Srilankan Team attacked in Lahore

3 03 2009

New Delhi: Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a bus carrying Sri Lankan cricket team as they were on their way to Gaddafi stadium in Lahore on Tuesday morning, Dawn news channel reported.

The channel showed footage of two gunmen opening fire using Kalashnikovs. At least 12 gunmen were involved in the attack.

According to the Pakistan Cricket Board seven players have been reported injured.

Many of them are seriously injured – Thilan Samaraweera, Kumar Sangakkara, Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara, Tharanga Paranavithana and Chaminda Vaas.

Pacer Chaminda Vaas was carried off in a stretcher.

Five security personnel are reported dead, three more are seriously injured and have been rushed to the hospital.

The attackers – who came in a white car – lobbed two grenades at the van and the men then started firing at a police van which was providing security to the Lankan team.

The gunmen, reportedly surrounded the team van and opened fire indiscriminately. They reportedly continuously for two to three minutes.

Rocket launchers used in the attack as well and the Sri Lankan team bus has been completely destroyed. The incident happened at Liberty Chowk in Lahore.

The tour has been officially cancelled.





Mother of captive American issues appeal

22 02 2009

21 Feb 2009, 1730 hrs IST, AP
Source: Times of India

QUETTA: The mother of an American kidnapped in Pakistan appealed for his freedom in a message released on Saturday, describing her son as a “verygentle person” devoted to his humanitarian work.Rose Solecki asked for help from the people of southwest Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, where her son John Solecki was serving as the head of the regional UN refugee office when he was taken captive Feb. 2. The UN has been trying to establish contact with the kidnappers, who have threatened to kill John Solecki.

The kidnapping has underlined the overall deteriorating security situation in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is battling al-Qaida and Taliban-led militants in its northwest. In her message, Rose Solecki expressed bewilderment at her son’s predicament.”I simply do not understand why this is happening to our dear John,” said Rose Solecki, 83. “I cannot begin to explain the sorrows and pain that I am going through right now. My husband and I are old. We want to be with John again.

We cannot bear losing John.”The audio message was released through the United Nations along with a photo of Solecki and his parents.The UN has said the matter is very urgent because Solecki has a medical condition. In a 20-second clip released by his kidnappers on Feb. 13, a blindfolded Solecki said he was “sick and in trouble.”Rose Solecki noted that she and her 91-year-old husband Ralph are both archaeologists and that she had lived in Baluchistan many years before. The couple visited their son in the provincial capital of Quetta last year, she said.”This recent happy memory quickly turned into a nightmare,” she said. “To our friends in Baluchistan, please help us find John and have him returned safely to his family, friends and colleagues.

John has helped many people in Baluchistan, and now my son needs your help.”In the Feb. 13 message, Solecki’s captors threatened to kill him within 72 hours, but later said they would extend the deadline for a “few days.” It was unclear exactly when the new deadline would expire.The kidnappers have identified themselves as the previously unknown Baluchistan Liberation United Front. The name indicates the group is more likely linked to separatists than to Islamists. The kidnappers have demanded the release of 141 women allegedly held in Pakistan, but Pakistani officials have said no such group of women are being held.Earlier Saturday, a suspected Shiite gunmen killed two members of the rival Sunni Muslim sect in the northwest city of Dera Ismail Khan, police said, a day after a suicide bombing at a Shiite leader’s funeral killed 36 and set off sectarian riots.

Three other Sunnis were wounded Saturday when the gunmen rode by a market on a motorbike and fired, area police chief Miran Shah said.The attack occurred despite the presence of troops sent to patrol the city after Friday’s suicide attack at a funeral where about 1,000 people had gathered to mourn Sher Zeman, a local Shiite leader gunned down the day before.After the bombing, angry Shiites fired on police and a public bus was torched. Three people were shot dead in the melee, officials said. A mass funeral was planned Saturday for victims of the Friday bombing, which also wounded more than 60.Extremists from the majority Sunni community view Shiites as heretics, and the two groups have long engaged in tit-for-tat killings in Pakistan. Attacks have increased in recent years along with violence by al-Qaida and the Taliban, which are also Sunni groups.Taliban-led militants have seized control of pockets of northwest Pakistan despite military offensives and analysts say they are likely directing or supporting the sectarian violence.

