Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Webchat on Obama's Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

As part of President Barack Obama's new initiative for online outreach, I was invited this morning to participate in a US State department's webchat on Mr. Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Here's the full transcript of the event:

A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan
Gregory W. Sullivan, Director of Press and Public Diplomacy for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State
March 31, 2009

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): Welcome to today's webchat. The webchat will begin at 1200GMT.

In 1992, Mr. Sullivan joined the Foreign Service of the U.S. Department of State as an Economic Officer, and has served overseas postings in Bahrain, Egypt, and South Africa. He has also served in Washington on the Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Bahrain desks. From May 2000 through the summer of 2006, he served as Spokesman for the Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in Washington, D.C., working extensively with domestic and international media. In September 2006, he joined the Department of South and Central Asian Affairs as the Director of Press and Public Diplomacy.

Mr. Sullivan received undergraduate degrees in Economics and Modern European History from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in 1988. He received a Master of Arts degree focusing on Middle East and Islamic Studies from the University of Virginia in 1990, and completed a year of Ph.D. study focusing on the Shi’a communities of the Arabian Gulf.

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): We are about to begin. There are many, many questions coming in. Please be patient as Mr. Sullivan works on answers. Also, please keep in mind that many of you are asking similar questions--please check to see if the answer to your question has already been posted!

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Welcome, everyone, to this webchat. I'm delighted to see so many people online and I promise I'll do my best to answer as many of your questions as possible.

ghulam ali murtaza: Counter-insurgency as proposed by David Petraeus is perceived by many across the border as an effort to control and change their culture that has been pretty much dominant in their society for many years. Why USA has been unable to draw distinction between the natives who are peaceful and those terrorist whose aim is inflict wreckage in world?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Very good question, Mr. Murtaza. I often get this question from Afghans who ask "what happened to your smart bombs - why aren't they so smart?" First I want to say that we go to great lengths to avoid any civilian casualties in our operations, and operations are called off or postponed if there are indications that civilians could be affected. But, the problem is Al Qaeda and the Taliban who are working hard to bury themselves inside the local populations, using civilians as a shield. They do everything possible to make sure civilians will be impacted. At times, they've also used disinformation, suggesting that a civilian gathering, a wedding perhaps, is actually a high-level Taliban or Al Qaeda meeting - basically misleading us into attacking the wrong target. We need to have better information and a surge of personnel in Afghanistan will give us better information on the people and activities and help us avoid incidents that result in civilian casualties.

jamaldini: The core issue of all this mess is Durand line which should not be there, why don’t the US pressurize Pakistan to accept this fact? This way NWFP will be part of Afghanistan and there would be no border, which means no militants safe havens. The people in NWFP and Afghanistan speak same language and have the same culture.

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: While I can't support erasing the Durand line, I recognize what you're really calling for: an establishment of law, order, and a viable economic system in the Pakistani tribal areas. On those points, I'd say we're in pretty close agreement.

Our strategy is an attempt to help the Pakistani Government introduce government, basic services, the rule of law, and a viable economic system into an area that has been under tribal rule for centuries. Through the IMF, World Bank, and other international institutions - together with our additional $1.5 billion in foreign assistance - we hope to bring opportunity, infrastructure, jobs, and services to this region. And, in so doing, illustrate to the people of the tribal areas that the "social contract" between government and the people involves responsibilities and benefits on both sides - but a relationship that, in turn, makes both stronger and more prosperous.

Sarah Alam, Karachi (Spokesperson Pak-US Alumni Association Karachi, Lecturer Jinnah University for Women): First of all I would like to commend the honorable President for his newly proposed strategy. However I would like to put forward my concern over the growing acts of terrorism in Pakistan. By any means, the threat of terrorism exists and is growing day by day, and the conditions of Pakistan are becoming deplorable. How in the present scenario can we measure the effectiveness of this newly proposed strategy?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Thank you, Ms. Alam for your question. Obviously, we, too, are concerned about the scale of terror attacks. The Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership has killed thousands of Pakistanis over the past year, and their growing threat is what drove this new strategy. On measuring the effectiveness, I will admit we still have some work to do to put them in place. President Obama has emphasized that the strategy must be flexible and easily changed to new conditions. We know we're going to review the strategy regularly. I can assure you this isn't the last time you've heard from us about the strategy and how it's going. I see many regular updates from the President and others on where we think the situation is going.

farid.areu.af: How corruption can be moved from the Afghan government? And how narcotic can be eradicated from Afghanistan?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: You ask two excellent questions Farid, and I won’t lie by saying the solution is easy or quickly-implemented. As President Obama said, “we cannot turn a blind eye to the corruption that causes Afghans to lose faith in their own leaders.” We see in consistent polling of Afghans that corruption remains one of their top concerns – and in many cases their number one concern. It prevents the delivery of relief and development projects to ordinary Afghans and presents the Taliban with a significant recruitment opportunity. The durability of the Afghan state rests on the trust of its people and their ability to expect delivery of basic services.

But, how do you fix it? Well, I won’t claim that we have all the answers, but we have some ideas. First, we recognize that the previous Administration’s focus on Iraq prevented us from having the focus, resources, and personnel to adequately take on the corruption challenge. There are 396 districts in Afghanistan and not nearly enough of an international civilian presence to establish regular discussions, training, or monitoring of the developmental situations in all of them. Our developmental efforts have been hampered by a lack of consultation with local leaders and a lack of personnel to adequately oversee them. This helped create an environment where corruption could continue without ever being discovered – or its extent throughout the government effectively countered.

So, the first step is the “civilian surge” the President spoke of – to get enough talented people to work with local leaders, train them, monitor progress on developmental programs and effectively coordinate with their international counterparts.

Another idea is to expand the scope and size of our rule of law programs through education, enhanced enforcement, and the establishment of ongoing monitoring mechanisms within the Afghan Government – the “checks and balances” we often talk about in the West.

The President also stated that we will pursue a new understanding with the Afghan Government that cracks down on corrupt behavior and sets clear benchmarks for international assistance so that it provides for the needs of the Afghan people. On our end, we too, will enhance the role of the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction to ensure that money for U.S. contracts is spent in the way it was intended. We can’t expect universal change overnight, but we believe these steps will help create an environment where transparency and accountability can supplant corruption.

On Counter-Narcotics

Obviously, as we tackle corruption, we’re also going to have to tackle the illicit opium trade. We’re starting from the conclusion that previous counter-narcotics efforts have been ineffective largely because illicit drugs have become too central to the Afghan economy.

Reliance on eradication doesn’t work because it unfairly puts all the burden on the poor farmer trying to feed his family. The objective shouldn’t be to punish desperate people. Virtually all Afghans would agree that they’d rather grow legal crops, but with no roads to take product to market how could they sell them?

The solution to the narcotics trade needs to be rooted in sound economics and agricultural policy. We need to look at alternative crops and examine the entire set of infrastructural requirements--from cultivation, irrigation, preservation and transportation, to finding buyers for the product at market. This means working with farmers concerning their soil and what will grow, training people in the secondary markets of agricultural packaging and preservation to ensure the product can remain fresh on long trips by road, building roads to markets, and establishing mechanisms for sellers to find buyers both domestically and internationally. Hi-nutritional value wheat is one product we think would work as an alternative to poppy, and as we go forward we will be filling in the details of what else in the chain needs to be there, so farmers can stop growing poppy.

Naimat Ullah Khan, LC Karachi: Dear Mr. Sulivan, would you like to tell us the highlights of the change in policy towards Afghanistan & Pakistan

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Thanks, sure - the big highlights are the creation of a Trilateral Dialogue between the US, Pakistan, and Afghanistan that will focus not only on security matters but trade, energy, and development. There are significant new troop commitments for Afghanistan, a civilian surge that will enable us to reach far more of the 396 Afghan districts than we ever have, and a strong anti-corruption push through a Special Inspector General here and a new Afghan Anti-Corruption office. Also important is the US commitment to a reconciliation process with those who are not "hard-core" Taliban, and can be brought into the political process.

