Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Adm. Mullen’s words on Pakistan come under scrutiny

Adm. Mike Mullen’s assertion last week that an anti-American insurgent group in Afghanistan is a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s spy service was overstated and contributed to overheated reactions in Pakistan and misperceptions in Washington, according to American officials involved in U.S. policy in the region.

The internal criticism by the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to challenge Mullen openly, reflects concern over the accuracy of Mullen’s characterizations at a time when Obama administration officials have been frustrated in their efforts to persuade Pakistan to break its ties to Afghan insurgent groups.The administration has long sought to pressure Pakistan, but to do so in a nuanced way that does not sever the U.S. relationship with a country that American officials see as crucial to winning the war in Afghanistan and maintaining long-term stability in the region.

Mullen’s testimony to a Senate committee was widely interpreted as an accusation by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that Pakistan’s military and espionage agencies sanction and direct bloody attacks against U.S. troops and targets in Afghanistan. Such interpretations prompted new levels of indignation among senior officials in both the United States and Pakistan.

Mullen’s language “overstates the case,” said a senior Pentagon official with access to classified intelligence files on Pakistan, because there is scant evidence of direction or control. If anything, the official said, the intelligence indicates that Pakistan treads a delicate if duplicitous line, providing support to insurgent groups including the Haqqani network but avoiding actions that would provoke a U.S. response.

“The Pakistani government has been dealing with Haqqani for a long time and still sees strategic value in guiding Haqqani and using them for their purposes,” the Pentagon official said. But “it’s not in their interest to inflame us in a way that an attack on a [U.S.] compound would do.”

U.S. officials stressed that there is broad agreement in the military and intelligence community that the Haqqani network has mounted some of the most audacious attacks of the Afghanistan war, including a 20-hour siege by gunmen this month on the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul.

A senior aide to Mullen defended the chairman’s testimony, which was designed to prod the Pakistanis to sever ties to the Haqqani group if not contain it by force. “I don’t think the Pakistani reaction was unexpected,” said Capt. John Kirby. “The chairman stands by every word of his testimony.”

But Mullen’s pointed message and the difficulty in matching his words to the underlying intelligence underscore the suspicion and distrust that have plagued the United States and Pakistan since they were pushed together as counterterrorism partners after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

U.S. military officials said that Mullen’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee has been misinterpreted, and that his remark that the Haqqani network had carried out recent truck-bomb and embassy attacks “with ISI support” was meant to imply broad assistance, but not necessarily direction by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.U.S. officials have long accused Pakistan of providing support to the Haqqani network and allowing it to operate along the Afghanistan border with relative impunity, a charge that Pakistani officials reject.

But Mullen seemed to take the allegation an additional step, saying that the Haqqani network “acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” a phrase that implies ISI involvement and control.That interpretation might be valid “if we were judging by Western standards,” said a senior U.S. military official who defended Mullen’s testimony. But the Pakistanis “use extremist groups — not only the Haqqanis — as proxies and hedges” to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

“This is not new,” the official said. “Can they control them like a military unit? We don’t think so. Do they encourage them? Yes. Do they provide some finance for them? Yes. Do they provide safe havens? Yes.”

That nuance escaped many in Congress and even some in the Obama administration, who voiced concern that the escalation in rhetoric had inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

U.S. officials said that even evidence that has surfaced since Mullen’s testimony is open to differences in interpretation, including cellphones recovered from gunmen who were killed during the assault on the U.S. Embassy.

One official said the phones were used to make repeated calls to numbers associated with the Haqqani network, as well as presumed “ISI operatives.” But the official declined to explain the basis for that conclusion.

The senior Pentagon official treated the assertion with skepticism, saying the term “operatives” covers a wide range of supposed associates of the ISI. “Does it mean the same Haqqani numbers [also found in the phones], or is it actually uniformed officers” of Pakistan’s spy service?

U.S. officials said Mullen was unaware of the cellphones until after he testified.

Pakistani officials acknowledge that they have ongoing contact with the Haqqani network, a group founded by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who was one of the CIA-backed mujaheddin commanders who helped drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now in poor health, Haqqani has yielded day-to-day control of the network to his son, Sirajuddin.

