Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Would peace between India and Pakistan help stabilise Afghanistan?

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File photo of Indian soldiers behind pictures of victims of Kabul embassy bombingAs far as a strategy for Afghanistan is concerned, it’s a long shot. Bring peace to India and Pakistan and not only will that stabilise Pakistan but it will also ease tensions in Afghanistan. Indeed it’s such a long shot that it has not been considered as a serious policy option. That was until last month’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. 

A spate of allegations that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI),  was involved in the bombing has forced India-Pakistan rivalry back onto centre-stage. This is not just about India and Pakistan, or so the argument goes. Their rivalry is undermining U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban since the ISI is maintaining links with Islamist militants to counter Indian influence in the region. And Pakistan’s denial of involvement in the embassy attack has done little to quell the speculation.

File photo of Wagah border crossing between India and PakistanIn The Atlantic.com, Robert Kaplan argues that the war in Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s larger struggle with India. “Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades,” he writes. ”To Pakistan, Afghanistan represents a strategic rear base that would (along with the Islamic nations of ex-Soviet Central Asia) offer a united front against Hindu-dominated India and block its rival’s access to energy-rich regions. Conversely, for India, a friendly Afghanistan would pressure Pakistan on its western border-just as India itself pressures Pakistan on its eastern border-thus dealing Pakistan a strategic defeat.”

His argument is that the ISI will never rest easy as long as it fears that Pakistan is threatened by a hostile Afghanistan on one side and a hostile India on the other.  “Unless we address what’s angering the ISI, we won’t be able to stabilize Afghanistan or capture al-Qaeda leaders inside its borders,” he says.

Why choose now to complain about Pakistan’s ISI?

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Partial solar eclipse in Karachi/Athar HussainWhy now? Until this week, the ISI was an acronym for Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, that was little known outside of South Asia. Now it’s all over the American media as the organisation accused of secretly helping Islamist militants in  Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the country it works for is a crucial ally in the U.S. battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The New York Times led the charge by reporting that the CIA had confronted Pakistan over what it called deepening ties between members of the ISI and militant groups responsible for a surge in violence in Afghanistan. It followed it up with a story  quoting U.S. government officials blaming the ISI for an attack last month on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Washington Post and TIME, amongst others, ran similar stories.

A chance for India and Pakistan to step back

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The leaders of India and Pakistan have a chance this weekend to stop things from spinning out of control when they gather in Colombo for a summit of South Asian nations.

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The mood has decidedly turned sour in India, especially after the bombing of its embassy in Kabul which the Indians, the Afghans and now the Americans – according to a report in the New York Times- have blamed on Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. Attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, a day apart, and then the most serious eruption of gunfire across the Line of Control in Kashmir since a 2003 truce have further increased concern that a four-year peace process is rapidly coming apart.

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