Pakistan: Now or Never?

Perspectives on Pakistan

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.

After 9/11, Iran cooperated with the United States to hep defeat the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. (Shi’ite Iran has traditionally been opposed to the hardline brand of Sunni Islam espoused by the Taliban and al Qaeda.) So from Tehran’s point of view, the country felt badly betrayed when in return for its help, President George W. Bush labelled Iran as part of the “axis of evil” along with Iraq and North Korea. (more…)

Seeking regional peace for Afghanistan

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Given the focus on U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan since 9/11, it’s easy to forget the regional context. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Barnett Rubin and Ahmed Rashid try to set that right, calling for a regional approach that would take account of the interests not just of Afghanistan, but also of Pakistan, Russia, Iran, India and China.

“Both U.S. presidential candidates are committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan, but this would be insufficient to reverse the collapse of security there. A major diplomatic initiative involving all the regional stakeholders … is more important,” it says.

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”.

China, Pakistan and the financial crisis

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File photo of rally with Pakistan national flagIf your country is desperate to stave off economic collapse, there is probably no better place to visit, and no better friend to have, than China right now. With $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China is sheltered from the worst of the financial storm, so much so that many are looking at it to play a part in hauling the global economy into calmer waters. 

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari begins a trip to China on Tuesday on what is being billed as his first official visit abroad – his earlier trip to the United States has been presented as one to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

Rethinking U.S. opposition to Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi in April/B MathurAmong the more daring recommendations in a new report by the Pakistan Policy Working Group, a bipartisan group of American experts on U.S.-Pakistan relations, is that the United States should eventually reconsider its opposition to a proposed Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project.

The suggestion, aimed at building peace between India and Pakistan, is well hedged. The report says it does not expect the long-delayed project to happen any time soon because of instability in Pakistan and U.S. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme. But it is one that could ultimately be very significant not just for Pakistan, but also for Iran and India. As this Reuters story says, Iran sees energy-hungry India as one of the most promising markets for its huge natural gas reserves.

U.S. ground raids into Pakistan halted, Army Times says

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Pakistani troops patrol in BajaurThe United States has decided to halt cross-border ground raids by Special Ops forces into Pakistan, according to the U.S. Army Times. It quotes a Pentagon official as saying U.S. leaders had decided to hold off on permitting ground raids to allow Pakistani forces to press home their own attacks on militants in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“We are now working with the Pakistanis to make sure that those type of ground-type insertions do not happen, at least for a period of time to give them an opportunity to do what they claim they are desiring to do,” it quotes the Pentagon official as saying. This did not apply to air strikes launched from Predator drones.

Revisiting America’s war in Afghanistan

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File photo of Afghan riding a donkey past a destroyed tankI finally got around to reading Charlie Wilson’s War (much better than the film and considerably longer) about the U.S. Congressman who managed to drum up huge amounts of money to fund the mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980′s.

George Crile’s book - about how the CIA channelled money and weapons through Pakistan to defeat the Red Army in Afghanistan and helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union – was first published in 2002.  But it’s even more relevant today as the United States struggles to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and realises it will never succeed as long as ”the enemy” has sanctuary in Pakistan. It is the only war that the United States has fought on both sides.

Omar Sheikh, a childhood friend turned Pakistani militant

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Marriott Hotel in IslamabadThe weekend bomb which tore through the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, killing 53 people, was a reminder that Pakistan is entering the eye of the storm of Islamist militancy. But for me, it was also a more personal reminder of a childhood friend who went from a suburban upbringing in London to become one of Pakistan’s most notorious militants.

Omar Sheikh, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (Army of the Prophet) organisation which has been linked to the bombing, is currently on death row in Pakistan for organising the kidnapping and beheading of the brilliant Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi in February, 2002.
 
I had long since lost contact with Omar since we both graduated from Forest School in north London in 1992 and the sight of a heavily bearded Sheikh flanked by Pakistani police during the Pearl trial came as a shock. My jumbled memories of Omar were of a tall, lantern-jawed adolescent with dark-rimmed glasses, a serious but polite demeanour, a childish sense of humour but an unblinking, fearless appetite for a fight. Even as a boy, he spoke feverishly and often of “My Country” and praised the authoritarian and strictly Islamic regime of General Zia — who ousted and killed Benazir Bhutto’s father and helped the mujahedin throw the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Choosing your friends: Pakistan, the U.S. and China

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President Bush meets President Zardari in New York/Jim YoungWhile Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari is in the United States discussing U.S. military strikes across Pakistan’s border, army chief General Ashfaq Kayani is on a far less publicised trip to China to talk about defence cooperation. The timing may be coincidental, but the potential implications of the United States and China playing competing roles in Pakistan are huge.

Pakistan has always seen China as a much more reliable friend, while support from Washington has waxed and waned in line with U.S. interests (Islamabad has never quite forgiven the United States for using it to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and then dropping it when the Russians were driven out in 1989.) 

Upping the ante in Kashmir

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Is New Delhi sending a signal to Pakistan by deploying its top strike warplanes in the Kashmir region?

It could just be a routine move to help pilots operate the nuclear-capable Su-30 aircraft  , codenamed Flanker by NATO, in another environment, but the timing is intriguing.

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