U.S. officials see indications that their Pakistani counterparts can exert influence on the Haqqani group in some cases, if not exert control.

Last year, at the United States’ behest, the ISI appealed to the Haqqani group not to attack polling stations during Afghan elections, a request that appears to have been honored. The senior Pentagon official declined to say how U.S. intelligence knows that the request was made, except to say, “We were aware of it.”

Mullen’s testimony was prepared at a time of intense frustration with Pakistan, in the aftermath of the embassy attack and other incidents. His remarks were striking in part because Mullen has long been sympathetic to Pakistan, traveling frequently to Islamabad and meeting more than two dozen times with its army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

But with his term as Joint Chiefs chairman about to expire, Mullen has become increasingly frustrated with the failure to get Pakistan to cut ties with Haqqani, and instructed his staff to compose testimony for last week’s hearing that would convey a message of exasperation.

In Pakistan, a military official emerged from a meeting of corps commanders Sunday saying they would make no move against Haqqani in the North Waziristan tribal region and warning that a unilateral U.S. action would have “disastrous consequences.”

The reaction in the Pakistani press to Mullen’s message has been more severe. A column this week by retired air vice marshal Shahzad Chaudry asked, “What could be the possible motives for America’s recent diatribes?” It concluded that the United States was intentionally sowing chaos in the region to weaken Pakistan.

In Washington, a senior Obama administration official said that “no one has any interest in walking back” what Mullen said, even while voicing concern over the comments’ impact on the fragile relationship with Pakistan.

“If the Pakistanis are finally scared about this, great,” the administration official said. “But we don’t want to walk [the relationship] over a cliff.”

Afghan president questions future of peace talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, long a staunch advocate of peace talks with the Taliban, on Wednesday questioned whether the insurgent group was able to seek a political settlement and blamed Pakistan for fomenting instability.

The Afghan president had met with Afghanistan’s political and religious elite to discuss the future of peace negotiations after the assassination last week of the government’s top peace envoy, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rabbani’s killer was a suicide bomber posing as a reconciliation envoy sent by the Taliban’s leadership council, and Karzai’s response to the attack marked an apparent shift in stance from a leader who when pushing for negotiations has described the Taliban as errant “brothers”.

Karzai took a swipe at neighbouring Pakistan, saying it was clear the Taliban leadership was not independent enough to make its own decisions about how it conducted the war, and suggesting talks with Islamabad instead.

“During our three-year efforts for peace, the Taliban has martyred our religious ulema (leaders), tribal elders, women, children, old and young,” Karzai was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office.

“By killing Rabbani, they showed they are not able to take decisions. Now, the question is (should we seek) peace with who, with which people?”

The meeting included tribal elders, legislative chairmen, cabinet ministers, former mujahideen commanders and his two vice-presidents, the statement added.

The death of Rabbani, the most prominent surviving leader of the ethnic Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance of fighters and politicians, had raised concerns that his assassination would not only scuttle the peace process but exacerbate ethnic rifts among Afghans fighting the Taliban.

Hundreds of Rabbani’s supporters protested in Kabul on Tuesday against his killing, chanting “death to Pakistan, death to the Taliban” and demanding the government scrap plans to hold dialogue with the insurgents.

Rabbani was chairman of the High Peace Council, formed by Karzai in October last year to reach out to the Taliban.

Although the Council was considered more an official endorsement of negotiations than a real body for discussions, contacts continued through other channels, often involving foreign countries with a stake in Afghanistan’s future.

Karzai announced in June that the United States had made contact with the Taliban but had yet to reach a stage where the government and insurgents were meeting.


Preliminary investigations into Rabbani’s killing, presented to Karzai by the country’s intelligence chiefs on Tuesday, said the attack was plotted outside Afghanistan and the Taliban’s powerful Quetta Shura may have been involved. .

Many Afghans have long accused Pakistan and its main spy agency, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of backing insurgent groups to further Islamabad’s own interests.

Pakistan denies this.

Top US officials also accused Pakistan of supporting insurgent groups active in Afghanistan, after a 20-hour attack on diplomatic targets in the Afghan capital earlier this month.

