Pakistan has been facing gun and bomb attacks for so long, it is tempting to think it will continue to muddle along, the situation never becoming so bad as to galvanise it into action. And maybe it will.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Beneath the din of shouted exchange rates, trilling mobiles and the clink-clink of tea glasses ricocheting around Kandahar’s money market, there is a barely-audible backbeat: the electric purr of counting machines gobbling dollars, Afghanis and rupees.
The United States carried out more drone strikes in Afghanistan this year than it has done in all the years put together in Pakistan since it launched the covert air war there eight years ago. With all the attention and hand wringing focused on the operations in Pakistan, it’s remarkable that such a ramp-up just over the border has gone virtually unnoticed.
It’s been another brutal year of fighting in Afghanistan. While a spike in green-on-blue attacks has justifiably grabbed attention because of the cracks it has exposed within the military coalition, Afghans themselves are paying an increasingly higher price as they get pitchforked into the centre of the battle.
In Pakistan, no one calls troublesome journalists and warns they may be killed. There’s no reason to point out the obvious. So when investigative journalist Umar Cheema started getting late-night anonymous phone calls, gently suggesting he stop investigating a particular story, he knew what was at stake. Since then, he has been kidnapped and tortured. He has survived a hit-and-run that laid him out for six months.
The late Richard Holbrooke’s widow, Kati Marton, once recalled that by the summer of 2010 the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had worked out how the United States might settle the Afghan war. “He said, ‘I think I’ve got it. I think I can see how all the pieces can fit together,’’” the National Journal quoted her as saying. “It looked like he was working a Rubik’s cube in his head.”