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from India Insight:

LoC killings: Is a third-party probe the way ahead?

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The death toll on the Line of Control in Kashmir is four since Jan. 6: two from India's military, two from Pakistan's. One thing is sure: neither side started it, judging by what you hear from both countries' armed forces and from media reports.

The killings threaten to muffle talk of a thaw in relations, something that would have been welcome after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and years of fighting and death in Kashmir before a 2003 ceasefire.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement that it was prepared for an investigation by a U.N. military observer group. India's foreign minister Salman Khurshid suggested that the situation could be contained. So why not submit to an independent probe?

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s debate on drones, lifting the secrecy

droneIn a rare admission of the effectiveness of drone strikes, a senior Pakistani military officer has said most of those killed are hard-core militants, including foreigners, according to Dawn newspaper.

It quotes Major-General Ghayur Mehmood as telling reporters at a briefing in Miramshah, in North Waziristan, that, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Bajaur bombing highlights conflicting U.S.-Pakistan interests

damadola2Last week's suicide bombing in Pakistan's Bajaur region, which killed at least 40 people, had a grim predictability to  it.  The Pakistan Army cleared Pakistani Taliban militants out of their main strongholds in Bajaur, which borders Afghanistan's Kunar province, after 20 months of intense fighting which ended earlier this year.  But as discussed in this post in October the insurgents' ability to flee to Kunar -- where the U.S. military presence has been thinned out -- combined with a failure to provide Bajaur with good governance, suggested the security situation in the region was likely to be deteriorating. The bombing appeared to confirm those fears.

The implications go far beyond Bajaur. The Pakistan Army has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a military offensive against militant strongholds in North Waziristan until it has secured gains made elsewhere.  Pakistani daily The Express Tribune quoted army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas as reiterating that point after the Bajaur bombing and after fighting in the neighbouring Mohmand region. Until areas "cleared" by the military were consolidated, "it is impossible to rush into another campaign,” it quoted him as saying.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Guest contribution-Unifying Pakistan

sindh floodsThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a defence expert and author of two books on the Pakistan Army.

By Brian Cloughley

Many of Pakistan’s problems are of its own making, courtesy of uniformed dictators or ineffective politicians or weird alliances of both. When military rulers took over the country in their bloodless coups they were welcomed by the majority of citizens, which was understandable given that the governments they replaced were feudally authoritarian and grossly incompetent.

from Afghan Journal:

Obama in India next month; ripples in the region

U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in a town hall meeting at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jim YoungU.S. President Barack Obama's visit to India is still a couple of weeks away and there is the huge U.S. election before then, but it has already set off ripples in the region. The Chinese have especially cottoned onto Obama's Indian journey, fretting over what they see as a U.S. attempt to ring fence China by deepening ties with countries around it. And continent-size India with a population of over a billion and an economy growing at a clip just behind China's is seen as a key element of that strategy of containment.

Qui Hao of the National Defense University, writes in the Global Times that while U.S. military alliances with Japan and South Korea form the backbone of the "strategic fence" around China, the "shell" is the partnership that Washington is building with India, Vietnam and other nations that have territorial disputes with China.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Giving a voice to Pakistan’s flood victims

charpoyIf you were to give the flood victims in Pakistan a voice, they would tell you that they need seeds to replant the crops destroyed by the water and enough emergency relief to tide them through the winter. After that the land, newly fertilised by the floods, could yield bumper crops in the years ahead.

The children would tell you that the floods hit so powerfully that the memory of feeling in panic while loudspeakers broadcast warnings from the mosques will be forever etched on their minds. They don't blame the government for a disaster so big that not even in the tales of their ancestors had they heard stories of such floods. They just want enough help to rebuild their homes so they don't have to sleep in half-destroyed buildings with sunken floors, worrying about them collapsing on top of them in the night.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Helping Pakistan; not if, but how

morefloodsOutside President Asif Ali Zardari's political rally in Birmingham last weekend, I chatted to a middle-aged woman passing by about the floods in Pakistan. "I have every sympathy for Pakistan and the Pakistanis, but he is not helping them much, is he?" she said. Another woman asked me to explain why it was that the  protesters were not focused on the floods but demonstrating "about all sorts".  Inside the rally, a young British Pakistani who had recently returned from a visit to his family home in Kashmir complained about negative stereotyping in the media of Pakistan that had reduced a country of some 170 million people to "a terrorist threat".

If there is a common thread to the relatively slow western response to one of the worst catastrophes in Pakistan's history, it is a sense of confusion, not about whether to help, but how to help. That, and the dehumanising impact of stereotypes - corrupt politicians, angry bearded protesters, suicide bombers to name but a few -- that obscure the impact of the floods on the very real people - 14 million of them - affected by the disaster.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s General Kayani given three-year extension

kayani profilePakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez  Kayani, is to be given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country's battle against Islamist militants. 

Kayani, arguably Pakistan's most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between the those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals - as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Between golf and war, Pakistan’s General Kayani’s future is debated

kayani profileThe Pakistan Army prides itself on being an institution which rises above politics and personal ambition, committed to defend the interests of the nation. That this has not always been the case is demonstrated by its history of military coups, and a tendency of past military rulers, from General Zia ul-Haq to former president Pervez Musharraf, to impose a very personal brand of leadership.  Where Zia pushed Pakistan towards hardline Islam, Musharraf aimed at "enlightened moderation" in a country he wanted modelled more on Turkey than on Saudi Arabia.

While no one expects the military to launch another coup, some of that historical memory is feeding into increasingly intense speculation about the future of Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who is due to retire in November.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Guest contribution-The United States and Pakistan

orakzaiThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a defence expert and author of two books on the Pakistan Army.

By Brian Cloughley

On 11 May several Frontier Corps soldiers were killed by insurgents in Pakistan’s Orakzai Tribal Agency. Concurrently there was a report that US Secretary of State Clinton had once again been indignantly critical of Pakistan’s supposed lack of effort to rid itself of murderous fanatics seeking to destroy Pakistan and create a so-called ‘Islamic caliphate’ in the region.

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