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Thursday, 7 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 07 May 09

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Obama holds talks with Zardari, Karzai
US Admn expects the meetings to 'produce some useful agreements of cooperation'
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

US President Barack Obama met Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the White House on Wednesday and urged them to jointly tackle the threat posed by the Taliban in their countries. Neither Zardari nor Karzai are seen likely to be able to deliver on American requests, but the Obama administration is aware of its limited options in the region.

Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden held separate bilateral meetings with Karzai and Zardari in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. Later, a trilateral meeting was planned with both visiting leaders in the White House Cabinet Room. The crucial two-day meetings were kicked off early on Wednesday when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard C Holbrooke, met Zardari and Karzai.

At a congressional briefing on Tuesday, Holbrooke described the planned meetings as "unprecedented trilateral diplomacy." He said the Obama administration hoped the meetings would "produce some useful agreements of cooperation". The US wants assurances from Pakistan and Afghanistan that they would cooperate in the fight against the Taliban even as the Obama administration plans to send additional troops into Afghanistan. US officials are also concerned about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and are determined to persuade the Pakistani leadership that it is the Taliban, and not India, that poses an existential threat to their country. US officials are also expected to tell Pakistan to end continuing links between its military intelligence agency and the Taliban. The Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha is part of Zardari's delegation.

Asked about the ISI's "double game strategy" by New York Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, Holbrooke said he was well aware of the allegations and has had lengthy talks with General Pasha, who insists the "ISI does not do these things anymore". He added: "But he does not deny nor does anyone else that in the old days, ISI and the American intelligence services worked together to set up some of the organisations which have now turned against the United States. And there may be some serious legacy issues." The meetings come in the backdrop of growing concern about Pakistan's ability to stand up to the Taliban, which recently moved within 100 km from Islamabad. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman told Holbrooke lawmakers were "deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation in Pakistan" and that Pakistan appeared to be at a "tipping point". Ackerman put it more bluntly. "Pakistan's pants are on fire. ... Pakistan's leaders, rather than recognising and moving to address the urgent danger to their constitution and country, instead seem convinced that if left alone or attack piecemeal, the Islamist flame will simply burn itself out. That hope is, at best, folly," he said.

Holbrooke assured lawmakers: "We do not think Pakistan is a failed state. We think it's a state under extreme test from the enemies who are also our enemies and we have... the same common enemy, the United States and Pakistan."

Ackerman said neither Zardari nor his arch-rival Nawaz Sharif "appear to recognise the scope and seriousness of the crisis that their country is in or of the necessity of setting their personal or party political fortunes aside in order to meet the danger". He questioned Sharif's commitment to fight the Taliban, saying: "And while Sharif's long-standing ties to Islamist political parties could enable him to persuade Pakistani public of the need to confront the Taliban, his public downplaying of the Taliban threat raises serious questions about his commitment to fight the insurgents." Asked by Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen if Pakistan was hesitant to deal with the militants "because they think that they can't do it, or because of the problems that they have with India," Holbrooke replied: "We have long felt that our friends in Pakistan could put more resources into the struggle in the west. They have been reluctant to do so because of their longstanding concerns and past history with India.... India is always a factor." Marvin Weinbaum of the Middle East Institute said there was no great likelihood that Pakistan's attention would shift from the East to the West anytime in the near future. "Indian threats following the Mumbai attack ensured that what had appeared to be some positive movement toward reconciliation would be squashed," he said.

But Holbrooke noted that ever since he came to the job India has been in election campaign. "They have been listening, they've been very interested but they have not taken any clear positions at this point... They really do share the understanding that what's happening in western Pakistan is of direct concern to them. The Indians have been public in saying they're not happy with the cooperation they got after the Mumbai attacks. We all know that," he said.

Discussing concerns about a military coup in Islamabad, Holbrooke said the Obama administration is "strongly opposed to any such event" and had made this "unambiguous and clear to all parties publicly and privately". He said US chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen is in constant contact with his Pakistani counterparts on this issue and a coup would be "a terrible event".

Recruitment scam
CRPF IG, commandant held

New Delhi, May 6
The CBI today arrested eight persons, including a CRPF Inspector General and a commandant, of the force, for alleged corruption and bungling in the recruitment of the ranks in anti-naxal force COBRA and recovered nearly Rs 1.15 crore cash and fixed deposits from their possession.

The accused, which also include a suspended CRPF constable and his wife, were arrested following searches at 20 locations spread across Bihar, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in connection with the scam, agency sources said.

While CRPF IG, Bihar, Pushkar Singh was arrested in Patna, accused commandant Yajbinder Singh and suspended CRPF constable Mukesh Kumar, who is the alleged kingpin of the racket, were arrested from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand.

