Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Fake degrees stir fear of ‘mini mid-term polls’ in Pakistan

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punjab universityPakistani education authorities are verifying university degrees of members of parliament amid fears that scores of them could be disqualified for holding “fake degrees”, leading to “mini mid-term elections” less than three years after general elections were held in the country.

Large scale by-elections could trigger political uncertainty in the country which is presently confronted with growing threat of Islamist militancy and is struggling to bolster a weak economy.

Pakistan’s increasingly assertive Supreme Court last week ordered election authorities to take action against legislators who were found guilty of forging their education degrees to contest general elections in February 2008.

Under a law introduced by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf,  a member of parliament must be a university graduate. The move was seen as an attempt by Musharraf, who resigned after the defeat of his allies in elections, to keep his rivals out of politics, many of whom were not university graduates.

Pakistan’s historical narrative and its education system

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jinnah flagManan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery has a great post linking Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber,  Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani woman convicted and jailed in the United States, and Mohammad bin Qasim, who first brought Islam to South Asia by conquering Sind in the 8th century.

The common thread is the historical narrative Pakistan has created for itself; and Shahzad’s own explicit reference to bin Qasim in a 2006 email to friends  published last month.  

Pakistan’s policy on Afghanistan: finding the devil in the detail

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petraeus kayaniIn the increasingly frenetic debate about what to do about Afghanistan, Antonio Giustozzi has a must-read report on prospects for negotiating with the Taliban. In particular, he offers a rare window into Pakistan’s often opaque policy towards Afghanistan by providing the context within which Pakistan might be able to bring the Taliban into a political settlement .

Giustozzi presents a far more nuanced picture than the one commonly assumed, describing significant overlaps between various militant groups - the Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP),  the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Muhammad Omar,  the Haqqani network and the Hizb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with only the latter seen as an independent entity.  (These overlaps are crucial to establishing whether Afghan insurgents could be weakened through a policy of “divide and rule” or whether any negotiations on a settlement would need to involve the Taliban movement, and its leadership, as a whole.) 

In the drama of the runaway general, don’t forget Pakistan

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mcchrystalOn a visit to Pakistan in April, two comments stayed in my mind, encapsulating the Pakistani view of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.  One was from a political analyst in Islamabad, which stood out for the unusualness of the imagery.  “Obama,” she said, “has tried to put his feet in both boats.”  The other was from a senior serving officer, who appeared to be giving a personal opinion rather than reading from the script prepared for more official briefings.  “The Pashtun areas (of Afghanistan) are slipping out of the hands of ISAF and NATO, and everybody knows it,” he said.

The Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal - the drama aside of firing a top commander in wartime - is remarkable in the extent to which it plays up a similar assessment of the war in Afghanistan.

India and Pakistan – yet again, past is prologue

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raobashirGiven the row over General Stanley McChrystal’s comments in Rolling Stone magazine, the slow process of repairing relations between India and Pakistan is unlikely to get much attention. But there is some movement there, which is worth watching closely since the relationship between the two plays such a defining role in the attitudes of the Pakistan Army and by extension, in Pakistan’s perceived approach to Afghanistan.

Following up on talks between their prime ministers in April, the foreign secretaries and interior ministers of India and Pakistan meet this week in Islamabad to try to rebuild trust between the two countries and find a way back into more substantive dialogue.

U.S. should look at nuclear deal for Pakistan if militancy tackled-RAND report

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damadola2The United States should consider offering Pakistan a civilian nuclear deal in return for a real and verifiable commitment to eradicate all militant groups operating from its territory, a new report by the RAND Corporation says.

The report, by Seth Jones and Christine Fair, echoes a criticism often levelled at Pakistan that it is only willing to tackle those militant organisations which threaten it directly, while retaining links with groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba which can be used to expand its influence in Afghanistan or against India.  It argues that Washington needs to find a new mix of incentives and sanctions to convince Pakistan to abandon the use of militant groups as a foreign policy tool. 

from India Insight:

Killing of civilians fuels Kashmir anger

Supporters of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shout slogans while being detained by police during a protest in Srinagar June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliJust days ago, scenic Kashmir, torn by two decades of war, was near normal.

Thousands of tourists were flocking to the region and honeymooners were once again gliding in shikaras, small Kashmiri boats, across the mirror-calm Dal Lake.

The disputed Himalayan region has seen a significant drop in violence between Muslim rebels and security forces.

New report accuses Pakistan’s ISI of backing Afghan insurgents

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us soldiersAccording to a new report published by the London School of Economics, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency not only funds and trains Taliban fighters in Afghanistan but is officially represented on the movement’s leadership council, giving it significant influence over operations.

The ISI has long been accused of backing the Taliban – an accusation Pakistan denies, saying this would make no sense when it is already fighting a bloody campaign against Islamist militants at home. But the report is worth reading for its wealth of detail on the perceptions held by Taliban commanders interviewed in the field. You can see the Reuters story on the report here and the full document (pdf) here.

Pakistan’s Ahmadi killings and the conscience of a nation

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graveyardThe fierce debate about the nature of Pakistani society triggered by the killing of more than 80 Ahmadis in two mosques in Lahore last month continues to run and run.

Much of the discussion is about why the government had failed to stop the religious right from preaching hatred against the Ahmadis, who are considered non-Muslims in Pakistan because they revere their 19th century founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, breaching – according to Pakistani law – a requirement that Muslims accept the finality of the Prophet Mohammad.

Taliban talks and the lobster quadrille

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holbrookeAll of us do thought association in different ways depending on history, culture and education. But for me personally the latest round of discussion about talking to the Taliban has me thinking about Lewis Carroll’s “The Lobster Quadrille” (with one word changed):

“Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the talks?
 Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the talks?”

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