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John Kerry at Nexus of Pakistan Relations, Afghanistan Strategy

5:28 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Senator John Kerry (D-MA)

With US-Pakistan relations strained over the US mission that killed Osama Bin Laden and the push by many in Congress to accelerate withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in the wake of Bin Laden’s death, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) finds himself at the nexus of these two vital issues. Recall that Kerry was one of a number of US elected officials who visited Pakistan during the Raymond Davis saga, claiming that he felt his visit would achieve Davis’ release “within the next few days” after his visit. Davis was eventually released four weeks after the Kerry trip. Today, we see Kerry featured prominently in the news for his plan to visit Pakistan again in an attempt to repair damage to US-Pakistan relations arising from the Bin Laden mission and for his statements suggesting that a new Afghanistan strategy is now needed.

Reuters describes the Kerry’s upcoming visit to Pakistan:

Senator John Kerry will travel to Pakistan in coming days to put relations “on the right track” after the killing of Osama bin Laden in a surprise Navy SEALs raid, but he is likely to face fury from the army over what it sees as a breach of trust.

Kerry, a Democrat who is close to the Obama administration, said he expected to see “all the main players” in Pakistan to discuss strains in bilateral ties following the May 2 operation that killed the al Qaeda leader in his Pakistani hideout.

“A number of people suggested it would be good to get a dialogue going about the aftermath and how we get on the right track,” Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in Washington.

At the same time he is playing a leading role (and rightly so, as Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) in repairing the relationship with Pakistan, Kerry is also the first politician quoted in Wednesday’s Washington Post article on calls to accelerate withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan:

The death of Osama bin Laden and growing pressure from Congress to shrink the U.S. footprint and expense in Afghanistan have given new impetus to those within the Obama administration who favor a swift reduction of U.S. forces, according to senior administration officials and leading lawmakers.

/snip/

Current expenditures of $10 billion a month are “fundamentally unsustainable” and the administration urgently needs to clarify both its mission and exit plan, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said Tuesday.

Even though Kerry is described in the article as often a leading indicator for thinking from the Obama administration, it is clear that the administration has not reached consensus on a new Afghanistan strategy, as the article quotes an unnamed senior administration official that “there will be no re-litigation” of the strategy.

In my opinion, the most important point to make it into the Post story is that, at long last, there is finally a piercing of Petraeus’ training myth. The article notes that “many” now question the concept of training Afghan forces to take over when we leave and Kerry confronts the problem head-on:

Many have questioned the feasibility of plans to recruit and train as many as 400,000 Afghan security forces to take over once foreign troops depart.“Despite our best efforts, there are challenges — corruption, predatory behavior, incompetence — still evident within the Afghan army and police,” Kerry said. “On top of these problems, there is the question, ultimately, of money, resources.”

The fact that Kerry now sees that training so many Afghan troops is not feasible and will waste huge amounts of money is a huge development to make it into the pages of the Washington Post. Watch for the Petraeus propaganda machine to push back on this very hard, making over-inflated claims of progress that the press will accept at face value rather than subjecting to fact-checking.  Petraeus owes much of the rapid rise in his career trajectory to his “Groundhog Day”-like reliance on always making strong progress toward troop training whether it is in Iraq or Afghanistan.  And, just as in the movie, we always seem to be starting fresh on those training efforts.  Why it has taken so long for Washington to figure out that we are stuck in an endless loop of re-starting training is beyond me. Perhaps Senator Kerry can help us to break out of the loop.

Did the US Intend to Torture Bin Laden’s Children?

5:01 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Did the US torture children by placing ants on their bodies? (photo: wizardhat on Flickr)

In the midst of the ongoing orgy of adulation for Seal Team Six killing Osama Bin Laden and the former Vice President appearing on television to advocate a return to waterboarding as official US torture policy, there has been little attention to the fact that Pakistan took several wives and children of Bin Laden into custody after the US raid of the compound. The US now seeks access to these family members. Did the US intend to torture these children with insects as they did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children, if the helicopter on which they would have flown had not been destroyed?

Here is Reuters reporting on the children in the immediate aftermath of the raid:

A senior Pakistani intelligence official said one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters had seen her father being shot dead by U.S. forces, and was one of about 10 relatives of the al Qaeda leader in custody pending interrogation.

The official, who declined to be identified, said the daughter, aged 12 or 13, was one of the people who had confirmed that the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks had been killed by U.S. commandos in a raid early on Monday.

The relatives — one of bin Laden’s wives and up to eight children — will be interrogated and then probably turned over to their countries of origin, and not the United States, in accordance with Pakistani law, he said.