The CBI had allegedly recovered over Rs 23 lakh cash and fixed deposits worth Rs 15 lakh from the residence of the IG during the search yesterday, the sources said. The agency recovered Rs one lakh from the possession of commandant Singh, Rs 7.65 lakh from Kumar and Rs 53 lakh from Kumar's wife Swati. Besides, Rs 3.5 lakh was also recovered from one of the four arrested touts, Sindhu Nath, the sources said. — PTI

US keen to rope in new govt in India in fighting terror in Pak

Press Trust of India / Washington May 6, 2009, 12:17 IST

Stating that India shares US concerns on the deteriorating situation on Pakistan's western border, a top official has said that Washington is keen to forge "effective" cooperation with the new government in New Delhi to root out the "common threat" of terrorism. "They really do share the understanding that what's happening in western Pakistan is of direct concern to them," Richard Holbrooke, Special US Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan said.

"The Indians have been public in saying they're not happy with the cooperation they got after the Mumbai attacks. We all know that," he said while appearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday.Holbrooke also said that the Obama administration was eagerly looking forward to the formation of a new government in India so that it could start the process of effective cooperation with New Delhi and Islamabad to root out the common threat of terrorism from Pakistan.

His comments came on the eve of the trilateral summit between US President Barack Obama will have with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai here to chalk out a common strategy to fight the Taliban in the region. The trilateral meeting is an initiative of Obama, who wants to establish his own channel of direct communication with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prime focus of his foreign policy.

Holbrooke noted that since India was in the middle of a general election, the authorities there have not taken any decision with regard to Pakistan so far. But Indian authorities share Washington's concern over the deteriorating situation on Pakistan's western border, he said."They have been listening, they've been very interested but they have not taken any clear positions at this point," Holbrook told Congressmen, summarising his two recent trips to New Delhi and Islamabad.

Holbrooke also noted that for the first time since partition, India, Pakistan and the US have a common threat, a common enemy and a common task. He hoped that "after the elections and after these bills (on tripling non-military aid to Pakistan in the US Senate and House of Representatives), we will be able to move to more of a consensus that a common threat requires common actions.

"Ever since I took this job, India's been in election campaign. They're voting right now; there's 700 million people voting. The elections will be finished in about less than two weeks, and I look forward to returning and then I would be happy to return and give you a better answer," he said. But there are a lot of moving parts here, he said without explaining any further.

India not to sign NPT
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 6
The Obama administration appears to have started exerting pressure on India to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) but New Delhi is not unduly perturbed.

"Our stand on the NPT is very clear…we won't sign it as long as it is discriminatory in nature,'' official sources said here today. These comments came following reports from Washington that quoted US assistant secretary of state Rose Gottemoeller as saying that Washington desired India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to join the NPT.

Underlining that India stood for global nuclear disarmament, the sources said New Delhi was voluntarily fulfilling all its obligations that go with being a responsible nuclear power acting with due restraint.

The sources reiterated India's long-standing normative approach to the treaty being inherently discriminatory in terms of setting different 'rights' and 'obligations' between the five nuclear 'haves' and the 'have-nots'.

They, however, also noted with appreciation the US official's remarks in which she observed that the Indo-US nuclear deal, along with several other steps taken by New Delhi in the recent past, had brought India closer to the NPT.

The issue of non-proliferation has remained a major contentious issue between New Delhi and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, particularly the US.

It was being apprehended in Indian official circles even before Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20 that the new administration in Washington would pressurise India to sign the NPT, given the new US President's strong views on non-proliferation.

A sense of the difficulties that India might encounter on the non-proliferation issue was given only yesterday by former US ambassador to India Robert D Blackwill in an address on ''The Future of US-India Relations'' here.

"The Obama team endorses both the CTBT and a freeze on the production of fissile material. Neither of these appears to be acceptable to the Indian government today. President Obama is planning to put Vice-President Biden in charge of what is expected to be the difficult job of getting the Senate to ratify the CTBT,'' Blackwill said.

Meanwhile, India will keenly watch the meeting President Obama is scheduled to have with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington later today to ask the two South Asian leaders to give a decisive push to the fight against the Taliban, which posed a serious threat not only to their region but to the US as well.

India is quite relieved with statements emanating from Washington attributed to top US officials in recent days that have said that the deteriorating security in Pakistan posed a 'mortal threat' to the safety and security of the country and the world.

At the same time, New Delhi is also bracing itself to turn down any request from Washington to reduce its military strength along the border with Pakistan. Islamabad has been arguing that it was unable to fight the Taliban effectively in view of the military threat it faces from India.

The sources said India has unambiguously told Washington time and again that it would not reduce the troops' level along the Pakistan border as long as the neighbouring country continued to aid and abet terrorism emanating from its soil. In this connection, Washington's attention has also been drawn to the fact that Pakistan has not taken any credible action so far in punishing those behind the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks.

Pakistani Army move troops to wrest control of Swat

PTI | May 06, 2009 | 15:59 IST

Gun and mortar fire sounded, as Pakistani Army moved in troops to wrest control of the Swat valley from the Taliban, and fears of an impending battle triggered a major exodus with thousands of men, women and children fleeing the area.

Army helicopters gunships attacked Taliban positions in an around Mingora, the main town as the militants seized government buildings and laid mines on the towns main approaches.

The impending hostilities signalled the collapse of three-month-old truce between the extremist Taliban and the provincial government. Fearing a major operation, the first wave of exodus began, which the authorities said could reach a staggering 500,000 people.

