US and Pakistan Enter the Danger Zone

US and Pakistan Enter the Danger Zone

By M K Bhadrakumar

The air strike by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at the Pakistani military post at Salala in the Mohmand Agency on the Afghan-Pakistan border Friday night is destined to become a milestone in the chronicle of the Afghan war.

Within hours of the incident, Pakistan’s relations with the US began nose-diving and it continues to plunge. NATO breached the ”red line”.

What is absolutely stunning about the statement issued by Pakistan’s Defence Committee of the Cabinet (DDC), which met Saturday at Islamabad under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani is that it did not bother to call for an inquiry by the US or NATO into the air strike that resulted in the death of 28 Pakistani soldiers.

Exactly what happened in the fateful night of Friday – whether the NATO blundered into a mindless retaliatory (or pre-emptive) act or ventured into a calculated act of high provocation – will remain a mystery. Maybe it is no more important to know, since blood has been drawn and innocence lost, which now becomes the central point.

At any rate, the DDC simply proceeded on the basis that this was a calculated air strike – and by no means an accidental occurrence. Again, the DDC statement implies that in the Pakistan military’s estimation, the NATO attack emanated from a US decision. Pakistan lodged a strong protest at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels but that was more for purpose of ‘record’, while the “operative” part is directed at Washington.

The GHQ in Rawalpindi would have made the assessment within hours of the Salala incident that the US is directly culpable. The GHQ obviously advised the DDC accordingly and recommended the range of measures Pakistan should take by way of what Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani publicly called an “effective response.”

The DDC took the following decisions: a) to close NATO’s transit routes through Pakistani territory with immediate effect; b) to ask the US to vacate Shamsi airbase within 15 days; c) to “revisit and undertake a complete review” of all “programs, activities and cooperative arrangements” with US, NATO and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), including in “diplomatic, political and intelligence” areas; d) to announce shortly a whole range of further measures apropos Pakistan’s future cooperation with US, NATO and ISAF.

No more doublespeak
The response stops short of declaring the termination of Pakistan’s participation in the US-led war in Afghanistan (which, incidentally, is the demand by Pakistani politician Imran Khan who is considered to be close to the Pakistani military circles). In essence, however, Pakistan is within inches of doing that.

The closure of the US-NATO transit routes through Pakistan territory may not immediately affect the coalition forces in Afghanistan, as it has built up reserve stocks that could last several weeks. But the depletion of the reserves would cause anxiety if the Pakistani embargo is prolonged, which cannot be ruled out.

Therefore, the Pakistani move is going to affect the NATO operations in Afghanistan, since around half the supplies for US-NATO troops still go via Pakistan. An alternative for the US and NATO will be to rely more on the transit routes of the Northern Distribution Network [NDN]. But the US and NATO’s dependence on the NDN always carried a political price tag – Russia’s cooperation.

Moscow is agitated about the US regional policies. The NATO intervention in Libya caused friction, which deepened the Russian angst over the US’s perceived lack of seriousness to regard it as equal partner and its cherry-picking or “selective partnership”.

Then, there are other specific issues that agitate Moscow: US’s push for “regime change” in Syria, the US and NATO appearance in the Black Sea region, continued deployment of US missile defense system, and the push for US military bases in Afghanistan. In addition, Moscow has already begun circling wagons over the US “New Silk Road” initiative and its thrust into Central Asia.

The future of the US-Russia reset remains uncertain. Washington barely disguises its visceral dislike of the prospect of Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin following the presidential election in March next year. Short of bravado, the US and NATO should not brag that they have the NDN option up their sleeve in lieu of the Pakistani transit routes. The Pakistani military knows this, too.

Equally, the closure of the Shamsi airbase can hurt the US drone operations. Pakistan has so far turned a blind eye to the drone attacks, even conniving with them. Shamsi, despite the US’s insistence that drone operations were conducted from bases in Afghanistan, surely had a significant role in terms of intelligence back-up and logistical support.

By demanding that the US vacate Shamsi, Pakistan is possibly shifting its stance on the drone attacks; its doublespeak may be ending. Pakistan is ”strengthening” its air defense on the Afghan-Pakistan border. Future US drone operations may have to be conducted factoring in the possibility that Pakistan might regard them as violations of its air space. The US is on slippery ground under international law and the United Nations Charter.

A Persian response
The big issue is how Pakistan proposes to continue with its cooperation with the US-NATO operations. Public opinion is leaning heavily toward dissociating with the US-led war. The government’s announcement on the course of relations with the US/NATO/ISAF can be expected as early as next week. The future of the war hangs by a thread.