The outgoing chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, testified before the US Senate last week that the Taliban-linked Haqqani network believed to be behind the siege was a “veritable arm” of the ISI. Pakistan and the Taliban have strongly rejected his claim.

Karzai said Afghanistan’s efforts to improve ties with Pakistan had not been reciprocated. “Pakistan did nothing to destroy terrorist strongholds, allowing them to train in its territory,” he said.

“And now, if the Taliban is being used … by the ISI, then Afghanistan has to talk with Pakistan and not the Taliban,” he added.

After his killing, Rabbani’s aides said a former Taliban member named Hameedullah Akhondzada, who had earned Rabbani’s trust and claimed to be in contact with the Quetta Shura, had met with the former president on several occasions since June.

Akhondzada did not attend the last week’s meeting and sent a last-minute replacement, who detonated a bomb concealed in his turban during an embrace as he greeted Rabbani.

US holds Haqqanis as top target

US State Department Thursday said that US was single-mindedly bent on dealing a decisive blow to Haqqani Network before any thing else, Geo News reported.

Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, briefing pressman here in Washington said that top-level aimed at a Pakistan-US joint operation against Haqqani Network is underway as it now stands as its top priority.

The spokesperson stressed that US rather wants to talk these issues out with Pakistan.

Pakistan’s non-military aid will continue in the face of given embitterment both countries are going through.

She chose not to comment on ISI-Haqqani nexus.

Lady Gaga attends fundraiser for Barack Obama

His popularity may be waning of late, with the economy in the doldrums, but on the last of four fundraisers events in Seattle and San Jose, Calif., on Sunday, Obama was greeted by a crowd that included one of only two people in the world who has more Twitter followers than he does: pop singing sensation Lady Gaga.

The singer, born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, was among an estimated 75 guests who had paid the maximum campaign donation of $35,800 for access to the exclusive event at the Silicon Valley home of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
According to a White House press pool report, Gaga tottered in on “sky-high heels” shortly after her song “Poker Face” played on the stereo system.
She was “wearing a floor-length sleeveless lacy black dress, her blonde hair was gathered in a bouffant up-do adorned with a black hair piece with a black veil down the back, which she swept to the side and in front of her left shoulder. (The hair added about 6 inches to her stature).”
Gaga, who towered over the 6-foot-1 Obama, took a seat at a middle table and stood with the other guests when the president arrived. He did not acknowledge her during his remarks, which lasted eight minutes.
Gaga is one of the world’s most influential contemporary pop stars. Her 13.9 million Twitter followers make her the social media outlet’s most popular user, far outpacing Obama’s 2012 campaign, which comes in at No. 3 with 10.2 million. (Teen idol Justin Bieber clocks in at second with 12.9 million, according to the
At least she didn’t try to make herself heard by the president in the same way she did two years ago.

US arrests 2,900 illegal immigrants

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said the operation, which it dubbed "Cross Check" and which involved nearly 2,000 agents, "led to the arrest of more than 2,900 convicted criminal aliens".
"The estimates vary but (there are) somewhere around a million people with criminal convictions who are subject to removal under the law," said ICE director John Morton.
He said the number of illegal immigrants in the country - about 11 million according to official estimates - has always been more than the agency can expel.
"From our prospective, the best place to start is with criminal offenders," he said at a new conference.
Of those detained in the latest operation, 1,282 had multiple convictions to their name, and more than 1,600 had served sentences for crimes like armed robbery, attempted murder, kidnapping or drug trafficking, ICE said.It said 681 of those detained had been expelled from the United States after being convicted of crimes but returned to the country illegally, it said.
The United States has expelled 350,000 illegal immigrants a year on average over the past three years - a record high - and about half of them had criminal records.
The agency has carried out operations like "Cross Check" before, but this was the first time it has done so simultaneously throughout the country.
Most of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States are Hispanics.

'Car bombs and suicide bombers were unknown in Soviet-era Kabul'

In this extract from his new book, Ghosts of Afghanistan, Jonathan Steele recalls his first visit to Kabul, which in 1981, was firmly under Soviet control
'Explosion? What explosion?" Afghanistan's foreign minister Shah Mohammed Dost inquired with an elegant raising of his eyebrows when I interrupted our interview to ask whether the sudden noise I had just heard was an explosion.

