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Wednesday, 29 October 2008

From Today's Papers - 29 Oct

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Pakistani troops shell Indian positions along LoC

PTI | October 28, 2008 | 14:33 IST

Less than a fortnight after Pakistan promised to stop cross-border firing, its troops on Tuesday shelled Indian posts, again violating the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistani troops fired mortar shells and rocket projectile grenades and opened small arms firing on Indian posts along LoC in Sabzian area of Poonch district at around 11.45 pm on Monday night, a senior army official told PTI.

Around 10 shells were intermittently fired for nearly half an hour, he said adding that these shells exploded away from the forward posts and there was no casualty on the Indian side.

Border Security Force troops of 192 battalion, guarding the border line, observed calm despite provocation and did not retaliate.

The ceasefire violation by Pakistan came less than a fortnight after India and Pakistan decided to refrain from cross-border firing and shelling and to preserve the sanctity of the four-year-old ceasefire along Indo-Pak border.

This was agreed at a two-day long bi-annual meeting between Pakistan Rangers and the BSF at Lahore on October 16 during which Pakistan Rangers Director General Lt Gen Mohammad Yaqoob Khan promised to Additional Director General BSF U K Bansal that there would be no ceasefire violations henceforth while acknowledging that there had been some violations earlier.

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Beneath US-Pakistani tension, a new cooperation

Joint efforts include setting up coordination centers along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

By Mark Sappenfield | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Amid stories of missile strikes and firefights between Pakistani and American forces on the Afghan border, Brig. Gen. Mark Milley has his own to tell.

Two weeks ago, insurgents in Pakistan lobbed mortars at US forces in Afghanistan. When the Americans alerted the Pakistani Army, its response was unambiguous. Not only could the US fire back, but Pakistani soldiers acted as spotters.

It is one small example of how Pakistan is starting to cooperate more with the US and Afghanistan in fighting the insurgency in its tribal areas. Attempts to find solutions jointly are being made across a wide spectrum, from the opening of border coordination centers shared by the three nations' armies to talks among tribal leaders.

The shift is born of a growing recognition in the Pakistani Army of the danger of the insurgency, as well as thawing relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There are suspicions to overcome – going back decades, in the case of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The council, or "jirga," of Afghan and Pakistani tribal leaders in Islamabad, Pakistan, that ended Tuesday is a sign of strengthening cross-border ties that have long been strained. Yet the US campaign of unilaterally firing missiles at militant targets inside Pakistan is evidence of lingering mistrust.

Still, both regional experts and General Milley, deputy commanding general of Combined Joint Task Force 101 in Afghanistan, say greater regional cooperation is central to defeating an insurgency that pays little attention toborders.

"This [Afghan] insurgency is only half the insurgency," says Milley. "What we have to do is work closely with the sovereign nation of Pakistan and the sovereign nation of Afghanistan to have success in full."

Wary neighbors reach out

At the two-day "mini-jirga" concluded Tuesday, prominent Pashtun political and tribal leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan discussed ways to stem militancy. Both sides agreed to seek talks with the Taliban, though that option was favored more by Pakistani delegates than Afghan ones.

The 50-man mini-jirga was the first follow-up to the grand jirga held in Kabul last August, despite plans to hold mini-jirgas every two months thereafter. Improving relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have created space for the mini-jirgas to resume.

"The mini-jirga is a welcome signal," says Aimal Khan, a tribal expert at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute in Islamabad.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has made significant efforts to reach out to Afghanistan since he took office last month. Not only did he offer Afghan President Hamid Karzai the olive branch of an invitation to his inauguration, but his government has initiated a new dialogue with Kabul.

This contrasts strikingly to the previous regime of Pervez Musharraf. "Musharraf and Karzai … looked at each other as adversaries," says Rifaat Hussain, a military analyst at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

For decades, Afghanistan and Pakistan have viewed each other with deep suspicion. Pakistan resents Afghanistan's strong friendship with archrival India and fears that such an alliance – if allowed to grow – could result in Pakistan being surrounded by enemies.

Afghans say Pakistan has prevented this by repeatedly interfering in Afghanistan's domestic affairs – for example, its support of the Taliban in the 1990s and the mujahideen before that.

At an Oct. 22 meeting in Islamabad with his Afghan counterpart, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said: "We have been able to overcome the hiccups of the past."

