Relations between the United States and Pakistan have quickly soured following a helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week. The incident prompted Pakistan to close an important border crossing for NATO supplies into Afghanistan. Criticism of the U.S. and NATO has dominated the news in Pakistani media even after the U.S. apologized for the incident.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has recently accused some elements of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of supporting the terrorist networks in the country, thus undermining the war against terrorism by the U.S.-led international forces in the region. Recently, militants attacked 50 NATO supply trucks in Pakistan's northwestern town of Nowshera, the seventh attack in a short period of time. The U.S. has dramatically ramped up strikes with unmanned aerial drones in Pakistan's tribal areas in recent weeks.
But these are not the only stories that dominate Pakistani news. Reports about the human suffering due to the recent devastating floods, though they have all but vanished from Western newspapers, remain in the headlines in Pakistani ones. Terrorism acts are constant reminders of instability and insecurity for the average citizen, most recently punctuated by two blasts at a shrine in Karachi which left 9 dead and scores injured. The economy has tanked, inflation is at 18-20 percent, and the government seems to be helpless to do anything about it.
Pakistan is a troubled nation with deeply divided loyalties.
Even the once prestigious military establishment is now in trouble. A video purporting to show a group of Pakistani soldiers gunning down six blindfolded men in the country's troubled northwest has been circulating on the Internet for weeks. The troubling video has renewed long-standing concerns about military human rights violations during operations against the Taliban.
The war in Afghanistan has entered its tenth year. Many Pakistanis believe that “America’s War” has become their war. Fears are growing in Pakistan that the U.S. could bolster its drone attacks with a bombing campaign using fixed-wing aircrafts. This would most certainly increase Pakistani anger that could spill over into violence aimed at the thousands of Americans who are currently stationed in the country.
“The U.S. is trying to win its war in Afghanistan, through Pakistan,” says journalist Imtiyaz Mohammed.
He added that Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari is in a major predicament of trying to appease the United States while also trying to calm down an angry population.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is currently ranked the 10th most failed state in the 2010 Failed State Index released by Foreign Policy magazine this summer. Just three places below Afghanistan.
But former President Pervez Musharraf attributes Pakistan’s woes to "failure" of governance.
"I would say failure of governance is the greatest threat today," said Musharraf, who has announced his return to active Pakistani politics from London where he has been living in self-imposed exile since the general election of 2008.
However, many Pakistani pundits believe that this announcement is no coincidence, and has the United States' markings all over it.
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2010 could go down in history as the year of natural and environmental disasters. We’ve witnessed earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, wildfires and a drought in Russia, a devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now one fifth of Pakistan is submerged under water due to floods leaving more than 20 million people without potable water, food, shelter and medicine.
The United Nations general secretary, Ban Ki-moon, called this latest disaster a “slow-motion tsunami,” and appealed for swift aid.
"Make no mistake, this is a global disaster," Ban said at the UN general assembly. "Pakistan is facing a slow-motion tsunami. Its destructive powers will accumulate and grow with time," he warned.
Relief agencies say the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Pakistan is greater than this year's earthquake in Haiti; however, relief for Pakistan may be a long time coming.
"Although governments have been coming forward with increasing generosity, the public response has not been the immediate outpouring of generosity that we've seen for Haiti and the tsunami five years ago," the U.N. Under Secretary John Holmes said.
According to a CBS news report, sixteen days after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, aid commitments totaled $1.4 billion. Sixteen days after Pakistan's floods began, promises added up to just $200 million.
Yet despite the heart-wrenching television images
broadcast across the globe showing massive destruction and enormous human suffering, the world has been slow to react to calls for aid. Why has Pakistan been forsaken?
The most common answer to the slow response is “donor fatigue.” Many believe that there have been too many disasters in one year, and donors have reached their limit in giving, especially since many still suffer from the effects of the financial crisis. Another factor has been a low death toll. But Pakistan's tarnished image plays a major role, according to a few Pakistani Americans I’ve spoken to.
“Zardari’s government is corrupt,” said Ali Khan, a financial analyst from San Jose. “Many people do not believe that their contributions will reach the right people,” he added.
Another Pakistani American I’ve spoken to placed the blame for the slow response on the anti-Muslim sentiments sweeping the Western world.
Meanwhile, the United States has pledged an additional $60 million to the U.N. flood-relief effort in Pakistan, bringing its contribution to $150 million in a move designed to encourage other governments and private donors to boost their aid.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has pledged $124.29 million in aid for Pakistan’s flood relief campaign, surpassing the western economic giants - and Islamabad’s allies in the war against terror – according to Al Arabiya TV. The UAE has also been leading a massive relief campaign to transport food and medicine to flood-stricken remote areas in Pakistan. Oil-rich Kuwait however, has been criticized for it’s meager $10 million contribution.
Arab media has given the crisis extensive coverage and has played a major role in creating awareness during the holy month of Ramadan, a month known for giving.
Weather forecasts indicate that there could be four more weeks of rain, which could exasperate the situation even further.
We at Link TV have a set up a page on our website to keep you updated with the news in Pakistan and provide you with a useful guide so that you too can contribute in some way in the saving and rebuilding of lives there.
