Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cozying up to Saudi Arabia: How can that be ‘principled’?

The Harper government boasts of conducting a high-minded, “principled” foreign policy. In that case, could someone in government explain why Saudi Arabia is Canada’s second-largest export market for military sales? Where’s the principle in that?
Could that same person explain why the Harper government cozies up to a regime whose decision to drive down the world price of oil is crippling Canada’s oil industry and hurting the economy; whose government-sponsored support for a Wahhabi/Salafist form of Islam has spawned terrorism in many places; whose government opposes any attempt to curtail greenhouse gases; whose government oppresses its Shia minorities; and whose government has beheaded more people in 2014 than any other in the world and sentences a blogger to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for insulting Islam.
Where’s the “principle” in a 14-year deal to sell $10-billion worth of Canadian light armoured vehicles to a systematic human-rights-abusing regime? That deal was underwritten by the Canadian Commercial Corporation last year, and touted by Harper ministers as a job-creator for General Dynamics in London, Ont., and more than 500 other Canadian firms.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association hailed the contract as an “Olympic win for Canada.” Maybe it was commercially, but where’s the “principle” in selling $10-billion worth of military equipment to an unlovely regime whose actions run so counter to Canadian interests around the world?
Where’s the “principle” in arranging visits to Saudi Arabia for Foreign Minister John Baird and welcoming Saudi leaders to Canada when that country, arguably more than any other, has been responsible for financing schools and teaching that promote the Saudi’s Wahhabi version of Islam, which in turn has provided a fertile breeding ground for extremism and terrorism.
The government itself, of course, no longer spreads money around the Muslim world to promote Wahhabi thought, but plenty of individual Saudis and non-government organizations do. Since the Canadian government now declares that we are in a “war” against terror (the word “war” is politically arresting, but it dangerously misrepresents the actual state of affairs), no country’s religious philosophy has done more to spawn terrorist thinking than Saudi Arabia’s.
Of course, the Saudis have been reaping what they helped to sow, going back to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi national who turned against the Saudi regime for its corruption, ties to the United States and failure to create a sufficiently Salafist state. Now, the Saudis fear the Islamic State in their neighbourhood, a murderous movement more Salafist than the Saudis themselves.
It could be argued that Canada and Saudi Arabia are allies by being in the coalition of the willing in the military campaign against the Islamic State. If so, this temporary marriage of convenience is based on realpolitik rather than any shared commitment to values or “principles.”
The existence of the Islamic State is much more a Saudi problem than a Canadian one, since the IS reflects internal political, doctrinal and military struggles within Islam, to which Saudi Arabia, with its particular kind of Sunni theology, is a major contributor. Canadians are bystanders to these struggles, even though the Harper government has seen fit to intrude Canada into them.
The Saudis are deeply suspicious of democracy – the promotion of which is supposed to be one of the Harper government’s “principles” – as they demonstrated in trying to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after its election.
The Saudis are much happier with authoritarian regimes such as their own than either democratic ones, or those whose leaders might espouse an Islamic radicalism threatening to the Saudis’ own extreme conservatism. Hence the massive financial assistance the Saudis give to the cryptodemocratic, but essentially military government in Egypt.
The Saudis’ greatest fear, among many, comes from Iran, the major Shia power in the Middle East. In demonizing Iran, the Harper government and the Saudis can find common cause, even though the demonizing is counterproductive for Canada, albeit popular among hardline conservatives here and in Jerusalem.
Canada has almost nothing in common with Saudi Arabia, except for a temporary confluence of military objectives and the pursuit of military exports. At best, this relationship could be called the pursuit of national self-interest; at worst, it could be labelled a misguided interpretation of those interests.
A relationship built on a “principled” foreign policy it most definitely is not.