Efforts at military cooperation

Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak has gone so far as to propose a joint border force of American, Pakistani, and Afghan soldiers that could engage terrorists without regard for international borders. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, called it "a great idea."

"This will increase honesty and trust," says Gen. Abdul Zahir Azimi, an Afghan Army spokesman.

While Mr. Wardak's suggestion has not been officially endorsed in Washington or Islamabad, the process of military-to-military cooperation is taking place daily in an outpost on the rugged border near the Khyber Pass – the main thoroughfare between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Khyber Border Coordination Center is both the biggest test – and the biggest hope – of this nascent cross-border collaboration. In it, Afghan, Pakistani, and American soldiers sit side by side, tasked with one goal: to better synchronize the operations of the three armies.

"It is your left hand talking to your right hand," says Milley, whose Combined Joint Task Force 101 provides American troops for the facility.

The facility near the Khyber Pass opened two months ago. It is the first of six planned coordination centers, designed as nodes for communication between Pakistani and coalition forces along the border.

"These centers are enormously important," says Lisa Curtis, a South Asia analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "They're the only way we're going to start to get control over the border."

While their functions are limited – they will do no intelligence-gathering, for example – there is a need for simply establishing some measure of transparency among the three armies.

For example, America's unilateral missile strikes in Pakistan are partially because the US distrusts the Pakistani Army, says Professor Hussain. The Central Intelligence Agency has alleged that rogue elements of the Pakistani Army support some militant organizations.

"The US is not telling Pakistan [about its missile attacks] on the suspicion that the intelligence might be compromised," says Hussain.

Mistrust remains

Indeed, in many respects Pakistan and the US are far from synchronized. American officials are increasingly focusing on militant networks that Pakistan has long cultivated as proxy armies against Afghanistan, such as those of Jalaluddin Haqqani and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"We have not seen an unambiguous policy toward the Taliban" from Pakistan, says Ms. Curtis.

To the contrary, recent debates in the Pakistani parliament condemned US missile strikes and revealed a significant degree of sympathy for those elements of the militancy not seen to be a threat to Pakistan.

"Every country operates in its own self-interest," says Milley.

But he sees progress among the Pakistani generals he meets. "There is an increasing recognition of a mutual threat," says Milley. "Six or eight months ago, they might have looked at the problem differently."

The first time he met with generals from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the autumn of 2007, the groups sat on opposite sides of the table and Pakistani officials hardly addressed Afghans, who sat in silence.

Last month, Afghans and Pakistanis were sprinkled around the table and "all sides were talking vigorously," he adds. "Clearly there was respect."

This is the hope, says Curtis. "What we saw in the past was constant accusations: Pakistan blaming NATO for not doing its job, and Afghanistan blaming Pakistan," she says.

"As they sit together, this will build trust – they will share information and get involved in operational planning," she continues.

Adds military analyst Hussain: "If you launch coordinated strikes, and all stakeholders know what's going on, you are not going to have as much hue and cry as you do now."

Shahan Mufti contributed from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Richard Weitz: 10/28/08

Even though Pakistan has restored a civilian government, the country's military establishment will retain considerable influence, experts agreed during a recent panel discussion in Washington. Complicating efforts to define their new relationship, Pakistan's civil and military leaders must also manage pressure from Washington to contain Islamic radicalism.

Shuja Nawaz, author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within, was one of the featured speakers at the October 22 discussion, which was co-hosted by the Asia Society and the Atlantic Council. Nawaz said Pakistan's civil and military leaders have a long history of contentious relations, and, as a result, the country is caught in a cycle of "conflict between the coercive power of the army and the constitutional and legal authority of the state."

Decades of formal and de facto military rule have instituted a problematic political pattern. "Whenever the civilian government has taken over from an autocratic government," Nawaz maintained, "it has found it extremely difficult to get rid of the autocratic powers that the previous government had."

"The military is watching and waiting and, when it feels that things have gotten out of hand," it decides that "it is time for us to save the country" and seizes power again, Nawaz continued.

Now is a time that the vicious cycle could finally be broken, Nawaz contended. "The ball is in the court of the civilian administration to assert itself," Nawaz said. "We have a great opportunity, yet again, with an army chief who is saying, yet again, that he wants to be professional and keep the army out of politics."

Another featured speaker, Lisa Curtis, a Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, stressed historical continuities in the Pakistani-American defense relationship. Curtis suggested that while the threats perceived by Washington have changed over time - moving from Soviet expansionism during the Cold War to Islamic radicalism in the post-9/11 era - the attention of Pakistan's generals has remained fixed on India throughout the past few decades.

