Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The 1971 war between Pakistan and India crops up so often in comments on this blog that I’d been thinking of creating a South Asian equivalent of Godwin’s law - that any discussion that goes on for long enough will eventually get back to what happened then. At the very least, it seemed like a good idea to set up a post into which all comments about 1971 could be channelled.
Khurram Hussain, a Pakistani writing in India’s Outlook magazine, has started the discussion by arguing that the way to understand Pakistan is not through the lens of partition in 1947, but through the war in 1971 which led to the division of the country and the creation of Bangladesh, then East Pakistan. Here are some excerpts, but do please read the full article:
“The Partition has a mesmerising quality that blinds the mind, a kind of notional heft that far outweighs its real significance to modern South Asian politics. The concerns of the state of Pakistan, the anxieties of its society, and the analytic frames of its intellectual and media elites have as their primary reference not 1947 but the traumatic vivisection of the country in 1971. Indians have naturally focused on their own vivisection, their own dismemberment; but for Pakistan, they have focused on the wrong date. This mix-up has important consequences,” he writes.
“First, Indians tend not to remember 1971 as a Pakistani civil war, but rather as India’s ‘good’ war. It is remembered as an intervention by India to prevent the genocide of Bengalis by Pakistanis. The fact that the Bengalis themselves were also Pakistanis has been effaced from the collective memory of Indian elites. This makes 1971 merely another Kargil, or Kashmir, Afghanistan or Mumbai—an instance of Pakistan meddling in other people’s affairs, and of the Pakistani military’s adventurism in the region.”
It is interesting because it stands out in the feverish, and often involved reporting that has characterised media in both India and Pakistan following the Mumbai attacks. The author, Shandana Khan Mohmand, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sussex, says Pakistan must really accept the reality that it is not the equal of India, a belief that he thought had stunted its development
“We cannot win a war against it, we cannot compare the instability of our political system to the stability of theirs, we cannot hope to compete economically with what is a booming economy well on its way to becoming a global economic power, and we certainly cannot compare the conservativeness of our society to the open pluralism of their everyday life,” he writes.
Pakistan’s most beneficial economic strategy would be to get in on the boom next door in India, he argues. But for this, “we need to think outside the box – outside the two-nation theory, outside the box of the violence of 1947, and outside the box of the ill-conceived wars of the last six decades.”
Strong words those, and one that apply to both nations walled off from each other nursing their animosities over the years. As political commentator M.J.Akbar wrote in the Times of India, India and Pakistan aren’t neighbours, they are worlds apart. He believes the two fully turned away from each other after the 1965 war. ”Walls of regulation were raised to block knowledge, and then vision. If you do not see a neighbour, he is not a neighbour. There are no neighbours in the huge apartment blocks of Mumbai, only adjacent numbers.”
Is it any wonder then that a popular Pakistani comedian who made thousands laugh on an Indian TV show has had to return home after being threatened in a Mumbai studio? [Reuters pic of India and Pakistani border guards)
from Photographers' Blog:
In the history of embeds, this one has been pretty unremarkable so far. I kicked things off in Dubai with an impulse purchase of a Canon 5D Mark II. Stills and video ! ASA 6400 ! 20 MB files ! It seemed like a great idea until I dropped it in the mud on a patrol. So much for the resale value.
After getting to Bagram Air Base, it took a while until I was able to test out the new gear. We had a four-day wait due to rain, which delayed or cancelled flights and gave me plenty of time to indulge in the ice cream bar at the dining hall. On day five I got a late-night flight to Jalalabad, where I received a briefing about my embed area and made plans to get further north. Finally, a week after my embed had officially begun, I took a 20 minute ride on a Chinook helicopter and arrived to Foward Operating Base Bostick, located in Kunar Province about 10 miles from the Pakistan border.
from India Insight:
It has been a tense game of poker between India and Pakistan since the Mumbai attacks. On the face of it, India had the much stronger hand -- not least because it captured one of the attackers alive and got him to confess to being trained in Pakistan.
But has it played its cards well?
India is piling on the diplomatic pressure to convince the international community to lean on Pakistan to crack down on Islamist militants blamed by New Delhi for the Mumbai attacks.
According to the Times of India, “India has made it clear to the U.S. and Iran as well as Pakistan’s key allies, China and Saudi Arabia, that they need to do more to use their clout to pressure Pakistan into acting…” The Press Trust of India (PTI), quoted by The Hindu, said India had used a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal to Delhi to drive home the same message.
