Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Buried within Foreign Policy’s latest Failed States Index (Pakistan is in 10th place, though its overall score at 104.1 compared to 103.8 in 2008 suggests a far slower rate of decline than might have been expected given its troubles over the past year) is a short article worth reading about its looming water crisis.
“The country’s troubles today pale compared with what it might face 25 years from now. When it comes to the stability of one of the world’s most volatile regions, it’s the fate of the Himalayan glaciers that should be keeping us awake at night,” says author Stephan Faris. “In the mountainous area of Kashmir along and around Pakistan’s contested border with India lies what might become the epicentre of the problem.”
But there’s still no real sign of it getting the attention it deserves, despite its obvious potential not only to stoke tensions between India and Pakistan, but also to create water and food shortages and flash floods.
The suicide bomb attack on the Pakistan Army in Pakistani Kashmir on Friday was not only unprecedented; it also raised questions about the state of militancy in Pakistan.
At its simplest level, the first suicide bombing in Pakistan’s side of Kashmir was seen as a reaction by the Pakistani Taliban to Pakistan’s military campaign against them in South Waziristan. “The militants are hurting and they are reacting. And this is a reaction to the successful operations we’ve had in Waziristan and we’ve had in the Malakand division,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Reuters.
One theory about how to deal with militant Islamism calls for promoting Sufism, the mystical school of Islam known for its tolerance, as a potent antidote to more radical readings of the faith. Promoted for several years now by U.S.-based think tanks such as Rand and the Heritage Institute, a Sufi-based approach arguably enjoys an advantage over other more politically or economically based strategies because it offers a faith-based answer that comes from within Islam itself. After trying so many other options for dealing with the Taliban militants now openly challenging it, the Pakistani government now seems ready to try this theory out. Just at the time when it's suffered a stinging set-back in practice... (Photo: Pakistani Sufi musicians in Karachi, 7 May 2007/Zahid Hussein)
Earlier this month, on June 7 to be exact, Islamabad announced the creation of a Sufi Advisory Council (SAC) to try to enlist spirituality against suicide bombers. In theory at least, this approach could have wide support. Exact numbers are unclear, but Pakistan is almost completely Muslim, about three-quarters of its Muslims are Sunnis and maybe two-thirds of them are Barelvis. This South Asian school of Islam, heavily influenced by traditional Sufi mysticism, is notable for its colourful shrines to saints whose very existence is anathema to more orthodox forms of Islam. Among those are the minority of Pakistani Sunnis, the Deobandis, who are followers of a stricter revivalist movement founded in 19th-century India whose militant branch led to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Many Deobandis think Pakistan's Shi'ite minority is not truly Muslim.
In a world used to watching war played out on television, and more recently to following protests in Iran via Twitter and YouTube, the Pakistan Army’s impending military offensive in South Waziristan on the Afghan border is probably not getting the attention it deserves — not least but because the operation is shrouded in secrecy.
Yet the offensive has the potential to be a turning point in the battle against the Taliban which began with the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Many Taliban and their al Qaeda allies fled Afghanistan to Pakistan’s tribal areas after the U.S. invasion – the CIA said this month it believed Osama bin Laden was still hiding in Pakistan. The offensive in South Waziristan, designed to target Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, would if successful deprive the Taliban and al Qaeda of what has been until now one of their safest boltholes.
President Barack Obama chose his words carefully when asked in an interview with Dawn earlier this week why the United States has been silent on Kashmir in recent months:
“I don’t think that we’ve been silent on the fact that India is a great friend of the United States and Pakistan is a great friend of the United States, and it always grieves us to see friends fighting. And we can’t dictate to Pakistan or India how they should resolve their differences, but we know that both countries would prosper if those differences are resolved,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
from India Insight:
Pakistan's success in the Twenty20 cricket World Cup must rank as one of sports' more timely victories. For a state that is supposed to be at war with itself, failing and in danger of fragmentation there cannot be a sweeter way to hit back.
Younus Khan who led his unfancied team comes from the North West Frontier Province, as does Shahid Afridi whose explosive batting took Pakistan to an eight-wicket win over Sri Lanka, another nation wracked by decades of civil war, but coming out of it.
from India Insight:
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has dropped a plan to travel to Egypt next month where he was expected to hold further talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following their meeting in Russia this week.
Pakistan's foreign office has said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the summit of Non-Aligned Nations in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh although soon after the Singh-Zardari meeting in Yekaterinburg the two sides announced plans for a second meeting in July.
As encounters go between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari — their first since last November’s Mumbai attacks — was a somewhat stolid affair.
It had none of the unscripted drama of the handshake famously offered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when they met at a South Asian summit in Kathmandu in January 2002, while the two countries mobilised for war following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. Musharraf’s gesture made little difference in a military stand-off which continued for another six months.
It was Lord Curzon, Britain’s turn of the century Viceroy of India, who said it would need a brave man to subjugate Pakistan’s rebellious Waziristan region and he was not up to it.
“No patchwork scheme—and all our present recent schemes…are mere patchwork—will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace. But I do not want to be the person to start that machine,” he said in remarks that have oft been repeated each time anyone has attempted to bring the region under control.
Power play in South Asia is always a delicate dance and anything that happens between India and China will likely play itself out across the region, not the least in Pakistan, Beijing’s all weather friend.
And things are starting to move on the India-China front. We carried a report this weekabout India’s plan to increase troop levels and build more airstrips in the remote state of Arunachal Pradesh, a territory disputed by China. New Delhi planned to deploy two army divisions, the report quoted Arunachal governor J.J. Singh as saying.