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Engagement of Pakistan Must Continue
Two separate attacks took place in Northwest Pakistan this morning, including one against the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar. Following an attack on a political ceremony held in Lower Dir, militants, believed to be members of the Pakistani Taliban, assaulted the consulate with bombs and rocket launchers. While there were no reported U.S. casualties, a local police official reported that four militants and three Pakistani security personnel had been killed. The Pakistani Taliban took credit for the attacks, reportedly claiming that they were in reprisal for the wave of drone strikes conducted on militants operating along the country's border with Afghanistan. In addition, a spokesperson for the group pledged more attacks against American targets in the future, confirming that despite the recent success of the Pakistani government in targeting militants within its borders, the country remains a hub for violent extremism and terrorism.
These attacks reaffirm the importance of the Obama administration's engagement policy towards Pakistan. This policy, consummated during the first ever ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan at the end of March, has made tremendous strides over the last year. Taking a comprehensive approach that utilizes all elements of U.S. national power, the Obama administration has moved the relationship from one that was characterized by dysfunction and neglect, to one built upon shared interests and respect. While there will continue to be difficult days for American involvement in Pakistan, this new direction for the American-Pakistani relationship has shifted the on-the-ground dynamics, creating a clear challenge to militants hiding within Pakistan's borders. The U.S. must therefore continue to prioritize its relationship with Pakistan in order to continue the successes achieved through this new policy.
Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for attacks on U.S. Consulate in Peshawar, saying more to come. Shortly after a bomb went off during a Pashtun political rally where 40 people were killed, the U.S. Consulate in Peshawar came under attack. The NY Times reports, "Militants mounted an assault against the United States Consulate in this northern Pakistani city on Monday, using a powerful bomb and rocket launchers in a multipronged attack, said a senior Pakistani intelligence officer." At least seven people were killed in the attack. "A police official told the BBC four militants and three security personnel had died in the assault, but there were no reported US casualties." According to the AP, "After the car bombs exploded at a checkpoint outside the consulate in Peshawar, militants dressed in security uniforms fired mortars or rocket-propelled grenades at the heavily fortified compound in an attempt to make their way inside, said a Pakistani intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said the militants attempted to enter the building and fired grenades and other weapons. It said no Americans were killed in the assault, but did not say whether the building itself was damaged."
The Pakistani Taliban said it was responsible for the attack. According to AFP, "Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for the consulate attack, claiming it was to avenge a U.S. drone war targeting top militants in Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan, and threatened further assaults on Americans." Reuters reported, "Pakistani Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said by telephone from an undisclosed location his group was behind the attack. ‘Americans are our enemies. We carried out the attack on their consulate in Peshawar. We plan more such attacks,' Tariq said, while denying responsibility for the earlier blast at the political party rally." Last week, the head of suicide bomber training for the Taliban told a Pakistani reporter "the Taliban would soon begin attacks on important and sensitive targets in order "to refresh memories of the attack on the Khost base." That attack, on an American military base in Afghanistan, killed eight Americans, seven of them Central Intelligence Agency officers," the NY Times noted. [NY Times, 4/5/10. BBC, 4/5/10. AP, 4/5/10. AFP, 3/5/10. Reuters, 3/5/10. NY Times, 4/5/10]
Attack on consulate demonstrates scope of the militant threat emanating from Pakistan. Pakistan remains at the nexus of militant activity which threatens not just the Pakistani state, but the United States and the international community as well. Presenting the Directorate of National Intelligence's (DNI) Annual Threat Assessment to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, DNI Director Dennis Blair stated that the "Afghan Taliban, al-Qa'ida, and Pakistani militant groups continue to use Pakistan as a safehaven for organizing, training, and planning attacks against the United States and our allies in Afghanistan, India, and Europe." A study by New America Foundation Fellow Paul Cruickshank found that roughly half of the major terrorist plots against the West since 2004 were in some way connected to Pakistan. According to Cruickshank, "In the majority of these cases (52 percent), plotters either received direction from or trained with al-Qaeda or its allies in Pakistan. In just nine cases were there no indications of any connection between plotters and terrorists in Pakistan." In addition, he stated that "A rising number of Westerners are travelling to the region for paramilitary training, with 100 to 150 suspected of making the trip in the last year, according to Western counterterrorism officials." In a dramatic illustration of this dynamic, last year U.S. authorities apprehended Najibullah Zazi, a legal, permanent resident of the United States, for plotting what U.S. officials described as "one of the most serious threats to the United States since 9/11," according to the New York Times. Zazi, who later pleaded guilty to federal charges, had extensive ties to militants operating in Pakistan. The AP provided details of the foiled plot, explaining that "Zazi admitted using notes taken at an al-Qaida training camp in Waziristan, Pakistan, to build homemade explosives with beauty supplies purchased in the Denver suburbs and cooked up in a Colorado hotel room." According to the AP, Zazi "then drove the materials to New York just before the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. His plan was to assemble the bombs over the weekend and detonate them within days." [DNI Annual Threat Assessment, 2/2/10. Paul Cruickshank, February 2010. NY Times, 2/23/10. AP, 2/23/10]
