Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
When I first heard about Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination, there seemed to be nothing sensible to be said about it. Not yet another prediction about Pakistan’s growing instability, nor even an outpouring of anger of the kind that followed the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in the English-language media. The assassination of the Minorities Minister did not appear to portend anything beyond the actual tragedy of his death. And nor could anyone say it came as a surprise. A loss of words, then. A painful punctuation mark.
Cafe Pyala has now articulated far better than I could what went through my mind when I first heard about the assassination.
“There was a time when some of us would have leapt at the chance to throw words into this maelstrom, to comment on a senseless tragedy like the one today. As journalists, as commentators, as columnists, it would have been like going to the Promised Land. High profile murder? Check. Law and order issue? Check. Spectre of extremism? Check. Possibility of point scoring against toothless government? Check. Energizing, empowering, emboldening feeling of being part of a struggle that is bigger than one’s self? Check, Check, Check and Check!
“That time is long past.”
It is that loss of words that is perhaps the most troubling. Everyone already knows that publicly challenging the blasphemy laws in Pakistan can be a death sentence. Everyone already knows the government appeased the religious right by pledging not to amend the laws after Taseer’s death (that appeasement, incidentally, is not unique to the current civilian government — the Musharraf government was also quite clear the laws could not be touched.) Everyone already knows that Pakistan’s minorities are particularly vulnerable (according to The Express Tribune, they comprise almost 10 million people, equal to everyone in Tunisia, or one-and-half times all of Libya. )
Given the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.
At a strategic level, however, there’s actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.
from India Insight:
A former Indian soldier, accused of killing a Kashmiri human rights lawyer, has been arrested in the United States on charges of domestic violence.
Major Avtar Singh fled the country in the 1990s after he was accused of kidnapping and brutally killing Jaleel Andrabi, a Kashmiri lawyer and human rights activist.
from India Insight:
When thousands gathered in an Indian army camp in Kashmir recently, people started asking questions: Is this another protest against New Delhi's rule?
The answer came as a surprise to many and as a shock to some.
Nearly 10,000 youth had gathered to try their luck in a recruitment drive by the Indian army in the disputed region and not to protest against alleged excesses by security forces.
According to Steve Coll in the New Yorker, the United States has begun its first direct talks with the Taliban to see whether it is possible to reach a political settlement to the Afghan war. He writes that after the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on New York and Washington the United States rejected direct talks with Taliban leaders, on the grounds that they were as much to blame for terrorism as Al Qaeda. However, last year, he says, a small number of officials in the Obama administration—among them the late Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan—argued that it was time to try talking to the Taliban again.
“Holbrooke’s final diplomatic achievement, it turns out, was to see this advice accepted. The Obama Administration has entered into direct, secret talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, several people briefed about the talks told me last week. The discussions are continuing; they are of an exploratory nature and do not yet amount to a peace negotiation.”
Buried in the Washington Post story on Marc Grossman taking over as the new U.S. envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan are some interesting references to the possible departure of U.S. commander General David Petraeus.
“… virtually the entire U.S. civilian and military leadership in Afghanistan is expected to leave in the coming months, including Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and the embassy’s other four most senior officials, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S.-led international coalition, and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day-to-day military operations there,” it says.
from India Insight:
Mohammad Maqbool Bhat, the pioneer of Kashmir's separatist struggle, was hanged in New Delhi's Tihar jail on February 11, 1984.
Bhat, also the founder of Kashmir's influential separatist group Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), was executed on the charge of killing an Indian intelligence officer. His body was buried in the jail.
The Egyptian uprising contains much that is familiar to Pakistan – the dark warnings of a coup, in Egypt’s case delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the role of political Islam, and a relationship with the United States distorted by U.S. aid and American strategic interests which do not match those of the people.
President Hosni Mubarak cited Pakistan as an example of what happened when a ruler like President Pervez Musharraf – like himself from the military - was forced to make way for democracy. ”He fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf,” a 2009 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said.
The Afghan Taliban would be ready to break with al Qaeda in order to reach a negotiated settlement to the Afghan war, and to ensure Afghanistan is not used as a base for international terrorism, according to a report by Kandahar-based researchers Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, released by New York University.
It says that the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda was strained both before and after the September 11 2001 attacks, partly because of their very different ideological roots. Al Qaeda grew out of militant Islamism in the Middle East, notably in Egypt, which — when fused with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan — created its own view of global jihad. Taliban leaders grew up in rural southern Afghanistan, isolated from world events. Many were too young to play a big role in the Afghan jihad, and had no close ties to al Qaeda until after they took power in 1996.
All countries are unique and comparing two of the world’s most populous Muslim countries, Egypt and Pakistan, is as risky as comparing Britain to France at the time of the French Revolution. But many of the challenges likely to confront Egypt as it emerges from the mass protests against the 30-year-rule of President Hosni Mubarak are similar to those Pakistan has faced in the past, and provide at least a guide on what questions need to be addressed. In Pakistan, they are often summarised as the three A’s — Army, Allah and America.
Both have powerful armies which are seen as the backbone of the country; both have to work out how to accommodate political Islam with democracy, both are allies of America, yet with people who resent American power in propping up unpopular elites.