Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from Global News Journal:
In 2001 President George W. Bush famously declared that he had looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul. He invited the Russian leader to his parents' seaside estate
in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the former Texas oilman and ex-KGB spy went fishing and ate lobster. Bush then visited the Russian leader at his vacation villa in the Black Sea resort in Sochi, all to repair a friendship that had developed cracks.
In another land far, far away Bush was trying to build ties with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf who decided after the Sept. 11 attacks that he was going to be "with," rather than "against," the United States in helping fight terrorism. Bush traveled to Islamabad and stood side-by-side with the Pakistani leader, who had taken control of the government through a coup years ago, and pledged U.S. support for the ally who was helping fight al Qaeda.
As Bush prepares to leave office in January, those friendships have taken a turn. Musharraf just resigned rather than face impeachment. Russia, now with Putin as prime minister and his protege as president, has sent forces into Georgia, a staunch U.S. ally in the region.
While Pakistan and indeed much of the world has been transfixed by the political power play that has seen President Pervez Muaharraf go, a refugee crisis is unfolding in its troubled northwest.
The numbers fleeing escalating fighting between the Pakistan Army and militants holed up in Bajaur on the border with Afghanistan vary but they are all huge. The Daily Times said that the provincial government had set up relief camps for 219,000 people displaced in the latest wave of fighting.
UPDATE – President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation has been greeted with jubilation from supporters of the ruling PML-N and PPP parties (see picture right), and sparked a rally in the stock market. But reading through the comments on this and other blogs, I can’t see any clear theme emerging, with some praising and others condemning Musharraf’s legacy, some regretting and others welcoming his departure, and many fretting about the future.
The last time I visited Kashmir, in November, I was struck by an apparent contradiction: it was more peaceful than it had been in years, at least in the capital Srinagar, and yet the overwhelming mood was one of gloom. With the peace process between India and Pakistan going nowhere, there was a sense that thousands of people had died for nothing in the violence that had convulsed the region since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989. Although the soldiers had disappeared from the streets of Srinagar, and tourists were flocking back, it retained the some of the same tinderbox atmosphere that I had known at the height of the violence. One spark, people told me, could ignite it again.
When that spark came, in the form of a land dispute between Hindus and Muslims that triggered some of the biggest protests since 1989 (you can see my last posting on this here), the surprise was perhaps not so much that it happened but that so few analysts in Delhi (or Islamabad for that matter) saw it coming.
Amid the feverish speculation about when, how and where President Pervez Musharraf will go, analysts are already looking beyond to the future of Pakistan in a post-Musharraf era. One theme stands out: while the consensus appears to be that the Pakistan Army will not step in to save Musharraf, it might well intervene in the not so distant future if it believes it needs to save the country.
“Musharraf’s departure will highlight the problems that confront the country, which is in the grips of a food and energy crisis. Inflation is out of control,” writes Tariq Ali in the Los Angeles Times. ”The price of natural gas, used for cooking in many homes, has risen by 30%. Wheat, a staple, has seen a 20% price hike since November 2007 … According to a June survey, 86% of Pakistanis find it increasingly difficult to afford flour on a daily basis, for which they blame their new government.”
Less than a month ago, Senator Barack Obama was saying that the U.S. war in Afghanistan would be made easier if the United States worked to improve trust between India and Pakistan. “A lot of what drives, it appears, motivations on the Pakistan side of the border, still has to do with their concerns and suspicions about India,” he told a news conference in Amman.
The logic was in line with thinking expounded by U.S. analysts at the time who argued that elements within Pakistan will never completely relinquish support for Islamist militants in both Pakistan and Afghanistan as long as they believe they can be used to counter Indian influence in the region. Therefore end Pakistan’s insecurity about India, and support for militants will melt away, making the U.S. campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban much easier — or so the argument goes. At least that was the thinking barely a few weeks ago, as I wrote in an earlier blog on this subject.
Five years after she vanished from her parents’ home in Karachi along with her three children, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui appeared in a New York court last week accused of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan
Accounts of her arrest and the shooting incident differ.
Siddiqui, 36, was arrested outside the governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on July 17 after police searched her handbag and found documents on making explosives, excerpts from the book “Anarchist’s Arsenal” and descriptions of New York City landmarks, federal prosecutors said in a statement.
After months of relative peace which turned Kashmir into a near-forgotten conflict, the region has exploded again with some of the biggest protests since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989. What started as a dispute over land allocated to Hindu pilgrims visiting a shrine in Kashmir has snowballed into a full-scale anti-India protest, uniting Kashmiri separatists and reviving calls for independence.
The dispute has also pitted Muslims in Kashmir against Hindus in Jammu – the two regions which along with Ladakh make up the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir – in what is the biggest communal crisis faced by the central government in Delhi since it took office in 2004.
Pakistan’s fractious coalition has agreed to begin impeachment proceedings against President Pervez Musharraf but can it really pull it off ? Do they have the numbers — the two-thirds majority required from the National Assembly and Senate combined? Impeachement is like a trial, so what charges will they bring against him?
And then there is the army, still arguably the most powerful institution in a country of 160 million people battling Islamist extremism, tension on its borders with India and Afghanistan where U.S. led coalition forces are hunkered down, and facing an economic meltdown.
One of the questions that repeatedly came up during Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s rather eventful trip to the U.S. last month was who was in charge of the Inter-Services Intelligence , especially after the botched attempt to bring the powerful spy agency - that critics see as a state within a state – under the interior ministry.
But at home, Pakistanis are asking an even more fundamental question: Who really is in control of their country ? A very rough poll conducted by All Things Pakistan among people who visit the blog found that nearly 40 percent thought nobody was in control of the nuclear-armed Muslim nation of 160 million and from where at least the Americans are convinced the next major militant attack is coming.