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Anti-Americanism in Pakistan snarls US war efforts

Published Apr 04, 2012 04:53am


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US diplomatic efforts to persuade Pakistan to reopen Nato supply lines to the Afghan war are proving no match for rampant anti-Americanism in the country.—File Photo

ISLAMABAD: US diplomatic efforts to persuade Pakistan to reopen Nato supply lines to the Afghan war are proving no match for rampant anti-Americanism here, with Pakistani lawmakers increasingly unwilling to support a decision that risks them branded as friends of Washington.

Opposition legislators are demanding that the US end its drone strikes against militants as a precondition, complicating US strategies for winding down the 10-year war just weeks before a major Nato conference in President Barack Obama's hometown of Chicago.

Relations between the US and Pakistan have been marked by mistrust since the two countries were thrust together following the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, but shared interests—near-bankrupt Pakistan needs American aid, America needs Pakistan's support against al-Qaeda—had kept the alliance more or less intact.

That changed in November when US air strikes inadvertently killed 24 Pakistani troops on the Afghan border, triggering nationwide outrage and retaliation from Pakistan, which suspended diplomatic contacts and blocked vital land routes for US and Nato troops in Afghanistan.

Since then, banned militant groups have staged large rallies around the country against any move to reopen the supply lines. One of the leaders of the movement has been Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group allegedly blamed for the 2008 attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai that killed 166 people.

Late Monday, the US announced a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Saeed, who lives openly in Pakistan.

According to many analysts, Saeed has the sympathy or support of the country's powerful military establishment, which shares his hostility to India. The announcement could therefore be seen as a provocation in Pakistan and further strain ties with Washington.

Pakistan has placed Saeed under house arrest before, but prosecutors have been unable to make charges stick against him. Given the popular hostility to the US among the Pakistani public, it is unlikely that the government will act now against Saeed.

Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in 2002 under US pressure, but it operates with relative freedom under the name of its social welfare wing Jamaat-ud-Dawwa. The US has designated both groups as foreign terrorist organisations.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Saeed's increasingly ''brazen'' appearances on television were a factor in the announcement.

''I think the sense has been over the past few months that this kind of reward might hasten the justice system,'' she said.

The reward marks a shift in the long-standing US calculation that going after the leadership of an organisation allegedly used as a proxy by the Pakistani military would cause too much friction with the Pakistani government.

While there was no single incident or development that caused the US to act now, the group has developed a more anti-Western agenda in recent years, with Westerners among the victims of the Mumbai attack, for example, a US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters.

The official acknowledged that declaring the leader a wanted man could complicate the US-Pakistani relationship.

But the group made itself a target the US could not ignore by slowly expanding its lower-level working relationships with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant organisations, the official said.

The official said the Pakistani military had kept the group from achieving any high-level coordination with al-Qaeda as part of Pakistan's ''attempts to constrain the group.”

But it's unclear whether the bounty will have any impact other than embarrassing Pakistani authorities and pleasing India, which has long called for his arrest.

Saeed, who has denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks, said the US announced the reward because of his demonstrations against any reopening of the supply lines.

''We are organising massive public meetings to inform the nation about all the threats which Pakistan will face after the restoration of the supplies,'' he told The Associated Press at a mosque in the capital, Islamabad.

''With the grace of God we are doing our work in Pakistan openly. It is regrettable that America has no information about me. Such rewards are usually for those who live in caves and mountains.''

Few inside the Pakistani government or the army believe a permanent supply line blockade is worth the resulting international isolation. Pakistan relies on the US and other Nato countries for its economic survival and for diplomatic and military support.

But re-engaging carries a political cost in a country where association with the United States is toxic.

That cost is felt more keenly now by mainstream parties because general elections are scheduled within a year.

Seeking political cover, the weak coalition government ordered a parliamentary committee to come up with proposals for a new relationship with the US On March 20, the committee presented its recommendations to parliament, which included the reopening of supply lines but with higher tariffs, and also an end to drone strikes.

US officials had hoped the parliamentary session would lead to a quick resumption of ties, but that hasn't happened.

Sessions to debate the recommendations have been boycotted or taken over with discussions on other national issues.

Opposition parties, sensing the government wants them to share any political fallout for what will be an unpopular decision to reopen the routes, are refusing to cooperate.

"This is a hugely complicating factor. The government may now be realizing that by trying to be clever it has created problems for itself," said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington.

"In parliamentary democracies it is the responsibility of the executive to formulate a policy and act on it. The Americans tell me they are being very patient, but I know they are getting very impatient."

In recent weeks, the US has renewed high-level contacts with Pakistan, including meetings in Islamabad last week between Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the top US commander in the region, Gen James Mattis. Obama met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in South Korea.

But a US official said talks on the supply line issue could not start before the parliament had finished debating the recommendations. He said it was unclear when that would be. He didn't give his name because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

Before November, about 30 per cent of the nonfatal supplies for foreign troops in Afghanistan were unloaded at the port of Karachi and then trucked across Pakistan to the border. For most of the war, 90 per cent of the supplies came through Pakistan, but Nato has increased its reliance on an alternate, so called "northern" route, through Central Asia in recent years.

Increased use of the northern route has removed some of the leverage Islamabad had over the West, but at a cost to the coalition. Pentagon officials now say it costs about $17,000 per container to go through the north, compared with about $7,000 per container to go over Pakistan.

