Thursday, September 29, 2011

Pakistan warns against U.S. attack on militants

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - U.S. military action against insurgents inPakistan would be unacceptable and the country's army would be capable of responding, intelligence chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha told a meeting of political leaders in Islamabad, according to media reports.
Express News TV cited Pasha as saying an "American attack on Pakistan in the name of (fighting) extremism is not acceptable."
However, several television news reports said Pasha had also told an all-party meeting to discuss the crisis in ties between Washington and Islamabad that Pakistan would not allow the situation to get to a "point of no return."
Pakistan has long faced U.S. demands to attack militants on its side of the border with Afghanistan.
But the pressure has escalated since the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, accused Pakistan last week of supporting an attack by the militant Haqqani network on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Support is growing in the U.S. Congress for expanding American military action in Pakistan beyond drone strikes against militants, said Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican voice on foreign policy and military affairs.
Islamabad is reluctant to go after the Haqqanis -- even though the United States provides billions of dollars in aid -- saying its troops are stretched fighting Taliban insurgents.
Pakistan says it has sacrificed more lives than any of the countries that joined the "war on terror" after the September 11 attacks by Islamist militants on the United States in 2001.
Pakistan's military faced withering public criticism after a surprise U.S. raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a garrison town not far from Islamabad in May.
A similar U.S. operation against militants in North Waziristan on the Afghan border, where American officials say the Haqqanis are based, would be another humiliation for the powerful army.
Graham said in an interview with Reuters that U.S. lawmakers might support military options beyond drone strikes that have been going on for years inside Pakistani territory.
Those options may include using U.S. bomber planes within Pakistan, said, adding that he did not advocate sending U.S. ground troops into the country.
"I would say when it comes to defending American troops, you don't want to limit yourself," Graham said. "This is not a boots-on-the-ground engagement -- I'm not talking about that, but we have a lot of assets beyond drones."
Graham said U.S. lawmakers would think about stepping up the military pressure. "If people believe it's gotten to the point that is the only way really to protect our interests, I think there would be a lot of support," he said.
Pakistan was designated a major non-Nato ally by the United States for its support of coalition military operations in Afghanistan after 9/11.
But their relationship has been dogged by mistrust. Although
regarded as critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, Pakistan is often seen from Washington as an unreliable partner.
Following U.S. accusations that some in the Pakistani government have aided anti-U.S. militants, Congress is re-evaluating its 2009 promise to triple non-military aid to Pakistan to a total of $7.5 billion over five years.
That aid came on top of billions in security assistance provided since 2001, which Washington is also rethinking.
Any unilateral U.S. military action to go after the Haqqanis would deepen anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which is already running high over U.S. drone strikes and other issues, reducing the space for the government and army to collaborate with Washington.
The Haqqani network is allied with Afghanistan's Taliban and is believed to have close links to al Qaeda. It fights U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan. The group's leader says it is no longer based in North Waziristan and feels secure operating in Afghanistan after making battlefield gains.
(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Augustine Anthony in Islamabad, Mirwais Harooni in Kabul and Missy Ryan and Susan Cornwall in Washington; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by John Chalmers)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Analysis: Pakistan's double-game: treachery or strategy?

