Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Zardari may resign over 'ill health', claims FP

US magazine claimed that President Asif Ali Zardari had been feeling increased pressure over the Memogate scandal.

On Tuesday, President Asif Ali Zardari was hospitalised in Dubai for medical checkups, complaining of heart pains.

Citing former US official, American magazine Foreign Policy reported US government were informed that Zardari had a 'minor heart attack' on Monday night and flew to Dubai via air ambulance on Tuesday.

According to the US magazine, Zardari may have angioplasty on Wednesday and may also resign on account of 'ill health.'

Former US government official said that President barrack Obama spoke with Zardari over the weekend regarding Nato's killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers, Zardari was 'incoherent.'

"The noose was getting tighter -- it was only a matter of time," the former official said, expressing the growing expectation inside the U.S. government that Zardari may be on the way out.

US magazine quoted its source that over a dozen of Zardari's ambassadors in foreign countries were in the process of being recalled in what might be a precursor to Zardari stepping down as president.

Obama sets campaign theme: Middle class at stake

Declaring the American middle class in jeopardy, President Barack Obama

on Tuesday outlined a populist economic vision that will drive his re-election bid, insisting the United States must reclaim its standing as a country in which everyone can prosper if provided "a fair shot and a fair share."

While never making an overt plea for a second term, Obama's offered his most comprehensive lines of attack against the candidates seeking to take his job, only a month before Republican voters begin choosing a presidential nominee. He also sought to inject some of the long-overshadowed hope that energized his 2008 campaign, saying: "I believe America is on its way up."

In small-town Osawatomie, in a high school gym where patriotic bunting lined the bleachers, Obama presented himself as the one fighting for shared sacrifice and success against those who would gut government and let people fend for themselves. He did so knowing the nation is riven over the question of whether economic opportunity for all is evaporating.

"Throughout the country, it's sparked protests and political movements, from the tea party to the people who've been occupying the streets of New York and other cities," Obama said.

"This is the defining issue of our time," he said in echoing President Theodore Roosevelt's famous speech here in 1910.

"This is a make-or-break moment for the middle class and all those who are fighting to get into the middle class," Obama said. "At stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home and secure their retirement."

For Obama, saddled with a weak national economic recovery, the speech was a chance to break away from Washington's incremental battles and his own small-scale executive actions. He offered a sweeping indictment of economic inequality and unleashed his own brand of prairie populism.

He spoke for nearly an hour to a supportive audience, reselling his ideas under the framework of "building a nation where we're all better off."

Billed as an important address that would put today's economic debates in context, Obama's speech seemed a bit like two packaged into one.

The first was that of the campaigner, full of loft and reclamation of American values. The second was the governing Obama, who recited his familiar jobs agenda, his feud with Congress over extending a Social Security tax cut, even his fight to get his consumer watchdog confirmed.

Obama tied himself to Roosevelt, the president and reformer who came to this town in eastern Kansas and called for a "square deal" for regular Americans. Roosevelt said then the fight for progress was a conflict "between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess."

It is a theme Obama is embracing in a mounting fight for re-election against Republicans who, regardless of the nominee, will attack his stewardship of the economy.

One of the leading contenders for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, ridiculed Obama for comparing himself to Roosevelt.

Obama "said that he is like Teddy Roosevelt," Romney said at a campaign event in Paradise Valley, Ariz. "And I thought, 'In what way is he like Teddy Roosevelt?' Teddy Roosevelt of course founded the Bull Moose Party. One of those words applies."

Kirsten Kukowski, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said, "Maybe instead of trying to be like other presidents, Obama should try being president."

Obama took aim at the Republicans, saying they would only return the same structures that led to America's economic downturn. "Their philosophy is simple: We are better off when everyone is left to fend for themselves and play by their own rules," Obama said. "I'm here to say they are wrong."

The president conceded that the country is in the midst of a consuming re-examination on his watch, prompting national movements against both government spending and an economy that many feel disproportionately favors the elite. Obama went on the offensive about income inequality, saying it distorts democracy and derails the American dream.

Responding to those who want to cut taxes and regulation in the belief success will trickle down, Obama said: "Here's the problem: It doesn't work. It's never worked."

