Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 28, 2011

Change of tone

After the flurry of bitter exchanges in recent days between the US and Pakistan, better sense seems to have prevailed, if the diplomatic efforts and change of tone emanating from Washington is anything to go by. US Ambassador Cameron Munter has interacted with Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir immediately after his return from Washington. They have agreed to remove the ‘misunderstanding’ and continue the negotiations process to avoid the relationship taking a turn for the worse. Reports say Bashir discussed Mullen’s statements, the blame game and ‘baseless allegations’ against Pakistan and suggested avoiding the media for sorting out issues, relying on diplomatic channels instead. He has also asked once again for intelligence about the Haqqani network, which is a rhetorical question better put to Aabpara. State Department spokesmen in Washington have avoided stoking the fire by fending off probing questions by the American media amidst calls by US politicians to reconsider, at the very least, aid to Pakistan and return the relationship with Pakistan to a ‘transactional’ one. This implies quid pro quo.
Pakistan meanwhile has launched a diplomatic offensive to take its closest allies into confidence. The visit of the Chinese Vice Prime Minister Meng Jianzhu yielded Beijing’s traditional support to Pakistan and agreements to help with infrastructure and other projects to the tune of $ 250 million. The Saudi intelligence officials who reportedly visited Islamabad, followed by ISI chief General Shuja Pasha’s dash to Riyadh, are being viewed by some as Saudi mediation between the two quarrelling ‘allies’. The military too, whether reflected in the Corps Commanders’ conference statement or ISPR head General Athar Abbas’s formulations, indicated a recognition of the need for ‘quiet diplomacy’ to bring down tensions.
On the other hand, the political leaders of Pakistan have already come out swinging against the US. No doubt this will be further accelerated during and after the All Parties Conference Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has summoned for September 29, where caution may be thrown to the winds and bellicosity be the order of the day. The prime minister’s own statements, and those of Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar in New York indicate that the politicians are on some other wavelength. Whether this is a strategy agreed with the military to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ is not certain. What is clear though is that international diplomacy and domestic politics seem to be pulling in different directions. That may be because diplomats and the military see the situation more soberly, devoid of the distortions of populist rhetoric, whereas politicians can seldom resist the temptation to play to their domestic audience, if not the gallery.
The cost of the downward spiral in US-Pakistan relations has already sent shock waves through the economy. The stock exchange plunged amidst fears of a breakdown in relations, the rupee floated to around 90 to the dollar, partly because of the ‘dollarisation’ currently underway amidst fears for the future. These negative signals should give pause to all stakeholders to reconsider their fiercest belligerence against the US. We may not like much of what Washington does or even how it does it. But it is not only the US that has constraints so long as it is engaged in Afghanistan. We too have considerations to weigh, first and foremost the struggling economy and the future of a rescue sans US aid and goodwill. Emotion may be cathartic, but it is rarely a good substitute for calm, considered policy, especially in the delicate position Pakistan is placed in, and the fact that the country the gung-ho amongst us want to take on is the sole superpower in today’s world. Not only should the current furore be cooled, diplomatic efforts must find ways to continue to enjoy, if not the goodwill and friendship, at least the tolerance of the US. Any other path will damage Pakistan immeasurably.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 27, 2011

The chickens coming home to roost

The Special Corps Commanders Conference chaired by COAS General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani expressed its concern over the negative statements emanating from the US. At the same time it rejected all allegations against the ISI regarding support to the Haqqani network. The conference concluded its statement by reiterating the military’s commitment to enduring peace in the region. Centcom Commander General Mattis held meetings with the COAS and CJCSC General Wyne to address the irritants in the Pakistan-US relationship. On the face of it, although not much is known about these exchanges, the tone of the Corps Commanders and the CJCSC appeared to be one of seeking to defuse tensions. This relatively sober response from the top brass of the military should come as no surprise. They know perhaps better than anyone else the stakes involved. Nevertheless, given the unprecedented belligerent tone of the American statements, the defence forces seem to be preparing for the worst case scenario: attacks by the US forces against the Haqqani network’s safe havens in North Waziristan (and perhaps Kurram Agency).
Following in the military’s footsteps, the government seeks to mobilise all the political forces in defence of the country’s sovereignty, implying also defence of the military-dictated foreign and security policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan. After contacting most of the political leadership of the country, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has convened an All Parties Conference on September 29. The purpose obviously is to garner political support across the board for the military’s stance. What helps this process of course is the hackneyed appeal to patriotism, which, as everyone knows, is often the last refuge…
On the other side of the divide, Republican Senator and member of the powerful Armed Services Committee Lindsay Graham wants Pakistan “put on notice” regarding its ties with the Haqqanis. White House adviser David Plouffe says the Obama administration is considering various options to persuade Pakistan to act against the Haqqani network. That could include a suspension of aid, which in any case has been made conditional on cooperation against the network as far as the latest package of $ 1 billion passed by Congress is concerned.
While all this verbal sparring is in progress, Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of firing more than 300 rockets and artillery shells across the border over the last five days, causing civilian casualties and damage. Our military has denied any such barrage. The chorus advocating Afghan retaliation against Pakistan for an earlier alleged barrage was held back by President Karzai in July. However, the cause for concern is that if these bombardments are traced to our side of the border, Kabul would have a strong international diplomatic case for retaliation, particularly since it would be able to point to the cross-border insurgency emanating from safe havens in Pakistan. Needless to say, the issue needs to be understood objectively. Whereas Pakistan stands accused of harbouring and encouraging the Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan (and the US/Nato combine) can at best be blamed for their inability to deny our Taliban (the TTP) safe havens courtesy the Haqqani network in eastern Afghanistan. If Pakistan reserves to itself the right to retaliate across the border for attacks from that side, could not that very argument be turned against Pakistan? Obviously wisdom requires that all sides proceed with caution, exercise restraint in public statements, and ensure that the greater objective of the anti-terrorism campaign, peace in the whole region, is enabled through trilateral cooperation.
As to the reflexive argument in parts of our media that the Haqqanis were sourced by and still retain links with the US, it is a fact that both Washington and Islamabad created, funded, armed, trained and unleashed extremists in the name of jihad, an enterprise that has come back to haunt all sides in this potpourri. The blowback from the ill-thought-through reliance on fanatical forces to wage jihad is now here in full force. However, there is no satisfaction in this prediction coming true. Only a sad wisdom that the chickens are finally coming home to roost. What should not happen however is that fissures between the ‘allies’ cause the terrorists to break out in whoops of joy while they continue their deadly work.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 25, 2011

