Friday, May 13, 2011

Pakistan Army Chief Balks at U.S. Demands to Cooperate

New York Times
Despite mounting pressure from the United States since the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, seems unlikely to respond to American demands to root out other militant leaders, according to people who have met with him in the last 10 days.

While the general does not want to abandon the alliance completely, he is more likely to pursue a strategy of decreasing Pakistan’s reliance on the United States, and continuing to offer just enough cooperation to keep the billions of dollars in American aid flowing, said a confidant of the general who has spoken with him recently.

Such a response is certain to test American officials, who are more mistrustful of Pakistan than ever.

Emboldened by the May 2 raid that killed Bin Laden in Pakistan, American officials say they now have greater leverage to force Pakistani cooperation in hunting down Taliban and Qaeda leaders so the United States can end the war in Afghanistan.

The United States will now push harder than ever for General Kayani to break relations with other militant leaders who American officials believe are hiding in Pakistan, with the support of the military and intelligence service, a senior American official said.

These leaders include Mullah Muhammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Afghan Taliban; the allied militant network of Sirajuddin Haqqani; and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group that the United States holds responsible for the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, in 2008, the American official said.

Pakistani officials, meanwhile, are anxiously waiting to see if any new intelligence about Al Qaeda in Pakistan spills from the American raid that could be used to exert more pressure on them, and what form that pressure might take.

But those who have spoken with General Kayani recently said that demands to break with top militant leaders were likely to be too much for the military chief, who is scheduled to address an unusual, closed-door joint session of Parliament on Friday to salvage his reputation and explain the military’s lapses surrounding the American raid.

The American wish list is tantamount to an overnight transformation of Pakistan’s long held strategic posture that calls for using the militant groups as proxies against Pakistan’s neighbors, they said. It comes as General Kayani faces mounting anti-American pressure from hard-line generals in his top command, two of the people who met with him said.

Many in the lower ranks of the military have greater sympathy for the militant groups than for the United States.

To take out the leadership of these groups — longtime assets of the Pakistani Army and intelligence services — would result in such a severe backlash from the militants that a “civil war” in Pakistan would result, said a former senior Pakistani official who was consulted by General Kayani in the aftermath of the Bin Laden raid.

The general, who has been courted for nearly three years by the United States’ most senior military officers in an effort to persuade him to launch an attack against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, was even more unlikely to do so now, the Pakistani said.

While increasingly frustrated with Pakistan, American officials would also like to avoid a complete rupture of relations with a nuclear-armed state that is essential to ending the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

With the United States eager to wind down in Afghanistan, Washington needs Pakistan more than ever, a factor that would play into the general’s next moves, said Gen. Javed Ashraf Qazi, a former director general of Pakistan’s chief spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISI, who met with General Kayani recently.

“Without Pakistani support, the United States cannot win the battle in Afghanistan,” he said. “Now the Americans are saying, please bring the Taliban to the table.”

The army chief was described as angered that the Obama administration failed to trust him enough to tell him before the raid, asserting that in keeping him in the dark the United States had alienated Pakistan’s best friend, General Qazi said.

General Kayani cannot ignore the sentiment of his soldiers, said Riaz Khokhar, a former ambassador to the United States, who met with General Kayani.

“There is a feeling in the rank and file of the army from A to Z that the United States is a most untrustworthy ally,” Mr. Khokhar said.

“We don’t want to be an enemy of the United States, but the experience of friendship with the United States has not been a pleasant experience, so we have to find a middle road,” he said.

General Qazi said hard questions were being asked about whether the American financial support to the Pakistani military was “worth the lives we have lost” in fighting Islamic militants.

Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has granted more than $20 billion in military and development assistance, an amount that does not include covert aid, according to K. Alan Kronstadt , the South Asian Affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service.

Cutting ties would be extremely costly for the Pakistani military, said Shuja Nawaz , head of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.

Anti-Pakistan sentiment was hardening in Congress as Pakistan waited for approval of payment arrears for its costs in fighting insurgents, Mr. Nawaz said.

In the short term, however, General Kayani seemed to be more concerned with the blow to the morale of his troops than with further damage to the already eroded relationship with the United States, according to the accounts from those who met him.

General Kayani visited six army garrisons this week in an effort to dispel doubts about the army and his leadership.

During his appearances, according to soldiers interviewed afterward, General Kayani acknowledged an intelligence failure in not knowing that Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad. But he added that this did not mean that Pakistan was to be “blamed for everything.”

Is 'Arab Spring' Coming To Kabul?
The recent emergence of the first, large-scale Facebook movement among Afghan university students calling for reform can't help but raise the question -- will the wave of antigovernment dissent in the Middle East reach Afghanistan?

Since March, some 1,500 university students in Kabul, and another 3,000 elsewhere around the country, have "friended" the Facebook page "Reformists." There, they meet daily for discussions about how to exert grassroots pressure on the government -- pressure that barely exists in Afghanistan today.

In some ways, the movement is very much like similar Facebook groups in the Arab world.

One of the spokespersons, Asar Hakimi, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, that the movement is inspired by the "awakenings" in the Middle East.