Charlie Hebdo and Free Expression

The lead article in the first edition of Charlie Hebdo after the massacre at its Paris offices by Islamists claiming to avenge cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad — the edition distributed as an astonishing five million copies — raised a thorny, sensitive question. After thanking all those who had shown solidarity with the magazine, its editor in chief, Gérard Biard, asked a question that, he said, “torments us”:
“Are we finally going to rid our political and intellectual vocabulary of the dirty term ‘laïcard intégriste’?”
Loosely translated, those words mean “die-hard secularist.” What Mr. Biard was challenging was the argument that committed secularists like himself and the staff of Charlie Hebdo had essentially brought this tragedy upon themselves, and that there is, by implication, a sort of moral equivalence between deeply held secularist views and the “religious totalitarianism” — his words — that he and his staff loved to skewer.
Over the years, he went on, Charlie Hebdo and other champions of la laïcité — the secularism enshrined in French politics — had been assailed as “Islamophobes, Christianophobes, provocateurs, irresponsible, throwers of oil on the fire, racists” and the like.
Even as people lamented the massacre, he wrote, some of them offered a maddening qualifier: “Yes, we condemn terrorism, but.......” “Yes, burning down a newspaper is bad, but..... We have heard it all, and our friends as well....”
Obviously there can be no “but” in condemning the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, or the ideology that encourages murder in the name of religion.
Irreverent magazines like Charlie Hebdo have been a fixture in Western societies for many years, and France has a strong tradition of such journalism.
The Internet, moreover, has opened the door to almost every level and form of expression.
Yet there are legitimate questions raised about freedom of expression in this tragedy.
In the wake of the terror attack, French authorities began aggressive enforcements of a law against supporting or justifying terrorism, including arrests of people who spoke admiringly about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. Not surprisingly, their actions have raised questions of a double standard — one for cartoonists who deliberately insult religion, when their cartoons are certain to antagonize Muslims at a time when anti-Muslim feelings are already at high levels in France and across much of Europe, and another for those who react by applauding terrorists.
The difference, according to French authorities, is between the right to attack an idea and the right to attack people or incite hatred.
The distinction is recognized in the various laws against hate speech or inciting violence that exist in most Western states.
As a consequence of World War II, France and several other European countries have laws against denying the Holocaust, and with a rise in anti-Semitism in France, authorities have actively sought to curb hate speech, like the anti-Semitic routines of a comedian, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala.
Freedom of expression is broader in the United States, but there, too, there are legal limitations on speech that involves incitement, libel, obscenity or child pornography.
But drawing the line between speech that is disgusting and speech that is dangerous is inherently difficult and risky.
In Israel, mocking Muhammad can bring a prison term, as it did for Tatiana Susskind, a Russian immigrant who posted drawings of the Prophet as a pig in Hebron in 1997.
She was accused, among other things, of committing a racist act and harming religious sensitivities, and sentenced to two years in prison. Laws like those in France against “words or acts of hatred” are based on what is often a subjective judgment. And any constraints on freedom of expression invite government abuse.
Tastes, standards and situations change, and in the end it is best for editors and societies at large to judge what is fit — or safe — to print.
That the tragedy in Paris has served to raise these questions is in no way an insult to the members of the Charlie Hebdo staff who perished.
Shocking people into confronting reality was, after all, what their journal — which they proudly called a “journal irresponsable” — was all about.

Video Report - Iran, major powers to meet in February for nuclear talks

Obama Proposes New Tax Increases on Wealthy to Help Middle Class


President Barack Obama is proposing new taxes on the wealthiest Americans that would limit their profits from investments and make it harder for them to pass assets to heirs.
Obama, who will promote the plan during his Jan. 20 State of the Union Address, will use much of the proceeds -- $320 billion over 10 years -- to expand tax credits for higher education and child care and create a new break for two-earner couples. The White House released details of the plan Saturday.
“What you’re seeing here is really dedicated middle-class tax relief to really get at that problem of middle-class wage stagnation,” said Harry Stein, director of fiscal policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington group aligned with Democrats.
Obama’s tax plan faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Congress, where lawmakers want to cut tax rates and curtail targeted breaks. The two parties agree more on business tax changes, though an accord on that isn’t close.
“Slapping American small businesses, savers and investors with more tax hikes only negates the benefits of the tax policies that have been successful in helping to expand the economy, promote savings, and create jobs,” Republican Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Saturday. “The president needs to stop listening to his liberal allies who want to raise taxes at all costs and start working with Congress to fix our broken tax code.”

