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Wednesday, May 12

U.S. scramble to placate Pakistan about Times Square bombing case echoes 9/11 Commission's capitulation to Pak lobbyists


Yesterday saw a scramble in Washington to downplay the Time Square Bomber's alleged association with a Pakistan terror group. The scramble was mirrored on the Other Side of the Pond when the Guardian (a conduit for views from Britain's intelligence agencies) quoted unnamed Pakistani investigators and officials:
Pakistani investigators have found no evidence to support American claims that the failed Times Square bomber was working under the direction of the Pakistani Taliban, the Guardian has learned.
[...]
Officials in Islamabad are perplexed and angry at statements from Washington about Shahzad's links with the Pakistani Taliban, believing that the US is exploiting the issue to apply pressure for new military offensives in Pakistan's tribal border area with Afghanistan, in the north Waziristan region.[...]
And U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke emerged from his cone of silence to assure that the Obama administration was in no way considering a lessening or suspension of aid to Pakistan.

Holbrooke also stressed that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hadn't meant exactly what she said last week when she said Pakistan would face "very severe consequences” if a successful terrorist attack on the United States could be traced to Pakistan.

Also yesterday, New York City's Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, indicated that leaked information about the Times Square Bomber almost helped him escape and that the leak had not come from the New York police. The response from U.S. Department of Justice and FBI officials to Kelly's very serious charge: chirping of crickets.

But before I wade further into Washington's present attempts to placate Pakistan, let's take a trip back in time to get a clearer fix on today:

March 12, 2006
Pakistan weekly spills 9/11 beans

(The Telegraph, India) The Pakistan foreign office had paid tens of thousands of dollars to lobbyists in the US to get anti-Pakistan references dropped from the 9/11 inquiry commission report, [Pakistan's] The Friday Times has claimed.

The Pakistani weekly said its story is based on disclosures made by foreign service officials to the Public Accounts Committee at a secret meeting in Islamabad on Tuesday.

It claimed that some of the commission members were also bribed to prevent them from including damaging information about Pakistan.

The magazine said the PAC grilled officials in the presence of foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan and special secretary Sher Afghan on the money paid to lobbyists.

“The disclosure sheds doubt on the integrity and honesty of the members of the 9/11 inquiry commission and, above all, the authenticity of the information in their final report,” it said.

The report quoted an officer as saying that dramatic changes were made in the final draft of the inquiry commission after the lobbyists got to work. The panel was formed to probe the September 11 terror attack and make suggestions to fight terrorism.

After the commission tipped the lobbyists about the damaging revelations on Pakistan’s role in 9/11, they contacted the panel members and asked them to go soft on the country. The Friday Times claimed that a lot of money was used to silence these members.

According to the report, the lobbyists also helped Pakistan win the sympathy of 75 US Congressmen as part of its strategy to guard Islamabad’s interests in Washington. “US softened towards Pakistan only because of the efforts of the foreign office,” an official was quoted as saying in the report.

The Pakistan foreign office defended the decision to hire the lobbyists, saying it was an established practice in the US.

An observer at the Islamabad meeting said money could play an important role in buying powerful people. The remark came in response to comments made by some US officials after 9/11 that “Pakistanis will sell their mothers for a dollar”.
That's outrageous, if the last remark was aimed at American lobbyists. Here in Washington the bidding at mother sales starts at 10,000 bucks, not a measly dollar.

To return to 2010 there's no question that Pakistanis are upset about what they perceive as Pakistan-bashing in Washington. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
[..] Many Pakistanis have condemned the attempted bombing, saying Shahzad's alleged actions were un-Islamic and hurt both countries. But in editorials, sermons and protests, activists have blamed the West for spotlighting Pakistan as a source of terrorism because of one incident.

The Nation newspaper, an outlet for nationalist views, declared, "It is crystal clear that the U.S. government is always behind such planted arrests."

On Sunday, thousands of supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami religious party protested in Karachi. Several said they were sure Shahzad had been set up by the CIA.

"He's an innocent person. They want to interlink Faisal Shahzad and the Taliban and create a conspiracy against Pakistan," said Fahad Kashif Iqbal, 20, a student.

Some Pakistani officials have lent credence to such theories or have sought to explain the attempted attack as a reaction to U.S. policy.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said initially that before cooperating with the United States, "one has to see, is it some conspiracy against Pakistan?" Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the attempted bombing could have been a response to U.S. drone attacks in the Pakistani tribal areas.