Attacks should not affect America's engagement policy towards Pakistan, an important partner for the United States. Today's tragic attack follows on the heels of the first ever "Strategic Dialogue" between Pakistan and the United States. Leading up to the ministerial-level meetings led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the Washington Post reported that they were intended to "overcome what both characterize as a mutual ‘trust deficit,'" and "consolidate the new partnership the president promised last fall in exchange for Pakistan's cooperation in shutting down Taliban and al-Qaeda havens." Secretary Clinton explained that Pakistani and U.S. interests were interconnected, saying "Pakistan's stability and prosperity is in the best interests of people everywhere. Its struggles are our struggles. Its future and ours are entwined." Following the meetings - which included Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan, and Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis - the Voice of America reported that the two sides pledged to "deepen cooperation in defense, security, economy, trade, and other areas." VOA further described the outcome of the dialogue: "In a joint statement issued at the end of the two-day meeting Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said they are committed to improving bilateral relations. They reiterated that the core of the partnership is shared democratic values, mutual trust and mutual respect. Washington pledged to help Pakistan overcome its energy shortages, improve market access for Pakistani goods, help the country overcome socio-economic challenges, and carry out future talks on improving the country's water conservation and use. The two sides reaffirmed the importance of advancing peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region, and agreed that the next meeting of the dialogue will be held in Islamabad."
The strategic dialogue built on the painstaking work advanced by the Obama administration to improve relations with Pakistan. Since taking office, the Administration has adopted a comprehensive policy towards this strategically vital country, utilizing all elements of national power:
Defense: In January, the New York Times reported that "The United States will provide a dozen unarmed aerial spy drones to Pakistan for the first time as part of an effort to encourage Pakistan's cooperation in fighting Islamic militants on the Afghanistan border... The Shadow drones, which are smaller than armed Predator drones, will be a significant upgrade in the Pakistanis' reconnaissance and surveillance ability and will supply video to help cue strikes from the ground or the air." [New York Times, 1/21/10]
Development: The White House has significantly increased aid to Pakistan, after signing into law in October a $7.5 billion aid package for Pakistan with strong bipartisan congressional backing. As the BBC reported, "this triples non-military U.S. aid to an annual outlay of $1.5bn for five years." [BBC, 10/15/09]
Diplomacy: In February, Newsweek reported that "intensive, hands-on U.S. diplomacy with Pakistan-with regular senior-level trips by National-Security Adviser Jim Jones, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and others has helped to reassure Islamabad that it is seen as a long-term partner, not a mere instrument." [Newsweek, 2/23/10]
In addition, the U.S. has engaged aggressively in regional diplomacy, particularly to support efforts to resolve the India - Pakistan conflict. As Secretary Clinton recently told a Senate panel: "With respect to India and Pakistan, we've encouraged the resumption of the direct talks which were suspended when (Pakistan) President (Pervez) Musharraf left office." [Washington Post, 3/24/10. Hillary Clinton, 3/24/10. Voice of America, 3/25/10. Hillary Clinton, via the Nation, 2/25/10]
What We're Reading
A stepped-up campaign of American drone strikes over the past three months has battered Al Qaeda and its Pakistani and Afghan brethren in the tribal area of North Waziristan, according to a mid-ranking militant and supporters of the government there. The strike could be cleaving Pakistanis from al Qaeda.
A South Korea-operated, Singapore-owned oil tanker has been hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean.
Russia has agreed to help Venezuela draw up plans for a nuclear power plant, President Hugo Chavez said Friday.
The Thai army has ceded more power to paramilitary forces.
The father of a 28-year-old schoolteacher in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan came forward to identify his daughter as one of two suicide bombers who killed dozens of people in Moscow's subway last week.
Iranian scientists have submitted plans to start work on at least one new nuclear facility by September.
At least 41 people were killed and 237 wounded Sunday in three suicide car bombings targeting the Iranian and German embassies and Egyptian Consulate in Iraq.
South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, called for calm on Sunday, warning that "agents provocateurs" might try to incite racial hatred after the brutal killing of the white supremacist Eugene TerreBlanche.
A 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, killing two people and causing tremors as far away as Nevada.
Commentary of the Day
Doyle McManus argues that despite the potential success of a military offensive in Kandahar, it is the civilian effort that must not fall short.
Masha Lipman explains that the challenge of terrorism in Russia calls for long-term, consistent strategy, but that the country's system of heavy-handed and unaccountable governance precludes strategic thinking.
Hans Blix praises President Obama's nonproliferation efforts, but acknowledges that the new U.S.-Russian START treaty is only a hopeful start on a long journey.