Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan and the battle for Peshawar

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June 27 photo of Peshawar protestPeshawar is such an important city for Pakistan that it can be hard to write about it without sounding shrill.  It is significant strategically since it lies near the entrance to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan.  But it is also important emotionally – not only is it a Moghul city and an ancient Silk Route trading hub, but it is also a Pashtun town on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line , the ill-demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by British colonial rulers that splits the Pashtun people of the region in two. For Pakistan, fighting for control of Peshawar is probably comparable to what France and Germany felt about Alsace Lorraine before World War Two.

So when the New York Times publishes an article about Peshawar being at risk of falling into Taliban hands  we must pay attention.  “In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms,” it says. “The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban’s deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.”

The Daily Times says it more dramatically, with a Kiplingesque notion of what the fall of Peshawar to Taliban control would mean for Pakistan: “The Taliban are no longer at the gates of Peshawar, they’re inside, making their presence felt in the largest city in the NWFP (North West Frontier Province),” it says.

Paramilitary soldier near PeshawarPakistan has just launched an offensive against Taliban fighters near Peshawar  in an attempt to re-impose government control. As I said at the beginning, it’s hard not to sound shrill about a place that few outsiders understand. But history is in the making here, and the battle for Peshawar is one we all should watch.

What does showdown over Iran mean for Pakistan?

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File photo of Iranian President Mahmoud AhmedinejadIt’s early days yet, but people are already trying to work out what any Israeli attack on Iran would mean for Pakistan. (The idea that Israel might attack Iran to damage or destroy its nuclear programme gained currency this week when former U.S. ambassador John Bolton predicted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that it would do so after the November U.S. presidential election but before the next president is sworn in.)

Pakistan defence analyst Ikram Sehgal paints an alarming, and perhaps deliberately alarmist, picture in The News of what this could mean for Pakistan: ”Could Israeli or (US) planners afford the risk of leaving a Muslim nuclear state with the means of missile delivery intact if there is war with Iran? Can they take this calculated risk in the face of a possible Pakistani nuclear reaction because of military action on a fellow Muslim nation and neighbour…?” he writes. ”Should one not be apprehensive that India as the ‘newly U.S. appointed policeman of the region’ takes the opportunity … for launching all-out Indian military offensive….?”

Pakistan, India and the view from China

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File photo of India Pakistan border at Wagah/Munish SharmaThe People’s Daily does not run editorials very often about Pakistan and India, so when it does, I pay attention.  It just published an op-ed about the latest talks between India and Pakistan on counter-terrorism. The talks themselves appeared to yield little in actual results. Yet according to the People’s Daily, it was an “important step towards mutual political trust”.

“The efforts for peace once again prove that dialogue is the sole path to resolving differences between countries,” it says. “India and Pakistan’s steps on this road are not big yet; but they are moving, in a positive direction.”

from Global News Journal:

Enter the new farmers

Wheat field in RomaniaWhat's with farming these days? The humble, even if slightly romantic vocation, is attracting a new breed of participants as investing in farmland and agriculture becomes the latest fad in the world of investments.
 
With financial markets in tumoil and commodity prices at record highs, traditional financial players such as investment banks and hedge funds, and even sovereign wealth funds of cash-rich emerging economies are increasingly looking at farm land as the next major investment avenue.

The motivations are varied -- from pure financial punting to concerns about food security. Underlying all this is the belief that the rapid economic expansion of China and India could add more than a billion people between them to the ranks of consumers of meat and wheat-based products. And then there is the growing demand for land to grow crops for biofuels.

from FaithWorld:

Survey says world’s top 10 intellectuals are Muslims

Foreign Policy July/August issue coverThe bimonthly U.S. international affairs journal Foreign Policy has just published a survey of the world's top 20 public intellectuals and the first 10 are all Muslims. They are certainly an interesting group of men (and one woman) but the journal's editors are not convinced they all belong on top. In their introduction in the July/August issue, they wrote: "Rankings are an inherently dangerous business." It turns out that some candidates ran publicity campaigns on their web sites, in interviews or in reports in media friendly to them. So intellectuals who many other intellectuals might have put at the top -- say Noam Chomsky or Richard Dawkins -- landed only in the second 10 or in a much more mixed list of post-poll write-ins.

