While the unfolding disaster at Japan's Fukushima reactor riveted the world, Pakistan quietly observed an important milestone in its own nuclear power program. Pakistan's Chashma 2 nuclear power plant commenced operation and was connected to the electricity grid on March 15, just four days after the earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and initiated what is now one of the worst nuclear accidents on record. Last week, on the eve of his visit to China, Pakistani prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani commissioned Chashma 2 and indicated that China would construct two additional nuclear reactors at the same site. With Pakistanis spending hours each day in the dark due to "load shedding," a euphemism for managed power outages, never has energy been more critical for Pakistan.
According to figures from the Pakistan Electric Power Company, Pakistan's current electricity supply deficit averages about 3000 megawatts, which is probably enough to power about 3 million households in Pakistan. This shortage exacts a high toll on the Pakistani people, especially in the summer when temperatures can exceed 115 degrees. The more insidious effects of Pakistan's electric shortfalls are economic. The country now finds itself in a catch 22: the moribund economy limits large investments in new or rehabilitated electric generation capacity, but won't register dramatic improvement without more and consistent electricity.
Pakistan's ability to meet its energy requirements indigenously is constrained by the relatively poor quality of its coal, the feast or famine nature of hydroelectric power in a monsoon climate, and the political and security challenges of tapping effectively the natural gas reserves in its Baluchistan province. Pakistan will have to seek energy security through a mixture of external and internal sources. As one element of a long-term plan for energy diversity, nuclear power makes sense for Pakistan, as it does for many states. But it is an ineffective solution to Pakistan's current energy needs.
On September 2, 2010 an airstrike conducted by Joint Special Operations Command in Afghanistan's Takhar province killed a man named Zabit Amanullah and nine of his companions. NATO forces in Afghanistan believe the raid killed a Taliban deputy governor called Mohammed Amin, but there is ample evidence that all those killed were in fact civilians who were caught in the crossfire of a military intelligence case of mistaken identity.
I began investigating the Takhar air strike as soon as it happened because I knew Zabit Amanullah, who had previously worked with me as a human rights researcher. With the help of another Afghan friend who had acted as Amanullah's security focal point, by the following day, I had discovered the identities of those civilians killed in the attack. It took me six months to find the real Mohammad Amin and work out the relationship between him and Zabit Amanullah. Special Forces helpfully supplied the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which recently released an authoritative investigation into the Takhar airstrike, with the sketchy biographical details they had on Amin. I sought the help of contacts within the Taliban in northern Afghanistan to find the real man who matched their profile.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images
Up in the north of England, a trial is being heard against a group of men allegedly at the core of a cell recruiting and radicalizing individuals to fight in Afghanistan. The group, part of an ongoing trickle of people from the U.K. attracted to fighting in South Asia, is notable because it counts amongst its ranks a white convert, the latest in a long line of such individuals who have been drawn to militancy in South Asia. These reports of white converts in the region are naturally of particular concern to Western security services: their capacity to blend effortlessly back into the West makes them highly attractive weapons for groups seeking to launch terrorist attacks.
Back in mid-2009, an older moderate Muslim convert in London told me that his theory behind converts in terrorist cells was that they played a key role as catalysts. The presence of a convert, usually a zealous individual who had moved from a troubled past as drug addict or petty criminal to Islamist extremist, would reinforce the group's internal dialogue and help push them deeper into their militant ideologies.
On September 2, 2010, ten men in northern Afghanistan were killed in an air attack that was a targeted killing, part of the U.S. Special Forces ‘kill or capture' strategy. The U.S. military said it had killed the Taliban deputy shadow governor of Takhar, who was also a ‘senior member' of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU): one Muhammad Amin, as well as "eight or nine other insurgents."
Many Afghans, including senior government officials, were incredulous. Many knew the man who had actually been targeted -- who was not Muhammad Amin, but Zabet Amanullah. He had not fought for the Taliban since 2001 and had been out campaigning for his nephew in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections with more than a dozen other men, mainly extended family members. That very morning, as per usual, he had called in to the district police chief to check on security before the election campaign convoy set off. The strike was an "obvious mistake," said the provincial governor, Abdul-Jabar Taqwa. "He was an ordinary person and lived among normal people," said the Takhar Chief of Police, Shah Jahaan Nuri. "I could have captured him with one phone call."
