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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

India-Pakistan – cricket, spooks and peace

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cricket  refugee"Cricket diplomacy" has always been one of the great staples of the relationship between India and Pakistan. The two countries have tried and failed before to use their shared enthusiasm for cricket to build bridges, right back to the days of Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, if not earlier.

So when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced last week that he was inviting Prime Minister Yusuf  Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in Mohali, India, the temptation was to dismiss it as an old idea.

Yes, it would be the first visit by a leader of either country to the other since the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.  Yes, the invitation came at a time when relations between the two countries were already thawing. And yes, the Middle East is changing so fast that you would expect --  in the way that warring siblings do -- that India and Pakistan would bury their differences at a time when the outside world has become so unpredictable.

But the instinct for cynicism is unerring. India and Pakistan have tried and failed to make peace for so long that it is easy, lazily easy, to predict that this latest initiative will also come to nothing. Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, himself a participant in cricket diplomacy in 2005, wrote it off in 2000:

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

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rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row -- remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention - an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Keeping Raymond Davis and Lashkar-e-Taiba in perspective

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tajmumbaiAccording to the New York Times, Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor arrested in Pakistan for shooting dead two Pakistanis in what he says was an act of self-defence, was working with a CIA team monitoring the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group.

The article, by Washington-based Mark Mazzetti, was not the first to make this assertion. The NYT itself had already raised it, while Christine Fair made a similar point in her piece for The AfPak Channel last week (with the intriguing detail that "though the ISI knew of the operation, the agency certainly would not have approved of it.")

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Towards a review of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws

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rehman malikAfter two assassinations, Pakistani politicians are finally beginning to address tensions over the country's blasphemy laws.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said in an interview politicians should be able to reach a cross-party consensus on preventing the misuse of the blasphemy laws, as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) religious party. "Its misuse is being, of course, taken into account and the party leaders are going to sit together as proposed by Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman ... and I hope this matter can be thrashed out, whenever this meeting takes place." 

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan’s debate on drones, lifting the secrecy

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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?:

In Pakistan, an assassination and the death of words

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bhattiWhen I first heard about Shahbaz Bhatti's assassination, there seemed to be nothing sensible to be said about it.  Not yet another prediction about Pakistan's growing instability, nor even an outpouring of anger of the kind that followed the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in the English-language media.  The assassination of the Minorities Minister did not appear to portend anything beyond the actual tragedy of his death.  And nor could anyone say it came as a  surprise. A loss of words, then. A painful punctuation mark.

Cafe Pyala has now articulated far better than I could what went through my mind when I first heard about the assassination.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

U.S.-Pakistan relations better than they look

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raymond davisGiven the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.

At a strategic level, however, there's actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

On U.S.-Taliban talks, look at 2014 and work back

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arghandab3According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war.  He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.

"Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation."

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Afghanistan: Petraeus, personalities and policy

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chinook2Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.

"... virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy's other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there," it says.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Egypt and Pakistan; something borrowed, something new

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candelightThe Egyptian uprising contains much that is familiar to Pakistan - the dark warnings of a coup, in Egypt's case delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the role of political Islam, and a relationship with the United States distorted by U.S. aid and American strategic interests which do not match those of the people.

President Hosni Mubarak cited Pakistan as an example of what happened when a ruler like President Pervez Musharraf - like himself from the military - was forced to make way for democracy. "He fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf," a 2009 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said.

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