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: Now or Never?
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be in New Delhi this weekend to celebrate a hard-fought nuclear deal that to its critics strikes at the heart of the global non-proliferation regime by allowing India access to nuclear technology despite its refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and give up a weapons programme.
While Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.
Just two days after a suicide bomb attack on the Marriott killed 53 people in the heart of Islamabad, there were reports of trouble both on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan and on the Line of Control with India.
Both the United States and Osama bin Laden are losing support in Pakistan, according to the latest Pew Global Attitudes report released this week (download the full PDF report to see details on Pakistan).
Senator Barack Obama has accused Pakistan of misusing U.S. military aid meant to help it fight al Qaeda and the Taliban to prepare for war against India. In an interview with Fox News he also says the United States must put more pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants, hold it accountable for increased military support, and be prepared to act aggressively against al Qaeda; “if we have bin Laden in our sights, we target him and we knock him out,” he says. However he adds that “nobody talked about some full-blown invasion of Pakistan.”
One of the more troublesome aspects of the latest protests in Kashmir, among the biggest since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989, is the impact on the younger generation.
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.
UPDATE – President Pervez Musharraf’s resignation has been greeted with jubilation from supporters of the ruling PML-N and PPP parties (see picture right), and sparked a rally in the stock market. But reading through the comments on this and other blogs, I can’t see any clear theme emerging, with some praising and others condemning Musharraf’s legacy, some regretting and others welcoming his departure, and many fretting about the future.
The last time I visited Kashmir, in November, I was struck by an apparent contradiction: it was more peaceful than it had been in years, at least in the capital Srinagar, and yet the overwhelming mood was one of gloom. With the peace process between India and Pakistan going nowhere, there was a sense that thousands of people had died for nothing in the violence that had convulsed the region since a separatist revolt erupted in 1989. Although the soldiers had disappeared from the streets of Srinagar, and tourists were flocking back, it retained the some of the same tinderbox atmosphere that I had known at the height of the violence. One spark, people told me, could ignite it again.