U.S. Special Forces got the wrong man, but despite overwhelming evidence, they have remained adamant that they were correct.
U.S. Navy Ensign Haraz N. Ghanbari/ISAF Regional Command (South) via Getty Images
Tonight (May 10),
PBS' Frontline is airing "Kill/Capture,"
a six-month investigation into the U.S. military's program of targeted killings
in Afghanistan. The military says these raids have taken some 12,000 insurgents
off the battlefields of Afghanistan over the last year, and represent a crucial
part of the U.S.'s strategy in the country. Afghan government officials, Afghan
communities, and human rights groups, on the other hand, have objected to the
raids on the grounds that they alienate the local population and are unduly
harsh. The question is: will the kill/capture missions help end the war in
"Kill/Capture" features research by Kate Clark, whose work we have regularly featured on the AfPak Channel, at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which has just released a devastating new report investigating a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan's Takhar province in the fall of last year, claiming that civilians were killed in a case of mistaken identity. The report is based on interviews with survivors of the airstrike, witnesses, Afghan officials, and U.S. Special Forces officers. The U.S. military insists the strike killed a senior member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Who was killed in the Takhar strike, and why?
Given that a targeted American raid recently killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, we have lots of questions about how these operations are authorized and carried out, and what their impact has been on both the insurgency in Afghanistan and the Afghan communities in which they occur.
Join us tomorrow (May 11) at 1:00pm EST here for a live chat with Frontline's Stephen Grey and Shoaib Sharifi. Grey is a London-based journalist who has been reporting on the Afghan war since 2007, and Sharifi is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience in Afghanistan. Watch a preview of the film here, and be sure to tune in this evening for the full show.
Ask your questions in the Cover It Live box below, or tweet them at us @afpakchannel.
ICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images
The death of
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike in August
of 2009 touched off a heated debate about the future of the militant outfit and
its succession. Many believed Mehsud's death was a fatal blow to the TTP, and
they have proven correct partially, if not fully. Soon after Mehsud's death,
cracks emerged in the TTP's leadership, weakening the group's umbrella
organization, which was once seen a mounting wave likely to engulf major parts
Now that the United States has gotten rid of its Enemy No. 1 and founder of al-Qaeda after almost 10 years, a similar debate is raging about the future of the group that has spread its tentacles to different parts of the world and influenced countless individuals with its jihadist propaganda.
Osama bin Laden's death, in an audacious and stunning commando raid by U.S. SEALs in Pakistan's Abbottabad cantonment, is no doubt a hard blow to al-Qaeda. But it also carries adverse consequences for its TTP affiliate. The TTP's leadership is already underground, partly because of major military actions by Pakistani security forces in areas like Swat, Mohmand, and Waziristan, and partly because of the increasing number of drone strikes in the tribal areas over the past year. In a situation where the TTP was already in disarray, the killing of bin Laden, the hero of all militant groups and particularly their footsoldiers and new recruits, will prove disastrous for their morale.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
The successful U.S. SEAL strike against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, just blocks from the Pakistan's West Point, raises questions about whether the Pakistani military and intelligence are part of the solution or part of the problem of international terrorism. Not only does the U.S. need to learn what the Pakistani military high command and ISI knew and when they knew it, but the U.S. also has to ask a series of questions about bin Laden's heavily fortified compound, such as:
To answer these questions and others, Pakistan's government needs to convene a special independent civilian parliamentary public inquiry, like the Watergate hearings or the 9/11 Commission. The commission's representation should reflect the parliament's party makeup, including both opposition and government parties, and ideally be chaired by a member of the opposition. It should have subpoena powers for the appearance of military and civilian government officials, and well as all bin Laden-related government documents from the military and ISI. Its findings should be made public. This is the only way to enable greater civilian authority over the country's counterterrorism efforts, drive more effective and transparent programs, and keep spoilers from undermining the cause.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
The extraordinary and dramatic killing of America's Most Wanted Man has brought confusion, embarrassment, triumph, regret and a resounding cold shoulder to the Pakistani people from the international community. A senior Pakistani diplomat told me, "Maybe it's time to accept that, in great power games, we don't matter." This comment could be a public relations exercise to wash Pakistan's hands of any responsibility for Osama bin Laden's death and the ensuing militant backlash. But it's clear that a solo operation on Pakistani soil by U.S. Navy SEALs is a reality check for unassuming citizens who have let the Pakistani Army's budget fuel theirs and the army's delusions of grandeur.