It was November 1981, almost two years since Soviet troops had invaded, and the official spin from Moscow and its allies in Kabul was that everything was under control.

"Ah yes, the dynamiting," Dost said as another boom sounded in the distance. He was eager to assure me I was mistaken if I thought I could hear the sound of war from his office in central Kabul. "They do it almost every day, sometimes twice a day, for producing stones for construction, you know."

A tall, slim man with a neatly clipped moustache, Dost was the most prominent face of Afghanistan's Moscow-installed regime.

In the first weeks after the December 1979 invasion, Soviet officials had been so confident of quick victory that they gave western reporters astonishing access, even allowing them to ride on tanks or drive rented cars and taxis alongside Soviet convoys. By the spring of 1980, the mood had changed as the Kremlin saw it was in for a long war of attrition. The war became a taboo in the Soviet media, while western journalists who applied for visas for Afghanistan were routinely refused. The only way to cover the conflict was to endure days and nights of walking along precarious mountain paths with guerrilla fighters from mujahedin safe havens in Pakistan. A few stories that appeared in western papers via this route were careful and low-key, but many were romantic, self-promoting accounts of heroic exploits by reporters who donned a shalwar kameez and a pakol, the pie-shaped Afghan woolen hat, to slip into Afghanistan alongside the men with the guns. Mujahideen groups encouraged this adventure journalism, uncritical, exaggerating and occasionally dishonest.

By 1981, the Soviets were realising the no-visa policy was a mistake. Their case was not being heard. So a handful of western journalists were let in for short trips in small groups or occasionally on their own.

I landed in Kabul on a bright autumn morning that year after changing planes and an overnight stay in Delhi. After the heat of India's capital I was struck by the extraordinary clarity of Kabul's air and the sky's deep blue. The city sits on a high plateau surrounded by a ring of khaki mountains and beyond them, glittering in the distance, are the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush. In the dozen trips I have made to Kabul, its magnificent setting never ceases to amaze me. The country's poverty is overwhelming and the stories a reporter hears or sees are often tragic, but you can always lift your eyes to the hills and feel a restorative surge of nature's beauty to revive your energy.

On that first trip, the city itself, and not just its majestic surroundings, exuded a sense of calm. It was totally unexpected. Where was the war? And where were the Russians? Whatever was going on in the Afghan countryside, there was little sign of war or preparation for it in Kabul. In the two weeks I spent in the city I saw hardly any Soviet troops. On the few occasions I spotted some, they were acting as tourists rather than enforcers. As though the war was far away, they wore floppy khaki hats and no helmets and would drive in open-sided jeeps to Chicken Street, known by its English name to Afghans and foreigners alike as the city's best market for souvenirs.

Car bombs and suicide attacks, which have become a permanent threat in today's Kabul, were unknown during the Soviet period, and Afghans went about their daily business without fear of sudden mass slaughter. Many Soviet diplomats came with their families, and the embassy had a flourishing kindergarten, as well as a primary and secondary school. At the city's two university campuses, most young women were unveiled, as were most of the female staff in banks, shops, schools, factories and government offices. A few wore a loose head-scarf over their hair. Only in the bazaar where poorer people shopped was the burqa common, usually blue, pink or a light shade of brown.

When I registered with the Afghan foreign ministry, they assigned me – as I had expected – a minder who was to act as interpreter and accompany me on all my interviews. Unlike the British military minder I was required to have in Helmand in 2010, he was unarmed. Called Naqib, he and his superiors accepted most of my requests to meet Afghan ministers and other officials. Their key objective was to challenge the stories being written by reporters travelling with the mujahideen and convince me that opposition claims that Kabul was surrounded and close to collapse were wildly untrue.

Without a knowledge of the language and shadowed by my minder, I realised it was impossible to meet many Afghans independently, though I found a few shopkeepers who spoke some English. But from the evidence of my own eyes, the mujahideen claims of a city under siege certainly seemed false. The dozens of little kebab stalls in the street had as much lamb from the countryside as they needed. Pomegranates, watermelons and grapes spilled out of the bazaar.

I never discovered a definitive explanation for the explosions I had heard during my interview with Foreign Minister Dost, but his point that Kabul was unaffected by the destruction of war was valid.

