Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

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thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties – the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

The prime ministers, who last met in Egypt last July, appear to have sidestepped that problem by agreeing to hold dialogue on all issues, without specifically labelling this as the Composite Dialogue (which incidentally is meant to cover all issues.)

Having dealt with the form of their talks, the hard part – issues of substance – now lie ahead.

from India Insight:

India-Pakistan “secret pact” – was Kashmir accord just a signature away?

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India and Pakistan held secret talks for more than three years, reached an accord on the thorny Kashmir issue and had almost unveiled it in 2007 before domestic turmoil in Pakistan derailed it, former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has revealed.

A Border Security Force(BSF) soldier stands guard next to the national flags of India (L) and Pakistan near the Pakistan border in Chamliyal, 45 km west of Jammu, June 25, 2009. REUTERS/Amit GuptaKasuri says the two nuclear-armed rivals, who rule the Himalayan region in parts, had agreed to full demilitarisation of both the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir with a package of loose autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, a military control line that divides the region between two nations.

Pakistan and India: After Yekaterinburg and Sharm-el-Sheikh; now we have Thimphu

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bhutanAnother international summit. Another chance for the leaders of India and Pakistan to find a way of getting their countries to talk to each other.

After last year’s aborted attempt at peace-making, first in Yekaterinburg and then in Sharm-el-Sheikh, expectations are running low that the prime ministers of India and Pakistan will make much headway when they meet at a SAARC summit in Thimphu, Bhutan this week.

On tipping points and Taliban talks

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british soldierOne of the issues that seems to arouse the strongest emotions in the Afghan debate is the question of when the United States and its allies should engage in talks with the Taliban.  Some argued that the moment was ripe a few months ago, when both sides were finely balanced against each other and therefore both more likely to make the kind of concessions that would make negotiations possible.  It was an argument that surfaced forcefully at the London conference on Afghanistan in January. Others insisted that U.S.-led forces had to secure more gains on the battlefield first.

If you go by this survey carried out in December by Human Terrain Systems (pdf) (published this month by Danger Room) the people of Kandahar province were convinced at the end of last year of the need for negotiations: (as usual health warnings apply to any survey conducted in a conflict zone):

Pakistan unlikely to act soon on Lashkar-e-Taiba

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damadolaDespite initial military successes against the Pakistani Taliban in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan is unlikely to move any time soon to dismantle the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. As I wrote in this analysis,  Pakistani security officials say the country has enough on its plate fighting militants on its Afghan border without opening a new front in Punjab province, where the LeT is based. They argue this could drive the LeT – which has been careful not to launch attacks within Pakistan itself – into a dangerous alliance with the Pakistani Taliban and other al Qaeda-linked militant groups.

That’s likely to aggravate friction with India, which not only blames the group for the 2008 attack on Mumbai but also sees an LeT hand in supporting and training the Indian Mujahideen to launch smaller-scale urban bombings in India, in what some are now labelling “the Karachi project”. (For a report on the Karachi project, see this month’s edition (pdf) of the CTC Sentinel.)  India broke off talks with Pakistan after the Mumbai attack and despite several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of international conferences last year, the two countries have been unable to find a way back into dialogue. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will likely meet his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani at a SAARC summit in Bhutan next week, but prospects for any real progress are relatively slim.

Wagah – The tragicomedy of India-Pakistan

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wagah2Most people who follow South Asia have either watched the Beating the Retreat ceremony at Wagah on the India-Pakistan border on video or been there in person. The farcical and choreographed display by goose-stepping soldiers from India and Pakistan as they slam shut the gates on the border crossing is such a  staple for Western journalists that it has almost become too cliched to write about.

But having been there myself for the first time last week, after 10 years of following India and Pakistan, I can’t resist throwing in my own two cents’ worth.

from Afghan Journal:

Challenging the myths of Pakistan’s turbulent northwest

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PAKISTAN/

Reuters' journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan's northwest on the border with Afghanistan  to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of  xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants.  Here's her account :

                               By Myra MacDonald

KHAR, Pakistan - I had not expected Pakistan's tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.

Pakistan’s ethnic jigsaw shaken by NWFP name change

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Changing the name of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to “Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa” has triggered a new debate over whether other ethnic communities have the right to claim and win separate regions.

Parliament last week approved the new name, reflecting the Pashtuns’ demographic dominance of the province.

from Afghan Journal:

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

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(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

Guest contribution-Pakistani democracy may be noisy but it delivers

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lahore mosqueThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Why Pakistan needs strong institutions is amply demonstrated in recent events of monumental importance. These have not got the attention they deserved. It is a tribute to democracy that the government of Pakistan has succeeded in meeting major challenges, and in doing so, it enjoyed the support of the masses and major political forces in the country. Let us talk about those monumental events at the international and national level that have taken place since the democratic government took over in March 2008.

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