Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Afghanistan announces last set of election results

Afghanistan announced Wednesday the final batch of results from a September 18 parliamentary election, with poll organizers aiming to wrap up a vote marred by widespread fraud and pave the way for a new parliament.

The Independent Election Commission said preliminary winners would hold all seats in southeastern Ghazni province. The results had been held up because all the victors were from the Hazara ethnic group even though nearly half the population is Pashtun.

Pashtun areas were plagued by the worst violence on the day of the vote, and in one Ghazni district just three people voted. There were concerns Pashtuns might react badly if all seats went to the Hazaras rather than reflecting the province's ethnic mix.

"The president might have concerns but we have done our job professionally," IEC chairman Fazl Ahmad Manawi told reporters.

Nuclear Fuel Memos Expose Wary Dance With Pakistan

New York Times:
by Jane Perlez, David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Less than a month after President Obama testily assured reporters in 2009 that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands,” his ambassador here sent a secret message to Washington suggesting that she remained deeply worried.

The ambassador’s concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb.

In the cable, dated May 27, 2009, the ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, reported that the Pakistani government was yet again dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier to have the United States remove the material.

She wrote to senior American officials that the Pakistani government had concluded that “the ‘sensational’ international and local media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time.” A senior Pakistani official, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Americans were helping remove the fuel, the local press would certainly “portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

The fuel is still there.

It may be the most unnerving evidence of the complex relationship — sometimes cooperative, often confrontational, always wary — between America and Pakistan nearly 10 years into the American-led war in Afghanistan. The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations, make it clear that underneath public reassurances lie deep clashes over strategic goals on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda, and Washington’s warmer relations with India, Pakistan’s archenemy.

Written from the American Embassy in Islamabad, the cables reveal American maneuvering as diplomats try to support an unpopular elected government that is more sympathetic to American aims than is the real power in Pakistan, the army and intelligence agency so crucial to the fight against militants. The cables show just how weak the civilian government is: President Asif Ali Zardari told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that he worried that the military might “take me out.”

Frustration at American inability to persuade the Pakistani Army and intelligence agency to stop supporting the Afghan Taliban and other militants runs through the reports of meetings between American and Pakistani officials.

That frustration preoccupied the Bush administration and became an issue for the incoming Obama administration, the cables document, during a trip in January 2009 that Mr. Biden made to Pakistan 11 days before he was sworn in. In a meeting with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, Mr. Biden asked several times whether Pakistan and the United States “had the same enemy as we move forward.”

“The United States needs to be able to make an objective assessment of Pakistan’s part of the bargain,” Mr. Biden said, according to a Feb. 6, 2009, cable.

General Kayani tried to reassure him, saying, “We are on the same page in Afghanistan, but there might be different tactics.” Mr. Biden replied that “results” would test that.

The cables reveal at least one example of increased cooperation, previously undisclosed, under the Obama administration. Last fall, the Pakistani Army secretly allowed 12 American Special Operations soldiers to deploy with Pakistani troops in the violent tribal areas near the Afghan border.

The Americans were forbidden to conduct combat missions. Even though their numbers were small, their presence at army headquarters in Bajaur, South Waziristan and North Waziristan was a “sea change in thinking,” the embassy reported.

The embassy added its usual caution: The deployments must be kept secret or the “Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance.”

Within the past year, however, Pakistan and the United States have gingerly started to publicly acknowledge the role of American field advisers. Lt. Col. Michael Shavers, an American military spokesman in Islamabad, said in a statement that “at the request of the Pakistanis,” small teams of Special Operations forces “move to various locations with their Pakistani military counterparts throughout Pakistan.”

Moreover, last week in a report to Congress on operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said that the Pakistani Army had also accepted American and coalition advisers in Quetta.

The cables do not deal with the sharp increase under Mr. Obama in drone attacks against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal areas with Pakistan’s tacit approval. That is because the cables are not classified at the highest levels.

A Deep Skepticism

Over all, though, the cables portray deep skepticism that Pakistan will ever cooperate fully in fighting the full panoply of extremist groups. This is partly because Pakistan sees some of the strongest militant groups as insurance for the inevitable day that the United States military withdraws from Afghanistan — and Pakistan wants to exert maximum influence inside Afghanistan and against Indian intervention.

