Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari told a joint session of parliament last month he was committed to wide-ranging constitutional reforms including surrendering the power of the president to dismiss elected governments — a power that many Pakistanis feel has brought much grief to the nation. He also pledged his faith in an independent judiciary and said all outstanding matters would be resolved in line with the constitution.
Those promises have slipped somewhat from public view in recent weeks, preoccupied as the nation and those with a stake in it are with the multiple security challenges and a looming economic meltdown.
But according to the International Crisis Group, the worsening violence has made it even more necessary that judicial reforms be carried out so that the country’s transition to civilian rule is strengthened after eight years of military rule.
In a report on reforming the judiciary, the influential Brussels-based think tank says the civilian government has an opportunity to reverse the tide of radicalism in Pakistan by restoring the rule of law and repealing discriminatory religious laws that it says restrict fundamental rights, fuel extremism and destabilize the country.
If your country is desperate to stave off economic collapse, there is probably no better place to visit, and no better friend to have, than China right now. With $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China is sheltered from the worst of the financial storm, so much so that many are looking at it to play a part in hauling the global economy into calmer waters.
Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari begins a trip to China on Tuesday on what is being billed as his first official visit abroad – his earlier trip to the United States has been presented as one to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
Pakistan’s new President Asif Ali Zardari is starting to challenge quite a few long-held positions.
India, he told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published over the weekend, ”has never been a threat to Pakistan.” For a country that has fought three wars with India, including one in 1971 that ended in humiliation and the birth of Bangladesh from what was East Pakistan, these are remarkable words.
Depending on who you read, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari was either an embarrassment for trying to flirt with Sarah Palin during his trip to New York last week, or a street-smart wheeler-dealer bravely standing up to Islamist militancy after the assassination of his wife Benazir Bhutto.
Time revisits the encounter between Zardari and Palin – in which he told the vice-presidential candidate she was gorgeous and threatened to hug her in a scene now frequently being replayed on YouTube – writing that it led to Zardari being “pilloried at home as a source of national embarrassment and accused of sexism and impropriety”.
In the aftermath of the deadly hotel bombing in Islamabad, amidst fresh tensions with the United States over helicopter intrusions in Pakistan’s northwest, and in spite of reports of fresh cross-border firing in Kashmir, negotiators from India and Pakistan met in New Delhi and agreed to open trade across Kashmir. There could hardly have been a more unlikely time for the two countries to agree to crack open one of the world’s most militarised frontiers, where a ceasefire which has more or less held since 2003 is beginning to fray at the edges.
To be sure, the neighbours have a passenger bus service twice a month that links the two parts of Kashmir under their control, but it is heavily restricted and travellers are subject to all sorts of clearances before they can get anywhere near it.
One of the more recurrent themes in U.S. political punditry these days is the need to nudge India and Pakistan towards peace. The theory is that this would bolster the new civilian government in Islamabad by encouraging trade and economic development, reduce a rivalry that threatens regional stability, including in Afghanistan, and limit the role of the Pakistan Army, whose traditional dominance has been fuelled by a perceived threat from India.
So what are the chances of progress? (assuming the latest bombings just being reported in Delhi do not trigger a new downwards spiral)
Last week, after U.S. forces were reported to have launched their first ground assault in Pakistan, the website Registan.net asked the obvious question: “Did We Just Invade Pakistan?” Nearly a week and several missile attacks by U.S. drones later, I am still pondering the same question.
We have just witnessed what may have been the most sustained U.S. military action against targets inside Pakistan, not just since 2001, but since 1947 when the country was founded. Yet it is not any clearer what is going on. The Council on Foreign Relations has produced an excellent round-up of media reports on Pakistan, published by the Washington Post. But I’d defy anyone to read through them and come up with a coherent hypothesis that does not immediately run into a contradiction. Here are some of the ideas being discussed:
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is Pakistan’s High Commissioner to London and a former advisor to the late Benazir Bhutto.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf has, as expected, unleashed a new power struggle within Pakistan’s fractious coalition. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto, has staked a claim to the presidency, setting him on a collision course with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) sees Zardari’s candidacy as an attempt to garner more power and delay the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf last November. PML (N) officials are already saying the row could break up the six-month-old coalition cobbled together after elections in February.
So will there be a fight to the finish between Zardari and Sharif that will drag Pakistan deeper into the mire? Or are the two men simply manoeuvring themselves into the best position they can find in the post-Musharraf era?
Given how little many people in the west seem to know about Pakistan — at most that it has nuclear weapons and, possibly, Osama bin Laden; rarely that it has 165 million people (not too far off three times the population of Britain) with individual day-to-day challenges of earning a living and bringing up children like anywhere else – it’s encouraging to see the range of debate in the U.S. blogosphere after President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation.
Here are just a few that caught my eye, in no particular order, and with apologies in advance to anyone I’ve mislabelled as U.S.-based: