Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
It is an adage that everything is already known; it just has to be rediscovered. But it applies particularly well to the rise of the Difa-e-Pakistan (Defence of Pakistan) Council (DPC). The new alliance of Islamist groups, campaigning for a break in ties with the United States and an end to warming relations with India, is giving clear shape for the first time in many years to an underworld of hyper-nationalism, militancy, sectarianism and faith-based politics whose influence in Pakistan has until now operated largely beneath the surface.
And many Pakistanis are not liking what they are seeing. Columnist Ejaz Haider described the very public rallies of the DPC - which includes the Jamaat-e-Islami political organisation, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (the humanitarian wing of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group), the anti-Shi’ite Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and former spy chief Hamid Gul among others – as “a Whisky Tango Foxtrot moment for the entire nation and, yes, the military and its various intelligence agencies”.
Yet what is interesting is what the DPC tells us about the trends already going on below the radar. Given widespread suspicion that the alliance enjoys the tacit backing of the Pakistan Army – few believe it could operate so openly without the approval of the generals in Rawalpindi - it also provides an (albeit distorted) window into the thinking of the country’s powerful security establishment.
The alliance, which has held rallies in the cities of Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and Karachi since late last year, is unusual in bringing an intense dislike of India and anger at the United States onto the same platform. Pakistan’s relations with the two countries have always been linked – the military has traditionally sought American support to help it stand up to India. And its reluctance to cede to U.S. pressure to turn on its former militant proxies has in part been explained by its view that Pakistan needs them to counter the influence of its much bigger neighbour in Kashmir and Afghanistan.
By Dan Magnowski
For many in the West, Afghanistan and Iraq have much in common.
Both are Islamic countries whose nasty regimes were kicked out by
the U.S. after September 11 2001; in both places, the Americans,
British and others stayed and spent huge amounts of money on nobody’s
quite sure what; and both were examples of ‘evil’, back when that was
a cornerstone of foreign policy thinking.
The Afghan “exit strategy” appears to be fraying badly before it has even had time to get properly underway. With many fearing civil war after foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014, it was always going to be hard to weave together the different elements needed to offer a hope of peace. Among those elements was a concerted international strategy to show outside powers were not going to abandon Afghanistan by promising generous funding after foreign troops leave; some kind of regional detente, and sufficient momentum behind talks with Taliban insurgents to shape the conditions for a dignified withdrawal.
Yet signs are that it is getting harder rather than easier to pull those different moving parts together.
One of Pakistan’s most bizarre political dramas appears to be running out of steam. What began as an unsigned memo seeking American help to rein in the military escalated into a full-blown power struggle between the civilian government and the army after Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz accused then ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani of writing it. Haqqani, who denied involvement, resigned and returned to Pakistan to clear his name. But that did nothing to stem a crisis in civilian-military relations which carried uncomfortable echoes of the 1990s when government after government were dismissed in a decade which ended in a coup in 1999.
With Haqqani now living in virtual house arrest in Pakistan, the so-called “Memogate” affair is far from over – it remains subject to judicial and parliamentary enquiries. But after weeks of drama, from coup rumours to allegations the army had already sought Gulf backing to take over - both denied by the military – to unusually spirited criticism of the army by the government, to the more farcical circulation of an old video featuring Ijaz commenting on naked female wrestling – the media feeding frenzy triggered by the memo appears finally to be satiated. Ijaz, meanwhile, has said he is unwilling to travel to Pakistan to testify, citing fears for his safety, diminishing his utility as a star player.
When Pakistan’s Express Tribune wrote this week that the CIA was likely to resume drone strikes for the first time since November, it included a quote from an unnamed Pakistani official saying that Pakistani authorities believed drones were “strategically harmful but tactically advantageous”. I tweeted the link and asked who would explain to the Pakistani public that the drone strikes – which have fuelled intense anti-Americanism – were seen even in their own country as “tactically advantageous”.
One of the answers was particularly telling. It was from a supporter of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) of former cricketer Imran Khan – who has risen in popularity on a wave of anti-Americanism, opposition to drone strikes, and belief the government of President Asif Ali Zardari has sold out to the United States. Here is the tweet:
It is the season for “progress” on Taliban talks. In January 2010, the London conference on Afghanistan put the idea of negotiating with the Taliban firmly on the international agenda. In February 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a major policy speech, insisted it was time the United States began to talk to its enemies. Her speech was accompanied by a leaked report that Washington was in fact already holding direct talks with the Taliban to try to convince them to join a political settlement and sever ties with al Qaeda. And now we have the Taliban agreeing to open a liaison office in Qatar to help speed along the talks process as Washington prepares to withdraw most combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
But what are we actually looking at here? A quick-fix settlement that could provide just about enough cover for war-weary western governments to pull their troops out before Afghanistan descends again into civil war? Or a serious process which might offer an enduring peace? Do we believe the Taliban are now more amenable to talks than they were before? Or rather that domestic political compulsions in the United States are driving it more rapidly towards the exit?
In his book, Between Mosque and Military, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani wrote of how military coups in the past were carefully planned, yet carried out in such a way as to give the appearance of being a spontaneous reaction to an emergency.
“The Pakistan military always insists on an immediate provocation as the trigger of its coups,” wrote Haqqani, who was forced to quit last month after being accused of involvement in a memo seeking American help to rein in the army, an allegation he denies. “The army’s ability to swiftly execute a military takeover within hours of a supposed provocation is often attributed to its having contingency plans for such occasions. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals a pattern of careful prior planning, including disorder in the streets orchestrated with the help of the reliable street power of Islamist political parties.”
When former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said this weekend that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are not safe under President Asif Ali Zardari, he almost certainly did not mean that the nuclear arsenal is not secure. The nuclear weapons have little to do with the civilian government; they are guarded ferociously by the Pakistan Army both against terrorist attacks and any foreign or U.S. attempt to seize them, and, as a matter of pride for Pakistanis chafing at any American suggestions otherwise, safeguarded to international standards.
Rather it was a rhetorical device to attack the government at a rally where Qureshi announced he was joining the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) , the party of former cricket star Imran Khan, a rising force in Pakistani politics. Qureshi’s assertion tapped into growing anti-Americanism, and a populist view that the civilian government led by the Pakistan People’s Party, to which he once belonged, had somehow sold the country’s honour – in this case symbolised by nuclear weapons – in return for American aid. (Pakistan first agreed its uneasy alliance with the United States under former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.)
Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid may have captured something rather interesting in his short story published this month by The Guardian. And it is not as obvious as it looks.
In “Terminator: Attack of the Drone”, Hamid imagines life in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan under constant attack from U.S. drone bombings. His narrator is one of two boys who go out one night to try to attack a drone.
from Afghan Journal:
A strategic partnership agreement between India and Afghanistan would ordinarily have evoked howls of protest from Pakistan which has long regarded its western neighbour as part of its sphere of influence. Islamabad has, in the past, made no secret of its displeasure at India's role in Afghanistan including a$2 billion aid effort that has won it goodwill among the Afghan people, but which Pakistan sees as New Delhi's way to expand influence.
Instead the reaction to the pact signed last month during President Hamid Karzai's visit to New Delhi, the first Kabul had done with any country, was decidedly muted. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said India and Afghanistan were "both sovereign countries and they have the right to do whatever they want to." The Pakistani foreign office echoed Gilani's comments, adding only that regional stability should be preserved. It cried off further comment, saying it was studying the pact.