Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The Pakistan Army is fighting to regain control of the Buner valley to stop a Taliban advance deeper into the heartland, a battle that could determine the course of action the United States adopts in the near future.
Two weeks is what U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus is giving the Pakistani establishment to destroy the Taliban in Buner, some 60 miles from Islamabad, and begin to reverse the tide in the rest of the northwest region, according to Fox News.
It quoted Petraeus as saying that the Pakistanis had “run out of excuses” and were finally serious about combating the threat from the Taliban and al Qaeda. But because of a history of offensives that were not carried to their conclusion and even ended up in a reversal of positions, the U.S.military had suspended judgment. It would wait to see concrete action by the government to finish off the Taliban who remained in control of parts of Buner.
U.S. President Barack Obama was a bit more positive, although he made clear at his news conference in Washington that he remained “gravely concerned” about Pakistan.
Often it’s the small details that bring alive the tragedy of a nation. I recommend reading this story on IRIN about how newly qualified school-teachers are unable to take up jobs in Pakistan’s Swat valley because the government is not functioning well enough to appoint them to vacant posts.
It quotes a 25-year-old as saying that his impoverished family had worked hard to send him to school and on to teacher-training. “We have been waiting for two years to be appointed. But this is being delayed. We are without jobs. We cannot support our families. The government has failed to help us at all,” he said. It also quotes an education department official in Swat as saying that posts were lying empty in schools as many teachers had fled the Swat valley, where the government concluded a peace deal with Taliban militants earlier this year. “But we can make no new appointments as we have no instructions from the government, plus the militants control everything anyway.”
The Pakistan Army has been getting a lot of flak over the past week or so for its alleged failure to take a tough line against Taliban militants expanding their reach across Pakistan’s north-west. And although Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement promising to fight the militants and security forces began a new offensive, doubts remain about the military’s willingness to take on Islamist groups that it once nurtured as part of its rivalry with India.
Among a spate of articles about Pakistan’s powerful military, Newsweek ran a piece headlined “Pakistan’s Self-Defeating Army”. It argued that far from serving as a bulwark against chaos, the military had helped destabilise Pakistan by undermining the development of a civilian democracy in the decades since the country was founded in 1947.
As Pakistani forces fight militants in an area close to Swat, there are two contrasting images of a state in upheaval.
One is a nuclear-armed country in great peril, in danger of being overrun by militants, and in turn a mortal threat to the rest of the world, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton painted it last week.
Is the Pakistan army getting ready to act against the Taliban militants who have made the deepest advance yet into the country, seizing control of Buner district, 100 km (60 miles) from Islamabad, after taking over Swat region?
The militants began withdrawing on Friday just as quietly as they moved into the district, and it wasn’t clear what had led to the sudden withdrawal.
India launched an Israeli-made spy satellite on Monday that will help it keep a close eye on its borders stretching from Pakistan in the west to China in the north and east.
The launch is significant for several reasons. First off, the all-weather advanced satellite that the Israelis themselves use for surveillance on nations such as Iran is an eye in the sky that Indian security planners have been demanding for long. India has its own sophisticated satellite imaging programme that gives pretty high resolution pictures, but, as a defence scientist once told me, they tended to go a bit blind in bad weather, especially during the monsoon.
Colonel Harish Puri says it is incredible that the Pakistan Army allowed something as reprehensible as the public flogging of a teenage girl in the Swat Valley without lifting a finger, even though it coudn’t have happened very far from an army checkpoint.
The world’s largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.
Indeed, with the pain and anger over the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it “dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism”, both parties say in their manifestos.
The United States has begun demanding rather publicly that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence make a clean break of its ties with the Afghan Taliban to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.
But can you force a country to act against its self-interest, despite all all your leverage, asks Robert D. Kaplan in a piece for the Atlantic. And does it make sense for an intelligence agency to break off all contact with arguably the biggest player in the region?
Up until now theirs has been an inspired performance, jumping from the fifth division of world cricket to one level below the major test-playing countries in less than a year. Now in South Africa for the World Cup qualifiers they are bidding for a place at the top table of cricket and after a dream run are struggling.