Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Huge bomb hits heart of Islamabad

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Scene of destruction outside Marriott Hotel

A suicide truck bomber hit the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad on Saturday, killing at least 40 people, wounding nearly 250 and starting a huge fire.

The explosion came hours after President Asif Ali Zardari made his first address to parliament a few hundred metres away, calling for terrorism to be rooted out.

Defence analyst Talaat Massood said that militants, who had launched a string of bombings in retaliation for attacks on them, were giving an “unambiguous message that, if the government pursues these policies, this is what we will do in response”.

“They are saying ‘We can strike anywhere, at any time, regardless of how good you think your security is’ … They are are also giving a message to the people of Pakistan: ‘Your government and army are allowing the Americans to attack our territory’.”

U.S., bin Laden losing support in Pakistan – Pew report

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Both the United States and Osama bin Laden are losing support in Pakistan, according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes report released this week (download the full PDF report to see details on Pakistan).

The poll, conducted before the resignation of former President Pervez Musharraf, showed faith in U.S. intentions towards democracy  was weaker than ever - only 20 percent believed the United States favoured democracy in Pakistan, down from 39 percent in 2005.

Upping the ante in Kashmir

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Is New Delhi sending a signal to Pakistan by deploying its top strike warplanes in the Kashmir region?

It could just be a routine move to help pilots operate the nuclear-capable Su-30 aircraft  , codenamed Flanker by NATO, in another environment, but the timing is intriguing.

Should the Afghans be talking to the Taliban?

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai used a Sept 11 address last year to appeal to the Taliban to come for talks and end bloodshed in the war-torn nation.

The Taliban responded with even more attacks, turning 2008 into the bloodiest year yet since the U.S. led invasion seven years ago, and understandably Karzai who survived an assassination attempt this year has gone quiet on the talks offer.

Facing up to “the war in Pakistan”

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Masked pro-Taliban Pakistani militantsThere has been much hesitation in the world’s media about how to label U.S. military action inside Pakistan’s borders, including a reported ground raid and a series of missile strikes. Do you call it an “invasion”? Or use the more innocuous-sounding “intervention”? In an editorial, the Washington Post gives it a name which is rather striking in its directness. It calls it quite simply, The War in Pakistan.

President George W. Bush’s reported decision in July to step up attacks by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the newspaper says, was both necessary and long overdue. It acknowledges there is a risk the strikes might prompt a breach between the U.S. and Pakistani armies, or destabilize the new civilian government in Pakistan. But, it says, ”no risk to Pakistan’s political system or its U.S. relations is greater than that of a second 9/11 staged from the tribal territories. U.S. missile and commando attacks must be backed by the best intelligence and must minimize civilian casualties. But they must continue.”

Nudging India and Pakistan towards peace

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Barricade of burning tyres in Srinagar/Fayaz KabliOne of the more recurrent themes in U.S. political punditry these days is the need to nudge India and Pakistan towards peace. The theory is that this would bolster the new civilian government in Islamabad by encouraging trade and economic development, reduce a rivalry that threatens regional stability, including in Afghanistan, and limit the role of the Pakistan Army, whose traditional dominance has been fuelled by a perceived threat from India.

So what are the chances of progress? (assuming the latest bombings just being reported in Delhi do not trigger a new downwards spiral)

Will Pakistan become a quagmire for the United States?

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File photo of Pakistani soldiers at a post overlooking Wana in South WaziristanFollowing up on yesterday’s post about U.S. military action in Pakistan, I see the New York Times is reporting that President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July allowing American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.

The new orders, it says, relax firm restrictions on conducting raids on the soil of an important ally without permission.

U.S. and Pakistan: Is there method in the madness?

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File photo of national flagLast week, after U.S. forces were reported to have launched their first ground assault in Pakistan, the website Registan.net asked the obvious question: “Did We Just Invade Pakistan?”  Nearly a week and several missile attacks by U.S. drones later, I am still pondering the same question.

We have just witnessed what may have been the most sustained U.S. military action against targets inside Pakistan, not just since 2001, but since 1947 when the country was founded.  Yet it is not any clearer what is going on.  The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an excellent round-up of media reports on Pakistan, published by the Washington Post. But I’d defy anyone to read through them and come up with a coherent hypothesis that does not immediately run into a contradiction.  Here are some of the ideas being discussed:

from Fan Fare:

Little action, but Kashmir film packs punch

kashmir.jpgWatching "Zero Bridge", a film set in Indian-administered Kashmir, I have to say I was constantly braced for something nasty -- a bomb from nowhere, a gun attack, blood on the streets. Like many Westerners I associate Kashmir with conflict. Unlike many Westerners I have actually been there, but to Muzaffarabad and along the valleys beneath towering mountains on the Pakistani side of the divided region.

The film, presented at the Venice film festival, is not directly related to the conflict -- tens of thousands of people have been killed since 1989 when Muslim rebels launched a violent campaign opposing Indian rule in the Muslim-majority region. Yet it still carried a powerful message.

A decisive moment : India, Pakistan on different paths

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The irony is hard to miss. Just as Pakistan is struggling with the fallout of the first known breach of its territorial sovereignty by U.S. ground troops and all the odium associated with it in a proud nation, India has been welcomed into the nuclear high table, almost entirely at America’s behest.

Two unrelated events but coming days apart seemed to underline the divergent paths the two nations are embarked upon.  One has a gun pointed to it; the other is being wooed.

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