Wednesday, January 4, 2012

US Signals Major Policy Shift in Afghanistan

"United States cannot kill, jail or occupy all of its adversaries."
Bill Clinton 2003

After years of unsuccessfully trying to kill or jail all of the Taliban and occupy Afghanistan at great cost to the US taxpayers, and after failing to persuade Pakistan to attack and kill all of the Taliban, President Obama is finally seeing what Bill Clinton saw more than eight years ago: The Obama administration is hinting at doing less killing and more talking. The balance of power in the White House is clearly shifting from the hawks at the CIA and the Pentagon to the diplomats at the State Department in Washington. Here are some of the signs of this long-delayed policy shift:

1. The US is welcoming the opening of the Taliban embassy in Qatar to begin formal negotiations to end the Afghan conflict. After resisting it first, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also given it a lukewarm reception, according to NY Times.

2. The names of the Taliban leaders, including that of Mullah Omar, have been removed from the FBI's Most Wanted terrorists list. A UN panel removed 10 Taliban along with 35 Al-Qaeda members and affiliates from its sanctions terror list.

3. Vice President Biden has said publicly that the Taliban is not "our enemy". He added that the U.S. is supportive of a reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Taliban even if it's questionable whether a reconciliation is possible.

4. The US drone strikes have seen longest pause since the November border incident that resulted in the tragic killings of 24 Pakistani soldiers by the US military, and the US-Pakistan relations plunging to a new low. The US supply routes to Afghanistan through Pakistan are still closed, raising doubts about the future of continued NATO presence in the region.

5. The State Department is talking about restoring full cooperation with Pakistan as early as possible in 2012. “We desire a closer, more productive relationship with Pakistan both militarily and as well as politically. And we’re constantly working to build that closer cooperation,” the State Department spokesperson said recently.

Pakistanis have consistently pressed the US for a long time to end its Afghan policy of "fight and talk", and to focus more on talking and less on fighting. Instead of seriously listening to the Pakistani advice, the Obama administration, supported by the western media, has been accusing Pakistan of playing a double game, and urging it to declare war with all of the Taliban.

It's not clear what the final trigger was for the change of heart in Washington. Could it be the highly symbolic killing of Osama Bin Laden in May, 2011 that quenched the thirst for revenge for 911 attacks? Or the rapid deterioration of relations with Islamabad, a key ally in the US war in Afghanistan? Or a belated recognition of the futility of war after spending hundreds of billions of dollars with no end in sight? Is it the continuing economic slump in the United States forcing deep budget cuts at the Pentagon? It could be any or all of these reasons for the policy shift in US history's longest war.

An earlier shift in US policy toward reconciliation would have saved thousands of American lives and tens of thousands of lives of innocent victims in both Afghanistan and Pakistan; but the shift is still welcome. It's better late than never.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

US Military Undermining US-Pakistan Relations

US Cost of Afghan War at $50 million per Dead Taliban

Is US-Pakistan Military Confrontation Inevitable?

Seeing Bin Laden's Death in Wider Perspective

Who Are the Haqqanis?

Military Mutiny in Pakistan?

Can US Aid Remake Pakistan?

Jihadis Growing in Tenth Year of Afghan War


Riaz Haq said...

The closure of Pak routes poses a problem for withdrawing Canadian troops in Afghanistan, according to Montreal Gazette:

Hundreds of cargo containers of Canadian war supplies are stranded in volatile southern Afghanistan, thanks to an ongoing Pakistani blockade of routes exiting the landlocked country.

And with Pakistani officials preparing to impose steep tariffs on all NATO shipments transiting the country, the cost of Canada's withdrawal from Afghanistan could increase by more than a half million dollars.

The Canadian Forces are trying to bring home thousands of tonnes of war equipment used during the nearly 10-year combat mission. Packed into some 446 sea containers, most of this cargo is currently stored at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

High priority items — such as all armoured vehicles and ammunition — have already been flown out of Afghanistan on Canada's giant CC-177 Globemaster transport aircraft.

Nevertheless, much of the army's gear remains stuck in Afghanistan, Lt.-Col. John Nethercott told Postmedia News. He said the remaining items are "low priority in nature," and include tools, tents, forklifts, barbed wire and engineering equipment.

The Department of National Defence has granted a contract to move the containers from Afghanistan to Pakistan to A.J. Maritime, a Montreal-based freight forwarding firm.