Riaz Haq: Why was Kashmir dropped from Ambassador Holbrooke's charter as US special envoy to the region? Do you think this decision will help or hurt the US efforts in the region?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Ambassador Holbrooke's mandate is Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to be fair, we think that's probably a full-time job. Certainly, we are interested in the long-term improvement in Pakistani-Indian relations and continue to assist in any way we can. While Ambassador Holbrooke will not address Kashmir as part of his mandate, he will promote dialogue between India and Pakistan, recognizing the importance of solid regional cooperation as a foundation for his efforts.

I want to add to my answer for the Lincoln Center in Karachi this second part: On the Pakistan side, the highlights are an additional $1.5 billion in US assistance in infrastructure, education, and job-creation, and a clear set of benchmarks that will be developed and linked to this assistance. Obviously, the trilateral dialogue I mentioned earlier will assist Pakistan with its efforts as well. And working with the IMF, World Bank and others, we hope to get more resources for Pakistan to address its economic needs and extend its effective governmental control over the tribal areas. And when I say control, I don't mean just troops; we mean the provision of water, food, electricity, housing, schools, and all the things that a citizen should expect from its government.

Daud, Lincoln Center, Herat: can Afghanistan and Pakistan be good friends in the future?

Riaz Haq: Do you think Pakistan has a strategic interest in Afghanistan now and in the future when the US eventually leaves the region? If so, how do you see it? Do you think Pakistan’s interest in Afghanistan aligns with the US interests now and five or ten years from now?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Both Daud at the LC Herat and Riaz Haq are asking similar questions about Afghan Pakistani relations. This is a really good question. I can tell, because you're really making me think hard here. Let me try to provide a thoughtful answer:

I think it would be fair to say that many in South Asia and around the world began to doubt the US strategic interest in Afghanistan following the war in Iraq. As the pace of development in Afghanistan stagnated and the US preoccupation with Iraq grew, it's likely that Pakistanis began to doubt the durability of the US commitment and the likelihood of a functional state emerging in Afghanistan. Under such circumstances, I could see many Pakistanis concluding that Pakistan had no "strategic interest" in Afghanistan--only a "strategic threat" that would have to be managed without the United States’ involvement.

But, as President Obama's speech conveyed, the US does, indeed, have a strategic interest in Afghanistan, and Pakistan should see one as well. Despite the problems in the international effort, Afghanistan has made great strides in healthcare, education, and economic growth. And, with a revitalized US commitment to Afghanistan, Pakistani leaders should feel empowered to see Afghanistan as a political, economic, and strategic asset for Pakistan.

The President spoke about the importance of addressing common issues of concern like trade, energy, and economic development through a standing trilateral dialogue. It is our hope that this forum may be the most visible means to illustrate that Afghanistan's success, its economic growth, and political maturation can yield important benefits to Pakistan in security, trade, export markets, and job creation.

So, in answer to your original question, "yes," Pakistan should see a strategic interest in Afghanistan and not see it as a long-term threat. And, through this Trilateral Commission we hope to underscore that opportunity.

Zubair. Lincoln Center Herat: Do you think if US helps Pakistan to be secure that will help to secure the region?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Zubair, I think you're very right about the need for Pakistan to feel secure, and while the President was clear about the mixed results we've had in fighting terrorism is Pakistan, I think the real key to this new strategy is the fact we're trying to generate economic growth and new assistance that will make Pakistanis feel secure. We hope the $1.5 billion can be used to build infrastructure that attracts foreign investment and creates new jobs. We're also looking to provide training that creates a better workforce in Pakistan, and allows them to get higher salaries for their work. All of this should make Pakistan feel more economically secure. On the political side, we think the Trilateral Dialogue will help reduce tensions with Afghanistan, and our ongoing efforts to promote India-Pakistan discussions should also help.

I'd like to address the charge that has come up in several questions regarding the view that the US is waging war against Muslims or Islam. I know you've heard comments like those I'm about to make, but they need to be said until the point when they're no longer necessary.

The U.S. Government has no quarrel with Islam, one of the world's great religions. I know from my own experience in the Muslim world that Islam is a faith of peace and submission. There are extremists in any faith - Christianity included - that will take doctrine to the point where it misses the larger message of peace, love, and compassion. Those individuals - the ones using Islam as a pretext for attacks against others - are the ones we have problems with.

A professor of mine in graduate school talked openly about his desire to get back to a period under the Umayyad Caliphate when a flourishing dialogue existed between Christians, Jews, and Muslims that focused on the common problem of man's alienation from God. While some may take issue with his historical depiction, his point was that we can achieve far more by working together based on what joins us, than by fighting over what divides us.

The world gets smaller everyday while the population grows by several millions. The challenge of raising children in this age with enough to eat, a job waiting for them, and a solid moral grounding is filled with ethical and technological challenges even our own parents never dreamed of. Making enemies of several hundred million adherents to Islam isn't going to make that challenge any easier for Americans.

Riaz Haq: The demand on Pakistan to ''cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban'' seems to be at odds with the desire to ''peel away up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan from the Taliban’s leadership''. Do you think that the ISI's links with the Taliban can serve a useful purpose in attempts to reconcile with a substantial percentage of the Taliban?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Much has been written in the West about the ISI and its reported links to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And, while we think it's fair to say that the institution is in need of reform and oversight, we think it would be unfair to characterize all members of the ISI as agents of terrorism. We have cooperated with the Government of Pakistan on important intelligence matters before, and see that as an important foundation for broader cooperation. Important to any intelligence structure, however, is submission to the nation's political leadership - who, in turn, are accountable to the people of Pakistan.

Sivasubramanian Muthusamy: The discussions so far indicate that the US Government wants to increase international civilian (non-governmental organizations?) presence in Afghanistan, spend $1.5 billion in foreign aid, and to undertake programs such as encourage alternate crops. My question: Are these measures sufficient? The developing countries' experience with foreign aid has been that the impact of the funding and programs has always been negligible. How would the new administration CHANGE the way the funding and the overall program administration work?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Mr. Muthusamy, great question, and it's something we're spending a lot of time on right now. First, I would agree with you. It's very tough to administer assistance through NGOs unless you have enough USG or international officials in place to watch that every dollar is going where it should. That's why the civilian surge is so important. We realize that part of the reason corruption and a lack of coordination has been such a problem in Afghanistan is because we simply didn't have enough civilians on the ground. We had a lot of personnel in Iraq and not enough in South Asia. It meant we did top-down management, and we weren't getting all the facts from "real people" on the ground. We're not going to make that mistake again. We're going to put hundreds of new officers on the ground all over Afghanistan - in as many of the 396 districts as we can, so we can see the projects, monitor the progress, respond to needs from local officials, and switch our tactics if needed.

Faria Khan: Where is the exit strategy? President Obama states there are clearly defined goal posts but that is playing hard and fast with the truth. You are getting yourselves into a quagmire. I am of Pakistani origin and my family are from the NWFP and Punjab and I can with a 100% guarantee tell you that the Taliban know they can outlast you. Mr. Obama, in the following weeks, please define more clearly a timeline for success (dates by which you want to attain certain targets). Because, if you start to withdraw down after a few years as not part of some advanced announced plan, then it will look like a defeat, regardless as to how you may spin it. The truth is the Pashtuns make up to 60% of the Afghan population and the neo-Taliban are a nationalist insurgency. You need to make deals with them, regardless as to how unpalatable it is to you. I fear that your real strategy is to go in and initiate a hard-hitting military plan for a while and cross your fingers that you will get the targets you want. Negotiate with the Taliban

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: The US exit strategy is fairly simple: we can begin to leave as Afghans and Pakistanis deal with their own security problems, including in the border regions; effective governance has reached an acceptable level; and corruption is under control. President Obama has emphasized that flexibility should be a key element of this strategy. And so, while it is certain that there will be clear benchmarks established, we're going to exercise discretion and flexibility in determining a timetable.