Afghan war violence up nearly 40%: UN

Violent incidents in the Afghan war have increased by nearly 40% over last year, according to UN figures released on Wednesday. The figures showed total security incidents averaging 2,108 a month in the first eight months of 2011, up 39% on the same period in 2010. Two-thirds of
the activity was focused on the southern and southeastern regions, particularly the Taliban birthplace of Kandahar and its surrounds.
A report to the UN Security Council shows that despite US-led efforts to protect ordinary people, the number of civilians killed over the summer rose five percent compared to the same period in 2010.
From June to August, the UN's mission in Afghanistan documented 971 civilian deaths, with three quarters attributed to insurgent violence and 12% blamed on NATO's US-led forces. The rest could not be attributed.
Recent multi-pronged attacks in Kabul and high-profile political assassinations over the summer have fed perceptions that after 10 years at war, the West's war effort is losing a grip on the Taliban's bid to return to power.
The average number of suicide attacks each month was unchanged, but complex suicide attacks made up a greater proportion of the violence, with three such attacks each month in 2011, a 50% rise on the same period in 2010.
"In the context of overall intensified fighting" the report said the rise in violent attacks was mostly due to the use of Taliban bombs and suicide attacks.

Air strikes were the leading cause of civilian deaths by pro-government forces, but the number of those killed through ground combat and armed clashes increased 84% on the same time period in 2010.

The relentless rise in the scale of killing comes as gradual withdrawals of foreign troops begin with the removal of some of the 33,000 US "surge" troops sent in to turn around the war that began in 2001 with a US-led invasion.

The UN in June reported that civilian deaths in the first half of the year were up 15%, putting 2011 on track to be the deadliest in the long war.

Some 130,000 people have been displaced from January 1 until the end of July, the latest report said, an increase of two-thirds on a year before.

However, in brighter news for government efforts to eradicate opium crops that generate funds for much of the Taliban's efforts, the UN and Ministry of Counter Narcotics reported a 65% increase in poppy eradication in 2010.

Afghan war violence up nearly 40%: UN

Afghan war violence up nearly 40%: UN

I have been Pakistan's best friend: Mullen

In an interview conducted by The Wall Street Journal,

US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen explained what prompted him to review his outlook on Pakistan, and how his “partnership approach” had “fallen short and would be difficult to revive”.
“I am losing people, and I am just not going to stand for that,” Mullen told WSJ. “I have been Pakistan’s best friend. What does it say when I am at that point? What does it say about where we are?”
The report said that while Mullen earlier believed Pakistan was serious in its commitment to battle terrorism, the attack on the US embassy in Kabul on September 13 was a turning point. Mullen blamed Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for collaborating with the Haqqani network, the militant group the US blames for the Kabul attack. However, he believes that while the ISI may not control details of Haqqani’s operations, it provides the group “strategic support”.
“It is very clear they (Pakistan) have supported them,” Mullen said in the interview. “I don’t think the Haqqanis can be turned on and off like a light switch. But there are steps that could be taken to impact the Haqqanis over time.”
Mullen also said that earlier on he had worked on a plan with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to launch an offensive in North Waziristan which Mullen believed would take away a “key haven” from the Haqqani group. He said he was disappointed when the operation did not materialize, and in the events that followed, he refrained from his practice of limiting public criticism of Pakistan.
On September 22, Mullen bluntly said he believes the Haqqani network acts as a “veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency”. He went on to say that the Pakistani government, army and intelligence agency jeopardize the Pak-US partnership in the war on terror by “choosing to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy”.
Pakistan has condemned these allegations, maintaining that it is committed to fighting the war on terror as it has been the greatest victim of militancy.

Haqqani group CIA's 'blue-eyed boy' for years: Pak Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar

Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar has said the Haqqani group was the Central Investigative Agency’s (CIA) “blue-eyed boy” for many years.

Khar, who is in New York leading Pakistan’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, rejected US accusations against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), saying many countries have intelligence links with terror groups.

“If we talk about links, I am sure the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) also has links with many terrorist organisations around the world, by which we mean intelligence links,” The Dawn quoted her, as saying.