He says the Afghan version, too, is a response to "the existence of corruption in the government, the lack of an active opposition group in the country, and the weakness of the Kabul government in addressing the basic needs of the people."

But in other ways the Arab and Afghan movements are very different.

The Afghan students say that after three decades of constant war and violence in their country, the last thing they want is yet another street revolution that brings yet another force to power.

Instead, Hakimi says, they want to engage in street protests but "keep them as peaceful as possible."

"The reason we do not like to become strict revolutionaries is that in Afghanistan there is always a vicious idea behind revolutions," he says.

That's prudent thinking, certainly. But it also raises the question of how, then, can an Afghan Facebook revolution bring change?

The answer is pending, but the movement's first public actions may provide some clues.

In April, the students sent an open letter to the Afghan parliament, in which they demanded the removal of the minister of higher education on charges of incompetence. This year's final exams were so chaotically administered that 75,000 out of 117,000 students could not graduate and gain access to the country's university system.

At the same time, the students have asked the parliament to remove two other cabinet members -- the ministers of education as well as information and culture -- because of allegations of corruption.

The challenge now, of course, is how to give the movement longevity. In the Middle East and elsewhere, Facebook revolts so far have proved highly effective in mobilizing street power for regime change but have yet to prove themselves as long-term pressure groups.

The Afghan students are trying to organize for the long haul by charging membership fees and establishing planning, communications, and other committees that integrate Facebook "friends" into a working structure.

It being Afghanistan, the membership fees are a sliding structure. Students pay 200 afghanis ($4.6) as membership fees, people with solid government jobs pay 3,000 ($70), and people with dream jobs with foreign NGOs pay 10,000 ($232).

Does all this sound like today's Facebook movement could become tomorrow's new political party? Keep logging on to find out.

Diana film slams UK royals as 'gangsters'

A provocative new documentary that made its debut Friday at the Cannes Film Festival claims Britain's royals are racist "gangsters in tiaras" and Prince Philip is a womanizing psychopath.

The movie "Unlawful Killing" revives claims that Princess Diana — adored by millions as the "people's princess" but viewed in royal circles as an embarrassing loose cannon — was murdered by the British establishment. The film was screened Friday for the first time at the festival.

It bills itself as "the antidote to 'The King's Speech'" and depicts the royal family as feudal relics presiding over a network of official cronies at taxpayers' expense. Director Keith Allen says, however, it's "not an attack on the monarchy."

"I don't think it's anti-monarchy," he said. "I think it may be questioning capitalism."

The film takes its title from the verdict of an official British inquest into Diana's 1997 death in a Paris car crash. The jury ruled the princess was unlawfully killed, but deflated claims of a conspiracy, blaming "grossly negligent driving" by her drunk and speeding driver and pursuing vehicles.

But the movie by actor Allen — father of singer Lily Allen — revisits conspiracy theories put forward by Mohamed Al Fayed, whose son Dodi was Diana's boyfriend at the time and died in the same crash.

Fayed, the billionaire former owner of London's Harrods department store, funded the 2.5 million pound ($4 million) documentary. He has long maintained that his son and Diana were killed by the British secret service at the behest of an establishment horrified by her romance with a Muslim man.

The film begins with Diana's prediction in a 1995 letter to a friend that "my husband is planning an 'accident' in my car" and attempts to expose holes in the coroner's inquest.

It poses more questions than it answers. Who was in the white Fiat that witnesses saw in the Alma Tunnel just before the crash? Was driver Henri Paul really drunk or did someone tamper with his blood samples? Why did a French ambulance take so long to arrive?

"I didn't want to make a sensationalist film," Allen said, calling the documentary a "forensic account" of a legal process that "doesn't add up."

The film certainly doesn't pull punches. Critics would say it lashes out in all directions, scattering accusations of royal racism, judicial complicity and media laziness.

It includes an array of high-profile talking heads: talk show host Piers Morgan, actor Tony Curtis, celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley and psychologist Oliver James, who brands the husband of Queen Elizabeth II a psychopath.

Al Fayed spokesman Conor Nolan said the businessman had seen the film and was "absolutely delighted" with it.

Others remain decidedly unconvinced. Martin Gregory, author of "Diana, the Last Days," said the movie was "simply regurgitation of everything Mohamed Al Fayed has been saying since the year 2000."

"Nothing in the film is new," he said, taking Allen to task at the film's Cannes press conference.

The film was screened Friday for journalists and buyers. It's unlikely to find one in Britain, where it cannot be shown in its current form for legal reasons. Allen said he had declined to make any of the 87 cuts recommended by the film's lawyers before it can be shown there.

The documentary already has been criticized for including a picture of Diana after the crash that has never been shown before in Britain.

So does Allen agree with Al Fayed that Diana was murdered?

Not exactly. He said he thought her death was the result of an attempt to scare and discredit her that "went massively wrong."

"I do believe Diana was in a position to rock a lot of boats," he said. "You could argue it's a warning and any statements she made after the crash would be put down to 'She's had a nasty crack on the head.'"

"What I'm saying is, don't necessarily believe the hype," he added.