Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Sentenced to death: On Pakistan’s minorities

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aasia bibiEarlier this year I asked someone who had been a senior minister in the government of Pakistan why the country could not change laws which discriminated against minorities. I asked the question because more than 80 people from the minority Ahmadi sect had just been killed in two mosques in Lahore, which at the time served as a wake-up call of the dangers of growing religious intolerance in Pakistan.

His answer was unhesitating. You could not possibly do something like that in Pakistan.

Such is the power of the religious lobbies that no government dares challenge them. Each ”wake-up” call is soon forgotten until another injustice against religious minorities punches its way to the surface.

The latest was the sentencing to death for blasphemy of a Pakistani Christian woman.  According to press reports Aasia Bibi had been working in the fields in Punjab province when she was sent to fetch water. When she returned, some Muslim women refused to drink it, saying it was unclean because it had been carried by a Christian.  As the argument escalated, police became involved and Aasia Bibi was charged with blasphemy for allegedly insulting Islam. After a year in jail, she was convicted and sentenced to become the first woman to be hanged for blasphemy in Pakistan.

CFR on Pakistan: hold course (for now)

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damadola2The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a new report on U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan based on a study by a bipartisan group chaired by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and former national security adviser Sandy Berger and directed by CFR senior fellow Daniel Markey.

As far as Pakistan is concerned, the report broadly endorses U.S. policy of trying to build a long-term partnership, while also aiming to persuade it to turn convincingly against all militant groups. It reiterates a U.S. complaint that while Pakistan is ready to act against militants that threaten the Pakistani state, like al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, it continues to support or tolerate other groups it believes can be used as proxies against India, including the Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Among a range of incentives to build a better relationship with Pakistan, the report argues for continued U.S. financial support for Pakistan, all the more needed after this summer’s devastating floods, along with more favourable trade terms to boost the textile industry, which it says provides 38 percent of the country’s industrial employment.

Pakistan and the narrative of shame

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lahore mosqueManan Ahmed has a piece up at Chapati Mystery which should be essential reading for anyone interested in the current state of Pakistan and its prickly relations with the west, particularly with the United States. 

Starting off with a re-reading of Salman Rushdie’s “Shame” (one of those books that I expect many of us read in our youth without properly understanding) he returns to the original inspiration for the title – “Peccavi“, Latin for “I have sinned.”   According to an apocryphal, yet widely believed, story of British imperial conquest, “Peccavi” is the message that General Charles Napier sent back to Calcutta when he conquered Sindh (nowadays one of the provinces of Pakistan) in the 19th century. He then discusses how the modern-day view of Pakistan is defined by shame, or by a perception which over-simplifies it to  “Peccavistan”.

Between the lines: Obama’s comments on Kashmir

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nubra reducedPresident Barack Obama’s words on relations with Pakistan were always going to be carefully scripted during his visit to India, where even to say the word “Kashmir”  aloud in public can raise jitters about U.S. interference in what New Delhi sees as a bilateral dispute.

So first up, here’s what he had to say during a news conference in New Delhi with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in response to a question about what role the United States could play in resolving the Kashmir dispute (NDTV has the video).

Guest contribution-Unifying Pakistan

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sindh floodsThe following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is a defence expert and author of two books on the Pakistan Army.

By Brian Cloughley

Many of Pakistan’s problems are of its own making, courtesy of uniformed dictators or ineffective politicians or weird alliances of both. When military rulers took over the country in their bloodless coups they were welcomed by the majority of citizens, which was understandable given that the governments they replaced were feudally authoritarian and grossly incompetent.

On either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border: Bajaur and Kunar

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damadolaWhat is going on in Kunar and Bajaur, two neighbouring regions on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?

NPR has a view from the Afghan side in this piece written from the perspective of U.S. troops fighting in Kunar. (h/t The Captain’s Journal) Key takeaways are the level of mistrust about the Pakistanis, driven by the suspicion its military is supporting the Taliban, and the presence of a massive but newly abandoned CIA post there.

Will Obama refer to Kashmir in public in India?

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fayazaward2Will President Barack Obama make some public remarks on Kashmir during his trip to India next month?

At a White House press briefing, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes refused to be pinned down on specifics,  beyond saying that the United States would continue to express support for India and Pakistan to pursue talks.

“Orientalism” in Afghanistan and Pakistan

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dust storm twoIn his must-read essay on the debate about the state of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Amil Khan has one of the best opening lines I’ve seen for a while: ”Much is said about Pakistan, but I’m constantly saddened that so many innocent pixels are lost without good cause.”

Much the same can be said about the recent flurry of stories on the war in Afghanistan, from upbeat assessments of the U.S.-led military offensive in Kandahar to renewed interest in the prospects for a peace deal with Afghan insurgents.

Pakistan – a list too long

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childPakistani journalist Mosharraf Zaidi had a good post up last week attempting to frame the many different challenges Pakistan faces in trying to deal with terrorism.  Definitely worth a read as a counter-balance to the vague “do more” mantra, and as a reminder of how little serious public debate there is out there about the exact nature of the threat posed to a nuclear-armed country of some 180 million people, whose collapse would destabilise the entire region and beyond.

Zaidi has divided the challenges into counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism.

Taliban talks: “an iffy, high-level treaty”

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arghandab3In Obama’s Wars, Rob Woodward attributes the following thoughts to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke on the prospects for a peaceful settlement to the Afghan war:

“He saw reconciliation and reintegration as distinct.  Reconciliation was esoteric, an iffy high-level treaty with Taliban leaders. Reintegration occurred down at the local level in villages and towns…”

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