Sleeping with the enemy

The spate of mutually irritating exchanges between Pakistan and the US in recent days is reaching fever pitch. Stung by forthright accusations of harbouring the Afghan Taliban and especially the Haqqani network in safe havens on Pakistani soil and supporting their attacks on US/Nato/Afghan forces across the border, the government and the military have hit back with equally provocative rejoinders. Prime Minister Gilani advises the US not to send ‘wrong messages’, Foreign Minister Khar warns of the loss of an ally, COAS General Kayani rejects Mullen’s charges. All three nevertheless end on a ‘constructive engagement’ note.
In Pakistan, there has been a lot of noise and fury, full of hollow slogans and chest thumping about our ‘sovereignty’ and how the 180 million people of Pakistan are prepared to defend it against any US-led ‘boots on the ground’ inside Pakistani territory. Sceptics view this chorus as delusionary, misplaced nationalism. Soberer minds recognise that the game is one of brinkmanship, not taking on the world’s sole superpower which, despite its economic troubles, packs the most powerful and overwhelming military punch in the world. Both sides are pushing the envelope to the maximum. The risk is that given the polarisation between public opinion in the two countries, this brinkmanship can spill over into actual confrontation if care is not exercised. There are those amongst us who think we have the US over a barrel and therefore whatever the bluster out of Washington, as the prime minister put it, the US “cannot live with us and cannot live without us”. There may be truth in that assertion, although how far this can be pushed must be a cause for concern. Two points need noting here. Arguably, if we continue to nettle the Americans through our support to extremists who are giving them a bloody nose every so often, the US will, if it is not already, explore options that reduce its logistical dependence on Pakistan. A by-product of this will be immediate and perhaps long term strictures on the political, economic and diplomatic front, which will hurt Pakistan gravely. When and if the US’s hands are freed from the Afghan quagmire, it will not look kindly on our shenanigans. Retribution is the leitmotif of empires. Two, even if the US finds ways to live without us, the question remains, can we live without the US (goodwill)? This is not a time for emotional froth, it is a time for sober reflection where Pakistan’s interests lie and whether these are compatible any longer with the dual policy adopted after 9/11, in which the blood lust in American eyes was sought to be assuaged by cracking down on and delivering al Qaeda, while preserving the Afghan Taliban for a protracted campaign of guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare that has been the hallmark of all resistance movements to foreign occupiers in Afghan history.
As the withdrawal date looms, domestic politics and the exigencies of seeking re-election could tie Obama’s hands to adhere to the declared course. However, a question mark has arisen over the feasibility of the withdrawal plan as announced. In some ways it is natural that in the phase of withdrawal, the Taliban and Haqqani network are stepping up their attacks to strengthen their position in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. The bypassing of the ISI by the US and the Afghan government in negotiations with the insurgents may also be a contributory factor in the escalating seriousness of the ‘state of siege’, particularly in Kabul, which the Afghan government and its allies would like to portray as their secure base. The more that myth is shattered by bold attacks on the US embassy, Nato headquarters and other ostensibly secure establishments, the more the withdrawal plan begins to look unrealistic. The coming vacuum of power has not, and does not seem likely to in the foreseeable future, been filled by the Afghan security forces. Withdrawal of foreign forces may be the harbinger therefore of either a long civil war or the quick running over of the anti-Taliban alliance. Potentially, a Taliban government in Kabul this time will spell trouble for Pakistan in the shape of the Pakistani Taliban. We are crafting the tools of our own destruction unthinkingly.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 23, 2011

Palestinian statehood bid

US President Barack Obama’s rejection of the Palestinians’ statehood bid at the UN was hardly a surprise. Long before he took the podium to address the UN General Assembly (UNGA), it had become obvious from guarded official and not so guarded unofficial comments that the US, as usual, was going to stand by its ally Israel, right or wrong. To stave off a looming diplomatic disaster, since the Palestinian bid has evoked a great deal of sympathy and support from the UNGA, Obama and the Israeli government coordinated wonderfully in suggesting bilateral talks were the only path to a solution that offered the Palestinians a state in return for security for Israel. Have bilateral, trilateral or even multilateral talks yielded anything in the last two decades? Not for the Palestinians, although Israel has used stalling tactics to buy time and create new ‘facts on the ground’ (e.g. expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank). Arguably, Israeli intransigence and repression have rendered the Oslo Accords dead in the water. Since these were premised on a ‘two state solution’, that has left Israel holding all the cards, occupied and expanding territory, a US-supplied arsenal that would be the envy of any great power, and a blank cheque from Washington for all other, economic, etc, needs.
Obama has predictably disappointed his liberal supporters the world over. The Cairo speech attempting to build bridges with an alienated Muslim world is a distant memory, while the Israeli lobby and the foreign and security policy establishment has encircled Obama and forced him to relinquish any notions of ‘change’ he may have carried initially into office. Between Washington and Tel Aviv, therefore, it has been business as usual, with nary a hiccup, the mild but quickly quelled disagreement over new settlements being drowned in the roaring reception Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was accorded in the US Congress on his last visit.
The Palestinian side was expected to submit its statehood recognition request to the UN Security Council (UNSC) today, although reports were swirling that the US might conjure a last minute reprieve for itself and its satrap. This could only mean some carrot (and perhaps stick) to cajole the Palestinians to retreat, even though threatening noises from the US Congress to cut off US aid to the Palestinian Authority seem to have had the opposite effect of what was intended. If the Palestinian bid proceeds as planned, and the US vetoes it in the UNSC, the Palestinians can still salvage “observer state” status by approaching the UNGA. That too would amount to a diplomatic and political advance for the Palestinian cause. Whether the bid succeeds or not, it has already put the US and its cat’s paw Israel on the diplomatic mat. Ironically, while the Palestinians suffer daily repression, evictions and humiliation at the hands of the Israeli state, the oppressor seeks ‘security’ for itself! To equate the pin pricks of the occasional crude rocket attack from Gaza with the bloody track record of the Zionist entity would be laughable were it not such a grave and continuing tragedy. The Arab world’s repeated betrayals of the Palestinian cause have left Israel sitting pretty and the Palestinians having perforce to rely on themselves. Unfortunately, the split between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas has weakened the voice of the Palestinians. It would be in their own interest to subsume their internal differences to the greater good of their common cause, although that seems unlikely at present.
Pakistan must support the Palestinian statehood recognition bid to the fullest extent. If the Muslim world and other countries that adhere to international norms of justice add their voices to the growing chorus demanding an end to Israel’s depredations and occupier logic, perhaps the Palestinians may still have their day in the court of the world’s peoples.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 22, 2011

