Pakistan: Now or Never?

The woman who died twice; Pakistan and acid attacks

March 26, 2012

There are many ways to make women invisible. One is to ignore them; another is to banish them from public view; and in the case of acid attack victims, to literally efface them. Pakistani acid attack victim Fakhra Yunus seems to have suffered all three, when after being deformed by an acid attack in 2000, she escaped to Italy for treatment where she lived for years, largely forgotten in the country she left behind.

Do you think Afghanistan hasn’t changed since 1842?

March 20, 2012

With U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in disarray, one of the tropes we are likely to see with increasing frequency is the notion that Afghans are inherently ungovernable, too steeped in tradition to accept the “modernity” offered to them,  and by extension, only have themselves to blame for failure.  It will come in seemingly innocuous references to the massacre of the British army during its retreat from Kabul in 1842, graphically symbolised by William Brydon, the “lone” survivor struggling into Jalalabad on his horse.  We might see a revival of the historically inaccurate cliche about Afghanistan being the Graveyard of Empires (the British went on to defeat the Sikhs and kept their empire for another century.)

Afghanistan : the creeping enemy within

March 15, 2012

Shortly before U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s  plane was to land on an unannounced trip in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, an Afghan man in a stolen pickup truck drove onto the tarmac at high speed. The  truck crashed into a ditch after it sped across the runway ramp and the driver, whose motives were unclear, emerged from the vehicle in flames.  No explosives were found on the man who later died or in the truck  and the Pentagon said at no point was the defense chief’s plane in danger. But it was an extraordinary breach of security at the British airfield in the southern province of Helmand which sits next to a vast U.S. Marine base.

Beneath the radar, a Russia-Pakistan entente takes shape

March 8, 2012

Russian PM Putin shakes hands with Pakistan's PM Gillani during their meeting in St.Petersburg

Amid Afghan gloom, a glimmer of hope on regional front

March 3, 2012

One of the comments you hear quite often about the long U.S. war in Afghanistan is that the Americans should leave it to the region to sort out its own problems. It is sometimes said in fear that the United States will abandon Afghanistan to civil war; sometimes in exasperation over its often confusing policies; and sometimes in anger. With the U.S. approach to Afghanistan in disarray after protests over the burning of copies of the Koran, regional powers are, however, attempting to do just that.  Progress, whether in the first meeting of a China-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral, or in improved trade relations between Pakistan and India, or in regional diplomacy led by Turkey and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation among others, is extremely tentative.  And regional powers, especially India and Pakistan, may yet end up backing opposing sides in any civil war which follows the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops at the end of 2014. But the fact that regional diplomacy is happening at all suggests there is at least some hope of salvaging the situation in Afghanistan.