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Archive for January, 2008

Today, one story in particular stood out to me – according to the Christian Science Monitor, “For the first time, the U.S. is putting public pressure on Pakistan by asking its leaders to let the U.S. help fight terrorists within the country. Though Pakistan has rebuffed these advances, it has shown signs of taking the terrorist threat more seriously, responding quickly and forcefully to militants’ increasingly bold attacks. The monitor quoted Ismail Khan, a reporter with Dawn newspaper, who said, “There is a realization within the military establishment that the government has lost its authority in the tribal areas.”In recent weeks, the U.S. has offered military assistance to root out extremists in the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) with combat troops, CIA operations, or training. Although President Pervez Musharraf has rejected the “invasion” of U.S. troops, Washington has become increasingly concerned with militant activity in the region, particularly in the porous border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to an article released by Reuters today, “The United States this year will start spending in earnest $750 million where its troops can’t go in the hope of making Pakistan’s unruly tribal lands less hospitable for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.” If the U.S. succeeds in this mission, they hope other nations will help put up $2 billion for development and security in the semi-autonomous FATA. On the Pakistani military effort in the region so far, a U.S. official told Reuters, “The military campaign in FATA has not degraded extremist recruitment, training or operations.”

The effort would and must be two-pronged: combining both development and security reforms, following the mantra, “you can’t have development without security, and you can’t have security without development.” According to Reuters, overall literacy in the FATA region, consisting of a population of 3.2 million, is just 17 percent, compared to the national average of 56 percent. Moreover, there is reportedly only one doctor for every 6,750 people. Tribal communities in the area are tired of what they call the government’s “empty promises,” and a report from the International Crisis Group in late 2006 noted that “anticipation is turning into alienation.” As a result, communities that may not inherently support extremism turn to these groups in this power vacuum. Following the earthquake in 2005, I went up north with my mother and sister and was more than a little surprised to see aid tents emblazoned with the titles of various Islamist groups.

The United States knows that it cannot personally implement the allocated funds to improve the FATA region. Raging anti-American sentiment in the area means the only realistic option is if reforms are carried out by Pakistani military and civil authorities. [Image courtesy of Reuters]

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On Wednesday, Pakistan’s deposed top judge Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry described President Pervez Musharraf as an “extremist general” after sacking him and 60 other top judges, reported BBC News today. The story was covered by several news agencies on Wednesday, including the UK’s Guardian Unlimited, which reported, “Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry, who was sacked when Musharraf declared emergency rule last November, said in a letter to western leaders that his wife and three children, one of whom has special needs, were even forbidden from going on to the front lawn of their home in Islamabad as it was occupied by police.” A seven-page statement released by “sympathetic lawyers” in Islamabad noted, “Barbed-wire barricades surround the residence and all phone lines are cut.”During his visit to Europe last week, Musharraf told leaders he was “the best hope for democracy” and attacked the supreme court justice, calling him “corrupt and inept.” On Wednesday, Chaudry hit back, asserting, “Is there a precedent in history, all history, of 60 judges including three chief justices (of Pakistani Supreme and two of the High Courts), being dismissed and arrested at the whim of one man? This incredible outrage has happened in the 21st century at the hands of an extremist general out on a ‘charm offensive’ of Western capitals and one whom the West supports.” On the subject of democracy, the deposed chief justice wrote, “What the general has done has serious implications for Pakistan and the world. Some western governments are emphasising the unfolding of the democratic process in Pakistan. That is welcome, if it is fair. But how can there be democracy if there is no independent judiciary?”

In a development related to the issue of free elections and the democratic process, news sources today also reported that the U.S. State Department expects the upcoming Pakistani elections to be “tainted” and called on all groups, including international monitors, “to keep a tight scrutiny on the landmark event.” The AFP cited statements made by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who said at a recent Congressional hearing, “We don’t necessarily accept a certain level of fraud but if history is any guide and reports are any guide, we should expect some.” According to Pakistan’s Daily Times, Boucher assured that “the U.S. is doing everything it can to ensure a fair election, including preparing teams from the U.S. Embassy to monitor major races around the country.” The Times added, “Asked if the situation in Pakistan could develop like the one in Kenya, where fighting after disputed elections has resulted in hundreds of deaths, he said, ‘We’ll know in two weeks.'”

