Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The sentencing of an Afghan journalist to 20 years in jail for distributing an Internet article that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women has raised questions about freedom of expression and possibly the rising influence of hardline Islamists in war-ravaged Afghanistan. But is there politics at play here as well?
Sayed Perwiz Kambkhash, 23, a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw ("New World"), was sentenced to death in January for insulting the Prophet after his arrest a few months earlier in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The trial reportedly took five minutes and he was not allowed to offer a defense. The appeals court commuted that sentence to 20 years.
Death sentences for blasphemy sound like something the Taliban would impose, but Mazar-i-Sharif is far from being a Taliban redoubt. It was once a stronghold of the old Northern Alliance, which backed by U.S. firepower, ousted the Taliban from power after the Sept. 11 suicide airliner attacks. The capital of Balkh province, Mazar-i-Sharif, is home to the Shrine of Hazrat Ali, the "Blue Mosque" revered by Shias. The dominant language is Persian (Uzbek is also spoken) and ties with Iran have traditionally been strong. The Pashtu-speaking Taliban, who are Sunnis from eastern and southern Afghanistan, have little to do with that part of the country.
But could they have some influence after all? The journalist watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said the case has exposed the extent to which judges have been vulnerable to pressure from Islamists. The case also come at a politically intriguing time. President Hamid Karzai's administration has begun quiet talks with the Taliban in Saudi Arabia, aimed at finding a political solution to a conflict that has become more intensified seven years after the 9/11 attacks.
India and Pakistan will open a trade link across divided Kashmir for the first time in six decades on Tuesday, aiming to ease tensions by creating soft borders in the disputed region. The move looks to be fairly tentative; lorries will be allowed across the military ceasefire line only once a week, carrying a limited list of goods, and will be expected to unload some 10 km to 15 km beyond the Line of Control which separates the Indian and Pakistani-held parts of the region. But it has potentially more than symbolic significance, particularly if it helps to open up the isolated Kashmir Valley — at the heart of the separatist revolt – to the outside world.
The step, which would have been unthinkable before a ceasefire on the Line of Control in late 2003, is also meant to build trust between India and Pakistan. The region’s governor, N.N. Vohra, described it as an important milestone in India-Pakistan relations. But as is so often the case in India-Pakistan relations, there have been some unexpected counter-currents recently, acting as a powerful undertow against attempts to improve the two countries’ approach to Kashmir.
Does the financial crisis mark the beginning of the end of American global dominance? And if so, what would the decline of American power mean for Afghanistan and Pakistan? It’s early days yet, but here are a few themes that are emerging from the maelstrom.
If you put aside the many arguments over whether the Americans were, or were not, guilty of latter-day imperialism, you can find consensus on two main points: that the U.S. model of free-market capitalism has been sorely challenged by the financial crisis; and that America’s reputation as a military superpower has been tarnished by its less-than-successful campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told a joint session of parliament last month he was committed to wide-ranging constitutional reforms including surrendering the power of the president to dismiss elected governments — a power that many Pakistanis feel has brought much grief to the nation. He also pledged his faith in an independent judiciary and said all outstanding matters would be resolved in line with the constitution.
Those promises have slipped somewhat from public view in recent weeks, preoccupied as the nation and those with a stake in it are with the multiple security challenges and a looming economic meltdown.
Haroon Bacha, a Pashtun singer, has fled his home in the Pakistani city of Peshawar after a year of phone calls, text messages and even personal visits warning him to stop playing, the New York Times reported this week.
Bacha, who has left his wife and children and an extended family behind, has found a safe haven in New York where he is playing at benefit concerts and even weddings, the newspaper said. (more…)
According to this McClatchy report, a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate — reflecting the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies — has described Pakistan as being “on the edge”.
Is U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama going to heed calls from Pakistani-Americans to tone down his statements on hunting militants inside Pakistan ?
Democrat Obama and Republican candidate John McCain face off in a final debate in New York state on Wednesday night.
If your country is desperate to stave off economic collapse, there is probably no better place to visit, and no better friend to have, than China right now. With $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China is sheltered from the worst of the financial storm, so much so that many are looking at it to play a part in hauling the global economy into calmer waters.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari begins a trip to China on Tuesday on what is being billed as his first official visit abroad – his earlier trip to the United States has been presented as one to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
from Photographers Blog:
I've spent the past month embedded with the German armed forces Bundeswehr - operating as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan - accompanying troops during missions from their bases in Masar-e-Sharif, Feyzabad and Kunduz. This is the first time the German army have allowed news agency photographers to be embedded with operational units, in the way the U.S. have allowed journalists similar access for many years. To be close to the units operating on the ground is the only way to report on their day-to-day work.
Tuesday, September 30th was a special day. It was the first day after the month's new moon and Muslims all over the world were celebrating the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It is a joyful day for Afghans too. Families prepare delicious food and celebrate together with friends and relatives.
America is in Afghanistan for the long haul and the sooner it tells its people the better it would be for its own sake, says top U.S. military scholar Anthony Cordesman in a study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Warning that the United States faced a crisis in the field, Cordesman says Washington has no choice but to commit more troops, more resources and time to stop the haemorrhaging. And even if the Taliban/al Qaeda momentum is decisively reversed in 2009/2010, this is a war that will last into the next presidency.