Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
from Afghan Journal:
The Daily Telegraph reports that the status of forces agreement that the United States and Afghanistan are negotiating may allow a U.S. military presence in the country until 2024 . That's a full 10 years beyond the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops and handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces.
The negotiations are being conducted under a veil of security, and we have no way of knowing, at this point at least, if the two sides are really talking about U.S. troops in the country for that long. ( The very fact that a decade after U.S. troops entered the country there is no formal agreement spelling out the terms of their deployment is in itself remarkable)
But it does seem more likely than not that there there will be a U.S. military presence, however small, in Afghanistan beyond 2014, and that is going to force the players involved in the conflict and those watching from the sidelines with more than a spectator's interest to rethink their calculations.
Indeed, the talk of an extended force deployment may be an attempt to reverse the perception that America was in full retreat following President Barack Obama's announcement of a drawdown that many in the military believe has only hardened the resolve of the Taliban insurgents and their backers in Pakistan to wait out the departure.
Pakistani politics can be infuriating, petty, violent and often downright incomprehensible. So it is easy to miss what is actually quite a remarkable transformation in the way it governs itself. For perhaps the first time in its 64 years of existence, Pakistan is trying to figure out in detail how to make democracy work.
In a country traditionally dominated by the centralising authority of the military, the government which took office in 2008 is devolving power to the provinces. It is talking about breaking up Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and traditional recruiting ground of the army, by creating a new Seraiki province in south Punjab. It is extending some political rights into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) by reforming the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations, a British colonial-era system designed to control rather than govern the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
Rarely does a story reveal so much so unintentionally as this month’s article in the New Yorker by Nicholas Schmidle reconstructing the May 2 raid by U.S. forces who found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad. The article, beautifully written in the genre of Black Hawk Down, purports to tell the inside story of the Navy SEALS on the raid, right down to what they were thinking, or indeed, in the case of one of them, what he had in his pockets.
The problem, as reported initially by The Washington Post, was that Schmidle had not actually spoken to any of the SEALS involved in the raid but relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men. That, along with his failure to disclose this fact in the article, has prompted a vivid debate on Twitter and elsewhere, both about journalistic ethics and the accuracy of the story.
from Photographers Blog:
On August 7, 2010, with a camera in hand, I dropped into a flooded village on an army helicopter that was delivering food aid to marooned villagers. As a crewman slid the door open to find solid ground, I leaped out, took some photographs, and managed to get back on before the chopper departed.
Time stamps on the images show the hover-stop lasted less than the length of an average song. For those three minutes, my thoughts were focused on finding an image that would bring the Pakistan floods story to life.
The joint statement released after the meeting of the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan was so predictably cautious that inevitably attention focused on Pakistan’s glamorous new foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, and her designer accessories (a Hermes Birkin handbag, we were told.) Much of the debate was about whether it was sexist to comment on her appearance/question her competence; whether she had performed well in her television interviews (CNN-IBN is here); and whether it was appropriate for a minister to be so expensively attired. (See Dawn’s slideshow for some snarky captions.)
But that debate was also irrelevant. Nobody ever expected policy on India and Pakistan to be set by the foreign ministers. In Pakistan, it is heavily influenced by the army; in India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is driving it. The two ministers were simply expected to deliver that policy with tact and conviction.
Pakistan has been defined – sometimes by itself, sometimes by outsiders – as “not India” for so long that it has almost become set in stone. Conventional wisdom would have it that Pakistan can unite its many different ethnic and sectarian groups only by setting itself up in opposition to India and stressing its Muslim identity against Indian secularism and pluralism. In particular, its powerful army has thrived in part because of that traditional enmity with India.
Yet viewing Pakistan through such a simple prism can be misleading, especially if by freeze-framing it within a historical perspective, it denies the possibility of change.
At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan's oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use -- words like Muslim and Islam. "The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published," explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.
from Afghan Journal:
Pakistan's defence minister has threatened to move forces away from the Afghan border, where they are deployed to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban, if the United States cuts off aid to the cash-strapped country. Ahmed Mukhtar's logic is that Pakistan is essentially fighting America's war on the Afghan border, and if it is going to put the squeeze on its frontline partner, then it will respond by not doing America's bidding.
But apart from the issue of whether Pakistan can really stand up to the United States is the question of whether Islamabad can afford to pull back from the Afghan border for its own sake. This is no longer the porous border where movement of insurgents is confined to members of the Afghan Taliban travelling across to launch attacks on foreign forces in their country. Over the past few weeks, the traffic has moved in the reverse direction, with militants crossing over from Afghanistan to attack Pakistani security posts, Pakistani officials say. These are not armed men sneaking across in twos and threes , but large groups of up to 600 men armed with rocket launchers and grenades flagrantly crossing the mountainous border to attack security forces and civilians in Pakistan. (It also stands Pakistan's strategy of seeking strategic depth versus India on its head; now the rear itself has become a threat.)
At the rehabilitation center for former militants in Pakistan's Swat valley, the psychiatrist speaks for the young man sitting opposite him in silence. "It was terrible. He was unable to escape. The fear is so strong. Still the fear is so strong." Hundreds of miles away in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, a retired army officer recalls another young man who attacked him while he prayed - his "absolutely expressionless face" as he crouched down robot-like to reload his gun.
from India Insight:
Summer has set in in scenic Kashmir, melting snow on the high Himalayan mountain passes and allowing easier movement of separatist militants from the Pakistani side.