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US withholding Pakistan’s CSF for over a year

The United States has not provided any installment of the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) to Pakistan during 2011, sources informed Dunya News.     The last reimbursement of CSF to Pakistan was released on December 24, 2010 for $633 million, they added.

The coalition support fund is reimbursed to Pakistan for the charges incurred in the war on terror and the procedure in place since 2002, whereby Pakistan receives more than one billion dollars under the head of CSF reimbursement each year at an average.

Sources close to the US administration confided that “all military assistance to Pakistan has been on an unannounced hold by the US for the last several months”.

“This assistance will not be resumed unless and until the issues in military-to-military relationship are sorted out”, they revealed.

The relationship between Pakistani and US security forces remained on the ropes throughout 2011, starting with Raymond Davis affair in January last year that aggravated further with the unilateral US action on May 2 for killing al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. The troubled relationship took a further nosedive when firing of NATO copters on Nov 26 killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. US has refused to apologise for the action and Pakistan has rejected the CENTCOM investigation of the incident as being “factually incorrect”.

A Pentagon spokesman, talking to Dunya News, stressed that the “CSF reimbursement requests from Pakistan are still being processed”.

“This policy has not changed as a result of the tension in relationship or November 26 cross-border incident”, he stated.

“But we have also communicated to Pakistani officials on numerous occasions that we require their support in order to provide certain military assistance”, Pentagon spokesman pointed out.

“Since May, the Pakistani administration has slowed some of our security and military assistance. This decision reflects the reality that some of these programs are tied to the level of our cooperation in our relationship”, he said while indicating at the reasons behind the delay.

“With regard to military assistance, the United States remains committed to helping Pakistan build its capabilities”, the spokesman said assuring of the US intention to try and build the sour relationship with Pakistan.

US rejects Pak Army’s perspective on Nato strikes

Pentagon has rejected “Pakistani reaction” to NATO investigation report

While briefing the reporters Monday, Pentagon spokesman, Capt. John Kirby and US Department of Defense press secretary, George Little said “we have seen the ISPR press release detailing Pakistani reaction, but we stand 100 percent by the CENTCOM investigation of Nato attack carried out by Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark”.

“To say that it was an unprovoked attack by American forces in ISPR reaction is simply false”, Capt. Kirby said. “We have said many times that it was not an unprovoked attack and there were errors made on both sides”, he added.

“We had desired Pakistani participation in the investigation at that time, which would have provided that perspective but they decided not to. The report would have been more thorough if Pakistan had decided to participate in it, but it does not change our belief in the validity of the findings”, they asserted.

“Hard to say at this stage what impact the Pakistani reaction on Nato report will have on the relationship”, he said when asked about the deadlock with exactly different positions taken about both sides. “Certainly, there s no doubt that there has been impact of this relationship not going well on military-to-military relations”, he agreed.

In response to a question, Kirby said that “counter-terrorism cooperation on a tactical level on the day-to-day basis with Pakistan continues and in some ways is better facilitated than before”. “Most important things is that we want to move past this incident and build a good, cooperative relationship with Pakistani military”, he vowed.

“We still believe that the coordination and communication with Pakistani military, particularly across the border, remains vital to our success in Afghanistan. We are still very committed to this relationship and for getting it back on the right track”, he observed adding that the US defense representative in Islamabad, Gen. Keen has been in contact communication with his counterparts in the Pakistani military.

On the question of ground supply routes from Pakistan, he said these still remain closed and there was no headway in this matter, but the US would like to see those gates re-opened. “It makes supplies to our troops and coalition partners easier, but this is a decision that only the Pakistani government can make”,he conceded.

On another question about reports over the weekend that claimed Pakistan will re-open the supply routes in coming March/April with new taxes but will not allow the US trainers back, Kirby said Pentagon was aware of the reports of internal deliberations within Pakistani government about supply routes and trainers etc. “However, we have not been informed by Pakistan about any of these issues as yet”, he pointed out.

“We know that the relationship is in a tough place right now, caused by many factors”, Kirby said while assuring of the US interest in trying to “find some common ground to move this relationship in a much more positive direction than where it has been going in the last few months”. “We believe it in the interest of both countries and both militaries to move beyond all that”, he opined.

The report was provided to US through official channels over the last weekend, the US officials informed but were unaware of any communication between Pentagon and Pakistani military high command since the ISPR reaction was made public. There was no new date set for the visit of CENTCOM chief, Gen. Jmaes Mattis to Pakistan, which was postponed last month, they informed.

US closely monitor memogate proceedings

The US state department is keeping a close watch on the memogate case proceedings

While answering the reporters in daily briefing on Friday at the State Department in Washington, DC, spokesperson Victoria Nuland for the first time spoke candidly about the case ever since the controversy erupted in November, leading to Haqqani s resignation and formation of a judicial commission to inquire the charges.

“Memo-gate is Pakistan s internal matter but we are watching and monitoring the situation closely,” Victoria said adding that “the US respects the legal and constitutional processes of Pakistan and expect a fair and transparent judicial process for Haqqani,”

“We want all legal and human rights facilities to be accorded to Husain Haqqani as per the international standards,” she said while declining to comment whether US administration is also feeling concerned about Husain Haqqani s safety like the three US senators, John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Mark Kirk, who issued a joint statement Thursday.

