Thursday 26 May 2011

Rocky relations between Pakistan and the USA

A useful summary of Pakistan-American relations just published by the Congressional Research Service  notes that bilateral distrust has 'peaked' since the death of Osama bin Laden, with some members of Congress openly calling for significant reductions in US aid to Pakistan.
Relations between the two countries have certainly come under pressure in 2011, with the Raymond Davis affair, the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, the revelation that Osama bin Laden had been living in the heart of a Pakistani military cantonment for several years, controversy over US drone strikes and a general cooling of relations between the CIA and the ISI, Pakistan's intelligence service. 
In addition, as Pakistan's relations with the US have deteriorated, it has moved closer than ever before to China, with private companies recently signing contracts worth $15 billion, along with $20 billion-worth of government-to-government deals.
In March, the US summed up its relations with Pakistan by stating "Progress in our relationship with Pakistan over the last year has been substantial, but uneven", although there had been significant progress in combating al-Qaeda in the region. Despite these deep reservations, on 18 March, Hillary Clinton certified that Pakistan had made progress on ceasing support to extremist and terrorist groups. However, the outlook for the rest of 2011 is deemed to be poor.

Headley spills the beans on his ISI handlers

Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, aka 'Pasha'
David Coleman Headley, the Pakistani-American and former DEA informant, is providing entertaining testimony in the Chicago trial of Tahawwur Hussain Rana, accused of providing support to the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Headley is going full tilt to implicate Pakistan's ISI intelligence service in the attacks, yesterday alleging that he had done most of his reconnaissance in coordination with a retired Pakistani military officer called Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, also known as 'Pasha'. Rehman has also been indicted for conspiracy to murder by the same court and for providing material help to terrorists, although he is still at large in Pakistan. The indictment can be found here.
You can find Rana's indictment - which also indicts the notorious al-Qaeda and Lashkar-e-Toiba leader Ilyas Kashmiri - here.
All the exhibits in the trial, including some useful photos and maps, as well as emails between Headley and Rana, can be found here.
Headley himself has already pleaded guilty to 12 terrorism charges connected to Mumbai and an aborted plan to attack the Danish newspaper Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. He was able to negotiate a plea bargain deal that means he will be spared the death penalty so long as he continues to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. The plea agreement itself can be found here

Tuesday 24 May 2011

An assessment of recent negotiations with the Taliban

Thomas Ruttig has written a useful summary of the state of 'negotiations' between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Battle for Afghanistan: Negotiations with the Taliban; History and Prospects for the Future, published by the New America Foundation, notes that for the first time last year the Karzai government admitted that there was contact with Taliban leaders, although it played them down as unsubstantial not leading to any concrete results: "Without doubt, contacts between the Karzai government and individual insurgents exist, but they have not been systematized and there is still no comprehensive strategy for going forward on talks or even negotiations on reconciliation" says Ruttig.
He says NATO has also confirmed that it has facilitated the talks, presumably by giving guarantees for interlocutors and Taliban officials. At the same time, its kill-and-capture programme aimed at Taliban leaders appears to be going against the whole idea of reconciliation, with the added danger that by killing Taliban leaders who want to negotiate, the future will be left to younger and more radicalised leaders.
Ruttig says the High Peace Council, consisting of 70 members nominated by President Karzai has little credibility with ordinary Afghans, who perceive it as a body aimed at achieving a 'Pashtun' settlement, at the expense of other minorities and women.
A fourth point made by Ruttig is that the Pakistani authorities have stopped denying that they support (and largely control) the Afghan Taliban. They can 'deliver' Taliban leaders to peace talks or they can stop them, as in the case of Mullah Abdul Ghani Barodar, who was arrested by the Pakistanis for taking part in negotiations without their say-so. This stranglehold that Pakistan exerts over the Taliban, for its own purposes, is resented by many members of the organisation.
Ruttig recommends that peace negotiations should continue, but that it is vital that they discuss all the core causes of the conflict. Initially this would be involve international organisations 'holding the hand' of the Afghan institutions, but later it would be important that Afghans themselves were seen to be leading the process. "Talks with insurgents–direct or indirect–would be only one part of the overall reconciliation process, which would be aimed at reaching an initial political settlement to end violence, creating transitional institutions to pursue the process, and providing a mechanism for constitutional and institutional reform," says Ruttig.
He also advocates bringing in other regional powers such as Russia and China into the negotiations and moving the United States away from a policy of 'talking and shooting' to 'talking instead of shooting.' He says the High Peace Council should be reformed by broadening participation and creating checks and balances.
Confidence building measures such as dropping UN sanctions against Taliban leaders and releasing imprisoned members of the organisation should be speeded up.