Obama noted that Theodore Roosevelt was called a "radical, a socialist, even a communist" for putting forth ideas in his last campaign such as an eight-hour work day, a minimum wage for women, unemployment insurance and a progressive income tax.

Left unsaid: Roosevelt's Bull Moose campaign in 1912 failed to return him to the White House.

Obama attempted to sum up the pain and peril for a society where the middle class is struggling. But he also called for individual responsibility.

"In the end," he said, "rebuilding this economy based on fair play, a fair shot and a fair share will require all of us to see the stake we have in each other's success."

Obama also challenged the big banks that took bailouts from American taxpayers, pointing to "a deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street." He said banks that were bailed out had an obligation to work to close that trust deficit and should be doing more to help remedy past mortgage abuses and assist middle-class taxpayers.

Homelessness plagues UK youths' lives

At least 400 British 'lost generation' of youths are made homeless every day triggering a new homelessness crisis across the country, a new study has revealed.

The study carried out by charity Homeless Link found that 13,000 youngsters declared themselves homeless or sought advice on how to deal with the status quo by going to local authorities in October, the Sunday Mirror reported.

According to the study the number of people ­sleeping rough in London alone since April is already up by 32 percent on the whole of last year.

The study also found that the coalition government's savage cuts and the worsening economic crisis have created a “perfect storm” for soaring homelessness.

Large and populated families across the UK are asking teenagers to leave amid the soaring living costs and the swinging benefits cuts, which are having a direct impact on the living standards.

The report found family breakdown, often linked to financial pressures, is the main cause of young people leaving home and having to sleep rough.

Young homeless people said that the problem often starts because of their difficulty in finding regular work in the economic downturn.

Last month unemployment in the 16-24 age group increased to over one million and the number of NEETs (not in education, employment or training) reached 1.16million.

“We have seen a rise in rough sleeping among young people. We expect this to continue as more families buckle under the pressure of the current climate”, said Paul Marriott, chief executive of Depaul, the UK's largest youth ­homelessness ­charity.

The fuss over Veena Malik's 'nude' FHM cover

BY:Nosheen Iqbal

Did she? Didn't she? Does it make the slightest bit of difference at this point? At the time of writing, Veena Malik, the Pakistani actress, model and reality TV star, is suing Indian FHM for £1.2m. She claims the lads' mag doctored a photoshoot to make her appear naked on their December cover. Save for a crude "ISI" tattoo slapped across her arm – an audacious (and, well, pretty funny) two fingers up to Pakistan's notorious intelligence services, complete with a strapline suggesting the agency has a "hand in the end of the world" – the image shows Malik completely bare, with only a careful pose keeping her nipples and pubes from actual view. Editor Kabeer Sharma insists the photo is real, hasn't been "morphed" (Malik's words), and that FHM has the video evidence to prove it. The response of Malik's lawyers? Their client never agreed to or partook in a fully nude shoot; she'd worn a thong and later on, an ammunition belt. Well, quite.

Irrespective of whether the bum floss did or didn't exist, Malik is astute enough to have anticipated the inevitable ruckus her allegedly "nearly nude" photos have provoked. No stranger to the wrath of Pakistan's conservative, religious right, she was vilified earlier in the year for her appearance on Bigg Boss, the Indian Big Brother. Her crime? According to Mufti Abdul Qavi, whom she memorably slaughtered on a live TV debate, she shamed all Pakistan and Islam by dint of appearing on the show at all. As Malik passionately pointed out, national disgrace has little do with a female entertainer appearing on TV. "What about the politicians? What of the corruption, robbery, murder and terrorism committed in the name of Islam?" she asked. "Why are you picking on Veena Malik? Because she's a girl? Because she's a soft target?" Yes, and sadly as the case proved, yes.

For all its unsubtle attention-seeking, though, you've got to admire Malik's chutzpah on that cover. As perverse as it seems for her to risk her life for a pay cheque, make no mistake: hers is also a subversively political position. Already in receipt of death threats, there are now predictably angry calls for Malik to be stripped (sorry) of her Pakistani nationality for betraying her country, embarrassing dishonourment – which, if you believe her critics – rests entirely, fatuously, on female sexuality.