On Monday, Pakistan announced it would agree to the imposition of Islamic law in the northwest’s restive Swat Valley as part of a deal aimed at restoring peace there. The pact was spearheaded by hard-line cleric Sufi Mohammed who is negotiating with the Taliban in the valley to give up their arms.The government has rejected criticism that the pact would create a Taliban sanctuary less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the capital, Islamabad. But US and European officials are worried the deal could be a major concession giving the Taliban a safe haven.





Suicide blast kills 30 at Pakistan Shiite funeral

20 02 2009

Source: AFP
54 minutes ago
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) — A suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for an assassinated local Shiite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 30 people and putting furious mobs on the rampage.
The explosion took place near a Shiite mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s restive tribal areas with a history of sectarian violence, which has been on the rise in the Sunni-majority country.
“Thirty people have died and 65 are injured,” Saadullah Khan, a police official in the town, told AFP by telephone.
Hospital and police officials earlier put the death toll at 20, with dozens of others wounded. Police said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Soldiers were ordered to deploy and a curfew enforced after intense volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners at the funeral for the late Sher Zaman degenerated into angry riots.
The attack came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bombing against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 in one of the country’s deadliest sectarian attacks.
Around 90 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan so far this year and more than 1,600 since government forces besieged militants holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.
In Dera Ismail Khan, mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up road blocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the town.
“A curfew has been imposed in the city,” district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.
“The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order,” he said.
Zaman, the local Shiite activist who was being buried on Friday, was shot dead by unknown gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike in a busy Dera Ismail Khan market on Thursday, a local police official said.
He had been a prominent member of the town’s Shiite community and organised community gatherings, police said.
Previously, an explosion ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque on February 3, killing one person and wounding 18 others in Dera Ismail KHan.
Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 160-million-strong population.
The fellow Muslims usually coexist peacefully but sectarian violence has killed more than 4,000 people across Pakistan since the late 1980s.





8 killed in Pakistan bomb blast

18 02 2009



2/17/2009 2:01 PM ET

(RTTNews) – 8 people, including two terrorists, have been killed and 16 others wounded in a car bomb explosion outside the home of a government official in Pakistan’s volatile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) Tuesday.

Reports quoting the police said the terrorists were apparently targeting the mayor of Bazidkhel near the city of Peshawar, who was campaigning against the Taliban. He survived the attack unhurt.

The terrorists, who tried to escape after detonating the bomb hidden in a car parked outside Mayor Fahim-ur-Rehman’s residence, were shot dead by local people.
A young girl was also reportedly killed in the blast.

Monday, a Taliban group agreed to ceasefire in the Swat valley on condition that the government in NWFP enforces Islamic Sharia law in the restive region.

by RTT Staff Writer





Who’s winning?

15 02 2009
Source: Timesofindia


15 Feb 2009, 0036 hrs IST, Shobhan Saxena , TNN

When you are locked in a war of nerves with an old adversary, you can’t wait for him to blink. But that’s what seems to have happened. All of a

Who's winning?

Who’s winning?

sudden, Pakistan looks like a changed entity — not plotting and scheming against India, but cooperating in the war on terror by hunting down the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan’s generals are unusually quiet; the politicians are saying the right things and there is not even a murmur of media protest about “giving in to pressure from India”. Islamabad’s tough knees would appear to have buckled under India-led international pressure. The world community, led by the US, is patting Pakistan on the back for this “positive development”.

So far, so good. But security experts and international analysts are asking a further pertinent question: Is there really a change of heart in Islamabad? Or is this just a break in its old diplomatic games with India?

First things first. Something extraordinary happened on Thursday, when Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s advisor on interior affairs, Rehman Malik, made a series of important statements in full view of the world’s press, accepting the role of some Pakistanis in the Mumbai carnage and promising tough action. The same day Pakistan’s foreign secretary gave a list of 30 questions to India’s high commissioner. The future of Pakistan’s investigation into the matter now lies in India’s answers to these questions. It could be a trap for India.

“We made a mistake by focusing too much on Mumbai, forgetting that it was one of the hundreds of terrorist attacks on India in the past few decades. Now, Pakistan says it has caught six guys for the Mumbai attack and what do we do?” asks Ajai Sahni, executive director of Delhi’s Institute for Conflict Management. “It has been a miscalculation in our diplomacy because even if Pakistan hangs these six men, the larger issue of terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al Badr operating from its soil remains unaddressed. And what about the involvement of the ISI and army?”