It's hard to blame Pakistanis for the utter bewilderment they are experiencing after the death of bin Laden. Pakistan's leaders seem dumbfounded by the whole operation, and a lack of a coherent public message from the government, the military, and the intelligence service the ISI has only hindered the average Pakistani's desire to find a defensible position on the issue. Pakistanis are left with many questions and few answers.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
ISLAMABAD -- After a team of helicopter-borne U.S. Navy Seals stormed a compound in the densely populated Bilal Town neighborhood in the Pakistan Army town of Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden was dead. Pakistan was notified after the operation. The U.S. Congress and citizens alike are dumbfounded that America's archenemy was hiding in the plain sight of the Pakistan military and intelligence rather than in the mountainous frontier of the tribal areas. Former President George W. Bush famously declared that the United States would smoke him out of his cave.
However, Abbottabad is far from a cave. The small city is about a three hour drive from Islamabad, reached through roads that trace the modest altitude climb. The town is a hilly and verdant spot where many Pakistanis retreat for the summer when the plains are scorching. It's near some of the famous hiking spots such as Natiagali. Abbottabad is covered in most guidebooks for Pakistan, including Lonely Planet. Most notably, the hill-town is also home to Pakistan's Military Academy and indeed, Bin Laden's massive, albeit non-luxurious, lair was a mere kilometer from this prestigious institution and the security that accompanied it.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
In Afghanistan Western officials expressed relief at word ofOsama bin Laden's death -- and concern that Sunday night's news would turn upthe considerable pressure they already feel to convince the American public tostay the course in Afghanistan now that the man who led America to invade thecountry is dead. The most pressing question is, how does bin Laden's deathmatter for the war in Afghanistanand the ‘war on terror'? And will it change the way Americans view the country'slongest-ever war?
In September of 2010, Pastor Terry Jones, an obscurantist preacher from the boondocks of Florida, caught the attention of U.S. political, diplomatic and military leadership when he threatened to burn a copy of the Quran. Ultimately, Mr. Jones desisted from this inflammatory folly after achieving several days of sustained fame and after receiving various entreaties by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned that such action would put U.S. troops in harm's way. The crisis was dispelled when the gun-toting Mr. Jones -- who is no religious scholar but rather a homophobic, Islamophobic used furniture salesman -- at last relented and promised to not revisit the subject in the future.
In early January of 2011, the mustachioed Mr. Jones announced, while sporting a leather jacket, that he would hold an "International Judge the Koran [sic] Day," during which the Quran would be tried for murder. Unlike his September escapade -- conveniently timed to coincide with the ninth anniversary of 9/11 -- this round of theatrics drew no press attention. On March 20, 2011 Mr. Jones served as the judge in this "trial of the Koran," which also featured a mock prosecutor, defense attorney, and witnesses. Some of the participants were even sporting robes and headwear presumably intended to be some variety of "Arab" costuming. Amidst about 30 observers and a film crew from an Orlando film school, the Quran was found guilty after which it was doused with kerosene and burnt upon an ornamental outdoor firepit. Despite the modest turnout, Jones declared the event a success as well as a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."
The bizarre mock trial and execution of Islam's most revered book went unnoticed in the American and international media until April 1, when angry mobs in the usually peaceful northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif stormed a U.N. compound and slaughtered at least eight people. The violence quickly spread beyond the city of Mazar-i-Sharif into Kandahar, Jalalabad, and Kabul. The crowed was mobilized following Friday prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Ali, in which the event was recounted, enraging the attendees.
While Mr. Jones was deliberately provocative, this butchery of innocent Afghans and international U.N. workers is mind-boggling. How is it possible that the actions of a largely reviled, fringe lunatic in central Florida could result in protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan and spawn the deaths of so many people -- including Afghan Muslims?