I think it's important to note that this is not the last discussion you've heard regarding the new strategy. There will be a series of regular discussions that evaluate where we are, where we're headed, and what needs to be done to stay on course. And those discussions will always begin with consultation with the people of the region.

Haroun Mir: President Obama has indicated in this new strategy the need for a civilian surge in Afghanistan. However, one of the problems in Afghanistan is lack of coordination among different donor countries. For instance, in major Afghan ministries we have advisors from different countries, who sometimes disagree among themselves on key policies. In addition, subcontracting development works to private companies in a country like Afghanistan, which are profit-seeking institutions, is one of the reasons behind slow progress and mismanagement of funds. Don't you think that a new strategy in Afghanistan would require a change in the way the US has worked in Afghanistan in the past seven years?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Haroun, I agree with you 100% that a new strategy also requires a change in the way the US has worked in Afghanistan, and I think the new strategy gives us some important new tools to counter the corruption and lack of coordination that has disheartened so many Afghans. As I mentioned, we’re taking a harder line on corruption both by enhancing our own Special Inspector General position, but also by encouraging the Afghan Government to create its own position to root out corruption.

I mentioned earlier about how more civilian personnel will help reduce the opportunities for corruption, but they can also enhance coordination. Up until now, we’ve been hampered by the simple fact that we don’t have enough implementers on the ground. Our coordination has been top-down, when it should be from the bottom-up. A surge in the civilian presence could go a long way in creating that bottom-up dynamic in the 396 Afghan districts we’re trying to reach.

Haroun Mir: We Afghans have been telling for the past two decades that Afghanistan is a victim of Pakistan and Saudi's wrong policies in the region but the State Department has always ignored our plea. Today, there is a growing consensus in the US about Pakistan's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact there are two major countries in the Islamic world which directly support terrorism--Iran and Pakistan. The IRGC supports Hezbollah and Hamas, and the ISI supports the Taliban and Kashimiri Jihadist groups. However, Iran is punished and insolated while Pakistan is rewarded with billions of dollars of military and humanitarian assistance. How would you explain the US' double standard policy in the region?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: I have to disagree that there is a double-standard since the situations with Iran and Pakistan are so vastly different. The Iranian Government articulates a policy of destabilization that it implements through a coherent governmental apparatus. While no one would disagree about the presence of violent extremists inside Pakistan, it is more a question of Pakistan's capability to challenge them effectively and the ability of its political leadership to bring under control those elements sympathetic to the extremists.

We have cooperated with Pakistan before on important security issues. Pakistan has shared information and intelligence that has saved US and British lives. In Pakistan, our challenge is to get beyond the "mixed results" we have seen. With Iran, I'd argue that we're much further away from calling the glass "half-full."

Myda: How optimistic are the US strategists regarding the new Pak-Afghan Strategy? What support are they expecting from Pakistani citizens to successfully implement this strategy?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Myda, thanks for your question, and I guess I'd say we're cautiously optimistic. We think the strategy reflects new US leadership - a leadership I think a lot of nations felt was missing during the Iraq effort. In many ways, a lot of us who have worked South Asia the past few years feel as if we were not spending the time, resources, and money needed to address the problems. Personally, I feel very optimistic because it's clear South Asia is so central to the President's foreign policy objectives. And I think we're trying to go slowly and methodically in addressing tough problems.

On the second part, the Pakistani people can play a huge role. First, I want to say we recognize that the US commitment to democratic ideals has been questioned in Pakistan, and we're committed to actions that leave no doubt about that support. While we're firm on the need to confront Al Qaeda and Taliban, we hope our commitment to development, job-creation, and the rights of Pakistanis will help bring around the support of the Pakistani people.

gill: Drone Attacks must be stopped, ruining our economy, destabilizing the country, spreading hate between people of Pakistan (Punjabi , people of tribal areas)! USA must have a peace deal. Sitting 7 years in Afghanistan, they have not won the war. Now destabilizing Pakistan.

mani41: I say this: just stop the f***ing Drone attacks ASAP. If you want to take out targets, you need better recon; just bombing at will isn't going to solve the issue. What it will achieve is continued hate sentiment from the Pakistani population in general and more fanaticism from the militants and their tribes/race.

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: As I've said, the US wants to work with Pakistan in confronting the violent extremists there. But years of mixed results have allowed Al Qaeda to grow stronger within Pakistan. As we work towards a better strategy with the Government of Pakistan, it is our hope that such strikes will be unnecessary. For now, though, the threat is very real and we are aggressively going after high value targets engaged in planning future attacks.

Riaz Haq: Will the US covert war (via US drone attacks in Pakistan) continue after the unveiling of new strategy? Or will it be expanded and intensified?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Let me start by saying clearly, the United States does not want to operate militarily in Pakistan. But, the threat that Al Qaeda and the Taliban present to us, to Pakistan, and to the world means SOMEONE must. It is by far our preference that Pakistanis eradicate the terrorist presence inside Pakistan.

The Al Qaeda leadership that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks currently reside in Pakistan. Since 9/11, they have vowed to strike again and have done so repeatedly: in London, Bali, Spain, Morocco, India, Kabul, and in Pakistan. They've killed far more Muslims than non-Muslims in their attacks. They've killed thousands of Pakistanis, including Benazir Bhutto. This is not an American problem; it is a threat to all nations of the world, and should be for Pakistan, too.

As President Obama said, we have great respect for the Pakistani people and their rich history. And, we recognize that Pakistanis want much the same as we do: freedom from violence and poverty, the rule of law and an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their children.

But, having the world's most dangerous terrorist network in Pakistan's backyard will not get Pakistanis what they desire. Al Qaeda will lure Pakistanis with false promises of security, threaten those Pakistanis that don't share their Salafist views about what's permissible in an Islamic society, and provoke other nations with vicious attacks, then hide using the Pakistani people as a shield. They'll try to tell you that the West attacks Pakistan because we're waging war with Islam, when it's Al Qaeda that repeatedly attacks and hides behind a perverted banner of Islam. The Pakistani people and American people deserve the same thing: freedom from fear. And that is only possible once Al Qaeda ceases to call Pakistan home.

We know that Pakistan's ability to counter Al Qaeda is linked to its own strength and security, including its economic security. We'll continue to work with the IMF, World Bank and other international partners to help Pakistan create jobs and provide basic services for its people. We're contributing $1.5 billion of US funds in direct support to the Pakistani people to build roads, schools, and hospitals. We're even creating Economic Opportunity Zones in the border region to help develop the economy and create jobs. And, we're pledging now to stand behind Pakistan's democratic institutions in a way that leaves no doubt about our principles. We'd like to offer "hope" to the Pakistani people.

As you consider all this, I would ask you as well to consider what exactly the Al Qaeda extremists offer Pakistan: repression of women; extreme Salafist views that leave no room for dissent; poor educational standards; a lack of foreign investment; and fear. There can be -- and is -- a better future for Pakistan.

Zohra Munir: Diplomats can play good role but media is more powerful to build trust between people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. My question is this how you will build or gain trust in these countries, because an average person thinks America is enemy for all the world, so please first you have to think about this.

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Zohra - Another good question and yes, I agree--we have some work ahead of us to convince the Pakistani people. As I mentioned in the answer to Myda, we recognize that we need to have our deeds match our words--to defend democratic institutions in Pakistan that reflect the will of the people. Second, we also have to communicate better with the Pakistani people, and we're looking at ways right now that would expand significantly the exchanges we do--cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, and sports exchanges. We want to do more training: language training, job training, skills that can enhance the ability for Pakistanis to find work and compete in the global economy. Americans, as a people, are happiest when they feel they're doing something good in another nation. It's time we did more of that in Pakistan.

