Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Afghan Journal:

Guest Column: Getting Obama’s Afghan policy back on track

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(C. Uday Bhaskar is a New Delhi-based strategic analyst. The views expressed in the column are his own).

By C. Uday Bhaskar

The May 12 summit meeting in the White House between visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his host, U.S. President Barack Obama comes against the backdrop of the mercifully aborted May 1 terrorist bombing incident in New York's Times Square.

From the barrage of news and commentary that floods various media outlets here in Washington DC, it is evident that the Obama Af-Pak policy unveiled with considerable fanfare last year will be in for detailed and contested policy review.

Immediate U.S. interests apart - including the Obama second term, the stakes for the long-term stability of the entire southern Asian region and the troubled Muslim populace in the scattered diaspora ranging from North America to west Europe are immense and complex.

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

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marjah“The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience.”

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

Pakistan-despite failed NY attack, change will be slow in coming

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karachiAfter the media frenzy following last weekend’s failed car bomb attack on Times Square, you would be forgiven for thinking that something dramatic is about to change in Pakistan. The reality, however, is probably going to be much greyer.

Much attention has naturally focused on North Waziristan, a bastion for al Qaeda, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Afghan fighters including those in the Haqqani network, and the so-called “Punjabi Taliban” - militants from Punjab-based groups who have joined the battle either in Afghanistan or against the Pakistani state.  The Pakistan Army is expected to come under fresh pressure to launch an offensive in North Waziristan after Faisal Shahzad, who according to U.S. authorities admitted to the failed car-bombing in Times Square, said he had received training in Waziristan. Unlike other parts of the tribal areas on the Pakistan-Afghan border, North Waziristan has so far been left largely alone.

India and Pakistan agree to hold more talks: now comes the hard part

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thimphuAs predicted, the prime ministers of India and Pakistan agreed during a meeting in Bhutan that their countries should hold further talks to try to repair relations strained since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Foreign secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters at a regional summit in Thimphu that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani had decided their foreign ministers and foreign secretaries (the top diplomats) should meet as soon as possible.

In agreeing to hold more talks, India and Pakistan have overcome the first major obstacle in the way of better ties – the question of what form their dialogue should take. Pakistan had been insisting on a resumption of the formal peace process, or Composite Dialogue, broken off by India after the attack on Mumbai which it blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group. India had been seeking a way back into talks which stopped short of a full resumption of the Composite Dialogue.

from Afghan Journal:

Challenging the myths of Pakistan’s turbulent northwest

PAKISTAN/

Reuters' journalist Myra Macdonald travelled to Pakistan's northwest on the border with Afghanistan  to find that some of the Kiplingesque images of  xenophobic Pasthuns and ungovernable lands may be a bit off the mark especially now when the Pakistani army has taken the battle to the Islamist militants.  Here's her account :

                               By Myra MacDonald

KHAR, Pakistan - I had not expected Pakistan's tribal areas to be so neat and so prosperous.

from Afghan Journal:

Bombing your own people: the use of air power in South Asia

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

(U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jets, also known as the Warthog. File photo)

Pakistani army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani offered a rare apology at the weekend for a deadly air strike in the Khyber region in the northwest  in which residents and local officials say at least 63 civilians were killed.

Tragically for the Pakistani military, most of the victims were members of a tribe that had stood up against the Taliban. Some of them were members of the army. Indeed as Dawn reported the first bomb was dropped on the house of a serving army officer, followed by another more devastating strike just when people rushed to the scene. Such actions defy description and an explanation is in order from those who ordered the assault, the newspaper said in an angry editorial.

Punjab minister asks for mercy from Taliban, earns woman’s scorn

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After the chief minister of Pakistan’s biggest province reportedly asked the Taliban to spare his region from attacks, he kicked off an uproar and earned the scorn of a woman member of a provincial parliament, who sarcastically offered him her scarf and said “the women of the frontier province” would protect him.

Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab province, on Sunday said he didn’t understand why the Taliban were targeting the Punjab when his party — the PML-N — and militants alike opposed the policies of former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, who allied with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks.

from Afghan Journal:

Engaging the Afghan Taliban: a short history

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

(The niche that once held a giant Buddha, in Bamiyan. Picture by Omar Sobhani)

For those pushing for high-level political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to bring to an end to the eight-year war,  two U.S. scholars  in separate pieces are suggesting a walk through recent history  The United States has gone down the path of dialogue with the group before and suffered for it, believing against its own better judgement in the Taliban's promises until it ended up with the September 11, 2001 attacks, says  Michael Rubin from the American Enterprise Institute in this article in Commentary.

Rubin, who is completing a history of U.S. engagement with rogue regimes, says unclassified U.S. State Department documents show that America opened talks with the Taliban soon after the group  emerged as a powerful force in Kandahar in 1994 and well over a year before they took over Kabul. From then on it was a story of   diplomats doing everything possible to remain engaged with the Taliban in the hope it would modify their  behaviour, and that they would be persuaded to expel Osama bin Laden who had  by then relocated from Sudan.  The Taliban, on the other hand, in their meetings with U.S. diplomats, would stonewall on terrorism  but would also dangle just enough hope to keep the officials calling and forestall punitive strategies.

Fresh reports surface of Taliban-al Qaeda rift

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mehsudAccording to the Los Angeles Times, a growing number of Taliban militants in the Pakistani border region are refusing to collaborate with Al Qaeda fighters, declining to provide shelter or assist in attacks in Afghanistan even in return for payment. It quotes U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials as saying that threats to the militants’ long-term survival from Pakistani, Afghan and foreign military action are driving some Afghan Taliban away from Al Qaeda.

“U.S. officials remain unsure whether the alliance between Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban is splintering for good, and some regard the possibility as little more than wishful thinking. A complete rupture is unlikely, some analysts say, because Al Qaeda members have married into many tribes and formed other connections in years of hiding in Pakistan’s remote regions,” the newspaper says. “But the tension has led to a debate within the U.S. government about whether there are ways to exploit any fissures. One idea under consideration, an official said, is to reduce drone airstrikes against Taliban factions whose members are shunning contacts with Al Qaeda.”

Pakistan’s strategy on the Taliban; the Kabul and Islamabad views

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karzai zardariIf you read all the commentary on the arrest by Pakistan of Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar  amongst others, there is a very clear distinction between the view from Kabul and the view from Islamabad about what is going on. That is not surprising given the deep distrust between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I’ve noticed it has become particularly acute over the last month or so. The main argument is whether the arrest of Mullah Baradar and others  was meant to undermine a pro-talks faction and replace them with a harder line ISI-backed Taliban, or whether Pakistan is rounding them up in order to keep control over any negotiations on reconciliation with the Taliban. If the latter were true, it would be expecting the United States to address Pakistan’s own security interests, particularly in relation to India, in return for its help in tackling the Afghan Taliban.  

So do read two articles which came out over the last week or so to compare the two quite different views.

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