Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

In Afghanistan, China extends its reach

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Afghanistan sits on one of the largest mineral deposits in the region, the country’s mines minister told Reuters in an interview this month.

And the Chinese are already there, braving the Taliban upsurge and a slowing economy at home to invest in the vast Aynak copper field south of Kabul, reputed to hold one of the largest deposits of the metal in the world.

In what is the biggest foreign investment in Afghanistan, China  last year committed  nearly $2.9 billion to develop the Aynak field including the infrastructure  that must be built with it such as a power station to run the operation and a railroad to haul the tons of copper it hopes to extract.

Despite Afghanistan’s deteriorating security including in Logar province which is where the Aynak reserves are located and which serves as one of the gateways  to Kabul,  China has said it will carry out the project, the Afghan mines minister Mohammad Ibrahim Adel said.

Has Pakistan become the central front?

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In a report released late last month, the U.S. Atlantic Council think tank warned that the ramifications of state failure in Pakistan would be far graver than those in Afghanistan, with regional and global impact. “With nuclear weapons and a huge army, a population over five times that of Afghanistan and with an influential diaspora, Pakistan now seems less able, without outside help, to muddle through its challenges than at any time since its war with India in 1971.”

The report, co-sponsored by Senator John Kerry and urging greater U.S. aid, said time was running out to stabilise Pakistan, with action required within months. It’s not even been two weeks since that report was released, and already events in Pakistan have taken a dramatic turn for the worse – from the confrontation between President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to Tuesday’s attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore.

Pakistan Islamists in a deal with China communists : a sign of the times?

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A reader has pointed to an agreement that Pakistan’s Jamaat-i-Islami, the main Islamist political group, signed with the Chinese communist party during its trip to Beijing a few days ago.

The two sides, according to reports in the domestic and foreign media, agreed to collaborate in the fields of justice, development, security and solidarity.

Afghanistan and the breakdown of the balance of power

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Keeping track of the many countries with a stake in Afghanistan — and the shifting alliances between them — is beginning to feel awfully like one of those school history lessons when you were supposed to understand the complex and tenuous balance of power whose breakdown led to World War One.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer became the latest to call for a regional solution to Afghanistan when he said this week that the United States and its NATO allies must directly engage with Iran if they are to win the war there. “If we are going to succeed in this game, we need to be playing on the right field,” he said. “And that means a more regional approach. To my mind we need a discussion that brings in all the relevant regional players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia and, yes, Iran.”

The scramble for Central Asia

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Central Asia is much in demand these days, whether as a transit route for U.S. and NATO supplies to Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan or for its rich resources, including oil and gas.

So it’s worth noting that India has been hosting Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev as its guest of honour at its Republic Day celebrations while signing a bunch of trade deals in the process. According to reports in the Indian media, including in the Business Standardthe Week and the Times of India,  India is seeking supplies of uranium for its nuclear plants and access to Kazakhstan’s oil and gas and in return would be expected to support Kakazhstan’s bid for membership of the World Trade Organisation. (India’s state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) said on Saturday it had signed a deal to explore for oil and gas in Kazakhstan.)

India – aiming for diplomatic encirclement of Pakistan?

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India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.

According to the Times of India, “India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan’s key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting…” The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.

Pakistan: Rethinking its relationship with China?

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For Pakistan-watchers, I recommend reading this op-ed in the Daily Times calling on Pakistan to rethink its relationship with China, traditionally revered as an all-weather friend which will remain reliable even as other allies — like the United States — come and go.

“China has positioned itself for a leading role in global affairs, and will not sacrifice this advantage for the sake of any emotional connection with another state,” writes Shahzad Chaudhry. “As a mature society, the Chinese are realistic enough to realise the advantages and disadvantages of their linkages. Like the Chinese, Pakistanis need to discard their emotions and objectively review and redefine their linkages in view of their own national interests and the new global realities.”

And now the Chinese navy in Somali waters…

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Chinese naval ships may soon be steaming into the Gulf of  Aden to join a growing fleet of international warships fighting  Somali pirates.

A first probably for a navy that has long confined itself to its own waters, the move is certain to stir interest in the strategic community stretching from New Delhi to Washington.

China, Pakistan and India

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According to Pakistani newspaper the Daily Times, Pakistan’s decision to crack down on the Jammat-ud-Dawa, the charity linked to the Laskhar-e-Taiba, came as the result of pressure from China. Jammat-ud-Dawa was blacklisted by a UN Security Council committee this week.

The Daily Times noted that earlier attempts to target the Jamaat-ud-Dawa at the Security Council had been vetoed by China. “It is the Chinese “message” that has changed our mind. The Chinese did not veto the banning of Dawa on Wednesday, and they had reportedly told Islamabad as much beforehand, compelling our permanent representative at the UN to assert that Pakistan would accept the ban if it came,” the newspaper said. “One subliminal message was also given to Chief Minister Punjab, Mr Shehbaz Sharif, during his recent visit to China, and the message was that Pakistan had to seek peace with India or face change of policy in Beijing. Once again, it is our friend China whose advice has been well taken…”

Pakistan, India and the United Nations

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India has asked the United Nations Security Council to blacklist the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the Pakistani charity which it says is a front for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, blamed by New Delhi for the attacks on Mumbai. But how far is India prepared to go in engaging the Security Council, given that it has resisted for decades UN invention over Kashmir?

Indian newspapers have suggested that India invoke UN Security Council Resolution 1373, passed after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and requiring member countries to take steps to curb terrorism.  The latest of these calls came from N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief of Indian newspaper The Hindu, who said India must respond to the Mumbai attacks “in an intelligent and peaceful way”.  

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