Obama has been previewing his proposals over the past 10 days in speeches around the country. In addition to the tax plan, he said he will push Congress for legislation allowing workers to earn seven days of paid sick leave per year and make community college free for millions of students, at a cost of $60 billion over 10 years.
Obama, who has consistently advocated for tax increases on the wealthy and tax cuts for middle-income families, is offering more of both in the tax plan released Saturday. He is layering new proposals on top of others that Congress has ignored or rejected.
Spokesmen for House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell both criticized the plan.

‘Outdated Code’

“Republicans believe we should simplify America’s outdated tax code,” said Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for McConnell. “Tax reform should create jobs for families, not the IRS.”
The administration’s proposal on capital gains at death would exempt the first $200,000 in capital gains per couple plus $500,000 for a home, along with all personal property except for valuable art and collectibles. The rest would be treated for income-tax purposes as if it had been sold.
The plan would also delay taxes on “inherited small, family-owned and operated businesses” until the business is sold and let any closely held businesses spread the taxes over 15 years.
According to the White House, 99 percent of the tax burden from the capital-gains proposals would be paid by the top 1 percent of households, and more than 80 percent would be paid by the top 0.1 percent.
People with significant amounts of unrealized gains include founders of successful businesses and others who inherited businesses decades ago.

More Owed

Even with the limits, the changes would create new tax burdens for some families that are exempt from the estate tax under laws Obama signed, which limited the tax to couples worth more than $10.86 million.
As a simplified example, consider a couple who died with $5 million in assets, including $2.5 million in stock with a basis of $500,000. Under current law, they could pass that to their children with no taxes. Under Obama’s plan, they could owe about $500,000.
The White House dubbed the break the “trust fund loophole,” though it is used by people without trust funds.
“That’s an extremely powerful planning tool,” Stein said. And you can still access income from unrealized capital gains’’ with loans.
Obama is also renewing and expanding an earlier proposal for a fee on the liabilities of about 100 financial institutions with assets exceeding $50 billion.

Expanded Breaks

This year’s version is a seven-basis-point fee on their total liabilities and would raise an estimated $110 billion over a decade. The new version of the tax has a lower rate, a broader base and would raise about twice as much money as before.
It would apply not just to bank holding companies and the narrower set of financial institutions included in last year’s plan. Instead, it would now affect asset managers and insurance companies, said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the plans before the speech.
Obama would use the proceeds from the tax increases to expand breaks for lower-income and middle-income families.
In 2007, when Obama started running for president, the middle 20 percent of households had an effective federal tax rate of 14.4 percent and the top 1 percent paid 27.4 percent, according to theTax Policy Center. By 2014, the middle-class rate had declined to 13.7 percent -- it was lower during the recession -- while the wealthiest were paying 33.4 percent.

Child Care

The newest part of that plan is a $500 tax credit for married couples when both spouses work, an attempt to combat the reluctance of lower-earning spouses to work because their income is taxed at marginal rates for the combined couple.
The full tax credit would be available for couples with incomes up to $120,000 and those earning up to $210,000 would get a partial credit.
Obama would also triple the maximum tax credit for child care to up to $3,000 for children under 5. The government would effectively pay half of the first $6,000 of child care per child for some families. The maximum credit could be claimed by families making as much as $120,000.
Neither the second-earner credit nor the child-care credit would be refundable, the official said, meaning that they would only benefit families with income-tax liability.
As part of those changes, Obama would repeal flexible spending accounts for child care, which let people set aside up to $5,000 a year before taxes. Because those function like deductions, the accounts are more valuable to families with higher incomes and marginal rates.

