Pakistan’s Road to China

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shahid Javed Burki, Project Syndicate

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Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani (L) and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao listen to their national anthems during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 18, 2011. Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s visit to China from Tuesday allows Islamabad to show it has another major power to turn to just as relations with the United States have faced intense strain after the killing of Osama bin Laden.

REUTERS/Jason Lee

Islamabad – Large events sometimes have unintended strategic consequences. This is turning out to be the case following the killing of Osama bin Laden in a compound in Abbottabad, a military-dominated town near Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital.

The fact that the world’s most wanted man lived for a half-dozen years in a large house within spitting distance of Pakistan Military Academy, where the country trains its officers, has provoked a reaction that Pakistanis should have expected, but did not. The country’s civilian and military establishment has been surprised and troubled by the level of suspicion aroused by the events leading to Bin Laden’s death – many Pakistanis call it “martyrdom” – and there is growing popular demand for a major reorientation of Pakistan’s relations with the world. Unless the West acts quickly, Bin Laden’s death is likely to result in a major realignment of world politics, driven in part by Pakistan’s shift from America’s strategic orbit to that of China.

I have personal experience of how quickly China can move when it sees its “all-weather friend” (Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani’s phrase) in extreme distress. In 1996, when Pakistan was near bankruptcy and contemplating default, I went to Beijing as the country’s finance minister to ask for help. My years of service overseeing the World Bank’s operations in China had put me in close contact with some of the country’s senior leaders, including then-Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.

At a meeting in Beijing, after telling me that China would not allow Pakistan to go bankrupt under my watch, Zhu ordered $500 million to be placed immediately in Pakistan’s account with the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. That infusion of money enabled Pakistan to pay its bills while I was in charge of its economy.

China seems to have adopted the same approach to Pakistan today, as the United States Congress threatens to cut off all aid. Gilani recently took a quick trip over the mountains to Beijing, and returned with an offer of immediate delivery of 50 fighter planes to Pakistan. Much more has been promised. Given China’s record as a provider of aid to Pakistan, these promises will quickly be realized.

In the meantime, Pakistan continues to pay the price for Bin Laden’s death, with his supporters striking a town not far from Islamabad just days later, killing more than 80 people. That was followed by a brazen attack on a naval base in Karachi, in which some very expensive equipment, including aircraft, was destroyed. The terrorists struck for a third time two days later, killing a dozen people in a town near Abbottabad. The human toll continues to rise, as does the cost to the economy.

On May 23, the government issued an estimate of the economic cost of the “war on terror” that put the total at $60 billion, compared to the $20 billon the Americans have supposedly paid in compensation. In fact, a substantial share of the promised US aid has yet to arrive, particularly the part that is meant to rescue the economy from a deep downturn.

While Gilani was in Beijing, Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh returned from Washington with empty hands. He had gone there to persuade the International Monetary Fund to release the roughly $4 billion that it was withholding from the $11 billion that Pakistan had been promised in late 2008 to save the country from defaulting on its foreign debt. The IMF’s decision was in response to the Pakistani government’s failure to take promised steps to increase its abysmal tax-to-GDP ratio, which stands at less that 10%, one of the lowest levels in the emerging world.

The Fund was right to insist that Pakistan stand on its own feet economically, but, in early June, Shaikh will present his 2011-2012 budget, in which he wants to ease the burden on ordinary Pakistanis. This has put Gilani’s two-year-old government in a real bind. Whether Shaikh can balance the IMF’s demands with ordinary people’s needs will not only determine the Pakistani economy’s direction, but will also have an enormous impact on how Pakistan and its citizens view the world.

The only comfort that Pakistan has received from the West came in the form of assurances given by US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron following Obama’s state visit to London. In a joint press conference, both promised that their countries would stand with Pakistan’s government and people. Pakistan, they said, was as deeply engaged as their countries in the war against terrorism.

Pakistan will continue to receive American and British help. But the US and Britain find it difficult to move quickly, and strong voices in their capitals want Pakistan to be punished, not helped, for its wayward ways. In the meantime, China waits with open arms.