And yet, while I fully defend her right to make it, that's not to say I entirely agree with Malik's choice. From my privileged western perspective as a British Pakistani Muslim, a woman using her body as the battleground to make an empowered feminist statement is redundant and cliched: whichever way you cut it, there's little intellectually liberating about getting your rack out for the lads. By the same token – and this one often stings – nor does, in my view, donning a burqa mean you've solved the problem of being sexually objectified. Quite the opposite, really.

Admittedly, in south Asia – because let's face it, these photos have the power to shock across the myriad cultures of the subcontinent, not just in Pakistan – that representation is a touch less commonplace. But while that makes the images more provocative, does it necessarily mean they are any more powerful? In terms of advancing women's rights or pointing out the un-Islamic hypocrisies endured under the banner of national "culture" – both of which Malik has articulated on perfectly well in the past – I'd hazard not.

Desensitising the public capacity to be offended is one thing, having your opinions disregarded by the mainstream is quite another. Malik has been repeatedly called out for her besharam behaviour across Facebook, Twitter and in the vox pops of Pakistan's national media. Members of my own family in the country denounce her as nothing more than a kunjari – or, quite literally, a whore. Ugly chauvinism already denies too many women a public voice; who in Pakistan (apart from its minority of cheering progressives, who've already made her something of a liberal mascot) will take on board Malik's critiques now? She has plenty to say worth hearing. That her impact to make people think, rather than be outraged, has fallen away with each bit of her wardrobe is just depressing.

To wit, Malik's own father has reportedly called for her arrest, while the country's interior minister Rehman Malik (no relation) has promised that once "the investigations are complete, we [the government] will be able to tell what action we will take against her". All because Veena Malik refuses to conform to the homogenous view – both in the east and west – of what a Pakistani and/or Muslim woman should look like and how she should behave. A flash of skin causing more frenzied controversy than jihadists posting beheading videos online. That, by a long measure, has to be the real national shame.

Hamid Karzai 'to stay in control of Afghanistan after 2014'

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is exploring options to extend his time in power beyond 2014 when his second and final term is due to end, according to an intelligence report.
As a major international conference opened in Bonn aiming to set a course for the country's future, Germany's BND foreign intelligence service has claimed that Mr Karzai is working on a "new organisation of the Afghan central government".
"The reason is believed to be Karzai's wish not to step down, although he has indicated publicly he does not plan to extend his term in office," the daily newspaper Bild quoted the report as saying.
The Bild report said that the BND believed Karzai was seeking a "creative solution" to get around the two-term limit imposed by the Afghan constitution.
Mr Karzai told Monday's issue of the German news weekly Der Spiegel that he planned to live in Kabul after 2014 as "a pensioner and happy citizen".
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Jawed Ludin, the deputy foreign minister, described the report as "nonsense".
"Mr Karzai is on the record about this, he is very clear. I know him well and I am convinced that he means what has said that he is looking forward to a credible transition through Afghan-led elections."
The Afghan president is chairing the Bonn conference, which he proposed, ten years after another meeting here established an interim government with Mr Karzai at the helm in the wake of the Taliban's removal.
He told around 1,000 delegates gathered in the western German city of Bonn for the one-day meeting that his government would battle corruption and work toward national reconciliation but needed firm international backing.
"We will need your steadfast support for at least another decade" after the troops pullout, he said.However, Pakistan and the Taliban – both seen as pivotal to any end to the bloody strife in Afghanistan a decade on – have bowed out of Bonn, dampening already modest hopes for real progress.
There are around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan and all Nato-led combat forces are due to leave by the end of 2014, when Kabul will assume responsibility for the country's security.
The event's host, Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, insisted there would be no rush to the exit.
"We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: we will not leave you alone, you will not be abandoned," he said.
"Afghanistan and its people need a clear and reliable commitment to a long-term engagement for the next decade beyond 2014."

60 killed in rare attacks on Afghan Shiites

A suicide bomber struck a crowd of Shiite worshippers at a mosque in Kabul on Tuesday, killing at least 55 people in the deadliest of two attacks on a Shiite holy day — the first major sectarian assaults since the fall of the Taliban a decade ago.

Four other Shiites were killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif when a bomb strapped to a bicycle exploded as a convoy of Afghan Shiites was driving down the road, shouting slogans for the festival known as Ashoura. Health Ministry spokesman Sakhi Kargar gave the death toll and said 21 people also were wounded in that attack.