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Washington has just about had it with Pakistan.
"Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States," fumed Republican Representative Ted Poe last week. "We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let's not pay them at all."
For many in America, Islamabad has been nothing short of perfidious since joining a strategic alliance with Washington 10 years ago: selectively cooperating in the war on extremist violence and taking billions of dollars in aid to do the job, while all the time sheltering and supporting Islamist militant groups that fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has angrily denied the charges, but if its critics are right, what could the explanation be for such duplicity? What strategic agendas might be hidden behind this puzzling statecraft?
The answer is that Pakistan wants to guarantee for itself a stake in Afghanistan's political future.
It knows that, as U.S. forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, ethnic groups will be competing for ascendancy there and other regional powers - from India to China and Iran - will be jostling for a foot in the door.
Islamabad's support for the Taliban movement in the 1990s gives it an outsized influence among Afghanistan's Pashtuns, who make up about 42 percent of the total population and who maintain close ties with their Pakistani fellow tribesmen.
In particular, Pakistan's powerful military is determined there should be no vacuum in Afghanistan that could be filled by its arch-foe, India.
Pakistan has fought three wars with its neighbor since the bloody partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of the country in 1947, and mutual suspicion still hobbles relations between the two nuclear-armed powers today.
"They still think India is their primary policy," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and prominent political analyst. "India is always in the back of their minds."
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani - unprompted - complained that Washington's failure to deal even-handedly with New Delhi and Islamabad was a source of regional instability.
Aqil Shah, a South Asia security expert at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said Islamabad's worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which it fears would pursue activities hostile to Pakistan.
"Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns," Shah wrote in a Foreign Affairs article this week.
Although Pakistan, an Islamic state, officially abandoned support for the predominantly Pashtun Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, elements of the military never made the doctrinal shift.
Few doubt that the shadowy intelligence directorate, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has maintained links to the Taliban that emerged from its support for the Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Until recently, there appeared to be a grudging acceptance from Washington that this was the inevitable status quo.
That was until it emerged in May that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden - who was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid - had been hiding out in a Pakistani garrison town just two hours up the road from Islamabad, by some accounts for up to five years.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been stormy ever since, culminating in a tirade by the outgoing U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, last week.
Mullen described the Haqqani network, the most feared faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of the ISI and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group's September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The reaction in Islamabad has been one of stunned outrage.
Washington has not gone public with evidence to back its accusation, and Pakistani officials say that contacts with the Haqqani group do not amount to actual support.
However, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-populist-politician, said this week that it was too much to expect that old friends could have become enemies overnight.
He told Reuters that, instead of demanding that Pakistan attack the Haqqanis in the mountainous border region of North Waziristan, the United States should use Islamabad's leverage with the group to bring the Afghan Taliban into negotiations.
"Haqqani could be your ticket to getting them on the negotiating table, which at the moment they are refusing," Khan said. "So I think that is a much saner policy than to ask Pakistan to try to take them on."
The big risk for the United States in berating Islamabad is that it will exacerbate anti-American sentiment, which already runs deep in Pakistan, and perhaps embolden it further.
C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, said Pakistan was probably gambling that the United States' economic crisis and upcoming presidential elections would distract Washington.
"The real game is unfolding on the ground with the Americans. The Pakistan army is betting that the United States does not have too many choices and more broadly that the U.S. is on the decline, he said.
It is also becoming clear that as Pakistan's relations with Washington deteriorate, it can fall back into the arms of its "all-weather friend," China, the energy-hungry giant that is the biggest investor in Afghanistan's nascent resources sector.
Pakistani officials heaped praise on Beijing this week as a Chinese minister visited Islamabad. Among them was army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the country's most powerful man, who spoke of China's "unwavering support."
In addition, Pakistan has extended a cordial hand to Iran, which also shares a border with Afghanistan.
Teheran has been mostly opposed to the Taliban, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims while Iran is predominantly Shi'ite. But Iran's anti-Americanism is more deep-seated.
"My reading is the Iranians want to see the Americans go," said Raja Mohan, the Indian analyst. "They have a problem with the Taliban, but any American retreat will suit them. Iran in the short term is looking at the Americans being humiliated."
The supremacy of the military in Pakistan means that Washington has little to gain little from wagging its finger about ties with the Taliban at the civilian government, which is regularly lashed for its incompetence and corruption.
"The state has become so soft and powerless it can't make any difference," said Masood, the Pakistani retired general. "Any change will have to come from the military."
Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for South Asia at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the problem lies with a security establishment that continues to believe that arming and working - actively and passively - with militant groups serves its purposes.
"Until ... soul-searching takes place within the Pakistani military and the ISI, you're not likely to see an end to these U.S. demands, and a real shift in terms of the relationship," Markey said in an online discussion this week. "This is the most significant shift that has to take place."
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pakistan pushes back against U.S., woos China


ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan warned the United States on Tuesday to stop accusing it of playing a double game with Islamist militants and heaped praise on "all-weather friend" China.

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, speaking exclusively to Reuters, said any unilateral military action by the United States to hunt down militants of the Haqqani network inside Pakistan would be a violation of his country's sovereignty.

However, he side-stepped questions on the tense relations with the United States and offered no indications of any steps Pakistan might take to soothe the fury in Washington.

The outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, last week described the Haqqani network, the most violent faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's ISI spy agency and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group's September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

"The negative messaging, naturally that is disturbing my people," Gilani said in the interview from his office in Islamabad. "If there is messaging that is not appropriate to our friendship, then naturally it is extremely difficult to convince my public. Therefore they should be sending positive messages."

Since Mullen's comments, Pakistan has launched a diplomatic counter-attack and attempted to drum up support from its strongest ally in the region, China.

