Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

In Afghanistan: fighting over the terms of a settlement

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karzai londonAt last week’s London conference, two of the great truisms of warfare punched their way to the surface. The first is that wars are fought as much on the home front as on the battlefield. With public support for the war in Afghanistan ebbing away, the United States and its allies in NATO have shifted from seeking outright victory to looking for an exit strategy that will allow them to start bringing home their troops next year.  Rather as the British did after their two failed invasions of Afghanistan in the 19th century, they are sending in reinforcements in a display of military might which they hope will secure better terms in an eventual settlement.

The other truism is that if you can’t win outright victory on the battlefield, then you have to negotiate with your enemies. President Hamid Karzai set the ball rolling by announcing he would hold a peace council to which, according to an Afghan government spokesman, the Taliban leadership would be invited.  Karzai has made such suggestions before, and it is by no means clear the Taliban leadership will send representatives. What was different this time, however, was the context.  Karzai’s suggestion no longer met with the same resistance from war-weary governments, who stressed that it was up to the Afghans themselves to lead the process of reconciliation.  He also coupled his call for a peace council with an appeal to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to bring peace to Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia is a trusted interlocutor between the Afghan government and the Taliban leadership; Pakistan is the only country which still has some measure of leverage over them. Thus Karzai’s call for a loya jirga, though not dramatic in itself, became emblematic of a broader shift towards seeking a political settlement to end the war.

What happens now is so complicated and so delicate, that no one can predict the outcome. Just as western governments have little clear idea about who might buy into a political settlement and on what terms, nor do the insurgents themselves. Contacts with various insurgent groups are expected to follow many  different tracks,  so that everyone — on all sides — is going to be watching what everyone else does to try to maximise their advantage.

The warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose men play a powerful role in the insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, has shown some signs of flexibility, according to the Wall Street Journal. In a video leaked to the WSJ, he said that “we have no agreement with the Taliban – not for fighting the war, and not for the peace.”

On Taliban/AQ ties and the Afghanistan exit strategy

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british soldierVahid Brown at the CTC Sentinel has a new article (pdf document) out arguing that the relationship between Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden before 9/11 was considerably more fractious than it was made out to be.  The main source of argument was between the Taliban’s Afghan nationalist agenda and bin Laden’s view of global jihad, and in particular his determination to attack the United States, he says.

Based on an account by an insider, he challenges the assumption that bin Laden personally swore an oath of allegiance to Mullah Omar. The account by Egyptian jihadist Mustafa Hamid, better known as Abul-Walid al-Masri, was first published in jihadist forums in 2007 but gained little attention outside specialist websites.

from India Insight:

Kashmir marks 20 years of conflict, peace still distant

A policeman walks behind a razor wire fence near the venue of India's Republic Day celebrations in Srinagar January 25, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliOne of the world's longest-running separatist insurgencies, one that has killed tens of thousands of people in Kashmir, completed two decades last month.

The strife-torn region witnessed a period of relative calm, but a recent spate of rebel attacks is a grim reminder of the tensions in Kashmir at the heart of enmity between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.

U.S. policy confusion on Pakistan and India

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jinnah flagWhat is the U.S. policy towards Pakistan and India, and in particular over how to deal with their rivalry over Afghanistan which complicates U.S. efforts to bring stability there? I’ve been trying to find an answer for weeks now amid a raft of contradictory signals and statements coming from different U.S. officials.

First we had the leaked report by General Stanley McChrystal in September suggesting the issue should be handled with caution given Pakistani sensitivities about a big rise in India’s presence in Afghanistan following the fall of the Pakistani-backed Taliban in 2001.

Shunning Pakistani players is not cricket

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(The Pakistani cricket team)

(The Pakistani cricket team)

Pakistani cricketers, the press and ordinary people are livid about their players’ exclusion from India’s Premier League , the game’s most lucrative tournament played out before a vast television audience. Eight Indian teams that take part in the tournament bid for players  from around the world, doling out large sums of money.  But nobody bid for the 11 Pakistani players on the list, includng some who were part of the Pakistani squad that won last year’s  World Cup Twenty20 tournament, the three-hour version of the game that the IPL is also played in.

It’s not that they were not good enough. They are some of the best the game has to offer. It’s that the people who own the teams fear the Pakistani players may face dificulties getting visas or that tensions between the two countries, already rising, could make things dificult  for them  So why put money on them ?

Pakistan: ditching “strategic depth”

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Indian farmer in front of Taj MahalKamran Shafi has a column up at Dawn mocking Pakistan’s old strategy of seeking “strategic depth” - the idea that in the event of war with India its military would be able to operate from Afghanistan to offset its disadvantage as a small country compared to its much bigger neighbour:

“Let us presume that the Indians are foolish enough to get distracted from educating their people, some of whom go to some of the best centres of learning in the world. Let us assume that they are idiotic enough to opt for war instead of industrialising themselves and meeting their economic growth targets which are among the highest in the world. Let us imagine that they are cretinous enough to go to war with a nuclear-armed Pakistan and effectively put an immediate and complete end to their multi-million dollar tourism industry. Let us suppose that they lose all sense, all reason, and actually attack Pakistan and cut our country into half.

from Afghan Journal:

The price of greater Indian involvement in Afghanistan

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is heading to India, and one of the things Washington is looking at is how can regional players such as India do more in Afghanistan. "As we are doing more, of course we are looking at others to do more," a U.S. official said, ahead of the trip referring to the troop surge.

But this is easier said than done, and in the case of India, a bit of a minefield. While America may expect more from India, Pakistan has had enough of its bitter rival's already expanded role in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Indeed, Afghanistan is the new battleground on par with Kashmir, with many in Pakistan saying Indian involvement in Afghanistan was more than altruistic and aimed at destabilising Pakistan from the rear.  Many in India, on the other hand, point the finger at Pakistan for two deadly bomb attacks on its embassy in Kabul.

Brzezinski on U.S.-India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China

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brzezinskiThe Real News had an interview last week with former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski who talks about how U.S. policy is playing out across Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. The second part of the interview covers his support for the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but here is what he has to say about Pakistan and the regional dynamics: 

“We are in Afghanistan because we have been there for 8 years, now getting out is easy to say, but by now if we get out, quickly, the question arises, what follows? Is there going to be again a very sort of militant regime in Afghanistan which might tolerate al Qaeda’s presence and beyond that is now a new issue, namely the conflict in Afghanistan has come to be connected with the conflict in Pakistan. Pakistan is an important country of 170 million people which has nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons, and delivery systems, delivery systems to the entire region around so we have to think much more responsibly on how to deal with this problem … ”

from India Insight:

Time for India to start talking to Pakistan?

It has been more than a year since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and many commentators have been advocating restarting the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Is the time ripe?

The pKASHMIR/rocess that seemed to have restarted with Sharm-al-Sheikh statement stalled after the outcry in India over the statement's drafting and the subsequent revelations about David Headley.

from Afghan Journal:

Opening up Afghanistan’s trade routes

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

Afghan seller at the World Pomegranate Fair in Kabul. Pic by Reuters/Omar Sobhani

The United States is pressing Pakistan to allow Afghan agriculture products to pass through its territory to India, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a trip to the war-torn country this week. Opening India's huge and exploding market to Afghan farmers sounds like a perfectly logical thing to do. Their produce of dried fruits, nuts and pomegranates long made its way to India before the partition of  India and Pakistan in 1947, immortalised in Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore's classic story for children, Kabuliwallah.

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