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): There are many of questions waiting for Mr. Sullivan, please be patient as he tries to answer as many as possible.

If you would like to submit a comment, please do so and we will post selected comments to the webchat.

gill: To make a good policy Americans must consult with Pakistan Army and People of Pakistan!

SaadZ: Gregg, one more thing. US $1.5billion/year are peanuts. You do know that right?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Saad, I'm not sure I would agree. First, I would say that with the global economic downturn, $1.5 billion is actually a lot right now to the American people. We, too, are seeing home foreclosures and a record number of people out of jobs. So, contributing $1.5 billion right now in these economic circumstances is actually a big sign of how important Pakistan is to us. Second, a billion and a half dollars can accomplish a lot of development in South Asia. For example, we've found that we can provide language training for a South Asian for two years for as little as $2000. We can do a large number of power generation programs or irrigation projects, for that amount. In some sense, the economic downturn helps because with global prices down, $1.5 billion actually goes a lot further than it would have a year ago.

Farrukh: Mr. Sullivan, hiring or seeking assistance from young minds in Pakistan in seeking advice on issues, won’t it be better to seek their insight on issues so that it can be reflection of Pakistani perspectives from members of its own society? People selected should be young blood, literate and having the leadership capacity (like me) to make that difference in eradicating extremism once and for all.

Awais: Mr Obama in his campaign said he wants good relations with the people of Pakistan.

Rizwan: I do believe that all situation is in Pakistan because Pakistan stepped forward to play its role in the modern world and became part of USA and western countries in combating with War against Terrorism. Pakistan encountered unrecoverable losses to help its friends, NOW is the moral responsibility for all nations to help Pakistan in difficult time instead painting a wrong picture of Pakistan and its people around the world.

gill: Why American government is blaming ISI on links with Taliban? They must respect Pakistan GOVERMENT AND ITS AGENCIES?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Thanks Gill because I did want to address the ISI briefly today. First, I'd say a lot has been written about the ISI and its reported links to Al Qaeda. The ISI is often singled out by think-tanks and newspapers around the world as the culprit behind the violence. For us, I think it's fair to say that the ISI needs reform and better oversight by the political leaders who report to the Pakistani people. But, it is unfair to characterize all individuals in the ISI as agents of terror. We have worked with Pakistan before very successfully. Intelligence from the ISI has saved American and British lives and foiled terrorist plots on international airliners. The President was careful to say we've had mixed results - and that means, we've had times of great cooperation and other times not so much. We want to see more consistency and making Pakistan feel more secure should help that process.

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): Do you know about our online community? CO.NX is the place for you to meet people from around the world and to share ideas. Join the conversation at http://co-nx.state.gov

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Kashif Malik: It’s good if USA considers Pakistan as valuable ally in WAR AGIANST TERROR but practically, Americans didn't do much to help Pakistan in return of Pakistan's support for USA cause.

khalid: The new AF-PAK policy is appreciable as it tries to catch up from where it was left by the U.S in the 1980's, however the expectations in the region are great and failure is not an option.

myda: Pakistan has a been a victim to violence since a couple of years now but why are these actions coming at such a later stage when the violence has become a full blown issue threatening not just Pakistan but generally the entire world? Local terrorists are provided training here and have largely penetrated themselves into the local terrorist bodies of Pakistan that actually are suspected for having supported the terrorists.

Khalid: Mark I think U.S package will better serve the region if helps institution building, police being a priority because of its role in maintaining peace.

Sivasubramanian Muthusamy: Aren't these proposals coming top down from the State Department, rather than emerge by involving the participants of the people from the region? The course of action appears to come top-down, the scale of the funding comes top-down, even the details of allocation are decided top-down. As the US moves into the participative era, it would be better to be open about what needs to be done, take the local views and wisdom into account and perhaps arrive at what is needed and what could be effective by participation?

That was NOT a comment on the expertise of the State Department, just that local conditions are peculiar, local needs are peculiar, and more often than not, policies and programs shaped remotely do not fit into local conditions.

SaadZ: No country can survive without a strong judiciary and strong police. Please add great salaries for these two departments. If there is no justice on the streets, there can never be economic or social development

Well said, Sivasubramanian Muthusamy. And yes, participatory method is the way to go

myda: I agree with you Mr. Saad: for a strategy to be effective it should have a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach.

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): We are approaching the end of the hour. We hope you will understand that there are many, many questions coming in. Mr. Sullivan is trying to answer as many as he can in this limited time period. Transcripts are available at http://co-nx.state.gov within 24 hours or by writing directly to us at conx@state.gov.

Naimat Ullah Khan, LC Karachi: Mr. Sullivan, don’t you think a grassroots level, people-to-people interaction is needed to effectively deal with our problems?

Gregg Sullivan, Spokesman: Mr. Khan - I agree with you 100%. The grassroots element has definitely been missing in our efforts. As I mentioned earlier, we didn't have the personnel on the ground to have reliable information in Afghanistan, and so development projects lagged, corruption grew, and coordination withered away. The civilian surge should help us establish those grassroots connections. I'm also directly involved in an effort to expand the exchange platforms we deploy -including jirgas that solicit the views of tribal and religious leaders on what they think we should be doing in development and security. On the Pakistani side, I think we can expand greatly our efforts to reach Pakistanis--more exchanges, more training, more opportunities for Pakistanis to learn what Americans are really like--and vice-versa.

Well, that hour just flew on by and I want to thank all of you for making this a very enjoyable experience for me. You've asked excellent questions and in so doing, you've also given me a better sense of what we need to do better to connect with South Asians. So, a sincere note of appreciation from me for taking the time for this. All the best, Gregg

SaadZ: Thank you Gregg, we should do this again sometime.

gill: BYE Allah Hafiz

SaadZ: GO-bama lol

CO.NX Moderator (Mark): Thank you everyone. The webchat is now closed. A transcript of today's webchat will be available within one business day at http://co-nx.state.gov and at http://www.america.gov/multimedia/askamerica.html

Related Links:

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

Obama's Interview with CBS 60 Minutes

Obama's New Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Taming the ISI: Implications for Pakistan’s Stability and the War on Terrorism

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

FATA Raid Charades

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Obama's Afghan Exit Strategy

A picture of US exit strategy from Afghanistan is beginning to emerge as the details of President Barack Obama's new regional strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are scrutinized.

The first, most significant clue to the exit strategy is the narrowing of the focus to al Qaeda, leaving out any explicit mention of the Taliban. Here is how Mr. Obama put it: "I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That is the goal that must be achieved. That is a cause that could not be more just."

Again, in another part of the speech addressed to Pakistanis, Mr. Obama limited his target to Al Qaeda and those closely allied with it, leaving out any direct reference to the Taliban: "The terrorists within Pakistan’s borders are not simply enemies of America or Afghanistan – they are a grave and urgent danger to the people of Pakistan. Al Qaeda and other violent extremists have killed several thousand Pakistanis since 9/11. They have killed many Pakistani soldiers and police. They assassinated Benazir Bhutto. They have blown up buildings, derailed foreign investment, and threatened the stability of the state. Make no mistake: al Qaeda and its extremist allies are a cancer that risks killing Pakistan from within."

Explicitly talking to CBS 60 Minutes about exit a week before unveiling his strategy, Mr. Obama said, "So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's got to be an exit strategy. There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

To justify additional aid to Pakistan, Mr. Obama further added: "It is important for the American people to understand that Pakistan needs our help in going after al Qaeda. This is no simple task. The tribal regions are vast, rugged, and often ungoverned. That is why we must focus our military assistance on the tools, training and support that Pakistan needs to root out the terrorists. And after years of mixed results, we will not provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken – one way or another – when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets."