Indeed, the consul general in Peshawar wrote in 2008 that she believed that some members of the Haqqani network — one of the most lethal groups attacking American and Afghan soldiers — had left North Waziristan to escape drone strikes. Some family members, she wrote, relocated south of Peshawar; others lived in Rawalpindi, where senior Pakistani military officials also live.

In one cable, Ms. Patterson, a veteran diplomat who left Islamabad in October after a three-year stint as ambassador, said more money and military assistance would not be persuasive. “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India.”

In a rare tone of dissent with Washington, she said Pakistan would only dig in deeper if America continued to improve ties with India, which she said “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups.”

The groups Ms. Patterson referred to were almost certainly the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group financed by Pakistan in the 1990s to fight India in Kashmir that is accused of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

The highly enriched uranium that Ms. Patterson wanted removed from the research reactor came from the United States in the mid-1960s. In those days, under the Atoms for Peace program, little thought was given to proliferation, and Pakistan seemed too poor and backward to join the nuclear race.

But by May 2009, all that had changed, and her terse cable to the State and Defense Departments, among others, touched every nerve in the fraught relationship: mutual mistrust, the safety of the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, broken promises and a pervasive fear that any talk about Pakistan’s vulnerability would end whatever cooperation existed.

The reactor had been converted to use low-enriched uranium, well below bomb grade, in 1990, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or I.A.E.A. But the bomb-grade uranium had never been returned to the United States and remains in storage nearby. Ms. Patterson’s cable noted that Pakistan had “agreed in principle to the fuel removal in 2007.”

But time and again the Pakistanis balked, and she reported that an interagency group within the Pakistani government had decided to cancel a visit by American technical experts to get the fuel out of the country. She concluded that “it is clear that the negative media attention has begun to hamper U.S. efforts to improve Pakistan’s nuclear security and nonproliferation practices.”

Any progress, she suggested, would have to await a “more conducive” political climate.

On Monday, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement confirming that “the US suggestion to have the fuel transferred was plainly refused by Pakistan.” It said that the United States had provided the fuel but did not mention that, under the terms of such transfers, the United States retained the right to have the spent fuel returned.

The ambassador’s comments help explain why Mr. Obama and his aides have expressed confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security when asked in public. But at the beginning of the administration’s review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, a highly classified intelligence report delivered to Mr. Obama said that while Pakistan’s weapons were well secured, there was deep, continuing concern about “insider access,” meaning elements in the military or intelligence services.

In fact, Ms. Patterson, in a Feb. 4, 2009, cable, wrote that “our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Mr. Obama’s review concluded by determining that there were two “vital” American interests in the region. One was defeating Al Qaeda. The second, not previously reported, was making sure terrorists could never gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear program. That goal was classified, to keep from angering Islamabad.

Asked about the status of the fuel at the research reactor, Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Energy Department, said, “The United States supplied Pakistan with fuel for a research reactor decades ago for the purpose of producing medical isotopes and scientific research.” Implicitly acknowledging that the material remains there, Mr. LaVera said “the fuel is under I.A.E.A. safeguards and has not been part of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.”

One secret cable offers another glimpse into another element of the nuclear gamesmanship between the United States and its Pakistani allies: Even while American officials were trying to persuade Pakistani officials to give up nuclear material, they were quietly seeking to block Pakistan from trying to buy material that would help it produce tritium, the crucial ingredient needed to increase the power of nuclear weapons.

After providing specific details of the proposed sale, a Dec. 12, 2008, secret cable to the American Embassy in Singapore, seeking help to stop a transaction that was about to take place, concluded, “We would have great concern over Pakistan’s potential use of tritium to advance its nuclear weapons program.”

Reports of Army Abuses

The cables also reveal that the American Embassy had received credible reports of extrajudicial killings of prisoners by the Pakistani Army more than a year before the Obama administration publicly acknowledged the problem and before a video that is said to show such killings surfaced on the Internet.

The killings are another source of tension, complicated by American pressure on Pakistan to be more aggressive in confronting militants on its own soil.

In a Sept. 10, 2009, cable labeled “secret/noforn,” meaning that it was too delicate to be shared with foreign governments, the embassy confronted allegations of human rights abuses in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas since the Pakistani Army had begun fighting the Taliban a few months earlier.