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So last week’s poll closed today with interesting results. Of the 64 CHUP! readers who responded to the question, “What do you think is the most immediate concern facing Pakistan?”, 65% of you answered, ‘security,’ 21% responded, ‘inflation,’ while only 10% replied ‘free and fair elections.’ Unfortunately, I am not aware of the ethnographic makeup of those surveyed, but I still feel the results are significant nonetheless. Although there have been very vocal pressures for democracy and elections, I think we all should understand that this battle against Taliban-linked militants is a very real and very near danger, one that should no longer be ignored.Although this blog’s primary focus is the situation in Pakistan, I think it’s hard to avoid the current U.S. presidential race and its potential ramifications for the future of U.S.-Pakistan relations, which in turn could be an enormous impact on the country. The increasingly dire security situation in Pakistan has subsequently caused many candidates to take a stance on the issue. Therefore, I thought it would be timely and significant to poll CHUP! readers on who you feel should be in the White House based on their current foreign policy platform towards Pakistan. If you have comments on the question, the choices, or the poll, as a whole – please comment! Below, I am pasting the basic points asserted by the current forerunners in the race for the White House, compiled by the Council for Foreign Relations:DEMOCRATS
Senator Hillary Clinton: Sen. Clinton (D-NY) criticized rival Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) in August 2007 for his pledge to pursue Al Qaeda in Pakistan. She called it “a very big mistake to telegraph that and to destabilize the Musharraf regime, which is fighting for its life against the Islamic extremists who are in bed with Al Qaeda and Taliban.” Clinton foreign policy adviser Lee Feinstein said in December 2007 that Clinton has “has opposed the Bush administration’s coddling of President Musharraf, and stood steadfastly with the people of Pakistan in their struggle for democracy and against terrorism.”

Senator Barack Obama: Pakistan first achieved notoriety in the presidential campaign in summer 2007 when Obama said he believed the United States should hunt Al Qaeda forces in Pakistan. In November 2007, Obama cosponsored a resolution condemning Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency, and calling for an investigation into a prior assassination attempt on Bhutto.

John Edwards: Edwards called Bhutto’s death a “contemptible, cowardly act.” In a phone call with Musharraf shortly after the assassination, Edwards said he urged the Pakistani leader to “continue on the path to democratization” and to allow for international investigators to look into her death. In November 2007, Edwards said the United States should use economic and military aid to Pakistan as leverage to “push Musharraf toward open free elections; toward more democratic reform, to more transparency in the way both the government operates and the economy operates” (NYT).

REPUBLICANS
Mike Huckabee: Huckabee’s response to the Pakistani crisis in late December 2007 raised concern in the media about his foreign policy experience. He made erroneous comments about the country’s state of emergency and the number of Pakistani illegal immigrants in the United States (TIME). In general, Huckabee has said the U.S. “failure to engage Al Qaeda in Pakistan seems to be leading inexorably to their attacking us again.” In his Foreign Affairs article, Huckabee called for a policy of “tough love” toward Pakistan, and said as president he will pursue Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Sen. John McCain: Sen. McCain (R-AZ) has advocated continued U.S. cooperation with Musharraf to “dismantle the cells and camps that the Taliban and al-Qaeda maintain in his country.” In a November 2007 Foreign Affairs essay, he warned that the “Talibanization of Pakistani society is advancing,” and said the United States should make “a long-term commitment to the country.” This would include bolstering Pakistan’s security capabilities to enhance “Pakistan’s ability to act against insurgent safe havens.” He also said the United States should “bring children into schools and out of extremist madrassas,” though he did not specify how the United States should approach that task.

Mitt Romney:

Romney says the United States should try to bolster moderate forces in Pakistan to prevent “radical jihadists” from taking power. At an August 2007 Republican debate, Romney criticized Obama’s plan to enter Pakistan with “actionable intelligence” to pursue al-Qaeda. Obama “says he wants to unilaterally go in and potentially bomb a nation which is our friend,” said Romney. “We’re trying to strengthen Musharraf. We’re trying to strengthen the foundations of democracy and freedom in that country so that they will be able to reject the extremists.”