Rabbani’s assassination

Head of the Afghan High Peace Council and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani has been assassinated in treacherous fashion by a Taliban emissary ostensibly negotiating peace. This is the highest profile assassination since the fall of the Taliban government post-9/11. The circumstances surrounding the murder bear eerie parallels but also significant differences with the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masoud two days before 9/11. Both victims were Tajiks, but whereas Masoud’s assassination was arguably the harbinger of 9/11, its subsequent fallout in the shape of the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by US forces and the ouster of the Taliban regime, Rabbani’s removal will merely mean a serious setback to the inherently difficult project of a peaceful settlement with the Taliban. That may well be the intended message behind the assassination. Interestingly, the Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was at first quick to claim responsibility and even threatened more such assassinations, but 24 hours later seemed to be retracting the claim and retreating into ‘damage control’. That may be because the assassination of Professor Rabbani will not go down well with non-Pashtun as well as anti-Taliban Pashtun elements. Rabbani was chosen by President Karzai for the task of making peace as the most credible, acceptable peacemaker. If the Taliban are averse to making peace with such a respected figure, the prospects for negotiations with the Taliban could well prove dead in the water. That would strengthen the sceptics in the Northern Alliance leadership, who have always looked at the peace project askance. What may follow therefore could be an intensified and even more bitter inter-ethnic and intra-Pashtun civil war in the backdrop of the US/Nato forces’ plans for incremental withdrawal. Whether the intensifying attacks of the Taliban, especially on the relatively secure capital, prove a factor in a change in the withdrawal strategy is too early to say. But the prospects of renewed and even bloodier conflict in Afghanistan cannot but bode ill for that country and the region.
While Pakistan’s president and prime minister, US President Obama and Afghan President Karzai all roundly condemned the assassination, ritual vows of continuing the search for peace were heard all round. One of the possible fallouts of the event may well be increased pressure on Pakistan to deny the Haqqani network (and perhaps even Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura) safe havens on Pakistani soil from which to conduct attacks on US/Nato/Afghan forces. The Haqqani network in particular has been the stuff of high level exchanges in recent days between American and Pakistani officials from COAS Kayani-Mullen to Foreign Minister Khar-Clinton, with Panetta sniping away from the sidelines. Suspicions will inevitably arise that Rabbani’s removal may have the blessings of the ISI, of late fuming at being bypassed by the direct US-Taliban contacts as well as the Afghan government-Taliban ‘negotiations’. That suspicion, proved or not, will be sufficient to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan to act against the Afghan militants operating from Pakistani soil. The assassination will be read in important capitals and amongst other centres of policy analysis as a possible message by the ISI on the perils of leaving it out in the cold as far as any negotiations with the Taliban are concerned. After all, the ISI stands accused already of sabotaging Mullah Biradar’s (Omar’s number two) secret, independent of the ISI negotiations with the Americans.
It is amazing that the calculations of our military establishment and its intelligence arms seem rigidly stuck in old paradigms, oblivious of the fast changing scenario, not the least of which is the deteriorating relationship with the US. Influential voices in the US are advocating an aid cut-off for the Pakistani military and a concentration on building a healthy prosperous civil society in Pakistan. Whether it comes to that or not, inevitably our proxy war adventurism in Afghanistan is inexorably leading us to international isolation and a pariah status politically, economically, and diplomatically. Is the mystical notion of strategic depth worth this game and its end result?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 21, 2011

Dengue epidemic

The latest figures of dengue patients diagnosed with the disease and the number of deaths in Lahore are 6,666 and 44 respectively, and rising. This of course is a fraction of the numbers crowding the hospitals for fear of having contracted the disease, even if on examination, only about 16 percent of those are found to have actually been struck by dengue. Because of a lack of public awareness and accurate information about the disease, a sense of panic has gripped people. Fear of the unknown is the root of this apprehension. In the vast majority of even confirmed dengue fever cases, although modern medicine still has no cure for viruses like dengue, conservative treatment yields positive results and recovery is probable. Only if a person contracts dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF), a different virus, is the likelihood of fatality greater. Because the epidemic is a new and unknown development, a public awareness campaign with expert input should have been mounted earlier. However, better late than never, as the Punjab and federal governments have benefited from the advice of the Sri Lankan dengue experts team operating in Lahore now and are gearing up for such a campaign through the media.
While the media was being briefed by the Sri Lankan team in Lahore on Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani also held a national dengue conference in the city to help coordinate the fight against the epidemic. To this end, the federal government has offered all help and assistance to the Punjab government in an all too rare show of solidarity transcending partisan politics. A national coordination mechanism in the shape of a Coordination and Strategy Cell at federal level has been announced. The Cell will coordinate amongst the federal and provincial governments and facilitate coordination and aid from international donors and health organisations for the provinces. Since dengue is no respecter of provincial boundaries or provincial autonomy (Raza Rabbani’s objections to the federal government ‘interfering’ in health matters, devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, notwithstanding), it is rational and positive that the federal and provincial governments, not only Punjab but all the provinces, should be coming together to coordinate their efforts against an epidemic that is showing signs of emerging all over the country.
Meanwhile in Lahore the Punjab government has, in an excess of late zeal, used Section 144 to seal 69 diagnostic laboratories accused of charging more for the dengue blood test than the maximum of Rs 90 fixed by the Punjab government. Their owners and employees have also been taken into custody. Car service stations have been shut. While this end of the Punjab government’s activity smacks of trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, since if the public awareness campaign had been conducted before such draconian actions in the name of public health and safety, any following strict actions would have earned more public support. As it is, that objective may not have been achieved, while the closure of laboratories has exacerbated the overcrowding in the remaining laboratories and hospitals. Closing schools and higher education institutions for 10 days too seems misplaced zeal. The Punjab government needs to reach out to the citizen and institutions in a rational manner to educate everyone on the need for the entire community to pull together if the epidemic is to be combated. For a start, the preventive end of the campaign requires each householder, workplace owner and authority responsible for public spaces to ensure all potential breeding grounds for the dengue mosquito, i.e. stagnant pools of water, both clean and sullied, are either drained or filled up with sand to prevent the female laying its eggs and the larvae hatching to maturity. Spraying to kill the mosquitos and larvae must accompany these measures.
The dengue epidemic has alarmingly exposed the cracks in our public health regime. In today’s interconnected world, countries have to be even more vigilant since mass health hazards have plenty of opportunity to travel. Pakistan must gear up its public health awareness and preventive regimens, while also being prepared to manage the curative side if an epidemic does strike.

