While all eyes were glued on Afghan President Hamid Karzai's opening speech at the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of more than 2,500 Afghan elders who were tasked with advising him on signing the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States, nearly two weeks ago, an unprecedented, amusing, and thought-provoking incident occurred. Almost 40 minutes into Karzai's speech, a female senator, Belqis Roshan, from Farah, a province which lies along the border with Iran, raised a banner covered with anti-BSA slogans that compared the signing of the agreement to committing Watan Feroshi, or treason.
What the senator had not judged was the response she received from other participants. Chants of "Death to slaves of Pakistan" and "Death to slaves of Iran" suddenly filled the hall, prompting even Karzai to laugh, something he has not done publically for years. He finally intervened, urging calm, and called on the jirga participants to not accuse those who opposed the BSA of being spies for neighboring countries.
For wary Afghans, the incident demonstrated the overwhelming support that existed in the jirga for signing the security pact. But it was interesting that any opposition to signing the BSA was viewed as a subversive act by Afghanistan's two neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, both of whom disapprove of the agreement.
Additionally, Karzai's cleverly crafted speech reinforced the jirga's preliminary support for signing the BSA. He touched upon Afghanistan's vulnerabilities, stressed the need for ending civilian casualties caused by American forces, and eloquently provided a convincing rationale as to why the deal was important for the future of the country.
After four days of intense deliberations, the assembly not only overwhelmingly endorsed the BSA, but also called on Karzai to sign it before the end of the year. And this support even went beyond endorsement. Some committees also called on the Americans to establish a base in Bamiyan, Afghanistan's central province and home of the ethnic Hazara minority, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, and where Iran is perceived to have influence.
The jirga, which is the ultimate source of national decision-making in Afghanistan, illustrated a distinct paradigm shift as Afghans have never been receptive to the presence of foreign militaries in their country. However, despite this widespread support, Karzai rejected the jirga's recommendations and refused to the sign the BSA unless his newly-raised demands were met, creating an uproar both inside and outside of Afghanistan.
Karzai's new conditions include no U.S. interference in next April's presidential elections, the termination of U.S. military raids on Afghan homes, the release of Afghan detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and U.S. help in restarting the stalled peace talks with the Taliban. Coming after the jirga approved the BSA, Karzai's stated demands and delaying tactics have perplexed almost everyone. Some argue he does not want to sign the BSA. Others say he will lose his final leverage if he signs it now. However, many may have missed the nuances behind his bizarre gesture.
Karzai's political posturing is most likely designed for domestic consumption and he actually has no intention of not signing the BSA. After all, if he wasn't planning on signing the document, why was his opening speech to the jirga focused on approving the document? By holding off on signing the agreement, he is generating further domestic support for the pact. In other words, he is effectively building public pressure against himself. Why? Because there is a historical stigma attached to any agreement that includes the establishment of foreign military bases in the country. While Afghans currently support the creation of these bases, with the country's uncertain political future, Karzai is worried about his legacy and he does not want to be seen as the person who facilitated this development if the domestic sentiment changes. By increasing the public pressure, he is creating an environment that would allow him to sign the BSA, while claiming that he had no other choice but to yield to the public demand.
Karzai also intends to send a message to the Taliban and undermine their narrative that he is a puppet of the United States, stripping the group of a propaganda tool it has used to discredit the regime and recruit fighters. In fact, the Taliban sent out a press statement earlier this week that politely praised Karzai for his refusal to sign the agreement.
Despite his statements to the contrary, Karzai knows he cannot hold off the BSA's completion until after the elections because of the extensive and destructive impact that would have on the process. He also understands that postponing the agreement's signing will further uncertainty about the country's future as the BSA is perceived as creating the biggest physical and psychological support for the political and economic stability of Afghanistan. Afghans know that an atmosphere of uncertainty will be detrimental to holding elections that are considered vital to the long-term stability of the country. After all, perception of the election process is as important as the actual practice.
As for the argument that he won't sign the BSA because he will lose his leverage over the Americans, there is no doubt that he will lose his ability to use to the document as a bargaining chip when he signs it. But, as a practiced politician, Karzai will always find other ways and means by which to pressure the United States. Even after signing the agreement, he will remain the most powerful figure in the country until after next April's elections, and will probably remain a dominant political player once he is out of office as well. He has proven to be a shrewd tactician with remarkable courage and a knack for brinksmanship and confusing everyone. But this time, Karzai should understand that he has gone too far, as many Afghans are beginning to question whether he is out for his own interest or the nation's. They have also started to question Karzai's stability in terms of making decisions for the country since they do not understand the underlying objectives behind his bizarre moves.
