Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The United States has decided to halt cross-border ground raids by Special Ops forces into Pakistan, according to the U.S. Army Times. It quotes a Pentagon official as saying U.S. leaders had decided to hold off on permitting ground raids to allow Pakistani forces to press home their own attacks on militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
“We are now working with the Pakistanis to make sure that those type of ground-type insertions do not happen, at least for a period of time to give them an opportunity to do what they claim they are desiring to do,” it quotes the Pentagon official as saying. This did not apply to air strikes launched from Predator drones.
The article is well worth a read for its explanation of why the United States backed off after making a controversial cross-border ground raid on the village of Angor Adda earlier this month. The raid represented “a strategic miscalculation”, it quoted a U.S. government official as saying. “We did not fully appreciate the vehemence of the Pakistani response,” which included a threat to cut supply lines through Pakistan to Afghanistan. “I don’t think we really believed it was going to go to that level,” the official said.
I’d also recommend the lower part of the article as it gives a wealth of detail about who it thinks is being targeted in Pakistan right now, including the networks of Islamist leaders Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, both veterans of the campaign against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has replaced the head of its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, following months of questions from the United States about its reliability in the battle against the Taliban and al Qaeda. Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, formerly head of military operations, will replace Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj.
The change was part of a major overhaul of the military leadership by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who also replaced the head of the 10 Corps in Rawalpindi, the most powerful corps in the army.
Depending on who you read, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was either an embarrassment for trying to flirt with Sarah Palin during his trip to New York last week, or a street-smart wheeler-dealer bravely standing up to Islamist militancy after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.
Time revisits the encounter between Zardari and Palin – in which he told the vice-presidential candidate she was gorgeous and threatened to hug her in a scene now frequently being replayed on YouTube – writing that it led to Zardari being “pilloried at home as a source of national embarrassment and accused of sexism and impropriety”.
Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain stressed important differences in approach to Pakistan in their first debate.
On the surface, Obama advocated a tougher line, as he has done since the start of his campaign. “If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out,” he said. He talked about the $10 billion Washington had given to Pakistan in aid over the last seven years, saying it had failed to rid the border region of al Qaeda and the Taliban
I finally got around to reading Charlie Wilson’s War (much better than the film and considerably longer) about the U.S. Congressman who managed to drum up huge amounts of money to fund the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980′s.
George Crile’s book - about how the CIA channelled money and weapons through Pakistan to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union – was first published in 2002. But it’s even more relevant today as the United States struggles to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and realises it will never succeed as long as ”the enemy” has sanctuary in Pakistan. It is the only war that the United States has fought on both sides.
One of the oddities of the troubled India-Pakistan relationship is a theatrical flag-lowering ceremony that the border guards of the two countries together enact every day at sunset at the Wagah checkpoint in the Punjab – for long the only road crossing.
Tall, very tall, guards from the Pakistani Rangers and men from India’s Border Security Force (BSF) with twirling moustaches goose-march up to the zero point, stamping their feet on the ground till the knees reach the chin, scowling at each other and shouting their way in a choreographed routine that ends in the lowering of the flags and the slamming of huge gates to the two countries.
The weekend bomb which tore through the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people, was a reminder that Pakistan is entering the eye of the storm of Islamist militancy. But for me, it was also a more personal reminder of a childhood friend who went from a suburban upbringing in London to become one of Pakistan’s most notorious militants.
Omar Sheikh, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of the Prophet) organisation which has been linked to the bombing, is currently on death row in Pakistan for organising the kidnapping and beheading of the brilliant Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in February, 2002.
I had long since lost contact with Omar since we both graduated from Forest School in north London in 1992 and the sight of a heavily bearded Sheikh flanked by Pakistani police during the Pearl trial came as a shock. My jumbled memories of Omar were of a tall, lantern-jawed adolescent with dark-rimmed glasses, a serious but polite demeanour, a childish sense of humour but an unblinking, fearless appetite for a fight. Even as a boy, he spoke feverishly and often of “My Country” and praised the authoritarian and strictly Islamic regime of General Zia — who ousted and killed Benazir Bhutto’s father and helped the mujahedin throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
While Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.
Pakistan has always seen China as a much more reliable friend, while support from Washington has waxed and waned in line with U.S. interests (Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.)
In the aftermath of the deadly hotel bombing in Islamabad, amidst fresh tensions with the United States over helicopter intrusions in Pakistan’s northwest, and in spite of reports of fresh cross-border firing in Kashmir, negotiators from India and Pakistan met in New Delhi and agreed to open trade across Kashmir. There could hardly have been a more unlikely time for the two countries to agree to crack open one of the world’s most militarised frontiers, where a ceasefire which has more or less held since 2003 is beginning to fray at the edges.
To be sure, the neighbours have a passenger bus service twice a month that links the two parts of Kashmir under their control, but it is heavily restricted and travellers are subject to all sorts of clearances before they can get anywhere near it.
Just two days after a suicide bomb attack on the Marriott killed 53 people in the heart of Islamabad, there were reports of trouble both on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and on the Line of Control with India.
On the Afghan border, Pakistani troops fired on two U.S. helicopters that intruded into Pakistani airspace on Sunday night, forcing them to turn back to Afghanistan, according to a senior Pakistani security official. On the Indian side, Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire across the Line of Control dividing Kashmir, in the latest breach of a ceasefire agreed in 2003. And as if that was not enough, Afghanistan’s top diplomat was kidnapped in Peshawar.