Monday, September 19, 2011

News report Daily Times

Panic the enemy of dengue management

Rashed Rahman
Editor, Daily Times

LAHORE: Epidemics, particularly if they are new and unknown, tend to produce panic. Dengue has been on everyone’s mind in recent days. Reacting to the scare stories of this being an inevitably fatal affliction, thousands of citizens have crowded the hospitals in recent days for fear of having contracted the dreaded disease. So far, according to the Punjab government’s statistics, there have been around 6,000-6,500 confirmed cases of dengue fever. The rest of the crowds thronging the hospitals have been found to have other, perhaps more familiar and less scary problems. The ratio of dengue sufferers to other afflictions amongst those crowding the hospitals is around 16 percent. Panic set in largely because public awareness about dengue has been conspicuous by its absence.
To remedy this gap in public knowledge and perception, the Punjab government arranged a briefing for editors, anchors and commentators in Lahore on the issue of the dengue problem. The briefing was chaired by the Chief Minister, Mr Shahbaz Sharif, and conducted by the Sri Lankan dengue experts’ team graciously dispatched by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to help Pakistan cope with the epidemic. Sri Lanka has decades of experience in the field since the country has been suffering from the disease for at least four decades.
Dr Risintha Premaratne, the Consultant Epidemiologist leading the Sri Lankan team revealed a few hitherto unknown facts and put the issue in perspective. First, some myth busting. The common belief that the dengue mosquito only breeds in clean stagnant water was debunked by showing photographs and a video made by the team in and around Lahore. This clearly showed female dengue mosquitos laying eggs in dirty stagnant water, and the larvae, which take about a week to mature, thrashing about. This implies that all kinds of stagnant water, whether in utensils, bins, and even crevices in trees and plants, in short any place where water can accumulate and remain undisturbed for some time is a potential breeding ground for the dengue mosquito. This obviously translates into a huge potential.
The team therefore suggests that unless all sources and sites of stagnant water are either drained or filled up with sand, the problem can only get worse. This is a task beyond the capacity of any government or even the state. It is necessary therefore to mobilise the whole community or society to make a contribution in homes, work and public places, in tandem with government efforts, to eliminate first and foremost the potential breeding grounds. This can and should be accompanied by spraying and other measures to kill the larvae and the grown mosquitos. As the argument implies, without mobilising the whole of society, the worst may be yet to come.
On the curative side, the team explained that since dengue is a virus, there is no cure known to modern medicine so far. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases, conservative management yields positive results. This includes the use of paracetamol or Panadol to bring down the fever and relieve joints pain. Aspirin must not be administered, only Panadol, because aspirin has deleterious side effects on the stomach and intestines. Patients suffering from the high fever and joints pain symptomatic of dengue fever are administered saline solution intravenously to correct the imbalance in the body’s enzymes, etc, that is an accompanying outcome of the disease. Blood tests are meant to establish the platelet count, which tends to fall after the onset of the fever. Normally, conservative management and treatment helps the body recover from the fever and pain and the restoration of enzymal, etc, balance in the body allows the body to produce platelets naturally. Platelet transfusion is only used in extreme cases. In Sri Lanka's experience, administration of unrequired platelets led to a few deaths. Caution and conservative treatment are the watchwords.
Fatalities are associated more with dengue haemorrhagic fever, transmitted by a different virus, which causes internal bleeding. In Sri Lanka, the proportion of this kind of fever amongst dengue sufferers is 35 percent. Fortunately, in Pakistan it is still only 5 percent. That implies that 95 percent of simple dengue fever patients can and do recover.
The Sri Lankan team was impressed by the response of the health regime in Punjab to the epidemic. They praised the system in place and the manner in which our doctors were coping with the workload, but stressed the need to make medical practitioners as well as the public aware of the true nature of the threat. This would help to allay the panic that has set in of late and allow the authorities to better control the epidemic. The media has been called upon by the authorities to help the public awareness campaign required to reassure people and mobilise them to combat dengue by eliminating its potential and actual breeding grounds all around us, in our homes, workplaces and common public spaces.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 18, 2011

