Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Obama, McCain underline policy differences on Pakistan

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Presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain stressed important differences in approach to Pakistan in their first debate.

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On the surface, Obama advocated a tougher line, as he has done since the start of his campaign. “If the United States has al Qaeda, (Osama) bin Laden, top-level lieutenants in our sights, and Pakistan is unable or unwilling to act, then we should take them out,” he said. He talked about the $10 billion Washington had given to Pakistan in aid over the last seven years, saying it had failed to rid the border region of al Qaeda and the Taliban

“You have got to deal with Pakistan,” the Illinois senator said, and I coudn’t help thinking how those words will play out in a nation already under immense pressure from both the militants  and the United States.

McCain was more considered, saying he would work with the Pakistan government and that new President Asif Ali Zardari’s  (whose name he seemed to have mis-pronounced) had his plate  full. And he accused his rival of threatening Pakistan with military strikes. “You don’t say that aloud. If you have to do things, you have  to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government,” he  said.

Facing up to “the war in Pakistan”

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Masked pro-Taliban Pakistani militantsThere has been much hesitation in the world’s media about how to label U.S. military action inside Pakistan’s borders, including a reported ground raid and a series of missile strikes. Do you call it an “invasion”? Or use the more innocuous-sounding “intervention”? In an editorial, the Washington Post gives it a name which is rather striking in its directness. It calls it quite simply, The War in Pakistan.

President George W. Bush’s reported decision in July to step up attacks by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the newspaper says, was both necessary and long overdue. It acknowledges there is a risk the strikes might prompt a breach between the U.S. and Pakistani armies, or destabilize the new civilian government in Pakistan. But, it says, ”no risk to Pakistan’s political system or its U.S. relations is greater than that of a second 9/11 staged from the tribal territories. U.S. missile and commando attacks must be backed by the best intelligence and must minimize civilian casualties. But they must continue.”

This is not cricket, Pakistanis say

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You have to be living in Pakistan, or have gone through the “madness” of the last year or so to understand the despondency that is likely to be caused by the International Cricket Council’s decision to postpone next month’s Champions trophy because of security concerns, writes columnist Osman Samiuddin.  

Cricket is close to most people’s hearts in South Asia, and for Pakistan to lose the game’s second most important tournament after the World Cup hurts. Yes, there is a war out there in the northwest,  yes there are suicide bombings, and in the middle of all this, there is political uncertainty that can turn ugly very quickly, as has happened so often in the past.  

Does Obama’s choice of Biden spell hope for Pakistan?

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File photo of Senators Obama and Biden/John GressDemocrat Senator Joseph Biden, chosen by Barack Obama as his running mate, said famously early on that America needed to have a Pakistan policy, not a Musharraf policy.

“There’s a vast majority, a significant middle of the population of Pakistan (that) is democratic and middle-class. But what’s happening is, absent free elections, you’re forcing them underground, radicalizing them, and you’re giving great sway to that portion of the population that’s already radicalized,” he was quoted as saying.

A woman president for Pakistan?

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A comment recently by Asif Zardari, the powerful head of the Pakistan People’s Party, that the country’s next president could be a woman has set off speculation that he might propose the name of one of his sisters, both members of his party, to succeed President Pervez Musharraf.

What better way to burnish Pakistan’s credentials as an enlightened democracy than have a woman as head of state at a time when the power of Islamist militants is growing, especially in the vital northwest region where they have been burning down schools for girls.

Politics aside, Pakistan grapples with humanitarian crisis

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While Pakistan and indeed much of the world has been transfixed by the political power play that has seen President Pervez Muaharraf go, a refugee crisis is unfolding in its troubled northwest.

The numbers fleeing escalating fighting between the Pakistan Army and militants holed up in Bajaur on the border with Afghanistan vary but they are all huge. The Daily Times said that the provincial government had set up relief camps for 219,000 people displaced in the latest wave of fighting.

The case of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui

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Five years after she vanished from her parents’ home in Karachi along with her three children, Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia  Siddiqui appeared in a New York court last week accused of trying to kill U.S. officers in Afghanistan

Accounts of her arrest and the shooting incident differ. 

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Siddiqui, 36, was arrested outside the governor’s office in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province on July 17 after police searched her handbag and found documents on making explosives, excerpts from the book “Anarchist’s Arsenal” and descriptions of New York City landmarks, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

A chance for India and Pakistan to step back

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The leaders of India and Pakistan have a chance this weekend to stop things from spinning out of control when they gather in Colombo for a summit of South Asian nations.

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The mood has decidedly turned sour in India, especially after the bombing of its embassy in Kabul which the Indians, the Afghans and now the Americans – according to a report in the New York Times- have blamed on Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. Attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, a day apart, and then the most serious eruption of gunfire across the Line of Control in Kashmir since a 2003 truce have further increased concern that a four-year peace process is rapidly coming apart.

Countering al Qaeda, a must-read for Pakistan

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File photo of Osama bin LadenIt’s probably unusual to link to a report by the RAND Corporation and an op-ed on Foxnews.com in the same blog, but since both address the same subject – tackling al Qaeda in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region – here goes.

The first is a detailed report by RAND called “How Terrorist Groups End”. 

Pakistan frets about U.S. attack

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Pakistani soldier near the Pakistan-Afghan borderSpeculation the United States is preparing to send commandos into Pakistan’s tribal areas to hunt down al Qaeda and Taliban militants is gathering momentum.  Pakistani fears of a U.S. attack were reinforced by a surprise visit to Pakistan this weekend by the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, in which he was reported to have expressed U.S. frustration that Islamabad was not doing enough to tackle militants on its border with Afghanistan.

The Daily Times says in an article from Washington that Mullen had been expected to ”read the riot act” to the government. It quoted an unnamed ”well-informed source” as saying that U.S. patience was close to running out.  When it did, the paper said, there would be  unilateral US military action, both covert and overt, in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

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