Yet for all of Karzai's bluster, the United States should know that he will most likely sign the BSA soon, even if his conditions are not met. In the past 12 years, relations between Afghanistan and its Western allies, particularly the United States, have been pushed to the brink of collapse multiple times because of failures to fully understand each other. This lack of understanding has been a primary source of complications and setbacks, so there is dire need for Washington to learn about Kabul's domestic dynamics and Karzai's psyche, and for Kabul to grasp the political realities in Washington. Karzai feels insecure and wary about his own political survival, and the United States expects to be treated as a superpower. Both stances have undermined the countries' pursuit of the main goal, fighting terrorism.
It is important for the United States to realize the significance of Afghan people's support for the BSA. A nation that has long fought against any invading military, regardless of its might, supports, for the first time in its history, the presence of a foreign military on their land. And they proved that they want close ties with the world, without factoring in any ideological or religious ideals.
It should be clear by now that Afghans are the United States' only ally in an unstable region where extremism and anti-U.S. sentiment is consistently promoted by violent extremist groups and, more importantly, governments themselves. Acknowledging that the United States' investment in the country has won over the Afghan people, it is critical that it continues to support Afghanistan's political development and the strengthening of its security forces, who have now taken over the battle against extremism. Sustained engagement with Afghanistan would enable the country to become an anti-terrorism sanctuary in the region.
Najib Sharifi is a member of Afghanistan Analysis and Awareness, a Kabul-based think tank.
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How do you solve a problem like Hamid Karzai? According to his former counterpart at ISAF command, Gen. John Allen, and other pundits, the answer is simple: Ignore him. After all, Allen and others have reasoned, there is no need for the United States to add injury to Karzai's insults by playing into the drama surrounding his refusal to sign a security agreement that would keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan through 2024. While this might be good advice for dealing with an unruly guest at the dinner table, it is probably not the best counsel when making a multi-billion dollar deal with an inveterate gambler-cum-head-of-state with a proven penchant for betting the farm on a pair of deuces.
Many things can and will be said about Afghanistan's president when he finally steps down. Some will say he was crazy, like a fox. Others will say he was a vainglorious old man obsessed with his legacy. Few will extol his poker playing skills. What is important to understand is that after 12 years as head of state, the last thing Karzai wants is to be viewed as a washed-out-has-been with no cards left to play. Only time will tell, however, whether he has aptly chosen the right moment to leverage the deal over a continued U.S.-NATO presence to his own personal benefit. To judge whether matching Karzai's brinksmanship with more brinksmanship is the right course of action, the White House would do well to evaluate the spread, assess who is bluffing whom, and decide whether the stakes are worthwhile.
The release of key Taliban members from the U.S.-run prison at Guantanamo Bay tops the list of call options Karzai has placed on the table. Control of senior Taliban prisoners has been at the center of Karzai's negotiating strategy for years. The only problem is that he hasn't been able to reap many benefits from this approach since Congress and the Pentagon have shown reluctance to play along. Last week, however, on the very same day that Karzai announced he was digging in his heals on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and upping the ante, the Senate, in a little noted move, opted to loosen the stringent rules governing the transfer of Guantanamo prisoners to detention facilities in either their home or third-party countries. The move may face tough resistance in the Republican-held House of Representatives, but, as demonstrated by the recent visit of the Department of Defense's special envoy, Paul Lewis, to the island prison, there can be no mistake that a thawing is underway.
Karzai may be right to add these important signals in his "plus" column, but there is no assurance that his timely pronouncements on Guantanamo and chest beating over the U.S. security deal will win him much. Along with the prisoner release demand, Karzai has also pressed for the United States to get serious about restarting negotiations with the Taliban. This presumably means making sure that the Taliban understand that doing business in Kabul and Kandahar will mean doing business with the Karzai clan. The trouble is that the Karzai clan will not likely count for much if it can't deliver the elections to its chosen successor.
Indeed, the Afghan president's greatest fear must be that the clock is running out on his ability to impact the endgame. So he has fallen back on the tried and true approach of injecting uncertainty into the mix, which we've all seen play out in Afghanistan before.
In 2009, we saw 1.2 million fraudulent votes discarded in the presidential and provincial council elections. In 2010, 1.3 million votes were thrown out due to fraud in parliamentary elections; results were disputed for nearly a year before both chambers were finally seated in 2011. In both instances, uncertainty about the timing of the elections exacerbated structural flaws in the political system that remain unresolved. Not surprisingly, Karzai has apparently pressed the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission to postpone the April 2014 polls, a move that would force the White House to rethink its plan to leave 8,000 to 12,000 coalition forces in place as part of an advisory mission.
Karzai knows this well, of course, and so do those in his inner circle who are hoping to benefit from promoting a course of mercurial high-risk gambling. Key among the advocates of this strategy is, reportedly, Abdul Karim Khurram, Karzai's chief of staff and a stalwart member of the conservative wing of the Hezb-i Islami party. Khurram, a confederate of Hezb-i Islami warlord extraordinaire and former Afghan prime minister, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has earned a reputation for being bloody-minded when it comes to dealings with Americans.