It is believed the remaining 446 containers were supposed to exit Afghanistan's southeastern border post at Spin Boldak, then cross the deserts of Balochistan to the port of Karachi. Once at the port, the containers would be loaded onto ships for the sail home to Canada.

But Imran Ali, Pakistan's deputy consul general in Toronto, told Postmedia News Wednesday that the Afghan-Pakistan border is shut tight for now.

"No containers are passing as of today," he said. "There is a total sealing of the border."

Ali said this problem began when United States forces bombed two Pakistani border posts in late November, leaving 24 soldiers dead and 13 wounded. After a day of frenzied meetings about the "unprovoked attack," Pakistani officials announced they would take steps to disrupt NATO supply lines in and out of the Afghan theatre.

"The (Defence Committee of Cabinet) has decided to close with immediate effect the NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines," said a Nov. 26 statement by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry.

Following the closure of the border, Pakistan began a comprehensive policy review of its relations with NATO. Ali said the national security committee of the Pakistani parliament is "in the final stages of drawing out a policy" that will be published within three to four days.

Ali said Pakistan is considering levying a tax on all NATO containers passing through the country, and that officials have discussed a $1,500 U.S. charge per shipping container.

"Customs officials, along with foreign policy officials in Pakistan, are discussing the amount of levy to enforce," Ali said.

Such a tariff, applied to 446 containers, would cost Canada some $660,000 U.S..

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Pakistan's Finance Minister Dr. Hafeez Shaikh warning about potential external shocks to Pak economy if US-Pak bilateral ties do not improve:

Pakistan may face international isolation on the economic front if drastic steps are taken during the reviewing of bilateral terms with the United States, the country’s finance minister cautioned on Thursday.

The warning from Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh came at a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, which on Thursday finalised its draft recommendations for its review of ties with the US.

“There are some shocks Pakistan can absorb but there are others it can’t,” Sheikh was quoted as saying at the parliamentary committee meeting.

The review was ordered by the government following the November 26 Nato airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in Mohmand Agency and led to a new low in relations between the allies.

“A single incident must not determine our relations with the US,” Sheikh said in an apparent reference to the steps taken by the government following the Nato airstrikes.

“Any decision should be taken while keeping in mind the multidimensional paradigm of security, prosperity of the country and economic diplomacy,” he added.

The minister, while spelling out alternatives, argued that the country should adopt a ‘balanced’ approach towards its relations with the US.

Briefing the 17-member all-party bicameral parliamentary panel, Sheikh was quoted as saying that Washington might use its influence over international financial institutions to hurt the country’s economic interests.

The minister went on to give a detailed briefing about the likely implications the country may face in the event of a move to pull out of the US alliance.

A committee member, who asked to remain anonymous, said that, according to the finance minister, the country’s fragile economy would face a daunting task if the relationship between Pakistan and the US deteriorated further.

“It is not about American aid but its clout over the IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions that can pose a real challenge for us,” said the committee member referring to the elaborate briefing given by the finance minister.

However, some of the members present questioned the finance minister’s wisdom, arguing that in the past Pakistan’s economy had survived ‘crippling sanctions’ imposed by the US – referring to sanctions placed on Pakistan after it tested nuclear devices in 1998 in a tit-for-tat response to tests carried out in India.

“Pakistan survived then and can survive now,” said an opposition lawmaker, who drafted his own proposals for the review of ties with the US.

The committee headed by Senator Mian Raza Rabbani has finalised the draft recommendations and forwarded them to the defence and foreign ministries for their input.

Rabbani told reporters that the committee will meet next Tuesday to fine-tune the final recommendations before they are handed over to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

The government will then present the committee’s proposals before a joint session of Parliament to seek its approval. The joint sitting is expected to be convened in mid-January.

The review is being eagerly awaited and closely watched by local and international observers since it is meant to reshape and herald a new era in Pakistan’s relations with the US and more significantly have a major impact on the Afghan endgame.

Anonymous said...

US sanctions could cripple the Pakistani economy to a far greater extent now than the previous sanctions. Our finance minister is right we need to cut off all ties with taleban. Our army is totally confused when swat was captured by taleban they were worried and quickly took action against them. Now again they want to use some groups of taleban. Taleban is primitive and will destroy the fabric of pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP report on Pak Amb Sherry Rehman's arrival in Washington DC:

Pakistan`s ambassador-designate Sherry Rehman arrived in the US capital on Saturday to represent her country in an environment that has turned from friendly to hostile in less than a year.

