Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
While the firepower and consequently all the media attention has been focused on Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province, violence in Baluchistan province to the south has worsened.
The year gone by was the bloodiest in a decade for Baluchistan, the country’s largest but most impoverished province where a low key insurgency has raged for decades, the Daily Times said. Official data showed a steadily rising level of violence, up from 303 people killed in 2005 to 433 in 2008, the first time killings crossed the 400-mark.
There were 120 bomb blasts, 208 rocket attacks, 141 landmine blasts and 32 hand grenade attacks in the past year, and it could have been worse if the three main Baluch nationalist insurgent groups operating in the area – the BLA, the Baloch Republic Army and Baloch Liberation Front – had not declared ceasefire, the newspaper said. One of them, the BRA, has announced the end of the ceasefire from the New Year accusing the government of of kiling tribesmen.The other two groups may well follow suit, the Daily Times said, warning of a difficult year ahead in the vast sparsely populated desert region that straddles Afghanistan and Iran.
Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.
But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan’s northwest)
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of an avowedly secular party, is set to return to power in Bangladesh, the
other end of South Asia’s arc of instability stretching from Afghanistan through Pakistan to India.
And because the teeming region, home to a fifth of the world’s population, is so closely intertwined
Hasina’s election and the change that she has promised to bring to her country will almost certainly have a bearing across South Asia, but especially for India and Pakistan.
The United States is aiming to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, according to the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The plan is not unexpected, and from a military point of view is meant to allow U.S. and NATO troops not just to clear out Taliban insurgents but also to bring enough stability to allow economic development, as highlighted in this analysis by Reuters Kabul correspondent Jon Hemming.
But does it still make sense after the Mumbai attacks — intentionally or otherwise – sabotaged the peace process between India and Pakistan?
Indian newspapers are reporting that Russian intelligence says underworld don Dawood Ibrahim – an Indian national who India believes is living in Karachi in Pakistan — was involved in the Mumbai attacks.
The Indian Express quotes Russia’s federal anti-narcotics service director Viktor Ivanov as saying that Moscow believes that Dawood’s drug network, which runs through Afghanistan, was used to finance the attacks. Ivanov said these were a “burning example” of how the illegal drug trafficking network was used for carrying out militant attacks, the paper said, citing an interview in the official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
India’s governing Congress party’s unexpectedly good showing in a clutch of state elections should give Prime Minister Manmohan Singh a little more breathing space as he considers a response to Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from there.
Imagine a scenario in which the Congress had lost all five states whose results were announced this week (results from Jammu and Kashmir, the sixth state, will be released later this month). The knives would have been out both within his increasingly restless Congress party and from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which has targeted him for being soft on national security, running ads with blood splattered against a black background in the middle of the Mumbai siege.
As if the challenge facing President-elect Barack Obama of stabilising Afghanistan was not difficult enough, it may have just got much, much harder after the Mumbai attacks soured relations between India and Pakistan — undermining hopes of finding a regional solution to the Afghan war.
As discussed in an earlier post, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has blamed a group outside India for the attacks which killed at least 121 people. The coordinated attacks bore the hallmarks of Pakistani-based Kashmiri militant groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India says was set up by Pakistan’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies released a note this week looking at the security, political and economic crises afflicting Pakistan.
For Pakistan watchers there was not much new, though the tenor of the note, despite its title “Pakistan on the Brink”, was a little less alarmist than other commentators, many of whom fear a nuclear armed state becoming a failed state.
Kashmiris in the part controlled by India have, by all accounts, turned out in far higher numbers than expected to vote in elections to the state assembly this week.
While New Delhi sees each such vote as an implicit recognition of the legitimacy of its rule there, the Kashmiris themselves are trying to make a distinction between voting for representatives to help improve their lives and the larger, long-running goal of freedom.
Of all the reports I have read recently about what the United States should do about Pakistan, none so forcefully puts it in the context of its relationship with India as this latest study by the Center for American Progress (see the full pdf document here).
It’s worth reading not least because the think tank is expected to play an influential role in shaping the policies of President-elect Barack Obama. “Come January, perhaps none will be more piped into the executive branch than the 5-year-old Center for American Progress,” according to politico.com.