Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

The other Guantanamo

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U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo military prison closed within the year, but what about the detention centre in Bagram, the U.S. military base in Afghanistan, which has an equally murky legal status ?

An estimated 600 detainees are held there, without any charge and many for over six years, rights activists say. That makes it more than twice the number held in Guantanamo, and according to military personnel who know both facilities, it is much more spartan and with lesser privileges as this report in the New York Times says.

Few detainees have had access to lawyers, and there was no question ever of allowing journalists or human rights advocates into the facility. I lived on the military base for four weeks as part of a group of journalists covering the war in 2002 and we had no clue where the prison was located, and we would keep guessing which one of the cavernous Soviet-built aircraft hangars the detainees were kept in.

Since then, the New York Times says, the population at the Bagram prison has expanded substantially, especially after the Bush administration largely halted the movement of prisoners to the Cuban facility in September 2004, making the Afghan centre the preferred alternative.

What does Pakistan want from U.S. envoy Holbrooke ?

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Former Pakistan ambassador to London and Washington Maleeha
Lodhi has given a taste of what Richard Holbrooke can expect when
he makes his maiden visit to Islamabad next week in his new role as
President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Pakistan and
Afghanistan.

She may have owed her diplomatic career to General Pervez Musharraf,  but being an ex-official does not mean she has lost touch.

Britain and the Kashmir banana skin

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Memories seem to be short in the British government when it comes to Kashmir. Foreign Secretary David Miliband stirred up a diplomatic row over the region during his visit to India earlier this month. As this piece in The Times says, Miliband angered Indian officials by giving what they described as “unsolicited advice” on Kashmir, over which India has three times gone to war with Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947 and over which it is in no mood to be lectured by outsiders, let alone the former colonial power.
It was on a visit to Pakistan and India in 1997 to mark the 50th anniversary of those two countries’ independence that the then British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, also got into trouble over Kashmir. Cook, who also served the Labour government, was forced to row back from suggestions that Britain might help resolve the long-running dispute. His intervention cast a serious shadow over the visit by Queen Elizabeth, who was at one point forced to cancel a long-planned speech.
The visit, during which the queen was accompanied by Cook, went downhill after that, and at one point a senior British diplomat was seen sitting, head in hands in despair, on the pavement outside Chennai airport. There were even suggestions, denied of course, that the British High Commissioner might be recalled. Tony Blair, then prime minister, had to patch up ties by assuring his Indian counterpart, Inder Kumar Gujral, that London would not meddle in Delhi’s dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir.
One wonders whether Miliband was reminded of all this before he went to India, and if he was, why did he walk into the Kashmir minefield once again. Or maybe he wasn’t, which poses a different set of questions about competence and institutional memory at the Foreign Office.

Miliband’s gift: stiffening Indian resolve over Pakistan

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British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.

To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.

Afghanistan and the breakdown of the balance of power

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Keeping track of the many countries with a stake in Afghanistan — and the shifting alliances between them — is beginning to feel awfully like one of those school history lessons when you were supposed to understand the complex and tenuous balance of power whose breakdown led to World War One.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became the latest to call for a regional solution to Afghanistan when he said this week that the United States and its NATO allies must directly engage with Iran if they are to win the war there. “If we are going to succeed in this game, we need to be playing on the right field,” he said. “And that means a more regional approach. To my mind we need a discussion that brings in all the relevant regional players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, yes, Iran.”

The scramble for Central Asia

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Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it’s worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan’s oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

U.S. missile strikes on Pakistan : more of the same under Obama or worse to come?

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The first U.S. missiles have struck Pakistan since U.S. President Barack Obama  took office, dispelling any possibility that he might relent on these raids that have so angered Pakistanis, many of whom think it only engenders reprisal attacks from militants on their cities.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari protested to the U.S. ambassador over Friday’s twin raids in South and North Waziristan and  newspaper editorialists and commentators are worried this is just a foretaste of things to come. The strikes, the first since Jan 2, have led the Dawn newspaper to recall Obama’s statements during the presidential camapaign when he repeatedly said he would “take out high value terrorist targets” inside Pakistan if it was unable or unwilling to do so.

Obama’s South Asian envoy and the Kashmir conundrum

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Earlier this month, I wrote that the brief given to a South Asian envoy by President Barack Obama could prove to be the first test of the success of Indian diplomacy after the Mumbai attacks. At issue was whether the envoy would be asked to focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan or whether the brief would be extended to India, reflecting comments made by Obama during his election campaign that a resolution of the Kashmir dispute would ease tensions across the region.

That question has been resolved – publicly at least — with the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. No mention of India or Kashmir.

With 15,000 fighters in Pakistan’s FATA, who is in control?

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The governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has been quoted as saying that there are 15,000 militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). 

The fighters, who would very nearly constitute a small army division, “have no dearth of rations, ammunition, equipment, even anti-tank mines,”  Owais Ahmad Ghani told a team from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led by Asma Jahangir, according to newspaper reports. A militant or a foot soldier earned between  6,000 ($75) to 8000 rupees a month while commanders took home 20,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees, the governor said.
 
With 15,000 armed fighters, give or take a few thousand, you would have to wonder who is control of the area, them or the security forces?

from FaithWorld:

Should Obama address “Muslim world” as a bloc?

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President Barack Obama has just pledged to make a new start for United States relations with the Muslim world: "To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said in his inaugural address. "To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." (Photo: President Obama delivers his inaugural address, 20 Jan 2009/Jason Reed)

It's not clear what he plans to do. One idea he's mentioned is to deliver a major speech in a Muslim country in his first year in office. There's already a lively discussion on the web about where he should go. During his speech, CNN showed a shot of the crowd with some people holding up signs urging him to deliver the speech in Morocco.

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