The article notes that these family members were left behind because the US had to destroy one of the helicopters used in the raid.  The US now wants these family members (note that now more than one wife is mentioned, although there is only one in the initial Reuters report):

National security adviser Thom­as E. Donilon said Pakistan remains a critical partner in battling al-Qaeda, despite new strains in the relationship a week after the raid in Abbottabad. But he acknowledged that Pakistani officials have not granted Americans access to important information gathered since the raid or allowed interviews with bin Laden family members now in Pakistan’s custody.

“We’ve asked for access, obviously, to those folks,” Donilon said on ABC’s “This Week,” one of four television news shows he visited Sunday.

A Pakistani intelligence official said Sunday that his government needed permission from the wives’ home countries before Pakistan could allow U.S. officials to question them. One of the wives is from Yemen; the official said he did not know the other wives’ nationalities.

Note how the US handled KSM’s sons:

Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk.

Yousef al-Khalid, nine, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, seven, were taken into custody in Pakistan last September when intelligence officers raided a flat in Karachi where their father had been hiding.

/snip/

“His sons are important to him. The promise of their release and their return to Pakistan may be the psychological lever we need to break him.”

Yup, trying to “break” KSM consisted of, in addition to waterboarding him 183 times and telling him that if the US were attacked, “We’re going to kill your children“.

In addition, the US may have used insects to torture KSM’s children and other children:

At a military tribunal in 2007, the father of a Guantanamo detainee alleged that Pakistani guards had confessed that American interrogators used ants to coerce the children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed into revealing their father’s whereabouts.

The statement was made by Ali Khan, the father of detainee Majid Khan, who gave a detailed account of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American guards in Pakistan. In his statement, Khan asserted that one of his sons was held at the same place as the young children of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs and were denied food and water by other guards,” the statement read. “They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.

Also lost somewhere in the maze of being held by Pakistan or the US are one or more of Aafia Siddiqui’s children.

No matter the crimes of the parents, detaining and torturing children is a crime that can only hasten the decline of our country into complete lawlessness. Where is the outcry against such base behavior? What does the US plan to do with Bin Laden’s children if access is granted? What would the US have done with these children if the helicopter on which they would have flown had not been destroyed?

On Second Day After Bin Laden’s Death, No Massive Demonstrations or Reprisals in Pakistan

4:28 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

White House photo by Pete Souza of President Obama making phone calls to leaders, most likely including Pakistani President Zardari, before making his public statement Sunday night.

Although there were a few small demonstrations on Monday, Tuesday appears to be quiet in Pakistan on the second day after the US killed Osama Bin Laden just outside Islamabad. Warnings to be wary of reprisals have been voiced by both the US and Pakistani governments and two US consulates in Pakistan have been closed as a precaution.

Writing in Tuesday’s Washington Post, Pakistani Presdient Asif Ali Zardari pointed out that Pakistan has suffered greatly (and he personally) at the hands of al Qaeda:

Let us be frank. Pakistan has paid an enormous price for its stand against terrorism. More of our soldiers have died than all of NATO’s casualties combined. Two thousand police officers, as many as 30,000 innocent civilians and a generation of social progress for our people have been lost. And for me, justice against bin Laden was not just political; it was also personal, as the terrorists murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children. Twice he tried to assassinate my wife. In 1989 he poured $50 million into a no-confidence vote to topple her first government. She said that she was bin Laden’s worst nightmare — a democratically elected, progressive, moderate, pluralistic female leader. She was right, and she paid for it with her life.

Zardari did a gentle push-back on Pakistan’s embarrassment (“He was not anywhere we had anticipated he would be”) about their apparent lack of action against al Qaeda in general and admitted that Pakistan was not included in the planning or execution of Sunday night’s Bin Laden mission:

Although the events of Sunday were not a joint operation, a decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden as a continuing threat to the civilized world. And we in Pakistan take some satisfaction that our early assistance in identifying an al-Qaeda courier ultimately led to this day.

So, while the pseudonym of the carrier was obtained at Guantanamo (but not through torture), Zardari is claiming a major role for Pakistan in helping to put a real name together with the operational one which is indeed a key step in the sequence of events leading to Bin Laden’s death.

A Reuters article attributes at least a portion of the calm in Pakistan to a sense of embarrassment over the harboring of Bin Laden:

There were no protests and no extra security in Pakistan on Tuesday, a day after the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. forces, just a sense of embarrassment and indifference that the al Qaeda leader had managed to lie low for years in a Pakistan garrison town.

“The failure of Pakistan to detect the presence of the world’s most-wanted man here is shocking,” The News said in an editorial, reflecting the general tone in the media, where some commentators predicted that Washington would take action to show its displeasure with Islamabad.