While carefully worded, the cable left little doubt about what was going on. It spoke of a “growing body of evidence” that gave credence to the allegations.

“The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extrajudicial killing of some detainees,” the cable said. “The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan army units.” The Frontier Corps is a paramilitary force partly financed by the United States to fight the insurgents.

The Pakistani Army was holding as many as 5,000 “terrorist detainees,” the cable said, about twice as many as the army had acknowledged.

Concerned that the United States should not offend the Pakistani Army, the cable stressed that any talk of the killings must be kept out of the press.

“Post advises that we avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy,” the ambassador wrote. This September, however, the issue exploded into public view when a video emerged showing Pakistani soldiers executing six unarmed young men in civilian clothes. In October, the Obama administration suspended financing to half a dozen Pakistani Army units believed to have killed civilians or unarmed prisoners.

The cables verge on gossipy, as diplomats strained to understand the personalities behind the fractious Pakistani government, and particularly two men: General Kayani and President Zardari.

Often, the United States finds that Mr. Zardari, the accidental leader after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, is sympathetic to American goals — stiff sanctions on terrorist financing, the closing down of terrorist training camps — but lacks the power to fulfill his promises against resistance from the military and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Zardari’s chief antagonist, General Kayani, emerges as a stubborn guarantor of what he sees as Pakistan’s national interest, an army chief who meddles in civilian politics but stops short of overturning the elected order.

Early in the Obama administration, General Kayani made clear a condition for improved relations. As the director general of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, from 2004 to 2007, he did not want a “reckoning with the past,” said a cable in 2009 introducing him to the new administration.

“Kayani will want to hear that the United States has turned the page on past ISI operations,” it said. General Kayani was probably referring to the peace accords with the Taliban from 2004 to 2007 that resulted in the strengthening of the militants.

If the general seems confidently in charge, the cables portray Mr. Zardari as a man not fully aware of his weakness.

At one point he said he would not object if Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered in Pakistan as the father of its nuclear weapons program, were interviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency but tacitly acknowledged that he was powerless to make that happen.

Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on ultimately unproved corruption charges, feared for his position and possibly — the wording is ambiguous — his life: the cables reveal that Vice President Biden told Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain in March 2009 that Mr. Zardari had told him that the “ISI director and Kayani will take me out.”

His suspicions were not groundless. In March 2009, a period of political turmoil, General Kayani told the ambassador that he “might, however reluctantly,” pressure Mr. Zardari to resign and, the cable added, presumably leave Pakistan. He mentioned the leader of a third political party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, as a possible replacement.

“Kayani made it clear regardless how much he disliked Zardari he distrusted Nawaz even more,” the ambassador wrote, a reference to Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister.

By 2010, after many sessions with Mr. Zardari, Ms. Patterson had revised the guarded optimism that characterized her early cables about Mr. Zardari.

“Pakistan’s civilian government remains weak, ineffectual and corrupt,” she wrote on Feb. 22, 2010, the eve of a visit by the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III. “Domestic politics is dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari.”

That assessment holds more than eight months later, even as Mr. Obama in October extended an invitation to the Mr. Zardari leader to visit the White House next year, as the leader of a nation that holds a key to peace in Afghanistan but appears too divided and mistrustful to turn it for the Americans.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, and David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt from Washington. William J. Broad and Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.

Losing glory


In politics, perception is critical. It is the people’s perceptions of how a particular party has served its term that brings them out in droves to elect who they think can fairly lead them towards progress and the attainment of dignity and their rights. On its 44th founding anniversary, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is suffering from a bad case of negative perception. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on Monday addressed a party workers’ convention where he categorically ruled out any “misadventure” to destabilise the government and that “change can only come through the people”. In the run-up to the 2013 elections, the PPP needs to ensure that no complacency sets in when it comes to satisfying the aspirations of the people. For that a certain amount of introspection and reflection is needed by the party.