But it is not entirely clear that this time around his interest aligns with Karzai's. Where Karzai is looking to insulate himself from the inevitable blowback that will occur once his principal backers in Washington reduce their investment in the Karzai brand come 2014, those allied with hardcore conservatives like Hekmatyar are looking to blow the whole game up. Amid all the drama this week over the BSA, Hekmatyar went so far as to write a letter to Karzai, threatening to rescind the informal ceasefires that have been in place for the last year or so if Karzai signs the deal. Hekmatyar knows as well as any other of the irreconcilables, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, that a sustained U.S. presence in Afghanistan means there is no coming home for them anytime soon. From where Karzai is sitting, these facts considerably increase his bargaining power with Hezb-i Islami and the Taliban.
So is there any "getting to yes" with Karzai on signing the security deal? Probably, but it's not certain that "yes" will mean much. History suggests that the deal the Obama administration cuts with Karzai today may not necessarily hold with his succesors tomorrow. Under the current political dispensation, it is unlikely that the Afghan government will be both willing and able to deliver any time soon on a strategy that calls for the country's beleaguered security forces to secure its borders and contain the insurgency. Although the Afghan National Security Forces have shown marked improvement, they have sustained heavy casualties in the face of the continued resurgence of the Taliban. They also have been heavily impacted by a spike in political factionalism within the upper echelons of the security sector.
Proposals to extend the U.S. military presence beyond 2014 additionally present a troublesome paradox: as long as U.S. forces remain, so too must the parallel legal infrastructure that has grown up around aggressive U.S. counterterrorism operations that have become anathema to many Afghans. The lack of trust between U.S. and Afghan partners over civilian casualties and night raids does not improve prospects much. The continued threat of insider attacks will also place an undue burden on U.S. military leaders to maintain unrealistic force protection measures regardless of whether Western force levels are at 10,000 or 1,000 after 2014. The latter point is all the more salient given Pakistan's apparent unwillingness to abandon its support for the Afghan insurgency. Any expectations that U.S. strategy in the region will profit greatly from a further investment of military assistance should be lowered accordingly.
Washington's post-2014 options are deeply constrained by these rather bitter facts, but it doesn't mean that the "zero option" is the only option. An investment in Afghanistan's stability needs to be an investment in the Afghan people, first and foremost. This means focusing hard on supporting a fair election process, ensuring that the economy remains stable, that rule of law and education programming continues to receive international support, and that women's rights and better health care remain high on the international aid agenda. Washington also needs to focus more on arriving at a political settlement that will hold. Boots on the ground, even in limited numbers, may be an important part of that signaling strategy in the short-term. But if the fraught political gamesmanship that has marked Karzai's tenure isn't brought under control within the next few months, it will be hard to ignore the unruly guest at the dinner table for much longer. The White House should send a strong signal to that it is still serious about a strategy that envisions an Afghanistan that can eventually stand on its own. A post-2014 U.S. strategy that maintains the status quo of insecurity and instability is hardly worth betting 10,000 American lives on and risks seeing the country held hostage to the caprices of ambivalent Afghan leaders for yet another decade.
If the short-term goal is to keep some troops in theater, then the long-term goal must be to leverage continued American assistance to influence the course of a negotiated political settlement that engages both armed and unarmed factions in the Afghan opposition, and to resolve longstanding frictions with Pakistan over military incursions and trade disputes across the Durand line, the disputed border between the two countries. This may mean that Washington and the rest of the international community will have to get creative in seeking solutions to current and future impasses over a continued Western presence in Afghanistan. Throwing money and military resources willy-nilly at the problem of widespread political disenfranchisement in Afghanistan will not bring greater security to the country or its region.
Instead of simply ignoring Karzai, there are a few ways that Washington can signal its seriousness about a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan. The first would be to publicly back the appointment of a U.N. special envoy and negotiating team to facilitate a regional settlement. A second way would be for the United States to engage regional powers, like China, India, Iran, Russia, and Central Asian states, on the possibility of encouraging Pakistan and Afghanistan to agree to refer the bloody, costly, and divisive dispute over the Durand line to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. The sooner Washington and its international partners acknowledge the longstanding hostilities between the two countries as the center of gravity in a conflict, the better. Shifting the focus from boots on the ground to building momentum for a negotiated settlement may also mean taking more practical steps to resolve the status of high-level detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in the near term, as Karzai has repeatedly suggested. All of these recommendations may seem distasteful to a war-weary White House fed up with Karzai's antics. But the sooner the Obama administration acknowledges that the conflict in Afghanistan is desperately in need of a negotiated end, the less need there will be to bet billions on propping up compulsive gamblers in Kabul.