After noting that a demonstration is expected in Karachi, the article then states that many Pakistanis are indifferent to Bin Laden:

Still, many ordinary Pakistanis said bin Laden’s killing was of no consequence to them. “It doesn’t make any difference to my life whether he is killed or not,” said Zain Khan, a laborer in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Despite some indifference, though, warnings of potential reprisals have been made:

Intelligence agencies have warned that Pakistan may face a sharp rise in terrorism cases in the wake of the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

The National Crisis Management Cell of the interior ministry issued the warning to the police and law enforcement agencies after receiving credible intelligence that militants may plan ‘revenge’ attacks in Pakistan, targeting US diplomatic missions and Americans in the country, in addition to important civilian and military government installations.

These warnings have led to the closure of US consulates in Lahore and Peshawar:

The United States closed two of its consulates in Pakistan to the public on Tuesday until further notice, a day after Osama bin Laden was killed near the capital Islamabad.

The US embassy in Islamabad and a third consulate in Karachi had earlier also been closed to the general public for routine business, but a decision was taken Tuesday for them to re-open as normal, said an embassy spokesman.

Those closed are in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern city of Peshawar, which is close to the country’s tribal belt that Washington has called the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda.

Note that the Karachi consulate has been re-opened for today despite the prediction of protests in Karachi. However, it is significant that the Lahore consulate is closed since this is where massive protests were held for many days during the prolonged Raymond Davis saga.

The complexity of the situation in Pakistan is reflected in part in its politics.  In an analysis at the Express Tribune, we see a listing of some of the radical groups in Pakistan with ties to both al Qaeda and the political system:

Harkatul Jihadul Islami, Jaishe Muhammad, Sipahe Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangavi and Lashkar-e-Taiba are some of the many organisations that were allowed to spread their network and physical infrastructure into the ‘settled’ areas of Pakistan such as Punjab and Sindh.

These organisations have deep links with al Qaeda and have allegedly collaborated with Osama bin Laden’s terror network against targets in Pakistan and South Asia at large. The larger Asian region is concerned about the linkages as recent stories have emerged regarding individuals coming from Indonesia and many countries in Europe to train in Pakistan.

/snip/

Most of the militant outfits now have developed influential ties within the mainstream political parties as well. These militant forces might not conduct a vicious attack on the Pakistani state just yet. But they are likely to use the chaos to re-group and consolidate through manipulating the public discourse on terrorism run through the private and public media.

Zardari’s piece also provides some perspective on these radicals and their status in the political system:

Radical religious parties have never received more than 11 percent of the vote. Recent polls showed that 85 percent of our people are strongly opposed to al-Qaeda. In 2009, when the Taliban briefly took over the Swat Valley, it demonstrated to the people of Pakistan what our future would look like under its rule — repressive politics, religious fanaticism, bigotry and discrimination against girls and women, closing of schools and burning of books. Those few months did more to unite the people of Pakistan around our moderate vision of the future than anything else possibly could.

These figures from Zardari demonstrate that while organized and vocal, Pakistan’s radical religious groups appear to be less numerous at the polls than the radical Christian fundamentalist voting bloc in the US.

Will Bin Laden’s Killing Reset US Relations with International Community?

5:16 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

In dramatic fashion and after numerous delays from the initially announced time, President Obama announced late Sunday night that the United States has killed Osama Bin Laden in the outskirts of
Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. After recent months which have seen US-Pakistan relations stretched to the breaking point multiple times over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border crossing (resulting in Pakistan briefly closing off US supply routes to Afghanistan) and then the arrest of CIA agent Raymond Davis after he killed two men in Lahore (resulting in Pakistan dropping out of the trilateral talks with the US and Afghanistan) this latest development immediately puts Pakistan in a bad light for repeatedly denying Bin Laden’s presence in Pakistan, despite evidence now that the compound where he was killed appears to have been built specifically for him in 2005.

The video above shows Obama’s dramatic announcement. From the text of his statement, we see this about Pakistan’s involvement in the operation that killed Bin Laden:

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

A close reading of Obama’s words here, supplemented with additional information that has been released, allows us to surmise that ISI was involved in background work that helped to set the stage for this operation, but once specific information was developed and as the actual operation was planned and carried out, Pakistan was left out of discussions.

The details that are emerging tell us that it was through a courier that the CIA developed the information used to find Bin Laden.

This operation is remarkable in part for the conventional knowledge which has been turned on its head. Many believed Bin Laden was hiding out in a primitive cave in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, and yet he was actually living in a luxurious compound only a thousand feet from Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point. Many believed that Bin Laden only could be taken through use of drones, and yet it was painstaking work much more akin to old-fashioned police work that found his compound and resulted in his death when he and those around him took up arms in response to the task force entering the compound.