History never repeats itself exactly, but it does leave signposts. So with India and Pakistan settling into a familiar pattern of accusation and counter-claim following the Mumbai attacks, it’s worth remembering what happened after the December 2001 assault on India’s parliament brought the two countries to the brink of war. Or more to the point — thinking about the less remembered follow-up attack on an Indian army camp in Kaluchak in Jammu and Kashmir in May 2002 that nearly propelled India over the edge.
Following the attack on parliament that India blamed on the Laskhar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, both Pakistan-based militant groups, India mobilised its troops all along the border, prompting a similar mobilisation on the Pakistani side. Then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf went on national television in January to promise to crack down on Islamist groups; the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed were curbed, and tensions abated somewhat.
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.
President George W. Bush’s reported decision in July to step up attacks by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the newspaper says, was both necessary and long overdue. It acknowledges there is a risk the strikes might prompt a breach between the U.S. and Pakistani armies, or destabilize the new civilian government in Pakistan. But, it says, ”no risk to Pakistan’s political system or its U.S. relations is greater than that of a second 9/11 staged from the tribal territories. U.S. missile and commando attacks must be backed by the best intelligence and must minimize civilian casualties. But they must continue.”
The way Nisar Ahmad sees it, the war in Afghanistan has been pretty good to him. The 19-year-old runs a shop stall on a British military base in Helmand selling knock-off cigarettes, sunglasses, carpets and other assorted trinkets to young soldiers eager to spend their cash. On a good day, he takes in anywhere between $300 and $400 as the nicotine-hungry snap up 10-packs of Chinese-made, fake Marlboro cigarettes for just $5 a pop, or a pair of fake designer shades for $15. Sometimes he’s feeling generous and knocks them down to $10. Even with the cost of buying the merchandise in Kabul and driving it down to the far south of the country, into Taliban country and frequently through militant checkpoints, he still reckons he takes anywhere between $80 and $100 a day in profit.
“It’s good money, very good money,” he says with a broad grin, showing off a gappy, yellowing smile. “I didn’t go to school but everybody he go to school he not make money same as me,” he explains in his faltering English, learnt during six years of working on British and American bases.
In fact, Ahmad is a case-study in how market economics can take hold even in a war zone, and how mergers and acquisitions are a part of life wherever you happen to be, even in Afghanistan’s volatile southern deserts.
So successful was Ahmad that he effectively got taken over by Abdallah, 30, and his business partner Ismailah who run similar shops on five other bases and decided to ‘acquire’ Ahmad’s stall. He now works for a wage of $500 a month while he reckons Abdallah makes “$2,000 or $3,000, I don’t know, good money.” He’s not unhappy about the takeover, he says, because he’d rather have a regular wage and he’s only 19, so there’s time for other businesses. But in order to give himself a sense of rising up the ladder, he’s taken on a side-kick called Jasnour who doesn’t speak much English and does the dirty work of packing and unpacking the goods and handling the money. Ahmad just sits back.
On any military base in Afghanistan there are signs of business and globalisation at work. Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway all run concessions on major bases, feeding troops hungry for food from home. The Pizza Hut on the British base is run by an Indian. The military supplies shop — which sells 10 packs of name-brand cigarettes for the regular price of $30 — is run by a Bosnian. Filipinos help with the laundry. Everybody wants a sliver of the fat economic pie that the British, Americans, Canadians and other nations serving in Afghanistan have thrown on the table. The problem is the entrepreneurial, money-making impulse is mostly taking root only on secure camps where foreign troops are based. It’s not happening outside the wire, where 24 million Afghans are longing for business investment and a better life.
The U.S. State Department has just released its 2007 report on terrorism worldwide and it doesn’t look like it is winning the war against al Qaeda seven years after the Sept 11 attacks. The group not only remains the biggest threat to the United States and its allies, but using the tribal areas of Pakistan it has rebuilt some of its pre-Sept 11 capabilities. And its top leadership, especially Ayman al-Zawahri, has regained some of its control over the group’s operations worldwide, says the report.
It makes for sobering reading and some of the figures are worth recounting.
- The number of what the report identified as terrorist attacks worldwide fell slightly in 2007, but the number of people killed in the attacks rose to 22,685, from 20,872 in the previous year which suggests that people around the globe were getting increasingly efficient killing other people, as Russ Travers of the National Counterterrorism Center put it.
One factor contributing to the increased lethality of attacks: increased use of backpacks by suicide bombers that are easier to sneak into crowded areas.