Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
As Pakistani forces fight militants in an area close to Swat, there are two contrasting images of a state in upheaval.
One is a nuclear-armed country in great peril, in danger of being overrun by militants, and in turn a mortal threat to the rest of the world, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton painted it last week.
The other is a nation of more than 160 million people with a burgeoning middle class that all but rejected Islamist parties in the last election, and hit the streets last month forcing the government to respect the independence and integrity of the judiciary. A nation with a professional army that for all the coups it engineered at home has credited itself well in all three wars it fought with much larger neighbour India, a bureaucracy as professional and cast in the same steel frame of the British empire as its counterpart in India, and a free and aggressive press.
In short as Juan Cole writes on his blog Informed Coment, Pakistan, for all its problems, is hardly the Somalia that some people think it to be. “All the talk about the Pakistani government falling within 6 months, or of a Taliban takeover, flies in the face of everything we know about the character of Pakistani politics and institutions during the past two years,” he writes.
The United States has begun demanding rather publicly that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence make a clean break of its ties with the Afghan Taliban to help stabilise the situation in Afghanistan.
But can you force a country to act against its self-interest, despite all all your leverage, asks Robert D. Kaplan in a piece for the Atlantic. And does it make sense for an intelligence agency to break off all contact with arguably the biggest player in the region?
Barely had President Barack Obama outlined a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan meant to narrow the focus to eliminating the threat from al Qaeda and its Islamist allies, before the U.S.-led campaign ran into what was always going to be one of its biggest problems in limiting its goals. What does it do about the rights of women in the region?
The treatment of women has dominated the headlines this week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a new law for the minority Shi’ite population which both the United States and the United Nations said could undermine women’s rights. Karzai has promised a review of the law, while also complaining it was misinterpreted by Western journalists.
Read President Barack Obama’s speech on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he said a year ago and it’s hard to see how much further forward we are in understanding exactly how he intends to uproot Islamist militants inside Pakistan.
Last year, Obama said that ”If we have actionable intelligence about high-level al Qaeda targets in Pakistan’s border region, we must act if Pakistan will not or cannot.” Last week, he said that, ”Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders. And we will insist that action be taken — one way or another — when we have intelligence about high-level terrorist targets.”
U.S. President Barack Obama set out his strategy to fight the war in Afghanistan on Friday, committing 4,000 military trainers and many more civillian personnel to the country, increasing military and financial aid to stabilise Pakistan and signalling that the door for reconciliation was open in Afghanistan for those who had taken to arms because of coercion or for a price.
He said the situation was increasingly perilous, with 2008 the bloodiest year for American forces in Afghanistan. But the United States was determined to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan”, he said, warning that attacks on the United States were being plotted even now.
The Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group blamed by India for last November’s assault on Mumbai, has threatened more violence in Kashmir after a five-day gunbattle that killed 25 people, including eight Indian troops.
A spokesman for the group, speaking from an undisclosed location, said: “India should understand the freedom struggle in Kashmir was not over, it is active with full force.”
Afghanistan sits on one of the largest mineral deposits in the region, the country’s mines minister told Reuters in an interview this month.
And the Chinese are already there, braving the Taliban upsurge and a slowing economy at home to invest in the vast Aynak copper field south of Kabul, reputed to hold one of the largest deposits of the metal in the world.
The debate about whether the United States should open talks with Afghan insurgents appears to be gathering momentum — so much so that it is beginning to acquire an air of inevitability, without there ever being a specific policy announcement.
The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, became the latest to call for talks when he told France’s Le Monde newspaper that reconciliation was an essential element. “But it is important to talk to the people who count,” he said. ”A fragmented approach to the insurgency will not work. You need to be ambitious and include all the Taliban movement.”
Two years after Iftikhar Chaudhry was first sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan government officials said he would be reinstated as Chief Justice after a nationwide protest led by Pakistan’s lawyers.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride. After he was removed by Musharraf, Chaudhry was reinstated only to be sacked again and placed under house arrest along with many other lawyers when the former general declared emergency rule in November 2007. At the time, Pakistani lawyer/politician Aitzaz Ahsan wrote in an editorial in the New York Times that the leaders of the lawyers movement ”will neither be silent nor still”. But he also fretted that the lawyers’ movement would be ignored by the United States and overlooked by the forthcoming election.
The Pakistani state may be facing its most serious threat since its birth more than six decades ago, begging the question of who controls the militants who are expanding their influence across the country.
The question has arisen in the light of escalating violence inside Pakistan including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team despite a call reported to have been made by the leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Mohammed Omar, urging Pakistani militants to stop fighting at home and instead focus on Afghanistan.