To paraphrase a former U.S. official: There are some knowns and some unknowns in the highly complex equation that would be a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. The Century Foundation report (read it in full here) on a possible negotiated settlement in Afghanistan identifies some of the unknowns (first of all what the Taliban might want to achieve if they entered negotiations; the stress is on the "if", however), but does not add much to what hasn't been known before about their position.
It also shows that some of what is generally considered to be a known -- that the "international community" wants peace in Afghanistan -- often looks pretty ambiguous at closer scrutiny. The strongest part of the paper is when it lays out how a mechanism could look like if and when the Taliban decide that they want to talk. But what really is needed now -- and here the report is lacking again -- are realistic ideas about how the Taliban can be persuaded to enter into such negotiations, other than by applying more and more force and hoping that this will weaken them sufficiently. That latter might even happen without achieving the first: From all what we see, more violence just makes them more stubborn and might close the door for negotiations for a long time.
In general, the authors of the report are right: The time to "start a political process toward reconciliation is now." But first we should not confuse talks with negotiations, and secondly acknowledge that this process might take years rather than months and go beyond the year of 2014. When its authors state that "a genuine peace can be reached well ahead of 2014," it already runs the risk of creating a false hope that it can be done just because "we" have set this pivotal date. A hasty deal that does not address core causes underlying the conflicts in Afghanistan, however, might even close paths towards a better, more comprehensive solution.
This is the real weakness of the paper. It is often too Western-centric and it mainly addresses the U.S. government and the U.S. public (and indirectly the Taliban). These two parties to the conflict are only half of the story. The other half is Afghan public opinion with which a political solution in Afghanistan will stand or fall, even if this is one stakeholder that is difficult to gauge and predict.
Let's look at two of the report's key sentences. The first one says that "the international community seems clearly to recognize that the war in Afghanistan will have a political rather than military solution." It has both "seems" and "clearly" in it, i.e. the authors aren't really sure. And how can they?
I am sure that the "international community" (or let's be honest here and admit that we talk about the West when we use this term) wants the war in Afghanistan to end -- but even more it wants to get out of Afghanistan. The costs, both in soldiers' lives and money, are becoming too high, and in Europe more than in the United States. Most European troops will be out by 2014, while the United States is currently talking to Karzai about keeping some bases, at least. Under this scenario it is a likely outcome that they get out indeed but the war continues anyway, in the form of a new round of "civil" (factional) war and fueled, not least, by exactly those bases which the Taliban would see just as an extension of the current occupation. They don't care whether a U.S. President one day calls combat operations over and rebrands the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) into a pure training-and-mentoring mission. What some in the West might hope, though (and therefore Petraeus, the new King David of Mesopotamia, was brought over), is that the same happens like in Iraq: while the fighting continues, not much of it will appear on U.S. newspaper front-pages anymore.
Also the latest remark of Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special representative for Afghanistan, that the U.S. surge is working does not point into the direction that the United Nations -- another crucial part of the "international community" -- really gets the point of a political rather than a military solution. It also undermines another of the report's assumptions, namely that the United Nations has sufficient credibility amongst all Afghans to be considered an honest broker. Not if it is seen as a U.S. mouthpiece.
And, by the way, many "ordinary" Afghans do not believe that "the Americans" want the war to end because they want to keep the mentioned bases. They assume that not all of this is about their country, but about Pakistan next door, its nuclear weapons and the West's nightmare that "the mullahs" get a hand on them.
Isam al-Hag/AFP/Getty Images
An Afghan civilian was killed over the weekend by the military shooting into a residential area in Goshta, in the eastern part of Nangarhar province on the Pakistani border. Despite the current furor over civilian casualties, neither the Afghan government, nor Afghan president Hamid Karzai -- who is quite vocal in criticizing civilian casualties caused by NATO -- nor the international media are drawing much attention to this incident. Afghan officials say these cross-border firings have happened a dozen times in the last month alone.