The Kabul bomber blew himself up in the midst of a crowd of men, women and children gathered outside the Abul Fazl shrine to commemorate the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein. Some men were beating themselves in mourning and food was being distributed.

The shrine, which is near the presidential palace, was packed with worshippers and dozens more were crammed into the courtyard. One witness said the bomber was at the end of a line and detonated his explosives near one of the gates to the shrine.

Bodies of the dead lay on top of one another where they fell to their deaths. Survivors with blood-smeared faces cried amid the chaos.

The Ministry of Interior said 55 were killed — including two women and four children. Sayed Kabir Amiri, who is in charge of Kabul hospitals said more than 160 wounded in the blast.

That made it the single deadliest attack in the Afghan capital in more than three years. A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008, killing more than 60 people.

Religiously motivated attacks on Shiites are rare in Afghanistan although they are common in neighboring Pakistan. No group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blasts, reminiscent of the wave of sectarian attacks that shook Iraq during the height of the war there.

The Ministry of Interior in a statement blamed the Taliban and "terrorists," for the attack. It provided no other details but added that police defused another bomb that had been planted in Mazar-i-Sharif near the one that blew up.

The Taliban strongly condemned the two attacks and said in a statement to news organizations that they deeply regretted that innocent Afghans were killed and wounded.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaking at a news conference after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, said the attack was unprecedented in scope and the first time ever that one has been carried out during a religious event.

He said it was "the first time that on such an important religious day in Afghanistan terrorism of that horrible nature is taking place."

Mohammad Bakir Shaikzada, the top Shiite cleric in Kabul, said he could not remember a similar attack having taken place on such a scale.

"This is a crime against Muslims during the holy day of Ashoura. We Muslims will never forget these attacks. It is the enemy of the Muslims who are carrying them out," he said, declining to place blame.

Shiites make up about 20 percent of Afghanistan's 30 million people, most of them ethnic Hazaras. Although thousands of Hazaras were massacred by the Taliban during fighting in the 1990s, Afghan insurgents — nearly all of them Sunnis — in recent years have focused their attacks primarily on U.S.-led NATO troops and Afghan security forces.

It was unclear whether Tuesday's attacks mark a change in Afghan Taliban strategy or were carried out by al-Qaida or another group based in Pakistan, where Sunni attacks on Shiites are common. Hard-line Sunnis consider Shiites nonbelievers because their customs and traditions differ from the majority sect.

In neighboring Pakistan, Sunni militants with links to al-Qaida and the Taliban have carried out scores of bombings and shootings across Pakistan against minority Shiites. One of the deadliest groups has been the Punjab-based Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for gunning down 26 Shiites this summer riding in a bus through southwestern Baluchistan province.

Pakistan is a majority Sunni state, with Shiites making up about 15 percent of the 180 million population. Most Sunnis and Shiites live together peacefully, but tensions have existed for decades.

The last incident of violence between Shiites and Sunnis following the U.S. invasion 10 years ago occurred in early 2006, during Ashoura commemorations in the western city of Herat. During those riots, blamed on Islamic extremists, five people were killed and more than 50 injured.

Mahood Khan, who is in charge of the Abul Fazl shrine, said the explosion occurred just outside a courtyard where dozens of worshippers were lined up as they filed in and out of the packed building.

A few minutes after the blast, bodies could be seen loaded into the trunks of cars while wounded were led away by friends and relatives. Survivors wept in the streets.

"It was a very powerful blast," Khan said. "The food was everywhere. It was out of control. Everyone was crying, shouting. It is a disaster."

Mustafa, a shopkeeper, said he and his mother were delivering food to the worshippers when the blast occurred. Two groups of 150 to 200 people from Kabul had just prayed at the shrine and left.

Another group of more than 100 from Logar province was entering when the explosion occurred. He said the suicide bomber was at the end of the line of worshippers from Logar when he blew himself up near one of the gates to the shrine.

"It was very loud. My ears went deaf and I was blown 3 meters (yards)," said Mustafa, who uses only one name. "There was smoke and red blood on the floor of the shrine. There were people lying everywhere."

The shrine's loudspeaker continued to blast a recitation of the Quran as ambulances carried bodies and wounded away. Women stood outside the shrine wailing and holding crying children.

