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Tuesday, January 3

Why were unnamed Pakistani officials in a chipper mood after a meeting in Doha?

We're in the same boat if you want to know how reliable a reporter the shall we call ' colorful' Pakistani ex-TV anchor Nusrat Javeed and his unnamed sources are. As the grizzled gold-dust prospector said to the partner who complained he was breaking his back panning for microscopic bits of gold in a freezing cold river, 'Don't whine.'

At least the (Pakistani) Express Tribune, which has given Javeed a home, is published under the auspices of the International Herald Tribune, which is the European outlet for The New York Times, which is a conduit for CIA thinking, which is another way of saying that if the CIA wants to encourage the Trib to scare up voices from Pakistan we shouldn't complain if we have to spend hours trying to figure out if there's even a grain of truth in 'exclusive' reports on Pakistan from the Express Tribune.

Javeed's latest offering, datelined yesterday and headlined with the teaser, Healing of Pakistan-US rift on cards? first ruminates on the well-known fact that Pakistan's government is in crisis because of an ongoing energy shortage (things are so bad that Islamabad is now considering India's offer, first made -- oh I don't recall, maybe a year or two ago -- to buy oil and gas from India. Then he dropped da bomb:
My visits to various ministerial chambers, however, made me believe that our representatives were far more concerned to deliver on another count: restoring the Nato supplies to Afghanistan. Pakistan had blocked those supplies after aerial attacks on our check posts that killed 24 soldiers of ours “deliberately”. The Nato and the US kept expressing regrets over the incident since then, but no apologies and offers of compensating measures. [Pundita note: Wrong on both counts; the NATO command immediately apologized and the U.S. offered monetary compensation to the families of the slain soldiers, which Rawalpindi rejected as "blood money."]

By signing a punitive law against Pakistan on the eve of New Year, President Obama rather conveyed a preference for dealing with Pakistan through sticks and not carrots. [Pundita note: It's open to question how punitive the Pakistani portions of the defense/aid bills really are; see my December 30 post, Washington's 40 Percent Solution]

Yet, the ministers and some ruling party members I talked to Monday evening did not seem upset. One very well-informed type from amongst them rather told me that a recently held meeting in Doha promised a win-win kind resolution of the Pak-US issues. He sounded too confident while predicting that Nato supplies to Afghanistan might be restored “maximum by Jan 20 after successful negotiations in Doha”. He refused to answer questions related to why and how, but politely suggested that Parliamentary Committee on National Security would start working overtime from Tuesday to furnish a package of “face saving measures” by Pakistan.
If you ask, 'What meeting in Doha?' -- within a few hours of the publication of Javeed's report, Associated Press correspondent Slobodan Lekic reported from Kabul (datelined today) that the Afghan Taliban had struck a "preliminary deal" with Qatar to open a "liaison office" in Doha:
[...]Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid indicated the liaison office will conduct negotiations with the international community but not with the Afghan government — a condition that President Hamid Karzai has indicated he would reject. Mujahid did not say when [the office] would open.
For the United States and its allies, the idea of a Taliban political office in the Qatari capital of Doha has become the central element in efforts to draw the insurgents into peace talks.

“Right now, having a strong presence in Afghanistan, we still want to have a political office for negotiations,” said Mujahid. “In this regard, we have started preliminary talks and we have reached a preliminary understanding with relevant sides, including the government of Qatar, to have a political office for negotiations with the international community.”
Just to show how seriously Taliban take the U.S. and Afghan government's stipulations that they "accept the elected civilian government of Afghanistan and bargain in good faith," Muhjahid's emailed statement added that:
... the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan — the name of Afghanistan under Taliban rule — has “requested for the exchange of prisoners from Guantanamo.”
But back to the buoyant mood of the officials Javeed interviewed. From a report filed January 2 by Kathy Gannon and Anne Gearan for the Associated Press (Pakistan, US assume less cooperation in future -- in the wake of the November 25 NATO air strikes that killed 24 Pakistani troops:
[...] A senior Obama administration official conceded that the deaths made every aspect of U.S. cooperation with Pakistan more difficult, and that the distance Pakistan has imposed may continue indefinitely. The official, like most others interviewed for this story, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of ongoing discussions.

Pakistan has already stopped billing the United States for its anti-terror war expenses under the 10-year-old Coalition Support Fund, set up by Washington after the 9/11 attacks to reimburse its many allies for their military expenses fighting terrorists worldwide and touted by the U.S. as a success story.

"From here on in we want a very formal, business-like relationship. The lines will be drawn. There will be no more of the free run of the past, no more interpretation of rules. We want it very formal with agreed-upon limits," military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told The Associated Press in an interview in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Pakistan will further reduce the number of U.S. military people in Pakistan, limit military exchanges with the United States and rekindle its relationship with neighbors, such as China, which has been a more reliable ally, according to Islamabad [Pundita note: I am not aware that the Pakistan-China relationship ever died down enough to need rekindling.]
Pakistan also asked the U.S. not to send any high-level visitors to Pakistan for some time, the U.S. official said.
Put Gannon's AP report together with Lekic's and one can surmise that the meeting in Doha that left unnamed Pakistani officials in a cheerful, confident mood had to do with Pakistan's government successfully running interference with Qatar's government for the 'Afghan' Taliban, at U.S. request. Following that train of reasoning I surmise that the unnamed Pakistani officials demanded an arm and a leg from the Obama Administration in return for the favor and in order to move forward with reopening the Afghan-Pakistan border to NATO supply convoys.

