Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Thinking the unthinkable: visa-free travel between India and Pakistan

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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is pushing for visa-free travel with India, and has gone to the extent of saying Islamabad might do it unilaterally  if New Delhi is not prepared to go the distance.

As ideas go, visa-free travel in a globalised world isn’t anything remarkable. In the context of the tortured India-Pakistan relationship this, however, would be nothing short of a political masterstroke.

For people like my parents’ generation, among the millions who crossed the border from Pakistan following the bloody partition of India never to go back, visa-free travel would be akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Likewise for the millions of Muslims who moved in the opposite direction, leaving homes and some family members behind in India, before the curtain dropped.

Wagah

Until the peace process began in 2004, there was barely a trickle of Indians and Pakistanis travelling between the two countries. Just over 8,000 visas were issued to Pakistanis by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad the year before; that number reached a bit more respectable figure of 100,000 by 2007. The numbers are far less for Indians visiting Pakistan.

from FaithWorld:

Secularist slide in Pakistan as local Sharia courts proposed

Pakistani voters in Karachi, 18 Feb. 2008/Athar HussainOne of the most interesting results in Pakistan's general election last February was the victory of the secularist Awami National Party in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) after six years of Islamist government in Peshawar. In a province where the Taliban and other Islamists had made heavy inroads, the vote for the ANP and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) seems to herald a turn toward some form of secularist democracy. “The greatest achievement of this transition to democracy is the rout of religious extremists who wanted to plunge Pakistan into anarchy,” Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times, wrote in his post-ballot analysis. “It is the rise of liberal democracy … that will help solve the problem of religious extremism in Pakistan.”

It's only been three months, but the secularists seem to be backsliding already. According to Pakistani media, the ANP and PPP have agreed to allow qazi courts (known as qadi courts in Arabic ) to operate in Malakand, a rugged mountainous region in northern NWFP near Afghanistan. Qazi courts have a judge (qazi) who hears cases and quickly hands down decisions based on his interpretation of Sharia law. Although Malakand is officially a "settled area" where state and province laws apply, it also has tribes that often prefer their rough-and-ready Pashtun jirga system of justice run by tribal elders. By introducing qazi courts, critics say, the NWFP government will effectively cave to local Islamists, put an Islamic veneer over tribal justice and roll back the role of civilian justice. This does not sound like a turn towards some form of secularist democracy.

Pakistan coalition split, not yet estranged

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The split in Pakistan’s ruling coalition could provide a lifeline for President Pervez Musharraf that the Pakistani people believed they’d yanked away in an election three months ago. 

After the Feb.18 poll demolished Musharraf’s parliamentary support, predictions abounded that the politically isolated U.S. ally would be forced from power within weeks or months. Politicians had even talked about impeaching him.   

from India Insight:

Timing of Jaipur blasts will raise suspicion of Pakistani hand

Are militants, or even hawks within the Pakistani establishment, trying to undermine the peace process with India, now that President Pervez Musharraf has removed his uniform and civilians are squabbling for power?

A injured man receives treatment after a series of bomb blasts in Jaipur May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Vinay Joashi via You Witness NewsThe dust has scarcely settled on another horrific bomb attack in India, and the investigation has only just begun into the synchronised blasts in Jaipur that killed around 60 people .

Pakistan’s coalition government founders

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Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif/Faisal MahmoodWhen former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, agreed in March to form a coalition government in Pakistan, the words of the 19th century British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli seemed apt:

“Coalitions, though successful, have always found this, that their triumph has been brief,” I quoted him as saying, in a posting which asked whether the coalition between Sharif’s PML (N) and Zardari’s PPP would survive.

Anti-Americanism in Pakistan

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U.S. ambassador Anne W. Patterson, in a speech reported by the Pakistan press, said last week that the depth of anti-Americanism in Pakistan, especially among the middle-class, had surprised her. Pakistan’s long-term interests were aligned with those of the United States, and those opposing U.S. engagement in the country had a limited understanding of  how the partnership based on economic assistance had changed the lives of Pakistanis, she told a meeting in Karachi. For added measure, she said that the “ïncreasingly prosperous middle class” would be the first to suffer if  hardliners gained ground.

KFC outlet in Lahore

She needn’t have looked further than to events last  week to see why America sits rather uneasily on the Pakistani mind, a heavy hand of friendship that Pakistanis are increasingly chafing against.

