Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland is coming alive in US as Obama (Alice) gets to meet Hamid Karzai (Tweedle Dee) and Asif Ali Zardari (Tweedle Dum).
TWEEDLE DEE & TWEEDLE DUM
The US sets date with two figureheads both of whom are mere ornaments that adorn a mantelpiece rather than as executives with real enforceable power. Both Zardari and to a lesser degree Karzai have shown immense prevarication towards governing their countries respectively.
Yet the US cannot do business without the two. Of the two, the interaction the world is watching out for is between Zardari and Obama.
The first ball has already been lobbed – much like a puppet whose strings have been snapped at the sight of big daddy – Zardari shot off the block first.
ZARDARI: I WAS FORCED TO SIGN THE SWAT PEACE ACCORD
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari had opposed inking a peace agreement with Taliban in the Swat Valley but was “forced to agree to it”, US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has said. And Holbrooke lobbed back: “We support the democratic government led by Zardari and speculation that we are having discussions with Nawaz Sharif is just plain wrong.”
Well, thank you for the curtain raiser – let the actual games begin!
What are the leading journalists saying about it?
Simon Cameron Moore wrting in Reuters (May 3rd) : Pakistanis don't often see their country the same way as American presidents, but the fear spread by Taliban fighters turning up a few hours drive from Islamabad has finally put them on the same page.
When Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the situation in the nuclear-armed Muslim nation warranted "grave concern" there was no dispute in Pakistan.
Politicians of every hue, the media and the public have all been seized by the urgent need to fight back.
"The national mood is changing," said a senior Pakistani official with knowledge of foreign policy and security matters.
"People got scared, which is good. Getting scared is good."
The turnaround is occurring as President Asif Ali Zardari prepares to meet Obama and Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai in Washington on May 6-7 to discuss how to destroy al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
Pakistan is suffering the backwash from the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, a price paid, according to critics, for supporting the militants in the past.”
Zaid Hussain on Times Online (May 5th) : Islamabad’s patchy attempts to fight surging militancy will be the focus of Mr Zardari’s talks in Washington later this week. Pakistan’s President is likely to seek increased US help. Analysts said that Mr Obama would present his strategy for defeating al-Qaeda to the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan tomorrow.
The Taleban’s advance from Swat into the neighbouring districts of Buner and Lower Dir heightened fears that the militants were extending their influence. Security forces launched an offensive to expel militants a week ago, with helicopter gunships and ground troops fighting hundreds of armed Taleban.
The renewed military action in Swat will stretch the Pakistani army, which is ill-equipped to fight an insurgency over such a large area. The situation is made more difficult by Pakistan’s insistence on deploying the bulk of its forces on its border with India.
Ahmed Rashid on Washington Post (May 5th) : Pakistan is on the brink of chaos, and Congress is in a critical position: U.S. lawmakers can hasten that fateful process, halt it or even help turn things around. The speed and conditions with which Congress provides emergency aid to Islamabad will affect the Pakistani government and army's ability and will to resist the Taliban onslaught. It will also affect America's image in Pakistan and the region. Pakistanis are looking for evidence of the long-term U.S. commitment about which President Obama has spoken.
In the past, many of these jihadist groups, including the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, have been fostered by Pakistan's army and intelligence services -- at the cost of global security, democracy and civil society. The Bush administration ignored this trend for years while it pumped more than $11 billion into Pakistan. The bulk of that funding went to the military, which bought arms to fight Pakistan's historic enemy, India, rather than the insurgency.
The army's recent counteroffensive against the Taliban was prompted in part by U.S. pressure and, more significant, by a dramatic shift in public opinion toward opposing the Taliban. Many people are beginning to see the country threatened by a bloody internal revolution. This public pressure can lead to a major change in army policies toward India and Afghanistan.
Certainly the United States can demand that its money be used for good purposes. The original Biden-Lugar bill introduced last year had the mix just right, setting down three strategic benchmarks -- that Pakistan be committed to fighting terrorism, that Pakistan remain a democracy (in other words, the army must not seize control), and that both nations provide public and official accountability for the funds.
For three decades, I have written about the fire that Islamic militancy has lit in this region. I do not want to see my country go down because Congress is more concerned with minutiae than with the big picture. Yes, there must be a sea change in attitudes and policies in the army, intelligence services and civilian government. But tomorrow may be too late. Pakistan needs help today.”
WHERE THE HECK ARE YOUR NUKES ZARDARI?
Beyond the rhetoric – the US will want to know – where are the Pakistani nukes? Of course Zardari is not qualified to know this, for that US will have to seek answers from Kiyani and Kidwai. However, the game starts here.