Main sticking point

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani met on the sidelines of the Nato conference in Seville, Spain for the first time after the Abbottabad unilateral US raid that killed Osama bin Laden but the encounter does not seem to have done much to close the gap between the two sides. Pakistan and the US, though ostensibly allies in the struggle against terrorism, have of late been more estranged than allies. However, it would be a mistake to see this admittedly under strain relationship in black and white terms. The grey areas are considerable, leading to the perception that the whole situation surrounding the relationship is both complicated and contradictory. Making sense of things therefore is not free of risk; nevertheless, here goes.
Admiral Mullen once again stressed to General Kayani the imperative of launching a military offensive to take out the safe havens of the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. The network is widely believed to have been responsible for the attack on the US embassy and Nato headquarters in Kabul the other day. This would appear to be of a piece with the pattern of such attacks in the Afghan capital for some time. Newly inducted Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, fresh from his bruising relationship with the ISI as head of the CIA, issued a blustering warning to Pakistan the other day that if it did not act against the Haqqani network, the US would do all it had to to protect its soldiers in Afghanistan. Subsequently, the State Department attempted to diplomatically paper over the most abrasive part of Mr Panetta’s remarks, but the damage seems already to have been done. Despite all this, General Kayani steadfastly stuck to his guns and argued that apart from capacity constraints (i.e. the impossibility of shifting troops from the eastern border to reinforce the forces on the western border), Pakistan had the right to decide such matters in its own national interests and according to the wishes of its people. This line has not served to convince the Americans in the past, and is unlikely to go down well now. The eastern border deployment reflects the military’s Indo-centric defence posture, while the ‘wishes’ of the people of Pakistan in this regard remain an unknown factor, despite the efforts of many in the media to convince us to the contrary while advocating a position that appears to strengthen the military’s case.
In an interesting sideshow, General Kayani said in an interview in Seville that he doubted the 2014 US-Nato withdrawal deadline. Because the training and raising of the Afghan security forces is still beset with many problems, including desertions, suspect loyalties, etc, and now questions about their capacity to handle a post-withdrawal Afghanistan as witnessed in the Kabul attack referred to above, General Kayani suggested that the deadline could be reviewed in the light of ground realities. He did also mention that the US-Pakistan relationship was “…good…improving”.
Meanwhile back on the ranch, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani petulantly struck out at the US to “do more” itself instead of further pressurising Pakistan, which had contributed and sacrificed a lot in the struggle against terrorism. It is being widely speculated in the media that the PM cancelled his scheduled trip to the UN session not because his heart bleeds for the flood victims so much as the fact that our foreign office was unable to get him an audience with US President Barack Obama or other high American officials on the sidelines of the UN moot. Panetta’s fulminations too are said to have persuaded the PM, on FO advice, that this was not the best time to go. We also had the second meeting of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Joint Peace Commission in Islamabad. Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Jaweed Lodin announced a blueprint of cooperation against terrorism and extremism. While Lodin diplomatically turned a question about the reported contacts between the US and Afghan Taliban into the acceptable conduit of an eventual single peace process, he was accosted by other, more difficult questions about the cross-border raids into Pakistan from Afghan soil. Although Lodin extended a promise of help and cooperation in this regard, he could not resist a dig at the similar ‘traffic’ into Afghanistan from Pakistan over decades, only saving the day by saying terrorism by its very nature could turn in unpredictable directions.
All in all, a fine stew indeed!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Indian Express Sept 16, 2011

The murky interface between journalism and intelligence

Rashed Rahman

The sensational assassination of Syed Saleem Shahzad, web-based Asia Times Online’s reporter in Pakistan, in May this year sent shockwaves through the media community and public. The discovery of his body, fully clothed and with even his tie and shoes on, in the Upper Jehlum Canal on May 30, and the subsequent discovery of his car 20 miles upstream, indicated foul play. The autopsy revealed Shahzad had been brutally beaten and tortured, leading to his death. But what came out after these revelations was even more sensational and alarming.
Shahzad was ‘kidnapped’ on his way to a television interview in Islamabad on May 29. He never arrived. Daily Times broke the story of his disappearance. That scoop owed a great deal to its editor having been ‘leaned on’ by the ISI’s media cell just days before his disappearance to discontinue reproducing Shahzad’s stories. The request was not acceded to.
The gory end of Saleem Shahzad raised a storm in the media. Fingers of accusation were pointed at the ISI, which issued a denial for the first time in Pakistan’s history. The denial, far from assuaging the rage in the media and public, strengthened suspicions. The government was forced to respond by announcing an inquiry commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Mian Saqib Nisar. After an initial flurry of hearings with prominent media practitioners and others, the commission appears to have fallen into the limbo especially reserved for all such commissions.
The real story of Saleem Shahzad’s life, work and brutal death revolves around the perils of getting too close to the ISI, extremist militants, and foreign intelligence agencies in the cauldron that is Pakistan. Perfectly valid journalistic practices of cultivating contacts will all the players in and around a story do not, in Pakistan’s peculiar circumstances, guarantee the safety of journalists. Pakistan has become arguably the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist in. Hundreds of journalists have been killed, particularly since the war on terror began ten years ago. Seldom has there been an adequate inquiry or investigation into these deaths on duty, let alone closure and justice served.
In Shahzad’s case too, his contacts with the militants, ISI, and approaches with offers from foreign intelligence agencies (which he is said to have declined) may have opened up his bold reporting on the links and relationship between Pakistan’s intelligence agencies and a wide array of jihadi extremists, from Osama bin Laden downwards, to the unwanted and brutal attentions of our ‘deep state’. His stories on bin Laden being on the move in Pakistan, meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, expose of the first reported death (false) of Ilyas Kashmiri, and last but not least, links between and infiltration of the armed forces by terrorists probably sealed his fate. The context in which his status changed in the authorities’ eyes from ‘troublesome reporter’ to ‘enemy agent’ had a lot to do with the acute embarrassment faced by the Pakistani military, which has always portrayed itself as invincible, by the Abbottabad raid in which US Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, and the attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi. Feeling cornered, the military intelligence agencies may have changed their view of Shahzad, leading to his abduction and murder.
Before his assassination, Saleem Shahzad had shared the details of the perceived threat to him in emails to Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch and Hameed Haroon, executive head of Dawn. In these mails he documented his interface over a period of almost one year with the ISI’s media cell, including the pressure exerted on him to reveal sources, retract or rebut stories, etc, all of which he refused. There is also the documentation in these messages of the (not so) veiled threat to him by the ISI that he may well be on the hit list of a recently captured militant, and if that was so, the ISI would ‘duly’ inform him of the fact.
Unfortunately, despite the circumstantial evidence of murky doings by the intelligence agencies in this case, the commission is highly unlikely to uncover the truth and provide justice to Shahzad’s widow and family. To that extent, they seem fated to join the growing tribe of victims of the deep state’s excesses against journalists, political activists and even human rights defenders, all of whom have been targeted, ‘disappeared’ and, in the case of Balochistan at least, tortured brutally, killed, and their bodies dumped all over the province. Pakistan’s democracy, weak and flawed and lacking vision or leadership, has been unable to challenge, let alone redress, these long standing violations of the law, constitution and human and civil rights through the length and breadth of the country. Hopes for justice therefore struggle to keep their head above the dark waters rushing to sweep all that is decent and civilised about our society into oblivion.
The writer is Editor, Daily Times