"No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list," the introduction said. "In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day."

Fears grow of U.S. attack on Pakistan

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Some people have begun to voice what has been for some time an unspoken fear in Pakistan - that of a U.S. attack.

What would happen if there were to be another big attack  on the United States that is traced back to militants holed up in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Afghan border?

India and Pakistan: watch out for water fights

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Boy bathes with his pet monkey in Indus river in KarachiDefence analysts in South Asia have been saying for so long that India and Pakistan might solve their problems over Kashmir only to end up at war over water that I had almost become inured to the issue. That was until I read the following comment on an earlier blog about Gulf investors buying up farmland in Pakistan to offset food shortages at home:

“Tough challenges await the investors in this sector due to serious water and energy shortages that the country suffers from at the moment,” it reads. “For effective investment in the agriculture sector, the government must clear these impediments first.”

Pakistan’s lawyers: recovering from the anti-climax

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Lawyers protest in Rawalpindi/Mohsin RazaWith hindsight, it seems clear that a mass movement named after Mao’s Long March but also claiming Gandhi’s principles of non-violence risked disappointing its supporters.  The failure of the Long March by Pakistan’s lawyers to restore judges sacked by President Pervez Musharraf, and its dispersal last Saturday, has prompted much debate about why its leaders gave up without at least staging a sit-in.

Defence analyst Ikram Sehgal called the Long March a logistical success in its ability to garner mass support without violence, but a tactical failure. “The tactical failure of this long-lasting tremendous effort founded on great principles has become a strategic disaster for Musharraf’s opponents,” he writes in The News.  “About Pervez Musharraf, ‘with such friends who needs enemies’, one can paraphrase the saying for him: ‘With such enemies why does he need friends?’”

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama, McCain camps spar over bin Laden comment

binladen.jpgCHICAGO - Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign is attacking rival Barack Obama for saying that if al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is caught, the United States should avoid making him into a martyr.
    
Allies to McCain have suggested the comment shows the Democratic candidate opposes the death penalty for bin Laden -- an interpretation the Obama campaign says is false.
    
The Illinois senator was asked on Wednesday how he would proceed if bin Laden were captured. He said he was not sure if bin Laden would be caught alive because of shoot-to-kill orders.
 
Concerning how to try the al Qaeda leader, Obama said it was important "to do it in a way that allows the entire world to understand the murderous acts that he's engaged in and not to make him into a martyr and to be sure that the United States government is abiding by the basic conventions that would strengthen our hand in the broader battle against terrorism."
    
McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann seized on the word martyr.
 
"Now, the last time I checked the definition of martyr, it's someone who dies for a cause or is killed for a cause and it seems to be that Sen. Obama is ruling out capital punishment for Osama bin Laden were he to be captured alive under U.S. jurisdiction," he said.
 
The Obama campaign said that interpretation was wrong and noted Obama is on record saying he believed bin Laden "would qualify for the death penalty."
    
When he spoke about bin Laden on Wednesday, Obama cited the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II as an example of how the United States "advanced a set of universal principles" in bringing to justice people who committed heinous acts.
    
After the Nuremberg proceedings, 10 top Nazi figures were hanged following the main trials and several dozen lower-lever figures were hanged following other trials.

Click here for more Reuters 2008 campaign coverage: http:www.reuters.com/globalcoverage/2008candidates

Pakistan-U.S. alliance scarred

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A New York Times report about Pakistan threatening to postpone or cancel an American programme to train a paramilitary force because of last week’s U.S. air strikes has been widely picked up in the Pakistani media.

Eleven soldiers from the Frontier Corps died in those air strikes in the Mohmand agency in circumstances that remain unclear. But the U..S.-Pakistan alliance forged after the September 11 attacks has been deeply scarred as a result, says the report. It quotes former Pakistan Army chief General Jehangir Karamat as saying that the United States deliberately targeted Pakistani forces and that there had not been a statement from the United States that this was friendly fire and that the intention was not to attack Pakistani forces.

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