Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
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.”
We will never know whether Holbrooke, who died in December 2010, would have been able to deliver on that vision. But we do know that U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan has drifted over the last few years to the point where domestic U.S. pressure is growing for a rapid exit. Or as former U.S. ambassador to Islamabad Cameron Munter said in an interview last month, it was one in which you might “win a few battles and lose the war”.
And while we are seeing some fresh momentum now – from a renewed U.S. commitment to engage with Taliban insurgents, to improved relations between the United States and Pakistan, to structured negotiations between Afghanistan and Pakistan – it remains almost as hard as ever to see how it is all meant to fit together.
The U.S. domestic debate on Afghanistan continues to focus largely on the use of force, from how many U.S. soldiers should stay after most foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014 to the merits of drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas. But beyond what seems to be an unhelpfully narrow definition of containing al Qaeda, it rarely discusses what that use of force is for. Is the aim for Afghanistan to be just about stable enough to fend off civil war, convince insurgents to negotiate, while hoping (and hope is not a strategy) that Pakistan will steady itself despite deep-rooted militant and sectarian violence? Or do the earlier ambitions – still very much in play when Holbrooke was alive – of achieving a lasting peace deal stand?
On the foreign policy front, if Pakistan ever had aspirations to play the central role as the leader of Muslim unity, it had a salutary lesson in the way Egypt played its cards. Barely a week ago, Pakistan was looking forward to hosting Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who was to be given the rare honour of addressing a joint session of parliament.
Mursi – the first president to emerge from the Muslim Brotherhood – was due in Islamabad for a summit meeting of the Developing-8 Islamic countries, which also includes Iran, Turkey and Nigeria among others. The Jamaat-e-Islami (which sees itself as the ideological sibling of the Brotherhood – both were founded in the first half of the 20th century as anti-imperial Islamist movements in British India and Egypt) proclaimed on its Twitter feed about how much it looked forward to greeting Mursi in Pakistan.
from Expert Zone:
(The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not represent those of Reuters)
Nearly four years after the horrific Mumbai attacks that left over 160 dead, including six Americans, India put to death the lone surviving gunman, Pakistani citizen Ajmal Kasab.
(The views expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not represent those of Reuters)
The impending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has seen increased efforts being made by Russia and China to gain influence in the region. As a part of their strategy to secure its interests in Central Asia, Russia has been attempting to foster a relationship with Pakistan.
Persecution can bring people together. It can also prise them apart.
In Pakistan, so many minorities are threatened by homicidal extremists that travelling the country can feel like hopping across an archipelago of communities under varying degrees of siege.
Cut-out cardboard hearts, stars and a slogan that cheerfully declares “The Earth Laughs In Flowers” adorn the classrooms of the Ummat Public School in the Pakistani city of Quetta.
When the British decided to define the outer limits of their Indian empire, they fudged the question. After two disastrous wars in Afghanistan, they sent the Foreign Secretary of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, to Kabul in 1893 to agree the limits of British and Afghan influence. The result was the Durand Line which Pakistan considers today as its border and Afghanistan refuses to recognise. Then, rather than extend the rule of the Raj out to the Durand Line, the British baulked at pacifying the tribes in what is now Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Instead, they used the still-extant Frontier Crimes Regulation of 1901 to keep them at bay, if necessary through collective punishment. The Pashtun tribes living on either side of the Durand Line continued to move back and forth, resenting outside interference and rejecting an arbitrary division of their lands by a foreign power.
The situation remains as nebulous to this day. Pakistan, like the British Raj before it, wants a secure western frontier and has been ready to back Islamist militants in Afghanistan to obtain it. Indeed, its emphasis on Islam has been used as a means of countering ethnic Pashtun nationalism, lest the Pashtun lay claim to a Pashtunistan covering both sides of the Durand Line. Meanwhile, remembering the days when Peshawar was a fabled Afghan city, some Afghans hanker after a Greater Afghanistan, incorporating the lands of all Pashtun (or Afghan) tribes as far as the Indus river. (Historically, the identification of Afghanistan with the Pashtun was such that the words “Afghan” and “Pashtun” were treated as synonyms.) And even those Afghans who recognise how unrealistic it would be to claim a sizeable chunk of modern-day Pakistan retain a proprietary sense over the Pashtun living on the other side of the Durand Line. Meanwhile the Pashtun themselves resent their arbitrary separation between two countries, which has reduced their capacity to exercise political power.
Not too long ago, if you were travelling from India to Pakistan, you couldn’t help but notice how well the modern airports, the six-lane motorway linking Islamabad to Lahore, and the well-planned tree-lined capital city compared to the sprawling chaos of New Delhi. Indeed that motorway was South Asia’s first, long before India started to build its expressways, and in some ways Pakistan, which was a more open economy than India’s Licence Raj system and grew faster for decades until the 1990s, looked more like the developed Islamic states on its west than the poor cousins of South Asia.
But the tables have turned and the one-time economic star of the region is slipping behind its neighbours as it struggles with militant Islam, a near breakdown in ties with its greatest benefactor, the United States, and a civilian leadership that is struggling to hold its own under the boot of the powerful military while an assertive judiciary snaps at its heels.
In a poignant tale published last month by Chashm, a new website set up to promote alternative discourse in Pakistan, the narrator describes what happened when the Taliban came to the village of Saidano, the site of a popular shrine in Orakzai Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
First the Taliban imposed sharia; they banned all activity at the shrine and intimidated those in the political administration into quitting their jobs. The people organised themselves into a lashkar, or militia, to fight them. “In return, the Taliban pummelled the armed resistance and the people back into submission. Any attempt at resistance led to dissenters’ immediate silencing, including by slaughter.” Having decreed that visiting shrines was un-Islamic, the Taliban said they would demolish it. “With that note, the shrine of Bawal Haq Saheb was reduced to rubble by the Taliban. The people of Saidano were enraged at this heinous act of the Taliban, but no one could say anything…they were all scared.”
Now she’s dead and he’s afraid he will be soon. So he told me his story one day in a lawyer’s office in Peshawar. In case they get him, at least someone will know what happened, he said.