Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Happened on the Border?

It’s not clear what led to NATO strikes on two Pakistani border posts this weekend, but there can be no dispute that the loss of lives is tragic. At least 24 Pakistani troops were killed. We regret those deaths, as we do those of all American, NATO and Afghan troops and Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed by extremists.

Washington and Islamabad need to work together, urgently, to ensure that this incident does not destroy their deeply troubled relationship. The United States needs Pakistan’s cooperation — as grudging as it is — to pursue the fight against the Taliban. And without American support, Pakistan’s fragile government will be even more vulnerable to extremist attacks.

So far, Pakistan’s leaders seem most interested in fanning popular anger. The Obama administration and NATO have wasted precious time, allowing the crisis to escalate.

On Saturday, after the first reports, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a statement offering their “deepest condolences for the loss of life.” We’re not sure why President Obama waited until Monday to add his voice.

We are also puzzled, and concerned, by the delay in opening a full and transparent inquiry. On Saturday, the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, said he would “thoroughly” investigate the incident. But that was never going to be enough.

It took until Monday for Gen. James Mattis, leader of the Pentagon’s Central Command, to announce a more formal investigation and to name Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark to lead it. The inquiry will include representatives of NATO and General Allen’s team. Significantly, Central Command said Pakistan and Afghanistan would be invited to participate. Islamabad and Kabul should both agree. The panel needs to move ahead quickly and credibly, with full disclosure no matter what it finds.

Pakistan’s leaders, as ever, are playing a very dangerous game. On Monday, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani vowed in an interview on CNN, that “business as usual will not be there.” His government has already shut down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, ordered a base used for drone strikes evacuated and threatened to boycott a conference on Afghanistan’s security and development. Some news reports are also quoting ordinary Pakistanis demanding that their government retaliate militarily against American forces across the border.

Before things get out of control, Pakistan’s leaders need to lower their rhetoric and make clear that it is in their country’s interest to work with the Americans to find out what happened and ensure it will not happen again.

There are many questions that need to be answered. Who first fired on the American-Afghan force? Pakistan’s army is far too cozy with the Taliban. Were fighters sheltering near the Pakistani outposts? What about Pakistan’s claim that the NATO strikes continued for two hours even after Pakistan alerted allied officials? What needs to be done differently going forward?

The two sides need answers if there is any hope of finding a way back from the brink.

Pakistan actress defends ISI tattoo for photo shoot

Pakistani actress Veena Malik

defended on Saturday her front cover photos for men's magazine FHM, where she appeared with ISI tattooed on her arm, but denied the photo shoot involved any nudity.

"In India every thing is referred to ISI (Pakistan's top spy agency Inter Services Intelligence)", she told Pakistan's Geo TV. "Even if a very small thing happens, they say ISI is behind it. Everybody blames ISI for everything."

The actress said the original idea had been Kabeer Sharma's, editor of FHM's Indian edition, but that the photos had been "morphed".

"He told me that (the tattoo) will be very bold and will cover the upper portion of the body, which it did not.

"I agreed to a photo shoot and having an ISI tattoo in a humorous way but I did not have any nude photos. My pictures have been morphed," said Malik, who shot to fame in Indian TV show "Big Boss 4".

"They have the videos of the shoot but it would be in clothes and not without clothes", the actress said.

Also speaking to Pakistan's private Geo channel, Sharma said Malik had been "very excited for this shoot" and the tattoo by the makeup artist had been "in very thin font, but (Malik) asked to make a bold tattoo of ISI".

Reacting to the controversy, Pakistan's Interior minister Rehman Malik said that the government would verify the nudity matter.

"If she has done so, she did wrong. But, these pictures are tempered many times and we will look into this issue," he told reporters.