All Things Pakistan

"If Pakistan fails, the world fails." - From the Hagel-Kerry Report on Pakistan

It is evermore evident that events in the cauldron that is South and Central Asia are threatening to spill out of the region and impact global geo-political stability to a degree that long ago surpassed the worrisome stage. The scope of the problem is immense and the urgency to act grows by the day. Still, it must be said that whatever the response to events in Pakistan and Afghanistan, they will represent the costs of strategic distraction by the Bush Administration. With the neoconservative fixation on Saddam Hussein and the consequent error of a war of choice, grave threats elsewhere were downplayed if not ignored. The failures belong to Bush, we, however, are left to do the clean up.

In the past year, Pakistan has borne witness to spectacular terrorist assaults, a dramatic political assassination of a former Prime Minister, the ouster of its longtime President, a retreat of its army from the Tribal Areas and increasing civil strife across the breadth of the country's territory. Furthermore, Pakistan itself plays host to various jihadi groups with elements of the Pakistani state providing various levels of support to groups that operate from Kashmir to Kandahar. And this is before we even mention the economy which the Wall Street Journal summarizes as:

the economy has been unraveling quickly. Foreign investors are fleeing. A deteriorating security situation threatens to accelerate a vicious cycle of economic decline, dealing a devastating blow to a country viewed as a weakening bulwark against Islamic radicalism.

If Pakistan is not a failed state already, it is fast becoming one.

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Iran and the Virtual Bomb

The Financial Times is reporting that the  International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, believes that Iran has has built up a stockpile of enough enriched uranium for one nuclear bomb.

In a development that comes as the Obama administration is drawing up its policy on negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear programme, UN officials said Iran had produced more nuclear material than previously thought.

They said Iran had accumulated more than one tonne of low enriched uranium hexafluoride at a facility in Natanz.

If such a quantity were further enriched it could produce more than 20kg of fissile material - enough for a bomb.

"It appears that Iran has walked right up to the threshold of having enough low enriched uranium to provide enough raw material for a single bomb," said Peter Zimmerman, a former chief scientist of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Chalk up another failure for the Bush Administration whose unwillingness to have even back channel communications played right into Iranian hands. Let's face it, the mullahs know their geo-political poker and they have been nothing but coy and ambiguous. Iran's goal, according to a number of analysts, is not a bomb but a virtual bomb. That is, Iran wants the capability to build one on short notice if need be. David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security finds that if Iran does decide to build a nuclear weapon, "it has reached a point in which it could do so quickly."

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Accountability in Afghanistan

Near Kabul City, in the village of Qalai Qazi, Afghanistan, stood a bright yellow health clinic built by American contractor The Louis Berger Group. It is one of 81 clinics Berger was hired to build -- in addition to roads, dams, schools and other infrastructure -- in exchange for $665 million in American aid money the company has received in federal contracts.

The problem was, the clinic was falling apart. The ceiling had rotted away in patches; the plumbing, when it worked, leaked and shuddered; the chimney, made of flimsy metal, threatened to set the roof on fire; the sinks had no running water; and the place smelled of sewage.

The above is from a 2006 news report by New American Media, an independent news service. Now here is a report from today's UK Guardian:

Chronic mismanagement and profligacy are blighting reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, international aid officials have warned, wasting up to a third of the $15bn (£10.55bn) in funding already delivered and deepening local resentment towards foreign troops stationed there.

Senior British, US and local aid workers have described a number of problems including bribery, profiteering, poor planning and incompetence. The overall effect has been to cripple the development effort structured under the Bush administration's insistence on an unregulated and profit-driven approach to reconstruction.

"The major donor agencies operate on the mistaken assumption that it's more efficient and profitable to do things through market mechanisms," a senior American contractor working in Afghanistan told the Guardian on condition of anonymity. "The notion of big government is a spectre for American conservatives and this [the reconstruction process] is an American conservative project."

The contractor said the "original plan was to get in, prop up Karzai, kill al-Qaida, privatise all government-owned enterprises and get out. It wasn't a development project, that wasn't a concern. Development was an afterthought.

Development cannot be afterthought nor can corruption at any level be tolerated. The stakes are too high and we no longer have a margin for error nor the luxury of time.

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Smart Power in Indonesia

"When the United States is absent, people believe that we are not interested and that can create a vacuum that destructive forces can fill. We don't want to be absent. We want to be present." - Secretary of State Clinton in Jakarta

This is change. This is such a dramatic departure from the unilateralism of the Bush Administration in which SE Asia was solely viewed through the prism of a "war on terror". Engagement, imagine that. Partnership on a set of comprehensive issues, imagine that. Following her meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Secretary Clinton noted that the partnership would be "comprehensive" covering such global and regional topics as environmental protection and climate change, trade and investment, democracy promotion, health, education, regional security, and counter-terrorism. This is a serious application of the smart power that Mrs. Clinton spoke of during her confirmation hearings.

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The Cost of Strategic Distraction

The  New York Times is reporting that the President has approved an increase of 17,000 troops in Afghanistan. The increase to start this Spring and Summer would come on top of 36,000 U.S. troops now there, an increase of almost 50%.

President Obama will send an additional 17,000 American troops to Afghanistan this spring and summer in the first major military move of his presidency, White House officials said on Tuesday.

The increase would come on top of 36,000 American troops already there, making for an increase of nearly 50 percent. In issuing the order, Mr. Obama is choosing a middle ground, addressing urgent requests from commanders who have been pressing for reinforcements while postponing a more difficult judgment on a much larger increase in personnel that the commanders have been seeking.

White House officials said that 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will deploy in the next few weeks, aiming to be on the ground in Afghanistan by late spring, while an Army brigade from Fort Lewis, Wash., composed of 4,000 soldiers, will deploy in the summer.

An additional 5,000 Army support troops and so-called "enablers" will also be deploying in the summer, administration officials said, which will bring the number of troops deployed as part of this presidential order to 17,000. The decision does carries some political risks for Mr. Obama, whose election was interpreted by many Americans as a mandate to bring troops home from Iraq. But Mr. Obama has now announced additional American troops are headed to Afghanistan before he has withdrawn any troops from Iraq.

But White House officials said both of the units being sent to Afghanistan were originally supposed to be going to Iraq.

"We have the ability to do this because we will be drawing down in Iraq," a senior White House official said.

Mr. Obama is under pressure from his military commanders in Afghanistan, who have been pressing for reinforcements of about 30,000 soldiers, almost twice as many as the president has so far decided to send. The commanders hope to have additional forces in place by late spring or early summer as part to help counter growing violence and chaos in the country, particularly in advance of the upcoming presidential elections, which are expected to take place in August.

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