Although most experts and politicians dismissed the conspiracy theories, they too complained that the incident has tarred Pakistan's reputation.

Mushahid Hussain, a leader of the political opposition, said the tendency to link Pakistan with "anything bad, anywhere in the world," was very damaging to his country's image. "It's Pakistan-bashing season," he said.
Pakistan-bashing because of "one incident," eh? What was the Mumbai massacre? A cricket match? For that matter, what was 9/11?

Moving along, yesterday Richard Holbrooke poured oil on troubled waters. Here is Dawn's version, datelined today, of his press briefing. (Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English-language newspaper.)
WASHINGTON: The US State Department has joined the Pentagon and the White House in assuring Pakistan that it remains a key ally in the war against terror and that Secretary Hillary Clinton never spoke about disrupting economic or military assistance to Pakistan.

The assurance came from Mrs Clinton’s close confidant, US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke. [Pundita note: Somehow I doubt Clinton and Holbrooke are BFF.] Her remarks in no way indicated any impact on the flow of US economic or military aid to Pakistan, he told a briefing in Washington.

“As for Secretary Clinton’s interview on (CBS channel’s) 60 Minutes (programme), I think that perhaps it was not fully understood for what she was saying by some people who didn’t see the full text or didn’t appreciate what she was saying,” he said.

On Sunday, Secretary Clinton warned Pakistan that it would face “very severe consequences” if extremists based there succeeded in attacking the United States.

She also said that she believed “somewhere in (the Pakistani) government are people who know where Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is, where Mullah Omar and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban is, and we expect more cooperation to help us bring to justice, capture or kill those who attacked us on 9/11”.

She was backed by several lawmakers as well, who went a step ahead and warned Pakistan that the aid it was receiving could be stopped if it failed to take “appropriate actions” to stamp out terrorism.

But the initial outburst that followed the botched Times Square bombing last week appears to be losing its steam as US officials now try to water down their earlier tough stance. The Pentagon, which cherishes its close ties to the Pakistani military establishment, is playing a leading role in the effort to allay Islamabad’s fears, backed by the White House and the State Department.

“We’re very satisfied by the cooperation we’re getting on this particular investigation thus far,” said another State Department official, Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley.

Mr Holbrooke said the Obama administration was actually multiplying Pakistan’s civilian and military aid to help Pakistan fight terrorism.

The White House issued similar statements, recognising that thousands of Pakistani soldiers had died fighting terrorists who also killed thousands of innocent Pakistani civilians.

The Pentagon started distancing itself from the anti-Pakistan tirade days before the White House and the State Department realised the need to control the damage their earlier statements had done.
Not to be outdone by Holbrooke's clown act Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond, the senior Republican on the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, emerged yesterday from what was supposed to be a classified briefing to the committee to announce that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was talking through his hat, when he said on Sunday that investigators had evidence the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) helped direct the failed bombing attack in Times Square and likely assisted in financing it.

According to a report from Reuters today, time-stamped 6:39 AM EDT, Bond told the press:
"I am not convinced by the information that I've seen so far that there was adequate, confirmable intelligence to corroborate the statements that were made on Sunday television shows," Bond told reporters after the classified briefing.

"We've heard lots of suspicions and tenuous connections, but as far as I'm concerned you can't make statements prior to getting the intelligence."
[...]
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, emerged from the same briefing disagreeing with Bond. She said there was a "high likelihood" of interactions between Shahzad and the Pakistani Taliban.[..]
The Washington Post report today on the same briefing conveyed a slightly different version of Feinstein's remarks. (No time stamp on the Post report so I don't know whether it was filed before or after the Reuters wire report):
[...] Intelligence committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who joined Bond in speaking to reporters after the briefing, said there is a "high likelihood" that Shahzad received some kind of terrorist training in Pakistan. But she said committee members had not been provided with specifics about how the Taliban might have aided the attempted bombing.[...]
I would have to find the text of the presser to learn whether Reuters or the Post conveyed the most accurate version of Feinstein's remarks. But I note that the Post did not fully quote Feinstein's sentence, leading me to believe that the paper, which is a conduit for views from the State Department, preferred to downplay exactly what Feinstein said.

Either way, if the number of U.S. leaks since 9/11 from classified briefings and documents could be converted to actual water Washington would be the Venice of North America.

Have a nice day -- and don't allow your mother to visit Washington unless she's accompanied by a Doberman and a couple armed bodyguards.

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