Military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas refused to say whether the gunfire heralded the start of the major operations merely saying, "all contingencies have been worked out". As clashes rocked the entire Swat valley, the expansion of the Pakistan Army's operation will test its ability to counter a guerrilla warfare as also the resolve of the civilian leadership to fight the Taliban, who till recently were its partners in peace.

Three militants were killed and a policeman was injured in fresh clashes. Militants occupied the offices of the local mayor and deputy inspector general of police and surrounded the residence of the commissioner of Malakand division on Wednesday. The security forces shelled militant hideouts while the Taliban fired rockets and mortar shells at government buildings and police posts.

Earlier, the Taliban had taken up positions across Swat, attacked security check posts and surrounded the circuit house, police station and a power station in Mingora, the main city in the valley. Reports said militants had besieged 46 security personnel at the power station.

Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan claimed the militants were in control of "90 per cent" of Swat. He said the militants were acting in response to the army's "violations of the peace deal".

The military, which has accused the Taliban of violating the accord by abducting and killing civilians and security personnel, said it is awaiting instructions from the government for launching a full-fledged operation in the region located 160 km from Islamabad. After the district administrationon Tuesdayasked people to leave Mingora and several other towns as soon as possible, about 40,000 people flooded out of Swat when curfew was eased from 1330hrs to 1900 hrs. Reports said militants took advantage of the relaxation of curfew to occupy government offices and attack a police station in Saidu Sharif, a key town in Swat.

At least 18 people, including three militants and two security personnel, were killed and 20 others injured in clashes on Tuesday, The News daily reported. A majority of those killed were civilians caught in the crossfire or shelling by militants and security forces, reports said.Security forces shelled militant positions overnight in several areas in Swat, including Khwazakhela and Qambar, which are considered Taliban strongholds. Media reports said scores of houses were destroyed in the shelling.

The North West Frontier Province government has accused the Taliban of not honouring their commitments under the peace deal despite the administration's move to set up Shariah or Islamic law courts in Malakand division, which includes Buner, Dir and Swat districts.

NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said up to 500,000 people were expected to flee Swat. Authorities allocated Rs 140 million for relief programmes while Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani approved an allocation of Rs 500 million to speed up relief activities for "internally displaced persons" in NWFP. He also approved a supplementary grant of Rs 8 million for procuring food for the displaced people on an emergency basis.

Why Pak army is unwilling to suppress terrorists
by Narendra Singh Sarila

Billions in US aid that are being showered on Pakistan reminds me of that scene in Slumdog Millionaire that took place at the Taj Mahal in Agra. An American tourist couple happened to ask Jamal, the hero, where they could find a guide to take them round the Taj. "I am a guide and will take you round", came the prompt reply.

The Americans were so overwhelmed at finding a willing hand so readily that the man immediately flashed out a hundred dollar note and gave it to the boy. Jamal then coolly spun out tales about the Taj – a bit in the slick style of our Zardari Sahib – with no connection to actual facts, for which he was showered with many more dollars.

All this would be very funny but for the despairing fact that this American largess to Pakistan is giving a boost to terrorism in the region and afar.

The Americans are not unaware of Pakistan's role in bolstering terrorism. President Obama himself proclaimed before the American legislatures on March 27 that: Multiple intelligence estimates have warned that al Qaeda is actively planning attacks on the US homeland from its safe havens in Pakistan. (There is no mention of these being planned from Afghanistan.)

He added: Terrorist attacks in London and Bali were tied to al Qaeda in Pakistan, as were attacks in Islamabad and Kabul. He further warned: That if there is a major attack on an Asian or African city, it, too, is likely to have ties to the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan. The safety of the people around the world is at stake.

Simultaneously, Admiral Mullen , the Chief of Staff of the US Armed Forces, told the CNN: That the US intelligence has proof that the Pakistan military has been helping the Taliban and al Qaeda with war material and military advice and even warning the terrorists in advance to disperse from those of their bases the US was going to bomb.

Yet, this year alone $ 3 billion in direct military aid and $ 7.5 billion over five years have been promised. Plus 5.2 billion by the US friends - Japan, the European Union, Saudi Arabia and others at the US-sponsored Tokyo conference.

President Obama has said that there will be no blank cheques to Pakistan, but we are not told what conditions will be laid down for writing the cheques. Judging by newspaper reports, the Tokyo donors did not propose any conditions to their aid.

Since the US aid was announced, the Pakistan government has handed over Swat and large parts of the Malakand division of the Frontier Province to the Taliban.

The Taliban, on their part, have declared that to surrender arms in Swat, as per the agreement with the government would be an un-Islamic act and have vowed to enforce Islamic law throughout Pakistan, that is to say, take over the whole country. They have further declared that democracy is un-Islamic and unfit for Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton said that "if the Pakistan government is too weak we wont get changes (results.)" – an argument to shower more aid "to strengthen the government"

If you donate vast funds without instituting any checks to monitor them and if you repeatedly praise Pakistan for its "brave fight" against terrorism, when you know they are, in fact, double-crossing you, as the US has been doing, are you not encouraging Pakistan's double-dealing and the Taliban's terrorism?

Apparently, despite Obama's and Mullen's revelations, US policy has, so far, not escaped from the old mould of pussyfooting with the Pakistan government. The Taliban are now able to bomb targets all over Punjab and are advancing nearer and nearer to Kahuta, where Pakistan's nuclear facilities are concentrated.

Because of its nuclear arsenal, the terrorist threat in Pakistan is a far more serious and urgent problem for the world than the situation in Afghanistan, on which the Americans are mostly concentrating.

Besides continuing US aid to this terrorist state, there is another reason why the Pak army will not suppress the Taliban and why they have been playing a double game. Pakistani terrorism was initially given birth to by the Pakistani military, as part of its forward policy against India-and not by the Mullahs.

If they could not dismember India by war, they could perhaps do so through a policy of 'a thousand cuts'-terrorism.

The Pakistan military, especially since the presidency of General Zia-ul-Huq, has been influenced by the tenets preached by Abdul al Mawdudi, the leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, who advocated a government based on the Shariat, a clash of civilizations and jehad against non-believers.

Their goals are no different from the goals of the terrorist organisations they have created – of course, the Taliban, but also Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Sipah-i-Sahaba and Lashkar-e- Jhangvi. Lashkar-e-Taiba made its goal clear as follows: "Whoever takes part in jehad against India, Allah will set free from the pyres of hell".

The fact that after the US Defence Secretary, Bill Gates threatened a rupture in US-Pak relations-meaning no more aid-if Pakistan continues to surrender to the Taliban, the Pak army, within 24 hours, persuaded the Taliban to retreat from parts of Buner district, that lies south of Swat, indicates that contacts, to put it mildly, exist between the two. No doubt, Pakistan has arranged this tactical retreat to impress the American public and take the wind out of Gates' remarks.

Saeed Minhas, editor of Pakistani daily Aaj Kal, explained to a recent Idea Exchange organised by the Indian Express newspaper : "The problem is that our army has always been indoctrinated to fight the jehadi forces which have morphed into the Taliban. (For them) to make a U-turn now is bit of a problem."

Only the other day Pak Premier Gillani called the Taliban tribesmen "patriots." All this puts Pakistanis, who realise the dangers of supping with the devil, on the defensive.

As an Indian I am even more concerned with this menace than any American could ever be-because whereas America is at a distance from Pakistan and powerful, we are next door and have a Muslim population of 150 million, of whom even if 5 per cent get influenced by this perverted form of Islam that is being preached from, and is growing, in Pakistan, we would be in dire straits.

If the Talibanisation of Pakistan is not stopped, they and their terrorist outfits will claim areas in India where the Muslims reside.

Pakistan, in fact, is cultivating the jehadi philosophy and forces in Pakistan with the long-term aim to do exactly that by influencing Indian Muslims. And to dismember India. Even though their alliance with the Taliban is now endangering Pakistan's future, the military's hate for India is stronger than its love for, and well-being of, its own country.

The writer is a former Ambassador to France and other countries

Why Pakistan is unlikely to crack down on Islamic militants, despite U.S. pressure

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration and its allies are pressing Pakistan to end its support for Afghan insurgents linked to al Qaida, but Pakistani generals are unlikely to be swayed because they increasingly see their interests diverging from those of the United States, U.S. and foreign experts said.

The administration sought to ratchet up the pressure last month by sending top U.S. military and intelligence officials to Pakistan to confront officials there with intelligence linking Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence to the Taliban and other militant Islamist groups.

When that failed to produce the desired response, U.S. officials told news organizations about the visit, and then revealed that the intelligence included an intercepted communication between ISI officers and a pro-Taliban network that carried out a July 7 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The United States and Britain privately have demanded that Pakistan move against the Taliban's top leadership, which they contend is based near Quetta, the capital of Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, said a State Department official and a senior NATO defense official, who both requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

Pakistan has been given "a pretty unequivocal message" to end ISI support for the militants and shake up the top ranks of the intelligence agency, the senior NATO defense official said.

On Friday, however, Pakistan vehemently rejected the allegations of ISI involvement in the Indian Embassy blast, which killed 41 and injured 141.

U.S. officials and experts said there's little chance that Pakistan will take any of the actions it's been asked to take.

"There is a limit to what we can do in Pakistan," said the State Department official.

"The fact that we're reduced to trying to send messages to the Pakistanis by putting stories in (newspapers) tells you we don't have any good options," said a former senior intelligence official knowledgeable about South Asia. "It also suggests that the high-level, face-to-face contacts haven't worked so far. The trouble is, these kinds of public threats are likely to backfire."

For one thing, the Taliban and other groups allied with al Qaida could respond to any Pakistani crackdown by stepping up attacks inside Pakistan, which is battling Islamic extremist violence, U.S. officials and experts said.

Furthermore, they said, Pakistan's nearly dysfunctional, feud-riddled civilian government has little power over the Army and the ISI. The latest evidence was a botched attempt under U.S. pressure to put the agency under the Interior Ministry before Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani's three-day visit to Washington this week.

Pakistani generals and other leaders are also infuriated by President Bush's pursuit of a strategic relationship with India, their foe in three wars, as embodied by a U.S.-Indian civilian nuclear cooperation pact that won United Nations approval Friday, the U.S. officials and experts said.

