There has been much hesitation in the world’s media about how to label U.S. military action inside Pakistan’s borders, including a reported ground raid and a series of missile strikes. Do you call it an “invasion”? Or use the more innocuous-sounding “intervention”? In an editorial, the Washington Post gives it a name which is rather striking in its directness. It calls it quite simply, The War in Pakistan.
Pakistan: Now or Never?
Following up on yesterday’s post about U.S. military action in Pakistan, I see the New York Times is reporting that President George W. Bush secretly approved orders in July allowing American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government.
The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf has, as expected, unleashed a new power struggle within Pakistan’s fractious coalition. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto, has staked a claim to the presidency, setting him on a collision course with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) sees Zardari’s candidacy as an attempt to garner more power and delay the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf last November. PML (N) officials are already saying the row could break up the six-month-old coalition cobbled together after elections in February.
Last week the Canadians were soul-searching about their presence in Afghanistan after three female aid workers, two of them Canadian, were killed in an ambush. “(The) Canadian deaths in Afghanistan underscore the most troubling aspect of the West’s strategy there,” said the Toronto Star. “Put simply, it isn’t working.”
Given how little many people in the west seem to know about Pakistan — at most that it has nuclear weapons and, possibly, Osama bin Laden; rarely that it has 165 million people (not too far off three times the population of Britain) with individual day-to-day challenges of earning a living and bringing up children like anywhere else — it’s encouraging to see the range of debate in the U.S. blogosphere after President Pervez Musharraf announced his resignation.
As far as a strategy for Afghanistan is concerned, it’s a long shot. Bring peace to India and Pakistan and not only will that stabilise Pakistan but it will also ease tensions in Afghanistan. Indeed it’s such a long shot that it has not been considered as a serious policy option. That was until last month’s bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.
Why now? Until this week, the ISI was an acronym for Pakistan’s powerful spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, that was little known outside of South Asia. Now it’s all over the American media as the organisation accused of secretly helping Islamist militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan, while the country it works for is a crucial ally in the U.S. battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban.
With both U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain calling for more troops to be sent to Afghanistan, there have been a slew of articles arguing this will at best not work and, at worst, fuel the insurgency.
In a country facing the triple challenges of economic crisis, political instability and Islamist militancy, the impact on individuals can be easy to overlook. Amnesty International has tried to redress part of this by publishing a report about the hundreds of people it says have disappeared in Pakistan as a result of counter-terrorism measures.