Retirement Plans

Obama would also consolidate several education tax breaks into a single tax credit worth up to $2,500. Part-time students would be eligible for a partial credit.
He is also proposing to end taxation of some student loan debt forgiven under income-based repayment plans. To help pay for that, Obama would repeal the deductibility of student loan interest for new borrowers.
The plan announced Saturday also continues two past Obama ideas on retirement policy. He wants to require companies to automatically enroll workers in individual retirement accounts. And he wants to limit contributions to tax-advantaged retirement accounts for people who have about $3.4 million in them.
Some of those ideas -- the bank fee, consolidating education credits and breaks for two-income households -- have had bipartisan support, with differences on the details.
Even so, most of them are unlikely to advance in a Republican-controlled Congress.

Push, Shove

Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Jan. 15 that Republicans wouldn’t be able to undertake the “full-throttle tax reform” they wanted to pursue because of Obama’s opposition to cutting marginal tax rates for individuals.
Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said Republicans were interested in making the biggest tax code changes since 1986 and are looking to Obama to work with them.
“So far what we’ve seen is the White House and the president have expressed interest rhetorically in the issue of tax reform,” he said at the party’s retreat Jan. 15 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. “But when push comes to shove, really engaging the Congress -- we’ve not seen that.”
Following his State of the Union speech, Obama plans to promote the initiatives in two Republican-dominated states, Idaho and Kansas. He’ll speak at Boise State University on Jan. 21 and at the University of Kansas in Lawrence the next day.

Obama's State of the Union wades into 2016

By Eric Bradner

Barack Obama is done campaigning for president himself -- but he's still working to make Republicans play defense on issues where they've yet to prove themselves.
His upcoming State of the Union speech on Tuesday night will lay out a litany of Democratic pipe dreams that have little chance of becoming law. But his proposals are popular with voters and, if he's able to draw enough attention and his party picks up on them, could offer an early preview of 2016 election themes.

Top among those plans is one that would raise $320 billion over the next 10 years through a capital gains tax hike and new bank fees -- and use that money to cover his $60 billion pitch for free two-year community college tuition and $175 billion in new tax benefits for the middle class.
It's Obama's opening offer in what he hopes will be a negotiation with Republican congressional leaders over a major tax overhaul -- which Democrats also hope will free up money to fund some of their top priorities.
    But conservatives are so likely to reject nearly all of Obama's pitch that top adviser Dan Pfeiffer, who appeared on two morning news shows on Sunday, got questions about whether the White House is even serious.
    First, CBS "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer: "I mean, is this for real? Do you really think there's a chance that something like this could pass?"
    And then NBC's "Meet the Press" moderator Chuck Todd: "If feels like a campaign because some of the things he's proposing -- nobody in Washington believes it can get through a Republican Congress."
    Pfeiffer responded that what Obama is really trying to do is start a new debate -- one the President thinks he can win.
    "Let me give you the theme of the speech in three words: Middle-class economics," he told Todd.
    "He's going to talk about how middle-class economics brought us back from the brink and put us to a place where the economy's growing, jobs are growing, the deficit is shrinking, and it's all out of his plan to deal, as I said, with wage stagnation and declining economic mobility, in ways we can really help the middle class," Pfeiffer said.
    In other words, the White House is thinking: If Republicans want to say no, let them try to explain why.
    It's been a successful strategy for Democrats in recent years. Obama's re-election victory came over Mitt Romney, a candidate who struggled to overcome attacks on his personal wealth, to connect with people who don't have money and to explain how his ideas would help narrow a yawning
    Unemployment is now down to 5.6% from an Obama-era high of 10% in 2009. But the improving jobs numbers aren't helping many Americans overcome wages that have stagnated -- turning the looming 2016 campaign into a juxtaposition of ideas over how best to help Americans help themselves.
    Republicans have long favored overhauling the tax code. But they argue a Robin Hood approach isn't fair -- or effective. They argue that taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals are already too high and penalize those who create jobs. Instead, they've favored measures that would allow corporations to bring money earned overseas back into the United States, which they say would jump-start job creation.
    Still, they recognize that winning over middle-class voters -- and those who would like to join the middle class -- is their path to victory.
    Recognizing some of his last campaign's mistakes, Romney -- who's now telling Republicans he's considering another run in 2016 -- is saying he'd like to make lifting wages a centerpiece of his next bid. He told the Republican National Committee on Friday in San Diego that he'd fight the "scourge of poverty" if he ran again.
    "I believe in the post-Obama era we need to stand for safety, and for opportunity for all people, and we have to stand for helping lift people out of poverty," Romney said.
    The Democratic push to narrow the income gap -- and take on financial institutions and Wall Street while doing it -- is also being driven by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who tweaked Romney in a tweet Sunday, highlighting the GOP's vulnerability.
    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who's considering a 2016 bid, blasted Obama's proposal in an appearance on "Face the Nation."
    "The notion first of all that in order for some people to do better, someone has to do worse is just not true. Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful," he said.
    Rubio said he supports the broad thrust of some of Obama's ideas, like reforming higher education. But Obama's plan, he said, would pour more money into a "broken, existing system," rather than creating more competition and alternative certification programs.
    "I wish he would spend more time on that, and less time trying to raise taxes and pour money into an outdated model that no longer works in the twenty first century," Rubio said.
    Other congressional Republicans were similarly critical.On CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the President's tax proposal "a non-starter."
    "We're not just one good tax increase away from prosperity in this nation," he said. "We have to make sure that we get a regulatory environment that's predictable, that we bring those tax rates down and that we quit spending this money that we don't have."

