The C.I.A.’s Maddening Relationship with Pakistan

Thirteen years ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Pakistan with a list. He pulled it from his shirt pocket during a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, and told the general how, during a recent Oval Office gathering, President George W. Bush had expressed bewilderment and annoyance that most of the terrorists on the list were suspected of hiding out in Pakistan—an ostensible American ally. Musharraf promised to look into the matter, according to a participant in the meeting.

And, less than a month later, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or I.S.I., arrested one of the men atop the list. “Here’s the truth,” a former senior U.S. intelligence official told me. Pakistan has been “in many ways” America’s best counterterrorism partner, the official said. “Nobody had taken more bad guys off the battlefield than the Pakistanis.”

Yet there was, and remains, a maddening quality to their coöperation, the official said. Pakistan’s intelligence service went “all-in” against certain terrorists, like Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, while continuing to support the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqanis, and anti-India jihadis. On at least two occasions, the former acting C.I.A. director Michael Morell flew to Pakistan with a list of militants the United States hoped Pakistan would apprehend or confront.

Just last month, Defense Secretary James Mattis went there on a similar mission. “It’s frustrating. Our talking points have been identical for the last fifteen years: ‘You need to get tough on terrorism, and you need to close the sanctuaries,’ ” one former intelligence official told me.

Last week, Donald Trump became the third President to echo that frustration. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years,” he tweeted. “They have given us nothing but lies & deceit.” Three days later, the Trump Administration went further than its predecessors when the State Department announced that it was suspending military-equipment deliveries and financial assistance to Pakistan until the country took, in the words of a senior Administration official, “decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, and other groups that “threaten U.S. interests and U.S. personnel” in Afghanistan. The value of suspended funds totals approximately two billion dollars, and includes military equipment that Pakistan ordered in 2013 but has not yet received.

American officials have never been blind to the Pakistani agency’s duplicity. It was “baked into the stock price of U.S.-Pakistan relations,” said Joshua White, a former national-security council adviser in the Obama Administration. And, in general, Pakistani coöperation with America’s counterterrorism campaign has been strong: their government permitted the C.I.A. to fly armed drones over Pakistan’s remote tribal areas, where many militants hid. Initially, the agency even based its drones on Pakistani soil, working off a list jointly drawn up with its I.S.I. counterparts. As those on the “target deck” were killed, new names—most of them foreign Al Qaeda leaders—were added.

That close collaboration has eroded over the years. In 2010, the identity of the C.I.A.’s station chief, Jonathan Bank, appeared in the Pakistani press in what American officials suspected was a leak planted by the I.S.I. Bank’s replacement, Mark Kelton, arrived at an inopportune time: a day after he showed up, two Pakistani men died in an altercation in Lahore with a C.I.A. contractor, Raymond Davis, who claimed that the men had tried to rob him. And Kelton was still there when, in May, 2011, Navy SEALS helicoptered into Pakistan, stormed Osama bin Laden’s compound, and killed the Al Qaeda leader. At one point, the I.S.I. chief at the time, Ahmed Shuja Pasha, told the U.S. Ambassador, Cameron Munter, how Kelton, who could be dour, reminded him of a “walking cadaver.” Not long after, Kelton fell ill. He suspected that he had been poisoned.

Eventually, the C.I.A. stopped notifying the I.S.I. of drone strikes in advance. Pakistani officials, in turn, exaggerated the number of civilians killed in the American strikes, according to several former officials. The C.I.A. has been exacting in its efforts to avoid civilian casualties, officials told me. For instance, in May, 2013, according to two former intelligence officials, agency drones spotted Wali-ur-Rehman, the deputy emir of the Pakistani Taliban, on the roof of a compound where, in the summer months, it was cooler than sleeping inside. There was a clear shot from the drone circling overheard, but analysts at C.I.A. headquarters were wary that a direct strike would bring the whole house down, and kill numerous women and children inside. After studying the house for hours, they decided that they could fire the missile from an oblique angle, killing Rehman and his associates on the roof, while saving those below. The Predator dropped into a low orbit and fired several missiles, which skimmed the roof and killed Rehman. The officials said that no civilians died.

By 2015, the C.I.A. had begun to run out of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan; there were ten drone strikes reported in Pakistan that year, compared to a hundred and twenty-two in 2010. “The center of gravity for Al Qaeda was in the process of a fundamental shift from Pakistan to Syria,” Joshua Geltzer, the former senior director for counterterrorism on Obama’s national-security council, told me. And though the Trump Administration has presented its new policy as a correction to America’s past failings in Pakistan, current and former national-security officials said it was the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism successes there, andAl Qaeda’s corresponding weakness in Pakistan, which have enabled Trump to take a harder line.