The shrine is close to the palace where Karzai lives and who is in Europe to attend an international conference on Afghanistan. It is named after Abul Fazl, who was an adviser to a 14th century Mogul emperor. The shrine and its blue minaret is one of Kabul's better known shrines. It is located in Murad Khane area near the Kabul river, a district that has been listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of its 100 most endangered sites of cultural heritage.

Saudi Woman to Be Lashed for Driving, Despite Royal Pardon

BY:Nivien Saleh - Nivien Saleh is an assistant professor at the Center for International Studies, University of St. Thomas, in Houston, Texas, where she teaches Middle East politics. She is the author of Third World Citizens and the Information Technology Revolution.

Remember Shaima Jastaniah, the Saudi woman who made international headlines in September by being condemned to ten lashes for driving a car through the coastal city of Jeddah? King Abdallah pardoned her personally. But it now turns out that she may be lashed after all.

On Saturday, November 12, she was served with an official notice that, notwithstanding the royal pardon, she will be flogged unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December. She has kept this private, hoping to resolve it quietly, until now. Her quiet options seemingly exhausted, Shaima called me and asked me to help tell her story. "I want to be able to drive, just like I did back in the States," she told me. "And I want other women to be able to do the same. It's a basic human right."

Her only offense was driving while female. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed behind the steering wheel, this is a serious breach of public order.

Although Shaima now lives in Jeddah, she had spent many years in Houston, Texas, where she became my student and friend. In 2000, at age 23, she arrived with her husband, who worked towards a license in accounting, and two young children. In 2007, she enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, concentrating in international studies, because she wanted to understand the values, dynamics, and contradictions of Middle Eastern countries. I taught her in four courses and came to know her well.Shaima fit right into Houston society. Texans are larger than life, and so is she. Discard your images of the veiled female Arab: Her dedication to Islam is sincere -- she recently completed the hajj to Mecca -- but she is not demure and does not attempt to fade into the background. When she enters a room, you notice.

Though she is not one to seek the limelight, Shaima freely speaks up in front of others when an issue matters to her. And she has strong ideas of what is just and fair.

There is no doubt that her time in Houston changed her. I saw her grow intellectually and come to recognize that, deep inside, she was a passionate individualist who saw life as full of possibilities.

Her marriage, which had been arranged, did not survive her personal development. In 2010, when she returned to Saudi Arabia, diploma in hand, she was on her own. As is customary in situations like hers, she moved back in with her parents.

In Houston, Shaima drove a luxurious black BMW X5, which she shipped back to the Kingdom upon her return. But even with her international driver's license, she is not allowed to drive the SUV there. Instead, she has to employ a male chauffeur, who is a stranger to her. As she is now gainfully employed, her parents leave it up to her to pay the driver's salary. That renders her inability to steer the vehicle doubly galling, she says. In her view, the prohibition against female driving has nothing to do with Islam and everything with the maintenance of patriarchal rule. After all, did Aysha, the favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad, not ride her own camel into the Battle of Basrah in 656?

On a sweltering summer day at noon, the Texan in Shaima came out. Longing for some time alone, she grabbed her keys, fired up her BMW, and drove off. Three hours later, the authorities stopped her.

In Saudi Arabia, when a woman is caught driving, the typical police response is to extract a signed pledge not to "misbehave" a second time and let her go. There are a few women who broke the prohibition against driving several times and pledged betterment again and again. Shaima's case, however, never went through that stage. The matter was immediately referred to the country's conservative shariah court system, which is controlled by the Kingdom's religious establishment.

The judge happened to pass his verdict on the heels of a government announcement that, five years from now, women will receive the right to vote and run for public office. Possibly to register his disapproval, possibly to discourage the other women who had recently taken to the road, or maybe for some other reason, the judge assigned the unusually harsh sentence of flogging. Shaima was shocked. "What I did was a misdemeanor. The court could have fined me, and I would have been happy to pay up," she told me. "Instead, they decided to criminalize me. I am not a criminal!"

In keeping with judicial protocol, the judge asked if she planned to appeal. She said yes. He explained that upon receiving a copy of the verdict, she would have 30 days to register her appeal with the Court of Cassation.

