Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
India, Pakistan and even tiny Sri Lanka have all ignored U.S. concerns, and have hosted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the past two days. It is a fleeting visit with less than five hours scheduled in Delhi, but it seems like a carefully calibrated piece of diplomacy tiptoeing around the elephant in the room.
For, as relations go, India and Pakistan have become bound up with the United States in ways that would have been unthinkable not very long ago. Islamabad is a frontline ally in Washington’s war on al Qaeda and the Taliban, India a growing strategic partner with whom it is pushing a far-reaching civilian nuclear deal that gives it de facto recognition as a nuclear state.
So what’s this dance with Iran, accused by the United States of sponsoring terrorism and seeking to develop nuclear weapons ? Some of it is down to economics : Iran holds the key to India’s energy insecurity, as a piece in the Asia Times argues.
With oil prices skyrocketing, India’s thirst for cheaper imported gas has acquired a greater urgency than before and if this means jumpstarting the 15-year-old proposal to pipe gas from Iran through Pakistan, now estimated to cost $7.5 billion, so be it. Pakistan too needs the natural gas to meet its growing energy demand, as also the millions of dollars it will earn in transit fees.
And if history is any lesson, the “pipeline of peace” could promote security in the region with the costs of a conflict between India and Pakistan that much higher.
Update – Since filing this blog, Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud has said he is pulling out of the peace deal with the government after it refused to withdraw the army from tribal lands on the Afghan border. So were the sceptics right all along? And what does this mean for the government’s new strategy?
On the same subject, here is an interesting piece in the Christian Science Monitor comparing Pakistan’s policy to that of the United States in Iraq. “Americans can hardly complain that Pakistan is on the verge of a deal with jihadists,” it says. “The US has already done a similar deal with Iraqi Sunni terrorists. In both cases, a prime goal is simply to isolate Al Qaeda.”
In the comments on our blog earlier this month Pakistan: Breaking Down the Stereotypes one thing stands out – that people in Pakistan are tired of it being portrayed as a failed state and blame the western media for focusing too narrowly on suicide bombings rather than the achievements and attractions of the country.
You can read all the comments here and I am reproducing some below:
“Pakistan has always been portrayed in the media as a failed or dangerous country. In reality, this is totally absurd and false. The recent elections in Pakistan proves my point. They are progressive, they want peace and most of all they mean business.” - Posted by arif
The rising cost of food that is stirring unrest in the developing world may have one positive spin-off: Afghanistan’s opium farmers, attracted by high wheat prices, may be turning to legal crops.
The Financial Times quotes a recent commander of British forces in Helmand, the heartland of the country’s drugs trade, as saying there is anectodal evidence of such a switch in the southern province. With wheat prices at record highs farmers are calculating they will make money planting the crop, says Brigadier Andrew MacKay.
While living in Delhi after 9/11, and in particular after India and Pakistan nearly went to war over an attack on the Indian parliament on December 13, 2001, one of the questions that cropped up frequently was about how much the Pakistan army had been permeated by hardline Islamists. In other words, how much sympathy did the army feel for al Qaeda and Taliban militants that then General Pervez Musharraf had pledged to fight?
Several years later, while researching a book on the Siachen war, I had occasion to travel with the Pakistan army and assess the Islamist question up close. My impression was that the Pakistan army was not driven by religious fanaticism. Yes, it exhorted its soldiers to embrace “shaheed”, or martyrdom, in the name of Allah. But it was otherwise remarkably similar to the Indian army. Both relied on a blend of nationalism and loyalty to their fellow men in the same unit; both found recruits in the mountains and rural villages who could be inculcated with a spirit of “ours not to reason why”; both counted on officers to lead from the front. Men did not go into battle dreaming of death. An officer who thinks only of killing himself is of little use to a professional army, which needs men who are above all sane, who can remain focused and objective, who know the difference between suicide and getting killed.
from UK News:
Foreign Secretary David Miliband says Pakistan has made democratic progress and should be re-admitted to the Commonwealth.
He has pointed to the extension of press freedoms and the re-establishment of constitutional rules. New Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani, a member of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), whose leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in December, was sworn in last month.
The United States, beginning with President George W. Bush himself, has this past two weeks trained its crosshairs on Pakistan, warning that another Sept. 11, if it were to happen, would most likely not be plotted out of Iraq, Afghanistan or even Iran, but Pakistan.
Like the steady drumbeat that has often preceded major moves by the administration, the threat from Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, considered the home of the top ranks of al Qaeda, has been articulated from the White House, at Congressional hearings and abroad.
Students from 24 religious schools in Islamabad, including the hardline Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), have been taking part in the past week in a cricket tournament organised by the city authorities as part of measures to regulate and revamp the schools. The students swapped their shalwar kameez for track pants and T-shirts, and sticks for cricket bats.
Notwithstanding his weakened position at home, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf this week flies to China , the “all weather friend” that has stood by the country through all its troubles.
Unlike its American friends, the Chinese have not blown hot and cold, although there have been challenges such as attacks on Chinese nationals in Pakistan, including the execution of three workers near Peshawar last year and concern that the Islamist fervour sweeping the northwest parts of Pakistan was spilling over to neighbouring Xinjiang, China’s troubled, predominantly Muslim region.
But the Chinese do not give Pakistan lectures on democracy, the dangers of nuclear proliferation – which arguably isn’t surprising since some of it is traced back to the Chinese, according to non-proliferation experts- or threaten to bomb them into the Stone Age , which is what Islamabad says the Bush administration did to enlist its support in its war on terrorism days after Sept 11.
China, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told parliament in his opening address last week, was a time-tested ally and the friendship “was deeper than the Indian Ocean and higher than the Himalayas”. On Monday, a Shanghai shipyard launched the first of four frigates to be delivered to the Pakistan navy, while the Pakistani air force has already inducted a fighter aircraft co-produced with China. Beijing has also helped Pakistan build civil nuclear plants.
Pakistan’s alliance with China is far more enduring that the one with the United States, a scholar writing for the YaleGlobal Online argued last month, characterising the relationship with Washington dating back to 1954 as an intermittent, Cold War marriage of convenience. The current U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been built on security interests and is already looking fragile following the outcome of the February elections when the party supported by ally Musharraf was routed.
Pakistan’s alliance with China, in contrast, is based on permanent strategic interests and immutable issues of geography, including China’s desire for access to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, scholar Willem van Kemenade says in the article. And unlike the sometimes public polemics with Washington over the war on militancy, Pakistan and China are quietly cooperating to ensure things don’t go out of hand in China’s far west.
Indeed, Musharraf will be winding up his visit in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, where he is expected to appeal to local Muslims to cooperate with the authorities and not to be misled by followers of Tibet’s spiritual leader Dala Lama trying to stoke fires there, as B.Raman, a former additional secretary at India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external intelligence arm, says in a paper for the India-based South Asia Analysis Group.
So has China been a better friend than the United States and is the relationship as solid as ever?
An economy growing at an average of 7 percent for six years now with a construction and consumer boom, a rising middle-class that has just voted out a government, a free press, a thriving fashion scene. Another emerging market star?
Yes, but this is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, better known these days for its suicide bombings, a nuclear arsenal and labelled as the epicentre of Islamist extremism including perhaps the last redoubt of Osama bin Laden in the lands straddling the Afghan border. “Jihadistan” as one reader wrote on this blog.