Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan getting ahead of itself on the Afghan chessboard?

(An Afghan woman outside  a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

(An Afghan woman outside a shop in Herat. Picture by Morteza Nikoubazl )

If you have been reading news reports and blogs in recent weeks on Pakistan's Afghanistan strategy, you would think Islamabad has emerged at the top of the heap, holding all the cards to a possible endgame. Its close ties to the Afghan Taliban put Islamabad in a unique position for a negotiated settlement to the eight-year-war, with little place for arch rival India which has been trying to muscle into its sphere of influence.

But Pakistan must not be taken in by all the hype; it has neither delivered a strategic coup nor has it fully secured its interests, argue two experts in separate pieces that seem to cut through all the noise.

The ultimate measure of success in the current conflict is the security of the Pakistani people and that is showing no signs of improvement, says Pakistani commentator Ahsan Butt in an article carried by Foreign Policy's AFPAK channel. Last week's bombings in Lahore and in Swat the following day underlined the power of the militants to strike deep in the heartland despite a successful ground offensive in South Waziristan last year and stepped-up missile strikes by unmanned drone aircraft. What use is seeking strategic depth when you are being attacked at home?

Doubtless such peaks in violence are often followed by valleys, but  it will be hard to argue that the threat of indiscriminate violence against Pakistani citizens has dissipated in a meaningful way, says Butt. "Ultimately, this is what matters most. The job of the political and military leadership is not to secure 'Pakistan's interests' -- whatever they may be -- in Afghanistan. Such language bears an uncanny resemblance to the neoimperialism that both our right and left so vociferously denounce when it originates from the West. No, the job of our political and military leadership is to ensure a robust, but by no means perfect, level of safety for its citizens, so that they can go about their daily lives. It's pretty simple."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Seeking Saudi cooperation on Afghanistan and Pakistan

saudiPrime Minister Manmohan Singh is making the first visit to Saudi Arabia by an Indian leader since 1982, seeking to build economic ties and to enlist the kingdom's help in improving regional security. While much of the focus is likely to be on securing oil supplies for India's growing economy, the visit is also part of the complex manoeuvres by regional players jostling for position on Afghanistan and beyond.

Singh told Saudi journalists ahead of the visit that he would discuss with Saudi King Abdullah how to promote greater stability and security in the region.  "Both King Abdullah and I reject the notion that any cause justifies wanton violence against innocent people. We are strong allies against the scourge of extremism and terrorism that affects global peace and security," he said.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India and the Kabul attack

kabulAs discussed in my last post, the place to watch for developments on relations between India and Pakistan right now is more likely to be Kabul than Kashmir. That may have been graphically illustrated when Taliban fighters attacked Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people, including up to nine Indians.

It is too early to say whether the attack specifically targetted Indian interests or whether it was aimed at foreigners more generally. But India has blamed earlier attacks on its interests in Afghanistan on Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency -- its embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, India send in their professional diplomats to break the stalemate

raobashirThe foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do -- laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to "keep in touch".

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India's top diplomat, focused on what India calls "cross-border terrorism". India also handed three new dossiers of evidence to the Pakistani delegation, including one on Hafez Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who New Delhi accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack. Pakistan had said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a regional settlement in Afghanistan (Redux squared)

arghandabRegular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument -- much touted during President Barack Obama's election campaign -- was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan -- including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China -- to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.

The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One.  It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries -- including in staunch U.S. ally Britain -- turns against the long war in Afghanistan.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan: finding the right forum for dialogue

agra"Peace," said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw "is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous."  Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao begins that arduous process on Thursday when she meets her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to try to break a diplomatic freeze that followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.

 Rao, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said she hoped to "build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern between our two countries".

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pune bombing unlikely to derail India-Pakistan talks

german bakeryThis weekend's bombing which killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune -- the first major attack since the 2008 assault on Mumbai -- is unlikely to derail plans for the foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan to hold talks on Feb. 25.

The Hindu newspaper -- which is well-informed about the thinking in the prime minister's office where India's policy towards Pakistan is decided -- says there will be no rethinking about the planned talks

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On India-Pakistan thaw and the changing Afghan dynamics

siachensaluteThere is a time and a place for everything and back in the days of the Obama election campaign the idea that progress on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan could help turn around the flagging military campaign in Afghanistan looked plausible. The argument, much touted by Washington think-tankers, was that Pakistan would not turn against Afghan Taliban militants on its western border as long as it believed it might need to use them to counter India's growing influence in Afghanistan, and as long as it felt the need to keep the bulk of its army on its eastern border with India.

Even in the middle of last year, when Pakistan and India made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to revive peace talks which had been frozen since the attack on Mumbai at the end of 2008, the possibility of a "grand bargain" from Kashmir to Kabul still carried some resonance.

from Afghan Journal:

America, don’t “leave us in the lurch” in Afghanistan

(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

(U.S. Marines in Nimroz province, southern Afghanistan)

One of the first things that U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates did during his trip to India last week was to assure Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the United States did not intend to cut and run from Afghanistan.  America was committed to Afghanistan for the long-term, he said, trying to calm Indian concerns over the Obama administration's stated plans to begin  withdrawing troops from July 2011. 

It struck me as quite remarkable that India, long a prickly nation opposed to superpower presence in the region, had so openly pinned its hopes on a prolonged U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. Quite a change from the time  it would rail against the presence of such "extra-regional" powers.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: ditching “strategic depth”

Indian farmer in front of Taj MahalKamran Shafi has a column up at Dawn mocking Pakistan's old strategy of seeking "strategic depth" - the idea that in the event of war with India its military would be able to operate from Afghanistan to offset its disadvantage as a small country compared to its much bigger neighbour:

"Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world. Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.

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