Then came the tweet. On September 28, Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, wife of King Abdallah's billionaire nephew Al-Waleed Ibn Talal and a longstanding champion of women's right to drive, declared, "#women2drive Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I'm sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am." Her husband had spoken to the King on Shaima's behalf. In Saudi Arabia's tribal society, where wasta -- which loosely translates to "connections" -- is everything, this should have been enough to close the case. But it wasn't.

As Shaima told me, this tweet was the most official statement of royal pardon that she received. Whether the Kingdom's clerics are consciously snubbing King Abdallah's second-hand declaration or whether they lack the digital awareness to appreciate Twitter as a means of policymaking is unclear. But the tweet left them unfazed.

Shaima received a copy of the verdict in November, and unless she successfully appeals the sentence by December 12, it will be administered. Not only is the punishment painful, it is also humiliating to her and to all Saudi women who believe that a right to education should go hand in hand with freedom of movement.

But her options are limited. She might submit and take her lashing, hire local counsel who could quietly attempt to both appeal and obtain another royal pardon, or hire an international human rights counsel who could take the case to a foreign tribunal under international law. A small circle of local feminists is encouraging her to spearhead their movement, however fledgling it may be, by alerting the media. But that would mean becoming the center of attention in a country where hierarchy is respected and opposition regarded with suspicion.

When she asked for my advice, I turned to a friend with knowledge of the country, who said: "Her options boil down to two strategies: She can either hire a local lawyer and bow and scrape; or she can go nuclear by dishing this to the international press."

Shaima Jastaniah is no scraper.

In Pakistan, the US continues to make errors

ONE CAN only watch in horror as relations between the United States and Pakistan continue to deteriorate, for there will be no chaos-free exit from Afghanistan without Pakistan. We have become accustomed to the loud accusations of perfidy leveled at Islamabad — it is playing a double game, Americans say, protecting terrorists who are attacking our troops in Afghanistan. But to make an enemy out of Pakistan is to lose sight of the fact that Pakistan is far more important to US interests than Afghanistan ever was.

Republican contenders for Barack Obama’s job fall over each other suggesting ways to be tough on Pakistan. But it was Jon Huntsman who put his finger on the problem.

“I would recognize exactly what the US-Pakistani relationship has become, which is merely a transactional relationship,’’ Huntsman said. American aid should be contingent on Pakistan’s keeping up the fight on terrorism and on keeping American supply lines to Afghanistan open, he said. nd that’s the trouble. For although the Obama administration still talks about a strategic relationship with Pakistan, it has long since become a transactional one. Here’s your money, the United States seems to say, so now do what we say and do it now!

Pakistan, on the other hand, would have liked a true strategic relationship in which the United States would take cognizance of Pakistan’s strategic fears, needs, and national interests. Instead, US officials keep scolding Pakistan for not subordinating its strategic interests to America’s.

For example, is it reasonable to demand that Pakistan attack the militant Haqqani network within its borders while at the same time Americans have been trying to negotiate with Haqqani leaders? Since the United States is planning to leave Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a need to maintain relationships with some of the players, especially among the ethnic Pashtuns, who will continue to be involved in the Afghan drama long after the United States has left the stage.

And what a curious doctrine is this “fight, talk, and build’’ that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton keeps talking about. Wasn’t that what we tried to do in Vietnam - bomb Hanoi to make the North Vietnamese come to their senses and do what we wanted? From Pakistan’s point of view, what would Americans say if a Pakistani intelligence officer stepped out of his car in an American city and shot two Americans dead; took their photographs and sped away, as CIA contractor Raymond Davis did to two Pakistanis did in Lahore in January?

Obama was correct to go after Osama bin Laden without telling the Pakistanis, because someone in the Pakistani hierarchy might have tipped off the world’s most wanted man. But we could have included some Pakistani commandos in the attack. We could have asked Pakistan to send us some soldiers to train with ours, and then put a few in the helicopters without them even knowing where they were headed, which would have preserved security. Hypocrisy? Yes, but a little hypocrisy to get bin Laden and still save Pakistan face would have been worth it in order to soften Pakistan’s humiliation about an obvious violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

And now NATO has killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghanistan border. What actually happened last week is in dispute. Both sides may have thought they were being attacked by the Taliban. But one thing is clear. Pakistani soldiers were killed inside Pakistan by American planes and helicopters inside Pakistani airspace.