Not too long after some 15,000 U.S., British, and Afghan national forces launched the largest attack on Taliban forces since President Obama signed orders to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, news broke of the arrest of the second most senior Afghan Taliban commander since 2001, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
According to officials, he was seized in a secret raid in Pakistan several days ago by U.S. and Pakistani intelligence forces. His capture reflects a markedly changed attitude by Pakistani intelligence toward an insurgent force that the country had allowed to operate with relative impunity for the past eight years.
Stunned by the success of this operation, however, a Taliban spokesman denied reports of Mullah Baradar's capture, saying he was still in Afghanistan, actively organizing the group's military and political activities.
"Mullah Baradar has not been arrested, he is in Afghanistan, I don’t know who spread the rumor, but it’s absolutely false,” Qari Mohammed Yousef, a spokesman for the Taliban, said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Pakistani media's response to the arrest of Mullah Baradar has been surprisingly muted.
The arrest made international headlines throughout the day this past Tuesday. But Pakistani newspapers and television channels barely covered the news, with some completely ignoring it. Analysts say the blackout was because Pakistan's government and army have been wary of being perceived as an American lapdog. Any collaboration with the U.S. in its "war on terror" in Afghanistan has become increasingly unpopular in Pakistan since Asif Ali Zardari’s government took power in 2008.
The U.S. and Afghanistan have repeatedly pressed Pakistan to do more to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters operating in its territory. But Pakistan's spy agencies have long been accused of protecting top Afghan Taliban leaders, many of whom are believed to have fled to Pakistan during the U.S.-led invasion, in order to use them as tools to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan when the Americans withdraw.
"If Pakistani officials had wanted to arrest him, they could have done it at any time," said Sher Mohammad Akhud Zada, the former governor of Afghanistan's Helmand province and a member of the Afghan parliament in an interview on Al Jazeera. "Why did they arrest him now?"
Many analysts believe that the Pakistani government has realized that the Taliban is a serious threat to them since an all-out war between the Pakistani army and the Taliban broke out in Swat Valley last year, leaving many civilians dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.
“The honeymoon is over,” commented Iftikhar Mohammed, a freelance reporter and an expert on Pakistani affairs. According to him the Pakistani intelligence apparatus and the army have been complacent in the past in curbing the terrorist activities of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
What could this mean for the hunt for Osama bin Laden, who is often said to be hiding along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border?
The answer depends on the information Baradar provides to interrogators in the coming few days.
Baradar was the main link between Mullah Omar and field commanders, and knows of the whereabouts of the Taliban leadership, according to security experts. In 1998, the Taliban regime mulled turning bin Laden over to the Saudi government, but the man who Osama bin Laden once called, “Amir al-Mu’minin”, or Commander of the Faithful, interceded.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently said that while the United States backed the Taliban integration program, the offer did not include the group’s top leadership. Earlier, in late January, Geoff Morrell, spokesman for U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, suggested that the United States could not negotiate with Mullah Omar because he has "the blood of thousands of Americans on his hands.”
Could the capture of Mullah Baradar create a domino effect and deliver the beginning of the end of bin Laden, or is this going to be a Tora Bora redux…another wasted opportunity?
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Every year on the anniversary of September 11, the same question pops up: where is Osama bin Laden? And for eight years various pundits, who hardly speak a word of Pashto, Dari, Urdu or any other language spoken in the region, play the guessing game, placing him somewhere along the Pakistani-Afghan border.
This week, President Obama took Gen. Stanley McChrystal's advice and ordered a surge in the war in Afghanistan by sending 30,000 more American troops there to help battle the Taliban insurgency. In a speech at the US Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, the President set out what he said was a new strategy to bring the war to a "successful conclusion" and reverse the momentum of Taliban gains.
The President did not mention Osama bin Laden, a frequent target of his criticism during the campaign when he criticized President Bush.
"We will kill bin Laden, we will crush al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority," then candidate Barack Obama said during an October 2008 debate.
If the US goal remains to "crush" al Qaeda, then perhaps many Americans would not be as upset with Obama's Afghan surge; however, this is not the case.
As it stands, there will be nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with about 47,000 from allies. This is not to mention contractors, who already outnumber U.S. forces in the war-ravaged country. According to credible intelligence estimates, 100 al Qaeda operatives are in Afghanistan, and 300 more have fled to Pakistan. As for the Taliban, conflicting estimates put their numbers anywhere between 7,000 to 25,000. Therefore, this build up does not make sense, and the numbers do not add up.
Also, why do the United States and its allies need close to 150,000 troops if they can negotiate with the Taliban? Mr. Karzai does!
"We must talk to the Taliban as an Afghan necessity. The fight against terrorism and extremism cannot be won by fighting alone," Karzai said. "Personally, I would definitely talk to Mullah Omar. Whatever it takes to bring peace to Afghanistan, I, as the Afghan president, will do it."
Meanwhile, President Obama has increased US pressure on Pakistan to fight the Taliban in its territories. As an inducement, and a measure of heightened American concern for Pakistan, he has also helped bring a big increase in aid to the country, including $7.5 billion of non-military aid over five years, approved recently by Congress. The problem is that there is no certainty or confidence that the current Pakistani regime is going to last; Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari is one of the country's most discredited politicians and linked to corruption. There is a major question mark on who will be replacing him or what sort of a government Pakistan will have after his imminent fall.
President Obama has not been forthcoming with the American people. He should come clean and explain the real reason behind the surge. It's not because of bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or the Taliban. The real reason is Pakistan, a failed state with nuclear warheads!
Original article published on the Huffington Post.
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