Calling Pakistan a “minimal satisfier”, Sahni says it’s a ploy. “They have been handing over to the US some of the peripheral terror elements since 9/11 and yet they have been supporting the groups fighting the international forces in Afghanistan. So, if we think that by arresting six people, Pakistan has changed its course on terrorism, we will be deluding ourselves because the terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan remains intact and its supporters in the government are still active,” says Sahni, who tracks terror networks in South Asia.

Former diplomats and Pakistan experts agree. “They have acted out of compulsion, not conviction,” says G Parthasarthy who was posted in Pakistan in the ’80s. “Very soon, they will go back to their old ways,” he says, adding that Pakistan’s demand it be allowed to try 26/11’s sole surviving gunman Ajmal Amir Kasab is just a way of piling the pressure on India. “A trial in Pakistan will be a total farce. It will be like the trial of nuclear scientist A Q Khan, who has been released now, or the conviction of Omar Sheikh Sayeed, who got the death sentence six years ago for the murder of Daniel Pearl, but the order has not been carried out though the anti-terror law calls for execution within a month of conviction.”

The success of the trial of the six men arrested by Pakistan will depend on the quality of evidence against them. It’s thought interesting that Malik constantly used the words “credible” and “tenable’ evidence to the world’s press. Clearly, Pakistan has publicly asked India to give “solid evidence” against the alleged Mumbai plotters. Parthasarthy says this is part of Pakistan’s game. “If the trial fails they will blame India for not giving them enough evidence.”

But Delhi is unlikely to share all the evidence — including the calls log — with a neighbour it so distrusts. This, many believe, will be Pakistan’s trump card. It will accuse India of failure to cooperate and bad faith. “By mocking (India’s) 26/11 dossier at his press conference and by putting questions about Hemant Karkare and Lt Col Srikant Purohit in its list, Malik has already set the stage for this process to fail halfway,” says a ministry of home affairs official, who doesn’t want to be named.

So has Pakistan won this round of the game? Wilson John, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and author of Karachi: An International Terrorist Capital in the Making, says he doesn’t think “Pakistan has scored diplomatically over India as they have not done anything about the terrorist network, which India has been asking them to dismantle, and they have not addressed the issue of ISI’s involvement. So, India will continue to raise these issue and they just can’t get away with it”.

But Islamabad-based terrorism expert Zahid Husain sees the recent developments as a “turning point” in bilateral relations. “It shows that Pakistan is serious about fighting terrorism. Both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism and they have to work together to fight it.”

Perhaps, but is India failing to make the right strategic moves with respect to Pakistan? Yes, says an Indian diplomat, because we place too much faith in the West. “Almost every year, we get excited about the possibility of Pakistan being put on the list of terrorist nations or facing economic sanctions, and then we hear that it’s getting billions of dollars in aid and being called a partner in the ‘war on terror’. And we look like idiots. We have put too much faith in the West and in the process lost our leverage with Pakistan.”

Pakistan knows too well that the West needs it as much as it needs the West. Malik’s confessions seem to be part of this design. He has killed two birds with one stone: turned off the heat from Western allies and put India on the spot. Sometimes, one blinks just to rest the eyes before the next round of eyeballing.

New Delhi vs Islamabad

TALE OF TRIUMPHS

1948 | As Pakistani army regulars follow the Kabayalis into Kashmir, New Delhi makes Hari Singh, then king of J&K, sign the Instrument of Accession, making the state part of India and weakening Pakistan’s claim over it

1971 | India sends its army into East Pakistan to support the Mukti Bahini. Pak is bifurcated and Bangladesh is born. A military victory and a foreign policy coup

1972 | Indira Gandhi and Z A Bhutto sign the Simla Agreement, the cornerstone of bilateral relations to this day

1974 | As Z A Bhutto cozies up to China, India tests its first nuclear device in an attempt to join the N-club, dehyphenate itself from Pak & send a message to Mao

1999 | Battle erupts in Kargil; Pakistan forced to accept its troops were present in the area. This creates a rift between Musharraf and PM Nawaz Sharif, who orders his army to withdraw after a visit to the Clinton White House