What was the US-led coalition doing so close to Pakistan? It would have made more sense not to operate so close to the frontier, even if it meant that some Taliban might escape. After all, they can find sanctuary deeper in Pakistan. Limited wars always include restraints. America’s war in Afghanistan is not going to end with a Taliban surrender on the deck of a battleship, as World War II ended. There will be compromises, and one of them needs to be that the United States doesn’t violate Pakistani sovereignty.

America seems oblivious to how unpopular its drone strikes are, or that Pakistan has lost many more soldiers fighting Islamist extremists than has NATO. The average Pakistani views the whole Afghan campaign as America’s war that has brought them only misfortune and death.

It is said that Pakistan has a weak civilian government and that its military and intelligence services are running the show. But can something similar be said of the United States? The US military out-maneuvered an inexperienced president into a deeper Afghanistan commitment than even the Bush administration was willing to make. Is the military-intelligence complex striving to keep the United States involved in Afghanistan longer than it might otherwise be, and getting into heedless and unnecessary confrontations with Pakistan?

US urged to change Pakistan strategy

The United States must shift to a strategy of engaging Pakistan while containing the worst “excesses” of its army, an expert who helped develop the current US approach to Islamabad said Monday.

After coming to power in January 2009, President Barack Obama tasked Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, to chair an interagency review of policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan for the White House.

The review urged close dialogue with Pakistan and an intensification of drone attacks against extremist militants in the lawless tribal frontier in northwestern Pakistan.

“That strategy made sense at the time but I think in the light of developments, it’s time to shift to a policy of engagement and containment,” said Riedel, now a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution think-tank.

“That is to say to continue to engage Pakistan to try to support the development of civilian democracy, to try to help Pakistani economic development but at the same time trying to contain the worst ambitions and excesses of the Pakistani army.”

Speaking at a panel discussion, he said that for now, Washington was “not doing enough on the containment part. We’re slipping and sliding into it, but I think without a coherent framework.”

US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Obama administration had no plans to adopt such a policy at this time.

Ties between Washington and Islamabad took a turn for the worse after a US special operations raid killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the sleepy Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad in May.

Relations slid to a new low last month when Nato air strikes killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the Afghan border, prompting Pakistan to boycott the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan’s future.

According to Riedel, the Pakistani army is gradually installing a new military dictatorship, without even needing to resort to a coup.

“The new military dictatorship that is emerging in Pakistan will be very different from its predecessors,” he said.

“The facade of civilian government is likely to continue to go on … with very little real power. The media will continue to be very active and alive, except when they criticize the military.”
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Afghanistan's allies pledge to stay for long haul

Foreign governments pledged on Monday to support Afghanistan long after allied troops go home, with or without a political settlement with insurgents once seen as the best way to prevent a new civil war.

At a conference of more than 80 countries but boycotted by Pakistan, they said even after most foreign combat troops leave in 2014, the Afghan government will not be allowed to meet the fate of its Soviet-era predecessor, which collapsed in 1992.

"The United States intends to stay the course with our friends in Afghanistan," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "We will be there with you as you make the hard decisions that are necessary for your future."

Hosts Germany sought to signal Western staying power in the country, where al Qaeda sheltered under Taliban protection before the September 11 attacks, at the gathering in Bonn.

"We send a clear message to the people of Afghanistan: We will not leave you on your own. We will not leave you in the lurch," said German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Ten years after a similar conference held to rebuild Afghanistan, the Afghan war is becoming increasingly unpopular in Western public opinion -- especially since U.S. forces found and killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2 in a raid that removed a central pretext of the 2001 invasion.

Western countries are under pressure to spend money reviving flagging economies at home rather than propping up a government in Kabul widely criticised for being corrupt and ineffective.

And as expected, delegates at the Bonn conference steered clear of making specific pledges to make up a shortfall in funding for Afghanistan estimated by the World Bank at some $7 billion a year from the end of 2014.

For now, nobody wants to show their hand too clearly in the hope that someone else -- from the United States to Europe, the Gulf to Asia -- will come forward to foot a share of the bill.

Brewing confrontations pitting Washington against Pakistan and Iran, two of Afghanistan's most influential neighbours, have also added to despondency over the outlook for the war.

Pakistan boycotted the meeting after NATO aircraft killed 24 of its soldiers on the border with Afghanistan in a November 26 attack the alliance called a "tragic" accident.