On Friday afternoon, the US State Department, which looks after America`s relations with other nations, also noted that “Amb Rehman does indeed come at an important time”.

The department`s spokesperson Victoria Nuland described US-Pakistan relations as “challenging and difficult” but assured the new envoy that the United States wanted to rebuild its relationship with Pakistan.

“We`re looking forward to having her here in the United States,” Ms Nuland said. “We will, obviously, make clear to her that we consider this relationship extremely important,” she said.

“We continue to believe that the United States and Pakistan and citizens throughout the region have an interest in the closer cooperation of our countries, and particularly in defeating the threats that challenge us both, and particularly the threat from terrorism,” Ms Nuland said.

The statement, although brief, highlights the dilemma that the United States faces in defining its relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan is seen in the US as a strategically important country, particularly in the war against terror. But at the same time the Americans are reluctant to trust Islamabad.

The Obama administration, however, made a major goodwill gesture by expediting the endorsement process for Ambassador Rehman. Her papers were cleared and sent back to Islamabad in two weeks, although usually this process takes at least a month if not more.

Last week, the US administration informed Pakistan that they can arrange for Ambassador Rehman to present her credentials to President Barack Obama either on Jan 17 or 18.

Accordingly, the State Department arranged a series of meetings for her with senior US officials before she meets the president. This forced Ms Rehman to come two days before her scheduled arrival, cancelling a planned stopover in London.

She will go to the White House on Jan 18 to present her credentials, although sometimes ambassadors have to wait for months for an audience with the president.

But these goodwill gestures do not hide the problems Ambassador Rehman would face while discharging her duties in Washington.

The immediate problem that she is likely to face revolves around her predecessor, former ambassador Husain Haqqani who was forced to return to Islamabad and resign after his alleged involvement in crafting a memo that seeks US support for reining in the Pakistani military.

On Friday, the US State Department took a strong stance on this issue, urging Pakistan to ensure a fair treatment of the former Pakistani envoy and warned that “we`re watching”.

The warning, however, is unlikely to scare those pursuing the so-called `memogate` case and could add to Mr Haqqani`s unpopularity at home.

And this could further vitiate an already tense environment that Ambassador Rehman as well. As a PPP leader, she will be expected to side with Mr Haqqani but as an ambassador she will have to maintain a neutral stance.

To succeed where her predecessor failed, Ms Rehman will have to make US officials believe that she enjoys the support of both civilian and military establishments.
American officials would bring Pakistani delegations to their chambers of commerce and try to persuade their businessmen to invest in Pakistan....

Anonymous said...

The lull in drone attacks is not good for Pakistan as the talibans will only screw Pakistan more.

Riaz Haq said...

Sunni Ittehad Council, the group supporting Taseer's killer, received funds from the US embassy in Islamabad, according to AP:

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The U.S. gave money to a Pakistani Muslim group that organized anti-Taliban rallies, but which later demonstrated in support of an extremist who killed a leading liberal politician, the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan said Wednesday.

The grant highlights the difficulties facing Washington as it seeks partners to support religious moderation in Pakistan. Last month, The Associated Press reported that the U.S. Embassy had created a counter-extremism unit to perform that mission.

U.S. government website shows that the group, the Sunni Ittehad Council, received $36,607 from Washington in 2009.

A U.S. diplomat said that the embassy had given money to the group to organize the rallies, but that it had since changed direction and leadership. He said it was a one-off grant, and wouldn't be repeated. He didn't give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak about the issue on the record.

The grant was first reported by the Council of Foreign Relations on its website.

The Ittehad council was formed in 2009 to counter extremism. It groups politicians and clerics from Pakistan's traditionalist Barelvi Muslim movement, often referred to as theological moderates in the Pakistani context.

The American money was used to organize nationwide rallies against militants and suicide bombings, the embassy official said. The demonstrations received widespread media coverage, and were some of the first against extremism in the country.

The rhetoric at the rallies was mostly focused on opposing militant attacks on shrines, which Barelvis frequent but are opposed by Deobandi Muslims, Pakistan's other main Muslim sect. Deobandis dominate the ranks of the Taliban and other extremists. Some view Barelvis as heretics.

In 2011 and also this month, however, the council led demonstrations in support of the killer of Salman Taseer, a governor who was killed a year ago for his criticism of anti-blasphemy laws used to persecute religious minorities. The displays have appalled Pakistani liberals and stoked international fears that the country is buckling under the weight of extremism.