The military doing the shooting is not NATO's but Pakistan's, which may explain some of Karzai's and the media's silence. For the last several years, Afghanistan and Pakistan's militaries have lobbed artillery shells at each other. It's never been very intense -- a dozen times a year, with a few dozen killed in the process. But the rate at which these clashes take place is accelerating. Every once in a while there is some media coverage of these occasional clashes -- like in 2008, when rumors surfaced that the Pakistani military was firing on U.S. helicopters conducting a cross-border raid into Pakistan's tribal areas -- but by and large, they fly under the radar of most reporters.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
The United States and Pakistan are bound by mutual if asymmetric dependence, which generates considerable resentment among our peoples and governments alike. The Pakistan-U.S. relationship sometimes feels more like an arranged marriage than a love match: both stay in it because of larger considerations, and begrudgingly acknowledge or even outright deride the other's concerns and priorities.
This is not new: it has been the case since the partnership was renewed in the wake of the events of 9/11. The Raymond Davis affair -- in which a CIA contractor shot and killed two Pakistani men he said were trying to rob him in Lahore in late January, causing a national outcry from Pakistanis worried about armies of American spies ravaging the country -- has again brought these long-standing bilateral troubles to fore. The crisis has revealed the apprehensions, recriminations, and anger that are rife on both sides. But Raymond Davis is a symptom, not the cause, of deep tensions between America and Pakistan.
On the evening of March 1, U.S. helicopter gunships opened fire on a group of 10 Afghan boys gathering firewood in eastern Kunar province, killing all but one. A week after the incident, top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus apologized for the incident and promised to review tactical directives to ensure civilian casualties are minimized. Afghan President Hamid Karzai reportedly refused Petraeus' apology over the killing of the nine boys, a snub made more obvious when Karzai later accepted an apology by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The blunders that led to Karzai's rebuff of Petraeus's apologies are a rare public glimpse into what has become an all too common pattern of ISAF leadership mishandling civilian casualties incidents, exacerbating long-standing tensions over this issue. What is merited is not only a review of ISAF's tactical directives, but an overhaul of its attitude toward civilian casualty allegations.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Editor's note: This is Part I of a two-part seriesfocusing on aid provision in conflict zones, with tomorrow's edition to focuson Afghanistan.
Although the White House was cautiously optimistic in itsrecent strategy review on Afghanistan, even for seasoned AfPak watchers, itcan be difficult to discern exactly what the U.S. strategy istowards Afghanistan. The sound bite summary "clear, hold, build" may besimplistic, but it still offers a useful starting place to evaluate U.S. andNATO efforts. The "clear" and "hold" represent the straightforward ideas (intheory if not execution) of taking and holding ground, operations with whichmilitaries are well-acquainted. The real issue, and the key to success orfailure, is defining what "build" really means, and examining how the United States andNATO are "building" in Afghanistan.
While many factors in Afghanistan (and Pakistan, for thatmatter) are unique, in a larger sense, the challenges faced there are the sameissues, with new faces, that the United States has been long been struggling with inother countries. The U.S. government clearly hopes to "build" the Afghangovernment and military up to the point that it will take the lead in battlingthe Taliban. For decades now, in countries around the world, the tool mostfrequently called on to "build" countries is aid. Sometimes aid comes in theform of humanitarian, short-term assistance, i.e. emergency food, medicine,water, and shelter, aimed at stabilizing crisis situations. In other cases, aidcomes in the form of "official development assistance" or ODA, most often adirect cash transfer from a donor government or donor institution to arecipient country, usually in the form of grants or low-interest loans, andaimed at promoting long-term growth by developing infrastructure, education,and more. In the case of Afghanistan (and Pakistan), aid to the region hasconsisted of a mixture of both humanitarian and strategic (ODA) aid.
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
LAHORE -- This much is clear about the latest convulsion in U.S.-Pakistan relations: an American man, operating under the name of Raymond Davis, shot and killed two men in Lahore in the populous province of the Punjab. After the event, an "emergency vehicle," presumably from the U.S. consulate, rushed to rescue Davis and careened into a crowd. The as yet unidentified driver of the rescue vehicle killed a third person. Davis is currently being held in Pakistani custody in Lahore. He has been added to Pakistan's exit control list while his status is being determined in Pakistan's courts, which precludes his exit from the country.
The U.S. government maintains a simple account: he was an employee of the U.S. consulate in Lahore who shot two men in self defense. Since he has "diplomatic immunity," he should be released under the Vienna Convention immediately. President Obama has himself argued that he should be released for these reasons. Concurrent with Obama's appeals for the man's diplomatic immunity, U.S. Senator John Kerry travelled to Pakistan this week to resolve the ever more complicated row. With such high-level demands, the very credibility of the U.S. presidency is at stake. This is not lost upon Pakistan or its citizens.