In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the US faced a moment of decision for how it would interact with the world community. The administration of George W. Bush chose an aggressive, belligerent stance that has resulted in the overthrow of the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, followed by ongoing occupations of those countries and a very heavy-handed approach throughout the world, including the implementation of torture.

The nature of how Bin Laden was found and killed suggests that an approach much more focused on Bin Laden himself and his key associates would have been a much better approach. It was intelligence heavy-lifting that took the one clue that appears to have come from a Guantanamo detainee (a key question not answered is how this information was obtained; I’m betting it wasn’t through torture), the operational, but not real, name of Bin Laden’s most trusted courier.

There will be much bellowing from the war mongers in our midst that Bin Laden’s killing does not end the Great War on Terror and that we must extend our occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. I call on our President instead to use this opportunity for a complete reset of the US approach to terrorism. An honest review of where we are and how we have gotten here has to acknowledge the death and destruction that our toppling of the governments of Iraq and Afghanistan has wreaked. Perhaps even more important, though, is that an honest evaluation also would show that these operations only got in the way of, and greatly prolonged, the search for the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. We have created many more enemies of the United States through our choice of methods for responding to the 9/11 attacks.

Obama has the perfect opportunity now to explain to the world community that the approach taken by the United States has been in error. Our success in finding Bin Laden came from focused intelligence work, not from killing huge numbers of people and letting God sort them out. Now is the perfect time to begin a real withdrawal of forces from Iraq and Afghanistan. It would illustrate that, as Obama said Sunday night, “the United States is not –- and never will be -– at war with Islam”. The best way to achieve the security Obama seeks when he also said “The cause of securing our country is not complete” is to acknowledge how the US overstepped in its response to 9/11 and that with Bin Laden’s death, we can turn that page and return to a peaceful stance rather than being an occupying power.

Can Petraeus Avoid Self-Promotion at CIA?

4:48 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Can Petraeus set aside self-promotion and provide neutral analysis of military strategy he set into motion?

Articles by Phil Stewart and Mark Hosenball at Reuters and Walter Pincus at the Washington Post finally, now that he has been formally nominated by President Obama, point out the difficulties David Petraeus will face as he becomes the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Taken together, the two articles clearly paint Petraeus as a highly politicized military man intent on becoming president who now must take on the role of a traditionally civilian agency tasked with providing neutral analysis. Most importantly, Stewart and Hosenball point out that a key portion of that analysis will cover the progress of military strategy set in motion in Afghanistan by Petraeus himself. Pincus quotes CIA veteran John Gannon asking the key question of whether Petraeus will be able to avoid self-promotion when providing that analysis.

Stewart and Hosenball set the stage for their analysis by stating that Petraeus “has a reputation for brainpower and political savvy”. Pincus takes that characterization even further, noting Petreaus’ presidential ambitions:

Petraeus comes to the agency with a particularly high profile and, like George H.W. Bush before him, has long been seen as having presidential aspirations. Bush had to sign a letter agreeing not to run in 1976 as part of his confirmation. That profile is seen within the agency as both a plus and a minus, veterans say.

Hmmm. Bush took over CIA in January, 1976 and signed the agreement not to run that year. Does Obama have a similar agreement in mind for Petraeus and the 2012 race?

At any rate, Stewart and Hosenball point out the inherent conflict of interest that Petraeus will face:

But in his role as U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus has been a developer of the counterinsurgency strategy whose results are incomplete as the Obama administration plans to begin a withdrawal of U.S. soldiers this summer.

Because he helped to craft U.S. policy and has publicly defended it against critics, some officials wonder how open Petraeus will be in his new role to critiquing his own work.

They wonder if he will faithfully represent to the White House a CIA view of Afghanistan and Pakistan that is more pessimistic than that of Pentagon brass.

Pincus notes that CIA is nervous about Petraeus taking over:

The agency staff is always nervous with change, particularly when the new director comes with a high-profile military background, a history of regularly changing jobs and a hint that this may just be a temporary stopover on the way to something else.

Pincus concludes his article with a blockbuster quote from former CIA deputy director for intelligence John Gannon:

“The challenge for Petraeus is to avoid promoting himself rather than the organization,” said Gannon.

I’ll take promoting himself for $500, Alex. David Petraeus has made a career of promoting himself at the expense of many lives and billions of taxpayer dollars. I don’t see him changing that any time soon.