Clearly, Pakistani and US interests are not in conflict in Afghanistan as both governments are eager to prevent the use of the region to launch attacks on Western targets.

This narrowing of the Obama focus to al Qaeda is a return to the earlier US-Pakistan strategy in former President George W. Bush's first term, when President Bush and President Musharraf both agreed to distinguish between Taliban and Al Qaida, seeing the former having local roots and no global jihadi agenda versus latter, who are foreigners and global jihadists. That was the right approach and it significantly reduced violence until the US reversed this policy and goaded Pakistan into attacking the Taliban in FATA. The ostensible reason was Bush's desire to establish Western style democracy in Afghanistan, a goal that Obama has decided against pursuing in favor of reconciliation with the vast majority of the Taliban.

I think the Obama policy offers an opening to fundamentally change the conflict for Pakistan to facilitate the US exit from the region and preserve Pakistan's strategic interests, if the Pakistani leadership plays its cards right by addressing a couple of critical differences between the US and Pakistan.

The first of these differences that must be bridged between the US and Pakistan is the US insistence that Pakistan's intelligence agencies cut all ties with the "extremists", again without any direct reference to the Taliban. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency to cut contacts with extremists in Afghanistan who were “an existential threat” to Pakistan. The ISI has had links with extremists “for a long time, as a hedge against what might happen in Afghanistan if we were to walk away,” Gates said on “Fox News Sunday” today. “What we need to do is try and help the Pakistanis understand these groups are now an existential threat to them and we will be there as a steadfast ally for Pakistan,” Gates said. “They can count on us and they don’t need that hedge.” I see some flexibility here in terms of who is defined as "extremists" with whom Pakistan must cut ties.

The second area of significant disagreement is the continuing US drone attacks inside Pakistan. I think Pakistan can persuade the US to stop such attacks by refocusing its efforts on al Qaeda and away from the rank-and-file Taliban. Given the significantly depleted strength of al Qaeda in the region, I believe such a goal is achievable, and it will go a long way in reducing what Pakistan's foreign minister Qureshi describes as "trust deficit" between the two nations.

It's clear that the US presence in the region has become a lightning rod. It's encouraging Islamists to attack the US forces and target Pakistanis who are seen as serving the US interests. Notwithstanding additional US aid to Pakistan, any unilateral and impractical demands on Pakistanis by the Obama administration while continuing Predator strikes and dismissing the strategic interests of Pakistan in its neighborhood, will be an obstacle to US success on the ground in Afghanistan. The US must demonstrate its sincerity by listening to Pakistanis. In return, Pakistan must seize the opportunity to facilitate early US exit from the region by sincerely helping to reduce violence in the region. Just the expectation of US exit will help calm the insurgency in Pakistan as well.

Related Links:

Obama's Interview with CBS 60 Minutes

Obama's New Regional Strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Taming the ISI: Implications for Pakistan’s Stability and the War on Terrorism

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

FATA Raid Charades

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama's New Afghan-Pakistan Regional Strategy

Early details of the Obama administration's new plan and strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan reveal emphasis on peeling away up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan from their leadership, substantial additional funding of over $50 billion for military operations and reconstruction aid, imposition of strict new conditions and performance benchmarks on Afghans and Pakistanis, and 17,000 additional US troops and 4000 trainers on the ground in Afghanistan, according to media reports.

On Friday, March 27, President Obama plans to announce a "simple, clear, concise goal -- to disrupt, dismantle and eventually destroy al-Qaeda in Pakistan," said a US official, one of three authorized to anonymously discuss the strategy, according to Washington Post. It is noteworthy that there is no talk of destroying the Taliban in this statement. Mr. Obama will describe his plan in a White House speech to a group of selected military, diplomatic and development officials and nongovernmental aid groups.

The 4000 advisers and trainers will help with an effort by American commanders to double the size of the Afghan military by 2011.

The president's plan also is expected to call for hundreds more civilian experts to help build Afghanistan's economy, infrastructure and civil society. The idea there is to combat the Taliban insurgency by showing Afghans that the government can offer them a better life, according to NPR radio.

The plan is expected to include a recommendation to triple the amount of American aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for at least five years. The aid would be contingent on Pakistan's willingness to cut ties with the Taliban and fight the insurgents on its own territory.

The goals that Mr. Obama has set may be elusive and, according to some critics, even naïve. Among other things, officials said he planned to recast the Afghan war as a regional issue involving not only Pakistan but also India, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Central Asian states.

The Obama plan envisions persuading Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its regional rival, India, so it can concentrate more on fighting insurgents in its FATA region. This goal may be especially hard to achieve given the longstanding Kashmir dispute, the history of three wars in South Asia in more than a half century — and a nuclear arms race — between Pakistan and India.

In terms of new conditions for Afghans and Pakistanis, it is expected that there will be demands on Afghanistan to make more progress in fighting corruption, curbing the drug trade and sharing power with the regions, while Pakistan will be asked to do more to cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban. Mr. Obama telephoned President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan Thursday to share the main elements of the strategic review.

The demand on Pakistan to "cut ties between parts of its government and the Taliban" seems to be at odds with the desire to "peel away up to three quarters of the Taliban’s rank and file in Afghanistan from the Taliban’s leadership". Instead of engaging in the anti-ISI campaign, the US should see Pakistan's ISI's Taliban links as assets in America's efforts to reconcile with the vast majority of the Taliban. The British already see the value of the ISI-Taliban ties. According to the New York Times, the British government has sent several dispatches to Islamabad in recent months asking that the ISI use its strategy meetings with the Taliban to persuade its commanders to scale back violence in Afghanistan before the August presidential election there. There are reports that the Taliban leaders based in Pakistan have closed ranks with their Afghan comrades to prepare for a new offensive in Afghanistan as the United States sends more troops there this year.

As to the US demand on Pakistan to stop focusing military resources on its ongoing rivalry with India, the failure to help resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute and the recent Indian war rhetoric in the aftermath of Mumbai make such a demand practically unacceptable by Pakistanis, even if they agree on paper.

Notwithstanding additional US aid to Pakistan, the unilateral and impractical demands on Pakistanis by the Obama administration while continuing Predator strikes and dismissing the strategic interests of Pakistan in its neighborhood, do not add up to a serious and workable strategy. Such a strategy may look good on paper but it will not lead to US success on the ground in Afghanistan.

Related Links:

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

Can India "Do a Lebanon in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Taming the ISI: Implications for Pakistan’s Stability and the War on Terrorism

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

FATA Raid Charades

Bigotry Bedevils Silicon Valley's Indian Eatery

Tamil Hindu operators of Vaigai, a South Indian restaurant in Sunnyvale, CA, that serves the ever popular dosas, are facing charges of anti-Muslim bias brought by two Muslim cooks.

In a lawsuit filed in late January in Santa Clara County Superior Court, Abdul Rahuman, 44, and Nowsath Malik Shaw, 39, both of San Jose, allege they were harassed for being Muslim by Vaigai's two owners, a manager and a top chef — a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act, according to a report in the San Jose Mercury News.

According to the complaint, restaurant personnel regularly used ethnic slurs such as "Thulakkan," a pejorative term for Muslims in Sri Lankan Tamil dialect, to harass the two Muslim cooks. Also according to the complaint, restaurant staff were encouraged to call the plaintiffs by names such as "Rajan" or "Nagraj" under the pretext of not wanting to upset customers who might stop patronizing the restaurant if they heard the men referred to by their Muslim names.

The complaint also states that the plaintiffs were forced to participate in a religious ceremony despite telling the owners it was against their Islamic beliefs. The complaint alleges that the restaurant owners insisted on their participation and proceeded to smear a powder on their foreheads, making the religious marking known as a "tilak."