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The Rise of Tehreek-e-Taliban

The recent fighting between militants and security forces has dominated news coverage of Pakistan. Yesterday, the hostage-taking of 250 schoolchildren and subsequent surrender of the “gunmen” garnered major media attention, although sources differed on whether the incident was perpetrated by a “criminal gang” or by “Islamic militants.” According to an article in today’s Daily Times, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Javed Cheema told the AFP that the gunmen were members of a “kidnapping gang,” although President Pervez Musharraf called them “extremists” at yesterday’s news conference in London. Today’s UK Times further asserted the hostage-takers were “pro-Taliban militants.”Despite the contradicting accounts, the increasing presence of the extremists in the region is very problematic for the current security situation in Pakistan, as well as the region as a whole. Today’s Daily Times’ editorial focused on the rise of the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the umbrella organization that was formed last month in an effort to coordinate extremist activities and wage a joint struggle against the Pakistani military. According to the Times’ editorial, the organization is made up of 40 groups “commanding an army of 40,000 gathered in Peshawar to unite under a single banner.” During a television interview cited by the Daily Times’ editors, the leader of Tehreek-e-Taliban, Beitullah Mehsud claimed “he had never met Osama bin Laden but had known Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the Al Qaeda leader who died in Iraq fighting the Americans.” However, according to sources inside the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), Mehsud does receive funding from the overarching AQ organization.

As has been noted before, very little is known about Beitullah Mehsud [see CHUP! post for January 18th], perhaps adding to his hype. On Tuesday, U.S. News and World Report released an article on the militant leader, entitled, “Pakistan’s Most Wanted Warlord.” In the piece, Kevin Whitelaw wrote, “While the United States has been urging Pakistan to scour its largely ungoverned tribal regions for Al Qaeda leaders like Osama bin Laden, the Pakistanis have been more focused on tribal extremist figures like Mehsud, who has mounted a serious challenge to the authority of Pakistan’s embattled government.” Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at RAND, commented, “Baitullah Mehsud is a primary ringmaster for cultivating and deploying suicide bombers. He himself has said so. It’s a banner of honor he drapes about himself.”According to a report from the United Nations last August, a Taliban source claimed 80 percent of suicide bombers in Afghanistan pass through recruitment centers, training facilities, or safe houses in the Waziristan region before they “reach their targets.” [Image courtesy of Reuters]

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On Monday, breaking news coverage of Pakistan focused on armed men taking 250 schoolchildren and teachers hostage after escaping from police in the Bannu district of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) earlier today. However, later on Monday, news sources reported the gunmen surrendered to “tribal negotiators” in exchange for safe passage from the area. The Associated Press, AFP, and BBC News quoted statements made by Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema, who asserted on Pakistani television, “The criminals have surrendered to the jirga [tribal council] along with their weapons. No children have been hurt and all have been released.” The AP emphasized in its report that Cheema described the gunmen as “criminals” rather than Islamic militants. The AP and the UK’s Guardian Unlimited also cited President Pervez Musharraf, who told a joint news conference in London, “It was incidental that those criminals entered the school. It has been resolved peacefully.” District police chief Dar Ali Khattak also told reporters that the militants had “all types of weapons like rocket launchers and grenades.”There have been heavy clashes between the military and Islamist militants in recent weeks, a subject that has been widely covered by the media. On Monday, the Pakistani press reported the Army reclaimed the Kohat tunnel on Sunday in fighting that left 24 militants dead and two security personnel injured. Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told the Daily Times, “Engineers are checking the tunnel for any explosives planted by militants. The tunnel and Indus Highway will be opened soon.”

Monday’s hostage-taking and subsequent surrender is significant to me not only because of what happened, but how the government failed to take complete advantage of the situation to further depict these militants in a negative light. In Iraq, Al Qaeda increasingly alienated its support because of its indiscriminate bombings – killing not just Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. soldiers, but also innocent civilians. As a result, many former insurgents allied with U.S. forces and fought against the extremist group. Likewise, today’s incident (if Taliban-linked militants were behind it) can and should be broadcast in a similar light in order to garner the support of the local populace – that these militants are not acting in your interest, they kill indiscriminately, and their actions put your children and women in harm’s way. In a culture heavily defined by honor, these themes curry support in the government’s favor, and should be used as such. [Image from BBC News]

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Pakistan is Turning on Musharraf