David Sanger, the author of Inheritance, whom I have quoted widely and has one of the best eyes and ears on the “ground” writes in New York Times (May 3rd) : “As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.
The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is south of the capital, Islamabad, faced an imminent threat. President Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the country’s nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistan’s armed forces.
But the United States does not know where all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks since the Taliban entered Buner, a district 60 miles from the capital. The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
Pakistani officials have continued to deflect American requests for more details about the location and security of the country’s nuclear sites, the officials said.
Mr. Zardari heads the country’s National Command Authority, the mix of political, military and intelligence leaders responsible for its arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear weapons. But in reality, his command and control over the weapons are considered tenuous at best; that power lies primarily in the hands of the army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the former director of Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s intelligence agency.
For years the Pakistanis have waved away the recurring American concerns, with the head of nuclear security for the country, Gen. Khalid Kidwai, dismissing them as “overblown rhetoric.”
Even as Pakistan faces instability, it is producing more plutonium for new weapons, and building more production reactors.
In the current climate, with Pakistan’s leadership under duress from daily acts of violence by insurgent Taliban forces and organized political opposition, the security of any nuclear material produced in these reactors is in question.” The Pakistanis, not surprisingly, dismiss those fears as American and Indian paranoia, intended to dissuade them from nuclear modernization. But the government’s credibility is still colored by the fact that it used equal vehemence to denounce as fabrications the reports that Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan’s race for the nuclear bomb, had sold nuclear technology on the black market.
In the end, those reports turned out to be true.
Some of the Pakistani reluctance, they said, stemmed from longstanding concern that the United States might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistan’s arsenal if the insurgency appeared about to engulf areas near Pakistan’s nuclear sites. But they said the most senior American and Pakistani officials had not yet engaged on the issue, a process that may begin this week, with President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to visit Mr. Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
Ergo, the sub-heading – where the heck are your nukes buddy?
MUST READ: Pakistan's nuclear scenarios and US options - in New York Times (5th May'09). As the Pakistani military launched a new offensive against the Taliban in the country’s North-West Frontier Province, officials and former officials in Washington continued to discuss what the American response should be to the heightened conflict. How should the United States respond? And how secure are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons?
Michael E. O’Hanlon, Brookings Institution
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former Energy Department official Karin von Hippel, Center for Strategic and International Studies
Danielle Pletka, American Enterprise Institute
Ellen Laipson, Stimson Center
Parag Khanna, New America Foundation
Of the five, I am giving the op-ed written by Danielle Pletka of AEI.
AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE
"American South Asia policy is terminally afflicted by strategic attention deficit disorder (SADD). In the three decades since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the United States has trusted the Pakistanis (and allowed the ISI to run mujahedeen operations), mistrusted the Pakistanis (and sanctioned them for developing the nuclear weapons they developed five years before the sanctions), trusted the Pakistanis (and climbed into bed with Pervez Musharraf as the terror fighting hero of the post 9/11 era), dumped Musharraf, embraced Benazir Bhutto and then her widower, and now we’re about to dump the widower.
Neither Bush or Obama were interested in scrutinizing where U.S. aid goes and what it achieves, preferring to trumpet mere expenditure as policy.
In light of the fact that successive American directors of the C.I.A. have labeled South Asia the world’s most dangerous nuclear flashpoint, the fact that 9/11 was plotted in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Islamists affiliated with al Qaeda now dominate significant swaths of Pakistani territory, and that we have two nuclear armed nations eying each other warily, the administration’s confusion is staggering.
What’s the nightmare scenario? This is it. We have another president in Washington who believes that if he only finds the right president (of Pakistan, Afghanistan, whatever), the situation on the ground will improve. Another president who believes that more troops equals better strategy. Another president who believes that nuclear weapons and the creeping domination of territory is something that can be managed by better diplomacy. Another president that has been persuaded, as Secretary Gates said today, that Saudi Arabia can help manage our problems.
These problems aren’t going to be solved by having special envoys with better titles, or subcontracting American defense to Saudi Arabia. We need clear indications of long term American commitment to the region, training and equipping of the Pakistani military, and effectively integrated military and aid programs. And what of the billions that have already been spent?
Like soldiers, money should not be obligated without a strategy. Neither Bush or Obama were interested in scrutinizing where U.S. aid goes and what it achieves, preferring to trumpet the mere expenditure as policy. Absent these changes, we are inviting our enemies to believe again in American weakness. And we know where that led the last time."
Thoughts to carry home: Does PAKISTAN have “actionabale and usable nukes?”