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Pakistan Preps Attack

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan prepares offensive on Taliban stronghold

By Rohan Sullivan, AP

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A policeman stands atop Punjab University, keeping guard over a crowd of thousands attending funeral prayers for Muslim cleric Sarfraz Naeemi in Lahore June 13, 2009. Naeemi was attacked by a suicide bomber in his mosque complex after leading Friday prayers a day earlier. Pakistani warplanes struck a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud on Saturday in retaliation for the killing of the anti-Taliban cleric, the military said.   

REUTERS/Adrees Latif

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s army launched airstrikes and ferried in tanks and artillery as it confirmed Tuesday that it was preparing a major offensive against insurgents in al-Qaida and the Taliban’s safest haven along the Afghan border.

The highly anticipated military operation in South Waziristan is seen as a potential turning point in the yearslong and sometimes half-hearted fight against militancy in Pakistan. It could also help curb Taliban attacks on Western forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
But the offensive in the lawless tribal region will also be the toughest yet for Pakistan’s military, testing both its fighting capability and the government’s will to see it through, analysts said.
Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the military had received executive orders from the government to begin operations against Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, whose base is in South Waziristan.

“The necessary measures and steps which are part of a preliminary phase of the operation, the preparatory phase of the operation, that has commenced,” Abbas told a news conference.

But Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira stressed that the operation “has not been officially started.”

They declined to give more details, citing operational secrecy.

Convoys of military trucks carrying tanks and artillery were seen Tuesday in the towns of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, near South Waziristan. Intelligence officials said they were part of the buildup for the operation against Mehsud.

In recent days, the military has shelled and launched airstrikes in both South Waziristan and neighboring Bannu, although so far there has not been large-scale fighting with the militants.

On Tuesday, the army shelled suspected militant hideouts in three villages in South Waziristan in response to attacks on two military checkpoints, and helicopter gunships targeted Mehsud hide-outs in the region, intelligence officials told The Associated Press.

One official called the attacks “surgical strikes” ahead of the main operation.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose information to the media.

The military buildup comes as the army says it is entering the final stages of a major operation against the Taliban in the northwestern Swat Valley, which has triggered a wave of retaliatory attacks by militants across Pakistan that have been blamed on Mehsud.

More than 100 people have died since late May in suicide bombings on targets including police and security buildings, mosques and a hotel catering to foreigners. The attacks have fueled anti-Taliban sentiment in Pakistan that in turn has emboldened the politically weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari.

A military assault in South Waziristan would likely trigger an escalation in the attacks — something the government is bracing for.

“The risk of lives is there — we have to give sacrifices, we have to pay this price and the nation is ready to give this price to get rid of this menace,” Kaira said.

The slow start to the offensive may indicate the government is talking it up before launching it to allow civilians time to flee. The Swat offensive displaced more than 2 million people.

Thousands of residents have already fled Waziristan, local officials and refugees say, and are most are staying with extended family. Aid agencies have warned that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan’s northwest could worsen if fighting spreads in the tribal belt.

The armed forces may also need more time to mobilize for a full-scale battle in Waziristan, a hard-scrabble, mountainous area where well-armed tribes hold sway and the government’s influence is minimal.

Many Taliban and al-Qaida militants fled to the region after the U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. It remains a base for cross-border attacks on Western and Afghan forces and a training center for militants operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. South Waziristan is also a possible hiding place of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri.

Militants have had years to dig in and store arms and ammunition in bolt-holes that include concrete bunkers and tunnel networks, said Asad Munir, a retired brigadier and former intelligence chief for the tribal region.

Battle-hardened fighters from Afghanistan, Swat and elsewhere will rally to join the fight, he predicted.

“This is going to be their final battlefield because the prominent leaders of al-Qaida, the Afghan Taliban, the local Taliban and our own terrorist jihadi organizations, they are all here,” Munir said. “They will defend this place, which has acted as a sanctuary for them.”

U.S. missiles fired from unmanned drones have repeatedly struck South Waziristan, most recently on Sunday, and militants would become far more vulnerable to airborne attacks if they are forced out of their strongholds by Pakistan’s offensive. The military has launched repeated operations in the past, only to later back off as the government has pursued failed peace deals instead.

Abbas said Tuesday there were unconfirmed reports that al-Qaida-linked Uzbek militant leader Tahir Yuldash was injured in a Pakistani air force strike Sunday in South Waziristan. He gave no further details.

Yuldash leads the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and has survived numerous Pakistan military operations to trap him in the tribal regions.

___
Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Masud in Dera Ismail Khan, and Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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