Another unwelcome continuity that Curtis pointed out is "the lack of accountability and transparency" in US-Pakistani assistance programs, which prompts members of the US Congress and of the Pakistani public alike to wonder "where is all this assistance from the United States is going?" [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. At the same time, Curtis warned that recent history shows that making an abrupt turn away from Pakistan can have "extremely negative repercussions." To highlight her point, Curtis noted that in the 1990s, when Washington abruptly withdrew from Afghanistan and sanctioned Pakistan for its nuclear weapons tests, Pakistani leaders created the Taliban and transferred nuclear technology to Iran.

"We need to engage in more serious and frank dialogue with Pakistani civilian and military leaders about the situation around the Pakistani border, as well as the situation inside Afghanistan," Curtis said. "This has to be a conversation. The United States needs to listen to Pakistan's geo-strategic concerns and demonstrate that it supports Pakistan's long-term success and prosperity."

In tandem with substantive give-and-take, Washington "will have to use discretion in carrying out [unilateral] strikes" against suspected militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, since such attacks can "undermine longer-term US objectives of building partnership with Pakistan and preventing radical forces from strengthening in the country," Curtis said.

The event's third featured speaker, Walter Andersen, associate director of the South Asia Studies Program at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, cautioned that while Pakistan's current military leaders might want to remain outside of the nation's politics, adhering to that aim will be challenging "in a country in which you have a well-organized army that operates in an underdeveloped political system."

According to Anderson, what Pakistan most needs is "civil-military consultation to head off a confrontation." In particular, the two interest groups need to find accord on the role of the Inter-Services Intelligence and on parliament's oversight functions concerning defense issues. Without institutionalized cooperation, the political process stands to suffer "a loss of trust between civilian and military leaders that could slow down, and maybe even set back the transition to democracy that they all say that they want," Anderson said.

Editor's Note: Richard Weitz is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.

The Phantom Enemy

October 28, 2008: Pakistan has asked the IMF (International Monetary Fund) for some financial help. The IMF will do so, but only if the Pakistanis reduce their military budget by 30 percent over the next five years. The financial crises stems from government spending more money than it has, in order to keep people happy, while continuing to build up their armed forces. This lack of fiscal discipline has made potential lenders reluctant to throw good money after bad.

The U.S. has given Pakistan nearly $8 billion in aid since September 11, 2001. About 40 percent of that was economic aid, while the rest was for the military, mainly to assist in fighting Islamic terrorism. But much of the money intended for counter-terrorism was diverted to shore up forces facing India, and some of it was stolen. The Pakistani generals are willing to stare down the U.S., and the IMF. While the U.S. has backed off, the IMF is another matter. Thus Pakistan is continuing to beat the bushes for a few billion bucks to bail them out, before facing the IMF.

There are 619,000 personnel in the Pakistani armed forces, most of them in the army. It's an all volunteer force, and recruiters can be picky about who they let in, for there is no shortage of applicants. The official military budget is about $5.3 billion a year (now less than $4 billion because of the local currency be devalued because of the financial crises). That's about three percent of GDP. But in reality, the military get close to 7 percent of GDP. That because the military has a welfare trust (the Fauji Foundation), set up over half a century ago, that controls commercial firms amounting to about six percent of GDP. Profits from these operations pay for health, education and other benefits for members of the armed forces (active and retired) and their families. The senior officers in the armed forces benefit most from this arrangement.

Recently, the army has been using a lot of that money to improve health and education benefits for the troops and their families. Housing and living standards for troops will also be improved. All this will improve the morale of the troops, apparently to maintain morale because of the offensive against Islamic militants that has been underway for several months now. This morale boost is needed because the Taliban and al Qaeda have turned some parts of the Pushtun and Baluchi tribal territories into terrorist sanctuaries. From these locations, attacks are planned and carried out against targets within the tribal territories, and the rest of Pakistan. In effect, the Taliban and al Qaeda are at war with the government of Pakistan, and have made public announcements to that effect. But about fifteen percent of army personnel are Pushtun, and many of these have kin in the tribal territories. In this case, morale and motivation matters, a lot. The Taliban and terrorists are funded by drug gangs in Afghanistan (which produce most of the heroin produced in the world), while the Pakistani depend on their own mismanaged economy, and the generosity of the United States.

