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U.S. Tries to Calm Pakistan Over Airstrike

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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration scrambled to halt a sharp deterioration in its troubled relationship with Pakistan on Wednesday, offering Pakistani officials multiple apologies for a helicopter strike on a border post that killed three Pakistani soldiers last week.

Militant gunmen in Nowshera, Pakistan, attacked a convoy of NATO oil tankers that were headed to Afghanistan on Wednesday.

But even as the White House tried to mollify Pakistan, officials acknowledged that the uneasy allies faced looming tensions over a host of issues far larger than the airstrike and the subsequent closing of supply lines into Afghanistan.

American pressure to show progress in Afghanistan is translating into increased pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups. It is also running up against Pakistan’s sensitivity about its sovereignty and its determination to play a crucial role in any reconciliation with the Taliban.

American and NATO officials said privately that the Pakistani government’s closing of a crucial border crossing might have made it easier for militants to attack backed-up tanker trucks carrying fuel through Pakistan to Afghanistan to support the American war effort.

Still, the unusual apologies, officials and outside analysts said, were intended to clear away the debris from the explosive events along the border, in hopes of maintaining Pakistani cooperation.

“We have historically had astonishing sources of resilience in our relations with Pakistan,” said Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One should not too quickly assume we’re in a breakpoint. But having said that, the time we’re in right now, the intensity of anti-American feeling, the antipathy of militants, all of these things make new crises a little more complicated to get through than the old ones were.”

The overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, has been pulling out all the stops – aggressively using the American troop buildup, greatly expanding Special Operations raids (as many as a dozen commando raids a night) and pressing the Central Intelligence Agency to ramp up Predator and Reaper drone operations in Pakistan.

He has also, through the not-so-veiled threat of cross-border ground operations, put pressure on the Pakistani Army to pursue militants in the tribal areas even as the army has continued to struggle with relief from the catastrophic floods this summer.

The fragility of Pakistan – and the tentativeness of the alliance – were underscored in a White House report to Congress this week, which sharply criticized the Pakistani military effort against Al Qaeda and other insurgents and noted the ineffectiveness of its civilian government.

American officials lined up to placate Pakistan on intrusions of its sovereignty. General Petraeus offered Pakistan the most explicit American mea culpa yet for the cross-border helicopter strikes, saying that the American-led coalition forces “deeply regret” the “tragic loss of life.”

Anne W. Patterson, the American ambassador to Pakistan, quickly followed suit, calling “Pakistan’s brave security forces” an important ally in the war. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a private, but official, apology to Pakistan’s military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a telephone call on Wednesday afternoon.

Both American and Pakistani officials said that they expected that Wednesday’s apologies would be effective, at least in the short term, and that Pakistan would soon reopen the border crossing at Torkham, a supply route for the NATO coalition in landlocked Afghanistan that runs from the port of Karachi to the Khyber region. The Pakistani government closed that route last week to protest the cross-border strikes.

“It’s obvious that the situation right now ain’t good,” said a senior NATO official, who agreed to speak candidly but only anonymously. “The best thing we could do is to strip away as many of the relatively smaller things as possible so we can focus on the big issues. And crazy as it may seem, the border crossing is a relatively small issue, compared to the others.”

Those other issues were flagged in the latest quarterly report from the White House to Congress on developments in the region. The assessment, first reported in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, takes aim at both the Pakistani military and the government.

For instance, “the Pakistani military continued to avoid military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or Al Qaeda forces in North Waziristan,” the report said. It also painted Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, as out of touch with his own populace, a disconnect that the report said was exacerbated by Mr. Zardari’s “decision to travel to Europe despite the floods.” The overall Pakistani response to the catastrophic floods this summer, the report said, was viewed by Pakistanis as “slow and inadequate.”

Frustration with Pakistan is growing in the United States in part because “we’re living in the post-Faisal Shahzad era,” said Daniel Markey of the Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the Pakistani-American who was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for the attempted Times Square bombing.

Mr. Markey said that tensions among counterterrorism officials had also mounted because of the unspecified threats of terrorist attacks in Europe. “Frustration has really mounted, so the drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.

Making things worse, the administration is expected to brief Congressional officials on an Internet video, which surfaced last week, that showed men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes, underscoring concerns about unlawful killings by Pakistani soldiers supported by the United States.

A prominent House Democrat warned on Wednesday that American aid to Pakistan could be imperiled. “I am appalled by the horrific contents of the recent video, which appears to show extrajudicial killings by the Pakistani military,” Representative Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat who leads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement.

“The failure of Pakistani officials to punish those responsible could have implications for future security assistance to Pakistan,” he said.

A joint Pakistan-NATO inquiry on the helicopter strike concluded on Wednesday that Pakistani border soldiers who initially fired on NATO helicopters were “simply firing warning shots after hearing the nearby engagement and hearing the helicopters flying nearby,” said Brig. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, a NATO spokesman, in a statement.

“This tragic event could have been avoided with better coalition force coordination with the Pakistani military,” he said.

Why we should de-weaponize our vanity

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India’s nuclear doctrine specifies no first use. This means we will not use the bomb unless our enemy first uses it on us

By: Aakar Patel

Who is our atom bomb aimed at? We have only two enemies: China and Pakistan. Our bomb is aimed at them. India’s nuclear doctrine specifies no first use. This means we will not use the bomb unless our enemy first uses it on us. This reveals two things: 1) We have no offensive intention; 2) But we are concerned that China and Pakistan might.

