Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Photographers' Blog:

Retracing my steps in Pakistan

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.

After getting back to base, I worded the caption, “Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the side bars of a hovering Army helicopter which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan's Punjab province August 7, 2010.”

I never got a chance to speak to the villagers in my image. Trapped in the belly of the chopper, I did not even know where we had descended. All I could confirm was that I had leaped onto a graveyard, where the winds from the propellers threw me from one dirt mound to another.

India and Pakistan: moving out of intensive care

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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, India and the possibility of change

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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.

from FaithWorld:

In Ahmadis’s desert city, Pakistan closes in on group it declared non-Muslim

(Ahmadis stand over graves of victims of an attack on one of their mosques, in Rabwah, May 29, 2010/Stringer)

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:

On the Afghanistan-Pakistan border : cutting off the nose to spite the face

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.)

from FaithWorld:

Pakistan’s patchy fight against Islamist violence sows confusion

(A man takes a nap next to a poster of Osama bin Laden at the Chauburji monument in Lahore May 13, 2011. The message written on the posters read: "The prayer absentia for martyr of Islamic nation is a duty and a debt"/Mani Rana)

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:

Rebel incursions into Kashmir from Pakistan at all-time low

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.

But this year, rebel incursion into Kashmir is down to its lowest level since the separatist revolt began in 1989.

from Afghan Journal:

Drone strikes are police work, not an act of war?

Launching an air strike in another nation would normally be considered an act of aggression. But advocates of America's rapidly expanding unmanned drone programme don't see it that way.

They are arguing, as Tom Ricks writes on his blog The Best Defense over at Foreign Policy, that the campaign to kill militants with missile strikes from these unmanned aircraft, is more like police action in a tough neighbourhood than a military conflict.

from Afghan Journal:

Pakistan’s Shamsi base : a mystery wrapped in a riddle

Pakistan Defence Minister Mukhtar Ahmad's comments this week that the government had ended U.S. drone flights out of Shamsi air base deep in southwest Baluchistan province has injected new controversy in their troubled relationship. U.S. officials appeared to scoff at Mukhtar's remarks, saying they had no plans to vacate the base from where they have in the past launched unmanned Predator aircraft targeting militant havens in the northwest region.

Washington's dismissal of the Pakistan government's stand is quite extraordinary. Can a country, even if it is the world's strongest power, continue to use an air base despite the refusal of the host country ?  The United States is effectively encamped in Pakistan using its air strip to run a not-so-secret assassination campaign  against militant leaders including Pakistanis while Islamabad fumes.

MQM’s pullout – Is it too late to have an impact ?

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By Faisal Aziz

For once, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party does not seem too bothered about the decision of its junior partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), to say good-bye to the ruling coalition.

Perhaps it is too late a call by the MQM to pile pressure on the government, and that too if it sticks to its decision. The MQM, which has long dominated urban parts of Sindh province and is now aspiring to make a mark at the national level, is not new to such resignations, and has done so in the past, in what has been an uneasy relationship with the PPP. But the sweet talk by the PPP has been able to lure back its partner one way or the other.

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