Report: US Intervened With IMF in 2008 For Shock Doctrine Implementation in Pakistan

5:44 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

IMF Headquarters in Washington, DC (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On the heels of the spectacular revelation that the US placed Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) Directorate on its list of terrorist groups for the purposes of assessing the risk of Guantanamo detainees, it is likely that the revelation in today’s Express Tribune that the US intervened at the last minute in late 2008 to preserve Pakistan’s bailout by the IMF will receive little notice. As is typical of IMF actions, the 2008 bailout of Pakistan and the resumption of the currently suspended program come with requirements from the IMF that Pakistan implement draconian moves aligning perfectly with those described by Naomi Klein in her seminal work, The Shock Doctrine. In the current case, Pakistan will be required to privatize a long list of “public sector enterprises”, resulting almost certainly in moving ownership, and the revenue streams, of these key industries out of the country.

In its story today, the Express Tribune chose to emphasize how the IMF had originally decided not to bail out Pakistan during the 2008 global financial meltdown because the IMF believed that Pakistan’s financial managers were not trustworthy and would not follow through on meeting the ground rules for receiving the financial aid, but the last-minute action by the US to force the deal through seems just as important:

Pakistan’s request for a multi-billion-dollar bailout had initially been denied by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in late 2008, and the loan was only secured after a last-minute intervention by the White House.

These revelations, along with the more damning allegation that the IMF considered Pakistan’s commitments on tax reforms to be unreliable, were made on Monday by Dr Ehtisham Ahmad, Pakistan’s former representative to the IMF at a seminar on “The urgency of tax reforms,” organised by the Institute of Development Economics and Alternatives (IDEAs), funded by the New York-based Open Society Foundation.

A bit later in the article, we see that the IMF put is normal shock doctrine requirements on the bailout:

The IMF eventually agreed to an $11.3 billion bailout package that included a commitment by Islamabad to implement several key fiscal reforms, including a deregulation of the energy sector, privatisation of state-owned enterprises, and most importantly, the implementation of a value-added tax.

At its own website, the IMF describes the current status on financial “reform” in Pakistan:

Structural reforms had moved forward in late 2008 and 2009, but have been retarded or reversed in 2010 and 2011. In 2008 and 2009, steps were taken to strengthen bank supervision, bolster the social safety net, reform petroleum pricing and taxation, and liberalize the foreign exchange market. Also, some progress has also been made recently in modifying the existing general sales tax by reducing exemptions and strengthening the refund mechanism. However, this reform has been delayed and its scope has been far narrower than earlier envisaged. Moreover, very little progress has been made in reforms in the electricity sector and commodity operations, which are urgently needed to eliminate financial losses that impose a burden on public finances and pose a threat to macroeconomic stability. Further, the legislation needed to strengthen bank supervision and central bank autonomy has not yet been enacted, strengthening of the social safety net is still not complete, and the reform of petroleum pricing has been partially reversed in recent months.

If the IMF considers Pakistan’s financial managers to be deceitful regarding their follow-through on IMF requirements on the bailout, the IMF has to be seen as much more deceitful when it comes to their claims of “strengthening the social safety net”, since their moves gut government revenue by privatizing government-owned industries and moving the revenues from those industries offshore. Klein summarizes this strategy on page 163 of her book, where she describes the underlying policies of IMF actions:

These policies, masquerading as technical and uncontentious, included such bald ideological claims as all “state enterprises should be privatized” and “barriers impeding the entry of foreign firms should be abolished.” When the list was complete, it made up nothing less than Friedman’s neoliberal triumvirate of privatization, deregulation/free trade and drastic cuts to government spending.

In the case of Pakistan, the Express Tribune last week laid out the IMF’s demands for privatization for the bailout to continue:

Officials said that the next loan programme, if approved by the IMF, may likely to revolve around the conditions of restructuring of the public sector enterprises that includes shedding the workforce – a condition that may put the PPP-led coalition government in an awkward situation ahead of the general elections scheduled for 2013.

Under the condition of the financial improvement plan of PSEs, the IMF would like Islamabad to reform the Pakistan International Airlines, Pakistan Railways, Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Electric Power Company, Trading Corporation of Pakistan and Pakistan Agriculture Storage and Supply Corporation.

Once US investors own Pakistan’s transportation, oil, electricity and steel industries, you can bet that virtually no cash flow from these industries will come back into Pakistan. Where will Pakistan’s social safety net be then?

New Drone Attack in Pakistan, Diplomatic Meetings Continue

5:03 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Predator drone launching Hellfire missile. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After Thursday’s full day of diplomatic meetings in Washington on the ongoing US-Pakistan crisis, the US killed another 25 people in North Waziristan when four missiles were fired from two drones. News of this latest strike comes as Pakistan’s Express Tribune reports on a potential route to ending drone strikes that was brought up in Wednesday’s meeting between US and Pakistani military leaders in Rawalpindi.

