Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Insurgency in Pakistan: what next?

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After last weekend’s attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, one of the questions being asked with a rather troubling air of inevitability was: where next? That question was answered on Thursday with a string of attacks across the country, including three in Lahore.

So now, what next?

Many expect the attacks to continue, as militants based in the country’s heartland Punjab province unleash a wave of violence ahead of a planned military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in their stronghold in South Waziristan.  Few are prepared to predict either how much worse they could get, nor exactly how Pakistan will respond.

The blogger “Londonstani” at Abu Muqawama writes that, “the media, foreign and domestic, seems to be split between two narratives: ‘Militants are getting stronger and we are stuffed’ or ‘This is the last gasp of militants who are about to be ground to pulp by the army’”.

He argues however that “the downfall of militancy of this kind is built into its success. It can only really thrive when it is seen as a by-product of unpopular government policies, foreign occupation etc. But when the militancy gets powerful enough to pull off spectaculars like the operations today in Lahore, that’s when the local population see it as a threat in its own right. When it starts looking like a realistic possibility (even if pretty distant) that Taliban types might soon be telling you how to live, ambivalence towards their activities falls away.”

from Global News Journal:

Afghanistan’s protracted election sours the mood

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An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.

Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.

It’s still the economy, stupid, in Pakistan

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A few weeks ago I asked a Pakistani diplomat what was, among the multiple threats facing the country, the single biggest challenge?

It wasn’t al Qaeda or the Taliban, it wasn’t the United States as many Pakistanis believe. And it wasn’t even India, for long the existential threat the military and succeeding generations of politicians have invested blood and treasure to checkmate.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: is it time to ditch “AfPak”?

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One of the arguments frequently put forward for sending more western troops to Afghanistan is that western failure there will destabilise Pakistan.

Very roughly summarised, this 21st century version of the domino theory suggests that a victory for Islamist militants in Afghanistan would so embolden them that they might then overrun Pakistan – a far more dangerous proposition given its nuclear weapons.

Attack in Rawalpindi: are Pakistan’s militant groups uniting?

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An attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in the city of Rawalpindi has highlighted the country’s vulnerability to a backlash from Islamist militants in the Pakistani Taliban as it prepares an offensive against their stronghold in South Waziristan. It follows a suicide bombing in Peshawar which prompted Interior Minister Rehman Malik to say that ”all roads are leading to South Waziristan.”

But what is perhaps more troubling about the attack is not so much the backlash from the Pakistani Taliban (the Tehrik-e-Taliban, or TTP)  holed up in the Waziristan tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, but rather suggestions of growing co-operation between al Qaeda-linked groups there and those based in Punjab, the heartland of Pakistan.

Afghanistan blames Pakistan for embassy bombing; India holds fire

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Afghanistan has wasted little time in accusing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency of being behind a bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul on Thursday.

Asked by PBS news channel whether Kabul blamed Pakistan for the bombing, Afghan ambassador to the United States Said Jawad said: ”Yes, we do. We are pointing the finger at the Pakistan intelligence agency, based on the evidence on the ground and similar attacks taking place in Afghanistan.”

The Twittering classes on Obama’s prize and Pakistan

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(Updated with official reaction)

The decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama has opened up a field day for people on Twitter.

 While many politicians around the world were still working out their reactions to the surprise announcement, Twitterers leapt in with instant analysis from Pakistan, India and around the world. Here are some of the more frequent retweets which caught my eye::

Indian engagement in Afghanistan, a blessing or a headache

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U.S. General Stanley McChrystal in his assessment of the war in Afghanistan last month only briefly touched upon the growing role of India, but his words were blunt and unsettling for India. In the light of Thursday’s attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul that left 17 people dead, McChrsytal’s comments may yet turn out to be prescient.

“Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India,” he said, according to the leaked version of his report.

U.S. aid to Pakistan: the law of unintended consequences

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U.S. plans to triple aid to Pakistan to $1.5 billion a year appear to have run rather quickly afoul of the law of unintended consequences – by threatening to create tensions between the government and the army.

The Kerry-Lugar aid bill is meant to bolster Pakistan’s civilian democracy and help the country fight Islamist militants.  But it also stipulates that U.S. military aid will cease if Pakistan does not help fight the militants; seeks Pakistani cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and provides for an assessment of how effective the civilian government’s control is over the military.

Pakistan: Getting Waziristan right this time

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U.S. defence officials, in a ringing vote of confidence, said over the weekend that Pakistan had the forces and equipment to launch a long-awaited ground offensive in South Waziristan. It could mount this assault without seeking more reinforcements, a U.S. official said, according to this Reuters report. Yet Pakistan had cited in recent months shortages of helicopters, armoured vehicles and precision weapons in putting off a Waziristan assault.So what has changed? Has the United States,  desperate to turn around a faltering war in Afghanistan, got ahead of itself in nudging Pakistan toward “the mother-of-all battles”? Some people are asking if the Pakistan Army is really ready to start what must be its bigest test yet since the militants turned on the Pakistani state. If the idea is to go in and linflict casualties on the Taliban in the hope of killing senior leaders, then it will be another punitive strike for which the force levels may well be adequate.But if the Pakistan Army plans to go into the Mehsud strongholds and occupy the region then the numbers are a bit worrying, says Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal.  A Pakistan Army spokesman has said that  two divisions, or up to 28,000 soldiers, are in place to take on an estimated 10,000 hard-core Taliban. But Roggio says Waliur Rehman Mehsud, who heads the Mehsud Taliban forces in Waziristan, (Hakimullah Mehsud who surfaced at the weekend is the overall head of the Pakistani Taliban) is estimated to command anything between 10,000 to 30,000 forces.  If the army were to wage a full-scale counter-insurgency they and the Frontier Corps “would need to throw multiple divisions against a Taliban force of this size,” he argues. And then there is the Haqqani network, as well as a sizeable contingent of Uzbek and other non-Pakistani fighters in the area. They may well join the fight, according to the Dawn newspaper. (more…)

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