Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Expert Zone:

The uncertainty principle and the India-Pakistan relationship

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters, the IDSA or the Indian government)

"The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa," said Werner Heisenberg in his 1927 paper on subatomic particle behaviour in quantum physics. While the context could be continents apart, this uncertainty principle perhaps best describes the trajectory of India-Pakistan ties.

As India's western neighbour faces the ballot box after a tumultuous five years of civilian leadership, there is both apprehension and hope in New Delhi. There is acknowledgement of the democratic process that has run its five-year course for the first time under a civilian leadership that has been constantly under attack, but there is also fear. A fear triggered by the incessant bloodletting and political violence that has marred campaigning in Pakistan. Being called the bloodiest in the country’s history, it is also being seen as targeting the moderate voices in Pakistan - the ones India views as approachable.

Initially, there was optimism in India after all leading political parties in Pakistan articulated the normalisation of relations with India in their manifestoes and it wasn’t just mere posturing. Yet when the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) - appeared to have been singled out by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (or Pakistan Taliban) as targets, scepticism grew. These are parties which have traditionally espoused better relations with India.

From Afghanistan, the countdown to 2014

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The dusty streets of Kabul are choked with traffic, restaurants selling American fast food are bustling and there is a crowd of students and parents outside a girls’ school in the centre of town trying to slip through the shuttered gates at the start of the school year.

Returning to Kabul for the first time since December, there was no sense that the mood on the ground had changed significantly. But I couldn’t help wondering how all this might change once foreign troops who have propped up the Afghan state for more than a decade leave in 2014. There is talk of a return to chaos and civil war, although admittedly you hear more of those grim warnings abroad and in the foreign circles of  Kabul than from the people themselves who will be in the middle of it.

from Afghan Journal:

The Taliban in Afghanistan’s once impregnable Panjshir Valley

Last month driving up Afghanistan's magnificent Panjshir valley, you couldn't help thinking if the resurgent Taliban would ever be able to break its defences, both natural and from the Tajik-dominated populace. With its jagged cliffs and plunging valleys, Panjshir has been largely out of bounds  for the  Taliban, whether during the civil war or in the past 10 years when it has expanded a deadly insurgency against western and Afghan forces across the country. But on Saturday, the insurgents struck, carrying out a suicide bombing at a provincial reconstruction team base housing U.S. and Afghan troops and officials.

They were halted outside the base, but according to the provincial deputy governor they succeeded in  killing two civilians and wounding two guards when they detonated their explosives. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the first suicide bombing in a decade was a message to Western forces that they were not secure anywhere in the country. They said the  bombers came from within Panjshir, which if true  would worry people even more  because that would suggest the penetration was deeper and there could be more attacks.

from FaithWorld:

Pakistan’s patchy fight against Islamist violence sows confusion

(A man takes a nap next to a poster of Osama bin Laden at the Chauburji monument in Lahore May 13, 2011. The message written on the posters read: "The prayer absentia for martyr of Islamic nation is a duty and a debt"/Mani Rana)

At the rehabilitation center for former militants in Pakistan's Swat valley, the psychiatrist speaks for the young man sitting opposite him in silence. "It was terrible. He was unable to escape. The fear is so strong. Still the fear is so strong." Hundreds of miles away in Lahore, capital of Punjab province, a retired army officer recalls another young man who attacked him while he prayed - his "absolutely expressionless face" as he crouched down robot-like to reload his gun.

Solving Afghanistan and Pakistan over a cup of tea

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cups of teaI have never read “Three Cups of Tea”, Greg Mortenson’s book about building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. I tried to read the sequel, “Stones into Schools” and gave up not too long after the point where he said that, “the solution to every problem … begins with drinking tea.” Having drunk tea in many parts of South Asia – sweet tea, salt tea, butter tea, tea that comes with the impossible-to-remove-with-dignity thick skin of milk tea – I can confidently say that statement does not reflect reality.

So I have always been a bit puzzled that the Americans took Mortenson’s books so much to heart. Yes, I knew he boasted that his books had become required reading for American officers posted to Afghanistan; and yes, there is the glowing praise from Admiral Mike Mullen on the cover of  ”Stones into Schools”, where he wrote that “he’s shaping the very future of a region”. But I had always believed, or wanted to believe, that at the back of everyone’s minds they realised that saccharine sentimentality was no substitute for serious analysis. Just as hope is not a strategy, drinking tea is not a policy.  (To be fair to the Americans, I have also overheard a British officer extolling the virtues of drinking tea in Afghanistan.)

Pakistan vs U.S. Dumbing down the drones debate

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tribesmen2If there was one thing the United States might have learned in a decade of war is that military might alone cannot compensate for lack of knowledge about people and conditions on the ground.  That was true in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may also turn out to be the case in Libya.

Yet the heated  debate about using Predator drones to target militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan – triggered by the spy row between the CIA and the ISI – appears to be falling into a familiar pattern – keep bombing versus stop bombing. Not whether, when and how drones might be effective, based on specific conditions and knowledge of the ground, and when they are counter-productive. 

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties (Part II)

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I have (somewhat belatedly) got around to reading the full text of the statement made by Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemning last week’s drone strike in North Waziristan which killed more than 40 people. The strike has reignited tensions with Washington, and came only a day after Pakistan released Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis, after a bruising row with the United States. 

The Pakistani media has put forward many reasons as to why Kayani issued such a public condemnation, and indeed on why the United States chose to  launch such a lethal drone attack just as tempers were beginning to cool over the Davis row (for a must-read round up of the different views of officials and analysts in Peshawar, see Cyril Almeida at Dawn.)

The “sound and fury” of U.S.-Pakistan ties

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rayjmonddavisphotoWith the release of CIA contractor Raymond Davis, the United States and Pakistan have put behind them one of the more public rows of their up-and-down relationship.  It was probably not the worst row — remember the furore over a raid by U.S. ground troops in Angor Adda in Waziristan in 2008, itself preceded  by a deluge of leaks to the U.S. media about the alleged duplicity of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency in its dealings on Afghanistan.

But it was certainly one which by its very nature was guaranteed to get the most attention – an American who shot dead two Pakistanis in what he said was an act of self-defence, denied diplomatic immunity and ultimately released only after the payment of blood money. Adding to the drama were two intelligence agencies battling behind the scenes.

Pakistan’s debate on drones, lifting the secrecy

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droneIn a rare admission of the effectiveness of drone strikes, a senior Pakistani military officer has said most of those killed are hard-core militants, including foreigners, according to Dawn newspaper.

It quotes Major-General Ghayur Mehmood as telling reporters at a briefing in Miramshah, in North Waziristan, that, “Myths and rumours about US predator strikes and the casualty figures are many, but it’s a reality that many of those being killed in these strikes are hardcore elements, a sizeable number of them foreigners.”

U.S.-Pakistan relations better than they look

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raymond davisGiven the high-decibel volume of the row over Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore in January, it would be tempting to assume that overall relations between Pakistan and the United States are the worst they have been in years.

At a strategic level, however, there’s actually rather greater convergence of views than there has been for a very long time.

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