Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from Expert Zone:
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters, the IDSA or the Indian government)
"The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa," said Werner Heisenberg in his 1927 paper on subatomic particle behaviour in quantum physics. While the context could be continents apart, this uncertainty principle perhaps best describes the trajectory of India-Pakistan ties.
As India's western neighbour faces the ballot box after a tumultuous five years of civilian leadership, there is both apprehension and hope in New Delhi. There is acknowledgement of the democratic process that has run its five-year course for the first time under a civilian leadership that has been constantly under attack, but there is also fear. A fear triggered by the incessant bloodletting and political violence that has marred campaigning in Pakistan. Being called the bloodiest in the country’s history, it is also being seen as targeting the moderate voices in Pakistan - the ones India views as approachable.
Initially, there was optimism in India after all leading political parties in Pakistan articulated the normalisation of relations with India in their manifestoes and it wasn’t just mere posturing. Yet when the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) - appeared to have been singled out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (or Pakistan Taliban) as targets, scepticism grew. These are parties which have traditionally espoused better relations with India.
One day, a 10-year-old girl died. The next, a seven-year-old boy. The victims of the relentless attacks on election meetings in Pakistan are so very rarely named that you have to start counting the ages of the children to give some kind of human meaning to the deaths.
More than 50 people have been killed ahead of elections on May 11 that should have been a milestone in the country’s history, the first time a democratically elected government completed its term and handed power to another through the polls. Instead it has turned into a bewildering bloodbath where a mother or father taking their child out to watch history being made cannot be sure of bringing them home alive.
Arriving into Kabul you are struck by two contrasting images. Streets jammed with noisy traffic, pavements spilling with hawkers and women in sky-blue burqas wending their way through the crush of people. And then just a few metres from this bustle of everyday life are whole streets walled off, defended by layer upon layer of guards with machine guns behind sandbags and blast barriers set up in a zigzag manner to stop or at least slow down the suicide bomber.
These are the green zones of the Afghan capital where the top international military brass, diplomats, officials, and staff of the dozens of non-government organisations work and live and party, cut off from the turbulent nation outside, like virtual prisoners.
In “An Enemy We Created,” authors Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn described assumptions about a supposedly unbreakable link between the Taliban and al Qaeda as “the principal strategic blunder of the war in Afghanistan.” Al Qaeda’s leadership, they wrote, relied on and coordinated closely with Jalaluddin Haqqani rather than the younger and less experienced Kandahari Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
Their contention – that with more political will and insight war might even have been avoided altogether – has been disputed by those who say Washington did try and fail to engage the Taliban in serious talks ahead of the Sept 11 attacks. Yet in a week where the United States has gone through a bout of soul-searching about the Iraq war, history matters. Were the assumptions that led to the Afghan war also wrong from the start?
When tribal elders reportedly ordered five girls killed in remote northern Pakistan for singing and clapping, outraged media coverage prompted the Supreme Court to order an investigation.
The deeply flawed investigation concluded the girls were alive and the matter was dropped. But new killings – and new evidence collected by Reuters – suggests the girls are dead.
Pakistan has been facing gun and bomb attacks for so long, it is tempting to think it will continue to muddle along, the situation never becoming so bad as to galvanise it into action. And maybe it will.
But a series of attacks in and around Peshawar this month should give serious pause for thought.
Beneath the din of shouted exchange rates, trilling mobiles and the clink-clink of tea glasses ricocheting around Kandahar’s money market, there is a barely-audible backbeat: the electric purr of counting machines gobbling dollars, Afghanis and rupees.
In dozens of cramped shops crowding the galleries of the echoey exchange, a clannish brotherhood of currency dealers oils the wheels of Afghanistan’s cash-based economy, sending funds across borders, swapping foreign bills or taking deposits in the manner of conventional banks.
The United States carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the covert air war there eight years ago. With all the attention and hand wringing focused on the operations in Pakistan, it’s remarkable that such a ramp-up just over the border has gone virtually unnoticed.
The two battlegrounds are not the same, of course. Afghanistan is an open and hot battlefield where U.S. forces are deployed and the drones are part of the air support available to troops. Pakistan is a sovereign nation and the United States is not in a state of war with it and so you wouldn’t expect the same pace of operations, even though U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency draws its sustenance from the sanctuaries in the Pakistani northwest.
It’s been another brutal year of fighting in Afghanistan. While a spike in green-on-blue attacks has justifiably grabbed attention because of the cracks it has exposed within the military coalition, Afghans themselves are paying an increasingly higher price as they get pitchforked into the centre of the battle.
More than 300 Afghan soldiers and policemen are dying each month, Afghanistan’s defence ministry spokesman said earlier this month. He said the deaths had risen largely because local forces had taken over security responsibilities covering 75 percent of the population and were therefore taking higher casualties. Still, losing 10 members of the security forces each day is a worrying statistic. At this rate, Afghan national forces are going to lose nearly twice as many men in a year than the United States has lost since it invaded the country in 2001.
In Pakistan, no one calls troublesome journalists and warns they may be killed. There’s no reason to point out the obvious. So when investigative journalist Umar Cheema started getting late-night anonymous phone calls, gently suggesting he stop investigating a particular story, he knew what was at stake. Since then, he has been kidnapped and tortured. He has survived a hit-and-run that laid him out for six months.
This week, 35-year-old Cheema published his most ambitious investigation yet. The leaked tax details (pdf) of 446 Pakistani legislators and ministers showed that nearly 70 percent did not even file a tax return, highlighting the lax regulatory environment and tax loopholes that allow many Pakistani millionaire lawmakers to pay no income tax at all.