Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Of the many issues dividing India and Pakistan, resolving the conflict in Siachen has always been seen as potential game-changer. Compared to the big intractables like Kashmir and what India calls the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan, the Siachen conflict is easier to solve.
But the conflict is also a big enough cause of tension that its resolution would give real momentum to the peace process revived by India and Pakistan this year. An agreement on Siachen, moreover, would allow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to make a long-awaited visit to Pakistan, giving him something of substance to announce during his trip.
For those reasons, the talks on Siachen starting on Monday between the defence secretaries of India and Pakistan have an importance beyond the conflict itself. No one is expecting an early resolution of the war which erupted in the Karakoram mountains above the Siachen glacier in 1984, and which has been both literally and figuratively frozen since a late 2003 cease-fire. But the talks will help gauge how quickly India and Pakistan will move on what is for now a very slow but steady peace process.
The war over Siachen was one that neither India nor Pakistan meant to fight for so long. Lying in the undemarcated mountains and glaciers beyond the Line of Control (LoC), the ceasefire line which divides the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and ends at grid reference NJ9842, the Siachen region has no real strategic value.
When President Barack Obama telephoned Pakistan’s president to say U.S. forces had found and killed bin Laden, he offered him a choice. He could say Pakistan helped find bin Laden, or that it knew nothing, according to a senior western official. Pakistan initially chose to stress the former – that it had helped – but later shifted to condemning what it called the U.S. violation of its sovereignty.
The story illustrates the complicity between the United States and Pakistan in their deliberately ambiguous relationship. This ambiguity has its uses. It allows Washington to keep working with Pakistan in the face of angry questions at home about why Osama bin Laden was living there. And it lets Pakistan cooperate with the United States, for example on drone attacks, while trying — not particularly successfully — to minimise the domestic backlash.
from Afghan Journal:
First, China helped develop Pakistan's Gwadar port from scratch on the Baluchistan coast to take the pressure off the country's main port of Karachi, a few hundred miles to the east. Now Pakistan's defence minister has said that it would like its long-time ally to build a naval base at Gwadar, which sits on the doorstep of Gulf shipping lanes, less than 200 kms from the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz.
China, which provided more than 80 percent of the port's $248 million development cost, has moved quickly to distance itself from Pakistani Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar's remarks about a naval base in Gwadar. The foreign ministry said China was not aware of any such proposal.
We have known for months that the United States has begun direct talks with representatives of the Taliban. And as I wrote in this story, the death of Osama bin Laden in a U.S. raid on May 2 should make it easier for the Taliban to break with al Qaeda, a fundamental requirement for including them in any eventual political settlement in Afghanistan. But lest anyone should think these talks, combined with bin Laden’s death, would somehow produce an early end to the Afghan war, it is important to remember that engaging with the Taliban is only a necessary but far from sufficient condition for a political settlement.
As Thomas Ruttig writes at the Afghanistan Analysts Network, any deal between the Taliban and Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was simply meant to open the exit door for foreign troops would not serve the interests of Afghans. ”… they need an end of the bloodshed that will also physically reopen spaces for economic and political activities, a debate about where their country is going. A deal which does not address the main causes of the conflict (namely the monopoly over power of resources concentrated in the hands of a small elite, then possibly with some additional Taleban players) will not bring peace.
from Afghan Journal:
Pakistan has launched four separate investigations into the life and death of Osama bin Laden on its soil, according to U.S. Senator John Kerry. The army, the air force and the intelligence establishment are running a probe each while parliament last week ordered an investigation by an independent commission to be set up for the purpose.
It's not entirely clear who is investigating what but a common theme running through the probes is to find out how did the United States launch a heliborne operation so deep in the country, hunt bin Laden down in his compound after a shootout in the outer wing and fly away with his corpse, without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities. Indeed the military and the government only got to know about it after the Americans told them once they were safely out of Pakistani airspace.
from Afghan Journal:
In conducting a raid deep inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden, the United States pushed the boundaries of military operations, inter-state ties and international law, all of which are the subject of a raging debate in the region and beyond.
One of the less talked-about issues is that the boots-on-ground operation by the U.S. Special Forces also blows a hole in a long-held argument that states which have nuclear weapons, legitimately or otherwise, face a lower chance of a foreign strike or invasion than those without them. Thus the United States didn't think twice before going into Afghanistan within weeks of the September 11 attacks or striking against Libya now because there was no nuclear threat lurking at the back of the mind. Even Iraq was a tempting target because it was not known to have a well-established nuclear arsenal although the whole point of the invasion was that it had weapons of mass destruction. That only turned out to be untrue.
Let’s start with President Barack Obama’s speech on May 1 (May 2 in Pakistan) when he announced that bin Laden had been killed in the town of Abbottabad (note the diplomatic finesse in his suggestion that President Asif Ali Zardari was the first to be informed, as would normally be the case in relations between two countries.)
We are unlikely to know the full truth about the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan for months, and probably years. So I have decided to retreat into history, where we have more, though still fragile, hope of understanding what really happened. Here is one version.
General Khalid Mahmud Arif worked closely with Pakistani military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq, the architect of the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. His memoirs, ”Khaki Shadows”, show how the internal narrative of the Pakistan Army was constructed at a formative time for the current military leadership. I’ve extracted some details from his chapter on ”The Military under Zia” and leave you to judge which remain relevant today:
Our liveblog on Pakistan and what’s next for the country after Osama bin Laden’s death starts at 10a.m. EST/3 p.m. BST tomorrow (Tuesday, May 10). We’ve already received some comments and queries for Myra MacDonald. Here is one: Myra, In Pakistan there is a lot of resentment in the relationship with USA and a sense of betrayal. Also, the troubled relations with India, means that Pakistan is besieged by many problems at different fronts at the same time. My concern and also the question to you is, is Pakistan heading towards isolation? given the strategic implications of the OBL raid and killing, will Pakistan manage to control the damage to its credibility and emerge as a normal country?
Please keep sending in your questions by posting them below in the comments section.
Cyril Almeida at Dawn has written a powerful and anguished column about the bewilderment among many Pakistanis on discovering that Osama bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad, a garrison town in the heart of the country and home to the Pakistan Military Academy.
“It’s too frightening to make sense of. The world’s most-wanted terrorist. A man who triggered the longest war in American history. The terrorist mastermind the world’s only superpower has moved heaven and earth to track down. A decade of hunting. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent. The blood of countless Americans and others spilled. And when he was finally found, he was found wrapped in the bosom of the Pakistani security establishment.”