Tag Archives: terrorism

"Doing More" In Context

Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton, and General Cartwright at the White House

The White House released the unclassified “Overview of the Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review” yesterday followed by a press conference. In addition to the conclusion that the US is making progress against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the review and statements of Secretaries Clinton and Gates point to a comprehensive and long-term partnership between the US and Pakistan as a fundamental part of American foreign policy.

Secretary Gates was explicit in his answers to Charlie Cook and others who pressed the officials on whether Pakistan was doing enough to target militant sanctuaries in the remote tribal regions along its Western border.

The growth of local security initiatives is helping communities protect themselves against the Taliban, while denying insurgents sanctuary and freedom of movement. At the same time, Pakistan has committed over 140,000 troops to operations in extremist safe havens along the border in coordination with Afghan and coalition forces on the Afghan side.

Though we believe the Pakistanis can and must do more to shut down the flow of insurgents across the border, it is important to remember that these kinds of military operations in the tribal areas would have been considered unthinkable just two years ago. And the Pakistani military has simultaneously been contending with the historic flooding that has devastated much of the country.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, echoed this sentiment on Twitter during the press conference saying,

It is only matter of time & operational capacity before we take on all terrorist, extremist & militant groups

It’s also important to note that Secretary Gates does not mention the need to do more only in regard to Pakistan’s military, but also mentioned this with regard to American troops.

I’d like to close with a special word of thanks and holiday greetings to our troops and their families, and especially to those who are serving in Afghanistan. It is their sacrifice that has made this progress possible. I regret that we will be asking more of them in the months and years to come.

Read in context, it is clear that Secretary Gates is praising Pakistan’s military for taking the fight to militant groups on the Afghan border and simply stating the obvious – the fight isn’t over, and there’s more to be done. The greatest obstacle to doing more is not a matter of will, but a matter of resources.

A military official in the US Embassy that spoke with David Ignatius agrees:

The U.S. military official, standing at his map, says Washington should realize that the Pakistanis “are unable to conduct significant new operations without additional troops. That’s not a criticism, it’s a reality.” This official notes that the Pakistani military has lost 1,500 to 2,000 soldiers fighting the extremists, with three to four times that many wounded. Civilian casualties are in the tens of thousands. If America experienced this level of casualties, he says, “we would probably call it a second American Civil War.”

Much of the doubt about Pakistan’s willingness to fight these militant groups comes not from the actions (or lack thereof) of Pakistan’s military, but from concerns leftover from the Musharraf era. Gen. Musharraf had forged close ties with then-President George W. Bush while covertly continuing support for domestic militant groups who he considered strategic assets as proxy fighters against India in Kashmir.

But Pakistan’s policy toward militant groups took a dramatic change with the election of the present democratic government according to Secretary Clinton.

If you had – when we came into this administration, we had very little in the way of an understanding with Pakistan that the extremists who threatened us were allied with extremists who threatened them, and that in effect they were creating a syndicate of terrorism. And in fact, when we came into office, the Pakistanis had agreed to an ill-conceived peace agreement with the Pakistani Taliban that was consistently and persistently expanding their territorial reach. And we pointed out firmly that this was not a strategy that would work for them, and in fact we had very strong objections to it because it would provide greater and greater territory for al Qaeda and their allies to operate in.

So what happened? The Pakistanis took an entirely different approach. They moved, what, 140,000 troops off the Indian border. They waged an ongoing conflict against their enemies who happen also to be the allies of our enemies. They began to recognize what we see as a mortal threat to Pakistan’s long-term sovereignty and authority. That was not something that was predicted two years ago that they would do. They’ve done it.

The consensus in the White House and the Pentagon is clearly in favor of Pakistan’s efforts to target and defeat radical militants within their borders. While this is a relatively recent development, a change that coincides with the election of the democratic government in Pakistan, the country has made great sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and continues to do so. Unfortunately, the fight is not over. Though American and Pakistani forces are doing much to win this fight, there is more to be done before we will see peace. Working in close cooperation, though, we can be assured that the security of Pakistan and the world will be defended from extremist militants, and peace will return to South Asia.

Supporting Pakistan's Democracy Key To Regional Security

India and Pakistan flagsFollowing the bilateral Strategic Dialogues and President Obama’s trip to India, analysts are examining statements from all parties in hopes of identifying a way to ease tensions between Pakistan and India and eliminate the scourge of terrorism within Pakistan’s borders. If you want to know the least productive path to stability and democracy in Pakistan, Selig Harrison’s latest column for the LA Times provides an excellent blueprint.

