Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
As far as a strategy for Afghanistan is concerned, it’s a long shot. Bring peace to India and Pakistan and not only will that stabilise Pakistan but it will also ease tensions in Afghanistan. Indeed it’s such a long shot that it has not been considered as a serious policy option. That was until last month’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
A spate of allegations that Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was involved in the bombing has forced India-Pakistan rivalry back onto centre-stage. This is not just about India and Pakistan, or so the argument goes. Their rivalry is undermining U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and the Taliban since the ISI is maintaining links with Islamist militants to counter Indian influence in the region. And Pakistan’s denial of involvement in the embassy attack has done little to quell the speculation.
In The Atlantic.com, Robert Kaplan argues that the war in Afghanistan is part of Pakistan’s larger struggle with India. “Afghanistan has been a prize that Pakistan and India have fought over directly and indirectly for decades,” he writes. ”To Pakistan, Afghanistan represents a strategic rear base that would (along with the Islamic nations of ex-Soviet Central Asia) offer a united front against Hindu-dominated India and block its rival’s access to energy-rich regions. Conversely, for India, a friendly Afghanistan would pressure Pakistan on its western border-just as India itself pressures Pakistan on its eastern border-thus dealing Pakistan a strategic defeat.”
His argument is that the ISI will never rest easy as long as it fears that Pakistan is threatened by a hostile Afghanistan on one side and a hostile India on the other. “Unless we address what’s angering the ISI, we won’t be able to stabilize Afghanistan or capture al-Qaeda leaders inside its borders,” he says.
Why now? Until this week, the ISI was an acronym for Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, that was little known outside of South Asia. Now it’s all over the American media as the organisation accused of secretly helping Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the country it works for is a crucial ally in the U.S. battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The New York Times led the charge by reporting that the CIA had confronted Pakistan over what it called deepening ties between members of the ISI and militant groups responsible for a surge in violence in Afghanistan. It followed it up with a story quoting U.S. government officials blaming the ISI for an attack last month on the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Washington Post and TIME, amongst others, ran similar stories.
The leaders of India and Pakistan have a chance this weekend to stop things from spinning out of control when they gather in Colombo for a summit of South Asian nations.
The mood has decidedly turned sour in India, especially after the bombing of its embassy in Kabul which the Indians, the Afghans and now the Americans – according to a report in the New York Times- have blamed on Pakistan’s powerful Inter-Services Intelligence. Attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, a day apart, and then the most serious eruption of gunfire across the Line of Control in Kashmir since a 2003 truce have further increased concern that a four-year peace process is rapidly coming apart.
At first glance, it looks unlikely. The two countries have more or less managed to hold to a ceasefire agreed at the end of 2003 on both the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir and on Siachen, and they have a slow-moving peace process which at least has India and Pakistan talking rather than fighting each other. India is far too interested in winning itself superpower status to let itself be distracted by some embarrassing fighting on its border. And Pakistan has enough problems dealing with al Qaeda and the Taliban on its western border with Afghanistan, without having to cope with trouble on its eastern border with India as well.
India and Pakistan turn into good friends, and America is kept at arms’ length. Is that possible?
Diplomacy like politics is the art of the possible, and if you listen to the new voices emerging from Pakistan, there is change blowing in the wind as it makes the transition to civilian rule after nearly nine years of military leadership.
When it comes to Pakistan, sometimes you want to be told what is going on; sometimes you want to stop and think for yourself. But rarely is there a middle ground. Here are three very different pieces for those who are interested in this conundrum.
In an op-ed in Dawn Cyril Almeida tackles the perennial question of how far Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controls the Islamist militants who helped end the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, fought against Indian rule in Kashmir in the 1990s and this century turned first against the United States in 9/11 and then against Pakistan itself in a wave of suicide bombings.
Thanks to openDemocracy for highlighting this piece on EurasiaNet about a row between the Taliban and al Qaeda which it says has surfaced among bloggers on a website in Egypt.
“Islamic extremists who regularly post messages to a pro-Al-Qaeda website in Egypt are accusing Afghanistan’s Taliban of straying from the path of global jihad,” it says. “Internet criticisms of the Taliban follow a February statement from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar announcing that his movement wants to maintain positive and ‘legitimate’ relations with countries neighbouring Afghanistan.”