The Pakistani military is greatly outclassed by the Indians, and the only real defense they have are nuclear weapons. The U.S. is trying to convince the Pakistanis to stop competing with India in conventional weapons, and turn more to troops expert in counter-terrorism. Pakistan has lots of civil unrest, but the generals still see a conventional war with India as a major worry.

Pakistani army halts work on HQ over economic woes

Tue Oct 28, 2008 5:32pm IST

ISLAMABAD, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Pakistan's army has halted construction of an expensive new headquarters in the capital, Islamabad, because of the dire economic woes facing the country.

Pakistan is grappling with a balance-of-payments crisis and has just a few weeks to raise billions of dollars in foreign loans needed to meet debt payments and pay for imports.

The seven-month-old civilian government running Pakistan after more than eight years under former army chief Pervez Musharraf is reluctant to go to the International Monetary Fund for help but analysts say it has little choice.

A military spokesman said army chief General Ashfaq Kiyani had decided to suspend construction of a $210 million new headquarters. Even before the economic crisis set in, critics said the project was a waste of money.

"About 10 percent of work has been completed but we felt it should be halted as we understand the nation's quest for economic stability and want to help," said the spokesman, Major-General Athar Abbas.

Construction began last year under Musharraf, on a big plot of land up against the foothills of the Himalayas, as part of a plan to move all three military services to one headquarters.

The powerful army's headquarters is in nearby Rawalpindi, which was a garrison town under British colonial rule.

Newspapers have speculated that the IMF would seek a big cut in defence spending as part of any loan deal but President Asif Ali Zaradri was reported as saying on Tuesday there would be no cut in the military's budget.

The army is battling Islamist militants across the northwest as part of the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism, and is trying to match old rival India's military power. (Reporting by Kamran Haider; editing by Robert Birsel and Roger Crabb)

Learn from the Lankans

Sandeep Unnithan

October 27, 2008

For decades, India has been training the armed forces of Sri Lanka at all its military academies and staff colleges. Now, it may be time for us to sit down and listen to our southern neighbour.

Over the past two decades of war with the Tamil Tigers, the Sri Lankan military has gained the best experience in countering multiple threats from suicide bombers and combating threats from the LTTE's speedboat navy and the dreaded human torpedoes and suicide frogmen of the Black Sea Tigers.

A senior Indian naval policy maker terms the Lankan navy as the one with the world's best experience in countering the threat from navies of 'non-state actors', a euphemism for the LTTE's navy.

These are lessons for which the Lankans have paid with blood. Over the years, the Lankans have lost hundreds of sailors in clashes with the Sea Tigers. They have had their Dvora fast-attack craft machine-gunned in the water and rammed by Black Tiger suicide torpedoes that emerged out of groups of fishing vessels, classic case studies in guerilla warfare and maritime terrorism emerging from the Brown Water Naval battles of the 21st century.

The Lankans learned quickly. They first turned the Dvoras of their Fast Boat Squadrons into something that resembled men-of-war, bristling with cannons and machine guns from their gunwales, improving training and tactics. They brought in the Lankan air force and army artillery to target the Sea Tigers whenever possible. This year, they unveiled a Rapid Action Boat Squadron, smaller, faster four-man vessels packed with machine guns, to engage the Sea Tigers.

Now, the tide may be turning. The Lankan navy says the Tigers are exhausted, are breaking off engagements early and have not recovered from a series of punishing sea battles over the last two years where they lost battle-hardened cadres and boats. A suicide attack by two Black Tiger human torpedoes on two merchantmen carrying supplies for the Jaffna peninsula was foiled last week.

Now where does the Indian navy fit into this? For starters, the navy's maritime military strategy sees 'anti-terrorist operations conducted either unilaterally or multilaterally' and 'ensure good order at sea, which includes Low Intensity Maritime Operations (LIMO) to combat asymmetric warfare, poaching, piracy, and trafficking in drugs/arms'.

Over the past few years, the Indian navy has ably demonstrated its ability to do so - three operations over the past two decades have seen it intercept two hijacked merchantmen and in the case of the MV Ahat, intercept an LTTE arms carrying vessel out at sea. But when it comes to countering the Sea Tigers, which it calls a 'terrorist navy', it may clearly be out of depth.

Its ships are too large and vulnerable to the kind of USS Cole-type suicide attacks and there is no evidence that its small fleet of Super Dvoras have ever engaged in anything other than harbor patrols. Time to listen to the Lankans.

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