Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan, India and America

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India and Pakistan turn into good friends, and America is kept at arms’ length. Is that possible?

Diplomacy like politics is the art of the possible, and if you listen to the new voices emerging from Pakistan, there is change blowing in the wind as it makes the transition to civilian rule after nearly nine years of military leadership.

Taj Mahal 2006 photo/Jayanta ShawTo stop the extremism and intolerance that is sweeping Pakistan, it must turn away from the Middle East and instead look to its east to rediscover a gentler, yet immensely vibrant heritage that took root in India through the centuries, Pakistan’s The News argued in an extraordinary editorial urging the country’s new leaders to respond to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh call to transform relations into the “best ever”.

“Despite all the attempts to deny this, the reality is that Pakistanis and Indians share a great deal in common — from cuisine to wedding traditions, and of course a great deal more. Rather than tearing ourselves away from this past, which is so much a part of our present, it should be warmly embraced,” it said.

Americans start asking about Predators in Pakistan

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A story in the Washington Post “U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan has attracted attention worldwide. It says the United States has escalated its unilateral strikes against al-Qaeda members and fighters operating in Pakistan’s tribal areas, partly because of anxieties that Pakistan’s new leaders will insist on scaling back military operations there. 

File photo of Predator drone“Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft are known to have struck at least three sites used by al-Qaeda operatives,” it says. “The moves followed a tacit understanding with (President Pervez) Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan, but not against the Pakistani Taliban.”

The Pakistan conundrum

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Helicopters fly past portrait of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali JinnahWhen it comes to Pakistan, sometimes you want to be told what is going on; sometimes you want to stop and think for yourself.  But rarely is there a middle ground. Here are three very different pieces for those who are interested in this conundrum.

In an op-ed in Dawn Cyril Almeida tackles the perennial question of how far Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controls the Islamist militants who helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, fought against Indian rule in Kashmir in the 1990s and this century turned first against the United States in 9/11 and then against Pakistan itself in a wave of suicide bombings.

Taking on al Qaeda with comic strips?

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Cover page from comic strip/interior ministry handoutInteresting piece by Reuters Security Correspondent Mark Trevelyan about German authorities using comic strips to combat the appeal of militant Islamism to European youths. The comic strip, distributed to schools in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, features Andi, his Muslim girlfriend Ayshe and her brother Murat, who comes under the influence of a radical friend and an Islamist “hate preacher”.

The idea is to offer young people an alternative world view to combat the “narrative” of al Qaeda. ”We have learned from our opponents. This is exactly the age at which the Islamists are trying, through Koranic schools and other means, to fill young people with other values,” says Hartwig Moeller, from the German state’s interior ministry.

Pakistan, India and “the hidden hand”

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2007 photo of Lal Krishna Advani/B MathurFormer Indian deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani has just released his autobiography and he takes issue with President Pervez Musharraf for blaming him for being “the hidden hand” behind the failure of a 2001 summit between the two countries that ultimately led to a dangerous military stand-off before they talked peace again.

Though it’s seven years past, both Advani’s, and before him, Musharraf’s version of that summit with Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, still makes for interesting reading. It offers a glimpse into the minds of two powerful men — one a Hindu nationalist leader and the other a military general — as they struggled to set aside the baggage of history and half a century of conflict and came close to making history themselves before courage deserted them. They eventually made their peace, partly brought on by circumstance including a dramatically different world after September 11, but also because the mis-steps of Agra were never far from the mind.

Pakistan: the right man for the job?

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Yousaf Raza GilaniThe naming of Yousaf Raza Gilani  as the Pakistan People’s Party’s candidate for prime minister has raised as many questions as it answered, amid speculation that he is only keeping the seat warm until PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari takes over.

Dawn newspaper questioned the drawn-out arguments within the PPP before Gilani was named and asked what this would mean for a PPP-led government facing the challenges of an economy bedevilled by inflation and a country reeling after a string of bombings. “We hope the country will have a prime minister empowered to tackle the challenges, rather than a puppet on a string with real authority lying elsewhere in the party hierarchy,” it said.

from Photographers' Blog:

When I Wake Up

In those first few seconds of waking in the morning, when my sleep has been disturbed, my first thoughts are to deny the cause of the sound.

"Maybe the door slammed; maybe a cat jumped over a bucket; maybe a vehicle tyre burst." So many maybes... but the reality is usually the same. It is a bomb!

Guest contribution:March events ignite hope of change in Pakistan

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The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a former High Commissioner of Pakistan and advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan.

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

In his historic play Julius Caesar Shakespeare uses Ides of March to warn the Roman Emperor the tragic fate that was in store for him. And ever since ides of March is used as an appropriate phrase as a precursor to events of far-reaching consequences. In case of Pakistan’s history too this month has great significance on various counts. First and foremost, the Muslims in the sub-continent decided to seek and establish a separate independent homeland through a resolution adopted by All-India Muslim League on March 23, 1940 under the dynamic leadership of its leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah. And it was an astounding achievement-entirely to the credit of Mr Jinnah-that within the short span of seven years Pakistan was carved out of the Indian sub-continent to be a secular Muslim state to ensure freedom and equality to all its citizens-irrespective of their caste, creed or colour.

Obama on Pakistan: commitment or contradiction?

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barack obama/john sommersFor those who missed, it’s worth looking closely at Barack Obama’s latest comments on Pakistan made in a speech this week in which he repeats a call for the United States to shift its focus from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. ”This is the area where the 9/11 attacks were planned. This is where Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants still hide. This is where extremism poses its greatest threat.”

His plan is to rethink U.S. policy towards Pakistan – which has traditionally depended on cooperation with the military rather than civilian governments — to bolster the democratic aspirations of the Pakistani people, condition aid to Pakistan on its action against al Qaeda,  and show Pakistan that America is on its side.

Policy differences between al Qaeda and the Taliban?

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Thanks to openDemocracy for highlighting this piece on EurasiaNet about a row between the Taliban and al Qaeda which it says has surfaced among bloggers on a website in Egypt.

“Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan’s Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad,” it says.  “Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and ‘legitimate’ relations with countries neighbouring Afghanistan.”

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