In short, Al Qaeda’s operation in Pakistan just does not represent the threat it once did. The former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden declined to comment on, or even acknowledge, the C.I.A.’s drone program, but he told me that he applauded Trump’s decision, and said, “He may be confident enough that we have sufficiently shaped the environment that the downsides are manageable.”

Al Qaeda, however, is not the only terrorist group in Pakistan. Militants based there, particularly the Haqqani network, continue to carry out deadly attacks on civilians and Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan. White, the former South Asia adviser, said, “The outstanding list of Al Qaeda-affiliated figures is small. But the Haqqani list is moving in the other direction.” And when American officials have asked the Pakistani military and intelligence officials to pressure the Haqqanis, White said, “They were at times minimally responsive, but we always hit a wall.”

Trump’s national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has endorsed a harder line against Pakistan as part of a plan to reinvigorate the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Last year, McMaster saw a report by Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. (and of no relation to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan), titled “A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan.” In it, Curtis and Haqqani argue that the Trump Administration should “stop chasing the mirage” that Pakistan might change its approach to confronting certain terrorist groups without the threat of withholding aid. “Pakistan is not an American ally,” they write.

McMaster asked Curtis—an experienced Pakistan analyst who had worked at the C.I.A. and the State Department—to join the national-security council as the senior director for South and Central Asia. The paper she co-wrote with Haqqani has become the “blueprint” for Trump’s Pakistan policy, according to a source familiar with the Administration’s deliberations. After last week’s suspension of aid, the question is, what next? In their paper, Curtis and Haqqani propose that the U.S. might threaten to designate Pakistan a “state sponsor of terrorism,” which could cause a near-total rupture in relations between the two countries and, perhaps, even the sanctioning of current and former Pakistani officials.

Pentagon and State Department officials have resisted the new hard-line approach, citing the risk that Pakistan could cut off the land and air routes that the U.S. uses to supply American forces in Afghanistan. State Department officials were also reportedly blindsided by Trump’s tweets last week. (Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly discouraged other Administration officials from issuing ultimatums. A senior defense official told me, of Mattis, “He’s still making his case.”) The senior Administration official disputed claims that the Defense and State Departments were not part of developing the new approach, and the characterization of Curtis and Haqqani’s paper as the “blueprint” for the policy change. “There is a robust interagency process,” the official told me. “There are many people involved in the policy process. There is a deliberative process.”

More importantly, the official said, last week’s announcement reflected the Trump Administration’s “broader strategy” in Afghanistan: a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But, the official added, “We believe that so long as the Taliban and the Haqqani network feel they have a safe haven in Pakistan, they will be less motivated to come to the negotiating table.”

One of the former intelligence officials said that he sympathized with Trump’s stern position. But expecting the I.S.I. to dump the Haqqanis and the Taliban struck him as being as naïve and Pollyannaish as blaming America’s failures in Afghanistan on Pakistan. “Even if Pakistan becomes the most benign country in the world, Afghanistan is not going to be Switzerland,” he said.

Here we go again

When Nawaz Sharif and his cronies brandished photographs of Rockwood Estate — known in Pakistan as ‘Surrey Palace’ — back in 1995, Benazir Bhutto denied knowledge and ownership of the property.

But as more details emerged, it became clear that Asif Zardari had indeed bought the 350-acre (141 hectares) estate. He sold it in 2005 for £4 million, but must be kicking himself because it is now expected to fetch £10m.

I recall writing at the time that by being party to the purchase, Ms Bhutto had lost the moral authority to govern. I made it clear that this was not because of the corruption implicit in the deal, but because the prime minister of a poor country should not acquire property abroad for obscene sums.

Either way, one party is going to feel aggrieved.

Soon after that scandal, Benazir Bhutto’s PPP-led government was dismissed, leaving the door open for Nawaz Sharif to have a second crack at running the country. A couple of years later, he was toppled by Musharraf through a military coup. Now, it seems that his third innings may be coming to an end, even though his team may have another year to go.

But Nawaz Sharif is not known for sticking to high moral principles. He is a fighter, and I suspect he’ll hang on by his fingertips until they are prised open, and he’s dragged out of the prime minister’s house. Throughout his political career, he has shown no awareness of the concept of conflict of interest; as a result, his family’s business interests have flourished.

We have been aware of the Sharif family’s ownership of the Mayfair flats for over 20 years, so the JIT has told us nothing new about them. But the convoluted money trail continues to mystify with the Qatari sheikh’s account of handing over bags full of cash as return on business investments.

