Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

Obama’s Kashmir comments hit a raw nerve in India

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Barack Obama has hit a raw nerve in India by suggesting the United States should try to help resolve the Kashmir dispute so that Pakistan can focus on hunting down Islamist militants on its north-western frontier — who in turn threaten stability in Afghanistan — rather than worrying about tensions with India on its eastern border. India is extremely sensitive to any suggestion of outside interference in Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral dispute, though Pakistan itself has long chafed against this position.

“The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan, is actually deal with Pakistan,” Obama said in an interview last week with MSNBC. “And we’ve got work with the newly elected government there in a coherent way that says, terrorism is now a threat to you. Extremism is a threat to you. We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India, but on the situation with those militants.” (more…)

Will the U.S. have to turn to Iran for help on Afghanistan?

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Will the United States have to turn to its old nemesis Iran for help in Afghanistan? A couple of articles out this month suggest it will.

In this article published by the MIT Center for International Studies, the authors argue that the hostility between Washington and Tehran has been bad for the United States, Iran and Afghanistan, and played into the hands of the Pakistan military, the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda – From bin Laden’s cave command to regionalised “franchise company”?

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Osama bin Laden is no longer involved in the day-to-day planning of attacks, Germany’s spy chief says, arguing that al Qaeda has turned from a centralised force into a regionalised “franchise company” with power centres in Pakistan, North Africa and the Arab peninsula. Does this weaken or strengthen the Islamist militant group? And how does it influence its operations, planning of attacks and its efforts to recruit new followers?

Ernst Uhrlau, who heads the BND foreign intelligence agency, Germany’s equivalent of the CIA, says al Qaeda’s “concept” has changed significantly over the past few years. “After the centralisation phase and the break-up of its bases in Afghanistan, when it had the backing of the Taliban government, we have seen a regionalisation over the past four years — something like a franchise company.”    “Today, there is al Qadea in the Maghreb, al Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, in Iraq, in Yemen,” Uhrlau told Reuters in an interview this week. (more…)

Singer flees Pakistan northwest, fear of Talibanisation grows

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Is this what the future holds for Pakistan?

Haroon Bacha, a  Pashtun singer, has fled his home in the Pakistani city of  Peshawar after a year of phone calls, text messages and even personal visits warning him to stop playing, the New York Times reported this week.

Bacha, who has left his wife and children and an extended family behind, has found a safe haven in New York where he is playing at benefit concerts and even weddings, the newspaper said. (more…)

The sound and fury of the Pakistan-Afghanistan debate

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Marriott Hotel in Islamabad after bombingThe debate about the fate of Pakistan and Afghanistan is getting noisier by the day.

According to this McClatchy report, a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate — reflecting the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies — has described Pakistan as being “on the edge”.

Pakistani-Americans looking to Obama to ease rhetoric

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Is U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama going to heed calls from Pakistani-Americans to tone down his statements on hunting militants inside Pakistan ?

Democrat Obama and Republican candidate John McCain face off in a final debate in New York state on Wednesday night.

Afghanistan: the 20-year war?

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America is in Afghanistan for the long haul and the sooner it tells its people the better it would be for its own sake, says top U.S. military scholar Anthony Cordesman in a study published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Warning that the United States faced a crisis in the field, Cordesman says Washington has no choice but to commit more troops, more resources and time to stop the haemorrhaging. And even if the Taliban/al Qaeda momentum is decisively reversed in 2009/2010, this is a war that will last into the next presidency.

Tactics versus strategy in Afghanistan

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Reading the latest spate of news reports about U.S. policies in Afghanistan, one thing strikes me as troubling — the failure to distinguish between tactics and strategy. Military boffins argue about the exact meaning of those two words, but for the purposes of argument, let’s say that tactics are a means to an end, while strategy contains within it an understanding of the end to be attained.

Dust storm in Kabul/Ahmad MasoodU.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave us an idea of the end earlier this week when he talked of reconciliation with the Taliban, while excluding anyone belonging to al Qaeda. ”There has to be ultimately, and I’ll underscore ultimately, reconciliation as part of a political outcome to this,” Gates said. ”That’s ultimately the exit strategy for all of us.”

Does anyone care about bin Laden any more?

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May file photo of Pakistani TalibanThere have been many contradictory reports this week about whether Baitullah Mehsud, the leader of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, had died. Pakistan’s Geo television channel said that the leader of the Pakistani Taliban had died of kidney failure after a long illness, while a Taliban spokesman dismissed the report.

I’m not going to add to that speculation here. What does strike me, though, is that the attention paid to talk of Mehsud’s death was greater than that given to reports that frequently do the rounds about the fate of Osama bin Laden.

The mystery of a downed drone in Pakistan

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Last week, the Pakistan Army said it had recovered the wreckage of an unmanned aerial vehicle in the South Waziristan region, but it didn’t identify the aircraft.

The United States military, which has stepped up flights of the Predator, its main unmanned aerial vehicle, on the Afghan-Pakistan border and into Pakistan in recent months, said none of its planes had gone down inside Pakistan. One of its aerial vehicles had crashed but that was in Afghanistan, about  60 miles west of the Pakistani border and U.S. forces had immediately recovered the aircraft.

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