Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
When France and Germany put years of enmity behind them after World War Two, they made a leap of faith in agreeing to entwine their economies so that war became impossible. With their economies now soldered by the euro, it can be easy to forget how deep their mutual distrust once ran - from the Napoleonic wars to the fall of Paris to Prussia in 1871, to the trenches of World War One and the Nazi occupation of France in World War Two.
As India and Pakistan begin yet another attempt to make peace, they face a similar challenge. Can they put aside years of distrust to build on a tentative thaw in relations?
Many analysts argue that a sketchy roadmap to peace is already available, based on negotiations between advisers to former president Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in which Pakistani action against militants was matched by Indian moves towards a peace deal on Kashmir. But reviving that roadmap – or for that matter finding another way forward – would require both countries to put aside their past and accept that history is not the only guide to the future.
Indian newspaper, the Business Standard, summarised what many Indian commentators say about past attempts at peace-making – that Indian peace offers have never been matched by a sincere effort by Pakistan to curb Islamist militants. ”Pakistan has a history of trying first to get what it wants on the battlefield and, when that fails, to get it at the negotiating table,” it says in an editorial. “Indian leaders meanwhile fall into the traps of magnanimity (make a gesture to a smaller neighbour) or gullibility (concede this or that and it will deliver peace).”
Osama bin Laden is no longer involved in the day-to-day planning of attacks, Germany’s spy chief says, arguing that al Qaeda has turned from a centralised force into a regionalised “franchise company” with power centres in Pakistan, North Africa and the Arab peninsula. Does this weaken or strengthen the Islamist militant group? And how does it influence its operations, planning of attacks and its efforts to recruit new followers?
Ernst Uhrlau, who heads the BND foreign intelligence agency, Germany’s equivalent of the CIA, says al Qaeda’s “concept” has changed significantly over the past few years. “After the centralisation phase and the break-up of its bases in Afghanistan, when it had the backing of the Taliban government, we have seen a regionalisation over the past four years — something like a franchise company.” “Today, there is al Qadea in the Maghreb, al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, in Iraq, in Yemen,” Uhrlau told Reuters in an interview this week. (more…)
Peshawar is such an important city for Pakistan that it can be hard to write about it without sounding shrill. It is significant strategically since it lies near the entrance to the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. But it is also important emotionally – not only is it a Moghul city and an ancient Silk Route trading hub, but it is also a Pashtun town on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line , the ill-demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan imposed by British colonial rulers that splits the Pashtun people of the region in two. For Pakistan, fighting for control of Peshawar is probably comparable to what France and Germany felt about Alsace Lorraine before World War Two.
So when the New York Times publishes an article about Peshawar being at risk of falling into Taliban hands we must pay attention. “In the last two months, Taliban militants have suddenly tightened the noose on this city of three million people, one of Pakistan’s biggest, establishing bases in surrounding towns and, in daylight, abducting residents for high ransoms,” it says. “The threat to Peshawar is a sign of the Taliban’s deepening penetration of Pakistan and of the expanding danger that the militants present to the entire region, including nearby supply lines for NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.”