Named in the complaint as defendants are: co-owners Vijay Anand (who also goes by Vijayanand Krishnan) and Shridar Nataraj, Manager Sudakar Jothinathan, and Chef Balaguru, whose first name is never mentioned.

"These incidents clearly violated the Muslim workers' rights and the treatment they received speaks of a level of intolerance that is deeply disturbing," said CAIR-SFBA Programs and Outreach Director Agnes Chong. "There is a need for communities to be respectful of similarities as well as differences of other faiths, and it is all the more important in the workplace."

As in many other Indian states, Tamil Nadu, the southern state the restaurant owners originally come from, has also seen instances of increasing bigotry and violence against Muslims in recent years. In a piece titled "Terrifying Testimonies", Indian writer Yoginder Sikand has documented cases of imprisonment on trumped up charges and police violence against Muslims in many parts of India. One of the cases he talks about is that of Yakoob Khan and his friend, Tamil Muslims in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. Sikand writes as follows:

"27 year-old Yakoob Khan from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, was arrested at the age of 17, accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts in 1998, a charge that he vehemently denies. 'On the day of the blast I attended class at the Industrial Training Institute where I was enrolled, and when I was returning home I heard about the blasts'. In the wake of the blasts, the police went on a rampage, indiscriminately picking up Muslim youth. Some days later, Yakoob found himself in prison, where he was to spend almost the next ten years, much of it in solitary confinement in a small cage- like cell. 'I was accused of being in possession of explosive material, and of being associated with the Islamic group Al-Ummah, although I had never even heard its name.' In addition to routine torture, while in jail he was often abused for his religion. 'I would be beaten up if I wanted to say namaz. My torturers would tell me to face them while praying, rather than the Kaaba. They tore my Quran, and while beating me they would scream "Bharat Mata ki Jai"'. 'They ruined ten precious years of my life, my youth, falsely branding me as a terrorist', he says."

"Yakoob Khan's friend, 34 year-old Shiv Kumar, alias Abdul Hamid, is a Hindu convert to Islam. He eked out as livelihood selling old newspapers and utensils for recycling. He was accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts, a charge that he denies. The police forced him to sign a blank piece of paper which they later filled out themselves, threatening him that if he refused to do so they would arrest his family as well. He was remanded to the Coimbatore jail on the basis of this forced 'confession' and his repeated applications for bails were rejected. Because he was the sole earner in his family, his wife was forced to beg in order to survive. He was finally acquitted only recently, after almost ten years in incarceration. 'I was mercilessly tortured in prison. I was constantly told that if I had not become a Muslim and had remained a Hindu I would not have been beaten like this', he says."

The Mercury News quotes Mani Manivannan, former president of the Bay Area Tamil Manram, an association of 500 members who hail from Tamil Nadu as saying, "Tamil Nadu used to be one of the most secular states in the Indian union. They went out of their way to make sure people were treated the same. Muslims used to feel like full citizens."

Unfortunately, Manivannan added, the growing rift between Hindus and Muslims in India, has now spilled outside the country.

"That disease has spread to the U.S. as well," said Manivannan, a Hindu who had not heard about the case until called by the Mercury News. "Not a lot. But enough people get influenced by the news in India."

Still, Manivannan said there are plenty of Hindus and Muslims who get along. He pointed how everyone he knows, no matter their background, is extremely proud of AR Rahman, a Muslim from Tamil Nadu who made history by becoming the first Indian to win two Oscars for his music in the movie, "Slumdog Millionaire".

Related Links:

Slumdog Millionaire

India's Guantanamos and Abu Ghraibs

Muslims--India's New Untouchables

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

China Signs Power Plant Deals With Pakistan

China has agreed to build several power plants in Pakistan to help the South Asian nation deal with its worsening electricity crisis. When completed over the next several years, these plants, including Nandipur (425 MW, Thermal), Guddu(800 MW, Thermal) and Neelam-Jhelum(1000 MW, Hydro), Chashma (1200 MW, Nuclear) will add more than 3000 MW of power generating capacity for the energy-hungry country. Pakistan is currently facing a deficit of 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts, resulting in extensive load-shedding (rolling blackouts) of several hours a day.

China has already installed a 325-megawatt nuclear power plant (C1) at Chashma and is currently working on another (C2) of the same capacity that is expected to be online by 2010. The agreements for C3 and C4 have also been signed. The United States has objected to China supplying C3 and C4 on the grounds that any Pak-China nuclear cooperation would require consensus approval by the NSG, of which China is now a member, for any exception to the guidelines. The US is applying double standards since it supported and got approval for such an exception from NSG for its own nuclear deal with India.

Under another agreement, China has agreed to invest about $600 million for setting up an integrated coal mining-cum-power project in Sindh. The project will produce 180 million tons of coal per year, which is sufficient to fuel the proposed 405 MW power plant. Pakistan is currently world's seventh largest coal-producing country, with coal reserves of more than 185 billion tons (second in the world after U.S.A.'s 247 billion tons). Almost all (99 percent) of Pakistan's coal reserves are found in the province of Sindh. Pakistan's largest coal field is Thar coal field which is spread over an area of 9100 square kilometers, and contains 175 billion tons of coal. So far this coal field has not been developed but efforts are underway.

The Export-Import Bank of China will lead the multi-national bank financing and China Export and Credit Insurance Corporation (Sinosure) will provide political risk and credit default insurance for the first 425 MW project at Nanipur, Gujranwala estimated to cost $329m, according to Associated Press of Pakistan. Other participating banks include BNP-Paribas, HSBC Bank plc, and CIC France. The lead contractor is China's Dongfang Electric Corporation Limited, with G.E. France as a sub-contractor.

Political risk has been rising in many developing nations, including the South Asian nations of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (see 2008 political risk map). The cost of insurance against political and economic risk has also been going up, as the global economic crisis unfolds. Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. has recently rated India as the riskiest of 14 Asian countries, not including Pakistan and Afghanistan, it analyzed for 2009.

With their national coffers bulging and their exports driven economy slowing, the Chinese see opportunity in the developing world where others see political and economic risks. It is an opportunity for China to assure the continuing availability of raw materials and oil for its growing industries and to diversify its export markets. In addition to helping bail out the ailing US economy, China is using some of its vast cash reserves of $2 trillion to offer supplier financing as well as insurance for the non-Chinese partners to cover political and credit risk in the emerging markets. With bilateral trade volume of about $7 billion, Pakistan is only one example of Chinese interest. Others include politically-risky Afghanistan, and many nations of Sub-Saharan Africa where the Chinese are financing and building major infrastructure projects. In Afghanistan, China has committed nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak copper field, including the infrastructure that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract. The Aynak project is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan to date, according to Reuters. The trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year.

Looking at how the Chinese are working with many developing nations in Asia and Africa, it appears to be an unwritten Chinese policy to offer trade and investment in projects rather than direct cash aid. Given the rampant government corruption in many developing nations, including Pakistan, the Chinese policy is a sound one. It attempts to benefit the people and the nation more than the corrupt politicians and government officials who they must deal with.

In terms of Chinese dominance in power infrastructure development, one only needs to look at the heavy Chinese presence in the Indian power sector development. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese companies are now supplying equipment for about 25% of the new power capacity India is adding to its grid, up from almost nothing a few years ago. They have sent thousands of skilled workers to Indian plant sites, some of which boast Chinese chefs, Chinese television and ping pong.

Clearly, the Chinese objectives are not entirely altruistic. Their strategy is driven by enlightened self-interest in the developing world, which they see as source of commodities that their industries need as well as growing export market for their products and services. But the Chinese want to do good and do well at the same time by helping to lift people out of poverty in the developing world. By doing so, they want to be seen as friends and partners by the people in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The strategy enhances China's status as the new superpower that takes its global leadership role seriously.