It is here that the JIT report is weakest: by not going the extra mile and interviewing Qatar’s ex-prime minister, members have opened themselves up to the charge of bias. While they were willing to talk to him in the Pakistani embassy, they refused to conduct the interview at his residence, or make a simple Skype call.

This glaring flaw in their investigation has given Nawaz Sharif’s supporters plenty of ammunition to strengthen their case. They argue that the Qatari’s role was central to the money trail, and by rejecting his claim of making large cash payments, the JIT had basically undermined the ruling family’s case.

For those expecting an early end to this drama, my advice is not to hold their breath: this will run and run. For starters, I’m sure the government’s legal team will question each accusation made in the JIT report. Then, if the Supreme Court bench reaches a negative verdict against Nawaz Sharif, he could appeal to the full bench.

All this will take time. Before we know it, we’ll be in full election mode, unless Nawaz Sharif calls early polls. And let’s not forget that he commands massive support in the key province of Punjab. Whether his many voters will abandon him because of the Panamagate case remains to be seen.

After years of seeing their mandate trampled under the military jackboot, the public is now getting used to the spectacle of the higher judiciary deposing elected leaders. Thus, many buy into conspiracy theories involving foreign powers and domestic cabals.

Another factor that goes in Nawaz Sharif’s favour is the common perception that all politicians make money. But people are concerned that these leaders should undertake development projects, and provide decent governance.

The Sharif brothers tick both boxes. They have spent billions on projects that, to many of us, make little economic sense. But — thanks to CPEC — there is a palpable sense among voters in Punjab that the country is progressing. And according to the British aid agency, DFID, Punjab has been highly effective in utilising foreign assistance to improve education and health standards.

What is clear is that the country has never been as polarised and divided as it is today. The vitriol and anger in both PML-N and PTI add up to a volatile mix that can blow up when the Supreme Court verdict arrives. Already, the ruling party has rejected the JIT findings. Imagine the reaction from the PTI if the Supreme Court were now to let off Nawaz Sharif with a slap on the wrist.

Either way, one party is going to feel aggrieved. Nawaz Sharif already nurses a grudge for the way he was treated by the army when Musharraf staged his coup. Now, he feels he has been cornered by the judiciary, and many of his inner circle have expressed their bitterness at the way only civilian politicians are subjected to accountability, while generals and judges go scot free.

I fear this poison will infect our body politic for years to come.

Is Dawn Leaks notification an attempt to cover up truth?

LAHORE: While it appears that the report of the inquiry committee on Dawn Leaks has been secured somewhere, the notification issued with the signature of Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary Fawad Hasan Fawad says the premier has approved the panel’s recommendations.

The ink on the notification had not even dried when the military’s top spokesman rejected it as ‘incomplete’. Both the government and the army had promised that the report will be made public.

On October 3 last year, the political and military leadership held a meeting at the PM House which discussed various issues. Three days later, Dawn published a story claiming the government wanted to take action against terrorists but could not do so because of intelligence agencies.

The security establishment reacted strongly to this story and civil-military relations grew tense. The PM House refuted the story three times and an official communiqué termed it contrary to national interests.
Then information minister Pervaiz Rashid was removed from the post and the name of reporter Cyril Almeida, who filed the story, was briefly placed on the ECL.

A seven-member inquiry committee led by Justice (retd) Amir Raza Khan was set up to probe the matter. It did so over a period of five months and presented its report to the interior minister on Tuesday. He in turn presented the report to the prime minister, who approved the recommendations it contained on Saturday.

The military establishment’s rejection aside, one can only tell what recommendations the premier approved and why the notification was incomplete when the report is made public.

According to the recommendations that are known, Tariq Fatemi has been removed from his office like Pervaiz Rashid before him and the All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) has been asked to deal with Dawn editor Zafar Abbas and Cyril Almeida, meaning the issue will be sorted ‘in house’ by the media fraternity.

The recommendation that requires the most attention is the one which suggested action against Principal Information Officer Rao Tehsin Ali under Efficiency and Discipline (E&D) Rules 1973. This creates the impression that Tehsin was the real culprit behind the scandal and means the weakest player of the game is being painted as the main accused.

Two former information ministers, Sheikh Rashid and Sherry Rehman, have vouched for Tehsin’s professionalism, with the former even announcing he will go to court for the PIO. During the record period of time he has served as the PIO, Tehsin has established good relations with editors as well as reporters.