"One thing we never understood is that India has always been the major threat for Pakistan," said former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain, now the president of the Middle East Institute.

Pakistan is alarmed by India's close ties to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and its growing influence in Afghanistan, where a $750 million Indian aid program includes the construction of a strategic highway that will open the landlocked country to Indian goods shipped through ports in Iran.

Pakistan, which refuses to allow Indian products through its port of Karachi, has long coveted Afghanistan as a market, a trade route to central Asia and a rear area for its army in any new conflict with India.

"Pakistan over the last several years has increasingly come to believe that it is being encircled by India and a U.S.-India-Afghan axis," said Seth Jones, an expert with the RAND Corp., a policy institute.

For these reasons, Pakistan's military leaders may have decided to scale back their cooperation with the Bush administration's war against terrorism and boost support for the Taliban and other militant groups.

"We have created a set of perverse incentives for the Pakistanis to continue their support for the Taliban," said a U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity to speak frankly. "Pakistan does not view the United States as a long-term player in the region and certainly doesn't view Pakistan's strategic interests as congruent with ours, and that divergence is getting larger, not smaller."

Without a strategy to allay Pakistan's fears, U.S. officials and experts warned, there's little point in sending more U.S. and NATO troops to Afghanistan as Bush, Democratic candidate Barak Obama and his GOP rival, John McCain, all advocate.

Pakistan vehemently denies backing the Taliban and other insurgents, pointing out that it's lost hundreds of troops in U.S.-funded counter-insurgency offensives.

But many Afghan and U.S. officials scoff at Pakistan's denials, charging that the Taliban leadership operates undisturbed in Quetta and nearby tribal areas with ISI support, guidance, money and weapons.

Bush, anxious to maintain Pakistani support in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al Qaida leaders, apparently believed that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, the former Army chief, would rein in the ISI.

But that hope has proved to be misplaced. Truces forged by the ISI and the Pakistani army freed Taliban and other fighters to fight in Afghanistan, where the worst violence since the 2001 U.S. intervention is claiming higher U.S. casualties than in Iraq for the first time.

On Friday, five more NATO troops were reported killed in eastern Afghanistan, a sector where U.S. troops are stationed.

Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA Deputy Director Stephen R. Kappes went to Pakistan to confront Prime Minister Gilani, Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Kayani and ISI Director Lt. Gen. Naveed Taj with the intelligence linking ISI officers to the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan.

The Americans also documented other support that ISI officers have been giving the Taliban and other militant groups, including advance warnings of U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan's tribal region, said the State Department official and senior NATO defense official.

"There is good evidence that elements of the ISI have re-engaged with the Taliban," said the senior NATO defense official.

Gilani and his delegation heard similar complaints in Washington, according to American and Pakistani officials. Pakistan Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar told a television interviewer that Bush asked during a White House meeting, "Who is in control of ISI?"

AFPAK crises test Obama


Published: May 6, 2009 at 10:35 AM

Is Pakistan or Afghanistan a threat to the U.S.?

WASHINGTON, May 6 (UPI) -- Two countries, one war. U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden held a series of meetings Wednesday in Washington with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

U.S. strategy on Pakistan and Afghanistan is in tatters. Obama inherited failing policies on both of them from his predecessor President George W. Bush, but in the three and a half months he has been in office so far, things have gotten worse, not better.

Karzai and Zardari were both handpicked choices of Bush policymakers. The president and his first secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, picked Karzai, and it was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was passionate about supporting Zardari, a political neophyte who was the widower of her friend, assassinated former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

Obama is determined to prop up both of them, but it is hard to determine which of the two is a harder sell to the American people.

Karzai's government is fighting corruption along with Taliban uprisings. Some cynics have described him as the mayor of Kabul because his government has so little credibility outside the capital except where there are U.S. and NATO allied troops on the ground to back it up.

Afghanistan has never had a credible central government in its history, but Pakistan has had many of them. Unfortunately, Zardari's is not one of them. He has failed to establish so far any firm control over the notoriously independent Pakistani army or to forge any effective partnership with its commanding generals. He has his own political weaknesses and is now fighting formidable and rapidly spreading Taliban uprisings that are heading remorselessly closer to his capital, Islamabad.

U.S. policymakers express increasing concern over Zardari's ability to keep his nuclear arsenal out of the hands of militants. For the past 11 years, Pakistan has publicly acknowledged its possession and development of nuclear weapons, the first Muslim nation to acquire them. It has at least 30 warheads. Some estimates go much higher.

As he argued through his long election campaign last year, Obama plans to take the war focus from Iraq and shift it to Afghanistan, but the field of battle must be considered to include northwestern Pakistan, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants shift over the border and U.S.-controlled drones find targets of opportunity on both sides of the line.

Obama faces many challenges to his credibility in Afghanistan and Pakistan as an effective leader in the global struggle against Islamic extremism. To prove that his high-profile meetings with Karzai and Zardari are more than empty photo opportunities, he will have to be able to give both leaders tangible expressions of increased and more effective U.S. and NATO support.

