Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The United States has begun demanding rather publicly that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence make a clean break of its ties with the Afghan Taliban to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.
But can you force a country to act against its self-interest, despite all all your leverage, asks Robert D. Kaplan in a piece for the Atlantic. And does it make sense for an intelligence agency to break off all contact with arguably the biggest player in the region?
Since President Barack Obama placed Pakistan at the centre of his strategy to fight the Afghan war, the debate over the ISI has gotten more open and more heated. Some Pakistani officials and experts with links to the establishment have taken exception to the United States openly painting the spy agency in enemy colours, accusing elements within it of supporting the Talibam.
Kaplan argues that Pakistan’s geography as well as a history of instability makes it almost impossible for it to cut ties to the radical Islamists. Pakistan and Afghanistan have a long and unruly border and that alone would make it necessary for security agencies to build a network of contacts with the principal players in Afghanistan.
For some weeks now there have been persistent reports about Taliban leader Mullah Omar, asking fighters in the Pakistani Taliban to stop carrying out attacks there and instead focus on Afghanistan where Western forces are being bolstered.
The reclusive one-eyed leader had in December sent emissaries to ask leaders of the Pakistani Taliban to settle their differences, scale down activities in Pakistan and help mount a spring offensive against the build-up of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a report in the New York Times said as recently as last week.
Read President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it’s hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.
Last year, Obama said that ”If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.” Last week, he said that, ”Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
Concern is mounting over the health of John Solecki, an American working for the UNHCR, who was kidnapped from the Pakistani city of Quetta 45 days ago.
The UN said it was worried about an apparent deterioration in his health after a little known Baluch group, which says it is holding him, called a local news agency saying he was seriously ill with a heart condition.
Conspiracy theories have filled a void in Pakistan that opened up as soon as the dozen gunmen who attacked the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team made a leisurely getaway without any apparent casualties after a 25 minute gun battle.
Since the attack on Tuesday, Pakistani authorities have yet to reveal where the investigation was going, despite Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi saying “important leads” had been established.
President Asif Ali Zardari has said that an agreement signed last month to allow Islamic law in the troubled Swat Valley in return for a ceasefire was made with religious clerics, and not the Taliban. The Pakistani state had not negotiated with the Taliban and other extremist elements, and nor will it ever do so, Zardari wrote in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal.
But some people are questioning the distinction that Zardari is drawing between the “traditional local clerics” and the Swat Taliban militants who effectively control what was once an idyllic holiday destination. In the light of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, the first major strike on international sport since the Munich Olympic massacre of 1972, the debate over the deal has acquired a sharper edge as some see it as having emboldened the militants in the first place.
In a report released late last month, the U.S. Atlantic Council think tank warned that the ramifications of state failure in Pakistan would be far graver than those in Afghanistan, with regional and global impact. “With nuclear weapons and a huge army, a population over five times that of Afghanistan and with an influential diaspora, Pakistan now seems less able, without outside help, to muddle through its challenges than at any time since its war with India in 1971.”
The report, co-sponsored by Senator John Kerry and urging greater U.S. aid, said time was running out to stabilise Pakistan, with action required within months. It’s not even been two weeks since that report was released, and already events in Pakistan have taken a dramatic turn for the worse – from the confrontation between President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore.
U.S. missile strikes in Pakistan have killed more than 50 people in the past three days in what appears to be an escalation of the military campaign in the troubled region along the Afghan border, conducted largely by unmanned drone aircraft.
On Saturday, a remote-controlled US drone bombed compounds in South Waziristan, killing at least 25 people. And on Monday, another US drone struck the Kurram tribal region, killing 26. Kurram had not been targeted earlier, so in that sense it represented a broadening of the campaign, while the high death toll speaks for the intensity of the strikes.
America’s ramped-up Predator drone campaign against al Qaeda in Pakistan’s northwest is starting to pay off, according to U.S. and Pakistani intelligence authorities quoted in a clutch of media reports.
Eleven of the group’s top 20 “high value targets” along the Afghan border have been eliminated in the past six months Newsweek magazine reports, citing Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the Guantanamo military prison closed within the year, but what about the detention centre in Bagram, the U.S. military base in Afghanistan, which has an equally murky legal status ?
An estimated 600 detainees are held there, without any charge and many for over six years, rights activists say. That makes it more than twice the number held in Guantanamo, and according to military personnel who know both facilities, it is much more spartan and with lesser privileges as this report in the New York Times says.