Tuesday, October 06, 2009

More signs of a conflicted Pakistan -- at such a dangerout time

It’s hard for many of us to fathom Pakistan. So many of the stories we read on that country make us wonder how it holds together. We know of course that the army is the actual glue that binds the many contrary influences into what appears to be “a country”. But underneath that appearance there are disparate and clashing views of the world, so that, to the mind of some Pakistanis at least, nothing is what it appears; and to the mind of some officials maybe it shouldn't be.

In yesterday’s Guardian Saleem Vaillancourt tells of visiting the offices of the World Food Program in Islamabad, where shortly afterwards a suicide bomber killed [again] several Muslims. And during his time in Pakistan Vaillancourt had a meal with “a lovely man” who said of the Taliban that they “are people of the Qur'an. These explosions were by the government." Such a sense of what is going on can only weaken the resolve of those who must make costly decisions in Pakistan.

In the mean time even the government officials in Pakistan display a double-sided agenda. While they are supposed to be friends of America they don’t want the Americans messing with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of “their Taliban” – the ones who are fighting the American/NATO forces in Afghanistan. [New York Times today].
No wonder the Obama administration halts over what to do.

[Below are the two articles mentioned above. The first is a significant reading of the situation in Pakistan; the second is useful for what it reveals about real human beings in that setting.]

New York Times October 6, 2009
U.S. Push to Expand in Pakistan Meets Resistance
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Steps by the United States to vastly expand its aid to Pakistan, as well as the footprint of its embassy and private security contractors here, are aggravating an already volatile anti-American mood as Washington pushes for greater action by the government against the Taliban.
An aid package of $1.5 billion a year for the next five years passed by Congress last week asks Pakistan to cease supporting terrorist groups on its soil and to ensure that the military does not interfere with civilian politics. President Asif Ali Zardari, whose association with the United States has added to his unpopularity, agreed to the stipulations in the aid package.
But many here, especially in the powerful army, object to the conditions as interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs, and they are interpreting the larger American footprint in more sinister ways.
American officials say the embassy and its security presence must expand in order to monitor how the new money is spent. They also have real security concerns, which were underscored Monday when a suicide bomber, dressed in the uniform of a Pakistani security force, killed five people at a United Nations office in the heart of Islamabad, the capital.
The United States Embassy has publicized plans for a vast new building in Islamabad for about 1,000 people, with security for some diplomats provided through a Washington-based private contracting company, DynCorp.
The embassy setup, with American demands for importing more armored vehicles, is a significant expansion over the last 15 years. It comes at a time of intense discussion in Washington over whether to widen American operations and aid to Pakistan — a base for Al Qaeda — as an alternative to deeper American involvement in Afghanistan with the addition of more forces.
The fierce opposition here is revealing deep strains in the alliance. Even at its current levels, the American presence was fueling a sense of occupation among Pakistani politicians and security officials, said several Pakistani officials, who did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the United States. The United States was now seen as behaving in Pakistan much as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, they said.
In particular, the Pakistani military and the intelligence agencies are concerned that DynCorp is being used by Washington to develop a parallel network of security and intelligence personnel within Pakistan, officials and politicians close to the army said.
The concerns are serious enough that last month a local company hired by DynCorp to provide Pakistani men to be trained as security guards for American diplomats was raided by the Islamabad police. The owner of the company, the Inter-Risk Security Company, Capt. Syed Ali Ja Zaidi, was later arrested.
The action against Inter-Risk, apparently intended to cripple the DynCorp program, was taken on orders from the senior levels of the Pakistani government, said an official familiar with the raid, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
The entire workings of DynCorp within Pakistan are now under review by the Pakistani government, said a senior government official directly involved with the Americans, who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity.
The tensions are erupting as the United States is pressing Pakistan to take on not only those Taliban groups that have threatened the government, but also the Taliban leadership that uses Pakistan as a base to organize and conduct their insurgency against American forces in Afghanistan.
In a public statement, the American ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, suggested last week that Pakistan should eliminate the Afghan Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, a onetime ally of the Pakistanis who Washington says is now based in Baluchistan, a province on the Afghanistan border. If Pakistan did not get rid of Mullah Omar, the United States would, she suggested.
Reinforcing the ambassador, the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said Sunday that the United States regarded tackling Qaeda sanctuaries in Pakistan as “the next step” in the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in an unusually stern reaction last week, said that missile attacks by American drones in Baluchistan, as implied by the Americans, “would not be allowed.”
The Pakistanis also complain that they are not being sufficiently consulted over the pending White House decision on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The head of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, met with senior officials at the Central Intelligence Agency last week in Washington, where he argued against sending more troops to Afghanistan, a Pakistani official familiar with the visit said.
The Pakistani Army, riding high after its campaign to wrench back control of the Swat Valley from the Taliban, remains nervous about Washington’s intentions and the push against the new aid is reflective of that anxiety, Pakistani officials said.
Though the Zardari government is trumpeting the new aid as a triumph, officials say the language in the legislation ignores long-held prerogatives about Pakistani sovereignty, making the $1.5 billion a tough sell.
“Now everyone has a handle they can use to rip into the Zardari government,” said a senior Pakistani official involved in the American-Pakistani dialogue but who declined to be named because he did not want to inflame the discussion.
The expanding American security presence has become another club. DynCorp has attracted particular scrutiny after the Pakistani news media reported that Blackwater, the contractor that has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, was also in Pakistan.
Recently, there have been a series of complaints by Islamabad residents who said they had been “roughed up” by hefty, plainclothes American men bearing weapons, presumably from DynCorp, one of the senior Pakistani officials involved with the Americans said.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office had sent two formal diplomatic complaints in the past few weeks to the American Embassy about such episodes, the official said.
The embassy had received complaints, and confirmed two instances, an embassy official said, but the embassy denied receiving any formal protests from the Foreign Office. It also declined to comment about the presence of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, in Pakistan.
American officials have said that Blackwater employees worked at a remote base in Shamsi, in Baluchistan, where they loaded missiles and bombs onto drones used to strike Taliban and Qaeda militants.
The operation of the drones at Shamsi had been shifted by the Americans to Afghanistan this year, a senior Pakistani military official said.
Several Blackwater employees also worked in the North-West Frontier Province supervising the construction of a training center for Pakistan’s Frontier Corps, a Pakistani official from the region said.
There was considerable unease about the American diplomatic presence in Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, one of the senior government officials said. Politicians were asking why the United States needed a consulate in Peshawar, which borders the tribal areas, when that office did not issue visas, he said.
Another question, he said, was why did the consulate plan to buy the biggest, and most modern building in the city, the Pearl Continental hotel — which was bombed in a terrorist attack this year — as its new headquarters.
As Parliament prepared to discuss the American aid package Wednesday, the tone of the debate was expected to be scathing. On a television talk show, Senator Tariq Aziz, a member of the opposition party, called the legislation “the charter for new colonization.”
“People think this government has sold us to the Americans again for their own selfish interests,” said Jahangir Tareen, a former cabinet minister and a member of Parliament, in an interview. “Some people think the United States is out to get Pakistan, to defang Pakistan, to destroy the army as it exists so it can’t fight India and to break down the ISI’s ability to influence events in India and Afghanistan. Everyone is saying about the Americans, ‘Told you so.’ ”