It is also beyond comprehension that a PIO is being held responsible for failing to prevent stories from appearing in newspapers. The PIO can request better display for pro-government stories but it is for the editor to decide whether to entertain him or not. It is impossible for him to ensure even that happens, let alone whether stories are stopped or not.

As tensions emerge in the civil-military relations once again, sources have said the army is considering its own independent inquiry. If this happens, all the effort being made to save the skin of some will go in vain.

The government should immediately make the report public. Otherwise it will be suspected that the main character of the story was someone else and the purpose of the whole drill was to save that person. A few goats are being sacrificed to save some powerful persons sitting in the corridors of power.

140 Soldiers Killed in Taliban Attack on Afghan Base, Official Says

KABUL, Afghanistan — A day after a lethal Taliban assault on an army base in northern Afghanistan, an official said on Saturday that at least 140 soldiers had been killed, making it the single deadliest known attack on an Afghan military base in the course of the long war.

“Today, there was even a shortage of coffins,” said the official, Ibrahim Khairandish, a member of the provincial council in Balkh Province, where the attack occurred. Citing information from army officials, Mr. Khairandish said 60 soldiers had also been wounded in the attack.

The soldiers, most of them unarmed, were shot while eating lunch or emerging from a Friday Prayer service at the headquarters of the Afghan Army’s 209th Corps in Balkh by assailants in military uniforms who entered after another attacker had detonated explosives at a check post. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault.

“Most of those killed were in the mosque; some of them were in the dining facility,” Mr. Khairandish said.
Details were still emerging on Saturday, but other officials said the death toll had been staggeringly high.

Another Balkh official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media, said 137 soldiers had been killed. A Western military official in Kabul, who insisted on anonymity because of a policy against commenting on Afghan security forces’ casualty figures, put the death toll at more than 100.

Gen. Dawlat Waziri, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, said on Saturday that “more than a hundred soldiers were killed and wounded” in the attack, but he declined to discuss precise numbers.

“In continuing with their barbarism and criminality, the Taliban carried out a group attack in the 209th Corps mosque when our soldiers were standing for group prayers,” General Waziri said. “This was against all human and Islamic values.”

Among the dead was Qari Ahmad Khan, 22, who had joined the army after completing his studies at an Islamic school, where he specialized in memorizing the Quran, said his brother, Mohamed Khan, 43. Mr. Khan said he waited for hours near the base before army officials released his brother’s body.

“The army corps was not allowing anyone in — not even 100 meters close to the base,” Mr. Khan said. “Tens of people were waiting there, crying and wailing. Some were searching for the bodies of their martyrs, others didn’t know whether the person they were waiting for was dead or wounded.”

President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Balkh Province on Saturday to visit the army base.

The Taliban released the names and a picture of 10 men who they said had taken part in the assault. All were dressed in Afghan military uniforms, down to helmets and kneepads. A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the assailants had been led inside the base by four soldiers who had long been working for the militants.

The attack came weeks after militants entered the Afghan Army’s main hospital in Kabul, the capital, and killed more than 50 people in a siege that lasted nearly seven hours. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, claimed responsibility for that assault. The militants had inside help in that attack, security officials said.
While the Islamic State has been getting attention in recent days because of the American military’s use of its largest conventional bomb against the group’s cave complex in eastern Afghanistan, the Taliban remain the biggest security threat to the country. The Taliban have expanded their territory over the past couple years and threaten several cities.

Such a major security breach in Balkh, even before the start of the insurgents’ spring offensive, is a major concern to Afghan forces who are already struggling in the fight against the Taliban.

In 2016, more than 6,700 Afghan service members were killed in battle. The repeated ability of a few militants to cause tremendous bloodshed in highly secure areas was an especially troubling sign.

Jawad Sukhanyar and Zahra Nader contributed reporting

Nakedly corrupt – Editorial (Express Tribune)

Corruption in public life and offices usually has the decency to find itself a fig leaf to hide behind as it goes about its dirty business, but no such modesty on display with the removal of the Inspector General of Police (IG), AD Khawaja. This man is by all accounts an exemplary police officer with a track record of being uncorrupt and refusing to bend to political pressures when it came to making appointments or investigating crimes. In those very virtues lay his downfall — although the twist in the tail of the tale may be yet to come.

The provincial government is held by the Pakistan People’s Party, and it is the PPP collectively and individually that stands as nakedly corrupt in this tawdry affair. For the second time since the start of the year the PPP government had unseated IG Khawaja making little attempt to disguise the fact that it was his refusal to take political direction that was the reason why he got his marching orders. For the second time he now finds himself reinstated courtesy of the independently-minded Sindh High Court (SHC) that on Monday 3rd April suspended the notification of his removal on the grounds that it had not been ratified by the federal government as required.
At the time of writing there is no on-the-record comment by the Sindh government as to this reversal of its fortunes, but the affair is unlikely to be buried.