For some idea of what the arm and leg looks like, I turn to a report from the somewhat strange Rupee News, datelined December 31, 2011:
[...] Pretty soon the entire war structure will collapse [because of NATO supplies stalled in Pakistan], and NATO will have to deal with the Pakistani demands -- of paying Octroi [a kind of tax] for using the roads, building the road infrastructure, halting the drones, signing a protocol on rules of engagement, and lastly accepting Pakistan as a nuclear power.

Islamabad says it will consider reopening key NATO supply routes to neighboring Afghanistan, provided NATO is willing to pay. There is ample evidence that the US is trying to get the cargo out of Pakistan:

> “It has been a month since the Nato attack which resulted in the port and border closures with no resolution in sight, the US government intends to have all import unit cargo that is currently staged at different Container Holding Yards (CHYs) moved back to Karachi port or the nearest CHY to the port. Once we receive approval, all unit cargo will be exported out of Pakistan,” wrote Anita Rice, Chief of the OCCA SWA (595th Trans Brigade, NSA Bahrain) in an email to all ‘concerned’ persons.

> According to sources, US cargo, stranded in Pakistan, is worth millions of dollars and US authorities have serious concerns over the safety of the cargo as it includes hammer [sic] vehicles, dumpers, anti-aircraft guns, special carriers of anti-aircraft guns, vehicles specially built to jam communications, cranes and sophisticated weapons.

“We will compile information for submission to Pakistan customs for amendment for cargo export,” Rice said in her email, providing US Lieutenant Colonel Jerome Heath’s contact number for further assistance.
As to whether the NATO war effort is indeed on the verge of collapse because of the supply issue, that depends on which source you listen to. Rupee News says that the situation is far worse than NATO has been willing to admit in public and that
According to well placed sources, without using the Pakistani supply lines the US war in Afghanistan is coming to a grinding halt. Despite the stern face there is a severe shortage of fuel and food in Afghanistan. [Pundita note: I think the reporter meant "poker" face; a NATO spokesperson said yesterday that the coalition "has a stockpile of supplies that can keep operations in Afghanistan running at their current level even if the routes through Pakistan remain closed."]
What about the Northern Distribution Network? Well according to Rupee News there are a lot of problems with the northern routes; however, the NDN is obviously working enough to the extent that now only 29 percent of NATO supplies are trucked through Pakistan -- although that figure doesn't indicate how many of the supplies are being airlifted into Afghanistan. And it's possible that a goodly number of the supply containers piled up in Pakistan were on order from Afghanistan's government, not the NATO command.

As for the expense of shipping containers via NDN, which is roughly double that of shipping through Pakistan (see the Rupee News report for details), one has to factor in the huge amount of theft and arson that have struck NATO convoys going through Pakistan.

Rupee News observes, and rightly in my opinion, that it remains to be seen whether NATO will ever receive the supplies that have been piled up in Pakistan during the blockade -- at least, not without paying Pakistan's military another arm and leg. And despite all the investigative reports in the past couple years that have thrown light on the theft and its cost to NATO, it's come out only very recently, in a Bloomberg investigative report I linked some days ago, just how much theft has been occurring. The Pakistani investigator trying to get to the bottom of what's been called "The mother of all scams" can't even speculate at this point on the dollar cost, the amount is so huge. Suffice to say that not only did Pakistan's military rob NATO blind -- no scam of that magnitude could have occurred in Pakistan without the military's help -- but its profits from reselling stolen high-value military items probably rival the billions in 'aid' that the USA has shoveled to the junta.

In short, it remains to be seen how much more expensive the NDN option really is.

To return once more to Doha and those chipper Pakistani officials: the Obama administration's determination to pull off an appearance of a victory in Afghanistan prior to the November 2012 American presidential election has been the gift that keeps on giving as far as Pakistan's junta is concerned. This is without the windfall it expects from lifting the blockade of NATO supplies. Obama wants the junta to deliver the Taliban and in exchange -- the officials Nusrat Javeed spoke with, at least, seem to believe he will give Pakistan just about anything it asks for.

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They are chipper because they have outmaneuvered the Americans and it is an election year.

This means that, "Obama lost Afghanistan," is the meme dujour when both the Bush and Obama administrations handed Afghanistan to the Taliban via de facto and, er, "facto" policies.

As an example, I give you National Reviews "Musharraf" Corner. You know, the "secular military" versus Islamicized public junk that so helped us out from 2001-2008.

Anyway, just ranting. Good post as usual and I've got a post kinda dedicated to you at CBZ....
Thanks, Madhu -- and yes, the old secular-Islamist line that Washington loves so much.
Pundita: I ask your opinion about something. The inside the beltway crowd figures this is between the US and Pakistan/Taliban. We will all come to a nice deal that will allow the US to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban (a Taliban that will be re-habilitated by the NYT into a group of reformed pious patriots who have new found respect for the rights of man) with the confidence that they will not slip into bad old ways because the Pak Army/ISI will give us the quiet word that they will be controlled. Everybody is happy.

The trouble with that is nobody seems to realize that India exists. India today isn't the India of old and I don't think they will stand for that deal.

What do you think India is going to do?
Carl - That's a good question. Keep an eye on B. Raman's blog for clues to the answer. Study his two most recent posts -- "Main elements of US policy toward Asia" and "CHINA BOLSTERS PAK ARMY’S IMAGE AS IT CONFRONTS THE US & THE CIVILIAN LEADERSHIP."
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