    Music Video - Zeek Afridi and Najeeba Faiz Pashto Song

    Afghanistan - Analysts Blast Government Over Haidari Nomination

    Political commentators have called attention to the fact that the national unity government's nominee for the top post at the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock is on Interpol's most wanted list, pushing it as proof that the cabinet nomination process was not guided by meritocracy.
    The announcement of cabinet nominations took nearly four months and the delay was consistently justified by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah as being the result of their search for the most qualified individuals. Yet Muhammad Yaqoob Haidari, their nominee for the agricultural ministry, has been on Interpol's most wanted list of international criminals since 2003. He is wanted for tax evasion and fraud in Estonia

    Mr. Haidari has acknowledged that around 50,000 USD in taxes may not have been paid to the government of Estonia for one of the many companies he owns in the country. But he maintains that corrupt officials from Estonia have prevented him from entering the country so they can steal millions of dollars from him.

    "They could have sent the documents to Afghanistan and followed up my case here - I am here now," he said. "The main reason is that they don't have proof against me and the documents that I have show that the small European countries that have recently come to power are not very welcoming to us residents of third world countries," he added.

    Ironically, Haidari was recommended for the cabinet position by Ahmad Zia Masood, the Special Envoy to President Ghani for Reform and Good Governance. In response to the concerns raised around Haidari's supposed criminal past, Masood has maintained the government is unaware of any such history and that if it is indeed true then Haidari's nomination would be reconsidered.

    "We are not aware of anyone's past, and what they have done," Masood said. "But we believe that if anyone had issues, whether tax issues or any other problem, their introduction to the parliament will be reconsidered."

    Meanwhile, analysts have expressed disbelief at the national unity government's self-proclaimed ignorance to Haidari's standing with Interpol. They have questioned how the government could possibly have moved forward with a nomination after months of deliberation completely ignorant of an individual's international criminal record when a simple background check or even search on the Internet would have revealed it.

    "As the media has said, Mr. Haidari is accused and is under Interpol investigation, so I am amazed that the president, with all the intelligence that he has, was not able to find out whether this guy was accused or not," political analyst Ahmad Saeedi said. "Or maybe the president did not want to consider the option."

    Abdul Wahed Mokhles, a political analyst from Herat, said that if people like Haidari make there way into the cabinet then the promise of the new government is bleak. "While the government argues transparency on the one hand and selects someone like Haidari on the other hand, the continuation of these activities shows a dark future for Afghanistan," he told TOLOnews.