The removal of Khawaja will directly impact on the ongoing ‘Karachi operation’ as he had the support and cooperation of all the law-enforcement agencies involved in this complex task — itself an unusual circumstance. The Sindh government was flying in the face of an existing SHC order by appointing a replacement for Khawaja — a move it was not mandated to take. It is for the PM himself to make appointments at grades 21 and 22, which he most certainly has not in this instance. It is the exemplary conduct of this upright man that brings us to the conclusion that a corrupt police force, corruptly led, is the only form of law-enforcement acceptable to the PPP establishment. They bring shame and disrepute on themselves and their governance, and IG Khawaja has our unwavering support.

China Learns How to Get Trump’s Ear: Through Jared Kushner

WASHINGTON — When President Trump welcomes President Xi Jinping of China to his palm-fringed Florida club for two days of meetings on Thursday, the studied informality of the gathering will bear the handiwork of two people: China’s ambassador to Washington and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, has established a busy back channel to Mr. Kushner, according to several officials briefed on the relationship. The two men agreed on the club, Mar-a-Lago, as the site for the meeting, and the ambassador even sent Mr. Kushner drafts of a joint statement that China and the United States could issue afterward.

Mr. Kushner’s central role reflects not only the peculiar nature of this first meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi, but also of the broader relationship between the United States and China in the early days of the Trump administration. It is at once highly personal and bluntly transactional — a strategy that carries significant risks, experts said, given the economic and security issues that already divide the countries.

While Chinese officials have found Mr. Trump a bewildering figure with a penchant for inflammatory statements, they have come to at least one clear judgment: In Mr. Trump’s Washington, his son-in-law is the man to know.
Mr. Kushner first made his influence felt in early February when he and Mr. Cui orchestrated a fence-mending phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi. During that exchange, Mr. Trump pledged to abide by the four-decade-old “One China” policy on Taiwan, despite his earlier suggestion that it was up for negotiation. ‘

Now, officials said, Mr. Trump wants something in return: He plans to press Mr. Xi to intensify economic sanctions against North Korea to pressure the country to shut down its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. He has also vowed to protest the chronic trade imbalance between the United States and China, which he railed against during his presidential campaign.

China’s courtship of Mr. Kushner, which has coincided with the marginalization of the State Department in the Trump administration, reflects a Chinese comfort with dynastic links. Mr. Xi is himself a “princeling”: His father was Xi Zhongxun, a major figure in the Communist revolution who was later purged by Mao Zedong.
Not only is Mr. Kushner married to the president’s daughter Ivanka, but he is also one of his most influential advisers — a 36-year-old with no previous government experience but an exceptionally broad portfolio under his father-in-law.

“Since Kissinger, the Chinese have been infatuated with gaining and maintaining access to the White House,” said Evan S. Medeiros, a senior director for Asia in the Obama administration. “Having access to the president’s family and somebody they see as a princeling is even better.”

Former American officials and China experts warned that the Chinese had prepared more carefully for this visit than the White House, which is still debating how harshly to confront Beijing, and which has yet to fill many important posts in the State Department. Several said that if Mr. Trump presented China with an ultimatum on North Korea, it could backfire.

Shortly after winning the election, Mr. Trump said he might use the “One China” policy, under which the United States recognizes a single Chinese government in Beijing and has severed its diplomatic ties with Taiwan, as a bargaining chip for greater Chinese cooperation on trade or North Korea.

Mr. Trump had thrown that policy into doubt after taking a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan. That caused consternation in Beijing, and Mr. Xi refused to get on the phone with Mr. Trump until he reaffirmed the policy.

After the two leaders finally spoke, the White House said in a statement that the men had “discussed numerous topics, and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our One China policy.” Mr. Trump insisted on that wording, according to a person briefed on the process, because he wanted to make clear that he had made a concession to Mr. Xi.

Since that call, Mr. Cui has continued to cultivate the Kushner family. Later in February, he invited Ivanka and the couple’s daughter, Arabella, to a reception at the Chinese Embassy to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
Inside the White House, the most visible sign of Mr. Kushner’s influence on China policy came in March at the beginning of a meeting of the National Security Council’s “principals committee” to discuss North Korea.

He was seated at the table in the Situation Room when Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked in. Seeing no chairs open, General Dunford headed for the backbenches, according to two people who were there. Mr. Kushner, they said, quickly offered his chair to General Dunford and took a seat along the wall.