Taseer's assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, is a Barelvi. He claimed he acted to defend the honor of the prophet Mohammed, a cause that is especially dear to Barelvis.

At its rallies, the group maintains its criticism of the Taliban even as it supports Qadri — a seemingly contradictory stance that suggests its leaders may be more interested in harnessing the political support and street power of Barelvis than in genuinely countering militancy.

Two leading members of the council who have been with the group from the beginning of its existence denied receiving any American funds. The apparent discrepancy could be explained by lack of transparency within the organization. However, given the current anti-American climate, owning up to receiving funds from the United States would invite criticism.

"This propaganda is being unleashed against us because we are strongly opposed to Western democracy and American policies in the region and in the world," said Sahibzada Fazal Karim, the head of the council, before reiterating the group's support for Qadri.

"We are against extremism, but we support Qadri because he did a right thing," he said.

Muslim groups and clerics in Pakistan have a long history of receiving money from foreign countries. Deobandi clerics have received millions of dollars over the last 20 years from Gulf nations to promote their austere brand of Islam and an anti-Shiite agenda. Iran has in turn funded Shiite groups.

Read more:

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report on a disgusting video" of desecration of dead Afghans that could become the defining image of the US Afghan war, says The Atlantic:

The Pentagon opened a formal probe into a video showing Marines in Afghanistan urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters, but the move may not be enough to prevent the footage from becoming one of the defining images of the long and deeply unpopular Afghan War.
"I have seen the footage, and I find the behavior depicted in it utterly deplorable," Panetta said. "This conduct is entirely inappropriate for members of the United States military and does not reflect the standards or values our armed forces are sworn to uphold. Those found to have engaged in such conduct will be held accountable to the fullest extent."

Panetta's comments were unusually strong and seemed to indicate that the Marines involved, once identified, would automatically be disciplined rather than left to the military's judicial system. The tone and substance of his remarks stem from the military's growing fears that the video could quickly assume iconic status throughout the Muslim world, joining other infamous imagery like the laughing American soldiers humiliating Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison and the orange-jumpsuited prisoners shown kneeling in black-out goggles at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The Afghan video is of particular concern because it has the possibility of becoming one of the dominant images of the war. U.S. night raids of Afghan homes, and inadvertent killings of Afghan civilians, are the primary sources of anti-American feelings within the country, but they've never been captured on film. The laughter and smirking of the Marines as they urinate on the corpses is also likely to further offend Afghans already disenchanted with the U.S.-led war effort in their country...

Riaz Haq said...

Hillary Clinton welcomes Pak Amb Sherry Rehman, says "US committed to crucial Pakistan relationship", according to The News:

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has underscored the crucial importance of Pak-US relationship, saying that Washington remains steadfastly committed to the bilateral ties. “I was delighted to welcome the new ambassador (Sherry Rehman) here on Wednesday. She is someone that was known for some time,” Clinton said on Thursday in a press interaction. “My message to her (the Pakistani ambassador) was very straightforward: The Pak-US relationship is crucial to both of our countries, to the future of our people, to the safety and security of South Asia and the world. “We recognize there have been significant challenges in recent months, but we are steadfastly committed to this relationship and working together to make it productive,” Clinton said, replying to a question. Earlier on Wednesday, Pakistan’s new ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman had a meeting with Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Harvard Gazette report on Amb. Munter talking frankly about US-Pak ties:

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter doesn’t beat around the bush: America’s relationship with Pakistan — a vital ally in securing Afghanistan’s fragile stability — has deteriorated. And when it comes to mending those frayed ties, Munter is even less sentimental.

“If we’re going to get out of what has been a very tough period, it is going to be because both countries decide they’re going to look at something bigger than themselves,” Munter said at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) on Monday. Both sides need to ratchet down their emotions, he said.

“We call this the Turner doctrine,” Munter added, invoking “the American philosopher” Tina Turner. “What’s love got to do with it?”

Munter’s assessment, which he shared with a packed hall of HKS students and Mideast observers, came at the close of what he called “a very tough year” for the United States in Pakistan. In the beginning of 2011, the arrest and negotiated release of Raymond Davis, an American CIA contractor, caused bad blood on both sides. Two months later, an American drone strike killed nearly 50 people in North Waziristan. And not least of all, the killing of Osama bin Laden by American troops in Islamabad last May was taken as an insult to the Pakistani military, Munter said.
In part, America’s recent failures in Pakistan stem from overpromising, Munter said. Americans, sensitive to Pakistanis’ lingering feelings of betrayal, developed a set of goals for development in Pakistan in 2008 that encompassed everything from women’s rights to water resources to telecommunications. Those lofty plans too often fell by the wayside as America pursued its military goals in the region.

