Strange storm brews in South Asia

… the Pakistani military may well have a grand motive for ratcheting up tensions with India precisely at the present juncture so as to find an alibi to wriggle out of the commitments to the “war on terror” in Afghanistan. The point is, the Pakistani military harbors deep misgivings about the incoming Obama administration’s Afghan policy. Obama has dropped enough hints that he will get tough with the Pakistani military for its twin-track policy of fighting the war and at the same time harnessing the Taliban as the charioteer of its geopolitical influence in Afghanistan.

The current US thinking leans towards equipping select Pashtun tribes to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It is a controversial move that worries the Pakistani military, as it might ignite violence in the Pashtun regions inside Pakistan and fuel the Pashtunistan demand. Besides, Obama has bluntly warned that he would get the US Special Forces to strike inside the Pakistani territory if the security situation warranted. Such moves will be seen by the Pakistani military as a humiliating slap on its face.

What is more disconcerting for the Pakistani military is the likelihood that Obama’s “exit strategy” will emphasize the rapid build-up of a 134,000-strong Afghan national army. This has been a favorite idea of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and it may largely explain Obama’s decision to keep him at his cabinet post.

However, the law of diminishing returns begins to work for the Pakistani military once an Afghan national army gains traction. Indeed, an Afghan army will, most certainly, be led by ethnic Tajik officers. At present, Tajiks constitute over three-quarters of the Afghan army’s officer corps. But Tajiks have been entirely out of the pale of Pakistani influence – even during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s. Tajik nationalism challenges Pakistani aspirations to control Afghanistan. Summing up these dilemmas facing the Pakistani military, former Pakistani foreign secretary Najmuddin Sheikh recently pointed out, “It [Obama’s Afghan policy] would in fact be the realization of Pakistan’s worst security fears.” [continued…]

Al-Qaeda ‘hijack’ led to Mumbai attack

Under directives from Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kiani, who was then director general (DG) of the ISI, a low-profile plan was prepared to support Kashmiri militancy. That was normal, even in light of the peace process with India. Although Pakistan had closed down its major operations, it still provided some support to the militants so that the Kashmiri movement would not die down completely.

After Kiani was promoted to chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Nadeem Taj was placed as DG of the ISI. The external section under him routinely executed the plan of Kiani and trained a few dozen LET militants near Mangla Dam (near the capital Islamabad). They were sent by sea to Gujrat, from where they had to travel to Kashmir to carry out operations.

Meanwhile, a major reshuffle in the ISI two months ago officially shelved this low-key plan as the country’s whole focus had shifted towards Pakistan’s tribal areas. The director of the external wing was also changed, placing the “game” in the hands of a low-level ISI forward section head (a major) and the LET’s commander-in-chief, Zakiur Rahman.

Zakiur was in Karachi for two months to personally oversee the plan. However, the militant networks in India and Bangladesh comprising the Harkat, which were now in al-Qaeda’s hands, tailored some changes. Instead of Kashmir, they planned to attack Mumbai, using their existent local networks, with Westerners and the Jewish community center as targets.

Zakiur and the ISI’s forward section in Karachi, completely disconnected from the top brass, approved the plan under which more than 10 men took Mumbai hostage for nearly three days and successfully established a reign of terror.

The attack, started from ISI headquarters and fined-tuned by al-Qaeda, has obviously caused outrage across India. The next issue is whether it has the potential to change the course of India’s regional strategy and deter it from participating in NATO plans in Afghanistan. [continued…]

A handpicked Obama team for a shift in foreign policy

When President-elect Barack Obama introduces his national security team on Monday, it will include two veteran cold warriors and a political rival whose records are all more hawkish than that of the new president who will face them in the White House Situation Room.

Yet all three of his choices — Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary — have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change — one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best — “will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency,” one of his senior advisers said recently. [continued…]

Foreseeing a Clinton State Dept., Israelis and Arabs retool their expectations

Eearly a month after Barack Obama’s election, his reported decision to nominate Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of State is causing Arabs and Israelis to readjust expectations of his administration’s policies toward the Middle East.

