Global News Journal

Beyond the World news headlines

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Has Pakistan become the central front?

In a report released late last month, the U.S. Atlantic Council think tank warned that the ramifications of state failure in Pakistan would be far graver than those in Afghanistan, with regional and global impact. "With nuclear weapons and a huge army, a population over five times that of Afghanistan and with an influential diaspora, Pakistan now seems less able, without outside help, to muddle through its challenges than at any time since its war with India in 1971."

The report, co-sponsored by Senator John Kerry and urging greater U.S. aid, said time was running out to stabilise Pakistan, with action required within months. It's not even been two weeks since that report was released, and already events in Pakistan have taken a dramatic turn for the worse - from the confrontation between President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Tuesday's attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore.

"Pakistan's disintegration, if that is what is now being witnessed, is a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions, a riveting spectacle, and a clear and present danger to international security," said a comment piece in Britain's Guardian newspaper. "But who in the world can stop it?"

The first question to ask is whether Pakistan has now become the central front in the battle against al Qaeda and its Islamist allies in the Taliban and other militant groups. During his election campaign, President Barack Obama said the central front was Afghanistan rather than Iraq. After he took office he shifted this to "Af/Pak" with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. With turmoil now reaching Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan, he might need to shift his focus even further east.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan under siege: cricket becomes a target

"Everything is officially going to hell." The verdict of a reader quoted by All Things Pakistan said perhaps better than anyone else why the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore marked a defining moment in Pakistan's agonising descent into chaos.

Six Sri Lankan cricketers and their British assistant coach were wounded when gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort to the Gaddafi stadium in Lahore.  Five policemen were killed.

from FaithWorld:

The more you look, the less you see in Swat sharia deal

Ten days have passed since Pakistan cut a deal with Islamists to enforce sharia in the turbulent Swat region in return for a ceasefire, and we still don't know many details about what was agreed.  The deal made international headlines. It prompted political and security concerns in NATO and Washington and warnings about possible violations of human rights and religious freedom. (Photo: Supporters of Maulana Sufi Mohammad gather for prayers in Mingora, 21 Feb 2009/Adil Khan)

In the blogosphere, Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion has asked in two posts (here and here) why reporters there aren't supplying more details about exactly how sharia will be implemented or what the  doctrinal differences between Muslims in the region are. Like other news organisations, Reuters has been reporting extensively on the political side of this so-called peace deal but not had much on the religion details. As Reuters religion editor and a former chief correspondent in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I'm very interested in this. I blogged about the deal when it was struck and wanted to revisit the issue now to see what more we know about it.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama’s choice: 17,000 extra troops for Afghanistan

President Barack Obama, in his first major military decision, has authorised the Pentagon to send an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, saying the increase is needed to stabilise a deteriorating situation there.

Obama's Afghan strategy has been discussed at length, including on this blog (most recently about balancing the need for regional support with the demands of countries like Russia for concessions in return, the military challenges of devising an effective counterinsurgency strategythe views of the Afghan people and Pakistan's own struggles to contain a Taliban insurgency there.)

from FaithWorld:

Religion and politics behind sharia drive in Swat

Pakistan has agreed to restore Islamic law in the turbulent Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the North-West Frontier Province. What does that mean? Sharia is understood and applied in such varied ways across the Muslim world that it is difficult to say exactly what it is. Will we soon see Saudi or Taliban-style hand-chopping for thieves and stonings for adulterers? Would it be open to appeal and overturn harsh verdicts, as the Federal Sharia Court in Islamabad has sometimes done? Or could it be that these details are secondary because sharia is more a political than a religious strategy here? (Photo: Swat Islamic leaders in Peshawar to negotiate sharia accord/16 Feb 2009/Ali Imam)

As is often the case in Pakistan, this issue has two sides -- theory and practice. In theory, this looks like it should be a strict but not Taliban-style legal regime. As Zeeshan Haider in our Islamabad bureau put in in a Question&Answer list on sharia in Swat:

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan agrees to sharia law to end Swat fighting

Pakistan has agreed to introduce sharia law in the Swat valley and neighbouring areas of the north-west in a peace deal with Taliban militants. Religious conservatives in Swat have long fought for sharia to replace Pakistan's secular laws, which came into force after the former princely state was absorbed into the Pakistani federation in 1969. The government apparently hopes that by signing a peace deal in Swat it can drive a wedge between conservative hardliners and Islamist militants whose influence has been spreading from the tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan proper.

Critics are already saying the deal will encourage Taliban militants fighting elsewhere in both Pakistan and Afghanistan and could threaten the integrity of the country itself. Britain's Guardian newspaper quotes Khadim Hussain of the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy, a think-tank in Islamabad, as calling the peace deal a surrender to the Taliban. It also quotes Javed Iqbal, a retired judge, as saying, "It means that there is not one law in the country. It will disintegrate this way. If you concede to this, you will go on conceding."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: the Great Name Game

Afghanistan is beginning to accumulate cliches. If it's not "Obama's Vietnam", then it's the "graveyard of empires".  (The British press, never one to be bamboozled by the big picture, says it's the end of bully beef for the troops.)

It is perhaps a measure of how little people really know about Afghanistan after more than seven years of war that such a complex conflict has to be simplified into labels.  Afghanistan's history of defeating the British in the 19th century and the Soviet Union in the 20th century certainly lends itself to dramatic comparisons. But they are not entirely accurate. Britain's failed Afghan campaign in 1838 was not the graveyard of the British empire -- it went on to defeat the Sikhs and rule India for another 100 years.  And the Soviet Union's disastrous occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989 may simply have accompanied rather than precipitated the collapse of an empire that had been rotting from within years before Soviet troops reached Kabul. 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Of Afghanistan and backpacks

According to George Friedman from the Stratfor intelligence group the United States should forget the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan and concentrate instead on covert operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

As has become increasingly clear, the administration of President Barack Obama faces a hard time raising its troop presence in Afghanistan without either relying on precarious supply lines through Pakistan or making political compromises with Russia to win its support for using alternative routes through Central Asia.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghan supply routes face setbacks in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan

U.S. efforts to improve supplies for its troops in Afghanistan just had a double setback after militants in northwest Pakistan severed the main supply route for western forces and Kyrgyzstan's president said the United States must close its military base there.

Militants blew up a bridge on the Khyber Pass, cutting the supply route to western forces in Afghanistan and underscoring the need for the United States to seek alternative supply lines. The U.S. military sends 75 percent of supplies for the Afghan war through Pakistan but has been looking at using other transit routes through Central Asia. Although Washington has been sketchy on the details of its plans, its Manas military airbase near the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek has so far provided important logistical support for its operations in Afghanistan.  During a visit to Moscow, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the closure of the base, opened after the 9/11 attacks.  Bakiyev made the announcement after securing a $2 billion loan and a further $150 million in aid from Russia.

Best reads of January

Photo
-

Gaza gets 180 minute respite to shop, bury the dead – “For 180 precious minutes, Israeli warplanes and tanks held their fire, giving 1.5 million shell-shocked residents of the coastal enclave a chance to check on family members, shop for essentials and bury their dead.”

Spain’s jobless lose homes, tensions mount - “‘One day this place is going to explode,’ said unemployed waiter Miguel Roa, a Spaniard. Since December, he has lost his job and his home as well as seeing his family split as economic crisis ended 14 years of growth in Spain.

  •