The title of today’s post was the header of a pertinent Wall Street Journal commentary by Hussain Haqqani, a former adviser to Benazir Bhutto who is currently a professor of International Relations at Boston University. Haqqani wrote, “Pakistan’s embattled President Pervez Musharraf is touring European capitals to try and convince Western governments of the country’s stability, and his own good intentions. He should instead face the evaporation of support for his authoritarian regime at home.” The author cited several reasons to bolster this statement- including the fact that 68% of Pakistanis want the President to “step down immediately,” and that 100 retired military officers recently signed a statement in Pakistan “describing him as an embarrassment to the powerful military that has so far been his power base.” According to Haqqani, “Western governments should no longer accept Mr. Musharraf’s sales pitch that he is a valuable ally in the war against terrorism. A ruler widely hated by his own people is unlikely to be effective in defeating the expanding insurgency waged by al Qaeda’s Taliban allies.”The author asserted that Pakistanis are increasingly united in their disapproval for Musharraf, “and of the civil-military oligarchy he represents.” In a piece by NPR, entitled, “Imran Khan Brings Anti-Musharraf Effort to U.S.,” Pakistani politician and former cricket star Imran Khan criticized U.S. support for the President. He told NPR’s Steve Inskeep, “Gen. Musharraf has done a brilliant PR job here where he has convinced the people that he is one man holding these hordes of terrorists, the bastion against these extremists….” This week, Imran reportedly met with U.S. Congressional leaders and spoke at several engagements in the U.S. in an effort to change the image of the Pakistani President. In the interview with NPR, he asserted, “across the spectrum, from the right to the left, [Pakistanis] want Musharraf to go …. The U.S. administration must be getting this information. In Pakistan, according to all the polls, [U.S. officials] are backing someone who is deeply unpopular in the country.” When asked whether U.S. influence could cause or prevent a change in Pakistan’s government, Imran responded, “Well, at the moment, the only backer of Gen. Musharraf is the U.S. government. The army is only backing him now because they think that the U.S. government backs Musharraf.”

However, Musharraf seems to be defending himself abroad and at home. During his Europe tour this week, the President addressed London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), where he called for support, not “criticisms and insinuations.” According to an editorial in today’s Daily Times, Musharraf, in an interview with the BBC, also insisted he was still popular in Pakistan on the basis of his numerous “reliable sources of information” and would “willingly leave if he became unpopular.” Although these statements are interesting in light of the vocalized opposition to his rule, the Times editorial conceded, “The truth is that he is the only leader in Pakistan who at least verbalizes against terrorism and its origins. Not even the leaders of his own party, the PMLQ, are willing to speak on the subject. The opposition parties fear retaliation — even more so after the assassination of Ms. Benazir Bhutto — and seldom say anything on the subject. Keen to avoid being targeted, the media too is far more cautious to report against it than against the government and its glaring inefficiencies.” At this point, are we capable of crediting the Pakistani President with anything positive? Or are we so jaded that we refuse to see any action in a positive light?

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Once again, security developments dominated press coverage of Pakistan on Thursday. According to Pakistan’s Daily Times and The News, the Chief of Army staff [the new head of the military after Musharraf took off his uniform], General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani said that military operations, though part of the national effort, “are only a means to an end.” Kayani made these remarks while visiting “forward” posts in Swat. According to news agencies, “Gen Kayani acknowledged the support of the people of Swat, which he said had helped the army restore normalcy to the area. Talking to local notables, he stressed the need for them to contribute to peace and welfare of the people.”Meanwhile, the LA Times reported the U.S. Pentagon is making plans to send military personnel to Pakistan to train the country’s security forces, “taking advantage of promising ties with the country’s new top general.” The news agency noted, “The Bush administration has avoided using American troops in Pakistan because it would be deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis. The plans would limit the U.S. mission to instructing Pakistani trainers, officials said recently, speaking on condition of anonymity because the proposals are not final. Those Pakistanis then would train their country’s forces.” An anonymous Defense official told the LA Times, “The U.S. has to be careful of what it is doing inside Pakistan. If it becomes obvious, that’s one of the things that could undermine the stability of the Pakistan government. It could provoke a response that could easily get out of hand.”

Kayani has reportedly been a major influence behind these training efforts. Since Musharraf relinquished his army uniform, the new army chief has taken steps to redeem the military and move it “away from its focus on preparedness against rival India and toward fighting Islamic extremists.” Much of the fighting has been concentrated along the border with Afghanistan, and the militant stronghold is located in southern Waziristan. On Thursday, BBC News ran an interesting article, entitled, “Why Waziristan Matters,” discussing the implications of the region. BBC’s Jill McGivering wrote, “The battle for control in South Waziristan is critical. It is described as one of the most important frontlines in the fight against Islamic extremism, a new proxy war.” Militants in this area, she noted, “are drawn from a cluster of local tribes and embedded in local communities.” Control of Waziristan, McGivering added, is key to controlling Afghanistan as well as stabilizing the northern regions of Pakistan. [Image courtesy of the Daily Times]

[Forgot to also note an interesting commentary in the Washington Post today by columnist David Ignatius on Kayani.]

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