Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden held talks in Pakistan as part of a regional tour expected to focus on terrorism and tensions between Pakistan and India following the Mumbai attacks.
Before he left the United States, Biden, travelling in his capacity as outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that “What I hope to accomplish is to get sort of a baseline. This will be my God knows how many trips, I guess my 10th or 11th trip into Iraq and I don’t know how many times in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Politico quoted him as saying.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said on its website that President Asif Ali Zardari “apprised Biden of Pakistan’s commitment and the measures being taken by the government in the war against militancy, extremism and terrorism”. Biden in turn described Pakistan as “an incredibly valued U.S. ally”, according to the Associated Press of Pakistan.
But what about those attacks by U.S. Predator drones on targets on Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan which have fuelled anti-American anger and been condemned by Islamabad as a violation of its sovereignty? President-elect Barack Obama has been a strong advocate of unilateral U.S. attacks, saying during his election campaign that “If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.”
Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, I asked whether India faced a trial of patience in persuading Pakistan — with help from the United States — to take action against the Islamist militants it blamed for the assault on its financial capital. India’s approach of relying on American diplomacy rather than launching military action led to some soul-searching among Indian analysts when it failed to deliver immediate results. But is it finally beginning to bear fruit?
Former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar writes in the Asia Times that diplomatic efforts over the Mumbai attacks are entering a crucial phase. ”After having secured New Delhi’s assurance that India will not resort to a military strike against Pakistan, Washington is perceptibly stepping up pressure on Islamabad to act on the available evidence regarding the Mumbai attacks.”
India continues to turn up the heat on Pakistan for the Mumbai attacks, declaring once again on Wednesday that all options were open to disrupt militant networks operating from there. And this, a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said official agencies must have been involved in an operation of such sophistication, a serious charge by a head of government against another state.
But is India really in a position to make good its threats against Pakistan ? The question has repeatedly come up here on this blog and elsewhere since those attacks on November 26 and now in the light of Israel’s Gaza operation, some people are again asking why New Delhi cannot carry out punitive strikes inside Pakistan.
from India Insight:
It has been a tense game of poker between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. On the face of it, India had the much stronger hand -- not least because it captured one of the attackers alive and got him to confess to being trained in Pakistan.
But has it played its cards well?
According to the Washington Post, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates sees opportunities for the United States to cooperate with Russia on Afghanistan. The newspaper says Gates, a longtime Russia analyst during his years with the CIA, sees Moscow as less of a threat than do many inside and outside the U.S. military establishment. ”Russia is very worried about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan and has been supportive in terms of providing alternative routes for Europeans in particular to get equipment and supplies into Afghanistan,” it quoted him as saying.
The story is interesting in the context of the United States searching for new supply lines through Central Asia into Afghanistan as an alternative to Pakistan before it sends in thousands more troops. “The plan to open new paths through Central Asia reflects an American-led effort to seek out a more reliable alternative to the route from Pakistan through the strategic Khyber Pass,” the New York Times said.
While the firepower and consequently all the media attention has been focused on Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the North West Frontier Province, violence in Baluchistan province to the south has worsened.
The year gone by was the bloodiest in a decade for Baluchistan, the country’s largest but most impoverished province where a low key insurgency has raged for decades, the Daily Times said. Official data showed a steadily rising level of violence, up from 303 people killed in 2005 to 433 in 2008, the first time killings crossed the 400-mark.
There were 120 bomb blasts, 208 rocket attacks, 141 landmine blasts and 32 hand grenade attacks in the past year, and it could have been worse if the three main Baluch nationalist insurgent groups operating in the area – the BLA, the Baloch Republic Army and Baloch Liberation Front – had not declared ceasefire, the newspaper said. One of them, the BRA, has announced the end of the ceasefire from the New Year accusing the government of of kiling tribesmen.The other two groups may well follow suit, the Daily Times said, warning of a difficult year ahead in the vast sparsely populated desert region that straddles Afghanistan and Iran.
The bodies of nine Islamic militants killed while attacking Mumbai in November still lie in a public morgue there. Indian Islamic leaders have refused to bury them in a local Muslim cemetery, saying terrorists "have no religion" and do not deserve a religious funeral. Although India suspects the militants came from neighbouring Pakistan, Islamabad refuses to take the bodies back as this could presumably undermine its claim to have no link to the gunmen. Indian officials say they still need the bodies for their investigations into the Nov. 26-29 massacre, in which 179 people were killed, but those inquiries will end some day. What should the Indians do with the bodies then?
A U.S. historian has come up with a proposal that would dispose of the bodies without requiring Pakistan to take them. Leor Halevi, a professor of Islamic history at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote in the Washington Postthat India should cremate them and scatter the ashes in international waters, as Israel did after executing the Nazi commander Adolf Eichmann in 1962. He notes this would be an un-Islamic method of burial and would avoid a permanent grave that could become a memorial for other militants. He writes:
Not long ago India was basking in the glow of a new-found strategic partnership with the United States, one that pitched it as a global player. A breakthrough civilian nuclear deal that virtually recognised New Delhi as a nuclear weapon state after decades of isolation was the centrepiece of this new relationship.
But the attacks in Mumbai have tested this partnership and some of the lustre is fading. America has been unequivocally telling the Indians to exercise restraint in responding to the attacks which New Delhi says were orchestrated from Pakistan. (This while U.S. Predator drones
carried out more attacks on the militants in Pakistan’s northwest)
After India last held state elections in Jammu and Kashmir in 2002, the Kashmir Valley witnessed a period of relative peace only to see it shattered when plans to give land to Hindu pilgrims triggered the biggest protests since the Kashmir separatist revolt erupted in 1989.
The latest elections – which produced a turnout of more than 60 percent despite a boycott call by separatists and ushered in a new state government led by Omar Abdullah – have provided a second chance to change the mood in the volatile Kashmir Valley. But do India and Pakistan, and the Kashmiris themselves, have the ability to turn this second chance into a real opportunity for peace?
Sheikh Hasina, the leader of an avowedly secular party, is set to return to power in Bangladesh, the
other end of South Asia’s arc of instability stretching from Afghanistan through Pakistan to India.
And because the teeming region, home to a fifth of the world’s population, is so closely intertwined
Hasina’s election and the change that she has promised to bring to her country will almost certainly have a bearing across South Asia, but especially for India and Pakistan.