…AND BLUNDERS

1949 | Nehru’s plebiscite offer at the UN makes Kashmir an international issue and gives Pakistan a stick to beat India with

1998 | India’s Pokhran-II is followed by Pakistan’s nuclear test. Both face international sanctions and India gets hyphenated yet again with Pakistan

2001 | India invites Musharraf for peace talks. He leaves Agra in a huff, makes a strong statement on Kashmir, and India ends up legitimizing the rule of a dictator

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‘Pashtunistan’ holds key to Obama mission

15 02 2009

Source: Gaurdian

The mountainous borderlands where Afghanistan meets Pakistan have been described as a Grand Central Station for Islamic terrorists, a place where militants come and go and the Taliban trains its fighters. Now Barack Obama has made solving the ‘Af-Pak’ question a top priority. But could the battle to tame the Pashtun heartland become his Vietnam?
?

Relaxing one evening last week at the Cuckoo’s Cafe, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan seemed on the point of causing a major incident.

As ever in the region, there had been no warning. The weather was just right, a warm late winter evening. The view was even better – unmarred by the security subtly positioned on surrounding buildings. From his table, Richard Holbrooke, 67, the diplomat charged with calming what fellow members of the administration call the most dangerous place in the world, looked out over the giant Badshahi mosque and the imposing Lahore Fort, both more than 300 years old. Carefully invited politicians, writers, human rights activists and journalists from Lahore’s liberal elite chatted at tables around him.

It was not that Holbrooke did not enjoy the barbecued spicy kebabs, Lahore’s speciality, it was just he had one special request. He wanted daal, the plain lentil curry that is the humblest dish in South Asia. For such a distinguished guest, none had been prepared. “The bulldozer”, credited with negotiating an end to the war in the Balkans in the 1990s, usually gets his way and this time was no exception. Daal was soon on its way.

Tonight Holbrooke will land at the Palam air force base, adjacent to the main civilian airport in New Delhi. It will be the last stop on a journey that has led the diplomat across the broad swathe of territory stretching from central Afghanistan to Pakistan’s Indus river. Call it the central front of the global “war on terror”, the fulcrum of the “arc of crisis”, Pashtunistan or simply, in the most recent neologism, “AfPak”, no one doubts that this is the biggest foreign policy headache for Obama’s new team.

“The situation there grows more perilous every day,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the American joint chiefs of staff, told journalists earlier this month. Holbrooke reaches for the ultimate comparison: “It’s tougher than Iraq.”

First, there is the local situation. Since launching an offensive in 2006 the shifting alliance of insurgents which make up the Taliban in Afghanistan have established control – or at least denied government authority – over a large part of southern and eastern Afghanistan. British foreign secretary David Miliband last week spoke of a “stalemate” – something senior generals and security officials have known for some time.

Local Afghan forces are still far from able to take on the insurgents without assistance from the 73,000 Nato troops now in country. The government is corrupt and ineffective. Opium production has exploded. Across the border in Pakistan, despite continuing military operations, authorities seem unable to push the Islamic militants on to the defensive. And somewhere in the mess is al-Qaida, though few can say exactly where.

Then, there is the regional situation. There is little love lost between Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. The two former countries have been at loggerheads since splitting in the aftermath of independence from Britain. Kabul’s relationships with New Delhi are warm, a cause and consequence of their mutual animosity towards Islamabad.

“Both India and Pakistan would justify their involvement [in Afghanistan] as a deterrent against the other,” said Chietigj Bajpaee, South Asia analyst for the Control Risks group.

Finally, there is the global situation. “AfPak”, or more specifically the area dominated by the Pashtun tribes around the border mountains, has become the “grand central station” of global Islamic militancy, intelligence sources told the Observer. Young westerners head up to the tribal areas, the semi-autonomous zones which line the Pakistani side of the porous frontier, to visit makeshift al-Qaida training camps to learn how to blow up trains or planes back home. British intelligence track about 30 individuals of high risk through Pakistan each year. Others are known to be fighting with the Taliban against Nato troops.

It is this hideous puzzle that Holbrooke has been sent to sort out. If he can. “It is not too late. If they get the approach right and make an effort to really understand the problems, they can still do it,” said Hekmat Karzai of the Centre for Conflict and Peace Studies, Kabul.