Unlike during previous phases of US-Pakistan tensions Washington lacks a “Pakistan hand” to constructively engage Islamabad. The late Richard Holbrooke, former special AfPak envoy, has become distant memory and special representative Marc Grossman has not been able to step into his shoes.

Admiral Mike Mullen has retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and is now a ‘burnt-out case’ embroiled in controversies with the Pakistani military. Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus isn’t terribly popular in Islamabad after his stint leading the US Central Command, while his predecessor as spy chief and now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta always remained a distant figure.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a charming politician, but certainly not cut out for the role of networking with the Pakistani generals at the operational level. She could perhaps offer a healing touch once the bleeding wound is cleansed of dirt, stitched up and bandaged. And US President Barack Obama, of course, never cared to establish personal chemistry with a Pakistani leader, as he would with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Now, who could do that in Washington? The horrible truth is – no one. It is a shocking state of affairs for a superpower with over 100,000 troops deployed out there in the tangled mountains in Pakistan’s vicinity. There has been a colossal breakdown of diplomacy at the political, military and intelligence level.

Washington trusted former Pakistani ambassador Hussein Haqqani almost as its own special envoy to Islamabad, but he has been summarily replaced under strange circumstances – probably, for the very same reason. At the end of the day, an intriguing question keeps popping up: Can it be that Pakistan is simply not interested anymore in dialoguing with the Obama administration?

The heart of the matter is that the Pakistani citadel has pulled back the bridges leading to it from across the surrounding crocodile-infested moat. This hunkering down is going to be Obama’s key problem. Pakistan is boycotting the Bonn Conference II on December 2. This hunkering down should worry the US more than any Pakistani military response to the NATO strike.

The US would know from the Iranian experience that it has no answer for the sort of strategic defiance that an unfriendly nation resolute in its will to resist can put up against an ‘enemy’ it genuinely considers ‘satanic’.

The Pakistani military leadership is traditionally cautious and it is not going to give a military response to the US’s provocation. (Indeed, the Taliban are always there to keep bleeding the US and NATO troops.)

Washington may have seriously erred if the intention Friday night was to draw out the Pakistani military into a retaliatory mode and then to hit it with a sledgehammer and make it crawl on its knees pleading mercy. Things aren’t going to work that way. Pakistan is going to give a “Persian” response.

The regional situation works in Pakistan’s favor. The recent Istanbul conference (November 2) showed up Russia, China, Pakistan and Iran sharing a platform of opposition to the US bases in Afghanistan in the post-2014 period.

The Obama administration’s grandiose scheme to transform the 89-year period ahead as ‘America’s Pacific Century’ makes Pakistan a hugely important partner for China. At the very minimum, Russia has stakes in encouraging Pakistan’s strategic autonomy. So does Iran.

None of these major regional powers wants the deployment of the US missile defense system in the Hindu Kush and Pakistan is bent on exorcising the region of the military presence of the US and its allies. That is also the real meaning of Pakistan’s induction as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which is on the cards.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

Turkmen President Orders Man To Choose Prison, or Surrender Dog for Execution

[The moral is–don’t walk your pets on the main streets of Turkmenistan.]

Man forced to choose prison or death of pet dog

For residents of Ashgabat, capital of one of the world’s most bizarre dictatorships, taking the dog for a walk has become a dangerous pastime. Earlier this month, a pet-lover was walking his dog through the streets of Turkmenistan’s capital late one evening, when he was suddenly surrounded by police, pushed to the ground, and dragged off to the local police station.

According to police, the cortège of the country’s leader, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, had been speeding along a nearby boulevard, which in Turkmenistan means that the streets are cleared of cars and people for several blocks around. The unfortunate dog-walker had strayed into a restricted area, and the police soon told him that an order had come from the top – either they could shoot the dog, or the man would have to go to prison for two weeks. Unable to pronounce the death sentence on his pet, the man agreed to prison.

The story, which was recounted on an independent website run by Turkmen émigrés, is hard to verify, as there are no free media in the country. But the incident would fit with an apparent pathological hatred of household pets on the part of Mr Berdymukhamedov, detailed in an American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks last year.

The cable recounted an incident where a cat ran in front of the presidential motorcade. The President was so angry that a top military official was fired. The Turkmen press has also reported an extermination drive to remove stray dogs and cats from the capital on his orders.

 

To get around Pak blockade, US eyes other supply routes

“the average cost of hauling a 20-foot container on NDN truck and rail routes between April and September was $12,367. The cost was about $6,700 per container on the Pakistan route.”

