Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
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 the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
It is, no doubt, a tribute to British democracy that all sections of its society are represented in parliament. For us it is also heartening to note that out of nine Muslim members elected in the May 6 election, seven are of Pakistani origin (five belonging to Labour and two from the Conservatives). For the first time in British history two women of Pakistani origin have made it to parliament. Compared to previous elections, this time three more Pakistani MPs will be sitting in the House of Commons.
Britain and Pakistan are bound by a long shared history, which at times becomes nostalgic amongst the senior citizens who in their youth had some kind of interaction with our part of the world. But the migration of Pakistanis and Kashmiris to Britain during the past six decades has certainly created a human bridge between the two countries. One can see a growing interaction in the cultural, economic and political arenas, which makes Pakistan and the UK favourite destinations for the people of the two countries, especially those who have their origins in Pakistan and Kashmir. For first-time visitors from Pakistan, London hardly represents an alien city given the fact that almost a million South Asians, including 50 percent Pakistanis, live in this city and immediately connect to their fellow Pakistanis through common language, food and clothes.
In such an environment, it is a matter of great satisfaction that British society has afforded the opportunity to the people of Pakistani and Kashmiri origin to be represented by their own people. This also shows the admirable tolerance shown by the British people and the government towards minorities and serves as a lesson to freedom-loving people throughout the world that in a democratic society, a fair representation of different interest groups is the best guarantee for stability and progress of any society.
With President Hamid Karzai now looking all but unassailable in Afghanistan’s August election, two articles out this week – one from Washington and the other from India – offer mirror-image analyses of President Barack Obama’s handling of the Afghan leader. They should really be read as companion pieces since both offer insights into the workings of the Obama administration and the complexities of Afghan politics. Reading both together also highlights how different the world looks depending on your perspective, whether writing from America or Asia.According to this article in the Washington Post by Rajiv Chandrasekaran (highlighted by Joshua Foust at Registan.net) the Obama administration had decided to keep Karzai at arm’s length. It says Obama’s advisers faulted former President George W. Bush for forging too personal a relationship with Karzai through bi-weekly video conferences and as a result creating such cosiness that it became hard for his administration to put pressure on the Afghan government.”It was a conversation. It was a dialogue. It was a lot of ‘How are you doing? How is your son?’” it quotes a senior U.S. government official who attended some of the sessions as saying. “Karzai sometimes placed his infant son on his lap during the conversations.”"Obama’s advisers have crafted a two-pronged strategy that amounts to a fundamental break from the avuncular way President George W. Bush dealt with the Afghan leader,” the report said. ”Obama intends to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with Karzai in the hope that it will lead him to address issues of concern to the United States, according to senior U.S. government officials. The administration will also seek to bypass Karzai by working more closely with other members of his cabinet and by funnelling more money to local governors.”Retired Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, has a rather different reading on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s approach. In this article in the Asia Times Online, headlined What Obama could learn from Karzai, (highlighted by Marie-France Calle on her French-language blog), he says the Americans allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred by the Afghan President by keeping him at arms-length.”In retrospect, United States President Barack Obama did a great favour to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by excluding him from his charmed circle of movers and shakers who would wield clout with the new administration in Washington,” he writes. “Obama was uncharacteristically rude to Karzai by not even conversing with him by telephone for weeks after he was sworn in, even though Afghanistan was the number one policy priority of his presidency.”But Karzai, he says, had the last laugh, as the opprobrium heaped upon him by the west raised his standing in Afghan eyes. Karzai had been able to manoeuvre himself into a strong position through weeks of Afghan-style backroom negotiations, capped by a decision by a popular candidate to pull out of the election race.”The Afghan experience with democracy offers a good lesson for Obama: it is best to keep a discreet distance and leave the Afghans to broker power-sharing on their own terms, according to their own ethos and tradition,” he writes. “However, Obama has a long way to go in imbibing the lessons of democracy in the Hindu Kush …”(Reuters photos: President Karzai, and Karzai with President Obama and Vice President Biden. Photos by Yuri Gripas and Jonathan Ernst)
The world’s largest democracy chooses a new government in an election beginning on Thursday, and given the fires burning next door in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the men and women who will rule New Delhi over the next five years will doubtless exert influence over the course of events.
Indeed, with the pain and anger over the Mumbai attacks of November still raw, the mood could hardly be tougher against Pakistan. Even shorn of the campaign rhetoric, the positions of both the ruling Congress and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party on Pakistan begin from common ground. No dialogue with Islamabad until it “dismantles the infrastructure of terrorism”, both parties say in their manifestos.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband may yet end up achieving the opposite of what he intended in India when he called for a resolution of the Kashmir dispute in the interests of regional security.
To some Indians, linking the attacks in Mumbai - which New Delhi says originated from Pakistan – to the issue of Kashmir is not just insensitive, it is also a wake-up call. The lesson they have drawn is this: for all the world’s sense of outrage over Mumbai, India will have to deal with Pakistan on its own, and not expect foreign powers to lean on its neighbour in the manner it wants.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. Joshua Foust is a defence analyst who also writes an Afghanistan blog for Global Voices and is a contributing editor to Registan.net, a blog devoted to Central Asia and the Caucasus.
The view from the heartland
The split in Pakistan’s ruling coalition could provide a lifeline for President Pervez Musharraf that the Pakistani people believed they’d yanked away in an election three months ago.
After the Feb.18 poll demolished Musharraf’s parliamentary support, predictions abounded that the politically isolated U.S. ally would be forced from power within weeks or months. Politicians had even talked about impeaching him.