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What Is the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue?

Beginning today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will meet during the third US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue in Washington, DC. But what exactly does ‘Strategic Dialogue’ mean, and what with the officials from each countries be discussing?

Yesterday, U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Frank Ruggiero briefed the press about the dialogues and answered many of these questions.

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Pakistan's Foreign Minister Talks To Katie Couric

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi recently sat down with Katie Couric on CBS News to discuss Pakistan’s response to the devastating flood crisis, the country’s struggle for democracy, the threat of extremist groups – and how the Pakistani military is fighting that threat.

Is PBS Broadcasting Terrorist Propaganda?

PBS NewsHour provides platform for extremist spokesman

Watching PBS NewsHour last week, one could easily believe that extremist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba (also known as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Falah-e-Insaniat, and a host of other aliases) are the primary conduits of relief work in flood-ravaged Pakistan. The respected news program featured a segment, Militant Groups Aid Pakistan Flood Victims, that is little more than a public relations campaign by an organization deemed by the United Nations as an international terrorist group.

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Asif Zardari: Stable Pakistan Key To Defeating Terrorism

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari wrote in yesterday’s Financial Times that Pakistan’s stability is a key to defeating terrorism. While his column references Pakistan’s relationship with Britain, the Pakistani leader makes bold and encouraging statements about the direction he wants to take his country, and the challenges he faces in his effort to secure a “democratic, liberal, tolerant, progressive and forward-looking Pakistan.”

Our economic planning has reduced the fiscal deficit, gross domestic product growth is improving, while inflation has decelerated. Foreign investment and foreign exchange reserves are increasing. To kick-start our economy, we have organised an international consortium, called the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, in which the UK is a lead partner. We want trade not aid, MOUs not IOUs.

My party pledged to undo the last vestiges of dictatorship. We have done away with anti-democratic distortions in the constitution which had made the parliament a rubber stamp. I voluntarily relinquished powers in favour of the prime minister and parliament. Continuing Benazir Bhutto’s vision for national reconciliation, our government successfully gave a National Finance Commission Award for the equitable distribution of resources among the provinces – previously a bone of contention. Our landmark achievement has been granting provincial autonomy to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.

President Zardari goes on to discuss the great sacrifices that his country has made as a nation on the front lines of a war against militant extremism, and their dedication to eradicating the terrorists who threaten their peace and stability.

In the war against extremism and terrorism, we have played the role of a frontline state, losing 2,700 soldiers, including senior officers, and more than 27,000 civilians. Collateral losses total more than $50bn and are still being incurred at the expense of our economy and prestige. No one can match our determination, resilience and sacrifices. We do not need to be lectured as to how to conduct the war against violent extremism.

Terrorism is not just Pakistan’s problem. The Kabul conference last month acknowledged that the problem in Afghanistan was regional and needed a regional solution. Stability in central and south Asia will depend on regional and international co-operation to attack the terrorist threat politically, economically and militarily.

President Zardari has come under criticism of late for his decision to attend meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron while devastating floods ravage the Pakistani countryside. But his sense of purpose and dedication to principles of liberal democracy and internationalism are encouraging.

Pakistan faces immense challenges – both internal and external – as it struggles to achieve its potential as a modern democratic state in South Asia. We offer the people of Pakistan our full support that they may live free and peaceful lives on their own terms.

Text “SWAT” to 50555 from your phone to give $10 and help Pakistan’s flood victims.

What Wikileaks Teaches About Misinformation & Rogue Elements

The ongoing media hype about classified documents being published on the website Wikileaks.org may prove to be the exact outcome the leaker intended. According to intelligence company Stratfor, “all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below.” What is being discussed is not revelatory information, but the act of the leak.

In the case of the WikiLeaks, what is revealed also is not far from what most people believed, although they provide enormous detail. Nor is it that far from what government and military officials are saying about the war. No one is saying the war is going well, though some say that given time it might go better.

The data dump posted by Wikileaks includes 92,000 pages of documents, but does it contain a selection of documents sufficient to provide a comprehensive view of the reality on the ground? According to The New York Times, the answer is no.

Much of the information — raw intelligence and threat assessments gathered from the field in Afghanistan— cannot be verified and likely comes from sources aligned with Afghan intelligence, which considers Pakistan an enemy, and paid informants. Some describe plots for attacks that do not appear to have taken place.

This would put this material in the same category as that which was used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq – raw intelligence documents that purported to prove that Saddam Hussein was actively pursuing a weapons of mass destruction program.

