Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
As discussed in my last post, the place to watch for developments on relations between India and Pakistan right now is more likely to be Kabul than Kashmir. That may have been graphically illustrated when Taliban fighters attacked Kabul on Friday, killing 16 people, including up to nine Indians.
It is too early to say whether the attack specifically targetted Indian interests or whether it was aimed at foreigners more generally. But India has blamed earlier attacks on its interests in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency – its embassy in Kabul has been bombed twice.
“These are the handiwork of those who are desperate to undermine the friendship between India and Afghanistan, and do not wish to see a strong, democratic and pluralistic Afghanistan,” an Indian Foreign Ministry statement said after Friday’s attack.
India invested heavily in Afghanistan after the fall of the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001 and has built close ties with the government of President Hamid Karzai. Islamabad accuses it of using its large presence there (it has four consulates along with its Kabul embassy) to channel money and weapons to militants seeking to destabilise Pakistan — a charge New Delhi denies.
The foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan, meeting in New Delhi to end a diplomatic freeze which followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, did what they were expected to do — laid out all the issues which divide the two countries and agreed to “keep in touch”.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, India’s top diplomat, focused on what India calls “cross-border terrorism”. India also handed three new dossiers of evidence to the Pakistani delegation, including one on Hafez Saeed, the founder of the Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, who New Delhi accuses of masterminding the Mumbai attack. Pakistan had said it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Saeed.
Regular readers of this blog will know we have been talking for a long time about finding a regional solution to Afghanistan. The argument — much touted during President Barack Obama’s election campaign — was that you could stabilise the country if you persuaded the many regional players with a stake in Afghanistan — including Iran, Pakistan, India, Russia and China — to cooperate rather than compete in finding a political settlement to what was effectively an unwinnable war.
The argument looked at best utopian, at worst a description of the delicate balance of power in the early 20th century that was meant to keep the peace but in reality led to the outbreak of World War One. It is now resurfacing again as public opinion in western countries — including in staunch U.S. ally Britain – turns against the long war in Afghanistan.
“Peace,” said Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw ”is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.” Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao begins that arduous process on Thursday when she meets her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir to try to break a diplomatic freeze that followed the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.
Rao, speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said she hoped to “build, in a graduated manner, better communication and a serious and responsive dialogue to address issues of concern between our two countries”.
The idea of holding talks to resolve the many competing interests across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India – which has most recently focused on whether the Afghan Taliban can be brought to the negotiating table – appears to be catching on.
Now Hafiz Saeed, the founder of the banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group blamed for the Nov. 2008 attacks on Mumbai, says in an interview with Al Jazeera that he sees room for Pakistan to hold talks with India over disputed Kashmir.
The arrest of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Karachi leaves big unanswered questions about why Pakistan chose to act now against a man credited with giving operational coherence to Afghan Taliban (or Quetta Shura Taliban) operations in Afghanistan.
The answers to those questions depend very much on the assumptions you start out with about what Pakistan is trying to achieve in Afghanistan. But for the sake of of argument, let’s take three of them — that it is pushing the Taliban to sever ties with al Qaeda and enter negotiations on a political settlement; that it wants a stable Afghanistan, and that it is aiming to keep it free of Indian and Iranian influence.
Perhaps the most striking thing about a speech given by former president Pervez Musharraf in London on Monday was how many people turned out to hear him. There were two overflow rooms for those who wanted to hear his words relayed over closed-circuit television. I can’t think of many former rulers who can pack a crowd like that — although this was also a measure of the intense interest in London in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Musharraf now lives in comparative obscurity in the Edgware Road area of London — a street full of Middle Eastern restaurants where waiters look at you strangely if you try to order beer, and where men sit outside on the pavement smoking shishas even in the middle of winter. Yet he still talks as articulately as he used to with no hint of the self-pity, or criticism, of Pakistan’s existing rulers. He still cracks a joke with confidence, and at the end raises his hand in a military salute to a clapping audience ( a rather more polite response than he might receive if he returned home).
This weekend’s bombing which killed nine people in the Indian city of Pune — the first major attack since the 2008 assault on Mumbai — is unlikely to derail plans for the foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan to hold talks on Feb. 25.
The Hindu newspaper — which is well-informed about the thinking in the prime minister’s office where India’s policy towards Pakistan is decided — says there will be no rethinking about the planned talks.
from India Insight:
The Indian government has for the first time offered amnesty to hundreds of Kashmiris who had crossed over to the Pakistani part of Kashmir and are now willing to surrender and return home.
Thousands of Kashmiris have slipped into Pakistan-administered Kashmir for arms training since an anti-India insurgency broke out twenty years ago.
In “My Life with the Taliban”, Abdul Salam Zaeef — who fought with the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan and later served in the Taliban government before it was ousted in 2001 — writes of how he longed to escape the trappings of office and instead follow in the footsteps of his father as the Imam of a mosque, learning and teaching the Koran.
“It is work that has no connection with the world’s affairs. It is a calling of intellectual dignity away from the dangers and temptations of power. All my life, even as a boy, I was always happiest when studying and learning things. To work in government positions means a life surrounded by corruption and injustice, and therein is found the misery of mankind,” he writes in his memoirs, newly translated and edited by Alex Strick van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn.