Pakistan: Now or Never?

Obituary of a scandal : A first draft on Pakistan’s “Memogate”

January 25, 2012

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. 

Failing to learn: US resumes drone attacks in Pakistan

January 11, 2012

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”.

Talking to the Taliban:an elusive peace in Afghanistan

January 4, 2012

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.

In Pakistan, history may not even rhyme, let alone repeat

December 24, 2011

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.

Winning the battle, losing the war; the US and Pakistan

November 29, 2011

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.

Capturing the Punjabi imagination: drones and “the noble savage”

November 13, 2011

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.

from Afghan Journal:

India-Afghan strategic pact:the beginnings of regional integration

November 11, 2011

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. 

She came, she saw, she confounded: Clinton in Pakistan

October 23, 2011

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recently concluded visit to Pakistan has left us none the wiser about how the United States and its allies will end the  Afghan war. In her public comments, she spoke of action ”over the next days and weeks – not months and years, but days and weeks”.  She promised the United States would tackle Taliban militants in eastern Afghanistan in response to a long-standing Pakistani complaint that Washington had neglected the region when  it decided to concentrate its forces in population centres in southern Afghanistan in 2010 (remember “government in a box”?).

Trusting the masses: US tiptoes into democracy in Pakistan

October 20, 2011

In his book “Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination“, an edited collection of his Chapati Mystery blog, historian Manan Ahmed complained about the United States’ past support for former president Pervez Musharraf, and its refusal, at the time to trust Pakistan with democracy.  In an entry written in 2007, he described Pakistan as the “the not yet nation” - a country for which democracy might be a good thing in the long run, but  was in American eyes not yet ready.

from Afghan Journal:

The Taliban in Afghanistan’s once impregnable Panjshir Valley

October 15, 2011

Last month driving up Afghanistan's magnificent Panjshir valley, you couldn't help thinking if the resurgent Taliban would ever be able to break its defences, both natural and from the Tajik-dominated populace. With its jagged cliffs and plunging valleys, Panjshir has been largely out of bounds  for the  Taliban, whether during the civil war or in the past 10 years when it has expanded a deadly insurgency against western and Afghan forces across the country. But on Saturday, the insurgents struck, carrying out a suicide bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base housing U.S. and Afghan troops and officials.