Tales from the Trail

Hillary’s mango diplomacy in Pakistan

Hillary Clinton has lots to worry about in Pakistan, but she has found one thing she can wholeheartedly embrace: Pakistani mangos.

The U.S. Secretary of State was treated to a mango dessert during dinner with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and they clearly won a fan — Clinton repeatedly raved about the fruit. PAKISTAN-USA/

“We’ll get a lot of people hooked on Pakistani mangos,” Clinton told a “townhall”-style meeting in Islamabad, where she was on an official visit.

Mangos came up again at a press conference with Pakistan’s foreign minister, and yet again at a roundtable with Pakistani journalists.

Mangos Mangos Mangos.

Clinton suggested mangos might be one place to start when discussing benefits of better trade cooperation, including Pakistani requests for improved market access.

Holbrooke: No “dysfunction” on U.S. Afghan Team

 Barack Obama’s team running the Afghan war has its issues — but is it dysfunctional? No, sir, according to Richard Holbrooke.

” I have worked in every Democratic administration since the Kennedy administration, and I know dysfunctionality when I see it,” Holbrooke, the administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the PBS NewsHour program.

” There are always personal differences and ambitions, but this is just not true. It’s not a dysfunctional relationship.”

General Kayani steals the spotlight at Pakistani embassy party

PAKISTAN-ZARDARI/

Pakistan’s foreign minister heads his country’s delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader’s ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister  Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.

U.S. senators and Obama administration officials lined up to speak to the slim and dapper general, who Pakistani media say rules the roost back home but is also central to U.S. relations with Islamabad.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Over a five year period of engagement, the United States gained little while the Taliban grew even more radicalised and the threat from al Qaeda more serious. Rubin details how State Department officials were repeatedly misled by Taliban officials harbouring bin Laden even after two U.S. embassies were attacked in Africa in  1998.  They even told them they would protect the Buddha statues in Bamiyan which were subsequently destroyed.

Is Holbrooke’s “bulldozer” style working?

Dubbed the “bulldozer” for his tough guy tactics in Balkan negotiations, U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke has been making waves in South Asia recently.

holbrookeU.S. embassies in New Delhi and Kabul have been scrambling over the past week to deal with local fallout from statements made by Washington’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Statements that often go by unnoticed in Washington are parsed word for word in a region where there are deeply-held suspicions over U.S. intentions.

US diplomat in Peshawar awarded heroism prize

Lynne Tracy was headed to work as principal officer at the U.S. consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, in August 2008 when gunmen wielding AK-47 rifles ambushed her car.

The gunfire flattened her vehicle’s front two tires and riddled the body of the car with bullets as her driver jammed into reverse and sped away.
USA-PAKISTAN/TRACY
Tracy and her Pakistani driver and bodyguard all survived the Aug. 26, 2008, attack.

She made her way to the consulate later in the day and in the coming weeks led an effort to boost security even as some of her colleagues were moved to Islamabad or told to work from their homes.

The First Draft: Gripes and Goblins

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton griping about Pakistan while in Pakistan. PAKISTAN USA/

She says it was “hard to believe” that no one in Pakistan’s government knew where al Qaeda leaders were hiding. She talked about her tough talk in a series of morning television interviews, and said on CNN “trust is a two-way street.”

Top military brass coming over to the White House this afternoon. President Barack Obama meets with the military Joint Chiefs of Staff on Afghanistan and Pakistan this afternoon in the Situation Room (so you know it’s important).

Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are also down to attend the meeting where they are all expected to go over recommendations on troop strength and strategy.

The First Draft: Obama Decision Time On Afghanistan?

AFGHANISTAN/The latest violence in Afghanistan may raise the drumbeat in Washington for a decision from President Barack Obama on whether to send more U.S. forces.

He’ll make remarks today at a Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony, and could address the matter there. Plenty of other topics are on the front burner, though, including healthcare reform and overhauling financial regulation, to name just two.

Senator John McCain, Obama’s Republican presidential rival in 2008, said the decision on sending more troops to Afghanistan should come soon. McCain told CBS television’s “Early Show”: “Overwhelmingly the military establishment and those who have had the experience of our success in Iraq know that the people there don’t want the Taliban back … and they want an environment of security. And we watch this situation continue to deteriorate while this long protracted process of decision-making goes on. We’re not operating in a vacuum. The president of the United States needs to make this decision and soon. Our allies are nervous and our military leadership is becoming frustrated.”

Mia Farrow’s son working for Holbrooke on Pakistan

The sons of actors and presidents have been in the news a lot lately.

Take Mia Farrow’s 21-year-old son Ronan, who was all over the blogosphere today for his role as liaison between the office of star “Afpak” diplomat Richard Holbrooke and nongovernmental groups working in Pakistan.

PAKISTAN-USA/Several NGO officials said they were taken aback when Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, introduced his protege at a meeting in Washington this week as a “special liaison” on Pakistan.

“It was a surprise but we don’t see this really as a big deal. He’s not the only point of contact for us,” said one NGO of  Farrow’s appointment.

from Global News Journal:

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.

Behind the scenes the whispers are that hesitation and delay are because the outcome is excruciatingly close, too close to call. President Hamid Karzai, once set clear for victory, may find first round success ripped from his grasp by the disqualification of votes stuffed into ballot boxes by his supporters. He'll likely win a second round, if it happens, against his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah; but there will have been a loss of dignity, of self-confidence and of an opportunity to stabilise Afghanistan and get on with fighting the Taliban.