Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

For a fistful of dollars, America and Pakistan wrangle

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Pakistan’s relationship with the United States can’t get more transactional than the prolonged negotiations over restoration of the Pakistani supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, according to leaked accounts of so-called private negotiations, is demanding $5000 as transit fee for allowing trucks to use the two most obvious routes into landlocked Afghanistan, blocked since November when two dozen Pakistani soldiers were killed in an U.S. air strike from Afghanistan. The United States which apparently paid about $250 for each vehicle carrying everything from fuel to bottled water all these years is ready to double that, but nowhere near the price Pakistan is demanding for its support of the war. It also wants an apology for the deaths of the soldiers but America has stopped short of that, offering regret instead.

The two countries will likely reach a compromise, probably sooner than later. But the whole image of so-called allied nations involved in grubby negotiations about trucking fees while there is a disastrous war going on – and leaking details of those talks – tells you how destructive the relationship has become. You would think Pakistan and the United States would try and figure how to prevent incidents such as the air strike near the Afghan-Pakistan that led to the closure of the supply route in the first place. Imagine another strike of that kind and the impact it would have on an already inflamed nation, weak as it may be. Instead negotiations went down to the wire ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago over how many more dollars Pakistan can make as a conduit for a war that has turned it into a battlefield itself.

And America, playing just as hardball, is refusing to give any quarter even though it is paying quite a high price to transport the supplies by a combination of air and land through a northern route into Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan. In any case, higher trucking fees in the closing stages of the war, can only be a drop in the vast amount America spends on its military – more than the next four countries put together.

from Afghan Journal:

America takes the war deeper into Pakistan

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PAKISTAN-NATO/ATTACK

One of the most interesting things in Bob Woodward's re-telling of the Afghan war strategy in his book "Obama's Wars" is the approach toward Pakistan. It seems the Obama administration figured out pretty early on in its review that Pakistan was going to be the central batttleground, for this is where the main threat to America came from.

Indeed, the mission in Afghanistan was doomed so long as al Qaeda and the Taliban were sheltered in the mountains of northwest Pakistan straddling the Afghan border. The question was how do you deal with Pakistan?

Pakistan: After Mehsud, Mullah Omar in the cross-hairs?

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Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the “Af-Pak” strategy for the Obama administration, says the United States must now target Mullah Mohammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, following the apparent death of the chief of the Pakistani Taliban this month.

The one-eyed, intensely secretive founder of the Afghan Taliban is a much more elusive and important player in the “terror syndicate” attacking Pakistan, Afghanistan and the NATO mission in Afghanistan than Baitullah Mehsud, reportedly killed in a U.S. drone strike, Riedel says.

Americans vote for Afghan troop surge, but Afghans differ

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An overwhelming majority of Americans support President Barack Obama’s decision to deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, according to a Gallup poll this week. It said 65 percent approved the measure, with support among Republicans hitting 75 percent, making it one of the rare policy decisions where a president gets greater backing from those who identify with an opposing political party than his own.

And in a still greater boost for his young presidency, 77 percent of those who voted for the surge said they would also approve if  Obama decided to send another 13,000 troops to Afghanistan as many expect after a regional policy review.

U.S. Predator strikes cripple al Qaeda in Pakistan?

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America’s ramped-up Predator drone campaign against al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwest is starting to pay off, according to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence authorities quoted in a clutch of media reports.

Eleven of the group’s top 20 “high value targets” along the Afghan border have been eliminated in the past six months  Newsweek magazine reports, citing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Afghanistan and the breakdown of the balance of power

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Keeping track of the many countries with a stake in Afghanistan — and the shifting alliances between them — is beginning to feel awfully like one of those school history lessons when you were supposed to understand the complex and tenuous balance of power whose breakdown led to World War One.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became the latest to call for a regional solution to Afghanistan when he said this week that the United States and its NATO allies must directly engage with Iran if they are to win the war there. “If we are going to succeed in this game, we need to be playing on the right field,” he said. “And that means a more regional approach. To my mind we need a discussion that brings in all the relevant regional players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, yes, Iran.”

The scramble for Central Asia

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Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it’s worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan’s oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

NATO leader slams Afghan government

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NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has attacked the Afghan government over its failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, saying that “the basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it’s too little good governance”.

In a strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post, he says people in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan are wondering how long its operation must last, “and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out”.

Seeking regional peace for Afghanistan

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Given the focus on U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan since 9/11, it’s easy to forget the regional context. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid try to set that right, calling for a regional approach that would take account of the interests not just of Afghanistan, but also of Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and China.

“Both U.S. presidential candidates are committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan, but this would be insufficient to reverse the collapse of security there. A major diplomatic initiative involving all the regional stakeholders … is more important,” it says.

Afghanistan: the 20-year war?

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America is in Afghanistan for the long haul and the sooner it tells its people the better it would be for its own sake, says top U.S. military scholar Anthony Cordesman in a study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Warning that the United States faced a crisis in the field, Cordesman says Washington has no choice but to commit more troops, more resources and time to stop the haemorrhaging. And even if the Taliban/al Qaeda momentum is decisively reversed in 2009/2010, this is a war that will last into the next presidency.

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