Pakistan has its own stylized, yet starkly divergent, account from that heard in the United States. Whereas Raymond Davis is a niche topic of the chattering classes in Washington D.C. in the United States, he is the mainstay of conversation across all stratum of Pakistani society and has become a national obsession in Pakistan's print and television media. Pakistanis have called for the hanging of Davis in public rallies.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Largely unremarked beyond in South Asia, last weekend marked the twenty-seventh anniversary of the death of Maqbool Butt. One of the first prominent leaders of the Kashmiri liberation struggle, Butt's execution almost three decades ago was expedited as a result of events on the other side of the globe in Birmingham, England when a group of Kashmiris kidnapped and executed an Indian diplomat. A set of connected events that while anomalous at the time presaged what used to be the one of the main motors of jihad in the U.K.
Claiming to be members of the Kashmir Liberation Army, the kidnappers snatched Ravindra Mhatre, then the deputy Indian High Commissioner in Birmingham, as he stepped off the bus on his way home with a birthday cake for his daughter. Bundling him into the back of a car, they took him to the Alum Rock part of the city where they held him for a day while demanding through the press £1 million in cash and the liberation of Maqbool Butt. Quickly losing patience, the men waited about a day before taking Mhatre into the countryside outside the city and executing him outside a farm. The Indian government's response was swift and within less than a week they had expedited the hanging of Maqbool Butt, who had been sitting on Indian death row for almost eight years for the murder of a bank manager during a robbery.
The executions were a shock and the first public example for Britons of the depth of feeling and connection between the Kashmiri population in the U.K. and their relations on the other side of the globe. Political parties and religious leaders would use the U.K. as a base for fundraising and rallies, families would travel back and forth and send children and brides to join other family members, and militant factions would seek money and recruits to support the cause of Kashmiri liberation back in South Asia. Years later, this would provide the next generation of young men with both a network of contacts to go and join militant groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan, but also normalize the notion of going abroad to fight for a cause.
And in the years immediately after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the pipeline this created was at the heart of British terrorism problems. Operation Crevice in 2004 (the fertilizer bomb plotters), Operation Rhyme the same year (the cell led by long-term Lashkar-e-Taiba warrior and author Dhiren Barot), the July 7, 2005 attack on London's public transport system and Operation Overt (the 2006 attempt to bring down seven planes as they were in transit across the Atlantic) all owed something to this pipeline, with key individuals in all cases being initially drawn to the cause of jihad through the Kashmiri cause. The proximity of Kashmiri groups to their ideological brethren in al-Qaeda and interchange between them meant al-Qaeda was able to tap this network for a string of plots targeting the U.K.
But since this apex in the mid-2000s, the problem has now shrunk a bit. While security officials are clearly still alert to the potential problems engendered by the enduring Pakistani connection in the U.K., the threat has now evolved in a number of different directions.
The curious case of Raymond Davis is still being played out in Pakistan with all the cloak-and-dagger intrigue befitting a James Bond novel, and today American president Barack Obama himself got involved. Washington has been consistently loud and clear in its message to Islamabad: a Pakistani refusal to hand over the 36-year-old former Special Forces officer who shot and killed two Pakistani men in what he claims was self-defense will be the mother of all deal-breakers for bilateral ties. On trial in Pakistan is not Raymond Davis, however, nor only the already bottomed-out reputation of the United States -- the credibility of the government of Pakistan is also at stake.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
Last Tuesday afternoon, I spoke to a Dawn reporter who hadn't been able to eat breakfast that day because there is no wood-fired stove in his house. He hadn't had a cup of tea or been able to take a shower, and had no heating in below-freezing temperatures. That night he was only able to e-mail in part of his newspaper story because of a severe power outage, eventually giving up and relaying it on the phone after midnight.
He wasn't reporting from a small village in a remote part of Pakistan. He lives in Quetta, a provincial capital and a rare oasis of some development in a largely barren, forgotten Baluchistan. And almost a week later, large sections of his gas-rich province still don't have enough of the fuel to cook properly or heat water and are facing several hours without electricity every day.
