Iran Election Guide

Donate to EAWV

Or, click to learn more


Entries in Asif Ali Zardari (5)


Obama Press Conference: Nailing Torture, Trashing the Pakistani Government

Related Post: Pakistan - Who's in Charge?
Video and Transcript: President Obama “Day 100″ Press Conference (29 April)

obama22President Obama offered an excellent presentation in Wednesday night's press conference. He was in command, fluently moving from his opening agenda on swine flu and the economy to questions on foreign policy, the US auto industry, and the financial sector. He even dealt effectively with the puffball question, courtesy of a New York Times correspondent, "What has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?"

Obama said little about foreign policy and security in his initial statement, dealing with the immediate health crisis and the Federal Government's budget, but the third question put him on the spot over torture:

You’ve said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture....Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?

I half-expected the President, given the Administration's back-and-forth over the last 10 days on whether to press charges against any Bush officials, to flinch. He didn't. To use baseball language, he knocked the question out of the park.
What I’ve said — and I will repeat — is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture.... And that’s why I put an end to these practices.

I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are.

Yes, it was torture. And whether it had any effect is tangential, given the damage done to America's counter-terrorist efforts and its standing in the world.

Obama invoked Winston Churchill --- and who in the US could hate Churchill? --- who "said, 'We don’t torture,' when the entire British — all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat". The President avoided the trap of commenting on which Bushman "sanctioned torture", but he turned the main talking point of Bush defenders, "Torture helped win the War on Terror", against them:
[Banning torture] takes away a critical recruitment tool that Al Qaida and other terrorist organizations have used to try to demonize the United States and justify the killing of civilians. And it makes us — it puts us in a much stronger position to work with our allies in the kind of international, coordinated intelligence activity that can shut down these networks.

I am sceptical that Obama will be closing Guantanamo Bay this year. And I still have concerns --- serious concerns --- about other US detention facilities, such as Camp Bagram in Afghanistan. But, at least on the narrow issue of whether there is any rationale for "torture", the President signed, sealed, and delivered the appropriate response.

In foreign policy, two specific cases arose: Iraq and Pakistan. On the former, Obama easily held the line, despite the continuing bombings and political instability in and beyond Baghdad:
Athough you’ve seen some spectacular bombings in Iraq that are a — a legitimate cause of concern, civilian deaths, incidents of bombings, et cetera, remain very low relative to what was going on last year, for example. And so you haven’t seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq.

(The questioner, Jeff Mason, let Obama off the hook. The emerging issue is whether the US military will have troops in and just outside Iraqi cities well past the summer deadline for withdrawal.)

Pakistan, however, offered a far more serious exchange, the significance of which has been missed so far by the media. It started with a sensationalist, and thus potentially useless question:
Can you reassure the American people that if necessary America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands or, worst case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?

The President batted that scenario straight back, "I’m confident that we can make sure that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is secure." Then, however, he offered two very clear signals.

First, his Administration is standing behind the Pakistani military and encouraging it to take the lead in the fight against insurgency. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is safe "primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands. We’ve got strong military-to-military consultation and cooperation." What's more....
On the military side, you’re starting to see some recognition just in the last few days that the obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally. And you’re starting to see the Pakistani military take much more seriously the armed threat from militant extremists.

Second, while Obama and his advisors are placing their strategic chips on the military, they have little faith in the current Pakistani Government:
I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan....The civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.

Obama's statement was not off-the-cuff. It was the next step, after statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that Islamabad better get its act together to take on "the Taliban" and "Al Qa'eda" or its politicians can be put to the side.

If Pakistani President Zardari is not convinced, he will do well to consider Obama's concluding challenge:
We will provide them all of the cooperation that we can. We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.

Of course, Obama never said "coup", but as Washington ramps up the fight against insurgents in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, he sent out the message.

Zardari is disposable. The Pakistani military is not.

Pakistan: Who's in Charge? (Clue from Washington: General Kiyani)

kiyaniQuestion of the Day: Who is the most important "reliable" leader in Pakistan?

No, it's not --- at least if you're a key official in the Obama Administration --- President Asif Ali Zardari. The correct answer is General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani (pictured).

How do I know this? Because I read David Ignatius in The Washington Post.

Ignatius is a sharp, smart journalist who writes well. He's also best considered, with his access to highly-placed Government sources and his re-presentation of their thoughts, as the media auxiliary of the State Department and the Pentagon.

When Ignatius snuck this into the conclusion of his 10 April opinion piece, "A Short Fuse in Pakistan", it was more than a throw-away comment:
If there's a positive sign in all this [political] chaos, it's that the Pakistani army isn't intervening to clean up the mess. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the army chief of staff, has been telling the feuding politicians to get their act together. But he seems to understand that the route to stability isn't through another army coup, but by making this unruly democracy work before it's too late.