Pakistani officials have been heaping praise on China since its public security minister arrived here on Monday for high-level talks.

"We are true friends and we count on each other," Gilani said in separate comments broadcast on television networks after talks with Meng Jianzhu on Tuesday.

The military, Pakistan's most powerful institution, also said it appreciated its giant Asian neighbor's support. Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani thanked Meng for China's "unwavering support".

China and Pakistan call each other "all-weather friends" and their close ties have been underpinned by long-standing wariness of their common neighbor, India, and a desire to hedge against U.S. influence across the region.

"They (the Pakistanis) are trying to use their diplomatic options as much as possible to defuse pressure on them. They hope China will help them in this crisis," said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.


Asked why the United States had suddenly ratcheted up its criticism of Pakistan, Gilani implied that it reflected Washington's frustration with the war in Afghanistan ahead of a withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country in 2014.

"Certainly they expected more results from Afghanistan, which they have not been able to achieve as yet," he said. "They have not achieved what they visualized."

Rejecting allegations that Islamabad was behind any violence across its border, he said: "It is in the interest of Pakistan to have a stable Afghanistan".

The United States has been pressing Pakistan to attack the Haqqani network, which it believes is based in North Waziristan near the Afghan border. Sirajuddin Haqqani, the head of the group, says it is no longer based in Pakistan and feels safe operating in Afghanistan.

Analysts say Pakistan sees the Haqqanis as a counterweight to the growing influence of rival India in Afghanistan and is highly unlikely to go after the group.

The United States seems frustrated at its inability to influence Pakistani policy on militants.

In a meeting with her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, at the United Nations on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Beijing to open a dialogue with Washington on Pakistan.

"We have stated this before, but there's clearly an urgency given recent developments and also given the close relationship that exists between Pakistan and China," a State Department official said in a briefing to reporters.


China is vastly more popular in Pakistan than the United States, which is seen as fickle and favoring India.

Much of the Pakistani public believes that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has tilted toward India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since the violent partition of the subcontinent in 1947.

In a demonstration of that distrust, hundreds turned out on Tuesday for anti-American rallies in Pakistani cities.

In Hyderabad, they burned pictures of U.S. President Barack Obama and Mullen, while in Karachi they protested in front of the U.S. consulate and the headquarters of the Pakistan People's Party. In Landikotal in the Khyber agency near the Afghan border, about 1,000 people turned out for a rally organized by the religious party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Also on Tuesday, a suspected U.S. drone strike on a house in Azam Warsak village in South Waziristan's tribal region on the Afghan border killed at least three alleged militants, local intelligence officials said.

Gilani pointed out that Washington did not help itself when it struck a deal on civilian nuclear cooperation with New Delhi but not Islamabad.

"There is an acute shortage of electricity in Pakistan. And there are riots. And the opposition is playing to the gallery because there is a shortage of electricity," he said.

"But they (the United States) are doing the civilian nuclear deal not with Pakistan, but with India. Now how can I convince my public that they are your (Pakistan's) friends and not the friends of India? ... the perception matters."

In a tit-for-tat deal in May, Pakistan inaugurated its second Chinese-made nuclear power reactor. China is building two more reactors at the same site, despite international misgivings about risks to nuclear safety and the integrity of non-proliferation rules.

China has also helped build the deep-sea Gwadar port on Pakistan's Arabian Sea coast, partly with a view to opening up an energy and trade corridor from the Gulf to western China, and has been a major supplier of military hardware to Pakistan.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robert Woodward)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Afghan employee kills U.S. citizen at Kabul CIA base


By Mirwais Harooni and Emma Graham-Harrison | Reuters

KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan employee of the U.S. government opened fire inside a CIA office in Kabul on Sunday evening, killing an American and injuring a second, U.S. and Afghan officials said, in the second major breach of embassy security in two weeks.

The killing adds to a sense of insecurity already heightened by a 20 hour-siege of the diplomatic district in mid-September, and the assassination a week later of the top government peace envoy, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The CIA compound inside the Ariana hotel is one of the most heavily guarded in Kabul, and has been off-limits -- along with the road that runs beside it -- for almost a decade, since shortly after the Taliban's fall from power in 2001.

It also lies at the heart of the capital's heavily guarded military, political and diplomatic district, a virtual "green zone" that is almost impossible for ordinary Afghans to enter.

It was not clear if the U.S. citizens were victims of a rogue employee who had been won over to the insurgent cause, or just the escalation of an argument in a city where tensions are high and many people carry guns. There are precedents for both.