In previous Administrations, such data had been made available to under-secretaries only after it was analyzed, usually in the specially secured offices of INR. The whole point of the intelligence system in place, according to Thielmann, was “to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled.” Bolton, however, wanted his aides to receive and assign intelligence analyses and assessments using the raw data. In essence, the under-secretary would be running his own intelligence operation, without any guidance or support. “He surrounded himself with a hand-chosen group of loyalists, and found a way to get C.I.A. information directly,” Thielmann said.

Following news reports such as the one cited above, this practice – selectively choosing raw intelligence that supports a predetermined policy position or strategy – was widely condemned by the very people who now accept without a moment’s critical thought the documents that have been posted on Wikileaks.

These documents do not provide any new or enlightening information. Moreover, the fact that the collection of leaked documents is composed of selective raw intelligence suggests that even the information that is contained therein is untrustworthy.

Assertions that the leak was orchestrated by the Pentagon, a conspiracy that was bound to surface, doesn’t hold much water. The episode has been embarrassing for the Pentagon and the White House alike, and does nothing to serve official US policy in the region.

But it’s not unheard of for an individual official or group of officials to contravene official policy in pursuit of counter goals. Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers are, of course, the obvious example. But more recent claims by Bradley Manning, a military intelligence analyst who bragged to another computer hacker that he had stolen over 260,000 classified documents and sent them to Wikileaks, suggest that technology combined with the fact that over 850,000 Americans have Top Secret security clearances has made such acts even more likely.

Similarly, it is no secret that individuals in Pakistan like former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul continue to support jihadi terrorist groups. These pro-jihadi elements also continue to aggressively attack the democratically-elected government in Pakistan in hopes of replacing it with a regime that is sympathetic to the Taliban.

Despite the volume of documents leaked, they represent only a small and relatively uninformative peek into what the US knows about terrorist groups in South Asia. Because the information is classified to protect the lives of Americans and Pakistanis in harms way, the American and Pakistani governments are not at liberty to merely release the rest of the information to set the record straight.

But they shouldn’t have to. As an obvious media stunt intended to embarrass both the American and Pakistani governments, this episode serves only to help anti-democratic jihadi groups. Ironically, however, by acting outside his official duties and contravening official government policy to leak these documents, the perpetrator actually demonstrates that rogue elements within the ISI are not following official Pakistani government policy when they offer any support to jihadi groups.

America Mourns for Data Darbar Victims

Pakistanis mourning after bombing attack on Sufi shrine

As reports of the dead continue, America is mourning for Pakistan’s terrible loss from a suicide bombing at a Sufi shrine in Lahore. So far, at least 50 people are confirmed dead and over 175 injured by a barbaric triple-suicide bombing in the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the second largest city in the nation.

The attack was part of a pattern of increased violence in Pakistan’s heartland, the province of Punjab, a troubling expansion of the Taliban insurgency tormenting the country’s western border.

“This is a barbaric attack,” wrote Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani expert on Sufism, on his Web site. The shrine, he said, “is not just another crowded place — it represents a millennia of tolerant Sufi Islam which is directly under attack by the puritans.”

The bombers detonated their explosives in the basement and inside the shrine, after a Sufi ceremony of singing and prayer, according to a witness, Muhamed Yusef, who was interviewed on Pakistani television. The police retrieved the heads of two of the bombers and estimated their ages as 17 and 22, the television reports said.

The blasts left a sickening scene of devastation. The Express 24/7 television network in Pakistan showed the shrine’s interior littered with bodies, prayer rugs and debris from the blast. Blood pooled on the white marble floor. Crowds gathered outside the shrine after the bombing, shouting, crying and protesting the attack.

“Those who still pretend that we are not a nation at war are complicit in these deaths,” said Farahnaz Ispahani, a spokeswoman for President Asif Ali Zardari.

As we have noted before, Pakistan has suffered – and continues to suffer – devastating attacks at the hands of extremist militants. Thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens have been brutally murdered by Taliban and other religious militants who seek to impose a medieval rule on the country by threat of force.

Pakistan continues to fight back against these militant groups. Despite suffering thousands of casualties and coming under direct attack by Taliban terrorists, Pakistan’s military and police forces sacrifice their lives almost daily to protect their fellow citizens.

That this attack comes just before 4th of July weekend is a reminder that our own democracy was built not only on constant sacrifice, but with the support of our friends and allies across the world. As Pakistan continues to sacrifice in order to firmly cement its own democracy, America mourns with you, and promises to stand unwavering at your side.

