Did the FO just announce Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism?

Pakistan Foreign Office Spokeswoman

Criticising US policy is a routine part of a Foreign Office Spokesperson’s job. Even when US and Pakistan are in agreement, as with drones, it is important to keep up a facade of standing up to the unpopular global hegemon. Today, however, Foreign Office Spokesperson Tasnim Aslam either misspoke in a blunder of epic proportions, or announced to the world that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism.

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Pakistani diplomat quietly withdrawn amid allegations of ISI plot against US and Israeli consulates

Pakistani diplomat Amir Zubair Siddiqui

When it comes to Pakistan-India relations, extraordinary tales of intrigue and spy games are the norm. A few years ago, India even arrested a bird on suspicion of spying for Pakistan. But if fanciful tales are common, it is because just beyond them lies the true stories of espionage and counter-espionage that each country takes very seriously. These true stories are easy to separate from the fantasies when enough details come to light to make the case undeniable.

Amir Zubair SiddiquiThis appears to be the situation with the latest allegations faced by Pakistani diplomat Amir Zubair Siddiqui. A Visa Counselor at the High Commission of Pakistan in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Siddiqui has been quietly withdrawn from his post following allegations that he was involved in planning attacks against US and Israeli consulates in Chennai and Bangalore.

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Is Iraq a glimpse of our future?

Iraq sectarian violence 2013With 2014 less than six months away and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan along with it, many are wondering what is in store. One place we might find a clue is Iraq. After all, this is the location of the most recent American invasion, occupation, and withdrawal and, as with Afghanistan many blamed the violence on the American occupation. It has been two years since President Obama withdrew American forces from Iraq, so what does the country look like now?

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Don’t Talk With the Taliban – Husain Haqqani

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011, is the author of the forthcoming book “Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.”

WASHINGTON — THE United States is still planning to hold peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, despite the fact that the group attacked the presidential palace and a C.I.A. office in Kabul, Afghanistan earlier this week. As was the case in the 1990s, negotiating with the Taliban now would be a grievous mistake.

Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The planned talks have been arranged through the good offices of Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. At the urging of Pakistan’s military, the United States agreed to the opening of a Taliban office in Qatar. Taliban officials immediately portrayed the American concession as a victory. They flew the Taliban flag, played the Taliban anthem and called their new workplace the office of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” — the name of the state they ran in the 1990s before being dislodged from power after 9/11. This was intentional. It reflected the Taliban’s view of the talks as the beginning of the restoration of their emirate.

There is no reason to believe — and no evidence — that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome.

Declassified State Department documents and secret cables made public by WikiLeaks show that in the 1990s, as now, Pakistan claimed it had contact with the Taliban but no control over them.

As the Taliban advanced in eastern Afghanistan in 1996, they took over several terrorist training camps run by various Pakistan-supported mujahedeen factions and Arab groups affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Taliban’s deputy foreign affairs adviser at the time, Abdul Jalil, told American officials that the “Arab” occupants of the camps had fled, and that Osama bin Laden’s precise location was unknown. Taliban interlocutors assured the United States that the “Taliban did not support terrorism in any form and would not provide refuge to Osama bin Laden.”

That was, of course, an outright lie. The C.I.A. concluded that the Taliban had closed down training camps run by their Afghan rivals but not the ones run by Bin Laden and Pakistani terrorist groups.

In October 1996, Mr. Jalil delivered a friendly diplomatic message from the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, to American representatives, letting them know that “the Taliban think highly of the U.S., appreciated U.S. help during the jihad against the Soviets, and want good relations with the U.S.” This, too, turned out to be nothing but dissimulation. At one point, Pakistani officials even suggested that America “buy” Bin Laden from the Taliban.

Ironically, while American diplomats were interacting with Taliban officials, Western journalists traveling in Afghanistan often found evidence of large-scale terrorist training. An American Embassy cable in November 1996 spoke of an unnamed British journalist’s seeing “assorted foreigners, including Chechens, Bosnians, Sudanese” as well as various Arabs training for global jihad in Afghan provinces adjacent to Pakistan.

Mullah Ehsanullah Ehsan, a Taliban representative, told American officials in 1997 that Bin Laden’s expulsion was not a solution and urged them to recognize the legitimacy of Taliban rule “if the U.S. did not want every Afghan to become a Bin Laden.” By then, the Taliban had changed their story on Bin Laden. They admitted that he was their “guest” but insisted that they had “instructed him not to commit, support or plan any terrorist acts from Afghan soil.”

On Aug. 20, 1998, American missiles struck Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on the embassies in Africa. Two days later, Mullah. Omar called the State Department and demanded President Bill Clinton’s resignation, asserting that the missile attack would spread Bin Laden’s anti-American message by uniting the fundamentalist Islamic world and would cause further terrorist attacks.