The "lone attacker" was killed, and the injured U.S. citizen was taken to a military hospital, U.S. embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall said on Monday.

"There was a shooting incident at an annex of the U.S. embassy in Kabul last night involving an Afghan employee who was killed. The motivation for the attack is still under investigation at this time," Sundwall said.

Sundwall declined comment on whether the annex housed the CIA, but Kabul Police Chief Ayub Salangi said there had been an exchange of fire at the Ariana hotel, which he described as a CIA office. He declined further comment on what happened in an area where access is restricted even for Afghan forces.


The shooting follows a string of attacks by Afghan security forces against their NATO-led mentors carried out either by "rogue" soldiers and police or by insurgents who have infiltrated security forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid could not immediately be reached for comment, but a senior Taliban commander reached by phone from Pakistan said the man had secretly joined the insurgents after a group of Taliban approached him to remind him "of his moral and religious duty as an Afghan."

"He used the enemy's weapons against the enemy and that's what we have been doing everywhere in Afghanistan," said the Taliban commander, who is operating in Afghanistan and asked for anonymity for security reasons.

"This place is at the heart of Kabul and we wanted to tell the Americans that we can chase them anywhere," he added.

The Ariana hotel is just a few blocks away from the Presidential Palace and the U.S. embassy, and has been used by ruling regimes for many years.

Waheed Mujhda, of the Afghan Analytical and Advisory Center in Kabul, questioned the Taliban's claim of responsibility and said the incident characterized the level of mistrust between the United States and its Afghan allies.

"This is a big security concern for the Americans and it shows they can't fully trust their Afghan staff. But the Americans never want to accept that there are serious trust and cooperation issues and they have encountered that in their security operations with Afghan forces."


The CIA suffered the second deadliest attack in its history on an Afghan base at the end of 2009, when a would-be informant blew himself up, killing seven CIA officers.

The agency has acknowledged "missteps" and "shortcomings" that included failing to act on warnings about the assailant from Jordanian intelligence or take security precautions.

Suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi tricked the CIA into believing he could be a useful tool in the battle against al Qaeda, and was invited inside a well-fortified U.S. compound in Khost province, near the border with Pakistan.

The CIA director at the time, Leon Panetta, made 23 changes after that attack, but noted that counterterrorism work still required working with "dangerous people in situations involving a high degree of ambiguity and risk."

Sunday's shooting came the same month that insurgents took over an unfinished high-rise near the city's heavily guarded military, political and diplomatic heart and showered rockets down on the U.S. embassy and NATO headquarters.

That attack lasted 20 hours, and the United States has blamed it on the Haqqani network of militants, who were long based in Pakistan's lawless frontier regions although they now say they have moved back into Afghanistan.

Washington accused Pakistan's spy service of offering them support. Pakistan has strongly denied the allegations.

(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR, Mark Hosenball in WASHINGTON and Martin Petty in KABUL;)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Senator: Consider military action against Pakistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the U.S. should consider military action against Pakistan if it continues to support terrorist attacks against American troops in Afghanistan.
"The sovereign nation of Pakistan is engaging in hostile acts against the United States and our ally Afghanistan that must cease, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told "Fox News Sunday."
He said if experts decided that the U.S. needs to "elevate its response," he was confident there would be strong bipartisan support in Congress for such action.
Graham did not call for military action but said "all options" should be considered. He said assistance to Pakistan should be reconfigured and that the U.S. should no longer designate an amount of aid for Pakistan but have a more "transactional relationship" with the country.
"They're killing American soldiers," he said. "If they continue to embrace terrorism as a part of their national strategy, we're going to have to put all options on the table, including defending our troops."
In testimony last week to Graham's committee, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Pakistan's powerful military intelligence agency had backed extremists in planning and executing the assault on the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan and a truck bomb attack that wounded 77 American soldiers. Both occurred this month.
Mullen contended that the Haqqani insurgent network "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency as it undermined U.S.-Pakistan relations, already tenuous because of the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan exports violence, Mullen said, and threatens any success in the 10-year-old war.
Graham said Pakistan does cooperate with the U.S. in actions against al-Qaida. But he said the Pakistani military feels threatened by a democracy in Afghanistan and is betting that the Taliban will come back there.
"The best solution is for Pakistan to fight all forms of terrorism, embrace working with us so that we can deal with terrorism along their border, because it is the biggest threat to stability," he said. "But Pakistan is terrorism itself. They have made a tremendous miscalculation."