That won't be easy. Obama came up empty in his plea to European leaders for more troops for Afghanistan on his European trip, the first overseas visit he took as president.

The Pakistani situation has been steadily deteriorating for years, but the collapse in Zardari's credibility is rapid and was unanticipated by Obama administration planners. The embattled Pakistani leader visits the White House as thousands of refugees are fleeing the fertile Swat Valley that extends south to within 100 miles of Islamabad.

The Taliban are digging in along the valley, and they have declared their peace agreement with Islamabad over. That is a humiliation for Obama as well as Zardari. It was the U.S. president who urged his Pakistani counterpart to accept the peace deal that the Taliban have just broken in record time.

The Pakistani army appears to be finally taking on the Taliban in their own country as Obama, like Bush before him, has repeatedly urged. But there have been such apparently impressive displays for public consumption before, followed by rapid retreats. The fact is that the tough generals commanding the Pakistani army still see the Taliban, who they strongly supported in Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001, as their allies, India as the real enemy and the United States, NATO and Afghan President Karzai as ready to support India instead of them.

There is a similar political and diplomatic mess brewing in Afghanistan. Unlike their predecessors under Bush, Obama administration policymakers don't like Karzai and are keeping him at arm's length. Some senior Obama officials have even expressed open criticism of the Bush administration for being way too close to Karzai, one saying that Bush had become Afghanistan's case officer.

Obama may therefore be tempted to dump Karzai and find a supposedly more impressive replacement, but the prospects of that working are slim. Obama's hero, President John F. Kennedy, made a similar mistake when he approved the toppling of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. Diem was bad, but his immediate successors were far worse.

The central problem of U.S. policy in Afghanistan is that Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, like Bush and Rice before them, are determined to create a strong, effective central government, and about the only thing the Afghans themselves agree on is that they don't want one. Therefore, the more U.S. forces pour in to support Karzai, the more he looks like a discredited American puppet.

Pakistan is vastly more important than Afghanistan, and the consequences of its collapse would be far more serious. By conflating the two countries and their interlocking and complex but ultimately very different political, governmental and security problems, the Obama administration runs the risk of defeat and failure in both of them.

India ends war exercises near Pakistan border

New Delhi—The Indian military said Tuesday it has ended three days of large-scale military exercises involving its main strike corps close to the Pakistan border.

The three-day manoeuvres, code-named Hind Shakti ('Indian Power'), were held in the arid plains of northern Punjab state and wrapped up on Tuesday, officials said.

"The exercise entailed participation by mechanised and infantry divisions in a blitzkrieg type armoured incursion," emphasising "rapid penetration into enemy territory," the defence ministry said in a statement.

Officials said the exercises involved the elite Kharga Corps and that similar war games by India's two remaining strike units were also being planned.

"The manoeuvres will factor in various scenarios, including the worsening situation in our neighbourhood," a Kharga Corps commander told AFP. The exercises come amid increasing concern between India and Pakistan.

Last month the Indian government blamed the crisis across the border was a threat to the entire region.—AFP

'Army may retaliate'

Express News Service

First Published : 06 May 2009 02:44:00 AM IST

Last Updated : 06 May 2009 09:03:08 AM IST

CHENNAI: Major General E J Kochekkan, General Officer Commanding, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala (ATNK&K) areas, has said that the Indian army considers the recent attack by the workers of a political party on its convoy in Coimbatore as an aberration, but warned that "if such incidents are repeated, the army would be forced to act in self-defence under the rules permitted".

Talking to reporters on the incident, he said that the army personnel accompanying the convoy exercised extreme restrain and did not resort to any use of weapons, "which they legitimately could have resorted to under the rules".

"The Army considers this incident as an aberration. But it should not be repeated. If this is repeated it could result in a catastrophe. And this should be avoided,'' he added.

Kochekkan also informed that an internal enquiry has been ordered into the security and intelligence lapses into the incident.

Asked whether the army was supplying arms to the Sri Lankan army, as alleged, Kochekkan denied any knowledge of any such help being extended from under the areas, which he commands. He said that there are rumours being spread about the incidents in Coimbatore, were "totally unprovoked".

"Ours is a civilised society. We do not expect such incidents in the future, especially targeting the men in uniform. I am very positive. It will never be repeated,'' he said.

The GoC said that the Army authorities have conveyed their concern to the State and requested them to book the culprits. "These acts should not be repeated. People should not take the law into their own hands. Army officers have met the State Chief Secretary and requested the State government to book the culprits,'' he said.

He said the Army does not have a political role. "It's apolitical. The citizens should consider the men in uniform as their own army. They should act with dignity when dealing with uniformed men. These wanton acts should not be repeated. People should not take the law into their own hands," he added. Asked whether the army would suggest invoking the NSA against the attackers, he said the Army has requested only strict action against the attackers. "It is for the authorities to decide under which section they should be booked," he said.|6QYp3kQ=&SEO=


By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake told parliament May 5 that he believes Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam leader Velupillai Prabhakaran is among the large group of Tiger militants trapped in a 4-square kilometer coastline area near Mullaitivu. The area around Mullaitivu has been the final focal point of a recent larger government military offensive aimed at restoring government control of northeast Sri Lanka and crushing the South Asian country's separatist rebels, who have controlled large parts of the region for the past several years.

