Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Given the history of India and Pakistan, it is easy to be sceptical about the chances of their latest peace initiative. So let’s start with the positives.
Unlike past peace efforts which have veered between ill-prepared personal initiatives by political leaders and technical talks between bureaucrats which foundered for lack of direction from the top, the current phase combines the two. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s impromptu invitation to his Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch last week’s India-Pakistan cricket semi-final coincided with the resumption of the first structured dialogue between the two countries since the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai. The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan met in Thimphu, Bhutan in February. In talks last week, the home secretaries of the two countries made progress in coordinating their investigations into the Mumbai attacks; the trade secretaries are expected to meet soon, as are the defence secretaries.
Moreover, the Indian prime minister is personally committed to pursuing peace in the time he has left before a national election due by 2014. And while last year he was isolated even within his own party in his enthusiasm for peace - an idea that still lingers in some quarters - his initiative appears to enjoy the support of powerful Congress party president Sonia Gandhi. Outlook magazine, writing about his cricket diplomacy, noted that Singh was flanked by Gandhi and her son and prime-minister- in-waiting, Rahul Gandhi, when he welcomed Gilani on his first official visit to India.
The Pakistan Army, which dominates foreign and security policy in Pakistan, has also been slowly reassessing its approach to Islamist militants it once nurtured for use against India as they slip increasingly out of its control. How far that reassessment goes is open to debate; but few doubt that Gilani would have accepted Singh’s invitation to India to explore peace talks had this not been endorsed by the army.
I have (somewhat belatedly) got around to reading the full text of the statement made by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning last week’s drone strike in North Waziristan which killed more than 40 people. The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States.
The Pakistani media has put forward many reasons as to why Kayani issued such a public condemnation, and indeed on why the United States chose to launch such a lethal drone attack just as tempers were beginning to cool over the Davis row (for a must-read round up of the different views of officials and analysts in Peshawar, see Cyril Almeida at Dawn.)
Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, is to be given a a three-year extension to his term of office to maintain continuity in the country’s battle against Islamist militants.
Kayani, arguably Pakistan’s most powerful man, had been due to retire in November. His future had been the subject of intense speculation for months, with opinion divided between the those who argued he should be given an extension for the sake of continuity, and those who said that Pakistan needed to build its institutions rather than rely on individuals – as it had done with powerful army rulers in the past.
from Tales from the Trail:
Pakistan's foreign minister heads his country's delegation to Washington this week for high-level talks, but there was no mistaking who was the star at a reception at the Pakistani Embassy on Tuesday night: Army General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Guests crowded around Kayani at the annual Pakistani National Day party at the embassy, posing for photos and jostling for the military leader's ear. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, also drew those eager for photographic souvenirs of the occasion, but not such a feeding frenzy as that around Kayani.