and even a random way," he said. "All the groups are scattered, very polymorphous and even mutant."

Gone were the political objectives which drove terrorism before, he writes, to be replaced with a nihilistic aim of spreading chaos in order to create the conditions for an Islamic caliphate. For the hijackers on the Algiers-Paris flight, their demands seemed almost incidental. "We realised we faced the language of hatred and a total determination to see it through."

How Ill is Kim Jong-il?

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Photo:A compilation by Reuters of pool photographs and images provided by North Korea’s KCNA news agency showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il from 2004 to 2009. The photograph in the lower right was released this week by KCNA

By Jon Herskovitz

The image the world once had of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, with a trademark paunch, platform shoes and a bouffant hair-do, is gone and may never come back. He has now become a gaunt figure with thinning hair who has trouble walking in normal shoes, let alone ones with heels 8-10 centimetres (3-4 inches) high like he used to wear.

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