During the campaign, Obama carried the hopes of many Arabs for a new brand of diplomacy more open to their views, one that would revive America’s power and prestige in the region and end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israelis viewed Obama as a less reliable friend than John McCain, his Republican rival, or Clinton, who touted a deep affinity for the Jewish state in her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Cautiously, Israelis are now applauding Clinton’s all-but-certain nomination as a sign that Obama can be trusted to act firmly against Iran’s nuclear ambitions and to refrain from pressing Israel to accept a weak, violence-prone Palestinian state on its borders.

Arabs and especially Palestinians, on the other hand, say the news has damped their optimism that Obama will veer from the Bush administration’s hawkish policies and from what they call America’s long-standing pro-Israel tilt. [continued…]

Mumbai: Behind the attacks lies a story of youth twisted by hate

The pitted roads around Multan, the city of saints, stretch flat across the fields. They lead past rundown factories, workshops, shabby roadside teashops and mile after mile of flat fields broken only by the mud and brick houses of the villages of Pakistan’s rural poor. One road leads south-east to the nearby city of Bahawalpur, the biggest recruiting base of the militant groups currently being blamed by India for the Mumbai attack; another leads north-west to Faridkot, the home village of Mohammad Ajmal Mohammad Amin Kasab, a 21-year-old Pakistan national named yesterday in the Indian media as the only gunman involved in last week’s atrocity now alive and in custody.

Already a picture claimed by the Indian media to be Kasab, showing a young man dressed in combat trousers, carrying a backpack and an AK47, on his way to to Mumbai’s main station to carry out his deadly work, has become an iconic image of the assault on the city.

Two other militants have been named. Like Kasab, according to the Indian media reports, they are said to be from the Multan region, southern Punjab. They, too, are said to be members of the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Pure) and to have followed a five-month training period to prepare them for the attack. The charge of the group’s involvement, denied by its spokesmen, has explosive political consequences for the volatile region and must be treated with caution. In the long-running contest between India and its neighbour, propaganda and misinformation is far from rare. But if the details now emerging are confirmed, the link to Pakistan may spark war. [continued…]

Mumbai attacks ‘were a ploy to wreck Obama plan to isolate al-Qaeda’

Relations between India and Pakistan were on a knife edge last night amid fears that Delhi’s response to the Mumbai attacks could undermine the Pakistani army’s campaign against Islamic militants on the frontier with Afghanistan.

Officials and analysts in the region believe that last week’s atrocities were designed to provoke a crisis, or even a war, between the nuclear-armed neighbours, diverting Islamabad’s attention from extremism in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and thus relieving pressure on al-Qaeda, Taleban and other militants based there.

One analyst even described the attacks as a “pre-emptive strike” against Barack Obama’s strategy to put Pakistan and Afghanistan at the centre of US foreign policy.

The United States and its allies now face a balancing act in supporting India’s efforts to investigate the Mumbai attacks, without jeopardizing Pakistan’s crucial support for the Nato campaign in Afghanistan. [continued…]

Decoding Mumbai

In this case [the 2001 attack on India’s parliament] and generally, Pakistan gets a pass in Kashmir not because the evidence about its activity is weak but because the United States and Europe fear that an isolated, sanctioned Pakistan would produce destabilization and radicalization. The Pakistan Army understands this international equation thoroughly and exploits the gaps—it is careful not to expose its direct fingerprints, and yet it is brazenly persistent in pursuit of its objective of military pressure against India in Kashmir and political-military pressure on India more broadly. [continued…]

Mumbai atrocities highlight need for solution in Kashmir

If Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is the most emotive issue for Muslims in the Middle East, then India’s treatment of the people of Kashmir plays a similar role among South-Asian Muslims. At the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, the state should logically have gone to Pakistan. However, the pro-Indian sympathies of the state’s Hindu Maharajah, as well as the Kashmiri origins of the Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the state passing instead to India – on the condition that the Kashmiris retained a degree of autonomy.