Monday 23 May 2011

The Haqqani's shaky peace deal in Kurram Agency

When Sunni and Shia tribesmen in the strategically important Kurram Agency in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas signed a peace agreement in February this year, it was clear that something was afoot. The two groups had been at each other's throats for several years. Shia members of the Turi tribe living in Upper Kurram had been the subject of a murderous campaign by neighbouring Sunni Bangash tribesmen and had been cut off from the rest of Pakistan by ambushes and road blocks that had seen hundreds of Shias taken out of buses and murdered at the side of the road. The main road to Peshawar, for example, had been closed since 2007, despite attempts by the Pakistani army to keep it open. According to some accounts, the Shias have been armed and supported by the Iranian regime, which is also predominantly Shia.
Much of this anti-Shia violence has been directed by Hakimullah Mahsud, now leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, but once its emir in Kurram, Orakzai and Khyber. Mahsud is vehemently anti-Shia, regarding them as 'pagans'. He has encouraged his fighters fleeing the Pakistani offensives in both South Waziristan and also Swat to regroup in Orakzai and Kurram and to take on the Shias.
The peace agreement was brokered by the Haqqanis, the family/tribal group who make up one of the main factions of the Afghan Taliban - whose members come from the Zadran tribe. The so-called Haqqani network is now recognised as the most sophisticated and capable insurgent organisation in Afghanistan, operating out of its main bases in North Waziristan.
Under pressure from the CIA drone campaign in North Waziristan and with the support of elements of the Pakistan military, who provide their finance and weapons, the Haqqanis have been looking to move their operations into Kurram, which provides easy access to Afghanistan. Kurram suits the bill perfectly, as it served as a major staging post for attacks against Soviet forces during the 1980s. Osama bin Laden helped build some of the training camps in the region and it is thought that the remnants of al-Qaeda - as well as other foreign forces in the region such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan - and also Pakistani jihadist groups close to the military such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba will benefit from the peace deal with the Turi tribe.
According to a new report from the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project , written by Jeffrey Dressler and Reza Jan, the Haqqani's move into Kurram will have negative consequences for security and stability in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. They say it will become more difficult to identify, track and strike these groups once they have relocated.
This may be true, although it can hardly be in Iran's interests to allow the Taliban to come to power in Afghanistan. Nor is it likely that the deeply sectarian Sunnis under the command of Hakimullah Mahsud will be able to restrain themselves from killing Shias for very long, thus provoking yet another round of bloodletting in the region. This is a very shaky peace agreement indeed.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Another rubbish story

"There are no telephone lines or internet connection and bin Laden and his household burned all their rubbish rather than put it out for collection."
This one really made me laugh. In my experience, this is the universal way of disposing of rubbish in Pakistan, where trash collection is a luxury few can afford. A briefing by Pakistan's own Environment department states: "Unfortunately, none of cities in Pakistan has a proper solid waste management system right from collection of solid waste up to its proper disposal."