The importance of the supply routes in general will rise, however, toward the end of 2014, when they will be needed to remove equipment from Afghanistan as foreign forces withdraw.

The parliamentary committee is currently reviewing its recommendations so they can be unanimously accepted by the parliament. One demand of opposition lawmakers is that the restoration of the supply lines be explicitly tied to a halt in drone attacks.

Pakistani lawmakers and government leaders have long campaigned against the strikes, which have been carried out with some level of secret collaboration with the Pakistani army. Opposition to attacks has become a rallying cry for anti-American politicians, who say they violate sovereignty and kill too many civilians.

US officials say they have offered Pakistan notice about impending strikes and new limits on which militants are being targeted. Washington views the attacks as a vital tool in suppressing al-Qaeda, and is seen as highly unlikely to agree to end them.

"By linking the resumption with drone attacks, things become unworkable," said Ayaz Amir, an opposition lawmaker who is something of a maverick.

"The possibilities of a workable deal are being shortened. They are not going to stop drone attacks, the supply lines are not going to open. We are going to have to suffer the consequences."

Western officials are already looking ahead to the Nato conference in Chicago on May 20-21 where more than 50 heads of state will discuss progress on ending the war. The US wants Pakistan to attend, but the meeting could be overshadowed if Pakistan is still blocking supplies to Nato members.


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Comments (16) Closed

Bashir Apr 04, 2012 04:48pm
I am afraid we will AGAIN make short-term popular decision that we will regret in the long-run.
Igloo Apr 04, 2012 06:32pm
I agree that this is a populist decision and is likely to hurt the Pakistani masses. But then it seems the masses are prepared to pay the price and suffer. Cant really argue with that can we? Pakistan is a young country and will learn from its mistakes. Maybe not as fast as we would like, but it will learn.
Imtiaz Faruqui Apr 04, 2012 08:02pm
Pakistan need smart leaders who have the backing of the whole nation to negociate , with world leaders.
Imtiaz Faruqui Apr 04, 2012 08:04pm
Pakistan need smart leaders who have the backing of the whole nation to negociate with world leaders not stooges.
maddie Apr 04, 2012 08:30pm
It's ironic that a country with TRILLIONS of dollars in debt (ie the US) isn't being called 'near-bankrupt' and Pakistan is.
Akbar Khan Apr 04, 2012 08:31pm
The header could also be written as Pro-Pakistanism is on the rise and impeding the AMERICAN agenda of playing with PAKISTANI lives. Pro_American and Ratu Totaa(parrot like attitude)of PAKISTANI journalist is another reason for such a low morale of PAKISTANIs. Pakistani suedo-journalist publishing has never served the unity of their own country, against foreign demoralizing forces, but helped further foreign agenda.
Ahmed salma Apr 04, 2012 09:45pm
We will eat grass if we have to but we will protect our ghairat. We are the greatest islamic country in the world, this is the reason the west and the USA are against us and dont miss an opportunity to malign us!
Cyrus Howell Apr 04, 2012 10:05pm
War is the use of force, and to the application of that force there is no limit.
Salotti Apr 04, 2012 11:27pm
The American public's anti-Pakistan sentiment has grown also in the past couple of years. It is mistrust between two cultures, difficult to patch up.
Ali Apr 05, 2012 01:43am
Well clearly this person think people want the supplies to support. On the spirit of democracy alone supplies should be closed for good(Air route too)...
Michael Childress Apr 05, 2012 03:14am
pakistan will open the border again creating more strife inside the country. pakistan still allows the cia to operate in the country and murder its citizens. it released raymond davis without obtaining aafia siddiqui's release, disgraceful behavior to say the least. at least dr. siddiqui is not a murderer. the story published about her attempted murder are ludicrous. drone raids will continue and poverty and murder will continue, because the "leaders" are lining their pockets. elected or not, there are no democracies. as gandhi said (about democracy), "it would be a good idea,."
Mustafa Apr 05, 2012 04:04am
The first line in this article reads "Opposition legislators are demanding that the US end its drone strikes against militants as a precondition......". Anyone with intelligence will know the objectives of opposition leaders are to overthrow the PPP government by all possible means even if they have to side with militants, the Talibans and the Al-Qaiedas and the terrorists. Pakistan needs a leader who can lead the people, not a leader to be lead by people. Asking people what they want is a sign of weakness because people voted leaders to lead them not to follow them. It is next to impossible for 180 million people to agree on one plan of action. There will be chaos in Pakistan until it has a leader who is a leader not a follower.
Gaurang Apr 05, 2012 05:49am
What a smart leader can do when there are thousands of leaders are involved in bribery, promote self interest against national interests, promoting hate & terrorism..?
babar Apr 06, 2012 03:50am
"Pakistan need smart leaders who have the backing of the whole nation to negociate , with world leaders." Easier said than done...put yourself into Zardari/Gilani shoes, consider all challenges realistically and their consequences and say what would you do?
Mustafa Apr 06, 2012 03:54am
Imtiaz, you said "smart leaders who have the backing of the whole nation". You must be kidding. The nation picks leaders not the leadrs pick nation. If the vast majority of nation is not educated and intelligent, they will not pick smart leaders. We have smart leaders but they bow to the will of uneducated overwhelming majority of nation who have absolutely no idea how a country can become a better country for all.
Imtiaz Faruqui Apr 11, 2012 07:51pm
Leaders who become ,the Head of State because of some accidents or unusual circumtances , only bring disaster to their country . Khalil Gibran.