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 14, 2011

Foreign policy paradigm shift

Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani’s visit to Iran signals, as he himself put it in a meeting with Iranian President Mehmoud Ahmedinejad, a paradigm shift in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Pakistan, the PM added, wanted to maintain close relations with its neighbours and Iran was one of the countries with which it would like to have very close relations. The ‘shift’ referred to may be seen as disillusionment with excessive reliance on the US or the west, traditionally Islamabad’s preferred partners, and a ‘return’ to seeking regional cooperation, particularly in the emerging scenario post-withdrawal of the bulk of US and Nato forces from Afghanistan. One should also bear in mind the present atmosphere of mutual mistrust and suspicion between Islamabad and Washington.
The bilateral relationship between Pakistan and Iran is sought to be strengthened in the areas of trade, economic cooperation, security and intelligence sharing. For example, bilateral trade, currently at $ 1.2 billion, of which Pakistan’s exports to Iran are at a paltry $ 200 million, would be boosted to $ 10 billion. The controversial (in US eyes) gas pipeline and import of 1,000 MW electricity from Iran would be expedited. The gas pipeline in particular, which was originally intended to transit Pakistan to India but has been reduced to a bilateral project after New Delhi withdrew, some say on Washington’s urging, has been a thorn in the side of the US because of its open hostility to the regime in Tehran. If the two neighbouring countries go ahead with this project, as now seems increasingly likely, it will not only bolster Pakistan’s energy needs, it will also indicate that Ahmedinejad’s preference for rooting out foreign influence from the region has been taken on board by Pakistan. In the context of trade and economic cooperation, it stands to reason that the two sides will have to improve communication and transport links, in particular road, rail and air traffic. Two committees have been set up for the new enhanced cooperation, jointly chaired by the foreign ministers and interior ministers of the two countries. The latter committee has been charged with the task of satisfying Tehran vis-à-vis security on the Balochistan-Seistan border, implying a closer watch on the Baloch Jundullah group’s activities. This group has been attacking Iranian security forces inside Iranian Balochistan in the past, and is widely considered a shady and controversial element because of its alleged ties to (some say) both al Qaeda and US intelligence.
The PM appreciated Iran’s offer of $ 100 million for flood relief and reports say Iran has already dispatched two planeloads of relief goods. President Ahmedinejad in turn wished for greater people-to-people contacts, cultural cooperation, and promised sympathetic consideration of Pakistan’s request for opening a consulate in Bandar Abbas. Iran, he said, was interested in importing wheat, vegetables, fruit and other items from Pakistan. He argued the need for a new world order in which the historical underdevelopment of countries like Pakistan and Iran could be combated and the policies of the developed world that kept them in such straits resisted.
On arguably the most vexed foreign policy issue for the region, PM Gilani said Pakistan supported an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation and peace process. He asserted that Pakistan was part of the solution for Afghanistan’s woes, not part of the problem. It is good that the PM clarified his government’s position on this problematic issue, since it distances the civilian democratic government from the military’s hobbyhorse of ‘strategic depth’. On relations with the US, the PM reiterated Islamabad’s position that unilateral actions of the sort that killed Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil were unacceptable. If Washington has intelligence, it must share it with the Pakistani authorities and leave it to them to act on it. He also repeated the stricture against drone attacks on Pakistani soil, arguing that they were counter-productive.
The new energy in Pakistan-Iran relations is of a piece with the tectonic power shifts taking place in the region as the Afghan endgame approaches. The countries of the region are waking up to the post-withdrawal scenario, in which they will have to manage the fallout of war-torn Afghanistan’s transition to hopefully peace and rehabilitation. As its two closest neighbours, with historic cultural, religious and other ties, Pakistan and Iran are uniquely placed to assist the transition looming, as well as ensure it takes a healthy and acceptable path for the Afghan people, as much as its neighbours.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 11, 2011

9/11 and all that

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 today, much introspection is taking place on the meaning and impact of that seminal event. Despite successes against al Qaeda, in particular the degrading of its terrorist capabilities by taking out Osama bin Laden (OBL) and many of the top leaders of the organisation, cautionary voices can be heard arguing that the struggle against terrorism is far from over and there is little room for complacency. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed to a credible, new, but still unconfirmed threat to the US on the eve of the anniversary. Ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair too chimed in with the statement that the post-9/11 battle was not over. Some context needs to be recalled.
The decade 1991-2011 could be looked back at with the benefit of hindsight as arguably providing the momentum that led to 9/11 in the midst of historic changes and developments. The first Iraq war of 1990-91 saw foreign, particularly US forces, deployed for the first time on Saudi soil. This event is widely believed to have alienated OBL from his home country and its monarchy, and impelled him to seek ways and means to combat American worldwide hegemony. This project led him from Sudan back to his original battlefield against the Soviets, i.e. Afghanistan, now ruled by the Taliban. From his base there, OBL stands accused of planning 9/11. The American response in the shape of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq crippled the neo-con American century project, in the process eroding due process and civil liberties at home and abroad, the latter witnessing the recourse to rendition and torture of suspects. However, whatever success or lack of it attended the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they had the unintended consequence of spreading the al Qaeda franchise further abroad, increasing the threat of the terror network beyond its original support base. Western interventionism found a new lease of life (which continues), while the checks and balance provided in world affairs by the USSR-led communist camp during the cold war ended with a whimper when the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. The assassination of redoubtable Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud in Afghanistan just two days before 9/11 has been considered by many as the prelude to and preliminary strike by al Qaeda in preparation for the 9/11 attacks. The purpose perhaps was to ensure the strengthening of al Qaeda’s hosts, the Taliban’s grip on Afghanistan.
While there is little quarrel with the assertion that 9/11 changed the world almost beyond recognition, it is perhaps too early to grasp all the ramifications of that change. After all, if the cautionary voices mentioned above are correct, and there is weighty evidence that they are, the struggle against the ideology that al Qaeda represents is continuing, even while it spawns affiliates and draws to its banner a diverse array of religious extremists worldwide. Of all the countries most affected by 9/11 and its aftermath, in order of destruction, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan probably enjoy pride of place. We in particular have been hoist by our own petard, our support to the export of jihadi extremism having returned to haunt us with a vengeance. While the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are seeing an incremental drawdown and withdrawal of foreign troops, the problems they leave behind will not so easily go away. In particular, Afghanistan’s endgame is poised delicately at the cusp of a possible return to the corridors of power, albeit partial, in Kabul of the Taliban. This spells risks not only for the Afghan people, but also for Pakistan’s security if the nexus of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban strengthens the latter’s ability to operate from Afghan soil against Pakistan’s security. Ironically, our military establishment’s quest for that will-o-the-wisp, ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, may end up in the strategic pit of increased threats to Pakistan’s own security.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 9, 2011