[The closing of Pakistani transit for NATO will cause the price of every container shipped to double, over the NDN.  In the face of our collapsing economy, has the Pentagon shot itself in the foot, by allowing itself the satisfaction of a two-hour air assault upon a Pakistani check post, even a C-130 gunship was called in at one point?  This was a helluva costly way to make a point (SEE: This is a clear-cut case of the Pentagon sabotaging the White House).]

To get around Pak blockade, US eyes other supply routes

Uttara Choudhury 

New York: Supply trucks for US-led forces in Afghanistan lined Pakistani roads near the border, after Islamabad retaliated against US strikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers by sealing its Afghan border. The Pentagon said on Monday that the blockade had not unduly impacted the US war effort.

US military officials said they had enough stockpiles in Afghanistan to maintain operational capability if Pakistan opted to keep the border crossings into Afghanistan closed. The US military is also looking at alternative supply routes that don’t rely on Pakistan.

“There are other supply routes,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters on Monday. “The war effort continues.”

On the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, NATO supply trucks idle after Pakistan sealed the border. Shahid Shinwari/Reuters

According to a Bloomberg report, US-led forces in Afghanistan get 35 percent of “non-lethal” supplies like food and fuel via Pakistan supply routes. Alternative routes are being investigated in Russia and Central Asia, according to US General William Fraser.

The US military and its allies may have to rely more heavily on the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), a key gateway for military equipment. The NDN comprises rail and truck routes cutting across several countries in Europe and Central Asia. It already accounts for about 40 percent of US cargo deliveries into Afghanistan and 52 percent of all coalition cargo, according to US Transportation Command officials.

The US has also been exploring other Europe-based ways to get deliveries to Afghanistan. Earlier this year, “US cargo planes delivered weapons and other supplies from Romania to test whether an airport near the Black Sea could serve as another piece in solving the logistical puzzle of getting gear into Afghanistan,” reported Stars and Stripes.

Although alternatives supply routes exist, they come at double the cost. The US Transportation Command’s back of the envelope calculation showed that in 2011, the average cost of hauling a 20-foot container on NDN truck and rail routes between April and September was $12,367. The cost was about $6,700 per container on the Pakistan route.

India’s Sneaky Plan To Ignore Iran Sanctions, Activate Chabahar, Take Advantage of Pakistan’s MFN Designation

[Since India considers itself a new superpower it thinks that it can do whatever it wants.]

Iran, India Move on Chabahar Transportation Project

TEHRAN (FNA)- Senior Indian officials arrived in Tehran to finalize a joint working group on the Chabahar Port project, which includes construction of a strategic railway.

Iran’s Southeastern Chabahar Port, which is New Delhi’s strategic link to Afghanistan-Pakistan region, is just 72 km West of Pakistan’s Gwadar port which is being built by China. 

Making investments in the Chabahar Port on the Sistan-Balouchestan province in Iran will give leverage to India in the region and by making it as an important transit link it will give India an access to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eurasia thereby reducing the landlocked Kabul’s utter dependence on Pakistan. The Chabahar Port project is set to bypass Islamabad. 

India’s shipping secretary K Mohandas is in Tehran push the plans ahead. The Mohandas-led delegation is the first such high-level team visiting Iran over the port in a while. His visit will conclude on November 30. 

Iran believes that this port collaboration between Delhi and Tehran is the “minimum” that is necessary between the two countries for the development of the people and the region. 

Chabahar could be a “multimodal link” port as the Chabahar-Bam link will help in establishing link to Russia via Iran. 

Iran, India Move on Chabahar Transportation Project

TEHRAN (FNA)- Senior Indian officials arrived in Tehran to finalize a joint working group on the Chabahar Port project, which includes construction of a strategic railway.

Iran’s Southeastern Chabahar Port, which is New Delhi’s strategic link to Afghanistan-Pakistan region, is just 72 km West of Pakistan’s Gwadar port which is being built by China. 

Making investments in the Chabahar Port on the Sistan-Balouchestan province in Iran will give leverage to India in the region and by making it as an important transit link it will give India an access to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Eurasia thereby reducing the landlocked Kabul’s utter dependence on Pakistan. The Chabahar Port project is set to bypass Islamabad. 

India’s shipping secretary K Mohandas is in Tehran push the plans ahead. The Mohandas-led delegation is the first such high-level team visiting Iran over the port in a while. His visit will conclude on November 30. 

Iran believes that this port collaboration between Delhi and Tehran is the “minimum” that is necessary between the two countries for the development of the people and the region. 

Chabahar could be a “multimodal link” port as the Chabahar-Bam link will help in establishing link to Russia via Iran. 