Holbrooke will not do it alone, however. Obama has assembled a powerful team of new and old faces entirely to revamp the American “AfPak” strategy. On a global level, Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state, will take charge. Holbrooke will work on the region and the political track. On the military side, David Petraeus, the general credited with turning Iraq around, is now tasked with winning Afghanistan too. He has been clear that engaging with the largely Pashtun tribes, who bear the brunt of the fighting and provide most of the support for the insurgents, is an essential part of his strategy. As those tribes stretch across the border into Pakistan – a frontier which they cross more or less at will – Petraeus has focused on Afghanistan’s neighbour too.

The complexity of the problems is forcing what UK diplomats call a “recalibration” of objectives. The Americans are more blunt. Defence secretary Robert Gates said the aim is not to build a “central Asian Valhalla”. Creating a liberal, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan has been, at the very least, postponed.

“We have certainly pulled back from the aims of a nice, happy, Scandinavian-style democracy,’ said Steve Cohen, at the Brookings Institution policy research centre, Washington.

The priority now is stabilisation. “There is a recognition that before… nation building, you have to clear the ground,” said Seth Jones, of the US-based Rand Corporation thinktank. For Waliullah Rahmani, of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Kabul, “until Afghanistan is stabilised, you can’t have good governance, development or democracy.”

First stop on Holbrooke’s “listen and learn tour” was Pakistan. As he travelled, the militants sowed death. In Peshawar, the Pakistani frontier city, last Wednesday a member of the provincial parliament was killed by a roadside bomb, the first elected politician to die in the current violence. The same day, Afghan Taliban launched an attack on government buildings in Kabul which involved eight suicide bombers and killed 28. The Afghan government blamed it on Islamabad’s spies.

In Pakistan, those Holbrooke met were impressed by the envoy’s apparent desire to hear what Pakistanis had to say. In Lahore, Jugnu Mohsin, a newspaper publisher, described how when told how Lahore was once known as a tolerant city where all religions thrived, Holbrooke, who backpacked through the region as a young man, wanted to know if it had become more conservative.

“He wanted to know about the Badshahi (mosque), who built it. He was interested in the culture and history of the place,” said Mohsin. “He was basically there to learn, to inform himself, not to tell us what was what.”

Others agreed, though pointed out that Holbrooke’s open mind might have revealed a lack of detailed knowledge. “He is candid… and not given to the pro-India fixation of the Bush administration,” said Ikram Sehgal, an analyst who briefed Holbrooke on the security concerns of Pakistani businessmen. “We’ve turned a real corner.”

Washington has poured an estimated $1bn a year in military aid into Pakistan since 2001 and is worried that it is not getting value for money. There are also persistent question marks over the Pakistan security establishment’s possible support of some Taliban elements.

Indians make frequent accusations. “We have no illusions in India that Pakistan is a major player in Afghanistan,” says MK Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat. “Pakistan estimates that at some point the US will withdraw … [so] it can’t let the Taliban go out of its hands.”

Islamabad denies this, accusing New Delhi of joining with Kabul to foment violence amid separatists in Pakistan’s south-west province of Balochistan and of spying from two consulates they have established along the border. “The Pakistanis have real concerns about Indian activities such as road construction or building the national parliament,” said Jones of the Rand Corporation.

Holbrooke was taken on an aerial tour of the restive Pashtun tribal areas, flying by helicopter over Waziristan, the epicentre of militancy, to see the rugged and remote terrain. Yesterday, a missile fired from an American drone destroyed a house and at least 20 Taliban fighters in areas the envoy flew over, the latest in a series of highly controversial strikes.

Holbrooke stopped in the Khyber Pass, a key supply route for troops in Afghanistan and under attack in recent months, for a briefing with local commanders. Impressed, local observers pointed out that neither Pakistan’s president, Asif Zardari, nor prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, have dared to do the same. Holbrooke had met both in Islamabad.

Then it was on to Lahore for meetings with former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif – who said Holbrooke had admitted that there had been “mistakes” in past US policy – and the rooftop dinner.

Then Holbrooke was on the move again to a frozen, snowy Kabul. The gritty, depressing, grey weather reflected the mood of the visit. Not only is it widely recognised that the Afghan project is in deep trouble but the Obama team believe President Hamid Karzai is at least in part responsible. Relations have deteriorated badly since the halcyon days when the Afghan tribal leader seemed the perfect man to lead his country. Obama himself is said to regard Karzai as unreliable and ineffective. Hillary Clinton has called his country a “narco-state”.