Intensifying atrocities and threats

Three developments on Wednesday point to the intensifying atrocities and threats from the terrorist network in Pakistan. First was the devastating and horrifying twin suicide attack targeting the DIG FC’s residence in Quetta. At least 26 people were killed, including the wife of the DIG FC and three children, and over 60 injured, some of whom are described as critical. It is a sign of the cowardly nature of the terrorists’ campaign in Pakistan that they do not shrink from making war on women and children. And this barbarism is sought to be justified in the name of Islam! The targeted residence lay in a busy and high security area of the city. That raises the question of how the terrorists’ vehicle, laden with 100 kg of explosives, managed to sneak into the area without being checked. Equally, how did the second suicide bomber on foot manage to evade security and reach inside the house, the chaos and confusion of the first blast notwithstanding, within minutes of the vehicle’s exploding? These questions point to security gaps and lapses even for such a high profile area.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) of Hakeemullah Mehsud was quick to claim responsibility, asserting it was in retaliation for the arrest of three al Qaeda top leaders from Quetta the other day. Further, the TTP spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan threatened to launch even bigger attacks in future. If there was any lingering doubt on the issue, this attack and the claim of responsibility clearly establishes the nexus between the TTP and al Qaeda. Since the TTP is currently enjoying the hospitality of the Afghan Taliban across the border, that just about squares the circle. The terrorist network now encompasses al Qaeda, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. What does this say about our military establishment’s clinging to the out of date notion that the Afghan Taliban are our ‘strategic assets’ as the Afghan endgame approaches? Arguably, the military establishment may be painting itself into a corner in future that may hold some unpleasant surprises. It must by now be understood by our military high command that the shelf life of the idea of relying on jihadi proxies for foreign policy or even domestic political goals has long ago passed its sell-by date. The military, as one of the most powerful organs of the state, responsible for defence and security, must revisit the situation inside Pakistan and on its periphery as it has panned out and understand that the only solution for both our country and the region is a return to the moderate vision of Islam that defined us before the extremists hijacked it in the present sinister, destructive direction.
If the Quetta incident were not sufficient to underline the real security threat Pakistan faces from the extremist terrorist network, two other developments appear to clinch the argument. There is a report of a very real security threat in Peshawar, already the victim of some of the worst terrorist attacks the country has seen, along the lines of what happened in Quetta. Two bomb hoaxes on PIA flights panicked passengers and officials and resulted in diversions towards the closest airports en route, before checks revealed no bombs on board. Disruptive activities such as these can be equally damaging to struggling PIA and the country as a whole in terms of its international image and credibility.
The military first and foremost, and the political and social forces of the country must now pull together against the extremist threat that appears to be intensifying in response to actions within Pakistan against the terrorists, such as the Quetta al Qaeda arrests, and the approaching endgame in Afghanistan. A return to the moderate, tolerant, civilised Pakistan of not so distant memory would have a salutary effect within, as well as outside the country, to its obvious advantage. Accompanying this turn of the page, the terrorists must be fought to the bitter end, not given leeway to exploit the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ illusion to their advantage.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 7, 2011

Al Qaeda arrests

The Pakistan military announced on Monday the arrest of senior al Qaeda leader Younis al-Mauritani along with two other top operatives, Abdul Ghaffar al-Shami and Messara al-Shami, from Quetta. The arrests were the result of an intelligence-led operation that included elements of the FC. Younis al-Mauritani is said to be head of al Qaeda’s international operations, charged with planning and preparing attacks on the US, Europe and Australia. Such attacks would have included US economic interests such as gas/oil pipelines, power generating dams, and strikes against ships/oil tankers using explosive-laden speedboats in international waters.
Interestingly, the arrests have not only been lauded by the White House as a shining example of the common anti-terrorist goals and cooperation between Pakistan and the US, they have also been held up by Pakistan’s ISPR as resulting from the close cooperation between the intelligence services of the two countries, particularly the ISI and CIA. Now public memory is notoriously short, but not so short as to have forgotten how since 2011 dawned, the two countries, and in particular the ISI and CIA have been at loggerheads, first manifested in the Raymond Davis affair, later peaking after the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bin Laden. In this space, we had argued consistently for both sides to draw back from the brink of a seemingly hopeless incremental breakdown in relations amidst mutual mistrust, suspicions and accusations. This position was not motivated by any illusions about the two countries’ interests or their convergence/divergence. Instead it was based on the bigger picture in the struggle against terrorism, in which the stakes for both sides were so huge as to require statesmanship and restraint if the terrorists were not to have the last laugh. It is therefore gratifying to see that the logic of the situation appears finally to be reasserting itself and both sides have not only generously lauded each other’s contribution, but also the cooperation that made this breakthrough possible. The terrorists of all hues and persuasions would love nothing more than if the US and Pakistan alliance against them breaks down, naturally to their benefit. The hope is that both sides have drawn the appropriate lessons from the near debacle in their relations provoked by the adverse developments earlier this year and will use that wisdom to further the common goals of defeating the terrorist menace.
Of course there is no room to be lulled into complacency at this positive turn. The reason is the convergence (since 9/11) of interest and policy between Washington and Islamabad regarding al Qaeda and the divergence regarding the Afghan Taliban. Even under General Musharraf, Pakistan led the way in cracking down on al Qaeda and was central to the arrest of many of those who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. However, it must also be said that there has been an inherent divergence in the approach to and policy towards the Afghan Taliban. Whereas Washington has tended to see the Afghan Taliban as merely an extension of their main target – al Qaeda – Islamabad, and particularly Rawalpindi has had a different take. While our military establishment was rooting out al Qaeda from Pakistani soil and transferring all operatives captured to the custody of the US over the last 10 years, it was at the same time providing safe havens and operating bases to the Afghan Taliban to fight the US and Nato forces operating in Afghanistan. And all this while acting as the main logistical conduit for the western forces in Afghanistan and also paying lip service to common goals and strategy! The duality of approach of the Pakistani military establishment, which continues to date, is at the heart of the friction in the relationship between the two allies.
A return of Taliban rule in Afghanistan would be a disaster not only for the suffering people of that country, it would arguably be a disaster for the region and the world. One, our homegrown Taliban movement would be free to operate from Afghan soil against the Pakistani state (something they have already begun through cross-border attacks from bases in Afghanistan). Two, who will guarantee that the Afghan Taliban will not allow their old ally al Qaeda to once again find a foothold on Afghan soil? And who will rescue the Afghan people from the medieval rule and practices of the Taliban again, given war weariness in the west?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Editorial Daily Times Sept 6, 2011

