As the silver waters of the Kishanganga rush through this north Kashmir valley, Indian labourers are hard at work on a hydropower project that will dam the river just before it flows across one of the world’s most militarised borders into Pakistan.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
So many deaths in Pakistan; so many to outrage or upset us. How do we choose whose death to notice? The civilian killed by a drone strike? The Shia Hazara gunned down in Balochistan? The Ahmadi father knifed to death in his home? The beheaded Pakistani soldier? The mother who died in a suicide bombing? The murdered journalist? The child swept away by floods? The acid attack victim?
If you go to the run-down Desh bazaar in central Kabul – which sells everything from widescreen Samsung televisions to used shoes – it doesn’t matter what currency you use to pay for your shopping. They will accept the afghani, the US dollar or the Pakistani rupee.
One of the risks of the deteriorating situation inside Pakistan and its worsening relations with the outside world is the temptation to box it into a manageable category to make it less bewildering. Thus this week, the disqualification of Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani by the Supreme Court was widely described as a “judicial coup” – an evocation of the many military interventions in Pakistan since its creation in 1947 – and from there it became easy to compare it to the reassertion of military power in Egypt . By then we were but a hop, skip and a jump away from Pakistan’s definition as a failed state.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is using increasingly forthright terms to describe the spillover of the war in Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in its campaign of drone strikes. “We are fighting a war in the FATA, we are fighting a war against terrorism,” he said during a visit to India. The idea that the United States is at war inside Pakistan, albeit in its tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, is not new. But the use of language is significant, requiring as Spencer Ackerman noted at Danger Room, “a war-weary (US) public to get used to fighting what’s effectively a third war in a decade, even if this one relies far more on remote controlled robots than ground troops”.
According to the Pakistani media, Shakil Afridi, the doctor who worked with the CIA to help track down Osama bin Laden, has been jailed not for his role in trying to find the al Qaeda leader, but for colluding with the Lashkar-e-Islam militant group and its chief, Mangal Bagh, based in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Dawn newspaper cited court documents showing that the tribal court which sentenced him to 33 years in jail “did not entertain evidence relating to Dr Shakil Afridi’s involvement with the CIA, citing lack of jurisdiction as the main reason….” (Afridi was sentenced under the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a British colonial-era law used to deal with Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)). Instead, Afridi – arrested on May 23, 2011 shortly after the May 2 raid by U.S. forces who found and killed bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad – was convicted on the basis of “his love for Mangal Bagh”. “The court held that the LI (Lashkar-e-Islam) had sought the support of foreign intelligence agencies across the border in Afghanistan to wage war against the state of Pakistan and that Mr Afridi’s association with the militant outfit proved his involvement in activities inimical to the state of Pakistan.”
Pakistan’s relationship with the United States can’t get more transactional than the prolonged negotiations over restoration of the Pakistani supply route for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
In 1997, the business-friendly Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, relations between Pakistan and India were thawing and the two countries were trying to use improved trade to put decades of animosity behind them. Or as the Indian journalist Salil Tripathi wrote at the time, “this sorry state of affairs may be about to improve – through commerce.” Then came the nuclear tests in 1998, the Kargil war and a coup in 1999, mass military mobilisation in 2001-2002, the Mumbai attacks in 2008, and now, finally, we are here again.