Fifteen years later, the Taliban and their Pakistani mentors have hardly changed their arguments or their tendency to fudge facts. Americans may believe that talks offer an opportunity to end an expensive war that is no longer popular among Americans, but they shouldn’t forget the Taliban’s history of deception.

For the Taliban, direct dialogue with the United States is a source of international legitimacy and an opportunity to regroup. They are most likely playing for time while waiting for American troops to withdraw in 2014.

Everything about the talks in Qatar hints at déjà vu. America must enter these talks with a healthy does of skepticism, or not participate at all.



Cohen urges US-Pak civilian nuclear deal

Following is a piece published in The Nation

WASHINGTON  – Stephen Cohen, an eminent American expert on South Asia, has asked Washington to formally recognise Pakistan’s nuclear status through civilian cooperation. He underlined in his latest book the vital importance that normalisation of Pakistan-India relations holds out for US interests in the region. “The United States has a strong interest in the normalisation of India-Pakistan relations that goes far beyond normal “good” ties to each of them. Their normalisation is more important than Afghanistan’s stabilisation or building India up as a barrier to an expanding China,” Cohen advocates, while proposing a new US approach to South Asian peace prospects. He underlines the tremendous economic regional benefits as well as formation of a strong democratic region if Pakistan and India make progress towards normalisation.

In his just-published book,”Shooting for a Century:The India-Pakistan onundrum,” Dr. Cohen looks into some causes and implications of outstanding issues between the two South Asian countries, particularly the longstanding Kashmir dispute. Cohen observes in the book that ironically, the one fear that steered US policy after the end of the cold war’nuclear proliferation’ turns out to have important implications for India-Pakistan normalisation and “suggests further modification” in American policy.

The United States, he stated should encourage the two neighbouring states to take advantage of the reality of deterrence and work toward a stable nuclear regime, while maintaining the tightest control over the use of the weapons.  “Washington went part way down this road when it entered into a civilian nuclear deal with India that legitimised New Delhi’s nuclear status; it should find a formula that does the same for Pakistan, with the caveat that being a full member of the nuclear club means that Pakistan’ and India’ must assume the obligations set forth for nuclear weapons states under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).” Dr.Cohen has previously authored books including “The Idea of Pakistan” and “The Future of Pakistan.”

While pushing for normalisation of Pakistan-India relations in the new book, the expert notes that some in India might greet a new American initiative with skepticism, but the recently completed American policy document on India actually encourages regional cooperation, and a carefully crafted US initiative might be more welcome in New Delhi than previous efforts. Doubts will exist on the Pakistan side, but America has stuck by Pakistan and its interest, like that of India’s, is to see a stable democratic Pakistan emerge over the next decade., he said. “Part of the new approach would be to confirm Pakistan’s identity as a South Asian state,” Cohen writes.

The US,for its part, should do everything it can to use its current cooperative programmes with each state to encourage them to work together, and it should support all measures to bring about regional economic agreement and cooperation.

“Its guiding principle should be this: the pace of normalisation and cooperation must be dictated by the two regional states, not by America. At the same time, all parties must understand that American help is a necessary but not sufficient condition for regional normalisation to come about.”

Cohen also faults the first Obama administration for  its lack of a coherent regional policy, saying it “failed to develop a South Asia policy that would have encompassed both India-Pakistan relations (including Kashmir) and the grinding war in Afghanistan.”

In this context, he reveals that in mid-2012 President Obama approved a classified national decision directive for India, but there was no such directive for South Asia, or for Pakistan.

Cohen comes out with a mixed view of the US policy of dehyphenation that Washington has practiced in the last decade in its relations with Pakistan and India and calls for selective engagement on regional issues. He remarks that the dehyphenation policy said nothing about India-Pakistan relations. “There was merely a non-policy of hope that the two would not push their crisis very far. Kashmir was off bounds, except for diplomatic urgings for normalcy, while other regional issues were addressed through a dysfunctional division of responsibility.” The acclaimed expert pinpoints that “events in Afghanistan have unduly shaped America’s Pakistan policy,” and urges that Pakistan’s concerns about Indian role in Afghanistan must be worked into American policy calculations.

He proposed to the Obama administration’s that its South Asia policy needs to address the organisational dysfunctionality that handicaps American policy toward this quarter of the world.  Although, Cohen devotes a lot of attention to the lingering Kashmir conflict in the book, he feels the issue should not be at the center of America’s regional policy. Such a US policy should also explore the possibility of India-Pakistan strategic cooperation in Afghanistan, and retain some elements of dehyphenation, the author proposes.