    Residents of Kabul, who have been some of the most outspoken and critical about the government's delay in announcing the new cabinet, have responded similarly to news of Haidari. "When they have nominated someone who has a criminal background, how can they serve the people of Afghanistan," a Kabul resident named Zakia said.

    Afghanistan - Ghani orders elimination of all groups posing threat to Afghan forces

    President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani has ordered to eliminate all individuals and groups posing threat to Afghan National Security Forces.
    Deputy defense minister Baz Mohammad Jawhari said the President has made it clear that all those individuals or groups which poses threat or attacks the Afghan forces are the enemies of Afghanistan and therefore they should be eliminated.
    Speaking during the completion of security transition of the Afghan national army training facilities, Jawhari said such claims are not correct that the government of Afghanistan is not having a clear policy regarding the enemies and friends of Afghanistan.
    Jawhari said Afghan security forces are prepared to counter all terrorist activities which are aimed at targeting the Afghan people and troops.
    According to Jawhari the Afghan security forces have foiled major plots by the terrorist groups who were looking to create sanctuaries in the country during the past one week.
    The security of Afghanistan is currently fully in the hands of 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police forces as the NATO combat mission ended last year.
    NATO launched the alliance’s non-combat mission – Resolute Support mission which consist of more than 12,500 troops and is focused on building Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) sustainability. 28 NATO Allies and 14 partner nations contribute to the mission in different ways.

    Analysis: Reported ban of Haqqani Network unlikely to end Pakistan's support of group


