Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The governor of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province has been quoted as saying that there are 15,000 militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The fighters, who would very nearly constitute a small army division, “have no dearth of rations, ammunition, equipment, even anti-tank mines,” Owais Ahmad Ghani told a team from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan led by Asma Jahangir, according to newspaper reports. A militant or a foot soldier earned between 6,000 ($75) to 8000 rupees a month while commanders took home 20,000 rupees to 30,000 rupees, the governor said.
With 15,000 armed fighters, give or take a few thousand, you would have to wonder who is control of the area, them or the security forces?
Some people are already asking that question as the writ of the state, always very tenous in the FATA, has been forefully challenged in the nearby areas of the North West Frontier Province, especially in the scenic Swat valley. Once popular with tourists, the alpine valley has become a battleground between the Pakistani Taliban determined to impose their strict interpretation of Islam as they push deeper into Pakistan on the one hand, and security forces trying to regain their grip.
The Taliban have imposed a ban on female education across Swat, saying it was “un-Islamic.” This week they blew up four schools after a government minister vowed to ensure that the schools re-opened in March after the winter break.
U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden held talks in Pakistan as part of a regional tour expected to focus on terrorism and tensions between Pakistan and India following the Mumbai attacks.
Before he left the United States, Biden, travelling in his capacity as outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that “What I hope to accomplish is to get sort of a baseline. This will be my God knows how many trips, I guess my 10th or 11th trip into Iraq and I don’t know how many times in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Politico quoted him as saying.
India continues to turn up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks, declaring once again on Wednesday that all options were open to disrupt militant networks operating from there. And this, a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said official agencies must have been involved in an operation of such sophistication, a serious charge by a head of government against another state.
But is India really in a position to make good its threats against Pakistan ? The question has repeatedly come up here on this blog and elsewhere since those attacks on November 26 and now in the light of Israel’s Gaza operation, some people are again asking why New Delhi cannot carry out punitive strikes inside Pakistan.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Pakistan to cooperate “fully and transparently” in investigations into the Mumbai attacks, while U.S. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell has pointed a finger at Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant group.
That’s probably the kind of language that would go down well in India, which has been frustrated in the past by what it saw as the United States’ failure to acknowledge the threat from Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups, instead preferring to rely on Pakistan as a useful ally in the region while focusing its own energies on defeating al Qaeda and the Taliban.
By Robert Birsel and Zeeshan Haider
Pakistan’s Taliban have indignantly criticised what they said were India’s “unfounded” threats against Pakistan in the wake of the Mumbai assault and they vowed to rally to the defence of the country in the event of an Indian attack.
“If they dared to attack Pakistan then, God willing, we will share the happiness and grief with all Pakistanis,” said Pakistani Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar.
“We will put the animosity and fighting with the Pakistani army behind us and the Taliban will defend their frontiers, their boundaries, their country with their weapons.
“We will defend the Line of Control in the same way as we are defending the Durand Line,” he told Reuters by telephone referring to the frontier with India in disputed Kashmir and the border with Afghanistan.
“We will show Pakistanis whether we are miscreants or defenders of the country.”
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.
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.
Will Israel and India – the first the United States’ closest ally and the second fast becoming one of the closest – emerge as the trickiest adversaries in any attempt by the United States to seek a regional solution to Afghanistan?
The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran.
In his new book about the Pakistan Army, “War, Coups and Terror”, Brian Cloughley recounts how the British general, the Duke of Wellington, responded to democracy in his first cabinet meeting as prime minister: ”An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”
The story is told as part of an argument about why the Pakistan Army has never been particularly successful at running the country.
The war in Afghanistan-Pakistan is really the central front in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama kept saying throughout his campaign, and within hours of his famous victory, he seems to have been thrown a challenge.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said 40 people had been killed in a U.S. air strike in the southern province of Kandahar, most of whom were members of a wedding party, according to other officials. The Afghan leader, who is facing his own election next year, demanded that Obama stop the killings of civilians which this summer have mounted as overstretched U.S.-led coalition forces faced with a resurgent Taliban step up air strikes.