Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

from Global News Journal:

When is a coalition not a coalition?

How can you tell when U.S. forces in Afghanistan are operating alone?

When they call it "the coalition".

That’s not a joke. It's just how things work in Afghanistan, where two separate forces with two separate command structures -- one completely American, the other about half American -- operate side by side under the command of the same U.S. general.

 "When we say 'coalition', basically that means it's just us," a helpful U.S. military spokeswoman explained last month to a reporter who had just arrived in country after being away for a couple of  years. "Otherwise, it's the 'alliance'."

And it's not just words.

"The alliance" and "the coalition" maintain completely separate press offices, each of which is often allowed to give only bits and pieces of detail about the same incident. The result can be a bit confusing.

First, some history.

The "coalition" refers to Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. (or, as they like to say, "U.S.-led") mission ordered by President George W. Bush back in 2001 to catch Osama bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban.

Guest contribution: War on the Taliban

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The writer is the High Commissioner of Pakistan to Britain.

By Wajid Shamsul Hasan 

Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had a vision of a modern, progressive and secular Pakistan. Yet some are trying to replace it with a Talibanised state in which schools are closed, heads chopped off, women flogged in public and a pagan religion takes over in the name of Islam that Allah the Most Merciful bequeathed to humankind through the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) to enlighten the darkened world.

Afghanistan’s civilians caught in the middle

Photo

Reuters correspondent Emma Graham-Harrison has written a moving and disturbing story about an 8-year-old girl badly burned by white phosphorous after being caught in the middle of a firefight in Afghanistan.  Like everything else that happens in Afghanistan, the question of who fired the shell that exploded in her house is in dispute. Her family said the shell was fired by western troops; NATO said it was “very unlikely” the weapon was theirs; and a U.S. spokeswoman suggested the Taliban may have been responsible.

But beyond the dispute, what comes across powerfully in Emma’s account is the story of the girl. 

Pakistan: from refugee exodus to high-tech drones

Photo

With Pakistan launching what the country’s Daily Times calls an “all-out war” against the Taliban, more than 500,000 people have fled the fighting in the northwest, bringing to more than a million those displaced since August, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.After apparently giving the Taliban enough rope to hang themselves, by offering a peace deal in the Swat valley which the government said they then reneged upon, the government for now seems to have won enough popular backing to launch its offensive.But to succeed in defeating the Taliban, the government must also be ready with a strategy to rebuild shattered lives if the mood in the northwest is not to turn sour, Dawn newspaper says. It quotes defence analyst Ikram Sehgal as estimating the military could take up to two months to conclude its campaign, and that dealing with the impact on civilians will require more than 10 times the one billion rupees (12 million dollars) the government has so far announced.In a separate article, it says that refugees are already upset about the behaviour of both the Taliban and the military. ’We are frightened of the Taliban and the army. If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes,” it quotes an 18-year-old girl as saying.Both Pakistan’s The News International newspaper and the blog Changing up Pakistan warn against the onset of compassion fatigue, both for  the sake of the people affected and to make sure refugee camps do not turn into recruiting grounds for the Taliban.”If the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win any more,” Changing up Pakistan says.In the meantime, more questions are being raised about the U.S. administration’s policy of using unmanned drone aircraft to fire missiles on Pakistan’s tribal areas. The missile attacks, meant to target militant leaders and disrupt al Qaeda’s capabilities, cause civilian casualties, alienate Pakistanis who see them as an invasion of sovereignty and add to a perception that Pakistan is fighting “America’s war” in one place, while being bombed by American planes in another.Foreign Policy Journal quotes U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as criticising the Obama administration for continuing the drone missile attacks first started under President George W. Bush. “We are bombing a sovereign country,” it quotes him as saying. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?” he asked.

It adds that he said there are “many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?”

Dawn newspaper also urges an end to the drone attacks in a passionately worded editorial.

Pakistan’s farmland sales: a fatal folly?

Photo

Any student of history will tell you that a recurring feature of 20th century revolutions and civil wars was conflict over land ownership, driven by the resentment of the rural poor against the concentration of agricultural wealth in the hands of the elite. (Cuba and Vietnam, where Fidel Castro and Ho Chi Minh picked up support by championing farm reform, are good places to start.)

So Pakistan’s plans to sell farmland to rich Gulf investors deserve serious attention, even if land ownership does not have the same ability to grab headlines as its nuclear weapons.

The shifting sands of Pakistani politics

Photo

Some readers have suggested that Pakistan’s politicians close ranks to beat back the Taliban advance, and that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s party re-unites with the ruling coalition as a first step.

It is an idea that seems to be gaining traction, going by a spate of media reports  The Financial Times said that Sharif could consider joining a unity coalition led by President Asif Ali Zardari, citing a senior member of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Muslim).

Will Obama chart his own course on Pakistan?

Photo

President Barack Obama’s statement on Pakistan at a news conference on Wednesday appeared to be more measured than the spate of alarmist comments about the country in the past week or so.  It is worth reading in full:

“Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to move to Pakistan. Pakistan appears to be at war with the Taliban inside their own country.  Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban’s hands or, worst-case scenario, even al Qaeda’s hands?

Pakistan: the next two weeks critical?

Photo

The Pakistan Army is fighting to regain control of the Buner valley to stop a Taliban advance deeper into the heartland, a battle that could determine the course of action the United States adopts in the near future.

Two weeks is what U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus is giving the Pakistani establishment to destroy the Taliban in Buner, some 60 miles from Islamabad, and begin to reverse the tide in the rest of the northwest region, according to Fox News.

From unemployed teachers to ghost schools in Pakistan

Photo

Often it’s the small details that bring alive the tragedy of a nation. I recommend reading this story on IRIN about how newly qualified school-teachers are unable to take up jobs in Pakistan’s Swat valley because the government is not functioning well enough to appoint them to vacant posts. 

It quotes a 25-year-old as saying that his impoverished family had worked hard to send him to school and on to teacher-training. “We have been waiting for two years to be appointed. But this is being delayed. We are without jobs. We cannot support our families. The government has failed to help us at all,” he said. It also quotes an education department official in Swat as saying that posts were lying empty in schools as many teachers had fled the Swat valley, where the government concluded a peace deal with Taliban militants earlier this year. “But we can make no new appointments as we have no instructions from the government, plus the militants control everything anyway.”

The Pakistan Army and civilian democracy

Photo

The Pakistan Army has been getting a lot of flak over the past week or so for its alleged failure to take a tough line against Taliban militants expanding their reach across Pakistan’s north-west.  And although Pakistan Army chief General Ashfaq Kayani issued a statement promising to fight the militants and security forces began a new offensive, doubts remain about the military’s willingness to take on Islamist groups that it once nurtured as part of its rivalry with India.

Among a spate of articles about Pakistan’s powerful military, Newsweek ran a piece headlined “Pakistan’s Self-Defeating Army”. It argued that far from serving as a bulwark against chaos, the military had helped destabilise Pakistan by undermining the development of a civilian democracy in the decades since the country was founded in 1947.

  •