“And this particular network, which the United States continues to talk about, is a network which was the blue-eyed boy of the CIA itself for many years,” she added.

Earlier, today, Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik had also claimed that the CIA had created the Haqqani network and trained its members, not Pakistan.

Pakistan's double-game: treachery or strategy?

Washington has just about had it with Pakistan.
"Turns out they are disloyal, deceptive and a danger to the United States," fumed Republican Representative Ted Poe last week. "We pay them to hate us. Now we pay them to bomb us. Let's not pay them at all."
For many in America, Islamabad has been nothing short of perfidious since joining a strategic alliance with Washington 10 years ago: selectively cooperating in the war on extremist violence and taking billions of dollars in aid to do the job, while all the time sheltering and supporting Islamist militant groups that fight NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has angrily denied the charges, but if its critics are right, what could the explanation be for such duplicity? What strategic agendas might be hidden behind this puzzling statecraft?
The answer is that Pakistan wants to guarantee for itself a stake in Afghanistan's political future.
It knows that, as U.S. forces gradually withdraw from Afghanistan, ethnic groups will be competing for ascendancy there and other regional powers - from India to China and Iran - will be jostling for a foot in the door.
Islamabad's support for the Taliban movement in the 1990s gives it an outsized influence among Afghanistan's Pashtuns, who make up about 42 percent of the total population and who maintain close ties with their Pakistani fellow tribesmen.
In particular, Pakistan's powerful military is determined there should be no vacuum in Afghanistan that could be filled by its arch-foe, India.
Pakistan has fought three wars with its neighbor since the bloody partition of the subcontinent that led to the creation of the country in 1947, and mutual suspicion still hobbles relations between the two nuclear-armed powers today.
"They still think India is their primary policy," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and prominent political analyst. "India is always in the back of their minds."
In an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani - unprompted - complained that Washington's failure to deal even-handedly with New Delhi and Islamabad was a source of regional instability.
Aqil Shah, a South Asia security expert at the Harvard Society of Fellows, said Islamabad's worst-case scenario would be an Afghanistan controlled or dominated by groups with ties to India, such as the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance, which it fears would pursue activities hostile to Pakistan.
"Ideally, the military would like Afghanistan to become a relatively stable satellite dominated by Islamist Pashtuns," Shah wrote in a Foreign Affairs article this week.
Although Pakistan, an Islamic state, officially abandoned support for the predominantly Pashtun Taliban after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, elements of the military never made the doctrinal shift.
Few doubt that the shadowy intelligence directorate, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), has maintained links to the Taliban that emerged from its support for the Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Until recently, there appeared to be a grudging acceptance from Washington that this was the inevitable status quo.
That was until it emerged in May that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden - who was killed in a U.S. Navy SEALs raid - had been hiding out in a Pakistani garrison town just two hours up the road from Islamabad, by some accounts for up to five years.
Relations between Pakistan and the United States have been stormy ever since, culminating in a tirade by the outgoing U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, last week.
Mullen described the Haqqani network, the most feared faction among Taliban militants in Afghanistan, as a "veritable arm" of the ISI and accused Islamabad of providing support for the group's September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
The reaction in Islamabad has been one of stunned outrage.
Washington has not gone public with evidence to back its accusation, and Pakistani officials say that contacts with the Haqqani group do not amount to actual support.
However, Imran Khan, a Pakistani cricketer-turned-populist-politician, said this week that it was too much to expect that old friends could have become enemies overnight.
He told Reuters that, instead of demanding that Pakistan attack the Haqqanis in the mountainous border region of North Waziristan, the United States should use Islamabad's leverage with the group to bring the Afghan Taliban into negotiations.
"Haqqani could be your ticket to getting them on the negotiating table, which at the moment they are refusing," Khan said. "So I think that is a much saner policy than to ask Pakistan to try to take them on."
The big risk for the United States in berating Islamabad is that it will exacerbate anti-American sentiment, which already runs deep in Pakistan, and perhaps embolden it further.
C. Raja Mohan, senior fellow at New Delhi's Center for Policy Research, said Pakistan was probably gambling that the United States' economic crisis and upcoming presidential elections would distract Washington.
"The real game is unfolding on the ground with the Americans. The Pakistan army is betting that the United States does not have too many choices and more broadly that the U.S. is on the decline, he said.
It is also becoming clear that as Pakistan's relations with Washington deteriorate, it can fall back into the arms of its "all-weather friend," China, the energy-hungry giant that is the biggest investor in Afghanistan's nascent resources sector.
Pakistani officials heaped praise on Beijing this week as a Chinese minister visited Islamabad. Among them was army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the country's most powerful man, who spoke of China's "unwavering support."
In addition, Pakistan has extended a cordial hand to Iran, which also shares a border with Afghanistan.
Teheran has been mostly opposed to the Taliban, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims while Iran is predominantly Shi'ite. But Iran's anti-Americanism is more deep-seated.
"My reading is the Iranians want to see the Americans go," said Raja Mohan, the Indian analyst. "They have a problem with the Taliban, but any American retreat will suit them. Iran in the short term is looking at the Americans being humiliated."
The supremacy of the military in Pakistan means that Washington has little to gain little from wagging its finger about ties with the Taliban at the civilian government, which is regularly lashed for its incompetence and corruption.
"The state has become so soft and powerless it can't make any difference," said Masood, the Pakistani retired general. "Any change will have to come from the military."
Daniel Markey, a senior fellow for South Asia at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations, said the problem lies with a security establishment that continues to believe that arming and working - actively and passively - with militant groups serves its purposes.
"Until ... soul-searching takes place within the Pakistani military and the ISI, you're not likely to see an end to these U.S. demands, and a real shift in terms of the relationship," Markey said in an online discussion this week. "This is the most significant shift that has to take place."

