Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

India, Pakistan locked in their animosities

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-  A few readers have pointed out an article that appeared in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper several days ago that urges Pakistanis to begin thinking out-of the-box, stop being defensive and face up to harsh realities.
 
It is interesting because it stands out in the feverish, and often involved reporting that has characterised media in both India and Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks. The author, Shandana Khan Mohmand, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, says Pakistan must really accept the reality that it is not the equal of India, a belief that he thought had stunted its development  
“We cannot win a war against it, we cannot compare the instability of our political system to the stability of theirs, we cannot hope to compete economically with what is a booming economy well on its way to becoming a global economic power, and we certainly cannot compare the conservativeness of our society to the open pluralism of their everyday life,” he writes.
 
Pakistan’s most beneficial economic strategy would be to get in on the boom next door in India, he argues. But for this, “we need to think outside the box – outside the two-nation theory, outside the box of the violence of 1947, and outside the box of the ill-conceived wars of the last six decades.”
 
Strong words those, and one that apply to both nations walled off from each other nursing their animosities over the years. As political commentator M.J.Akbar wrote in the Times of India, India and Pakistan aren’t neighbours, they are worlds apart. He believes the two fully turned away from each other after the 1965 war. ”Walls of regulation were raised to block knowledge, and then vision. If you do not see a neighbour, he is not a neighbour. There are no neighbours in the huge apartment blocks of Mumbai, only adjacent numbers.”  
Is it any wonder then that a popular Pakistani comedian who made thousands laugh on an Indian TV show has had to return home  after being threatened in a Mumbai studio?   [Reuters pic of India and Pakistani border guards)  

India-U.S: advancing a transformed relationship

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In the space of a decade, the United States and India have travelled far in a relationship clouded by the  Cold War when they were on opposite sides.

From U.S sanctions on India for its nuclear tests in 1998 to a civilian nuclear energy deal that opens access to international nuclear technology and finance, while allowing New Delhi to retain its nuclear weapons programme is a stunning reversal of policy and one that decisively transforms ties.

NATO leader slams Afghan government

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NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has attacked the Afghan government over its failure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, saying that “the basic problem in Afghanistan is not too much Taliban; it’s too little good governance”.

In a strongly worded op-ed in the Washington Post, he says people in countries that have contributed troops to the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan are wondering how long its operation must last, “and how many young men and women we will lose carrying it out”.

Pakistani Taliban force girls’ schools to close

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Taliban militants have banned female education in the northwest Pakistan valley of Swat, depriving more than 40,000 girls of schooling. Last month, the Taliban warned parents against sending their daughters to school, saying female education was “unIslamic”.  The warning was reiterated by a close aide to militant leader Mullah Fazlullah in a message broadcast through an illegal FM radio station on Friday night. Government schools have been shut down and some 300 private schools due to reopen next month after the winter break will probably remain closed, a senior official said.

The development highlights the extent to which the Taliban have extended their influence from the tribal regions on the border with Afghanistan into Pakistan itself, and their willingness to challenge Pakistanis’ way of life.

And now the strategic encirclement of Pakistan

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An Indian military presence in Afghanistan to put further pressure on Pakistan? That would be the red  rag for Pakistan, and the end of its long struggle to seek strategic depth  in Afghanistan against its much larger eastern neighbour.

Indian newspapers have reported army chief General Deepak Kapoor as saying at a news conference that such a move would squeeze Pakistan, although he seemed to be at considerable pains to stress this  was a decision that India’s politicians had to take.

Pakistani society in the throes of tectonic change?

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Pakistan is dealing with multiple challenges all at once – its sovereignty and its very idea of itself as an independent nation state are tested in the northwest by both the Islamist militants and U.S. forces hunting them. To its east, the old hostility with India is back in full force following the Mumbai attacks. Then above all, some think the economic meltdown is a more serious risk to Pakistan’s survival than the threat of a conflict with India.

Where does a proud nation turn to for deliverance, faced with almost daily prognosis of its imminent demise?

Afghanistan’s ground realities

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There’s been much talk about the need for a new U.S. strategic approach to Afghanistan, that would combine a regional diplomatic initiative covering Iran, Russia, China, India and Pakistan with plans to send in thousands more troops.

The most recent in this vein came in an article in the Washington Post this week. It says President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like “surge” of forces will significantly change the direction of the conflict. 

Obama and his South Asian envoy

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There’s much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it’s likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy’s beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Pakistan and its nuclear weapons loom large over Obama administration

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Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are back in the centre  of the U.S. foreign policy frame as a steady stream of reports from think tanks and newspapers build the case for President-elect Barack Obama to recognise and act urgently with regard to the potential threat from the troubled state.

The New York Times Magazine in an extensive article  headlined Obama’s Worst Pakistan Nighmare says the biggest fear is not Islamist militants taking control of the border regions. It’s what happens if the country’s nuclear arsenal falls into the wrong hands. And it then takes a trip to the Chaklala garrison where the headquarters of Strategic Plans Division, the branch of the Pakistani government charged with protecting its growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, are located and led  by Khalid Kidwai, a former army general.

Biden in Pakistan: Where’s the baseline?

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U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden held talks in Pakistan as part of a regional tour expected to focus on terrorism and tensions between Pakistan and India following the Mumbai attacks.

Before he left the United States, Biden, travelling in his capacity as outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that “What I hope to accomplish is to get sort of a baseline. This will be my God knows how many trips, I guess my 10th or 11th trip into Iraq and I don’t know how many times in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Politico quoted him as saying.

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