“American policy began to struggle with the distinctions, or even the contradictions, of its long-term goals and its short-term goals,” he said. “We were trying so hard to reach our counterterrorism goals that we in part did damage to our own long-term goals.”

The relationship between the two countries’ militaries has suffered, and “our military presence in the country has shrunk dramatically,” Munter said. American diplomats must also account for the rising generation of Pakistani generals, part of the “lost generation” who were cut off from American training, who are “less familiar with American traditions” and perhaps less likely to see eye to eye with their Western counterparts.

Still, Pakistan has shown its commitment to fighting terrorism. The country has experienced huge losses fighting insurgents at its own borders — nearly 4,000 troops and between 30,000 and 40,000 civilians, according to Munter.

“In any other country this would be called a civil war,” he said. “It causes a fair amount of resentment in Pakistan, and we would be wise to remember what it is that they’ve lost.”
“The only way to get past a relationship that’s fraught with anger and misunderstanding is to create a partnership,” he said. “You have to get as far away as you can from an assistance relationship.”

The bad news, Munter said, is that America is unpopular in Pakistan, with a public favorability rating of roughly 6 to 10 percent. The good news, however, is that “Pakistanis care desperately what America thinks. They want desperately for Americans to do good things in Pakistan, [and they] want to see us live up to their image of what they think Americans can do.”

“In this relationship, neither side is blameless,” Munter said. But when it comes to economic growth and stability in the Middle East, “there is a fundamental affinity between what Americans want and what Pakistanis want.”

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Pakistani perspective as published by Deutsche Welle:

Pakistan received a severe snub from US President Obama at the NATO summit that recently concluded in Chicago. Pakistani political analyst Naveed Ahmed talks about the reactions in Pakistan and the implications.

Naveed Ahmed is a political analyst and investigative journalist in Pakistan.

DW: How has Pakistan reacted to the summit in Chicago?

Well, there is a clear-cut position that Pakistan is not going to continue any business with the United States or NATO, for that matter, until they offer an apology. And that was clear in the statement given by President Zardari in Chicago. On the face of it, this is the situation and people are buying it. If Zardari has given any commitment, he is not in a position to fulfil it. The reaction is otherwise very calm, no US flags are being burnt. There was a fear that Pakistan may succumb to US pressure, but this NATO summit has proven that Pakistan can withstand the pressure. The foreign minister also said that Pakistan would seek an apology and then look further.

President Obama did not conduct bilateral talks with President Zardari. Does Pakistan see that as a snub? How has the media reacted?

Again, Asif Ali Zardari's departure to Chicago was criticized in Pakistan because it was a last-minute invitation and he should not have gone. In fact, they should have sent the foreign minister there. And if President Obama did not meet Zardari, it is a kind of embarassment for the Pakistan People's Party in the political point-scoring game in parliament. But on the streets, it does not matter because there is a consensus that there will be no business with the US until our concerns or demands are addressed by the American administration.

What demands does Pakistan have?

For NATO relations to normalize, Pakistan is seeking an apology from NATO and the US for the killing of 26 Pakistani soldiers , who died when US troops leading a NATO convoy attacked Pakistani troops last November. Second, the US and NATO should end their drone attacks inside Pakistani territory. Third, there should be a clear-cut agreement as to how and under what conditions Pakistan should allow NATO supplies through its territory. Since Musharraf gave access to NATO troops in 2002 this has taken place through verbal agreements but there is nothing in writing. Pakistan does not earn any transit fees. Pakistan charges about $5000 per container and there is talk that NATO is ready to pay $1500.

What will Pakistan's role be after the NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014?

Pakistan is a key player in Afghanistan. If Pakistan is comfortable with the withdrawal and the conditions afterwards that are being mapped out, Pakistan can play a very constructive role. If there are concerns and insecurities, because of greater Indian influence, or foreign troops or the proliferation of weapons inside Pakistani territory, then it will be different. That is why Pakistan is in a situation where it has to assert its position, its presence, so that when the troops exit, the post-exit scenario is not detrimental to Pakistan's interests....,,15967826,00.html