At present, the PPP leads a government that is alleged to be rife with corruption, nepotism and cronyism. Nawaz Sharif on the same day displayed his usual rhetoric at a party workers’ convention where he accused the centre of “bad governance”, amongst other things. Although this is not unusual for the opposition, the fact remains that in the minds of the people this rhetoric is beginning to acquire a ring of truth. The masses are being overburdened by skyrocketing inflation, political intrigues where allegations of corruption and partisan politics are reported every day and where the problems of the country, including the war against terror, are leaving people out in the cold, sometimes as cadavers. Maybe it is the very weight of these problems that has left the PPP seemingly somewhat indifferent in managing the affairs of the state for the people’s welfare. Even its repetition of measures taken in this regard sound increasingly hollow. Pakistan today is the proverbial bed of thorns, beset with so many problems that there are hardly any contenders eager to come forward and urgently tackle its woes. Criticism by itself or for its own sake is no solution, something one wishes the opposition would come to terms with. The PPP needs to get its act together on a war footing.

Gilani also stated that it “respects” criticism from the opposition, media and coalition members. Why then, does it not respect criticism from within? The recent suspension of senior PPP stalwart Naheed Khan’s party membership has raised many eyebrows. Even though she is a dissenting voice within the party, her thoughts too must be respected and tolerated. The fact that inner-party dissent has been dealt with similarly in the PPP’s past further compounds the fact that, after Benazir’s murder, the party is risking fragmentation due to its intolerance of internal criticism. This must change.

The PPP was founded to give the masses a voice through the adoption of a socialist agenda. The PPP came to alter the power structure, to give the people a sense of self-worth and a platform to challenge the status quo. That manifesto remains, to a large extent, unfulfilled. Deserting its leftist principles and ideology to embrace the liberal free-market paradigm, the PPP has wandered far from its original goals. The past 43 years have delivered a rather chequered and tragic history for the PPP, the loss of Zulfikar Ali and Benazir Bhutto being the two lowest points. Despite the many twists and turns the party has faced and the accusations that are being hurled against its key members, it is still not too late for the present incumbents to improve their performance. It is time that public perceptions are altered. Too many perceive a drift in policy matters, both in the party’s own ranks and in the links that keep the leaders attuned with their people. The PPP has always gained victory when there has been a good turnout at the polls. It should remember that a disillusioned constituency and public may refrain from casting their vote come election time. *

Saudi Arabia wants military rule in Pakistan...WikiLeaks cables

King Abdullah and ruling princes distrust Asif Ali Zardari, the country's Shia president, and would prefer 'another Musharraf'
America is often portrayed as the big dog in Pakistan's yard: a swaggering power that makes rules, barks orders and throws its weight around. But the WikiLeaks cables highlight the understated yet insistent influence of another country with ideas about Pakistan's future: Saudi Arabia.

In recent years Saudi rulers have played favourites with Pakistani politicians, wielded their massive financial clout to political effect and even advocated a return to military rule.

"We in Saudi Arabia are not observers in Pakistan, we are participants," the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel al-Jubeir, boasted in 2007. A senior US official later bemoaned as "negative" the Saudi influence.

As home to Islam's holiest sites, Saudi Arabia has longstanding ties with Pakistan. In the 1980s Saudi intelligence, along with the CIA, funded the anti-Soviet "jihad" in Afghanistan; since then the Saudis have given billions in financial aid and cut-price oil.

But the close relationship has grown "increasingly strained" in the past two years, with King Abdullah and the ruling princes displaying a clear preference for the opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, over the president, Asif Ali Zardari, who is viewed with thinly veiled contempt.

In January 2009 Abdullah told James Jones, then the US national security adviser, that Zardari was incapable of countering terrorism, describing him as the "'rotten head' that was infecting the whole body". Abdullah added that Pakistan's army was "staying out of Pakistani politics in deference to US wishes, rather than doing what it 'should'".

Abdullah's preference for military rule was recorded by the Saudis' American guests: "They appear to be looking for 'another Musharraf': a strong, forceful leader they know they can trust." His views were echoed by the interior minister, who said Saudi Arabia viewed the army as its "winning horse" in Pakistan.

The anti-Zardari bias appears to have a sectarian tinge. Pakistan's ambassador to Riyadh, Umar Khan Alisherzai, says the Saudis, who are Sunni, distrust Zardari, a Shia. Last year the United Arab Emirates' foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, told Hillary Clinton that Saudi suspicions of Zardari's Shia background were "creating Saudi concern of a Shia triangle in the region between Iran, the Maliki government in Iraq, and Pakistan under Zardari".