Related Links:

Chinese Do Good and Do well in Developing World

World's Largest Solar Deals

Pakistan Inks Neelum-Jhelum Deal

Political Risk Insurance

Political and Economic Risk Consultancy

Pakistan's Electricity Crisis

Forget Chinindia! It's Chimerica to the Rescue!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pakistan's Demise Imminent?

"We're now reaching the point where within one to six months we could see the collapse of the Pakistani state, also because of the global financial crisis, which just exacerbates all these problems. . . . The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today", said Bush Iraq adviser, David Kilcullen, on the eve of Pakistan Day commemorating Pakistan Resolution of 1940 that started the Pakistan Movement leading to the creation of the nation on August 14, 1947. Kilcullen is not alone in the belief that Pakistani state is in danger of collapse. Others, such as Shahan Mufti of the Global Post, argue that Pakistan is dying a slow death with each act of terrorism on its soil.

Appearing to give credence to the latest dire forecast of Pakistan as a "failed state" or a "proud nation" in "slow demise", Pakistan's TV channels showed live pictures of Pakistan's founders' shrine in Karachi plunged in total darkness on the evening of Pakistan Day 2009. The failure of a nation to keep the lights on at its important monuments on its National Day is symbolic of the serious crises the country faces today. But does it mean that the state is about to collapse? Let us examine this forecast in a little more depth.

While the extraordinary failures of Pakistan's ruling political-feudal-military elite are largely responsible for the multiple crises of food, water, electricity, militancy, economy, overall governance and public confidence, the last three decades (1980s, 1990s and the current decade) have been dominated by a series of disastrous foreign interventions in the region that have contributed to such failures.

In late 1970s and most of the 1980s, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan brought the United States CIA into the region, which put together a US-Saudi-Pakistani coalition to arm, train and indoctrinate an entire generation of Pashtoon men along the Pak-Afghan border. The rallying cry for Afghan resistance was Islamic Jihad against the infidels and the fighters were honored by Americans, Saudis and Pakistanis as Mujaheddin. The Islamic madrassahs in Pakistan's tribal belt rapidly multiplied as the anti-Soviet coalition invested in organizing a powerful insurgency that eventually brought down the Soviet Empire. By the end of the decade of 1980s, Afghanistan became the graveyard of the Red Army and caused the collapse of the Soviet Empire. The American-Saudi-Pakistani victory, however, could eventually turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.

As the Americans and the Saudis ended their involvement in the region in late 1980s and early 1990s, a very large number of armed Mujahideen became unemployed. Afghanistan was left in ruins by a decade of conflict, and Pakistan was heavily sanctioned by the United States. No effort was made in rebuilding the region. The Afghan fighters had no other skills or opportunities and received no help in finding useful employment. Some of them started fighting among themselves for control of Afghanistan, while others went to Pakistan to settle and find unskilled jobs. Some were used by Pakistan's intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to support an insurgency in Indian occupied Kashmir.

As Afghanistan became increasingly chaotic and total anarchy prevailed for most of the decade in 1990s, the Afghans got tired of the lawlessness of the war lords and yearned for restoring some semblance of law and order. It was under these circumstances that, with the help of Pakistan, the Taliban emerged as a force from the remnants of the Mujahideen and their offsprings, many of whom grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan and attended madrassahs in the border region. Though they enforced draconian laws and imposed rough justice, the Taliban did succeed in bringing relative peace to the war-torn nation. Unfortunately, they also became unwitting hosts to al Qaeda, consisting of mostly Arab Mujahideen led by Osama Bin Laden, who claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (known as 911), in the United States, killing nearly 3000 Americans in New York and Washington.

In retaliation for the 911 tragic attacks, the Americans intervened yet again with deadly force, and drove the Taliban and al Qaeda into the border region of Pakistan known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas(FATA). As expected, the presence of large numbers of insurgents in Pakistan is now threatening the stability of Pakistan and the entire region. The situation has been further exacerbated by the unilateral and heavy-handed actions of the US military, causing large numbers of civilian casualties on both sides of the border. These increasing civilian casualties are fueling a rage in both Afghanistan and Pakistan against the US presence and against Pakistan government's support of it. And, according to media reports, the US is preparing to expand air strikes to Pakistan's major city of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. Such an escalation will make Kilcullen's dire forecast more plausible. It will also increase the chances of the region becoming the graveyard of yet another empire and its military.

Is Pakistani state on the verge of collapse? Will Pakistan become a failed state within the next six months? Such dire prognoses are not new for Pakistanis. But, in the unlikely event that it does fail, Pakistani leadership's monumental failures will be the main contributors to such a catastrophic development. But the real answer to these questions will depend largely on what policy the Obama administration chooses to pursue in the region. If American military continues to be seen as a foreign occupation force by the vast majority of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is destined to suffer the same fate as the Greeks, the British and Russians before it, unless President Obama changes course dramatically. Even if America does miraculously achieve a military victory in Afghanistan, it will likely be another Pyrrhic Victory in the absence of a more enlightened U.S. strategy. As Kilcullen says in his latest interview, the stakes are much higher than ever: "The collapse of Pakistan, al-Qaeda acquiring nuclear weapons, an extremist takeover -- that would dwarf everything we've seen in the war on terror today."

To quote an unknown Urdu poet, Hum to dubaiN gay sanam, tum ko bhi lay dubaiN gay.
Loosely translated, it says: As we drown, we'll take you down with us.

In other words, it's a cry for help: Please save us from ourselves.

Here's a video clip from Intelligence Squared debate about Pakistan:

Related Links:

The Accidental Guerrilla by David Kilcullen

Can President Zardari Survive?

Jinnah's Pakistan Booms Amidst Doom and Gloom

US Escalating Covert War in Pakistan?

20th Anniversary of Soviet Defeat in Afghanistan

Growing Insurgency in Swat

Afghan War and Collapse of the Soviet Union

US, NATO Fighting to Stalemate in Afghanistan?

FATA Faceoff Fears

Pakistan's Feudal-Political-Military Elite

Saturday, March 21, 2009

World Water Day: Water Scarce Pakistan?

More than a billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, a basic necessity, on World Water Day today. In Pakistan alone, 38.5 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 50.7 million people lack access to improved sanitation, according to published data. Pakistanis are facing unprecedented shortage of clean drinking water and electricity due to the lowest recorded levels of water in the country's dams, according to Pakistani Meteorological Department. The mortality rate for children under-five in Pakistan is 99 deaths per 1000 children, according to Global Health Council. About half of under-five deaths occur in six countries with large populations: India, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Pakistan and China. Water and sanitation related diseases are responsible for 60% of the total number of child mortality cases in Pakistan, with diarrheal diseases causing deaths of 200,000 under-five years’ children, every year. Unsafe drinking water is shown to lead to poverty through time spent by women and girls to fetch ‘drinkable’ water from long distances. The combination of unsafe water consumption and poor hygiene practices require treatments for water borne illnesses, decreased working days, and also contribute to lowering of educational achievement due to reduced school attendance by children.

It is sad to see the growing water crisis in Pakistan whose Indus Valley has been the center of some of the world’s greatest civilizations: Harappa and Mohenjo Daro (2600 to 1900 BC) and Gandhara, (1st-5th Centuries AD); their social, agricultural and economic systems were based on their interactions with rivers (Indus and its tributaries, including the Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej and Kabul rivers, etc.) which provided irrigation and created fertile land for farming. Archaeologists believe that people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa lived in sturdy brick houses that had as many as three floors. The houses had bathrooms that were connected to sewers. Their elaborate drainage system was centuries ahead of their time. A well established history, tradition and system of water management and entitlements has existed, from the Indus Valley Civilization to the 1960 Indus Water Treaty and the 1991 Water Accord which establish clear entitlements for each province and for each canal command to surface waters.