While administration officials confirm that Mr. Kushner is deeply involved in China relations, they insist that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has taken the lead on policy and made many of the decisions on the choreography and agenda of the meeting at Mar-a-Lago.

In March, Mr. Tillerson made his first trip to Beijing as secretary of state, during which he and Mr. Xi discussed the planning in a 30-minute meeting. He was criticized afterward for repeating the phrases “mutual respect” and “win-win solutions,” which are drawn from the Chinese diplomatic lexicon and have been interpreted to assert a Chinese sphere of influence over the South China Sea and other disputed areas.

A senior American official said that Mr. Tillerson applied his own meaning to those phrases — “win-win,” he said, was originally an American expression — and was not accepting China’s definition. He said the secretary had adopted a significantly tougher tone in private, particularly about China’s role in curbing North Korea’s provocations.

Mr. Kushner has passed on proposals he got from Mr. Cui to Mr. Tillerson, who in turn has circulated them among his staff in the State Department, officials said. But the department’s influence has been reduced as many positions remain unfilled, including that of assistant secretary for East Asian affairs. Though Mr. Tillerson has kept a low profile, officials said he was trying to develop his own relationship with Mr. Trump at regular lunches and dinners.

Mr. Kushner’s involvement in China policy prompted questions after reports that his company was negotiating with a politically connected Chinese firm to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in his family’s flagship property, 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

On Wednesday, amid the glare of negative publicity, Mr. Kushner’s company ended negotiations with the firm, the Anbang Insurance Group.

Another question hanging over the meeting is whether the hard-liners in the White House will wield their influence. Mr. Trump ran for the presidency on a stridently anti-China platform, accusing the Chinese, wrongly, of continuing to depress the value of their currency, and threatening to impose a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports.

The architects of that policy — Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist, and Peter Navarro, the director of the National Trade Council — have said little publicly about China since entering the White House. But on Thursday, Mr. Trump predicted that the meeting would be “very difficult” because, as he said on Twitter, the United States would no longer tolerate “massive trade deficits.”

By inviting Mr. Xi to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s “Southern White House,” the president is conferring on him the same status as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who spent two days in Florida, playing golf with the president and responding to a crisis after North Korea tested a ballistic missile. Such a gesture is particularly valuable, experts said, given that China is not an ally like Japan.

Mr. Xi does not play golf — as part of his anti-corruption campaign, he cracked down on Communist Party officials’ playing the sport — so he and Mr. Trump will have to find other ways to fill the 25 hours that the Chinese president will be at the club. On Thursday evening, Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, will host Mr. Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, for dinner.

There are obvious parallels between the Mar-a-Lago meeting and the 2013 summit meeting at Sunnylands in California, Walter Annenberg’s 200-acre estate, where President Barack Obama and Mr. Xi got acquainted over long walks in the desert landscape and a dinner of grilled porterhouse steaks and cherry pie. But there are important differences, too.

By the time Mr. Obama met with Mr. Xi in California, they had already met once before, when Mr. Xi was vice president. Mr. Xi held extensive meetings with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., traveling with him around the United States. Some former officials said the Mar-a-Lago meeting might reveal the disparity in experience between the two leaders and their teams.

“Sunnylands was difficult because Xi was new, while Obama had his sea legs,” said Mr. Medeiros, the former Obama administration official. “What’s interesting is that the polarity here is reversed. Xi has his sea legs; Trump does not.”

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

Pakistan blast: Parachinar bomb leaves at least 22 dead

At least 22 people have been killed and more than 70 injured in a blast outside a mosque in north-west Pakistan.
The explosion happened in the city of Parachinar, a mainly Shia Muslim area on the Afghan border.
Reports say a car packed with explosives was left near the women’s entrance of the mosque as people gathered for Friday prayers.

A faction of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), said it had carried out the attack.
Many shops and vehicles close to the mosque were damaged in the powerful blast.

“People were screaming for help… When I looked back everything was filled with dust,” shopkeeper Sardar Hussain told AFP news agency.

The Pakistani Army sent a helicopter to help take the injured to hospital.

A doctor at a local hospital said an appeal was being made for blood donors to help treat the wounded.

“Patients are being brought to us in private cars and ambulances and we have received over three dozen patients so far,” the doctor told Reuters news agency.

‘Security failures’ – By M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

This bombing in Parachinar, in Kurram district, is the second since January, and just as deadly. Many among the injured are said to be in a critical state.