“Al-CIA-da” Fills Void Left By CIA Network Elimination In Lebanon, Fires Katyusha Rockets Into Israel

[Hezbollah cleans-out the nest of CIA spies, after first cleaning-out the Mossad network–all that is left for the spooks to do is to activate one of their “al-Qaeda-linked” terrorist outfits to fire into Israel.]

Group linked to al-Qaeda takes responsibility for rocket fire

YNET

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades have taken responsibility for the launch of rockets from southern Lebanon towards Israel. The group are recognized as an off-shoot of al-Qaeda in Lebanon.

In a statement the organization said: “The Rocket unit of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades bombed the settlements of the Zionist enemy in northern Palestine. The rockets hit their targets.” (Roi Kais)

Mumbai attacks: India names judicial panel for joint probe with Pakistan

Mumbai attacks: India names judicial panel for joint probe with Pakistan

Three years after the siege which rocked Mumbai, Pakistan and India will cooperate with each other to record statements of prosecution witnesses. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: Three years after the siege that rocked Mumbai, India has finally nominated a judicial commission to work with the Pakistan government to investigate the attacks on its financial capital.

Indo-Pak officials will for the first time cooperate with each other to interrogate Ajmal Kasab and record statements of prosecution witnesses residing in India, The Express Tribune has learnt. M Azhar Chaudhry, nominated as special prosecutor by the Pakistan government for the Mumbai terror case, will head a three-member team of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). The team will leave shortly for India accompanied by defence counsels of the men nominated in the Mumbai assault case in Pakistan, revealed interior ministry sources declining to be identified.

The FIA will submit a letter by the Indian government before Justice Shahid Rafique, judge of an anti-terrorism court hearing the case in Rawalpindi, on Tuesday (today). In compliance with the anti-terrorism court’s order, a judicial officer at Mumbai will be nominated to record statements of prosecution witnesses or those imprisoned in India , states the letter issued by the Indian home affairs ministry and forwarded to the FIA through Pakistan’s High Commission in India.

Ajmal Kasab, the lone gunman caught alive after the attack, is imprisoned in a high-security cell in Mumbai. Chaudhry told The Express Tribune he had attributed the delay in the conclusion of the trial – more than 14 months – to the Indian government during the last hearing of the case. “The Indian government has been slow to nominate a judicial commission and to send copies of documentary evidence to FIA despite repeated requests.”

The judicial commission is expected to take statements from the Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate RV Sawant Waghule and Investigating Officer Ramesh Mahale, who recorded Kasab’s confessional statement. It is also likely to record the statement of the doctor who carried out the post-mortem of the terrorists killed during the siege, sources revealed.

Indian Foreign Minister SM Krishna, on the eve of the third anniversary of 26/11, had said India is waiting for Pakistan to act “decisively” after providing it with evidence against perpetrators in Pakistan.

The Indian foreign minister had said, “The use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy has no place in today’s world and is self-destructive. I think the evidence provided by the ministry of home affairs would be sufficient for any normal civilian court to prosecute the people involved in the conspiracy and the perpetrators of this crime.”

On Friday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik had asked India to provide “credible evidence” against the perpetrators. He said Pakistan did take action against Hafiz Saeed and others based on information provided by India but the suspects were released by the courts because it did not count as legal evidence. “Pakistan is ready to take action on information shared by India, provided it is acceptable in court.”

Published in The Express Tribune

Pakistan to boycott Bonn conference over Nato attack

Pakistan to boycott Bonn conference over Nato attack

A meeting of the federal cabinet in progress. — Photo by APP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan decided Tuesday to boycott a key international conference on Afghanistan next month, ramping up its protest over lethal cross-border Nato air strikes that have plunged US ties into deep crisis.

The decision was taken at a cabinet meeting in Lahore, just days after Islamabad confirmed it was mulling its attendance in the German city of Bonn, where Pakistan’s participation was considered vital.

“The cabinet has decided not to attend the Bonn meeting,” a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The prime minister’s office said the cabinet agreed that “unilateral action” such as Saturday’s strike in the tribal district of Mohmand and the May 2 US killing of Osama bin Laden near the capital was “unacceptable”.

US-led investigators have been given until December 23 to probe the attacks, threatening to prolong significantly Pakistan’s blockade on Nato supplies into Afghanistan implemented in retaliation for the killings.

The US military appointed Brigadier General Stephen Clark, a one-star air force general based in Florida, to lead the investigation into the attack.

The team, set to include a Nato representative, is yet to arrive in Afghanistan but an initial military assessment team went to the border at the weekend after Saturday’s catastrophic strike killing 24 Pakistani troops.

The Afghan and Pakistani governments are also being invited to take part.