“We did not say this so clearly earlier because situation was evolving and we did not want to pre-judge the outcome. As we have seen the situation evolve over last few days, we have decided that it is important to let everybody know that we are watching and monitoring closely,” she said in response to a query.

When asked if the state department officials had met Haqqani s wife, Ms. Farhnaz Ispahani, who is in the US capital these days, the spokesperson conceded that “wife of Ambassador Haqqani has also reached out to State Department and we have been in regular contact with her since Haqqani went back to Pakistan”.

Victoria Nuland replied in the affirmative when questioned whether the same message had also been conveyed to the Pakistani officials. “Yes, we have done that,” she said while hoping that the judicial process in Pakistan will be carried out in a just and expeditious manner.

On the expectations from new Pakistani envoy to US, Sherry Rehman, she said “we look forward to having Sherry Rehman as ambassador here and will make it clear to her that we want good relations with Pakistan.” Sherry Rehman is reaching Washington this weekend and is expected to assume office from next week.

“Relationship with Pakistan is a difficult challenge but our close cooperation is in everybody s interest in the region. We want to work with Pakistan for defeating the threat of extremism,” the US state department s spokesperson said while agreeing that Sherry Rehman was arriving at a challenging juncture in bilateral relations.

Victoria said that “administration is aware of the discussions in Pakistani parliament about strategic review of relationship with Pakistan. However, we are not aware of any conclusions yet and hope to hear from Pakistan officially in due course about it.”

She said that there was no update on re-opening of Nato supply routes from Pakistan. These routes were closed down in protest after the November 26 attack by Nato forces on Salala check-post that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers.

Salman Tasseer’s assassination, one year on

A year has passed since that dreadful afternoon of January 4, 2011 when Punjab Governor Tasseer was gunned down by one of his official guards, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, allegedly for committing blasphemy (showing disrespect to the Islamic religion).

Tasseer had always been a flamboyant character, in his lavish lifestyle as well as his political demeanor, and was unapologetic about it. He had a fearless knack of staring a challenge in the face, unlike some other Pakistani politicians. Months before his assassination, he had taken it upon himself to advocate the release of a Christian woman, Aasia bibi, who was subsequently sentenced to death in a blasphemy case, on the complaint of a local cleric in Sheikhupura, a small town almost 40 kilometers from Punjab province’s capital Lahore.

He went to the prison with his wife and vowed to undertake all efforts for her release because of allegedly charges brought against the poor woman in the case. His strong stand induced sharp criticism from clergy and he also received death threats, which ultimately led to his killing.

There was an immediate for and against opinion on his assassination and the division was so sharp that even many educated and well-oriented people were found justifying the killing on the premise that Tasseer “may have” committed something wrong. Even his party leaders and former colleagues were reluctant to openly condemn the incident, fearing a similar fate as Tasseer.

Following the killing, his party faced a hard time in finding a prayer-leader to lead the funeral and had to fall back on a party leader from within their own ranks to do the rituals. He has since had to leave the country fearing for his safety.

Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin, who had handed himself over to the police, was showered with rose-petals on his first hearing by the lawyers and banned religious outfits made a mockery of the rule of law in the country by openly campaigning for his release on the roads and threatening of dire consequences if their demand was not fulfilled.

The judge hearing the case has also left the country since then after receiving death threats and the case against Qadri is, at best, in limbo. No headway has been made on the mercy petition of blasphemy accused Aasia bibi, forwarded to the President by Governor Tasseer before his assassination, and she continues to languish in prison.

Barely a couple of months after Tasseer’s murder, Pakistani minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti was also gunned down in broad daylight in the federal capital, Islamabad. His bold stance against the blasphemy law is believed to have led to his demise and his assassins also remain at large.

Member of Parliament, Sherry Rehman, was the only colleague of Tasseer in the ruling Pakistan People’s Party to take an open stand against blasphemy laws and submitted bill in the parliament for bringing about necessary changes in it. She not only received death threats but her own party ditched her as well. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani made a public statement that she was doing it in her private capacity and should withdraw her proposed amendments.

One year on, as we look back at events surrounding Tasseer’s murder, Sherry is set to take charge as Pakistan’s new envoy to Washington, DC and is likely to encounter tough questions about religious intolerance in Pakistan. This is something that has also been highlighted in the recent religious freedom report issued by the US State Department.

The youth, political parties and the media in Pakistan are as divided as the ruling elite on the issue of blasphemy laws. There is no objective discussion on the cases or an effort to reach a solution. It is quite hard to discern even after a year whether more people in Pakistan justify the killing of Governor Tasseer and minister Bhatti or condemn it.

The confusion in thought and contradiction in approach can be described best by a decision of the government when it announced civil award for the slain Governor Salman Tasseer on Independence-Day (August 14, 2011), but not for minister Shahbaz Bhatti. Both belonged to the same party and had faced the unfortunate end to their life because of their bold stand on the same issue; but were not equal even for their own leadership. This is the battle within that the Pakistani decision-makers and the general public must fight, even more than the much-trumpeted “war on terror” on external fronts.