Illiteracy root cause of Pakhtun woes

Speakers at a conference on Tuesday termed intolerance and illiteracy the major causes of turbulence on the soil of the Pakhtuns and called for efforts to promote Pakhtun culture.

The conference titled Peace and the Pakhtuns was held at the Pashto Department of the University of Peshawar. Vice-chancellor Prof Dr Azmat Hayat Khan was the chief guest. Prof Aseer Mangal and Prof Islam Gohar were among the speakers.

They said maintenance of peace had become a global challenge, adding that world powers were uninterested to address the root causes of violence and unrest in Muslim countries.

The speakers criticised western media for portraying a negative image of the Pakhtuns.

The western media is manipulating the facts, one of the speakers said, adding external powers were using the soil of the Pakhtuns as a battlefield for their financial and strategic gains.

Prof Aseer Mangal said Pakhtuns were peace-loving people and believed in mutual harmony as evident from Pashto poetry. He dubbed inequality and lack of dialogue as the main cause of the poor image of Pakhtuns in the world.

In his address, Prof Dr Azmat Hayat underscored the need for promoting Pashto language and literature to make it a language of the market, which he saw as the solution to the problems confronting the Pakhtuns. Language keeps a nation alive. The world wants to know about us but we have been unable to present our real picture. The classics written by our forefathers in Pashto literature had not been translated into various languages and this was the reason that Pashto was the least understood language in the world, he added.

Other speakers said there was a dire need to adopt a national policy based on mutual cooperation and positive approach to overcome the problems confrinting the Pakhtuns. Prof Islam Gohar in his welcome address underlined the importance of the seminar.

Veena Malik shoots her first Bollywood film

Pakistani actress Veena Malik was spotted, shooting for her maiden Bollywood project `Daal Me Kuch Kala Hai`, in Pune. Malik, who will share the screen space with actors Jackie Shroff and Shakti Kapoor in the film, will be seen in a double role in the movie.

Veena, who hogged the limelight for accusing her ex-boyfriend and Pakistani cricketer Muhammad Asif of being a match fixer, also grabbed eyeballs when she appeared on reality show Bigg Boss season 4. She will now be seen in a Bollywood movie with an item number in the flick that will soon be released for cinemas.