How valid is that concern? Let us look at what these states want from us.

We were defeated by China in a short border war fought in 1962. China is stronger than us, and it controls the land that it wanted before the war. It withdrew from the parts it did not want. The position is to China’s advantage, and it does not need anything from India except for us to formally convert the Line of Actual Control into the border.

Monster: The nuclear warhead-capable Agni-II missile has a range of 2,500km.

Though India’s leaders have known this for 25 years, no government can agree to this. This is because it is difficult to sell Indians a new map of India with bits of Bharat Mata’s anatomy lopped off. The textbook narrative of the war against China is irrational and emotional in India. However, India’s governments have been mature and pragmatic on this matter. Their view has been to accept the defeat and to move on. Conflict is always avoided when the stronger side (China) enforces the status quo, and the weaker side (India) does not attempt to change it.

China’s nuclear doctrine also specifies no first use, and no use against non-nuclear powers. Our atom bomb is useless against China.

What about Pakistan? Pakistanis believe we are in illegitimate possession of Muslim land (Kashmir). India is the stronger power and favours the status quo. The Kashmir solution India wants is to convert the Line of Control into the border. However, despite being militarily defeated by us, and losing half their country, Pakistan’s leaders have not accepted the status quo. This is because Pakistanis will not let them lose focus on Kashmir. Pakistan’s craving to defeat India keeps its army dominant even in periods of democracy. Pakistan is unstable because it keeps trying to compel the stronger power, though it has no capacity to do so. We cannot force it to change this behaviour, because we can no longer defeat Pakistan militarily as we could in 1971. But we must be aware of it.

Also Read: Aakar Patel’s earlier columns

Pakistan has only one enemy, and its atom bomb is aimed at us. Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine warns that it could strike India first. This is because it recognizes that the conventional force of India is superior. Therefore Pakistan will use the atom bomb against India if it feels threatened. This has created an umbrella under which it can do mischief, because India is wary of the consequences of war.

India was unable to punish Pakistan after Hafiz Saeed’s boys killed 173 in the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Why? Because the Indian government knows that all military action carries the seed of a potential nuclear exchange.

We have put ourselves in this position. Here’s how. China tested in 1964, and became the fifth power to legally possess atom bombs. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was signed in 1968, but Indira Gandhi kept India out of it and went rogue, testing a bomb in 1974, hypocritically calling it a “peaceful nuclear explosion”. Pakistan, which had just been cut in half by India, was compelled to follow under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Pakistan’s programme became capable at some point during the Afghan war in the 1980s, as America looked away. Under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India admitted that the “peaceful” bit was really a lie, and we weaponized our programme in 1998. Again, Nawaz Sharif was compelled to follow, at great loss to the economy, as capital fled Pakistan.

Two nuclear states should quickly reach a state of non-conflict because of the danger to their populations. But India and Pakistan are special. Months after weaponizing its programme, Pakistan confidently launched war in Kargil. The world was scared, but we went at each other as if nothing had changed.

When George Fernandes was defence minister, he was asked whether Vajpayee’s adventure at Pokhran might not result in atomic exchange with Pakistan. Fernandes accepted that Pakistan might take a couple of Indian cities out, but he was confident that after that they “would be destroyed. Completely destroyed”. Many Indians think nuclear war is like a football game: Pakistan scores two, we hit four, and we “win”. Many Pakistanis also think in this fatalistic way, and they are generals serving in the army.

Introducing atom bombs to the subcontinent has made India weaker, and Pakistan unhinged.

India’s focus after its stupidity at Pokhran has been on the economy. Our concern is how to get back to 9% growth and remain there for 20 years. But Pakistan’s economy is in a death spiral. Its GDP grew 2% last year (its population grew 2.14%). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says India can only prosper if Pakistan is stable. We can wish it, but what can we do to make it happen?

We should de-weaponize the subcontinent. We should give up our atom bomb, and open up all our nuclear sites to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. We should induce Pakistan to do the same, by signing a no-war pact with them. This means we will need to swallow our hurt every time attacks like the one on Parliament and in Mumbai happen. And they will happen because Lashkar-e-Taiba is more powerful than President Asif Ali Zardari’s government. But we can do little about them even now, other than to be vigilant and attempt prevention.

The threat to India is not from such attacks, but from the possibility that an unhinged Pakistan damages us through a nuclear exchange. We should absolutely and totally eliminate that possibility. Under our deal with the US, we have to open up 14 of 22 nuclear plants to the IAEA anyway. We should complete this, and end our military nuclear programme, which is not only useless, as we have seen, but actually damaging. This will also make our nuclear sites, which haven’t been properly inspected in 35 years, safer. Indians have no culture of safety (the slab of Kaiga’s reactor dome fell during construction) and India has the worst rail and road safety record on the planet. There’s no reason to believe that the government runs our nuclear programme any more efficiently than it does the railways. Additional benefits will come from this move. Pakistan’s proliferation will end, and it might be able to refocus on its economy.

India will also save the money we are spending on atom bombs and delivery devices such as fancy missiles and fighter planes. Strategic experts say we can have the bomb without sacrificing benefits, but this isn’t true. The reason hundreds of millions of Indian children will sleep hungry and die illiterate is that the state has no money. But India and Pakistan nurture their nuclear weapons of vanity. Beggars flashing trinkets.

Aakar Patel is a director with Hill Road Media.