    Anonymous Pakistani officials have told news agencies that the government will ban the al Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network "within weeks." But a listing of the Haqqani Network as a terrorist entity is unlikely to change decades of support that the jihadist group has received from the Pakistani military and intelligence establishment.
    Pakistani officials first told The Express Tribune that the Haqqani Network Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the political front of the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and 10 other jihadist groups would be banned in "coming days."
    "It's our first step towards execution of the National Action Plan," against terrorism, a senior intelligence official told the news agency. "The nation will see more positive steps towards dismantling militant groups. Both civilian and military leadership decided to ban the Haqqani Network and Jamaat-ud-Dawa."
    Pakistani government officials told Reuters that the ban on the Haqqani Network would be announced "within weeks." A member of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's cabinet said the decision to proscribe the Haqqani Network was made after the Movement of the Taliban assaulted a school in Peshawar and brutally executed 134 children.
    The unnamed cabinet minister also told Reuters that "the military and the government are on the same page on how to tackle militancy. There is no more 'good' or 'bad' Taliban."
    The "bad" Taliban are identified as jihadist groups such as the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan, which seeks to overthrow the Pakistani state. The "good" Taliban are groups such as the Haqqani Network, who wage jihad in Afghanistan but do not overtly seek to wage war against the Pakistani state. However the so-called good Taliban do support groups such as Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and al Qaeda.
    Ban unlikely to change institutional support of the Haqqani Network
    While the banning of the Haqqani Network is a welcome move, if it is not backed by significant action, such as the arrest of the jihadist group's top leadership, the dismantling of its network, the destruction of its infrastructure, and the end of support by the military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the move is likely to amount to little more than symbolism.
    If history is any indication, Pakistan's military and intelligence establishment is unlikely to truly end its support of the Haqqani Network. The Haqqanis have been one of the premier instruments of influence inside Afghanistan; the group has served as part of Pakistan's policy of "strategic depth" against a potential war with India and US influence in Afghanistan. While Pakistani officials have claimed the country has discarded its policy of "strategic depth," there is little evidence to support this. In fact, the Pakistani establishment still allows the Afghan Taliban (of which the Haqqani Network is a part) to operate freely within Afghanistan. And there is no indication at all that the Pakistani government will ban the Afghan Taliban, let alone dismantle the group's extensive network inside of Pakistan.
    Recent statements by Sartaj Aziz, the adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, also indicate that the Pakistani government is not serious about tackling the Haqqani Network. In mid-November, Aziz said Pakistan should not "make enemies" out of groups such as the Haqqani Network, and that the Afghan Taliban was Afghanistan's problem, not Pakistan's.
    "Why should America's enemies unnecessarily become our enemies," Aziz told BBC Urdu.
    "Some of them were dangerous for us and some are not. Why must we make enemies out of them all?," he continued, referencing the Haqqani Network. [See Threat Matrix report, Good Taliban are not our problem, adviser to Pakistan's prime minister says.]
    Three days ago, in a joint press conference held with US Secretary of State John Kerry, Aziz was asked if Pakistan planned on cracking down on the Haqqani Network, the Afghan Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. Aziz dodged the issues related to the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, and then claimed that the Haqqani Network's "infrastructure [was] totally destroyed" during the ongoing Pakistani military operation in North Waziristan.
    "But as far as Haqqani Network is concerned, since after the North Waziristan operation, their infrastructure is totally destroyed, and our commitment to Afghanistan not to allow our territory to be used against any other country would not have been possible unless we had taken this operation in North Waziristan," Aziz claimed. "So to that extent, their ability to operate from here across to Afghanistan has virtually disappeared."
    Pakistani claims not withstanding, there is no evidence that the Haqqani Network's "infrastructure is totally destroyed." In fact, not a single Haqqani Network leader, commander, or operative is reported to have been killed or captured during the North Waziristan offensive. The Pakistani military has targeted only the "bad" Taliban -- the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- during the operation. [See LWJ report, Pakistani military claims 910 'terrorists,' 82 soldiers killed in North Waziristan operation.]
    Finally, the banning of jihadist groups in Pakistan has little effect without the will to enforce the ban. Pakistan has outlawed dozens of jihadist groups, many of which still operate in the open with the support of the government. Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in 2002 but the group responded by merely rebranding itself and operating under the name Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which was subsequently banned in 2005.
    This has not stopped the group from receiving the support of the Pakistani military and the ISID, nor has it stopped it from running its operations in Afghanistan, and conducting terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and India. And Lashkar-e-Taiba's top leaders, including its emir, Hafiz Saeed, continue to operate openly in Pakistan. Saeed, who states "we do jihad" and calls for jihad in Indian-held Kashmir, evendines with senior Pakistani generals. Instead of detaining Saeed, who is wanted by the US and has a $10 million reward on his head for his capture and prosecution, the Pakistani government has involved him in a "de-radicalization and rehabilitation" program.

    Read more:

    Why Pakistan will remain a key US ally

    By Gabriel Domínguez
    Secretary of State John Kerry has said the US will boost its security and defense cooperation with Pakistan in its fight against militants. DW speaks to analyst Omar Hamid on the nature of the US-Pakistani military bond.
    Speaking at a joint press conference with Pakistan's national security adviser Sartaj Aziz in Islamabad, Kerry praised the Pakistani military's ongoing operation against Islamist militants in the country's northwest. He also called on the South Asian nation to fight all militant groups that threaten Afghan, Indian and US interests.
    "We've been very clear with the highest levels of the Government of Pakistan that Pakistan has to target all militant groups, the Haqqani Network and others, which target US coalition and Afghan forces and people in Pakistan and elsewhere," Kerry said on Tuesday, January 13.
    Pakistan's military has vowed to avenge the December 16 Peshawar school massacre, in which some 150 people - mostly children - were killed. Since the Taliban assault, the army has intensified its ground and air strikes on Islamist militants in the restive Waziristan area. It is believed that some of the region's most feared militants use Waziristan as a launching pad for attacks within Pakistan as well as against NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in South and North Waziristan since the start of the operation.
    Omar Hamid, Head of Asia Pacific Country Risk at IHS, says in a DW interview the Pakistani army's actions against the Haqqani network as well as its operations in Waziristan seem to have restored US confidence in Pakistan and led to an increasing level of cooperation between the two countries.
    DW: Pakistan's problems with the Taliban insurgency are not new. Why did the US Secretary of State pick this time to pledge support for Pakistan in its offensive against extremist militants?
    Omar Hamid: The past six months or so has seen increased efforts by Pakistan against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militant groups. The Pakistani army has gone to great pains to show that their operations were even-handed against all Taliban-affiliated outfits, including groups such as the Haqqani network, which has been responsible for major attacks in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul. The country's military had been accused by the US and Afghan governments of protecting the Haqqani network in the past.
    These latest actions seem to have restored confidence and led to an increasing level of cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Therefore, while Secretary of State Kerry's visit may be occurring only now in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack on December 16, in fact there has been growing intelligence cooperation between the two countries before this, as evidenced by US drone strikes targeting TTP leaders in eastern Afghanistan, which have been occurring since November 2014.
    What kind of assistance is the US willing to offer Pakistan?
    Pakistan is primarily interested in greater US military aid. The government also needs support for the resettlement of internally displaced persons from the current operation in North Waziristan. However, the Kerry Lugar Bill made the US government focus more on civilian institutions than just giving more aid money to the military.
    The real issue here is that military and economic cooperation between Pakistan and the US has continued throughout this period, even despite some periods where the rhetoric on both sides had become more inflammatory.
    Given this inflammatory rhetoric, why does the US believe it is important to assist Pakistan?
    Pakistan remains a key US ally for two reasons: First, the army is the only force currently capable of flushing Islamist militant groups out of their sanctuaries in the tribal areas. Second, the US recognizes that they would need Pakistan to lean on the Afghan Taliban to initiate any kind of meaningful peace negotiations.
    You mentioned the offensive in North Waziristan. The US has carried out a series of drone strikes in the tribal regions since Islamabad resumed its own offensive there. Pakistani officials, however, denounce the drone attacks as a violation of sovereignty. Are the two militaries working together in the offensive?
    Despite their public denunciations, there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence that supports the fact that these drone strikes are done in conjunction with, and at the behest of, the Pakistani military.
    Almost certainly there has been an increase over the past few months in coordination between the two militaries, with US drone strikes targeting the TTP leadership on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border at the same time that Pakistani forces pushed into the North Waziristan.
    US drones are also actively targeting Mullah Fazllullah, the head of the TTP, who is thought to be in Kunar, Afghanistan, and was recently added to Washington's official terrorism list. At least two drone strikes have attempted to kill him since November 2014.
    Nevertheless, some analysts believe Pakistan's security services see the Haqqanis as an "asset" and maintain close links with them. What is your view on this?
    Whatever the past relationship may have been, during the current operation the Pakistani army has made it a point to target the Haqqani network, with the result that the Haqqanis' offensive capabilities seem to have been greatly reduced in recent times.
    In his visit to Washington in November 2014, Pakistan's army chief Raheel Sharif received public praise from both the Pentagon leadership and other members of the US establishment for having not spared the Haqqani network during the present operations.
    US Secretary of State John Kerry and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (2nd R) shake hands as they are flanked by US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker (L) and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj (R) at the Prime Minister's residence in New Delhi August 1, 2014
(Photo: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
    Hamid: 'Washington's own priorities would take precedence over what New Delhi would consider urgent'
    How could Kerry's pledge of support for Pakistan help ease tensions with neighboring India?
    Pakistan has always desired direct US intervention to resolve the Kashmir dispute with India. While such direct support is unlikely, nonetheless, with Pakistani-US relations enjoying a high point, the Pakistani establishment will be content that in light of supportive comments from the US, India will be restrained from taking any kind of unilateral action that would raise war risks between the two countries.
    What leverage does Washington have on Islamabad to help decrease the violence along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan?
    The US has the considerable leverage in terms of its economic support for Pakistan, which it could potentially use to decrease LoC violence, but it also understands that any threats about the reduction of aid and/or economic support would also undermine Pakistani support for anti-terror operations, which is the US' primary interest in engaging with the country. Therefore, its own priorities would take precedence over what India would consider urgent.