The Tigers' battlefield losses have been compounded by the severe disruption to their formerly extensive financial network (primarily concentrated among the Tamil diaspora in Western Europe and Canada) after the European Union placed the group on its terror list in 2006. This led to tightened sanctions by Europe, the United States and Canada against the Tigers, as well as greater international cooperation in arresting Tiger smuggling rings. Some of the Tigers' main financiers have since been arrested, and many of their assets have been frozen. It takes a lot of money and equipment to wage a conventional war, and those resources have become far harder for the Tigers to come by of late.

As STRATFOR has previously noted, if Sri Lankan troops manage to crush the remnants of the Tigers' hard-pressed conventional military forces, the Tigers will have little choice but to give up on conventional warfare (at least for the time being). But the Tigers' separatist struggle is more than 30 years old and has been marked by great brutality on both sides. Because of this, there is very little chance the Tigers will simply accept defeat and fade into history. Instead, now that the government has the military advantage, the Tigers can be expected to continue their war against the government by melting back into the populace and resorting to guerrilla tactics and terrorism.

In many ways, this will resemble events in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a militarily weaker force melted away in the face of a more powerful conventional military force. The Tigers, however, have a far more experienced and effective terrorist apparatus than either their Taliban or Iraqi counterparts. This struggle will therefore remain bloody in Sri Lanka (and perhaps even abroad).


The Tigers are battling for the creation of an independent Tamil homeland for the country's 10-15 percent Tamil minority, the dominant ethnicity in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. The Tigers are struggling against the majority Sinhalese Buddhist-controlled government, which has fought the Tigers in a bloody civil war that has lasted nearly three and a half decades. Over the decades, the Tigers have developed an extremely sophisticated paramilitary organization. This force consists of not only ground forces (complete with artillery and even some armor), but also a sea wing that engages in arms smuggling and naval attacks against the Sri Lankan Navy -- to include suicide boat attacks -- a small air wing, and an elite force of militants trained to conduct assassinations and terrorist attacks known as the Black Tigers.

The Black Tigers became famous for suicide bombings (one of which killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991), and we are hard-pressed to think of another militant group that has assassinated as many VIPs, including several Cabinet ministers and numerous members of parliament, as have the Black Tigers. Last year alone, they killed a Sri Lankan member of parliament on Jan. 1, the minister for nation building on Jan. 8, and the highway minister on April 7. They also killed the Sri Lankan foreign minister in August 2005.

(click image to enlarge)

The Tigers' fortunes have fluctuated over the years. Several times they have brought large swathes of northern and eastern Sri Lanka under their exclusive control, only to lose them to government offensives, such as an offensive launched in January 2001. As mentioned, international pressures on their finances and logistics in recent years, plus the loss of the strategically significant Elephant Pass in January -- formerly a key logistics hub for their resupply efforts and an important base for their naval efforts -- mean the Tigers are now in an uphill battle for survival. Compounding the Tigers' woes, the government now is far better prepared, equipped and trained than it has been during previous military offensives. But despite being so hard-pressed and having taken such significant losses, there are no signs that the Tigers have lost the will to fight. They continue to hold out rather than surrender, and we have not seen news of desertions.

The Tigers' material losses will be more difficult to overcome than their loss of personnel. They should be able to find new volunteers (or conscripts) among Sri Lanka's Tamil population. Their ability to recruit should be aided by the Sri Lankan military's policy of forcing Tamils into internment camps, something the Tigers also have leapt on as an international propaganda opportunity. Tiger militants are well-trained and are also subject to rigorous political indoctrination. With rare exception, the Tigers prefer to fight -- or take their standard-issue cyanide capsules -- and die rather than surrender.

This willingness for self-sacrifice is best seen in the Black Tigers, which were early adopters of suicide bombing attacks and have been among the most frequent users of the tactic. The Black Tigers also have employed more female suicide bombers than any other group. (They used a female suicide operative in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination.) The Black Tigers reportedly have a waiting list of militants seeking to enter the unit -- suicide bombers reportedly are held in almost mythical esteem by their ordinary Tiger colleagues -- and Prabhakaran reportedly handpicks each member.

Insurgency and Terror

As seen from Iraq, Afghanistan and any number of historical examples, it is very difficult to eradicate an insurgency that can blend in with a sympathetic local population. Doing so is even harder when the insurgents can exploit international borders to create a place of refuge. Although Sri Lanka is an island, it is located very close to the coast of India. It lies just a few miles from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, an Indian state that, as its name implies, has a substantial ethnic Tamil population. Some Indian Tamils are sympathetic to the Tigers, and the Tigers have established a sizable presence in Tamil Nadu.

Sympathy in Tamil Nadu for the Tigers came into view May 5, 2009, when a large group of pro-Tiger Indian Tamil activists blocked a convoy of Indian army trucks in the city of Coimbatore because they believed the trucks were carrying supplies destined for the Sri Lankan military. The activists reportedly damaged and ransacked some of the trucks.