RAND Author Recognizes Pakistan's Progress

"Democracy is the best revenge."

Last week’s Rand report on Pakistan was met with mixed – and often conflicting – reviews. Much of the American press has latched onto criticism in the report that some elements within Pakistan are hesitant to give up the view that some militant groups can be useful as proxy fighters against a potential Indian assault. But this view perpetuated by the American press is not representative of the actual state of democracy in Pakistan.

One of the authors of the Rand report, C. Christine Fair, wrote last week on the website of Foreign Policy magazine that Pakistan has, in fact, made significant progress in a number of key areas since the present government was elected in 2008 – including the challenge of fighting terrorism – and that criticism of Pakistan’s current situation should be viewed in the context of this progress.

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Rand Report And Historical Context

Rand Corporation released a new report on Pakistan yesterday that includes a mixed bag of observations and recommendations. While the report does recognize the complicated situation that is religious extremism in Pakistan, it is imperative to a successful American-Pakistan partnership that we consider policy in the proper historical context.

Steve Coll, President of the New America Foundation, spoke with Judy Woodruff on the PBS News Hour last night and his conversation provides a good starting point for discussing key elements of the report.

Mr. Coll rightly notes that Pakistan has suffered immensely from extremist violence. The New York Times reported at the beginning of this year that,

The number of Pakistani civilians killed in militant attacks rose by a third in 2009 over the previous year, according to a new research report, a toll that exceeded even the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

Those numbers don’t include the over 7,000 injuries sustained by Pakistani civilians, nor the thousands of Pakistani military and police personnel killed by religious militants.

This is important to keep in mind when discussing Pakistan’s complicity with Taliban and other religious extremist groups. The Rand report recognizes this, noting that “[s]ome of these groups pose a grave threat to the Pakistani state…”

The fact is, the Pakistani state has a self-interest in defeating the Taliban and other groups that engage in religious violence. That’s not to say that there are not elements within Pakistan’s civilian, military, and intelligence services that don’t provide either indirect or direct support for militant groups. But it does mean that claims of an ‘official policy’ of state support for these groups are far fetched at best.

In fact, the present government, has taken unprecedented steps in eliminating the threat of religious militancy. But eliminating the terrorist threat will not happen overnight, and this government has only been in power for less than two years. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, writes in the new book, The Afghanistan-Pakistan Theater: Militant Islam, Security & Stability

…these problems come not just from continuing official support for religious militancy, but also from an institutional culture and outlook that grew over decades. The road to reversing this course will not be easy, but clearly understanding the problem – and acting upon it – is necessary.

It’s going to take time to root out lingering ties between Pakistani officials and militants. We must also keep in mind that these residual ties to militant groups are firmly rooted in longstanding tensions between Pakistan and India – tensions that past American policies have historically complicated.

Shuja Nawaz, Director of the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, describes the “roller coaster relationship” between the US and Pakistan as a key reason for lingering relationships between some elements within Pakistan’s security agencies and militant groups.

Though the United States sees itself as standing for democracy and freedom, it has acted in Pakistan over the decades in a shortsighted manner, making alliances largely with the military to advance its own strategic interests. First, it strengthened the hands of the army by increasing its size and heft in the 1950s via the Baghdad Pact against the Soviets. The U.S. looked the other way as martial law was declared by President Iskander Mirza in October 1958, and then as he was overthrown by Ayub Khan later that month. The U.S. decamped from the scene after the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, when Pakistan expected the U.S. to assist it. Pakistan then turned to China as its new best friend.

Being abandoned by the US is fresh in Pakistan’s memory, even if too many Americans may have forgotten. Without the confidence that the US will be a neutral arbiter between Pakistan and India and ensure Pakistan’s security and sovereignty, the temptation to resort to the old self-defeating use of militant groups as proxy fighters will continue.

To this end, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi deserves praise for his continued work to bridge the trust gap between the two nuclear powers. But the US must do more to ease Pakistani concerns that the we are not partners for the long-term.

During a panel discussion last week, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross observed that short-sighted American policies during the 1980s resulted in a trust deficit with Pakistan. Discussions of foreign policy related to Pakistan should be framed within the context of a long-term view of political engagement in the region with an eye to future dividends from continuing to support democratic reform. Otherwise, policies that attempt to maximize short-term security gains at the expense of long-term democratic reform in Pakistan will only continue the cycle of mistrust and violence, significantly threatening both Pakistani and American security in the future.