But delegates from Russia to Iran to China, all uneasy about the U.S. military presence in their neighbourhood, were nonetheless able to agree with Western powers "the main threat to Afghanistan's security and stability is terrorism."

"In this regard, we recognise the regional dimensions of terrorism and extremism, including terrorist safe havens, and emphasise the need for sincere and result-oriented regional cooperation..." a conference statement.

Pakistan is accused by Washington and Kabul of providing "safe havens" to insurgents to use to counter the influence of rival India. Pakistan says it being used as a scapegoat for the U.S. failure to bring stability to Afghanistan.


The mood at the Bonn conference was a far cry from the early days of the Afghan war when, fresh from toppling the Taliban, Western powers hoped to bring permanent peace to a country which has now been at war for more than three decades.

But with problems of insecurity, governance, corruption and narcotics inside Afghanistan, compounded by insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan, objectives have been scaled back.

By the time of a conference in London on Afghanistan in January 2010, Western governments had agreed insurgents could be brought into peace talks if they were willing to cut ties with al Qaeda, give up violence and respect the Afghan constitution.

But even that goal has proved elusive. Embroynic contacts with the Taliban have yielded little, and foreign governments have been preparing increasingly for a scenario in which there is no peace settlement with the Taliban even before the before most foreign combat troops leave in 2014.

The aim now is to leave behind a government which is just about good enough to survive, even if fighting persists in parts of the country and the Taliban insurgency remains active.

Some are still hoping Pakistan will use its influence to deliver the Afghan Taliban into a political settlement.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters Pakistan had missed a good opportunity to discuss its own issues and the future of Afghanistan by not attending the Bonn conference. "But it will not stop us from cooperating together," he said.

Asked what he wanted Pakistan to do to help bring peace in Afghanistan, he said: "Close the sanctuaries, arrange a purposeful dialogue with those Taliban who are in Pakistan."

Clinton said she expected Pakistan to play a constructive role in Afghanistan, even as she voiced disappointment that Islamabad chose not to attend the conference.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Afghanistan could still have a bright future even if the Taliban were not brought into a political settlement.

"It may take a longer time to bring about our objectives but we should not be deterred at all by Taliban reluctance to come to the table..." he told the BBC.

Foreign governments were also determined to try to dispel at least some of the pessimism seeping into the Afghan project.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna, whose country became the first to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan -- much to the irritation of Pakistan -- pledged India would keep up its heavy investment in a country whose mineral wealth and trade routes made it "a land of opportunity."

In a rare positive development, Clinton said the United States would resume paying into a World Bank-administered Reconstruction Trust Fund for Afghanistan, a decision that U.S. officials said would allow for the disbursement of roughly $650 million to $700 million in suspended U.S. aid.

The United States and other big donors stopped paying into the fund in June, when the International Monetary Fund suspended its programme with Afghanistan because of concerns about Afghanistan's troubled Kabul Bank.


In a sign of quite how difficult it will be to bring peace to Afghanistan, the conference was nearly overshadowed before it started by a row with Iran -- increasingly at odds with the United States and European powers over its nuclear programme.

Tehran said on Sunday it shot down a U.S. spy drone in its airspace and threatened to respond. International forces in Kabul said the drone may have been one lost last week while flying over western Afghanistan.

Iran has been accused in the past of providing low-level backing to the Taliban insurgency, and diplomats and analysts have suggested Tehran could ratchet up this support if it wanted to put serious pressure on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday also reiterated Iran's opposition to the United States keeping some forces in Afghanistan after 2014.

Simon Gass, NATO's senior civilian representative in Kabul and former British ambassador to Tehran, downplayed the prospect of Tehran acting as a spoiler in any Afghan settlement.

He recalled Iran was a historic foe of the Taliban, which has a record of hostility to Afghan Shi'ites, Iran's co-religionists.

Despite its dislike of the Taliban "Iran has a history in Afghanistan of supporting some Taliban groups in different ways. That could continue. We shall have to see," he said.

"But what I would say is that my quite long experience of Iran is that Iranians are realists, and once the international agreements are in place which define the security architecture for Afghanistan after 2014, my belief is that Iran will begin to adjust to those new realities," he told Reuters.