Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
President Asif Ali Zardari’s trip to Britain was particularly ill-fated. When he first planned a visit which should have culminated in him bringing his son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, out into the political arena, no one could have predicted such a bewildering series of crises. A row with Britain over remarks made in India by British Prime Minister David Cameron that Pakistan must not “look both ways” in its approach to Islamist militants. Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years. A plane crash, and then riots in Karachi.
So it was perhaps par for the course that his final event in Britain, a political rally in the city of Birmingham for British Pakistani supporters of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), should be dogged by controversy. Zardari faced a firestorm of criticism for going ahead with the visit while his country faced so many problems, and the combination of protesters outside the rally and a shoe-thrower inside appeared to mark the culmination of a disastrously ill-judged overseas tour.
Having been to the Birmingham event, I have to say it was not quite as chaotic and ill-tempered as some media coverage suggested. The protesters outside were a microcosm of Pakistan’s disunited politics, each separate group of demonstators operating independently and shouting for their own competing agendas – from the restoration of the Caliphate to independence for Kashmir. They were vastly outnumbered by the PPP supporters who packed Birmingham’s International Convention Centre - many of them staid, respectable middle-aged Pakistani men and women who had emigrated to Britain decades ago, worked hard and kept close family links back home.
And Zardari certainly was not “pelted with shoes”. The man who said he tried to throw his shoes in protest over Zardari’s response to the floods was standing well back in what was a very large conference hall and had little chance of getting anywhere near the president before he was hustled away by security guards. Zardari did not interrupt his speech, most of the audience continued to listen to him politely, and it is conceivable that those sitting at the front did not even notice at the time what had happened. That in any case is how it looked from where I was sitting – it would be easier to judge the event if the video replay had not been edited out – but my impression was that it was not such a big incident to justify the reaction, or counter-reaction in Pakistan.
from India Insight:
It has been more than a year since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and many commentators have been advocating restarting the peace process between India and Pakistan.
Is the time ripe?
The process that seemed to have restarted with Sharm-al-Sheikh statement stalled after the outcry in India over the statement's drafting and the subsequent revelations about David Headley.
For the first time in many months, the future of Pakistan is being determined not in the fight against Islamist militants, but within its institutions — its judiciary, its political parties, its government and its military. Last week’s decision by the Supreme Court to strike down a 2007 amnesty given to politicians and bureaucrats has provided Pakistan with a rare opportunity to remodel itself as a civilian democracy based on the rule of law. But the way forward is so fraught with difficulties that assessments of its chances of success are at best sober, at worst ominous.
The court decision to strike down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) affects some 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats on a list of those who had been covered by the amnesty, including the defence and interior ministers. President Asif Ali Zardari had also been covered by the amnesty, but remains protected by presidential immunity. Such was the upheaval created by the ruling that foreign exchange markets were briefly shaken last week by unfounded rumours of a military coup. The real impact is likely to be more slow-burning.
A Supreme Court ruling striking down an amnesty given to politicians and officials by former president Pervez Musharraf has created havoc in Pakistani politics. Among those affected on a list of 8,000 politicians and bureaucrats who were protected by the amnesty are the interior and defence ministers, who are now no longer allowed to leave the country until they clear their names in court.
“Pakistan’s interior minister today found himself in the unusual position of being asked to bar himself from leaving the country,” wrote Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
It’s the kind of language, or perhaps more accurately the tone, that can test the patience of any nation.
You have had eight years, you should have been able to catch Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is reported to have said about Pakistan in an interview with the BBC following a conversation with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari over the weekend.
Even before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari broke the ice by meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia last month, the real question over talks between India and Pakistan has not been about the form but the substance.
After the bitterness of last year’s attacks on Mumbai by Pakistan-based militants, can India and Pakistan work their way back to a roadmap for an agreement on Kashmir reached two years ago? Although never finalised, the roadmap opened up the intellectual space for an eventual peace deal. This week’s meetings between India and Pakistan on the sidelines of a Non-Aligned Movement summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt could give some clues on whether it has any chance of being revived.
from India Insight:
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has dropped a plan to travel to Egypt next month where he was expected to hold further talks with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh following their meeting in Russia this week.
Pakistan's foreign office has said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the summit of Non-Aligned Nations in the Egyptian city of Sharm El Sheikh although soon after the Singh-Zardari meeting in Yekaterinburg the two sides announced plans for a second meeting in July.
As encounters go between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari — their first since last November’s Mumbai attacks — was a somewhat stolid affair.
It had none of the unscripted drama of the handshake famously offered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when they met at a South Asian summit in Kathmandu in January 2002, while the two countries mobilised for war following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. Musharraf’s gesture made little difference in a military stand-off which continued for another six months.
Ahmed Rashid’s article on Pakistan in the New York Review of Books makes for an alarming read. Excerpts do not do justice to it, as you have to read the whole thing to understand why he thinks Pakistan really is on the brink, but here are a few:
“American officials are in a concealed state of panic, as I observed during a recent visit to Washington at the time when 17,000 additional troops were being dispatched to Afghanistan. The Obama administration unveiled its new Afghan strategy on March 27, only to discover that Pakistan is the much larger security challenge, while US options there are far more limited.”
With Pakistan facing a refugee crisis, and its army engaged in intense fighting in the Swat valley, the question of who makes decisions in the country and how these are taken may not seem like the top priority.
But Shuja Nawaz at the Atlantic Council makes a strong argument in favour of deepening institutional mechanisms for decision-making. While President Asif Ali Zardari, who has retained the sweeping presidential powers of his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, made many decisions himself and also personally represented Pakistan diplomatically on trips overseas, the institutional process of decision-making that would allow coordination between the different branches of the country’s government is lacking, he writes. As a result the government seemed unprepared to deal with the million refugees created by Pakistan’s military offensive against the Taliban.