Six days later, Ignatius extended his comment with this revelation about the Long March, "A month ago, Pakistan came close to a political breakdown that could have triggered a military coup." He explained with this account of events:
The lawyers' movement began its march on March 12, pledging to occupy Islamabad until the government restored [Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar] Chaudhry to his post. Zardari sent a police force known as the Rangers into the streets of Lahore, apparently hoping to intimidate [opposition political leader Nawaz] Sharif and the marchers. But Sharif evaded the police and joined the protesters as they headed north toward Islamabad.

Kiyani then faced the moment of decision. According to U.S. and Pakistani sources, Zardari asked the army chief to stop the march and protect Islamabad. Kiyani refused, after discussing the dilemma with his friend Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meanwhile, Kiyani called Sharif and told him to return home to Lahore, according to one source. And he called the leader of the lawyers' movement, Aitzaz Ahsan, and told him to halt in the city of Gujranwala and wait for a government announcement.

Although Ignatius was careful to give credit to Zardari and Sharif as well as Kiyani and although he made clear that US officials were "hoping that the three could form a united front against the Taliban insurgency in the western frontier areas", he closed with this first-amongst-equals assessment:
On the political scorecard, Zardari came out a loser and Sharif and [Prime Minister Yousuf Raza] Gillani as winners. But the decisive actor was Kiyani, who managed to defuse the crisis without bringing the army into the streets.

And who is behind this analysis? That's not so difficult to discover: in both opinion pieces, Ignatius refers to the "visit to Islamabad by Ambassador Richard Holbrooke [Obama's envoy to Afghanistan-Pakistan] and Admiral Mike Mullen [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]" two weeks ago. As their spokesperson, he gives their impression of the weakness and division in the Pakistan political leadership:
Anne Patterson, the highly regarded U.S. ambassador, had assembled some of the nation's political elite to welcome the visiting Americans. During a question-and-answer session, a shouting match erupted between a prominent backer of President Asif Ali Zardari and a supporter of dissident Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

On some major security and intelligence issues, [Zardari] claimed no knowledge or sought to shift blame to others, and the overall impression was of an accidental president who still has an uncertain grasp on power.

This is far from the first time that Ignatius has been the conduit for Washington's view of the "right" Pakistani Government. The day of Barack Obama's election, he wrote:
What's different on the Pakistani side isn't just the secret cooperation with America. There was lots of that under the previous president, Pervez Musharraf. What's new is that Zardari and Kiyani are working openly to build popular support for their operations against the Muslim militants....And Kiyani seems determined to stop [former President Pervez] Musharraf's practice of using the [Pakistani intelligence service] ISI to maintain contact with the Afghan warlords.

What has changed in the last five months is that Zardari is no longer reliable, both in his domestic political manoeuvres and his apparent willingness to make concessions to the "militants" in northwest Pakistan. So Washington cannot expect him to implement the proper programme, again put forth by Ignatius, to curb the insurgency:
America should channel its aid through the tribal chiefs, known as maliks, rather than the corrupt Pakistani government. It should help train the Frontier Corps, a rough-hewn tribal constabulary, rather than rely on Pakistani army troops who are seen as outsiders. To curb the militant Islamic madrassas, the United States should help improve the abysmal public schools in the region.

But that, of course, raises the dilemma lurking in Ignatius's recent columns. Like it or not, the unreliable Zardari is still the legal head of state in Pakistan. Toppling him with a military coup --- even if Kiyani wanted to make the move --- would give a most un-democratic appearance to Washington's campaign in the region, as well as raising memories of the Bush Administration's ultimately ill-fated co-operation with General/President Musharraf.

So Ignatius --- speaking for Holbrooke, Mullen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and President Obama --- has to be clear that Washington helped prevent a coup last month. At the same time, the question is still hanging: what if Zardari continues to be ineffective and uncooperative?

What if, to repeat but slightly adjust Ignatius's words, Washington concludes, "this unruly democracy [can't] work before it's too late"? The least bad option, as perceived by US policymakers, may be that it's time for General Kiani to take over the top spot --- in public rather than behind the scenes --- in the Pakistani Government.

Pakistan: Government Approves Sharia Law in Northwest Province

zardari3The political situation in Pakistan has twisted once again.

On Monday, President Asif Ali Zardari (pictured) signed the measure allowing Islamic law in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan. The accord had been provisionally reached in January as part of a peace deal between the Government and local groups, but Zardari --- after criticism from inside and outside Pakistan --- had refused final authorisation.

Last week, the influential cleric Sufi Mohammad announced he was pulling out of the peace deal, raising the possibility of a breakdown in the cease-fire. Mohammad's son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, is a leading insurgent commander in the Swat Valley.

The resolution of Zardari's unexpected signature brings more questions. Did he effectively bow to the pressure from Mohammad? Is Pakistan's military on-board with this political arrangement?

