BBC – Enormous frustration in Washington regarding Pakistan which is now seen by many in the US Congress and the military as an enemy rather than a friend.

Afghan end game sees Pakistan ‘paralysed’ by US rift

Since US forces killed Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan a year ago, relations between the two countries have never recovered. Writer Ahmed Rashid looks at a relationship in crisis as US troops prepare to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

The continuing breakdown in co-operation between the US and Pakistan is having a hugely detrimental effect on US and Nato resolve to withdraw from Afghanistan while trying to remain committed to the region’s stability.

Although the US has much to answer for in terms of mistakes made, the refusal of the Pakistani leadership – both military and civilian – to take responsibility and ownership for desperately needed decisions, is leading the country into a terrible sense of drift and despair.

The recent visit to Islamabad by a high-level US delegation, consisting of officials from the defence and state departments, the CIA, the White House, and led by US special envoy Marc Grossman failed to elicit any major breakthrough in resolving any of the major outstanding issues which could lead to improving relations.

Drone attacks

Pakistan insists on a US apology for the killing of 24 of its soldiers last November by US helicopters on the Afghan border – yet when a US apology was on the cards a few months ago, Pakistani officials declined to meet their US counterparts.

Pakistan also insists on an end to drone strikes which the US refuses to agree to.

Both sides have tried to explore different scenarios for co-operation so that drone attacks can continue.

If a co-operation mechanism can be found, the US wants Pakistan to be more transparent about drone attacks because Pakistani interests are also served when drones kill leading members of the Pakistani Taliban.

US officials say their own lack of transparency over drones was dictated by former President Pervez Musharraf who insisted that they never be admitted to, even though drones took off from Pakistani bases until last year.

Also stuck is the reopening of the road that is used to take supplies from the port of Karachi to Nato forces in Afghanistan.

The road should have reopened nearly a month ago after approval from Pakistan’s parliament, but threats by Islamic extremist groups to burn trucks and convoys of goods have played a part in the delay.

The US has already indicated that it is willing to pay generously for use of the road.

The talks were made more complicated by the Obama administration now refusing to issue an apology and US charges that Pakistan allowed the Haqqani group to launch the multiple suicide attacks on Kabul and other Afghan cities on 15 April.

‘Window on the West’

There is enormous frustration in Washington regarding Pakistan which is now seen by many in the US Congress and the military as an enemy rather than a friend.

Many leading Americans consider that Pakistan should cease being important for the US, or should no longer be considered an ally when the US gets over the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Pakistan is doing little to stop this drift in negative opinion growing in the US.

Gone are the early days of the Obama administration when major efforts were made to woo Pakistan.

Now what Pakistan may lose as a US ally in the region, India will gain – something that should be worrying for the Pakistani ruling elite.

The failure of Pakistan to rebuild ties with the US is rooted in actual incidents, anger and real disputes.

But it is also down to the inability of the government or the military to make decisions that need to be taken collectively to preserve the state of relations with a powerful country which has acted in the past as Pakistan’s window to the West – especially in terms of loans, aid and business and exports.

Internal conflict

There has been an unprecedented growth in violence from north to south involving sectarian, ethnic, militant Islamic, criminal and other heavily armed groups which the government appears helpless to stop.

Continue reading BBC – Enormous frustration in Washington regarding Pakistan which is now seen by many in the US Congress and the military as an enemy rather than a friend.

Pakistan to face international sanctions if NATO routes stay closed: Defence Minister

LAHORE: If Pakistan refuses to reopen the Nato supply routes, it will have to face international sanctions, said Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar on Sunday. ….

Read more » The Express Tribune » BBC urdu

Some interesting comments from Rahimullah Yusufzai on al-Qaeda, Punjabi Taliban and more

“As of now, there isn’t much support for bin Laden or al-Qaeda”

— Rahimullah Yusufzai, a senior journalist who also had the opportunity to interview Osama bin Laden twice over in 1998 in Afghanistan

By Farah Zia

The News on Sunday: One year after bin Laden’s death, how safe is the world or the region?

Rahimullah Yusufzai: No, the world or the region is not safe; there still are problems. The Americans are saying the al-Qaeda remains a threat. Although the threat is diminished, they are still very cautious. That is the reason the US forces are still in Afghanistan; they will be staying there until 2014 and even after that. They have already signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government and it is possible they will have some military bases in Afghanistan, use special forces, deploy air power, drones and also have CIA agents. This is because they think there is still some threat from al-Qaeda and its allies including Taliban.

Apart from Afghanistan, they are also worried about al-Qaeda’s influence in the Middle East, Yemen, Iraq and certain African countries. Bin laden was a founder, financier and the spirit behind al-Qaeda but we have seen a younger generation of fighters joining al-Qaeda, especially from Arab countries.

So al-Qaeda will have some relevance even though the Arab Spring has affected it probably more than the military operations.

TNS: So you do buy the thesis that al-Qaeda has become irrelevant because of the Arab Spring?