Shoaib Akhtar : Pakistan cricket’s enfant terrible in one last bow?

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With a five year-ban on playing for Pakistan and a $3.65 million defamation suit slapped against him by the country’s cricket board chief, fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar has his hands full, even by the standards of his tumultuous cricketing career.
 Shoaib Akhtar

Is this the end of the road for the pin-up boy of Pakistani cricket and one of the most recognisable figures of his country ? A tragic victim, at age 32, of his success, talent, fame and showmanship?
 
For many of us, there is no better sight in cricket than watching Shoaib steaming in to bowl, raw pace at its best and the crowds in a packed stadium behind him. The “Rawalpindi Express” crossed the 100 mile per hour speed barrier in the 2003 World Cup and there aren’t many in international cricket that quick.
 
This week as he arrived in India to play in an Indian Premier League after the Pakistani cricket board temporarily suspended the ban on him and the defamation suit was withdrawn following a public apology by Shoaib, the buzz was starting to pick up in the cricket-mad region.
 
For Shoaib, for all his indiscipline, late nights, missed training sessions and even a doping scandal, can still turn a match on its head and the crowds love it. His record of 178 wickets in 46 Tests and another 219 in 138 one-day internationals speaks for itself.  And all this, after he missed dozens of matches due to fitness or  disciplinary-related problems, the last straw being when he hit a teammate with a bat in South Africa.
 
One can only wonder what  the temperamental player could have achieved  if he simply had been more disciplined in his cricket.
 
For as they say no player is bigger than the game, and Shoaib has had his chances.
 

Pakistan’s forgotten envoy

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It’s coming up to three months since Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Tariq Azizuddin, disappeared from the border region of Khyber  along with his driver and guard.

 Ambassador Tariq AzizuddinAfter weeks of silence, the ambassador appeared on a video aired over Al Arabiya satellite channel last month saying he had been kidnapped by Taliban militants. Surrounded by masked men with automatic weapons, he said he was suffering from health problems and appealed to the Pakistani government to comply with his captors’ demands which Pakistani media have reported relate to the release of several jailed militants.
 
And that is the last that has been heard so far. Indeed, only slightly less intriguing than the envoy’s disappearance has been the lack of any public attention to his plight right from the beginning. So much so that Azizuddin’s family last weekend  issued a public appeal to the government to expedite efforts for his release. The family said they were greatly concerned there were no signs of an early and safe release of the envoy and his companions.
 
An ambassador, as the Pakistan Spectator said, symbolises the government and officials cannot afford to ignore the issue even if the media is focused elsewhere, all the more so after the emergence of a civilian government after nine years of military rule. How would another nation, for example the United States, act if its top diplomat was taken away and not heard from, for months ?

Maybank buys into Pakistan

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Maybak tower in Kuala Lumpur/Bozuki MohammadAfter asking last month whether the media should be more positive about Pakistan – the comments on the whole seemed to suggest we should be, while not being blind to the risks– it was interesting to see that Malaysia’s top lender, Malayan Banking, had no such doubts.

 Maybank said it had bought a 15 percent stake in Pakistan’s largest listed lender MCB Bank for $680 million, the largest banking acquisition into Pakistan, as it bet on a bright economic future despite the recent political turbulence.  It said the acquisition would give it access to ”a high-growth and under-penetrated banking market with a large population”, and that it was confident about Pakistan’s political outlook.

Is a spring offensive in Afghanistan really likely?

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(Luke Baker is with the U.S. army in eastern Afghanistan) 

January file photo of U.S. Black Hawk in Afghanistan/Ahmad MasoodThe snows have largely melted in the Hindu Kush and the high trails over the mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan are once again passable. What’s more, Tehrik-e-Taliban’s leader, Baitullah Mehsud, looks like he may secure a peace deal with Pakistan’s new leadership, including the possibility of Pakistan’s security forces backing off from attacking his hideouts in South Waziristan.

To many observers, those two developments lead to a conclusion: any spring offensive by the Taliban against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan could be that much more powerful this year, with Mehsud throwing his tactical weight behind the offensive without fear of being squeezed by Pakistan’s forces from behind.
 
U.S. soldier searches Afghan man for weapons/Goran TomasevicThe argument has a fair amount of logic on its side, but how likely is the whole scenario really?

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