by Saleem Vaillancourt
Guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 October 2009 16.08 BST

“Islamabad bomb targets people in need”

The UN World Food Programme is one of the few agencies able to help deprived Pakistanis, as I saw for myself just last week

Last week in Pakistan I met a receptionist at the World Food Programme in Islamabad. It was brief – I was presenting myself for an appointment, and I do not know if she was Gulrukh Tahir, one of five people killed there today by a suicide bomber.

But I can picture her foyer; it must be wreckage now. I remember smiling at the guards who checked my bag when I entered the fortified compound, the same guards who were evaded by a man suspected to be Pakistani Taliban. His target was a United Nations agency charged with getting food to disaster zones and preventing hunger in poor communities. In Pakistan, some of its beneficiaries are the millions displaced by the Taliban's conflict with the government.

Perhaps it was the success of WFP's work that motivated the attack. In May, when the military engaged the Taliban in the Swat valley in north-west Pakistan, over 2.5 million people fled their homes. WFP's team near Swat, all Pakistani nationals, was confronted with a crisis. Deprived of their incomes and farming livelihoods, hundreds of thousands of families were in danger of starvation. Most had sought shelter with relatives or friends and were not in refugee camps.

Azim Khan, a programme officer for WFP's emergency relief work, has an office smelling of cigarettes, with books such as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation on his shelves. He says that "the challenge was to feed those 85-90% of internally displaced people who were off-camp". His team established several "humanitarian hubs" in communities where displaced people had taken refuge.

At a humanitarian hub in Mardan, roughly 70km from Swat, hundreds of men were queuing last week for their rations. They wore the traditional shalwar kameez, long shirt and baggy trousers, and were mostly ethnic Pashtuns. In my interviews I was surprised, when asking each person's age, to find that men with lined and haggard faces were younger than my 29 years.

Before collecting their food, every displaced person verified their identity through an online database built by WFP with the local government, a system designed to prevent the repeat rations and re-sales that threatened the relief work in its first weeks. The aid facility was housed in a large warehouse, the former premises of a tobacco firm, one of the industries that suffered during the conflict. The irony of displacing a tobacco firm was not lost on the aid workers.

Nor was the importance of their work. After months of distributing food to the displaced, 1.5 million people have returned to their homes and continue to receive food as they rebuild their lives. Rehmat Wali of WFP says, "I am satisfied, to the best of my ability, that I have worked for the displaced people." His attitude was not unique. Mohammad Ali, a displaced man from Buner, 30km from Swat, spoke of a professor who hosted his family of 15 over four months.

The UN's aid agencies grind away without much fanfare. Even as its secretary-general labours under opprobrium for being too quiet, and last month's parade of world leaders in New York made nothing but headlines, WFP and other agencies doggedly do work that would otherwise be left almost undone.

During my time in Pakistan I shared some rice pudding with a man named Shabir, a lovely man with a long beard who tried to buy me lunch. After we had fought over the bill he mentioned recent explosions in Peshawar, near his home in the north-west. "The Taliban are people of the Qur'an," he said. "These explosions were by the government." I kept quiet. But Taliban sympathies had never looked so human.

As for the WFP, it does not fret over who collects food. "There are people who are registered [for rations] who are militants … but we are impartial," says Rehmat Wali. What an injustice that Monday's suicide bomber did not feel the same.

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