US National Archives releases new bin Laden files

Readers will forgive me if I resist the temptation to join in the general spluttering and speculating that has greeted the death of Osama bin Laden. I have read so much drivel in the last couple of days as every media organisation in the world has emptied its bottom drawer to fill page after page (screen after screen, etc) with vacuous irrelevance.
The best joke I heard was "Congratulations to the Americans. In Britain it is impossible to get a bin taken out on a Bank Holiday weekend". That one may not travel, but is the first of many, I am sure.
In the meantime - and if you really have not yet had enough bin Laden in your diet - I suggest you try the US National Archives, which has just published a remarkably informative bin Laden file containing some fascinating documents.
Available for the first time are: the CIA's 1996 3-page biographical sketch of bin Laden; the President's Daily Brief from 6 August 2001 warning "Bin Ladin determined to Strike in US"; a State Department issue paper from 2005 stating that "Some Taliban leaders operate with relative impunity in some Pakistan cities"; a 400-page Sandia National Laboratories profile of bin Laden, focussing on the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; a State Department cable on the Taliban's regrouping in Pakistan's Tribal Areas, making them "a sanctuary beyond the reach of either government"; the demands made on Pakistan immediately after 9/11 by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage; and an account of the only known conversation between the US government and Taliban leader Mullah Omar which took place in 1998. This latter conversation, initiated by Mullah Omar, came just two days after the controversial US Cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the East African Embassy bombings.

Apaches demand apology for slur on Geronimo

I have every sympathy with the Fort Sill Apache Tribe who have written to President Obama asking him why the name of their revered ancestor Geronimo was used as a codename for Osama bin Laden in the operation that led to his death in Pakistan. The fact that bin Laden had been killed was reported back to Washington with the words "Geronimo EKIA" - Enemy Killed in Action.
"Our Tribe like most of the country was ecstatic about your announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a military operation in Pakistan. The performance of our military and intelligence agencies in locating and taking action against Osama bin Laden made us all of proud to be Americans", writes Jeff Houser, who in these democratic days, is chairman of the tribe.
"To equate Geronimo or any other native American figure with Osama bin Laden, a mass murderer and cowardly terrorist, is painful and offensive to our tribe and all Native Americans," he adds.
"Geronimo was a renowned Chiricahua Apache leader who personally fought to defend his people, territory and way of life. Unlike the coward Osama bin Laden, Geronimo faced his enemy in numerous battles and engagements. He is perhaps one of the greatest symbols of Native American resistance in the history of the United States."
Houser points out that in 2009 the US House of Representatives honoured Geronimo for "his extraordinary bravery, and his commitment to the defense of his homeland, his people and Apache way of life".
Geronimo and his people lived in Southern New Mexico and Arizona until 1886, when they were forcibly removed and held as prisoners of war for 28 years. They were eventually released in 1914 in Oklahoma, where today's members of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe still live, although they have never given up on their wish to return to their homelands. Geronimo died after 23 years in captivity.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Memories of Abbottabad

Sir James Abbott in Afghan costume - courtesy National Portrait Gallery
In October 2009 I spent a wonderful day in Abbottabad in the company of friends from the Amaan Ittehad organisation, who had organised a large public event calling for the restoration of democracy and justice in Pakistan. It was my one and only visit to the town - now notorious for ever more as the final hiding place of Osama bin Laden. I was struck by two things - the warmth and friendship of the people there, who did everything possible to facilitate my visit and to make me feel at home; and secondly, the remnants of so many signs of the Raj.
On the hillside, close to what is now Pakistan's premier army officer training school, stands the pretty little church of St Luke's, Abbottabad, while in the centre of the town the barracks can hardly have changed since the days in 1848 when James 'Kaka' Abbott, supported by Hazara and Pashtun tribesmen, drove the Sikhs under Chatar Singh from this area forever.
St Luke's Church, Abbottabad
Abbott was regarded as a hero by the Hazarawals and when he was removed from his post as district commissioner in 1852 for 'going native' he decided to throw a huge party for all the people of the district. It is said he spent everything he had saved to provide food for the party, which was held on Nara Hill, site of his most glorious victories against the Sikhs. According to his replacement, Herbert Edwardes: "And there for three days and nights he might be seen walking among the groups of guests and hecatombs of pots and cauldrons - the kind and courteous host of a whole people." After 18 years of loyal service, he was summarily transferred to the government gunpowder factory in Calcutta. He eventually retired a General and was knighted in 1894, two years before he died.