Kurram is the only Shia Muslim region in a predominantly Sunni country. Sunni hardliners, currently operating through different Taliban factions including the Islamic State group, consider them heretics and worthy of death. These groups have sanctuaries in Afghan and Pakistani areas surrounding Kurram, and have launched frequent attacks against civilians in Parachinar.

Locals blame the military for security failures and allege its policy of tolerating some Sunni militant groups has given extremists a new lease of life. They also point to the illegal border trade in the region, which they say goes on under the watch of the military and creates openings for militants to infiltrate.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, saying his government would keep working to “eliminate the menace of terrorism”.

It was followed by protests in Parachinar as angry crowds accused the security forces of failing to protect them.

Pakistan says starts fencing Afghanistan in `high threat zones’

Pakistan has begun building a fence on its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan to prevent incursions by militants, Pakistan’s army chief said, in a move likely to further strain relations between the two countries.

Pakistan has blamed Pakistani Taliban militants it says are based on Afghan soil for a spate of attacks at home in recent months, urging Kabul to eradicate “sanctuaries” for militants.

Citing the attacks, Islamabad earlier this month temporarily shut the main crossing points along the colonial-era Durand Line border, drawn up in 1893 and rejected by Afghanistan.

General Qamar Javed Bajwa said initial fencing will focus on “high threat zones” of Bajaur and Mohmand agencies in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which border eastern Afghan provinces of Nangarhar and Kunar.

“Additional technical surveillance means are also being deployed along the border besides regular air surveillance,” the military said in a statement over the weekend, citing Bajwa.

There was no immediate comment from Afghan authorities.

Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have been tense in recent years, with both countries accusing each other of not doing enough to tackle Pakistani and Afghan Taliban militants.

Afghanistan has accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye to Afghan Taliban commanders on its soil and even of supporting the militant group, something Islamabad denies.

Bajwa said Pakistan was working on plans to “evolve a bilateral security mechanism” with Afghanistan.

“A better managed, secure and peaceful border is in mutual interest of both brotherly countries who have given phenomenal sacrifices in war against terrorism,” Bajwa added.

Pakistan has long harbored ambitions to seal its border, which is largely unpatrolled and mountainous for large chunks.

In 2007, the military said it was fencing and mining a 35 km (22 miles) stretch of border in the North Waziristan region of FATA to prevent militants crisscrossing the rugged terrain.

Efforts to establish a more permanent presence on the disputed frontier have angered Kabul. Last year, Pakistan’s attempt to build a barrier on the main Torkham crossing ended in brief cross-border skirmishes.

In recent weeks at least two U.S. drone strikes have targeted Pakistani militants on the Afghan side of the frontier.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic)

Trump asked for a ‘Muslim ban,’ Giuliani says — and ordered a commission to do it ‘legally’

Former New York mayor Rudy W. Giuliani said President Trump wanted a “Muslim ban” and requested he assemble a commission to show him “the right way to do it legally.”

Giuliani, an early Trump supporter who once had been rumored for a cabinet position in the new administration, appeared on Fox News late Saturday night to describe how Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees came together.

Trump on Friday signed orders not only to suspend admission of all refugees into the United States for 120 days but also to implement “new vetting measures” to screen out “radical Islamic terrorists.” Refugee entry from Syria, however, would be suspended indefinitely, and all travel from Syria and six other nations — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — are suspended for 90 days. Trump also said he would give priority to Christian refugees over those of other religions, according to the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked Giuliani if the ban had anything to do with religion.

“How did the president decide the seven countries?” she asked. “Okay, talk to me.”

“I’ll tell you the whole history of it,” Giuliani responded eagerly. “So when [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.'”

Giuliani continued, saying he assembled a “whole group of other very expert lawyers on this,” including former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.) and Rep. Pete King (R-NY).

“And what we did was, we focused on, instead of religion, danger — the areas of the world that create danger for us,” Giuliani told Pirro. “Which is a factual basis, not a religious basis. Perfectly legal, perfectly sensible. And that’s what the ban is based on. It’s not based on religion. It’s based on places where there are substantial evidence that people are sending terrorists into our country.”

It was unclear when the above-mentioned phone call took place and when the commission began working. An email to the White House press office was not immediately returned Sunday.

Clips of the exchange between Giuliani and Pirro quickly went viral Saturday night, with some claiming that Giuliani’s statement amounted to admitting Trump’s intent had been to institute a ban based on religion.

Others, including Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus have insisted it is not a ban on Muslims, but rather one based on countries from which travel was already restricted under the Obama administration.

Priebus appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday morning to say it was possible Trump would expand the list of countries included in the travel ban.