And did Washington know that this was coming? Only last week, US envoy Richard Holbrooke visited Zardari, leading to the standard re-statements of fighting militants and terrorists.

This political strategy accepting local autonomy is one way of carrying out that fight. Somehow, I think it's not the American way.

Pakistan: Leading Cleric Pulls Out of Peace Deal 

sufi-mohammadProminent cleric Sufi Mohammad (pictured) has announced that he is withdrawing from a peace deal, arranged in late February, between local groups and the Government in the Swat Valley in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan.

Mohammad brokered the deal between Islamabad and his son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, the commander of Taliban forces in the Valley. The agreement received much attention, because it allowed sharia law, and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari pulled back from signing it.

Mohammad blamed Zardari for the breakdown of the deal and warned that the Pakistani Government will be responsible for any bloodshed. The province's political leadership is sending a delegation to hear Mohammad's complaints.

If the deal does break down, it poses another challenge to the American strategy against the "safe havens" in northwest Pakistan. A rival "Taliban" group under Baitullah Mehsud has stepped up its attacks against Pakistani targets, and Fazlullah has warned that his supporters will challenge any US or Pakistani military operations.

Mr Obama's War: Pakistan Pushes Back at US Envoy Holbrooke

pakistan-flag4Lost amidst the attention to President Obama's trip in Europe, another US tourist, a Mr Richard Holbrooke, wound up in Islamabad yesterday.

US envoy Holbrooke and Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, didn't even catch the attention of The Washington Post. Which might be a good thing, because Pakistani officials did not follow the Obama script for a united War against Al Qa'eda/Taliban terror:

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the press after the meeting with Holbrooke, “We did talk about drones, and let me be very frank: there is a gap between us.” He continued, with diplomacy barely concealing Pakistan's decision to push back at the Americans:
The terms of engagement are very clear. We will engage with mutual trust and mutual respect, and that is the bottom line. We can only work together if we respect each other and trust each other. There is no other way and nothing else will work.

Holbrooke and Mullen got an even sharper rebuke from the head of Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI), Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who refused to meet separately with the Americans. Pasha did attend a discussion between Holbrooke, Mullen, and the head of the Pakistan military, General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani.

Of course, you can try out the ritual line that Pakistani officials are putting out a tough line for the sake of domestic opinion while privately being nice to their visitors. Yesterday's sparring, however, pointed to a real division between Islamabad and Washington.

The Obama Administration has been telling the Zardari Government not only that it has to accept the American military strategy but that it has to clean out those elements supporting the Pakistani Taliban and other insurgents. That warning has been specially directed at the ISI. On Tuesday, US officials piled on more pressure, letting The New York Times know that Washington was considering an expansion of drone attacks across northwest Pakistan.

It is unsurprising that the ISI's General Pasha would show personal resistance with his snub of Holbrooke and Mullen. More intriguing is the Foreign Ministry's forthright challenge to the drone strategy. And even more interesting, if curious, is the behaviour of President Asif Ali Zardari.

Zardari is persisting with his unsubtle public-relations mission to prove the wisdom of Zardari. He was the subject of a lengthy Sunday profile in The New York Times by James Traub which, unfortunately for the President, didn't provide the boost he wanted:
The Pakistani people have grown weary of his artful dodging. Zardari’s poll numbers are dreadful. More important, he has given little sustained attention to the country’s overwhelming problems — including, of course, the Islamist extremism that, for the Obama administration, has made Pakistan quite possibly the most important, and worrisome, country in the world. Zardari has bought himself more time, but for Pakistan itself, the clock is ticking louder and louder.

Today's more successful effort by Zardari is in The Independent of London, which gives him the space in a question-and-answer session to put his claim for political legitimacy:
Our military and intelligence agencies are behaving responsibly and respecting the sovereignty and legitimacy of the elected government.  That is an enormous and positive change that bodes well for the future. We have been elected for five years and there is no point in giving a final verdict on our performance within a few months or even a year of our taking office.

On the issue of the US military strategy, Zardari is playing a double game. After his meeting with Holbrooke, his office issued the statement, "Pakistan is fighting a battle for its own survival....The president said the government would not succumb to any pressure by militants." In the interview with The Independent, however, the President also tried to put limits on the drone attacks:
We would much prefer that the US share its intelligence and give us the weapons, drones and missiles that will allow us to take care of this problem on our own. President Obama has denied any such intentions to extend the use of drone attacks to Balochistan. These drone attacks are counter productive.

As the tourist Mr. Richard Holbrooke takes his Rough Guide to India today, he may be reflecting on his rather unwelcome stay in Pakistan. Forget for the moment the issue of an American "exit strategy" from its military efforts. Washington doesn't even have a clear "entry strategy" on how it is going to shape the Islamabad Government to its plans.