Support in Tamil Nadu means that the Tigers can -- and do -- exploit the international border to their advantage. The Tigers use India in much the same way that the Taliban and al Qaeda use Pakistan. The Tigers' logistical and training infrastructure in India is especially important during times (like the present) when the Sri Lankan government is hammering them. The Tigers also have a long history of working with an array of other militant groups in India and the general region. This cooperation is not based on ideology, but rather on mutual benefit, such as bolstering the groups' ability to smuggle weapons and other goods.

Another truism about insurgency is that it takes far fewer resources to sustain an insurgency than it does to fight a conventional war. The amount of ordnance expended in a single conventional battle can sustain months or even years of insurgent activity, especially if the insurgents can acquire ordnance from their enemy during their operations. Conducting terrorist attacks requires even fewer resources than insurgent attacks; terrorism is a cheap and time-tested means of hitting a militarily superior foe. When properly conducted, terrorist attacks are the ultimate exercise of asymmetrical warfare.

For a militant group to effectively wield terrorism as an asymmetrical weapon, however, it must gain mastery of a range of tactical skills that we refer to as terrorist tradecraft. These skills include, among other things, the ability to operate without being detected, the ability to collect intelligence on potential targets, the ability to procure munitions, the ability to recruit operatives, the ability to plan effective strikes and the ability to construct reliable improvised explosives devices (IEDs).

Through decades of trial and error, the Tigers have developed all of these skills, as evidenced by their large number of successful assassinations. In fact, they have a record of tactical success that would make any jihadist group green with envy. The Tigers excel at collecting intelligence, and their female operatives form a significant part of their intelligence apparatus, since they generally can travel more widely than males can and do not tend to arouse suspicions to the extent male operatives do. Female Tigers who are already willing to serve as suicide bombers not surprisingly have been willing to use seduction to obtain information critical to their cause.

The group has also long demonstrated the ability to operate in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, as well as in other non-Tamil majority areas. And it has conducted scores of attacks against military, financial and political targets and civilian soft targets in non-Tamil areas. The group conducted five suicide bombings in Colombo alone in 2008, and several attacks against soft targets like passenger buses and commuter trains. The group also has a cadre of very polished and experienced bombmakers who make reliable and effective IEDs.

Perhaps most spectacularly, the Tiger air wing launched a 9/11-inspired airborne suicide attack Feb. 20, in which their two remaining aircraft were loaded with explosives and sent out after dark on a suicide mission to attack Colombo. One of the planes was shot down, but the other plane reached the capital and struck the 12th floor of the 15-floor Inland Revenue Department, where it exploded -- a scene captured by a Sri Lankan navy infrared camera and posted to YouTube.

It is thought that the Inland Revenue Department was not the intended target, but that the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and accidentally struck that building. According to Sri Lankan sources, the intended target may have been either the headquarters of the Sri Lankan air force, which is next to the building that was hit, or the president's house or army headquarters, which also are close by. The decision to use the remaining Tiger aircraft in this type of suicide operation against the government in Colombo rather than risk losing them to advancing government troops is a prime example of the Tigers' mind-set.

Mayhem in the Forecast

With the Tigers' air wing now apparently gone, further 9/11-style suicide planes are unlikely. The Tigers, however, will almost certainly plan more terrorist strikes. Such attacks will be seen as retaliation against the Sri Lankan government. They also will be used to hurt the economy (and thus the government's ability to finance its military efforts). And they will be used to force the government to divert troops from the northeast to provide security to other parts of the country, thus taking pressure off the Tamil heartland. The Tigers also have shown a limited cyberwarfare capability, which they can be expected to use to score propaganda points and wreak economic havoc when possible. In addition to assassinating VIPs and attacking passenger trains and buses, the Tigers have a long history of attacking villages and massacring Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim civilians to foster a sense of terror.

We anticipate that small Tamil units will resume operations to massacre civilians, in particular Sinhalese Buddhist and Muslim civilians. The Tigers also probably will attack crowds of civilians and commercial centers. We also anticipate assassination attempts to be launched against military and political VIPs in Colombo, and against local/regional leaders and military and police commanders in the northeast. Attacks against passenger trains and buses also can be expected. STRATFOR sources in Sri Lanka advise that the Tigers are likely to strike at the Yal Devi Express, a train that runs from Colombo to Vavuniya and is of great symbolic value to Tamil-Sinhalese coexistence.

We believe there will be numerous attacks and ambushes targeting traffic on the A-9 road that leads from Colombo to Jaffna aimed at both military and commercial targets, blending terrorism and insurgency. Such attacks could involve ambushes and roadside IEDs, a tactic the Tigers have used with success in the past, such as with the roadside IED used in the January 2008 assassination of the minister of nation building.

Due to the long history of conflict in Sri Lanka (which has sometimes been fueled by external meddling), we do not share the assessment by some in the Sri Lankan government that the Tigers are all but dead. They may be severely damaged as a conventional military force -- for a time at least -- but the group's cadre of dedicated, zealous militants will certainly spill a lot more blood in their quest for independence and vengeance against the Sri Lankan government.

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Copyright 2009 Stratfor.

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