Dawn described the diplomatic meetings Thursday, which took place at the US State Department in Washington:

US and Pakistani diplomats spent Thursday trying to redefine a relationship that threatens to spin out of control if not handled properly. Statements by both US and Pakistani military chiefs since Wednesday, weighed heavily on the talks in Washington that aim at setting the agenda for next month’s strategic dialogue.

/snip/

“The two sides are seeking ways to sort out differences and find strategic convergences,” said [Pakistan's Ambassador to the US] Mr [Hussain] Haqqani of the diplomatic effort to keep the troubled relationship on track.

The two delegations had a quiet lunch after the first round and then [Pakistani Foreign Secretary] Mr [Salman] Bashir started bilateral meetings with Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Thomas Nides, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake and Under-secretary William Burns. He is also expected to meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later in the evening.

It was late evening Washington time when the latest drone attack was reported, so it very well could have taken place during the meeting between Clinton and Bashir.

Reuters describes the attack:

Two U.S. pilotless aircraft fired four missiles into a house in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region on the Afghan border on Friday killing 25 militants, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

/snip/

A Pakistani intelligence official in the region who declined to be identified said the house was being used as a militant hideout.

“They have surrounded the area and are not allowing anybody to go there,” the intelligence official said, referring to militants.

Twenty-five bodies had been recovered from the rubble and three women were among those killed, he said.

More details, including possible “collateral damage”, come from BBC:

Missiles were fired on a large compound in the town of Spinwam, but five women and four children in a nearby house were also killed.

Meanwhile, the Express Tribune claims that in Wednesday’s meeting between US Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen and Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Mullen outlined a route to the US ending drone strikes:

The United States has linked the halting of the drone campaign in the tribal belt with the Pakistan military launching a full-scale operation against the influential Afghan insurgent group, the Haqqani network, allegedly based in North Waziristan.

US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani during marathon talks in Rawalpindi on Wednesday that the CIA-led Predator strikes would continue until Pakistan eliminates Haqqani network from its the tribal region, The Express Tribune has learnt.

Of course, this is unlikely to happen:

“Our position is absolutely clear that the operation in North Waziristan will be launched only if it is in the national interest,” said a security official, who requested not to be identified.

More diplomatic talks are planned for today, this time to be held at Pakistan’s Embassy in Washington. Will the US military conduct yet another strike tonight to emphasize to the diplomats that the military controls when and where strikes will be carried out?

Mullen Erases Over Eight Years, Prepares for “Fighting Season” in Afghanistan

4:39 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Keep those poppy fields safe! (ISAFMedia photo April 9, 2011)

Sounding less like a military leader than a long-suffering Cubs fan, Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mike Mullen made remarks in Afghanistan Tuesday as he prepared for meetings in Pakistan on Wednesday and Thursday. Remarkably, Mullen tried to tell us in a news release at the Joint Chiefs web site that the first eight and a half years of fighting in Afghanistan don’t really count:

Although the United States has been in Afghanistan for 10 years, the chairman said, only over the last 18 months has the effort been resourced correctly.

Those first eight and a half years don’t count because we didn’t resource the effort correctly. Kind of like when the Cubs blow their draft or trade away talent on washed-up big names.  And we even get the Cubs’ yearly refrain of “Wait until next year”:

“The Taliban had a really tough year last year, and will have a tougher one this year,” he said. “I think we’ll know a lot more as to where this all stands … at the end of this fighting season.” The fighting season typically runs from spring through the end of September or early October, when colder weather closes in.

Does Mullen even understand how many lives and how many resources are being wasted in this ridiculous losing effort?

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper sees a central part of Mullen’s discussions in Pakistan to be on the efforts to disrupt the Haqqani Network despite its ties to ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence service):

The US Embassy says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will spend Wednesday and Thursday meeting with Pakistani leaders.

Admiral Mike Mullen’s trip follows a visit to Afghanistan a day earlier in which he told reporters he would raise ongoing concerns with Pakistan army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff website.

Mullen praised cooperation between US and Pakistani troops in working jointly to combat the militant Haqqani network who target NATO forces in the Afghan east, but acknowledged “strain” caused by the insurgents’ ties with ISI.

Yup, if we can sign the free agent ISI, this could be the year!  If only the stakes were merely bragging rights over the World Series instead of widespread death and destruction…

Drone Strikes in Pakistan Resume After Key ISI-CIA Meeting

4:27 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

On Tuesday, Marcy Wheeler pointed out that the meeting in Washington between Leon Panetta and his Pakistani counterpart, ISI head Lt. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha was cut short. A key topic in the meeting was the ongoing tension over US drone strikes in Pakistan. On cue, and apparently while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, four drone-fired missiles struck in South Waziristan on Wednesday, killing four and prompting more protests from Pakistan. This strike was the first since a strike on March 17, the day after Raymond Davis was released, killed a large number of civilians, provoking widespread outrage in Pakistan and leading to a halt in US strikes.

