Lifting the veil on conflict, culture and politics
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
The minute I entered the elegant book-lined club in central London where Pervez Musharraf was about to launch his political career, it was clear who was to dominate the proceedings - Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Founder of the Nation, Father of Pakistan. In his trademark peaked Jinnah cap, it was his photo alone which was hanging prominently on the platform where the former military ruler was to speak; and his photo on the little entrance ticket they gave you to get past security.
It was his spirit which was invoked even in the name of Musharraf's political party -- his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was a deliberate echo of the pre-independence All India Muslim League, through which Jinnah created the state of Pakistan in 1947.
It was Jinnah's speech of August 11, 1947 that Musharraf cited as one of the guiding principles of the APML, with its most famous lines: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State."
Musharraf quoted a verse too from Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the poet-philosopher who imagined Pakistan as a place where what he saw as the true spirit of Islam -- equality, peace and justice -- would flourish. And it was to that idealistic vision that Musharraf appealed when he promised to fight poverty and corruption, end the domination of the feudal elite, and bring true freedom and economic well-being to the poor masses of Pakistan.
Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” is making waves for laying bare the policy divisions and the personality clashes within the administration over the U.S. President’s Afghan policy. The author, according to the excerpts published by the New York Times and the Washington Post ahead of the book’s release next week, exposes the colliding egos of senior political and military figures in even more stark detail than Rolling Stone‘s profile of General Stanley McChrystal that cost the U.S. commander his job.
But what may turn out to be even more explosive in the theatre where America’s longest war is being waged is the revelation that the CIA is running a 3,000-strong Afghan army to carry out clandestine operations in not just Afghanistan, but more importantly over the border in Pakistan. The idea that an Afghan army is fighting al Qaeda and Taliban militants inside Pakistan is not something that Islamabad can tolerate easily. Or at least the public disclosure of it.
from Russell Boyce:
This week has seen a dramatic increase in violence and tension throughout much of the Asia region, and the pictures on the wire reflect this mood. It seems that actions by not only nations, armed groups but individuals have all had a dramatic impact on the mood of the region. The weight of the news feels almost claustrophobic as I try to keep on top of what is happening.
U.S. Army soldiers from Delta Company, a part of Task Force 1-66 carry a wounded 7-year-old Afghan boy, a victim of a road side explosion, at their base near the village of Gul Kalacheh, Arghandab River valley, Kandahar province, September 18, 2010. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
from Russell Boyce:
As the anniversary of the 9/11 attack coincided with Eid celebrations, Florida based Pastor Terry Jones announced that he would burn the Koran as a protest to plans to site a Muslim cultural centre near Ground Zero , stoking tensions in Asia. Add into the mix millions in Pakistan suffering from lack of water, food and shelter after floods, a parliament election in Afghanistan and a U. S. -led military campaign against the Taliban around Kandahar - photographers in the region had lots of raw material to work with.
Raheb's picture of relief and joy caught in the harsh light of a direct flash seems to explode in a release of tension as news spreads that Pastor Jones had cancelled his plans to burn the Koran. It has to be said that ironically earlier in the day in Pakistan US flags were burned in protest against the planned protest.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari has once again spoken of the danger of hardline Islamists exploiting the misery of the flood-affected to promote their cause, which must be cause for worry for security forces in not just Pakistan but over the border in Afghanistan as well, fed by the same militant fervour. Zardari called it the ” ideal hope of the radical” that the floods would discredit Pakistan’s government and warned that some of these extremist groups aimed to scoop up orphaned children and “create them into robots.”
Such fears, though, didn’t stop Zardari from proceeding on a heavily criticised foreign tour just as the flooding was getting worse, even though that was exactly the sort of thing that would fuel public anger and hand the initiative to the Islamist groups.
Pakistan’s army has said it won’t be diverting forces from the fight against Islamist militants while it helps deal with the country’s worst floods in 80 years . Troops who were on training have been called back to lead the flood relief effort, leaving those deployed on the Afghan front to continue operations against militants, the army said.
But with the floods devastating the trunk of Pakistan running from the northwest to Sind, through the growthengine of Punjab, disrupting the lives of an estimated 20 million people - which is 12 percent of the population – and delivering a serious blow to an already enfeebled economy, it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be any impact on the deadly, costly battle to win back ground from the extremists, bothinside Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is hard enough for any nation to fight a war such as the one Pakistan is engaged in, willingly or otherwise, against an enemy that it once nurtured. But to be at war when a third of the land is affected by the most devastating floods yet, crops worth a $1 billion are damaged in a country in a country where agriculture is the mainstay and popular anger is running high, calls for nerves of steel. And all this when it is already on a $11.3 billion IMF bailout programme whose stringent conditions Pakistan was struggling to meet even before the floods struck.
Pakistan’s floods are now considered to be more damaging than the massive earthquake that devastated its part of Kashmir in 2005, not least because of the inability of the administration to respond quickly to the crisis. Pakistan is not alone in the region ill-prepared to cope with natural disasters. Bigger, richer India is just as unable to either eliminate or limit the destruction that its bountiful rivers unleash each monsoon, and you hear the same chorus of criticism of government apathy. Bangladesh, too, gets more than its share of cyclones and floods each season, and yet successive governments are overwhelmed each time disaster strikes.
But the one difference in Pakistan is that Islamist charities, some believed linked to militant groups, are ready to step into the breach. And that is worrying a lot of people, as the flood waters sweep over Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, the province in northwest Pakistan which has been the main battleground in the fight against militants, down to the heartland province of Punjab and into Sindh.
from Russell Boyce:
Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind's eye returning to them again and again.
On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.
India may have a bigger problem in Pakistan than previously thought. More than half of Pakistanis surveyed in a Pew poll say India is a bigger threat than al Qaeda or the Taliban.
It’s not just the Pakistani military that believes a bigger, richer India is an existential threat. A majority of ordinary people share that perception as well. That ought to worry Indian policy planners. Of the Pakistanis polled, 23 percent think the Taliban is the greatest threat to their country, and 3 percent think al Qaeda is, despite the rising tide of militant violence in Pakistan’s turbulent northwest region on the Afghan border, and also in the heartland cities.
from Tales from the Trail:
In many ways the documents released by WikiLeaks last night merely underscored the bleak assessment of the Afghan war which General Stanley McChrystal issued last August.
At the time McChrystal warned the overall situation was “deteriorating”, complained of “under-resourcing” and called for not just more resources but a “fundamentally new approach” from NATO forces if failure were to be avoided.