Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

She came, she saw, she confounded: Clinton in Pakistan

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently concluded visit to Pakistan has left us none the wiser about how the United States and its allies will end the  Afghan war. In her public comments, she spoke of action ”over the next days and weeks – not months and years, but days and weeks”.  She promised the United States would tackle Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan in response to a long-standing Pakistani complaint that Washington had neglected the region when  it decided to concentrate its forces in population centres in southern Afghanistan in 2010 (remember “government in a box”?).

She called, in return, for cooperation on the Pakistani side of the border to ”squeeze these terrorists so that they cannot attack and kill any Pakistani, any Afghan, any American, or anyone.”  Between the two countries, they would tackle the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), or Pakistani Taliban.

But squeeze them to what end?  To weaken all but the hard-core leadership of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network so that they agree to lay down arms and rejoin the political process in Afghanistan? Or to entice them into serious negotiations through which they might be offered a share of power in Kabul, or accommodated in a “soft partition” of Afghanistan (an idea deeply unpopular among Afghans) which leaves them in control of the south and the east?

As Pakistani columnist Ejaz Haider wrote in Pakistan Today just before Clinton arrived, the current U.S. policy looks a bit like the dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat. “‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ asked Alice. ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat. ‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice. ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”

Trusting the masses: US tiptoes into democracy in Pakistan

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In his book “Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination“, an edited collection of his Chapati Mystery blog, historian Manan Ahmed complained about the United States’ past support for former president Pervez Musharraf, and its refusal, at the time to trust Pakistan with democracy.  In an entry written in 2007, he described Pakistan as the “the not yet nation” - a country for which democracy might be a good thing in the long run, but  was in American eyes not yet ready.

“We fear the multitudes on two fronts. One is that we conceive of them as masses without politics – forever hostage to gross religious and ideological provocations. Masses which do not constitute a body politic or act with an interest in self-preservation or self-growth. Faced with that absence of reason, we are forced to support native royals to do the job (from Egypt to Pakistan). We justify it by stressing that we may not like these dictators but we know that if we did not have them, the masses would instantly betray us to the very forces of extremism that we seek to destroy,” he wrote.

from Afghan Journal:

The Taliban in Afghanistan’s once impregnable Panjshir Valley

Last month driving up Afghanistan's magnificent Panjshir valley, you couldn't help thinking if the resurgent Taliban would ever be able to break its defences, both natural and from the Tajik-dominated populace. With its jagged cliffs and plunging valleys, Panjshir has been largely out of bounds  for the  Taliban, whether during the civil war or in the past 10 years when it has expanded a deadly insurgency against western and Afghan forces across the country. But on Saturday, the insurgents struck, carrying out a suicide bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base housing U.S. and Afghan troops and officials.

They were halted outside the base, but according to the provincial deputy governor they succeeded in  killing two civilians and wounding two guards when they detonated their explosives. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the first suicide bombing in a decade was a message to Western forces that they were not secure anywhere in the country. They said the  bombers came from within Panjshir, which if true  would worry people even more  because that would suggest the penetration was deeper and there could be more attacks.

We need to talk about the Haqqanis

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In a question and answer session last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about how the United States would balance its need to work with Pakistan while also putting it under pressure to end its alleged support for the Haqqani network.

Her answer, according to the State Department transcript, was to remind her audience that the United States had also played a role in creating the mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

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