Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from India Insight:

India in a “ring of fire”

As a growing power which aims to rewrite global economic and geopolitical realities, India's first order of business is to secure its strategic periphery without provoking a backlash from its neighbours.

But the political crisis in Nepal, triggered by the resignation of Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda, is yet another reminder of India's strategic challenges.

Nepal has for long sat in India's sphere of influence, but the rise of the Maoists has seen an increasing antipathy in the nascent Himalayan republic towards New Delhi.

In fact, the Maoists' foreign policy chief told Reuters that India was to blame for precipitating the crisis by blocking Prachanda's move to remove army chief Roopmangud Katawal.

Afghanistan’s civilians caught in the middle

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Reuters correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison has written a moving and disturbing story about an 8-year-old girl badly burned by white phosphorous after being caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan.  Like everything else that happens in Afghanistan, the question of who fired the shell that exploded in her house is in dispute. Her family said the shell was fired by western troops; NATO said it was “very unlikely” the weapon was theirs; and a U.S. spokeswoman suggested the Taliban may have been responsible.

But beyond the dispute, what comes across powerfully in Emma’s account is the story of the girl. 

Pakistan: from refugee exodus to high-tech drones

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With Pakistan launching what the country’s Daily Times calls an “all-out war” against the Taliban, more than 500,000 people have fled the fighting in the northwest, bringing to more than a million those displaced since August, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.After apparently giving the Taliban enough rope to hang themselves, by offering a peace deal in the Swat valley which the government said they then reneged upon, the government for now seems to have won enough popular backing to launch its offensive.But to succeed in defeating the Taliban, the government must also be ready with a strategy to rebuild shattered lives if the mood in the northwest is not to turn sour, Dawn newspaper says. It quotes defence analyst Ikram Sehgal as estimating the military could take up to two months to conclude its campaign, and that dealing with the impact on civilians will require more than 10 times the one billion rupees (12 million dollars) the government has so far announced.In a separate article, it says that refugees are already upset about the behaviour of both the Taliban and the military. ’We are frightened of the Taliban and the army. If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes,” it quotes an 18-year-old girl as saying.Both Pakistan’s The News International newspaper and the blog Changing up Pakistan warn against the onset of compassion fatigue, both for  the sake of the people affected and to make sure refugee camps do not turn into recruiting grounds for the Taliban.”If the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win any more,” Changing up Pakistan says.In the meantime, more questions are being raised about the U.S. administration’s policy of using unmanned drone aircraft to fire missiles on Pakistan’s tribal areas. The missile attacks, meant to target militant leaders and disrupt al Qaeda’s capabilities, cause civilian casualties, alienate Pakistanis who see them as an invasion of sovereignty and add to a perception that Pakistan is fighting “America’s war” in one place, while being bombed by American planes in another.Foreign Policy Journal quotes U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as criticising the Obama administration for continuing the drone missile attacks first started under President George W. Bush. “We are bombing a sovereign country,” it quotes him as saying. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?” he asked.

It adds that he said there are “many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?”

Dawn newspaper also urges an end to the drone attacks in a passionately worded editorial.

Two views on Obama’s handling of Karzai

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With President Hamid Karzai now looking all but unassailable in Afghanistan’s August election, two articles out this week – one from Washington and the other from India – offer mirror-image analyses of President Barack Obama’s handling of the Afghan leader. They should really be read as companion pieces since both offer insights into the workings of the Obama administration and the complexities of Afghan politics.  Reading both together also highlights how different the world looks depending on your perspective, whether writing from America or Asia.According to this article in the Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (highlighted by Joshua Foust at Registan.net) the Obama administration had decided to keep Karzai at arm’s length. It says Obama’s advisers faulted former President George W. Bush for forging too personal a relationship with Karzai through bi-weekly video conferences and as a result creating such cosiness that it became hard for his administration to put pressure on the Afghan government.”It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of ‘How are you doing? How is your son?’” it quotes a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions as saying. “Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations.”"Obama’s advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader,” the report said.  ”Obama intends to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funnelling more money to local governors.”Retired Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has a rather different reading on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s approach. In this article in the Asia Times Online, headlined What Obama could learn from Karzai, (highlighted by Marie-France Calle on her French-language blog), he says the Americans allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred by the Afghan President by keeping him at arms-length.”In retrospect, United States President Barack Obama did a great favour to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by excluding him from his charmed circle of movers and shakers who would wield clout with the new administration in Washington,” he writes. “Obama was uncharacteristically rude to Karzai by not even conversing with him by telephone for weeks after he was sworn in, even though Afghanistan was the number one policy priority of his presidency.”But Karzai, he says, had the last laugh, as the opprobrium heaped upon him by the west raised his standing in Afghan eyes. Karzai had been able to manoeuvre himself into a strong position through weeks of Afghan-style backroom negotiations, capped by a decision by a popular candidate to pull out of the election race.”The Afghan experience with democracy offers a good lesson for Obama: it is best to keep a discreet distance and leave the Afghans to broker power-sharing on their own terms, according to their own ethos and tradition,” he writes. “However, Obama has a long way to go in imbibing the lessons of democracy in the Hindu Kush …”(Reuters photos: President Karzai, and Karzai with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Photos by Yuri Gripas and Jonathan Ernst)

Pakistan’s farmland sales: a fatal folly?

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Any student of history will tell you that a recurring feature of 20th century revolutions and civil wars was conflict over land ownership, driven by the resentment of the rural poor against the concentration of agricultural wealth in the hands of the elite. (Cuba and Vietnam, where Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh picked up support by championing farm reform, are good places to start.)

So Pakistan’s plans to sell farmland to rich Gulf investors deserve serious attention, even if land ownership does not have the same ability to grab headlines as its nuclear weapons.

The shifting sands of Pakistani politics

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Some readers have suggested that Pakistan’s politicians close ranks to beat back the Taliban advance, and that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party re-unites with the ruling coalition as a first step.

It is an idea that seems to be gaining traction, going by a spate of media reports  The Financial Times said that Sharif could consider joining a unity coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari, citing a senior member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Muslim).

Nuclear South Asia: Iran fires a shot at India

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Iran looks like it will come out swinging at a global conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) opening in New York on Monday, and in the process take a swipe at Israel as well as India.

And that is a bit of a shift, for India and Iran have ties going back into history, but which have in recent years come under pressure and play in the tangled relationship between India and Pakistan.

Will Obama chart his own course on Pakistan?

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President Barack Obama’s statement on Pakistan at a news conference on Wednesday appeared to be more measured than the spate of alarmist comments about the country in the past week or so.  It is worth reading in full:

“Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to move to Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be at war with the Taliban inside their own country.  Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands or, worst-case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?

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