Holbrooke arrived last Thursday and did not see the Afghan president until yesterday. Kabul was quiet – on account of the weather, power cuts and a national holiday celebrating the anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country 20 years ago.

Obama has long promised to put 30,000 more US troops into Afghanistan as part of a wide-ranging review of American policy and the first soldiers are expected to arrive before late spring. John Nagl, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, in Washington, believes the US commitment could eventually rise to 100,000 troops.

“The immediate problem is to stop the bleeding. The 30,000 troops is a tourniquet … [but] that is all we have,” he said. “If Obama is a two-term president then by the end of his time in office there may only be marine embassy guards in Iraq. But there will still be tens of thousands of US troops in Afghanistan.”

There is also the matter of Afghanistan’s coming elections, already postponed once. Some experts believe the polls might solve America’s “Karzai problem”. “Karzai will either improve his performance or he will be ex-president Karzai. That is the wonderful thing about elections,” said Nagl.

Diplomats in European capitals fret about a weakened, re-elected Karazi with no real mandate. Sultan Ahmad Bahin, an Afghan government spokesman, said that Holbrooke had reassured the Afghan government of continuing American co-operation and of the new focus that Obama will bring.

Few locals showed much interest in the visit. “He’s going to do what for us? These people just go backwards and forwards for nothing,” said Karim, 34, a shopkeeper. “The Taliban have been killing us for seven years now.”

For Bashir, a Kabul taxi driver, the Americans would leave. “The Soviets couldn’t stay in our country. How can the Americans stay?” he asked.

A preoccupation for Obama and the Europeans is domestic public support for the war in Afghanistan. White House strategists believe it will hold up much better than the conflict in Iraq. “The polling has been very supportive. Iraq was a phony war but al-Qaida really is in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Cohen.

That makes the job of persuading Americans that the war needs to be fought much easier. It is not hard to point out the genuine threats of a region where there are thousands of Islamic militants, nuclear weapons and where the 9/11 plot was hatched. “The main task will be to persuade the allies, especially the Europeans,” said Cohen.

Finally on to New Delhi, where Holbrooke will step into a diplomatic atmosphere poisoned by November’s Mumbai terrorist attacks. India holds Pakistan responsible for the three-day siege which left 179 people dead and many more injured. Relations with Islamabad are at their lowest ebb since the two nuclear-armed neighbours nearly went to war over Kashmir in 2001 and 2002.

Bajpaee, the analyst, argues that Holbrooke’s best hope is to convince India to take a step back in Afghanistan to calm Pakistani concerns. Delhi may just be happy to let the US turn the screws on Islamabad. The Indians say they intend simply to “listen” to Holbrooke. The envoy too is going to be listening. The encounter may be much quieter than “the bulldozer” likes.

Divided Pashtun Nation

Which nation with homogenous ethnic make-up, a common language, religion and values is not a nation? The answer: Pashtunistan.

The Pashtuns, of whom there are now an estimated 40 million spread from south-western Afghanistan through to central Pakistan, (plus communities in cities such as Karachi and abroad in the UK), were divided on lines drawn by Sir Mortimer Durand in 1893, when he separated the British Indian Raj and the Kingdom of Afghanistan.

Throughout the 19th century the Pashtun tribes fought ferociously, following their honour code of revenge. In Afghanistan, they dominated the emerging state.

But it was not all war. Pashtun culture, particularly poetry and a famous love of flowers, also flourished.

In the post-colonial era, an educated elite campaigned for a nation state but with little popular support. In the past decade, Pashtun identity has fused with more global, radical Islamic strands. Experts, however, warn against branding current violence a ‘Pashtun insurgency‘.

The Pashtun world

• The world population of Pashtuns is estimated at 42 million, and they make up the majority of the population of modern-day Afghanistan.

• Pashtun tradition asserts they are descended from Afghana, grandson of King Saul of Israel, though most scholars believe it more likely they arose from an intermingling of ancient Aryans from the north or west with subsequent invaders.

• Pashtuns are predominantly Sunni Muslim.

• The largest population of Pashtuns is said to be in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

• Pashtun culture rests on “Pashtunwali”, a legal and moral code that determines social order and responsibilities based on values such as honour (namuz), solidarity (nang), hospitality, mutual support, shame and revenge.





