Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Pakistan-India; a $5 million downpayment on a peace initiative

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tentsHistorical parallels can be misleading, so I am a little bit wary of reading too much into a comparison between the devastating cyclone which hit then East Pakistan in 1970 and the current floods in Pakistan. But on the surface the similarities are there.

In 1970, the Pakistani government was criticised for not doing enough to help the victims of the Bhola cyclone, exacerbating tensions between the western and eastern wings of the country ahead of a civil war in which East Pakistan broke away to become Bangladesh. In 2010, the Pakistani government has been criticised for not doing enough to help the victims of the floods; potentially exacerbating tensions between the ruling elite and the poor — usually the first to suffer in a natural disaster. At the same time the country is fighting what is effectively a civil war against Islamist militants, for whom poverty and alienation provide a fertile breeding ground.

At the very least, you can say that big natural disasters have unpredictable consequences. For that reason I’m reluctant to start speculating about the long term consequences of the floods, although the Indian blog, The Acorn, has made a pretty good stab at it here. And you can also say that the response of India will be crucial.

 In 1971, India backed the Bengali separatists, inflicting a humiliating military defeat on Pakistan, forcing its army to surrender at Dhaka and taking 90,000 Pakistani prisoners-of-war. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that war – and there are many – Pakistan’s narrative memory of India exploiting its weakness in a civil war to split the country in two continues to inform its thinking about its much bigger neighbour to this day. So what happens in 2010?

Dreams from my father: South Asia’s political dynasties

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bilawal“Whatever the result, this meeting will be a turning point in Pakistan’s history,” Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto told his daughter Benazir as he prepared for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1972 in the Indian hill resort of Simla after his country’s defeat by India in the 1971 war. “I want you to witness it first hand.”

If there is a slightly surreal quality to President Asif Ali Zardari’s controversial state visit to Britain - where he is expected to launch the political career of Oxford graduate Bilawal Bhutto at a rally for British Pakistanis in Birmingham on Saturday - it is perhaps no more surreal than taking your daughter, herself then a student at Harvard, to witness negotiations with India after a crushing military defeat.

from India Insight:

U.N. concerned over Kashmir unrest

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed concern over the weeks of violent anti-government protests in Kashmir which have killed more than 30 people, dragged in more troops and locked down the disputed Himalayan region.

Policemen stand guard at a barricade set up to stop Kashmiri protesters during a curfew in Srinagar August 2, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliA separatist strike and security lockdown has dragged on for nearly a month-and-a-half in Muslim-majority Kashmir, a region at the core of a dispute between India and Pakistan.

When two foreign policy crises converge: Iran and Afghanistan

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zahedanLast week’s suicide bombing of a mosque in Zahedan, capital of the Iranian province of Sistan-Baluchestan, is another reminder of how far two of the United States’ main foreign policy challenges – its row with Iran over its nuclear programme, and its policies towards Afghanistan and Pakistan – are intertwined.

A senior commander in Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday that the United States would face “fall out” from the bomb attack which it blamed on the Jundollah Sunni Muslim rebel group - a militant group which Iran says is backed by Washington and operates from Baluchistan province in neighbouring Pakistan.  Massoud Jazayeri, deputy head of the dominant ideological wing of Iran’s armed forces, did not specify what he meant by fall-out from the bombing, which killed 28 people and which the United States has condemned.

from India Insight:

Killing of civilians fuels Kashmir anger

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Supporters of separatist leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq shout slogans while being detained by police during a protest in Srinagar June 17, 2010. REUTERS/Fayaz KabliJust days ago, scenic Kashmir, torn by two decades of war, was near normal.

Thousands of tourists were flocking to the region and honeymooners were once again gliding in shikaras, small Kashmiri boats, across the mirror-calm Dal Lake.

The disputed Himalayan region has seen a significant drop in violence between Muslim rebels and security forces.

from India Insight:

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

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Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

Kashmir-beginning the long road back into peace talks

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fayazaward2Indian writer A.G. Noorani has just become the latest to weigh in on the parameters of a possible peace deal in Kashmir.  Writing in Dawn newspaper, he argues that  no solution will work unless it is supported by a domestic consensus within each of the three parties involved – India, Pakistan and Kashmir.

“First, no Indian government can accept de-accession of Kashmir and survive even for an hour. Secondly, no government in Pakistan can accept the Line of Control as an international boundary and survive, either. Thirdly, nor will the Kashmiris submit to the partition; and lastly they insist on self-rule,” he writes.

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

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karachiAfter the media frenzy following last weekend’s failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.

Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called “Punjabi Taliban” - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state.  The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.

Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

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gwadarBaluchistan, Pakistan’s biggest province, rarely gets much attention from the international media, and what little it does is dwarfed by that showered on Afghanistan.  So it is with a certain amount of deliberate provocation that I ask the question posed in the headline: Is Baluchistan more strategically significant than Afghanistan?

Before everyone answers with a resounding “no”, do pause to consider that China – renowned for its long-term planning – has invested heavily in Baluchistan, including building a deep water port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea to give it access to Gulf oil supplies.  The region is rich in gas and minerals; attracting strong international interest in spite of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatists. 

India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

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thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties – the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

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