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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India and Pakistan on the U.S. see-saw

wagah2Few who follow South Asia could miss the symbolism of two separate developments in the past week -  in one Pakistan was cosying up to the United States in a new "strategic dialogue"; in the other India was complaining to Washington about its failure to provide access to David Headley, the Chicago man accused of helping to plan the 2008 attack on Mumbai.

Ever since the London conference on Afghanistan in January signalled an exit strategy which could include reconciliation with the Taliban, it has been clear that Pakistan's star has been rising in Washington while India's has been falling. 

If the United States wants to force the Taliban to the negotiating table, it needs Pakistan's help. And Pakistan has shown by arresting Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar amongst others that it intends to keep control of any negotiations. In return for its cooperation, it expects Washington's help in securing Pakistan's own interests, including through a scaling back of India's involvement in Afghanistan.

By contrast, the relationship between India and the United States which blossomed under the Bush administration has been fading as Washington looks to China and Pakistan to help meet respectively its economic and security needs. An initial outpouring of sympathy and international support for India following the Mumbai attack  - which led to intense pressure on Pakistan to crack down on the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the assault - has dissipated over time.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

General Kayani in Washington; Pakistan’s most powerful man

kayani profileSo much for democracy. When Pakistan holds a "strategic dialogue" with the United States in Washington this week, there is little doubt that the leading player in the Pakistani delegation will be its army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani.

We have got so used to Americans dealing with the Pakistan Army in their efforts to end the stalemate in Afghanistan that it does not seem that surprising that the meeting between the United States and Pakistan would be dominated by the military. Nor indeed that Dawn columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee would describe Kayani as the most powerful man in Pakistan. Even the grudging admiration granted in this Times of India profile of Kayani by Indrani Baghchi is in keeping with the current mood.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Defining Pakistan

binoria girlsHistorian Manan Ahmed has a must-read column up at The National on a strengthening grassroots conservative Islamist ideology in Pakistani society, encouraged, he says, by the political thinking of the likes of TV host Zaid Hamid.

"A new narrative is ascendant in Pakistan. It is in the writings of major Urdu-language newspaper columnists, who purport to marshal anecdotal or textual evidence on its behalf. It is on television, where the hosts of religious and political talk shows polish it with slick production values.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

mehsudAccording to the Los Angeles Times, a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment. It quotes U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials as saying that threats to the militants' long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

"U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan's remote regions," the newspaper says. "But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan: winning over Tehran and Kabul

iran pakistanAccording to the Iranian foreign minister, quoted by Press TV, this week's visit by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Islamabad was related to plans for a trilateral summit between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The relationship between the three countries and potential influence on Afghanistan gets a lot less attention than the strained ties between India and Pakistan. But it's worth watching closely for the way it can shape the regional competition for influence in Afghanistan ahead of an expected drawdown of U.S. troops in 2011.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in Kabul this week, and shortly afterwards Karzai flew to Islamabad.

from Afghan Journal:

Terror index: Iraq down, but Afghanistan and Pakistan red-hot

A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

A U.S.military convoy in southern Afghanistan

Iraqis  are voting today for a new parliament and despite the bombings in the run-up to the election, the over-all trend is down, according to the Brookings Institution. Not so in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, America 's other war, which remains red-hot according to a country index that the Washington-based thinktank  puts out for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The index is a statistical compilation of economic, puiblic opinion and security data.

It's quite instructive just to look at the numbers in the three  countries. Weekly violent incidents in Iraq are  about 90 percent less frequent than in the months just before the surge.  Violent deaths from the vestiges of war are in the range of 100 to 200 civilians a month, meaning that mundane Iraqi crime is probably now a greater threat to most citizens than politically-motivated violence, Brookings says in its latest update.

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.

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