Successive Indian governments, however, refused to honour their constitutional commitments to the state. The referendum, promised by Nehru at the UN, on whether the state would remain part of India, was never held. Following the shameless rigging of the 1987 local elections, Kashmiri leaders went underground. Soon after, bombings and assassination began, assisted by Pakistan’s ISI which ramped up the conflict by sending over the border thousands of heavily armed jihadis.

India, meanwhile, responded with great brutality to the insurgency. Half-a-million Indian soldiers and paramilitaries were dispatched to garrison the valley. There were mass arrests and much violence against ordinary civilians, little of which was ever investigated, either by the government or the Indian media. Two torture centres were set up – Papa 1 and Papa 2 – into which large numbers of local people would ‘disappear’. In all, some 70,000 people have now lost their lives in the conflict. India and Pakistan have fought three inconclusive wars over Kashmir, while a fourth mini-war came alarmingly close to igniting a nuclear exchange between the two countries in 1999. Now, after the Mumbai attacks, Kashmir looks likely to derail yet again the burgeoning peace process between India and Pakistan. [continued…]

Ahead for Obama: How to define terror

Early last Tuesday morning, a military charter plane left the airstrip at Guantánamo Bay for Sana, Yemen, carrying Osama bin Laden’s former driver, Salim Hamdan. Once the Bush administration’s poster boy for the war on terror — the first defendant in America’s first military tribunals since World War II — Mr. Hamdan will spend less than a month in a Yemeni prison before returning to his family in Sana, having been acquitted by a jury of United States military officers of the most serious charge brought against him, conspiracy to support terrorism.

The turn of events underscores the central challenge President Obama will face as he begins to define his own approach to fighting terrorism — and the imperative for him to adopt a new, hybrid plan, one that blends elements of both traditional military conflict and criminal justice.

Until now, much of the debate over how best to battle terrorism has centered on the two prevailing — and conflicting — paradigms: Is it a war or a criminal action? The Hamdan case highlights the limitations of such binary thinking. As the verdict in his tribunal this summer made clear, Mr. Hamdan was not a criminal conspirator in the classic sense. Yet, as an aide to the world’s most dangerous terrorist, neither was he a conventional prisoner of war who had simply been captured in the act of defending his nation and was therefore essentially free of guilt.

So how should Americans think about Mr. Hamdan? More broadly, how should they think about the fight against terrorism? [continued…]

How to close Guantanamo

Among Barack Obama’s many campaign promises, the one whose fulfillment is anticipated most around the world is the closing of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Not surprisingly, public debate has begun on how to extract the United States from this legal and security quagmire. Sound recommendations include the need for a fresh review of all detainee files followed by a determination of who can be released and who must be brought to justice.

The debate unfortunately includes murky, fearful claims of a “third category”: individuals who have not committed crimes but are perceived as “too dangerous to release.” Some observers — including some who have written in The Post — contend that the Obama administration ought to establish yet another system of detention to hold such individuals indefinitely without charge. This recommendation strikes us as exactly what is done by countries not governed by the rule of law, and it is too similar to the Bush administration policies that got us into this predicament. Our current legal system works, and we should use it.

All along, a primary objection to Guantanamo has been its institutionalization of detention without charge. To propose a new scheme of detention as part of the policy solution to closing Guantanamo would perpetuate one of the most delegitimizing aspects of the facility. Such a system would be viewed as another departure from traditional U.S. values and would continue to serve as a recruitment tool for our enemies while alienating our friends and allies.

If the Obama administration listens to those pushing the fear factor, we risk essentially moving Guantanamo to the United States, not closing it. The new detention system would result in more years of legal challenges. While at the outset such a system might be intended only for those “very dangerous” people said to be impossible to prosecute or transfer, it could also soon be filled with those merely difficult to release or hard to prosecute, or with those who the government fears could win acquittal in court.

Instead, in his inaugural address, President Obama should announce a date for closure of Guantanamo as a detention facility and introduce a blue-ribbon panel of eminent Americans tapped to review all detainees’ files. After years of an administration that called those detained “the worst of the worst” but released more than 500 of them, we need trusted figures to tell us exactly who is there. Obama should ask the panel to classify each detainee in one of two categories: those who should be prosecuted through the U.S. criminal justice system and those who should be released. [continued…]

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