Pakistan is facing a severe water shortage this year. According to a 2006 World Bank report, the country is fast moving from being a “water stressed country to a water scarce country”, mainly due to its high population growth, and water is becoming the key development issue. The groundwater is over-exploited and polluted in many areas; most of the water infrastructure (even some of the major barrages) is in poor repair; the entire system of water management is not financially sustainable. However, large parts of Pakistan have good soils, sunshine and excellent farmers; it can get much more value from the existing flows.

Among the 25 most populous countries in 2009, South Africa, Egypt and Pakistan are the most water-limited nations. India and China, however, are not far behind with per capita renewable water resources of only 1600 and 2100 cubic meters per person per year. Major European countries have up to twice as much renewable water resources per capita, ranging from 2300 (Germany) to 3000 (France) cubic meters per person per year. The United States of America, on the other hand, has far greater renewable water resources than China, India or major European countries: 9800 cubic meters per person per year. By far the largest renewable water resources are reported from Brazil and the Russian Federation - with 31900 and 42500 cubic meters per person per year.

According to the United Nations' World Water Development Report, the total actual renewable water resources in Pakistan decreased from 2,961 cubic meters per capita in 2000 to 1,420 cubic meters in 2005. A more recent study indicates an available supply of water of little more than 1,000 cubic meters per person, which puts Pakistan in the category of a high stress country. Using data from the Pakistan's federal government's Planning and Development Division, the overall water availability has decreased from 1,299 cubic meters per capita in 1996-97 to 1,101 cubic meters in 2004-05. In view of growing population, urbanization and increased industrialization, the situation is likely to get worse. If the current trends continue, it could go as lows as 550-cubic meters by 2025. Nevertheless, excessive mining of groundwater goes on. Despite a lowering water table, the annual growth rate of electric tubewells has been indicated to 6.7% and for diesel tubewells to about 7.4%. In addition, increasing pollution and saltwater intrusion threaten the country's water resources. About 36% of the groundwater is classified as highly saline.

In urban areas, most water is supplied from groundwater except for the cities of Karachi, Hyderabad and a part of Islamabad, where mainly surface water is used. In most rural areas, groundwater is used. In rural areas with saline groundwater, irrigation canals serve as the main source of domestic water.

Out of the 169,384 billion cubic meters of water which were withdrawn since 2000, 96% were used for agricultural purposes, leaving 2% for domestic and another 2% for industrial use. By far most water is used for irrigated agriculture. With the world's largest contiguous irrigation system, Pakistan has harnessed the Indus River to transform 35.7 million acres for cultivation in otherwise arid conditions. Yet,the sector contributes less than 20% of the Pakistan's GDP and Pakistan remains a food-deficit nation.

In sharp contrast to the peaks of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas at the headwaters of the Indus River, the Indus valley plain flattens out dramatically as it runs to the sea.

The very low rainfall, poor drainage, ancient marine deposits, saline groundwater, and evaporation and transpiration combine to create a vast salt sink.
The steady expansion of irrigation and agriculture added greatly to this process of accumulating salt that over time waterlogging and soil salinity have emerged to threaten the sustainability of Pakistan’s agricultural system.

Pakistan is currently experiencing water stress and will soon face outright water scarcity. High population growth is causing ‘water stress.’ Pakistan is using almost all its water resources today and no more are available. If something goes drastically wrong with the salt/sediment/water balance of the Indus system, there is no other river system in the region to draw on.

A World Bank report recommends that Pakistan needs to set up new water reservoirs on an urgent basis, citing scarcity of water to get worse in the near future.

The aging and inadequate irrigation and water infrastructure deficit alone is estimated at US $70 billion. Pakistan needs to invest almost US $1 billion per year in new large dams and related infrastructure over the next five years.

According to the World Bank data, Pakistan only stores 30 days of river water, India stores 120 days, while the Colorado River System in the US has storage capacity of up to 900 days of water usage. The report says that new water reservoirs will push Pakistan’s economy forward. It says that a new dam can potentially add four to five percent to Pakistan’s GDP.

Water is also essential for power generation in Pakistan, but only about 20% is generated by hydroelectric power plants. The current power shortage of approximately 2,000 megawatts will increase to 6,000 megawatts by the year 2010 and 30,700 megawatts by the year 2020. Pakistan has the potential to generate as much as 50,000 MW of hydroelectric power, more than twice its total current generating capacity of 20,000 MW from all sources, which is far short of the nation's needs, limiting Pakistan's social and economic growth prospects.

In addition to the development of new water reservoirs, serious conservation steps need to be taken to improve the efficiency of water use in Pakistani agriculture which claims almost all of the available fresh water resources. A California study recently found that water use efficiency ranged from 60%-85% for surface irrigation to 70%-90% for sprinkler irrigation and 88%-90% for drip irrigation. Potential savings would be even higher if the technology switch were combined with more precise irrigation scheduling and a partial shift from lower-value, water-intensive crops to higher-value, more water-efficient crops. Rather than flood irrigation used in Pakistani agriculture, there is a need to explore the use of drip or spray irrigation to make better use of nation's scarce water resources before it is too late. As a first step toward improving efficiency, Pakistan government has launched a 1.3 billion U.S. dollar drip irrigation program that could help reduce water waste over the next five years. Early results are encouraging. "We installed a model drip irrigation system here that was used to irrigate cotton and the experiment was highly successful. The cotton yield with drip irrigation ranged 1,520 kg to 1,680 kg per acre compared to 960 kg from the traditional flood irrigation method," according to Wajid Ishaq, a junior scientist at the Nuclear Institute for Agriculture and Biology (NIAB).

Beyond the urgent need for improving farm water use efficiency, Pakistan must address the safety of drinking water to improve the health of its people. It must take steps to protect its water streams from industrial pollution and sewage discharge. Along with various international institutions and NGOs, the leadership should undertake projects that will help in providing hygiene and sanitation promotion and community mobilization along with extensive capacity building in order to complement Pakistan's substantial investments in hardware for safe drinking water. A big part of it is education, followed by practical assistance to communities in setting up better sewage treatment and waste disposal systems that are locally supported by cities and towns.

The Medium Term Development Framework 2005-2010 provides for about US$404 million per year government spending for water supply and sanitation projects and is accompanied by several policy documents with the objective to notably improve water and sanitation coverage and quality. Availability of clean water in reasonable abundance is essential for sustaining life and improving the future of the people of Pakistan. The challenges are great and the stakes are very high. Failure is not an option.

But the challenges of poor sanitation are too big and complex to expect Pakistani government alone to deal with them. The nation's private sector and NGOs must rise to the occasion. There are successful examples of private citizens addressing sanitation issues on a local, community level. For instance, Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan is the force behind Orangi Pilot Project to help residents of Orangi Town, a katchi abadi (shanty town) in Karachi to help themselves. It has assisted in a number of projects to build better low-cost housing, improve sanitation and establish schools with the participation of the community. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Acclaimed social scientist Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan used to reference this well-known proverb (according to his son, Akbar Khan), as it quite fittingly represents his philosophy on community development.

While the problems faced by Pakistan are huge, I believe that a serious and organized initiative by a tiny percentage of Pakistan's large middle class of at least 40-50m people can begin to make a difference. Pakistanis owe it to themselves and their poor brethren to step up and take responsibility for improving the situation of the most vulnerable citizens of their country. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But we must persevere by taking one step after another until we see results.

Here's a video clip on safe drinking water:

Sources/Related Links:

United Nations World Water Development Report

Water Resource Management in Pakistan

Water Supply and Sanitation in Pakistan

Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness

China Profile

Safe Drinking water and Hygiene Promotion in Pakistan

UN Millennium Development Goals in Pakistani Village

Orangi Pilot Project

Three Cups of Tea

Volunteerism in America

Dr. Akhtar Hamid Khan's Vision