Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
Following up on my earlier posts here and here about what is happening behind the scenes between India and Pakistan, first a word on defining the terms. The two countries are not about to sign a peace deal. Any attempt at normalising relations will be long and painful, and as has been the case many times in the past, vulnerable to spoilers with a vested interest in stoking conflict.
Given the importance of India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan, along with U.S. attempts to persuade the Pakistan Army to focus more on fighting Islamist militants than on the perceived threat from India, it’s worth keeping tabs on progress so far and on the outlook for the months ahead.
As I flagged up in July “Afghan campaign gains from India-Pakistan thaw”, tentative attempts to improve relations soured by last year’s attack in Mumbai were already beginning to bear fruit even as the news from Afghanistan itself turned increasingly negative. A fragile thaw had allowed the Pakistan Army to move “a very large number” of troops from the eastern border with India to the western border with Afghanistan in what U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke called a “significant redeployment”.
The implications of that redeployment are beginning to take form, with reports that the Pakistan Army may be preparing a major offensive into South Waziristan. The army, which rarely talks about troop movements, has gone public to say it has two divisions, or about 28,000 troops, in place in South Waziristan, while U.S. defence officials say Pakistan now has enough forces to launch a ground offensive there.
Following up on my earlier post about what is happening behind the scenes in the fraught relationship between India and Pakistan, it’s worth keeping track of this report that Islamabad is considering appointing former foreign secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan to handle the informal dialogue with New Delhi known as “backchannel diplomacy”.
As discussed in this story there has been much talk about trying to get the backchannel diplomacy between India and Pakistan up and running again, both to reduce India-Pakistan rivalry in Afghanistan and to prevent an escalation of tensions between the two countries themselves. So any forward movement on the backchannel diplomacy, if confirmed, would be important.