Those sections of Baluchistan, that is, that had access to either of these luxuries before a series of attacks on gas and electricity infrastructure brought the province to a standstill. From January 9 through February 13, nearly 25 gas pipelines have been blown up, largely in the eastern districts that are criss-crossed by a network transporting gas found in Baluchistan to other parts of the province and the country. About 7 other gas facilities, mostly wells, 9 electricity pylons and a power plant have also been attacked successfully. The Baluch Republican Army, an ethnic separatist group, has claimed responsibility for a number of these incidents.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, everyone's favorite punching bag in Afghanistan, has decided provincial reconstruction teams -- PRTs -- are, in fact, bad for his country. "The Afghans want to have a government of their own. The Afghans don't want a government from abroad," Karzai told reporters in Kabul. "The transition means giving the whole thing to Afghan ownership and leadership. Naturally then the PRTs will have no place."
This didn't used to be controversial. When the first PRT was created in early 2003, it was actually called a provincial transition team because the idea was to transition control of an area from U.S. to Afghan control as capacity was built. Of course, that first PRT, in Gardez, Paktia, only had one civilian on it who was supposed to monitor all the reconstruction and governance activity in three provinces. Soon, the PRT program got a new name -- reconstruction this time, not transition -- and by 2007 there were 25 PRTs across the country.
Evaluations of PRT performance have been mixed at best. One researcher at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies found in 2008 that PRTs "lead to counter-productive results such as the strengthening of local Power Brokers and the weakening of the government in Kabul." This is because coalition forces "again and again form an alliance with local militias and supply them with weapons and money."
Spencer Platt/Getty Images.
Will Pakistan go the way of Tunisia and Egypt? Are we on the verge of witnessing throngs of discontented Pakistanis storming the streets of Islamabad and Karachi seeking an end to a wobbly democratic regime with an ever-attentive military establishment keeping a tight leash on its extraordinary privileges?
It's not completely fanciful. Some key similarities do exist between Pakistan and Tunisia and Egypt. Obviously, they are predominantly Muslim countries, they have all experienced long periods of authoritarian rule, they have significant military establishments, and they are all U.S. allies to varying degrees. Despite the willingness of their political elites to work with the United States, especially on the "war on terror," significant segments of their populace remain either hostile toward or suspicious of the United States.
These common features might well lead some to conclude that Pakistan could be on the precipice of a political upheaval, and indeed, Pakistan's prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was recently forced to defend against the comparisons. Despite these seemingly compelling similarities, it is unlikely that Pakistan will witness a societywide political uprising that will challenge the existing political order.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images.
At a recent event on Pakistan co-sponsored by Brookings and the U.S. Institute of Peace, several panelists cogently stressed the need for greater transparency on the parts of Washington and Islamabad as a necessary step in forging better relations.
Inevitably, the sad story of Pakistan's F-16s emerged during a panel discussion. In the early 1980s, the United States agreed to sell Pakistan F-16 fighter jets. This decision was taken when the United States worked closely with Pakistan to repel the Soviets from Afghanistan. The F-16 was the most important air platform in Pakistan's air force and it was the most likely delivery vehicle of a nuclear weapon. When nuclear proliferation-related sanctions (under the Pressler Amendment) came into force in 1990, the U.S. government cancelled the sales of several F-16s. Pakistanis routinely cite this as hard evidence of American perfidy to underscore the point that Washington is not a trustworthy ally.
With the lapse of time, many American and Pakistani interlocutors alike rehearse redacted variants of this sordid affair for various purposes. But I was dismayed when a U.S. official (speaking in his personal capacity) did so at the U.S. Institute of Peace event. He stressed, with suitable outrage, that the United States unfairly deprived Pakistan of the F-16s it purchased, demurred from reimbursing Pakistan when sanctions precluded delivery, and even charged Pakistan for the storage fees while the United States sought a third-party buyer for the planes. This particular individual has a long-standing relationship with South Asia and extensive experience in the region, which made the stylized telling all the more troublesome.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Islamabad -- The recent execution by stoning of a man and woman accused of adultery in Kunduz, Afghanistan is a startling reminder of the brutal system of justice administered by the Taliban. A slew of other such harrowing images over the years has helped create an important narrative of the Taliban's callous disregard for human rights and archaic legal norms.
A parallel, and equally significant, storyline has been that of the Taliban providing a speedy and effective system of justice appreciated for its ability to settle important commercial and civil disputes. A recent report by Chatham House argues that Afghanistan's lack of emphasis on ensuring access to justice to its citizens has been exploited by the Taliban, the memory of whose "harsh, but just" rule has garnered many supporters.
This position is not new. Over the years, studies and reports have repeatedly pointed towards the Taliban's expeditious brand of justice as one reason for their continued success in Afghanistan. Despite general agreement on this, improving the rule of law and ensuring access to justice have too often been sidelined by both local government and international donors, deemed desirable but ultimately secondary to the more important and immediate aim of providing security and countering militancy.
This situation has strong parallels with that in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), where local Taliban fighters and other militants have capitalized on the perceived lack of justice (including false imprisonments, costly and lengthy court cases, and inefficient or corrupt legal systems) to win the support of the local populace.
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ISLAMABAD -- Advocates of the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan deploy false choices and flawed assumptions to defend the status quo. Proponents of "staying the course" delegitimize the pursuit of better options for ending this deadly nine-year war by reducing the debate to a dubious binary: maintain a long-term counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign against the Taliban or leave Afghanistan after ignominiously "cutting and running." It is time to reframe this public discourse over the costly status quo and consider a new way forward.
Vice President Joe Biden, who is currently in Afghanistan and headed to Pakistan shortly, has argued, among others, that a policy of "Counterterrorism Plus" will more effectively secure genuine U.S. security objectives. He's right.
This approach calls for a much smaller deployment of forces that would focus upon al-Qaeda, including continued drone attacks on al-Qaeda and international militants both in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas. Proponents of such a plan argue for continuing the training mission of Afghan National Security Forces with a dedicated focus upon sustainability as well as continued and long-term initiatives to develop civilian capacity in the Afghan government. Obviously, this implies a sustained -- albeit a different and perhaps smaller -- U.S. presence in Afghanistan. This is not "cut and run."
brutal assassination of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer by a man in his security
detail is being tied to a courageous stand he took opposing the nation's
antiquated blasphemy laws and supporting a Catholic woman, Aasia Bibi, accused
But there is another important position Taseer has taken that should be emphasized: he was one of very few Pakistani politicians who honestly and openly recognized the existence of the "Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab," sometimes called the "Punjabi Taliban," comprised, through the years, of an alphabet soup of sectarian militant organizations: Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) Harkat-ul Mujahideen (HUM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), among others, inspired by an intolerant brand of Sunni Islam called Deobandism.
Remember last month, when all the news was atwitter about the prospect of meaningful negotiations with the Taliban in Kabul? The story was moderately shocking: a senior Taliban figure was being flown around the region, talking directly with General Petraeus, President Karzai, and other senior figures in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan government. The driving force behind coverage of those negotiations was New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins, who wrote that NATO had provided air transportation and secure road travel for Taliban leaders to visit Kabul for the negotiations.
Almost precisely one month later, Filkins and Carlotta Gall are writing the exact opposite.
In an episode that could have been lifted from a spy novel, United States and Afghan officials now say the Afghan man was an impostor, and high-level discussions conducted with the assistance of NATO appear to have achieved little.
"It's not him," said a Western diplomat in Kabul intimately involved in the discussions. "And we gave him a lot of money." ...
The fake Taliban leader even met with President Hamid Karzai, having been flown to Kabul on a NATO aircraft and ushered into the presidential palace, officials said.
Think about this for a moment: a man whose identity no one was able to verify was flown, by NATO, for face-to-face meetings with high-ranking members of the coalition (though Karzai denies having met Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, the impersonated Taliban leader in question). We don't know what his intentions were, nor do we know what information he may have stolen for whatever his ultimate goals are. We can speculate all we want about what really happened: the impostor was out to grab cash ("we gave him a lot of money," one U.S. official lamented), he was an ISI agent sent to penetrate the negotiations process, and so on. But no matter how we spin it, this is hugely embarrassing for ISAF, for the war, and for any prospects of ending it soon.
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