The Saudis betray a strong preference for Sharif, who fled into exile in Jeddah in 2000 to avoid prosecution under General Pervez Musharraf. The cables contain details of Sharif's secret exile deal – he was to remain out of politics for 10 years – as well as hints of Saudi anger when he returned to Pakistan in 2007.

Since then, however, Saudi displeasure has abated, and the Saudis clearly view him as "their man" in the Pakistani power game. In early 2008 the Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, described Sharif as a "force for stability" and "a man who can speak across party lines even to religious extremists". American officials noted that Sharif had obtained preferential business deals during his time in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile the Saudis have pressured Zardari with oil and money. In late 2008 Pakistani officials complained that "not a drop" of Saudi oil promised at concessionary rates had been delivered, while the annual aid cheque of $300m was well below the regular rate. "Muslim brotherhood is not what it used to be," fretted an economic counsellor at the Pakistani embassy.Pakistani officials echo the American fears about the radicalizing influence of Saudi money, some of it from the government. In April 2008 Pakistani interior advisor Rehman Malik said he was "particularly concerned about the role of the Saudi ambassador in funding religious schools and mosques" in Pakistan.

"Malik said that [President] Musharraf had come close to "throwing him (the Saudi ambassador) out of the country" but Malik said he knew the Saudi royal family well and would work with them."

Zardari has asserted his independence from the Saudis. The king was unhappy that he made his first official visit to China and skipped the opening of a new university in favour of meetings in Europe and the US.

US officials noted that the go-slow was part of a broader Saudi policy of "withholding assistance" – slowing the flow of cash and oil – when it suited policy in Lebanon, Palestine and Pakistan. Such economic tactics may be familiar to US officials, who used them against Pakistan for much of the 1990s.

US diplomats see the Saudis as allies but also competitors for influence in Pakistan. In 2009 special envoy Richard Holbrooke warned Prince Mohammed bin Nayef of "unimaginable" consequences for Saudi Arabia if Pakistan fell apart, especially if its nuclear weapons fell into unfriendly hands.

"God forbid!" responded the prince.

But in Islamabad, American diplomats have sought to diminish Saudi influence by allying with another Muslim country, Turkey. After a meeting with the Turkish ambassador in May 2009, ambassador Anne Patterson noted that moderate, progressive Turkey presented a "positive role model" for Pakistan.

It was well positioned, she said, to "neutralise somewhat the more negative influence on Pakistan politics and society exercised by Saudi Arabia".

China says nothing should be done to "inflame" Korean Peninsula situation

China said Wednesday that the most pressing task now is to prevent any escalation of the tension on the Korean Peninsula and nothing should be done to "inflame the situation".

"The parties concerned should keep calm and exercise restraint, and work to bring the situation back onto the track of dialogue and negotiation," said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi while addressing a forum in Beijing.

"China decides its position based on the merits of each case and does not seek to protect any side," Yang said.

Yang's remarks came as the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States on Sunday launched a four-day joint naval drill in waters west of the divided Korean Peninsula, following the exchange of artillery fire last Tuesday between the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"Showing power and confrontation is not a solution to problems and not in the interests of related parties," Yang said.

"The stability on the Korean Peninsula is conducive to all; the chaos there is detrimental to all," Yang said.

China on Sunday proposed to hold emergency consultations among the heads of delegation to the six-party talks in Beijing in early December.

The talks group China, the DPRK, the United States, the ROK, Russia and Japan.

Yang said the emergency talks "will help ease the current tension and create conditions for the resumption of the six-party talks".

"We will make continued efforts to encourage all parties to work together to maintain peace and stability on the Peninsula and in Northeast Asia," Yang said.

Zardari fears of being deprived of power: Wikileaks

According to the latest cache of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks, President Asif Ali Zardari once told the US vice President, Joe Biden, that he feared the military “might take me out”.

According to wikileaks latest document President Zardari has made preparations in case of being killed like his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.

General Ashfaq Kayani, chief of military, told the US ambassador during a March 2009 meeting that he “might, however reluctantly,” pressure Zardari to resign, according to a cable cited by the Times.

Kayani was quoted as saying that he might support Asfandyar Wali Khan, leader of the Awami National League Party, as the new president.

Zardari told him that Kayani and the Inter-Services Intelligence agency “will take me out,” according to the cable.