Afghan Journal

Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics

Standing on the warfront: when sport divides India and Pakistan

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In the run-up to Wednesday’s cricket match between India and Pakistan, passions are running high on both sides of the border and in the diaspora which is following their teams’ progress in the game’s biggest tournament.

How to demolish Pakistan was the title of a programme aired by an Indian television network  where former players and experts discussed ways to win the high-voltage game that will be played in the northern Indian town of Mohali, within, in a manner of speaking, of earshot distance of the heavily militarised  border with Pakistan. 
  
Pakistan television in similarly wall-to-wall coverage ran a programme where one of the guests advised the team to recite a particular passage from the Koran before stepping out to play that day. There is even a story doing the rounds in Pakistan that an enraged Indian crowd put a parrot fortune teller to death for predicting a Pakistani victory, according to this report.

All fair in sport, you would argue, and especially for two countries that take their cricket very seriously. But this contest has an edgy undertone of antagonism that flows from the tension in ties since the Mumbai attacks of 2008 carried out by Pakistan based militants and for which New Delhi seeks greater redress from Pakistani authorities.

The charged atmosphere - and this has very little to do with the players themselves – recalls the fervour and aggression of the 1990s when the people of the two countries treated cricket as essential conflict. Each game was seen as a test of national honour in much the way the border guards  of the two countries strut their stuff in a bitter-sweet ceremony at the Wagah crossing each day at sunset. The winner of the cricket game was feted while the loser slinked away in disgrace.

from FaithWorld:

Islamic bloc drops 12-year U.N. drive to ban defamation of religion

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva and urges it "to move beyond a decade-long debate over whether insults to religion should be banned or criminalised," February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from "defamation", allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, an assassination and the death of words

bhattiWhen I first heard about Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination, there seemed to be nothing sensible to be said about it.  Not yet another prediction about Pakistan's growing instability, nor even an outpouring of anger of the kind that followed the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in the English-language media.  The assassination of the Minorities Minister did not appear to portend anything beyond the actual tragedy of his death.  And nor could anyone say it came as a  surprise. A loss of words, then. A painful punctuation mark.

Cafe Pyala has now articulated far better than I could what went through my mind when I first heard about the assassination.

U.S. drones fall silent in Pakistan; only a brief respite?

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For more than three weeks now, there has been no U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s northwest, triggering speculation that the pause may be related to the tensions between the two countries over the arrest of an American embassy employee for murder. Washington is seeking the release of Raymond Davis, a former Special Forces soldier who killed two Pakistanis on Jan 27 during what he said was an attempted robbery in a Lahore street, arguing he is covered under diplomatic immunity.

Pakistanis,  deeply resentful of the heavy U.S.  involvement in the country, are refusing to hand over Davis, saying he should face trial in Pakistan as he didn’t have immunity.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In India-Iran oil spat, nuclear row trumps Afghan war

khatamiNot too long ago, you could have predicted relatively easily how regional rivalries would play out in Afghanistan.  Saudi Arabia would line up alongside Pakistan while Iran and India would coordinate their policies to curb the influence of their main regional rivals. 

But that pattern has been shifting for a while -- the row over Indian oil payments to Iran is if anything a continuation of that shift rather than a dramatic new departure in global diplomacy.  And as two foreign policy crises converge, over Iran's nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan, the chances are that those traditional alliances will be dented further. It is no longer a safe bet to assume that rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran will fit neatly into Pakistan-India hostility so that the four countries fall easily into two opposing camps come any final showdown over Afghanistan.

from Tales from the Trail:

AfPak — It’s his baby now

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On a day when the most powerful people in Washington were discussing Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was one man who might be excused for looking a little shell-shocked.

Frank Ruggiero, who stepped in as acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP) following the sudden death of his boss Richard Holbrooke on Monday, had little time to prepare for his first big outing as President Barack Obama's  pointman for the biggest foreign policy headache facing the administration.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

After Holbrooke, chances of political settlement in Afghanistan fall

holbrookeReading through some of the many thousands of words written about Richard Holbrooke,  for me two stories stood out in their ability to capture what will be lost with his death:

The first was in Rajiv Chandrasekaran's obituary in the Washington Post:

"While beleaguered members of Mr. Holbrooke's traveling party sought sleep on transcontinental flights, he usually would stay up late reading. On one trip to Pakistan, he padded to the forward of the cabin in his stocking feet to point out to a reporter a passage in Margaret Bourke-White's memoirs of the time of India-Pakistan partition and independence. Bourke-White quoted Pakistani leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah telling her that Pakistan would have no problems with the Americans, because 'they will always need us more than we need them.' Mr. Holbrooke laughed, saying, 'Nothing ever changes.'"

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Academics, experts appeal to Obama to back Taliban talks

arghandabA group of academics, journalists and NGO workers have published an open letter to President Barack Obama appealing to him to support direct negotiations with the Taliban leadership.

The letter argues that the situation on the ground on Afghanistan is much worse than a year ago. "With Pakistan's active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution," it says.

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