Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Was the Afghan war wrong from the start?


In “An Enemy We Created,” authors Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn described assumptions about a supposedly unbreakable link between the Taliban and al Qaeda as “the principal strategic blunder of the war in Afghanistan.” Al Qaeda’s leadership, they wrote, relied on and coordinated closely with Jalaluddin Haqqani rather than the younger and less experienced Kandahari Taliban who ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001.

Their contention – that with more political will and insight war might even have been avoided altogether – has been disputed by those who say Washington did try and fail to engage the Taliban in serious talks ahead of the Sept 11 attacks. Yet in a week where the United States has gone through a bout of soul-searching about the Iraq war, history matters. Were the assumptions that led to the Afghan war also wrong from the start?

A new book by Vahid Brown and Don Rassler, “Fountainhead of Jihad, The Haqqani Nexus: 1973 to 2012” adds to that history by focusing on the Afghan group that actually did have the closest ties to al Qaeda – the so-called Haqqani network.

As I wrote here, the book has unearthed primary sources to show that the patriarch of the Haqqani network, Jalaluddin Haqqani, had as much influence on al Qaeda as the Arab fighters had on him – providing them with support and an Afghan safe haven during the jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.

One man’s fight for justice after a song brought death to a Pakistani village


When tribal elders reportedly ordered five girls killed in remote northern Pakistan for singing and clapping, outraged media coverage prompted the Supreme Court to order an investigation.

The deeply flawed investigation concluded the girls were alive and the matter was dropped. But new killings – and new evidence collected by Reuters – suggests the girls are dead.

With Peshawar under attack, Pakistan looks the other way


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.

But a series of attacks in and around Peshawar this month should give serious pause for thought.

In Kandahar currency market, the money trail proves elusive

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.

In dozens of cramped shops crowding the galleries of the echoey exchange, a clannish brotherhood of currency dealers oils the wheels of Afghanistan’s cash-based economy, sending funds across borders, swapping foreign bills or taking deposits in the manner of conventional banks.

At war’s end, ramping up drone strikes in Afghanistan


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.

The two battlegrounds are not the same, of course. Afghanistan is an open and hot battlefield where U.S. forces are deployed and the drones are part of the air support available to troops. Pakistan is a sovereign nation and the United States is not in a state of war with it and so you wouldn’t expect the same pace of operations, even though U.S. commanders say the Taliban insurgency draws its sustenance from the sanctuaries in the Pakistani northwest.

Afghan forces thrown into the deep end in the race to 2014


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.

More than 300 Afghan soldiers and policemen are dying each month, Afghanistan’s defence ministry spokesman said earlier this month. He said the deaths had risen largely because local forces had taken over security responsibilities covering 75 percent of the population and were therefore taking higher casualties. Still, losing 10 members of the security forces each day is a worrying statistic. At this rate, Afghan national forces are going to lose nearly twice as many men in a year than the United States has lost since it invaded the country in 2001.

Promoting investigative journalism in Pakistan, one tax return at a time


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.

This week, 35-year-old Cheema published his most ambitious investigation yet. The leaked tax details (pdf) of 446 Pakistani legislators and ministers showed that nearly 70 percent did not even file a tax return, highlighting the lax regulatory environment and tax loopholes that allow many Pakistani millionaire lawmakers to pay no income tax at all.

Afghanistan: a long war, and still in search of a strategy


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”.

Pakistan and Egypt: between pragmatism and dogma


Both Pakistan and Egypt had much to learn from each other this week.

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:

Kasab execution is reminder of Pakistani foot-dragging


(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.