Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
(The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK)
WILL PAKISTAN GO THE MIDDLE EAST WAY?
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Some of our analysts are drawing a parallel between the ongoing wave for democracy across the Middle East and hoping that Pakistan might follow suit. In fact they are talking of an impending revolution in Pakistan as well.
In doing so, these doomsayers conveniently ignore differences between the political culture of Pakistan and the Middle East. They forget about the long struggle waged by our political forces against military dictators for decades which was missing in the Middle East. Similarly, the unprecedented role of the media and civil society in helping shape political life in Pakistan has not been taken into account.
Without being judgmental in drawing comparisons, we can safely say that today’s Pakistan is way ahead in political development than say during the past one decade or even the political culture which we followed during the nineties.
I have never read “Three Cups of Tea”, Greg Mortenson’s book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, “Stones into Schools” and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, “the solution to every problem … begins with drinking tea.” Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia – sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea – I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.
So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson’s books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of ”Stones into Schools”, where he wrote that “he’s shaping the very future of a region”. But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone’s minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy. (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)
If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground. That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.
Yet the heated debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan – triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI – appears to be falling into a familiar pattern – keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has written a letter to the Supreme Court to review the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto — the country’s first popularly-elected prime minister — over three decades ago.
The reopening of Bhutto’s case was one of the long-running demands of the supporters of the charismatic leader but critics say the timing of Zardari’s move was intriguing.
Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let’s start with the positives.
Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impromptu invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week’s India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February. In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.
“Cricket diplomacy” has always been one of the great staples of the relationship between India and Pakistan. The two countries have tried and failed before to use their shared enthusiasm for cricket to build bridges, right back to the days of Pakistan President Zia ul-Haq, if not earlier.
So when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced last week that he was inviting Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari to watch the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup in Mohali, India, the temptation was to dismiss it as an old idea.
Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from "defamation", allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.
In the debate about the possibility of reaching a peace settlement with the Taliban in return for them breaking with al Qaeda, it has never been entirely clear how that breach would be defined. While on one hand the international community would expect the Taliban’s break with al Qaeda to be public and irreversible, few expect them to turn on al Qaeda’s leaders, preferring instead for them to leave the Afghanistan and Pakistan region.
Somewhere in there is a huge grey area that has not yet got the attention it deserves. The Century Foundation in its newly released report (pdf) calling for a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war has come up with a suggestion which at least forms the basis of debate. Its key point — or at least the one that jumped out at me — is that Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar would declare the jihad over:
from India Insight:
Amnesty International has accused the government of detaining hundreds of people each year in Kashmir without charge or trial under a "draconian" Indian law.
The rights group said India's Public Safety Act (PSA) had been used to detain up to 20,000 people without trial over the past two decades. Public Safety Act allows for detention without trial for up to two years.
I have (somewhat belatedly) got around to reading the full text of the statement made by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning last week’s drone strike in North Waziristan which killed more than 40 people. The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States.
The Pakistani media has put forward many reasons as to why Kayani issued such a public condemnation, and indeed on why the United States chose to launch such a lethal drone attack just as tempers were beginning to cool over the Davis row (for a must-read round up of the different views of officials and analysts in Peshawar, see Cyril Almeida at Dawn.)