“You can point to other countries that have similar problems, like Pakistan and others,” Priebus told host John Dickerson. “Perhaps we need to take it further.”

Priebus also said there had been weeks of work and “plenty of communication” between the White House, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security regarding the ban.

“We didn’t just type this thing up in an office and sign up,” he told Dickerson.

Later on the same program, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) called out Giuliani’s interview with Pirro from the night before.

“They can’t deny that this is a Muslim ban,” Ellison told Dickerson. “On the campaign trail, [Trump] said he wanted a Muslim ban. … Rudy Giuliani who helped him write it said that they started out with the intention of a Muslim ban and then they sort of ‘languaged’ it up so to try to avoid that label, but it is a religiously based ban.”

Senate Democrats vowed to draft legislation to block the travel ban.

“We’re demanding the president reverse these executive orders that go against what we are, everything we have always stood for,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a news conference Sunday morning, noting later that his middle name, Ellis, was originally inspired by Ellis Island.

“It was implemented in a way that created chaos and confusion across the country, and it will only serve to embolden and inspire those around the globe those that will do us harm,” Schumer added. “It must be reversed immediately.”

Trump’s executive order caused mayhem and sparked massive protests at airports around the country Friday and Saturday, as reports surfaced that dozens of travelers from the affected countries, including green-card holders, were being detained.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Saturday morning challenging Trump’s order after two Iraqi men with immigrant visas were barred from entering the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

As Giuliani was speaking, Fox News simultaneously aired an alert that noted federal judge Ann M. Donnelly had issued a stay to stop the deportations nationwide.

Donnelly wrote that there was a strong likelihood the order had violated the petitioners’ rights to due process and equal protection by the Constitution.

“There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa-holders, and other individuals from nations subject to the January 27, 2017 Executive Order,” Donnelly wrote.

The ACLU hailed the victory.

“Clearly the judge understood the possibility for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawful visitors to this country,” ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero said in a statement. “Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders. On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court.”

On Sunday, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying it did not plan to back off enforcing Trump’s orders.

“President Trump’s Executive Orders remain in place—prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety,” the statement read. “President Trump’s Executive Order affects a minor portion of international travelers, and is a first step towards reestablishing control over America’s borders and national security.”

The department said that less than one percent of daily international air travelers to the United States had been “inconvenienced” on Saturday.

Matthew Kolken, an immigration attorney based in Buffalo said there has been “a systemic bias against individuals from Muslim countries in the U.S. immigration departments” for years, including under the Obama administration.
“This isn’t unprecedented,” Kolken told The Washington Post by phone Sunday. “The unfortunate reality is the executive branch does have vast discretionary authority to determine who they are going [allow in or not].”

That said, Kolken believes “Trump has gone a step further without a doubt” in including even people who are lawful permanent residents and suspending all immigration applications from people from the seven countries on the banned list.

If there was evidence of disparate treatment of individuals from the same country — if there were anecdotal evidence of, for example, a Syrian family of one religious background allowed to enter over that of another religious background — then that is where lawsuits could “come to play,” he said.

“The question becomes whether they’re trying to do an end-around by couching the ban as a country-specific ban based on a security-related issues when in reality it’s a religious ban,” Kolken said.

World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half of Global Population

How concentrated has wealth become in the globalized modern world? Here’s one answer: Just eight of the richest people on earth own as much combined wealth as half the human race.

That’s a notable change from last year, when it was reckoned to take 62 of the superrich to match the assets of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of mankind.

The charity Oxfam does the math each year and publishes its results just in time for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where many of the spectacularly wealthy are often among the attendees, along with diplomats, political figures, and business and cultural leaders. The Oxfam report on inequality is on the agenda for discussion at the forum.

Oxfam bases its figures in part on Forbes’s annual list of billionaires and the magazine’s estimates of their wealth. This year, Oxfam said, new data gathered by Credit Suisse about the global poor led it to lower its estimates of their assets, and revise its findings about how few rich men — the eight are all men — were needed to equal the wealth of 3.6 billion people.

Here are the eight, with their net worth as estimated by Forbes, whose annual survey depends on a range of sources:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, led the list with a net worth of $75 billion. He is scheduled to speak at the forum in Davos this year.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the Spanish founder of the fashion company Inditex, best known for its oldest and biggest brand, Zara, has a net worth of $67 billion.

Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, $60.8 billion.

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, $50 billion.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, $45.2 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, $44.6 billion.

Lawrence J. Ellison, the founder of Oracle, $43.6 billion.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of the media and financial-data giant Bloomberg L.L.P., $40 billion.