Pay-up time

12 02 2009

Source: Frontline
NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

Pakistan: None of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want.

SHERIN ZADA/AP

A MAN CARRIES his elderly mother on his back as the family flees from the troubled Swat valley on February 1 as fighting between the militants and the security forces escalates.

THE bad news arrived quickly. Just three days after the Obama inauguration, the new United States administration made it plain to Pakistan that the winds of change sweeping America would not travel as far the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, at least not in the way that the rulers in Islamabad desired. If anything, the relationship might grow more difficult. The message came riding on two missile attacks on suspected militant compounds, within hours of each other, on the evening of January 23: one in North Waziristan and the second in South Waziristan.

The number of people killed in the attacks may have been 20. It is likely that there were both civilians and militants among the dead. It has always been impossible to verify such information. In Pakistan, the question is not so much if Al Qaeda operatives were among the dead. The missile attacks, launched from unmanned Predator aircraft, generically known as drones, are seen as violations of the country’s air space, territorial integrity and sovereignty.

There have been more than 30 such attacks since August 2008. Despite the Pakistani government’s protests against such incursions during the days of the Bush administration, the attacks continued, increasing in frequency and appearing to gain in precision. It led to the widespread belief that Pakistan’s civilian government was complicit in them. A Washington Post report in November 2008 said the Pakistan People’s Party-led government had given the Bush administration the green signal to carry out such attacks in the tribal areas. The understanding, according to the Post, gave Islamabad the right to protest against the attacks to keep domestic public opinion satisfied. Obama’s Defence Secretary Robert Gates told a congressional committee recently that the drone attacks would continue and that the decision had been conveyed to the Pakistani leadership.

The government has strenuously denied any secret understanding with the U.S. on the attacks. From President Asif Ali Zardari to Prime Minister Yusouf Raza Gilani to Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, all Pakistani leaders have made the point that the missile attacks were “counter-productive”: they fanned the flames of militancy that is eating the region – when civilians get killed, their fellow tribesmen, looking for revenge, swell the ranks of the Taliban and pro-Al Qaeda elements.

Pakistan’s influential media even went so far as to advise the government to stop the drones militarily, and, for a few days last year, the Pakistan Air Force flew sorties over the tribal areas in a sort of show of force. But as Qureshi once told reporters in his hometown Multan, when they asked him why the country could not stand up to the drone attacks in the same way that they had dealt with the alleged air space violations by the Indian Air Force in the wake of the Mumbai attacks: “Pakistan cannot equate the U.S. with India.” An indication that there was a limit to how far the government could go in challenging the drones. This also became evident when drones attacked a target in Bannu, which is not a territory in the lawless tribal region known as FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Area) but a “settled” district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Some days before the Obama inauguration, Gilani told the National Assembly, the lower house of the Pakistan parliament, that the incoming administration would not carry out missile attacks inside Pakistani territory. That turned out to be an incorrect reading of the new U.S. administration’s intentions.

In fact, none of the first steps of the Obama administration has given the kind of unconditional reassurance that the Pakistanis want from their patron country. In keeping with the new President’s campaign promise to focus on the “war on terror” in Afghanistan, his agenda for foreign policy, announced the day after his January 20 inauguration, gave top billing to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but not in the way Pakistan wanted.

The agenda document spoke about refocussing American resources to deal with what the document described as the “greatest threat” to U.S. security: “the resurgence of the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. It spoke of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and asking the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to do the same, while promising more money for economic development to the war-torn country. The new administration has said it will make the Afghan government “do more” in terms of cracking down on the illicit opium trade and on corruption. For Pakistan, the new administration has promised more “non-military” aid, while holding it “accountable” for security in the border region with Afghanistan.

Hussain Haqqani, Islamabad’s Ambassador to Washington, told Geo television that if U.S. policy was not “positive”, Pakistan “will have to review its options”. He expressed the hope that President Obama would give a “patient hearing” to Pakistan’s concerns.

The increase in non-military aid is expected to come via the Biden-Lugar Bill, a bipartisan draft legislation sponsored by Joseph Biden – now the U.S. Vice-President – and adopted by the Senate in September 2008.