Rehman Malik’s request

Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik has studiously refused to be drawn into a response to ex-Home Minister Sindh Zulfikar Mirza’s diatribe against him. Instead, it now transpires that he has written to the prime minister with a request to constitute a judicial commission to probe Mirza’s allegations. In the process, Malik hopes to have an opportunity to clear his name regarding the two arguably most damaging allegations against him: 1) so-called connections with target killers; 2) the alleged release of target killers under Malik’s instructions. When asked about this during an interaction in Lahore with newsmen, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said he was considering the request. At the same time, the PM was careful and diplomatic when answering prickly questions about his two party colleagues. While he did not condemn, in fact was ‘soft’ on Mirza by appreciating his resignation from all offices before he launched his criticism, the PM was also at pains to defend his interior minister against Mirza. Interestingly, in answer to another question, Gilani hoped that the local bodies elections would be held before the next general elections. Ordinarily, this would have been an unremarkable statement, but given the context of the troubles in Karachi and the recent flip-flop over the local bodies system, it could be read by some as one more sop towards the MQM, which the PPP is trying once again to persuade back into the fold of the coalition. In the given situation, when Karachi and Hyderabad have been allowed the restoration of the Musharraf-era local bodies system, which advantages the MQM, the rest of Sindh is now under the restored commissionerate system! Wonders will never cease in this Land of the Pure.
The slaughter continues in the streets of Karachi, even as the beginnings of the fruits of the operation are becoming visible in the arrests of a handful of target killers. Meantime, despite the furore aroused by the Mirza attack on MQM, the overtures from the PPP to Altaf Hussain and his followers continue. Both the PM and Rehman Malik, the latter virtually the permanent bridge between the two sides, spoke to Altaf to inquire after his health upon his return home from hospital. Platitudes about upholding democracy and cooperating with each other were exchanged as usual. But that should not be taken to mean that all is well on this front. Reports of a meeting between the PPP emissaries former federal law minister Babar Awan and Sindh Local Government Minister Agha Siraj Durrani with Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad point to continuing wooing efforts even though the wake of Hurricane Mirza has yet to subside.
What is not clear so far, and has led to much speculation in the media, is whether Mirza has acted entirely off his own bat or served some Machiavellian purpose of President Asif Ali Zardari in the troubled relationship with the MQM. One view is that Zardari and Mirza are practicing a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine intended to pressurise the MQM into making concessions on the terms of engagement between the two sides. That only time will prove or otherwise. But there is no mistaking the enthusiastic response of the PPP’s Sindhi constituency and the Sindhi nationalists to Mirza’s outbursts against the MQM. Whether this will be sufficient to win back this alienated constituency, irritated over the perceived molly-coddling of the MQM in the name of ‘reconciliation’, too will only become clear over time. Meanwhile the latest Wikileaks revelations have laid bare the troubles between the PPP and the MQM over the last two years. The PPP’s complaint can be boiled down to MQM’s tactics of ‘escalating demands’ every time an agreement had been reached. Perhaps the new ‘line’ (if it is that) of the PPP is to pay its negotiating partner back in its own coin.

Editorial Daily Times Sept 4, 2011

Dushanbe summit

The quadrilateral summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, brought the presidents of four major regional powers to discuss increased cooperation in regional trade, fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, and making joint efforts for regional peace and security. Earlier in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China, President Asif Ali Zardari had mooted the idea of a revival of the historic Silk Route and the Eurasian Corridor. In its modern avatar, this would take the form of increased connectivity through modern highways, railroads and air services. Increased trade and investment would follow the development of these modern means of communication, bolstered by banking and other mutually beneficial services. The potential for good of these ideas is further underlined by the possibility of Pakistan acting as the southern leg of a trade and energy corridor, linking Gwadar Port with China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe. The dream is ambitious but doable, as underlined by Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s remarks on regional issues, particularly Afghanistan, and the role Russia was desirous of playing in implementing the dream.
The summit communiqué emphasised the importance of accelerated training and arming of the Afghan security services in the light of the planned withdrawal of 10,000 US troops this year, another 23,000 by the end of next summer, leaving behind a 65,000-strong force, to be gradually whittled down to perhaps a residual 25,000 by 2014. Medvedev expressed the sense of the meeting when he argued for a regional solution to Afghanistan. Naturally, Afghanistan and all its neighbours are seized of the fact that with the withdrawal of the US-led coalition, the region would have to fill its shoes if Afghanistan was to be stabilised as the first step in the stabilisation of the region as a whole. This would allow the Russian interest in CASA 1000, the project to supply 1,000 MW electricity from Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan, to be implemented, along with the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. Russia is attempting to recover its influence in a region it has historically had an important role in, especially in the light of the recently emerged tensions in the US-Afghan and US-Pakistan relationships, but without any direct involvement in Afghanistan, from which the Soviet Union retreated with a bloody nose in 1989. Medvedev lamented the lack of progress in these joint energy projects and committed his country to investing millions of dollars to ensure they see the light of day. As part of Russia’s policy of recovering influence in its ‘near abroad’, it has managed an extension in the agreement with Tajikistan for its military base by another 49 years.
This quadrilateral summit of Pakistan, Russia, Afghanistan and Tajikistan seems to be acquiring a regular character. Last August, President Medvedev had hosted it in Sochi. Next year it is Pakistan’s turn in Islamabad. As is usual at such international moots, they provide opportunities for the participants to have bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the main action, which often are productive. For example, Presidents Zardari and Karzai took the opportunity to discuss Pak-Afghan relations, the transit trade agreement between the two countries, security and mutual cooperation. The atmospherics, body language of all the leaders and the obvious friendliness and bonhomie point to the quadrilateral process acquiring a dynamic that is the obvious need of the countries concerned, as well as the region as a whole. There is a visible tectonic shift away from the western ‘interlopers’ to regional arrangements for mutually beneficial security and economic cooperation. More power to their Excellencies’ elbows.