RY: I think people now have other options; they can bring about change through peaceful means (though force had to be used in Libya and Yemen). When you can change rulers, kings and dictators, and form your own government, there will be less incentive to join al-Qaeda. But there will always be a hard core — certain people who will want to use force because the Americans are using force. There will still be reasons for people to join al-Qaeda. It will not finish; it will remain present in some form.

TNS: How do you look at the phenomenon of Pakistanisation of al-Qaeda viz. the nexus between it and TTP or the Punjabi Taliban?

RY: Al-Qaeda is now more dependent on the TTP than the Afghan Taliban. As long as the Afghan Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was headquartered there. Bin Laden and his colleagues were able to live there and were protected by the Afghan Taliban. But that changed after they lost power and their own leadership was displaced; al-Qaeda could no longer stay safe in Afghanistan and hence shifted to Pakistan. So the relation between Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda has become strong and its relation with Afghan Taliban has become weak. After the death of bin Laden Afghan, leaders like Mullah Omar are not as close to al-Qaeda leaders like Ayman al-Zwahiri as they were to bin Laden.

Al-Qaeda because of its presence in Pakistan and because of its links with Pakistani Taliban is a bigger threat in Pakistan than it is in Afghanistan now.

Continue reading Some interesting comments from Rahimullah Yusufzai on al-Qaeda, Punjabi Taliban and more

Zardari once again the “political maestro” – the government that wouldn’t fall

The government that wouldn’t fall

By: Cyril Almeida

WITH all the paper and crayons the PML-N carried to parliament the past week, you’d think a Leaguer or two could have spared some time to write a little letter.

Dear Madam Speaker, The PML-N believes that a question has arisen that Yousuf Raza Gilani stands disqualified as a member of parliament under Article 63(1)(g) of the constitution for bringing the judiciary into ridicule as stated by the Supreme Court in its conviction of Mr Gilani for contempt of court on Thursday, April 26, 2012.

Accordingly, under Article 63(2) of the constitution it is required of you as Speaker of the National Assembly to forward the question of Mr Gilani’s disqualification to the Election Commission of Pakistan for a final decision.

With kind regards, The PML-N.

A letter short enough to be written with a crayon on the back of a protest placard and handed over to the Speaker during one of the PML-N’s noisy protests on the floor of the National Assembly.

A letter that would have triggered the only constitutional process for declaring Gilani disqualified.

But in seven days of protests until the Assembly session was prorogued Friday, the N-League avoided the legal route and demanded Gilani’s resignation instead.

Behind that choice lies a political calculation. Take the legal route and the N-League risks its anti-PPP message being buried under an avalanche of legalese. The technicalities of Article 63 — can the Speaker decide no question of disqualification has arisen? If so, is there any appeal against the Speaker’s decision? Wouldn’t the matter ultimately return to the Supreme Court for an inconclusive answer? — are confounding.

Better a simpler message that the electorate can understand: the prime minister is a convict, his boss is corrupt, the Supreme Court tried to do the right thing; ergo, the prime minister should resign.

However, catchy as the slogans may be and fun as charged-up rallies will be, they also betray the opposition’s impotence.

This was originally a fight between the PPP and the SC [Supreme Court]; the PML-N are Johnny-come-latelies. Once the court baulked at pulling the trigger, the N-League’s ability to force the very outcome the court wasn’t willing to force was always going to be limited.

The reality is that the fundamentals that have been in place since 2009 have not changed. And until those system fundamentals change, regime change isn’t going to happen.

Think of it this way. At the centre is the PPP, surviving through a combination of unexpected political acumen — Zardari the political maestro, anyone? Gilani the heroic defender? — and luck.

The luck is that surrounding the PPP, as with every other civilian government, are three traditional rivals — the political opposition, the judiciary and the army — who can agree that they don’t like the PPP but can’t quite bring themselves to work in concert to attain the desired outcome.

For reasons of history and politics and systems, to engineer the downfall of a government you need at least two of the three forces opposing the government to align. PPP conspiracy theories aside, this time that combination just refuses to emerge.

With memogate there was, briefly, an almost perfect alignment. The army raised the alarm over Haqqani’s alleged antics, Sharif petitioned the court to take notice, the court swung into action, drawing out the blunt affidavits from the army chief and DG ISI and just like that, everyone seemed poised to plunge the knife into the PPP.

But then Sharif pulled back. He realised that he’d been lured into a trap to make an army vs PPP fight look like a PPP vs everyone scrap. Next, the army relented when the PPP refused to budge and another chapter in their frenemy relationship had been inked.

The court was the one which had formally gone the furthest, setting up a high-powered commission to investigate the silliness that was Mansoor Ijaz and his claims, so it’s taken the longest to extract itself from a battle that its fleeting allies have long since abandoned.

For all their dislike of the PPP, the problem is that the presumptive allies are also suspicious of each other. Nothing new there but it tends to get forgotten each time a political crisis erupts.

Nawaz doesn’t like the army, the army doesn’t trust Nawaz, neither would want a judiciary that would make life difficult for them if they have to run the show and the judiciary knows that when push comes to shove, it’s usually the judiciary that’s trampled underfoot.

Continue reading Zardari once again the “political maestro” – the government that wouldn’t fall