The Bill, which the House of Representatives is yet to take up – it lapsed with the inauguration of the new administration and will need to be reintroduced in the Senate – proposes tripling Pakistan’s non-military financial aid over the next five years in recognition of the need to stabilise the country’s economy and democratic institutions, making the bilateral relationship more oriented towards Pakistan’s people rather than its military. It also makes military aid conditional on greater accountability from the Pakistan security forces.

Specifically, the proposed legislation authorises $7.5 billion over the next five fiscal years ($1.5 billion annually) under the Foreign Assistance Act. It also advocates an additional $7.5 billion over the subsequent five years, subject to improvements in the political and economic climate.

ASIF HASSANAFP

JAMMAT-E-ISLAMI ACTIVISTS demonstrate against the missile strikes after Barack Obama took over as President, in Karachi on January 25.

It makes military assistance beginning in 2010, and new military sales beginning in 2012, conditional on certification by the U.S. Secretary of State that Pakistani security forces “are making concerted efforts to prevent Al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating in the territory of Pakistan; are making concerted efforts to prevent the Taliban from using the territory of Pakistan as a sanctuary from which to launch attacks within Afghanistan; are not materially interfering in the political or judicial processes of Pakistan”.

The increased non-military aid would address Pakistan’s contention that militancy must be tackled not by the military alone, but through economic development of the border regions, giving people education and jobs and “mainstreaming” them.

Pakistan had also hoped that Obama’s promised special envoy to the region would be mandated to work with India as well to press for a solution to the Kashmir issue. During his campaign, Obama said in an interview that a solution to the Kashmir problem was vital for peace in Afghanistan. The reasoning: the Kashmir issue is the cause of Pakistan’s insecurity with India, leading to its continuing quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan through jehadist proxies. Therefore, a resolution of the problem is as vital for the stability of Afghanistan as it is for peace between India and Pakistan.

In the event, the appointment of the tough-talking Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan caused disappointment in Pakistan that Obama had backed down, in the face of aggressive Indian diplomacy, from his resolve that the U.S. must help find a solution to Kashmir. But Pakistani leaders have continued to emphasise that Holbrooke’s mandate must be expanded to include India and Kashmir. In fact, the Foreign Ministry press release welcoming his appointment studiously avoided mentioning the two countries included in his mandate, stressing instead the word “region”.

The concern in New Delhi is whether Holbrooke will lean towards Pakistan’s view of the Afghan crisis or whether he will lean on the Pakistan military to produce the keys that can unlock the puzzle. Accepting Pakistan’s position would be no less than accepting jehad and terrorism as legitimate instruments of foreign policy. Leaning on the Pakistan military, on the other hand, would amount to challenging the nature of the Pakistani state.

Finally, the realisation that jehad is unviable has to come from within Pakistan, as it now has over the Taliban takeover of Swat. The picturesque valley in the NWFP, once a holiday destination for tourists, is now under the grip of a Taliban group under the leadership of Fazlullah, a mullah with extreme views who has thrown in his lot with the South Waziristan-based warlord Beithullah Mehsud.

Fazlullah’s marauding militants run a virtual parallel government in Swat. They brook no defiance and have imposed their extreme version of Islam on the people, making men wear beards and salwars that must end above the ankles, and women wear the shuttle-cock burkha, which was once unknown in that part of the world. Disobedience means death, with the body hanging in the main square in Mingora, the big town in Swat. The chowk itself has come to be known as “khooni chowk” (bloody square) or “chowk zibakhana” (slaughterhouse square). The valley was known for its vibrant singing and dancing, but that has ended, and an estimated 300,000 people of the total population of 1.6 million people have fled the district. No elected representative from Swat has dared to step into his constituency in months.

After a national outcry against the Pakistan Army for doing nothing to bring the situation under control, Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the valley in a prelude to a fresh round of operations.

But Pakistanis still tend to see the situation in Swat in isolation, as if it has no connection with the larger issue of jehadist militant groups raised by the Pakistani state for proxy wars in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

These groups and their virulent ideologies are eating at the very vitals of the country, threatening to tear it apart politically and socially, while their actions abroad threaten to push Pakistan out of the comity of civilised nations.

The message from Swat is that it is easy to start a jehadist war but containing it means a systemic overhaul that is not possible only by pasting a democratic face to the state. And in this lies the challenge for U.S.-Pakistan ties, as much as it does for the India-Pakistan relationship.•