Pakistan school expels girl for blasphemy

A Pakistani school expelled a 13-year-old Christian girl for alleged blasphemy and her mother was transferred from her job as a nurse near the town where Osama bin Laden was killed, officials said Monday.
The conservative Muslim country has been increasingly criticised in the West for tough anti-blasphemy laws that make defaming Islam punishable by death and over the persecution of the tiny non-Muslim minority.
Faryal Tauseef, an eighth grade student at Sir Syed High School in the northwest garrison town of Havelian, was asked with her class to define "naat", a style of poem written in praise of the Prophet Mohammed.
The town is just south of Abbottabad, the garrison city where US special forces killed the Al-Qaeda leader in a covert raid on May 2, which exposed the Pakistan military to accusations of incompetence or complicity.
"In her explanation Faryal wrote a word which was blasphemous," school administrator Junaid Sarfraz told AFP.

"The girl confessed, saying that she did it by mistake and the school administration, after consulting local clerics, decided to rusticate (expel) her."
According to her teacher, the girl made the mistake "intentionally" and the matter was referred to clerics because she had aroused similar suspicions of blasphemy in the past, Sarfraz added.
Faryal's mother, a staff nurse, had also been transferred out of town, he said.
"The girl has been expelled for using derogatory words and her mother has been moved to another place," district commissioner Syed Imtiaz Hussain Shah told AFP.
Police said no case had been registered and that the matter was considered over following a pardon from Muslim clerics.

The government says it has no intention of reforming Pakistan's tough anti-blasphemy law, introduced in 1986, despite the assassinations of a leading politician in January and a Christian cabinet minister in March.
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) member Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard and and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti assassinated en route to a cabinet meeting for their opposition to the law.
Taseer had supported a Christian mother of five sentenced to death in November 2010 for alleged blasphemy in the central province of Punjab.
Pakistan has yet to execute anyone for blasphemy. Most of those given the death penalty have their sentences overturned or commuted on appeal.
Religious parties strongly defend the law.

Pakistani President vows to help China counter terrorism

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has reiterated that Pakistan will extend full support to China in the fight against terrorism.

He made the remarks when he held talks with Chinese State Councilor Meng Jianzhu on Monday in Islamabad.

Zardari vowed to promote bilateral relations to a new level, saying that Pakistani-Sino friendship has gone beyond general international relations and the two countries have supported each other on major international and regional issues.

Meng said China and Pakistan are good neighbors, good friends, good partners and good brothers. Relations between China and Pakistan have withstood the tests of changing international situations, he said.

China has always regarded China-Pakistan relations as one of its diplomatic priorities, no matter how international situations have changed, he added.

This year has been named China-Pakistan Friendship Year to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

Meng said that China is willing to work with Pakistan to push the China-Pakistan strategic cooperative partnership to a new level.

Peshawarites continue to reel under power outages

Continued to be irked by prolonged loadshedding, people in the provincial capital`s various areas have demanded smooth electric supply.

A resident of Hashtnagri complained of the continued power suspension to his area for three to four hours many times in a day.

He told Dawn that most power outages by Peshawar Electric Supply Company were unscheduled. He said that complaints to Pesco often fell on deaf ears.

Kashif Khan, of Gulberg, said that loadshedding for long hours in a day was common. He said that Pesco supplied electricity for one and a half hour and then suspended it for the next four hours daily.

He added that frequent power cuts had forced people into purchasing diesel-run generators but that, too, was little help in light of prolonged load shedding.

Abdul Qadir Khan, of Badhber, also criticised Pesco over suspension of electric supply in the area for 18 hours daily. He said people had bought generators to run tube wells for water. He blamed his misery on non-payment of electricity bills by the people of tribal areas.

“They don`t pay bills and we suffer from their practice,” he said.

There are also complaints of water shortage in the city due to prolonged load shedding. A Gulabad resident said suspension of electric supply left tube wells out of action.

He said load shedding had affected children the most under the current humid conditions.

When contacted, a spokesman for Pesco said low power production had led to prolonged load shedding. He said power outages were carried out by Regional Control Centre, Islamabad.

The spokesman urged people to optimise use of electricity, especially during 6pm and 11pm, to help power companies overcome the current energy crisis.

He also said industrial consumers could save at least 25 per cent energy they used through better management.

He urged commercial power consumers to shut down businesses before 8pm and avoid decorative lights.

The spokesman recommended use of energy savers and tube lights instead of bulbs and said people should iron clothes during the daytime to save energy.DAWN.COM