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from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

The Pakistan Army and “the history of the stick”

In his book on the Pakistan Army, South Asia expert Stephen Cohen quotes a senior lieutenant-general as warning the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto against using the military to control political opposition. "If you use a stick too often, the stick will take over," Cohen quotes the general as saying. "This has always been the history of the stick."

There's no sign yet of the Pakistan Army reverting to its usual role of wielding the big stick. But with the police out in force to quell protests in Punjab over a Supreme Court ruling excluding former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz from office, the obvious question to ask is whether we are about to see a repeat of the old cycle in which security forces are called out to restore order and end up taking over altogether. Indeed, the Pakistan Army's first involvement in politics is generally dated to the 1953 imposition of martial law in Lahore -- where protests erupted on Thursday over the court ruling.  Sharif has blamed President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, for the ruling.

Historical parallels can, of course, be misleading.  Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, has made it clear he wants to keep the military out of politics. He is currently visiting the United States, where the administration of President Barack Obama has repeatedly stressed its commitment to civilian democracy in Pakistan.

And Zardari, who has imposed governor's rule in Punjab to replace an administration run by Shabaz Sharif, may yet find an accommodation with the powerful Sharif brothers over the issues that divide them -- the restoration of judges sacked by former president Pervez Musharraf along with Zardari's retention of presidential powers he inherited when Musharraf quit last year. Or we might be set for a long period of political manoeuvring between Pakistan's bickering politicians which drags on for weeks or months.

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?:

The Pakistani kaleidoscope and the Swat ceasefire

The debate over the Pakistan government's decision to seek peace with Taliban militants in the Swat valley by promising to introduce sharia law is proving to be like everything else in the Pakistani kaleidoscope - turn it a little bit and you see something else.

Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa said the peace deal could encourage groups in other parts of the country to copy the example of the Taliban in forcing through changes. "The bottom line is that while conflict might be arrested for the short term in one part of the country, it might escalate in other parts where groups of people acting like the Taliban could impose their will on the rest of the population in the name of changing the judicial, economic or political system," she says. "Ultimately, this could come to redefine Pakistan’s identity completely."

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?:

Pakistani Taliban force girls’ schools to close

Taliban militants have banned female education in the northwest Pakistan valley of Swat, depriving more than 40,000 girls of schooling. Last month, the Taliban warned parents against sending their daughters to school, saying female education was "unIslamic".  The warning was reiterated by a close aide to militant leader Mullah Fazlullah in a message broadcast through an illegal FM radio station on Friday night. Government schools have been shut down and some 300 private schools due to reopen next month after the winter break will probably remain closed, a senior official said.

The development highlights the extent to which the Taliban have extended their influence from the tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan itself, and their willingness to challenge Pakistanis' way of life.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Curbing militants in Pakistan; a trial of patience?

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Pakistan to cooperate "fully and transparently" in investigations into the Mumbai attacks, while U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has pointed a finger at Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant group.

That's probably the kind of language that would go down well in India, which has been frustrated in the past by what it saw as the United States' failure to acknowledge the threat from Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups, instead preferring to rely on Pakistan as a useful ally in the region while focusing its own energies on defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Israel and India vs Obama’s regional plans for Afghanistan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will Israel and India -- the first the United States' closest ally and the second fast becoming one of the closest -- emerge as the trickiest adversaries in any attempt by the United States to seek a regional solution to Afghanistan?

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Al Qaeda – From bin Laden’s cave command to regionalised “franchise company”?

Osama bin Laden is no longer involved in the day-to-day planning of attacks, Germany's spy chief says, arguing that al Qaeda has turned from a centralised force into a regionalised "franchise company" with power centres in Pakistan, North Africa and the Arab peninsula. Does this weaken or strengthen the Islamist militant group? And how does it influence its operations, planning of attacks and its efforts to recruit new followers?

Ernst Uhrlau, who heads the BND foreign intelligence agency, Germany's equivalent of the CIA, says al Qaeda's "concept" has changed significantly over the past few years. "After the centralisation phase and the break-up of its bases in Afghanistan, when it had the backing of the Taliban government, we have seen a regionalisation over the past four years -- something like a franchise company."    "Today, there is al Qadea in the Maghreb, al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, in Iraq, in Yemen," Uhrlau told Reuters in an interview this week.

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