Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan agree to expand trade, rewrite the rules

India and Pakistan have agreed to try to improve trade ties during the first meeting of their commerce secretaries since the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.  The official statement released after the talks in Islamabad suggests the agreement is so far largely aspirational, with working committees set up to look at everything from tariff barriers, to India selling electricity to Pakistan, to visas for businessmen.

But the aspiration in itself represents a dramatic shift in relations between India and Pakistan, who have embarked on what may turn out to be their most organised, if slow, attempt at peace-making in their history.  Pakistan has in the past been wary of a a gradual approach to peace-making, fearing India would try to normalise ties while maintaining the status quo on Kashmir.  The Indian government has said that it is ready to discuss all issues, including Kashmir.

Reflecting that aspirational shift, India's Business Standard called the trade talks "a game-changer".  Mint newspaper noted that trade between India and Pakistan now amounts to only $2 billion, compared to India's global trade of about $600 billion.  It quoted Biswajit Dhar, head of Delhi-based think tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries, as saying that, "if  trade relations improve, there will be movement on the political level because a constituency for peace will be created for better ties."

It also quoted former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal as dismissing the proposals as “timid and tentative”. “Setting up a joint working group means postponing decisions that they could have taken soon. This is to maintain the appearance of movement that fits into the objectives of both countries,” he said. “Pakistan will never allow itself to become energy dependent on India till there is tangible progress in bilateral relations.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-building economic ties

During a visit to Beijing in late 2009, President Barack Obama asked China to help stabilise Pakistan and Afghanistan. The logic was obvious. China is a long-standing ally of Pakistan with growing investments there and in Afghanistan; it has the money to pay for the economic development and trade both countries need; and with its own worries about its Uighur minority, it is suspicious of militant Islamists.  The challenge was in achieving this without angering India, which fought a border war with China in 1962 and is wary of its alliance with Pakistan.

A year-and-a-half on, efforts to forge that economic cooperation between China, Pakistan and Afghanistan are in full swing - though perhaps not entirely in the way Obama envisaged. The Wall Street quoted Afghan officials as saying that Pakistan was lobbying Afghanistan's president against building a long-term strategic partnership with the United States, urging him instead to look to Pakistan and China for help.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Al Qaeda leader killed in Kunar, Afghanistan’s “safe haven”

For some time, Pakistan has been complaining that it is unfairly criticised for failing to fight al Qaeda-linked insurgents on its side of the border when U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan are also struggling to make headway. This has been particularly the case in Bajaur, where Pakistan said its own military operation against militants were undermined by a decision to pull Western troops back from neighbouring Kunar in Afghanistan. The row over who is to blame for not doing enough to prevent militants moving back and forth across the border between Bajaur and Kunar has been both a reflection of the distrust in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship,  and a persistent source of strain.

The mantra, repeated so often that it is rarely questioned, is that al Qaeda's safe havens are in Pakistan. That is partially true - the organisation is believed to have secure bases in various parts of Pakistan's tribal areas.  But Pakistani officials respond by saying that al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents also have safe havens inside Afghanistan. And just as the Pakistan Army is unwilling to fight in every part of the tribal areas at once - it has resisted U.S. pressure to launch a full-scale military operation in North Waziristan - the U.S. Army is also reluctant to spread out its troops too thinly, choosing instead to focus on populated areas.

from Afghan Journal:

Behind volatile U.S.-Pakistan ties : the Afghan endgame ?

Pakistan's anger over U.S. drone strikes in its northwest region is unabated and this weekend protesters sat on a highway blocking convoys carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Disrupting supplies, including fuel trucks, can severely impair the huge war effort in Afghanistan and its the sort of escalatory action that will likely draw a swift response from the United States, one way or the other.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

cups of teaI have never read "Three Cups of Tea", Greg Mortenson's book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, "Stones into Schools" and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, "the solution to every problem ... begins with drinking tea." Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia - sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea - I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson's books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  "Stones into Schools", where he wrote that "he's shaping the very future of a region". But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone's minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan vs U.S. Dumbing down the drones debate

tribesmen2If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground.  That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Yet the heated  debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan - triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI - appears to be falling into a familiar pattern - keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive. 

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, a deterrent against India, but also United States ?

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Pakistan's nuclear weapons have been conceived and developed as a deterrent against mighty neighbour India, more so now when its traditional rival has added economic heft to its military muscle. But Islamabad may also be holding onto its nuclear arsenal  to deter an even more powerful challenge, which to its mind, comes  from the United States, according to Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer who led President Barack Obama's 2009 policy review on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan and the United States are allies in the war against militancy, but ties have been so troubled in recent years that  some in Pakistan believe that the risk of a conflict cannot be dismissed altogether and that the bomb may well be the country's  only hedge against an America that looks less a friend and more a hostile power.

Gbagbo and the crocodiles — can the cycle be broken?

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 IVORYCOAST-ELECTION/   Next to Muammar Gaddafi, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo probably is one of the most vilified men on the planet, which makes it all the harder to remember he once was a shining hope for his country, and for Africa.

   That was more than two decades ago, in the late 1980s, when the French-educated, leftist history lecturer, cinema buff and mate of the late French Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand, returned to his native Ivory Coast to challenge the octogenarian post-colonial leader Felix Houphouet-Boigny.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: practising peace

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Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let's start with the positives.

Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two.  Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's impromptu  invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week's India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai.  The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February.  In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.

from Africa News blog:

Nigeria’s non-vote: Incompetence or sabotage?

NIGERIA-ELECTIONS/POSTPONEMENTAccording to the shame-faced head of Nigeria’s electoral commission, one of the excuses given by suppliers who failed to get ballot papers to the country in time for Saturday’s parliamentary ballot was that there had been problems as a result of the tsunami in Japan.

Contractors in Nigeria tend to be pretty adept with their excuses, whether it’s about a failure to fix the plumbing or to build a highway on time, but this one stands out for its audacity.

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