The headline announcing the drone strikes in Pakistan’s Express Tribune captured what is likely a response that spread through Pakistan as news of the new drone strike spread: “US mocks Pak demand with fresh drone strike“. After describing the attack, which in this article was said to kill six rather than four, the article went on to provide details:

“Four missiles were fired. The target was a vehicle. Six militants were killed,” a military official told AFP requesting anonymity.

Intelligence officials said the dead belonged to the Haqqani Network, an al Qaeda-allied group run by veteran Afghan warlord Sirajuddin Haqqani and based in North Waziristan.

An administration official in South Waziristan said those who died were “all Afghans.”

Dawn noted that the nature of Pakistan’s protest over this strike is different from past complaints:

An unusual aspect of the remonstration was that it was the first time in a couple of years that a démarche was made on a missile strike targeting militants — an indication that Islamabad may be revisiting its tacit tolerance of hits by pilotless predators on militant sites.

Military sources confirmed to Dawn that those killed and injured in the drone attack on Wednesday were Afghans.

“Pakistan strongly condemns the drone attack at Angoor Adda today. We have repeatedly said that such attacks are counter-productive and only contribute to strengthening the hands of terrorists,” Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir told US Ambassador Cameron Munter while lodging the protest with him.

Noting how the attacks “strengthen the hands of terrorists” is a very interesting tactic and seems to be new.

At the same time as this attack, Dawn also was providing information from the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan:

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has issued its annual report which states that over 900 people were killed due to American Drone attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan, DawnNews reports.

The reports which focuses on human rights violations in the country also lays an emphasis on terror attacks in 2010 as a result of which 1100 people were killed.

In other words, the number killed by US drones is within 20 percent of those killed in terrorist attacks within Pakistan.

In a blog post at Dawn, Nadir Hassan provides a very interesting analysis of the ongoing struggles between Pakistan and the US. Hassan notes that Pakistan has no leverage in its quest to end the drone strikes:

Let’s get real though. Making demands is one thing. Expecting those demands to be fulfilled is quite another. The alliance between the US and Pakistan is often called a “transactional relationship.” The US pays for what it wants and we give it to them, holding our nose and counting the cash. In such a relationship you don’t get to have your complaints heard.

Before making demands, we need leverage. Cash-strapped as we are, we cannot tell the US to keep its foreign aid and we’ll keep our sovereignty, thank you very much. The problem is we do not have any other kind of leverage either. The US has two fears about Pakistan: that the country will be taken over by terrorists or that they will get their hands on our nuclear arsenal. As much as we use the Taliban threat – and it is a very real threat, although not one that will take over the government, as panicked Westerners fear – to wring more strings-attached aid out of the US, ultimately everyone knows that it is equally in Pakistan’s interest to keep the Taliban at bay. Sure, we may use them and keep them alive to bolster our misguided policy, but the Taliban is as much a threat to the military and civilian leadership here as it is to the US. Similarly, we cannot bluff the Americans into agreeing to our demands by implying that we will hand over a nuke or two to the militants. Basically, it all boils down to having no leverage.

There is one negotiating tactic the military could use, although its chances for success are slim. Pakistan is a vital supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan, one that the army could threaten to shut down if some of their concerns aren’t addressed. It would be inconvenient for the US to rely solely on Central Asian routes to supply the coalition forces so perhaps this threat could get us a minor concession or two. For that, too, the window of opportunity is narrow. If President Barack Obama follows through on his promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next years, Pakistan’s role as a hub will diminish.

It is interesting that Hassan would mention attacks on supply convoys, since that tactic already has been used, as many fuel tankers were burned while Pakistan had closed a border crossing in the dispute over the US killing three Pakistani soldiers at a border station. Since Dawn is viewed by some to be a mouthpiece of the Pakistani military, it will be interesting to see if the next step in escalation of tensions will be a return to more attacks on supply convoys.

In contrast with the “mocking” nature of the US drone attack while Pasha was still in transit back from Washington, there is word today the Pakistan also appears to be going along with US demands to control Taliban forces within its borders:

Pakistani troops and paramilitary forces, backed by helicopter gunships and warplanes, targeted Taliban positions in the tribal region of Mohmand near the Afghan border on Thursday, killing at least 18 militants, a regional government official said.

