Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

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”.

“Afghans need a government that deserves their loyalty and trust; when they have it, the oxygen will be sucked away from the insurgency,” he says. “The international community must step up its support of the elected government, and, through it, the Afghan people. But we have paid enough, in blood and treasure, to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency, even where that means difficult political choices.”

The comments appear to reflect increasing frustration with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and come as President-elect Barack Obama prepares to send up to 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to try to stabilise the country.  Other NATO members are expected to come under pressure to match the higher U.S. troop presence with greater commitments of their own.

Afghanistan’s ground realities

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There’s been much talk about the need for a new U.S. strategic approach to Afghanistan, that would combine a regional diplomatic initiative covering Iran, Russia, China, India and Pakistan with plans to send in thousands more troops.

The most recent in this vein came in an article in the Washington Post this week. It says President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like “surge” of forces will significantly change the direction of the conflict. 

Obama and his South Asian envoy

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There’s much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it’s likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy’s beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Pakistan and its nuclear weapons loom large over Obama administration

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Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre  of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.

The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article  headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led  by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.

Biden in Pakistan: Where’s the baseline?

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U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden held talks in Pakistan as part of a regional tour expected to focus on terrorism and tensions between Pakistan and India following the Mumbai attacks.

Before he left the United States, Biden, travelling in his capacity as outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that “What I hope to accomplish is to get sort of a baseline. This will be my God knows how many trips, I guess my 10th or 11th trip into Iraq and I don’t know how many times in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Politico quoted him as saying.

Is Indian “patience” paying off over Mumbai?

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Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, I asked whether India faced a trial of patience in persuading Pakistan — with help from the United States — to take action against the Islamist militants it blamed for the assault on its financial capital. India’s approach of relying on American diplomacy rather than launching military action led to some  soul-searching among Indian analysts when it failed to deliver immediate results.  But is it finally beginning to bear fruit?

Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times that diplomatic efforts over the Mumbai attacks are entering a crucial phase. ”After having secured New Delhi’s assurance that India will not resort to a military strike against Pakistan, Washington is perceptibly stepping up pressure on Islamabad to act on the available evidence regarding the Mumbai attacks.”

What price Russian cooperation on Afghanistan?

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According to the Washington Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees opportunities for the United States to cooperate with Russia on Afghanistan. The newspaper says Gates, a longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment. ”Russia is very worried about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan and has been supportive in terms of providing alternative routes for Europeans in particular to get equipment and supplies into Afghanistan,” it quoted him as saying.

The story is interesting in the context of the United States searching for new supply lines through Central Asia into Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan before it sends in thousands more troops.  “The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass,” the New York Times said.

Mumbai, a reality check for India’s American Dream ?

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Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually  recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.

But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint   in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan’s northwest)

Do Obama’s Afghan plans still make sense post-Mumbai?

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The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, according to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.  The plan is not unexpected, and from a military point of view is meant to allow U.S. and NATO troops not just to clear out Taliban insurgents but also to bring enough stability to allow economic development, as highlighted in this analysis by Reuters Kabul correspondent Jon Hemming.

But does it still make sense after the Mumbai attacks — intentionally or otherwise – sabotaged the peace process between India and Pakistan?

Israel and India vs Obama’s regional plans for Afghanistan

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Will Israel and India – the first the United States’ closest ally and the second fast becoming one of the closest – emerge as the trickiest adversaries in any attempt by the United States to seek a regional solution to Afghanistan?

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran.

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