Pakistan’s military has recently mounted an offensive in villages bordering Afghanistan’s eastern province of Kunar in pursuit of militants linked to al Qaeda and Taliban who want to destabilize the U.S. ally and impose Taliban-style rule.

“We are going after them with full force, using every kind of force. They carry out attacks and other activities from there,” Masood Khan, the government official, said.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Drone Strikes Again on Hold As US-Pakistan Relations Continue to Deteriorate

5:44 am in Uncategorized by Jim White

Gen. James (fun to shoot some people) Mattis is meeting with the head of Pakistan's military today. What could possibly go wrong? (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As relations between the US and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, it appears that drone strikes have again been put on hold. I can find no reports of any strikes since the March 17 strike on a village jirga killed over forty people. This strike especially infuriated Pakistan, coming just a day after Raymond Davis was released and, despite ample evidence of many civilians being killed, the initial US response was defiant, claiming that only militants were killed and that those killed “weren’t gathering for a bake sale”. Pakistan immediately canceled its participation in the already delayed (due to the Davis case again) trilateral meeting with the US and Afghanistan. I can find no new date yet announced for this meeting.  The US military has clearly stated that General David Petraeus has not apologized to Pakistan’s military for the strike and now General James (fun to shoot some people) Mattis is meeting with the head of Pakistan’s army today.  This meeting comes amid yet another escalation in the diplomatic break between the two countries, as Dawn reports that a number of US military personnel have been barred from the leaving the country.

There is a chronological list of drone strikes in Pakistan at Wikipedia.  Note that Raymond Davis was arrested after killing two Pakistanis on January 7 of this year.  It took a while for relations over this incident to fray, but notice that at the height of the Davis crisis, there were no drone strikes between the strikes on January 23 and February 21, a gap of almost a month.  It was in the middle of that gap, on February 12, when the US announced that it was delaying the trilateral meeting, presumably as a protest against Davis being held.  We now are in a gap of three weeks, with no reported attacks since the March 17 attack a day after Davis’ release.  This attack prompted a rare immediate response from the Pakistan military:

The Pakistani military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an unusual and unusually strong condemnation of the attack. “It is highly regrettable that a jirga of peaceful citizens, including elders of the area, was carelessly and callously targeted with complete disregard to human life,” the statement said.

And as mentioned above, the US response only heightened the crisis:

But American officials on Thursday sharply disputed Pakistan’s account of the strikes and the civilian deaths, contending that all the people killed were insurgents. “These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale,” an American official said. “They were terrorists.”

After some local Pakistani press reports that Petraeus had apologized to Kayani for the attack, the US military made the strange move of denying such an apology:

The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) Commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has neither apologised nor given any explanation to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani regarding the killing of 44 civilians in the March 17 drone attack in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan Agency.

A local news agency reported that Petraeus had contacted Kayani to apologise over the killings.

/snip/

When contacted by The News, a US military source in Pakistan denied these reports carried by a local news agency, and said, “With regards to the allegation that General Petraeus contacted the Pakistani military or that he expressed regret over this alleged incident, I can assure you that General Petraeus hasn’t had any contact with Pakistani military leaders since his meeting with General Kayani on March 3.”

In a further escalation of diplomatic moves, Pakistan has now barred a number of US military personnel from leaving the country:

There are varying claims about the number of US soldiers denied exit from the country. Some sources claim that about 20-30 people have been affected, while others contend the figure is slightly less than one hundred.

The men were assigned to the US Office of Defence Representative in Pakistan (ODRP), which oversees Washington`s military relations with Islamabad, including training and equipment.

Most of these people had been working on different projects with the Pakistan military. Some of the soldiers had overstayed their visas while a majority of them had expired NOCs.

In the midst of these tensions comes today’s meeting between General James Mattis, head of Central Command and Kayani:

General Mattis, head of US Central Command overseeing the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, would meet Pakistan’s army chief Ashfaq Kayani for a “regular, scheduled visit”, the US embassy in Islamabad said.

“It’s not extraordinary… it’s a military to military relationship,” said embassy spokesman Alberto Rodriguez.

But the visit comes after a US report this week criticised the Pakistani military for failing to forge a clear and sustained path to beat religious insurgents holed up in the lawless regions bordering Afghanistan.

Let’s hope that Mattis has learned some diplomacy since his famous speech in 2005:

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded Marine expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq, made the comments Tuesday during a panel discussion in San Diego, California.

“Actually it’s quite fun to fight them, you know. It’s a hell of a hoot,” Mattis said, prompting laughter from some military members in the audience. “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling.

“You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn’t wear a veil,” Mattis said. “You know, guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway. So it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.”

What could possibly go wrong by sending this man to a critical meeting during a time of frayed relations?