Candace Rondeaux is a non-resident research fellow at the Center on National Security at Fordham University Law School. She lived in Kabul from 2008 to 2013, working first as the South Asia bureau chief for the Washington Post, and most recently as the senior analyst in Afghanistan for the International Crisis Group. She is writing a political history of the Afghan security forces and is currently undertaking a mid-career masters at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
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Like many other regular readers of Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, I was surprised by the announcement that it is to be rebranded as the South Asia Channel. But while my friend Ziad Haider received a quantum of solace from ‘AfPak' losing its conceptual toehold in Washington, I had instinctive misgivings about the adoption of ‘South Asia.' What exactly does that phrase connote today? Is the term in any way useful? Or is it so poorly defined -- culturally, politically, geographically, and bureaucratically -- as to make it problematic in its own way? In fact, beyond one rather ineffectual international organization and a handful of sporting events, does ‘South Asia' even exist?
South Asia -- as any sort of single entity -- was not really worthy of Washington's attention until the 1990s. India and Pakistan did feature in American strategic calculations beginning with their independence in 1947, but usually in the context of U.S. policy toward China or the Soviet Union, which often determined American responses to the region's political developments. All of that changed when India, and then Pakistan, conducted nuclear tests in 1998. The handful of South Asianists from academia and the diplomatic world -- and there weren't many Americans who could lay claim to that label -- were suddenly in high demand by the U.S. government and think tanks to address a narrow set of American priorities: nuclear proliferation, India-Pakistan tensions, and the Kashmir dispute.
The region assumed further importance with the 1999 Kargil War, by which time India and Pakistan were effectively "hyphenated," treated as inextricably intertwined and perennially in competition with one another. As a result, other countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. -- were often ignored; issues related to national economies and domestic political dynamics remained poorly understood; and the broader regional strategic context -- such as the role of China -- was often overlooked.
An important shift began with the 9/11 attacks, which was around the same time that Washington belatedly recognized the prospect of India's economic and political emergence on a wider Asian canvas. India, largely on the strength of its burgeoning economy, began to be incorporated into the institutional and commercial structures of East Asia, such as the ASEAN-led regional groupings, and a new term eventually began to make the rounds in strategic circles: the Indo-Pacific. But while India is now considered an unequivocal part of ‘Asia,' the other states traditionally constituting South Asia are not necessarily granted that same privilege. Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, are often seen as part of the Greater Middle East, a somewhat arbitrary shorthand, it would appear, for the Muslim world west of India.
Which brings us back to what precisely defines South Asia. Is it geography? The Indian Plate excludes all of Afghanistan and much of Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan, and includes the Irrawaddy basin. Religion? Not when India and Nepal are majority Hindu, Sri Lanka and Bhutan majority Buddhist, and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and the Maldives majority Muslim. The legacy of British colonial influence? Maybe, but where then does that leave Myanmar? Ethnicity and language are similarly limiting. Pakistani and north Indian languages are more akin to Persian than to the Dravidian tongues of southern India, while it would be a stretch to draw ethnic links between the Manipuri, Baloch, and Sinhalese peoples. How about the footprint of Brahmanic culture and Sanskrit? That, as historians have noted, would mean encompassing much of Central and Southeast Asia.
It should be no surprise that conceptual confusion manifests itself in U.S. bureaucratic structures. The U.S. State Department has a South and Central Asia bureau. The armed forces, however, deal with Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of U.S. Central Command, with India and the rest of the region falling to U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii. Meanwhile, the Office of the Secretary of Defense groups Afghanistan and Pakistan in with Central Asia and considers India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka under the rubric of South and Southeast Asia.
While a confusing construct, the term ‘South Asia' persevered in America's strategic consciousness, despite the inevitable dehyphenation of India and Pakistan. Among non-specialists in the counterinsurgency era, it was often used as a casual and more politically-correct synonym for AfPak, marginalizing not just India, but also Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, all important countries in their own rights. I recall reviewing the syllabus of a graduate studies course on South Asia at a major American university two years ago, and you could have been forgiven for thinking that the India-Pakistan border constituted South Asia's eastern frontier.
A real concern is that a conceptual resurgence of ‘South Asia' -- especially as an outgrowth of ‘AfPak' -- could be accompanied by the conscious or subconscious rehyphenation of India and Pakistan, and the prolonged side-lining of other states in the region. As the anonymous genius behind the Twitter handle @majorlyp has caustically written:
Indians are Indians and Pakistanis when caught in tight situations (like in Airports) are Indians too. In other circumstances they are South Asians. Being "South Asian" offers many advantages. Such as an overwhelming numerical advantage.
Example: When faced with the question "Is radicalization a problem"? South Asians can reply with a straight face "Only 170 million, or less than 10% of the South Asians are radicalized". Which sounds entirely reasonable.
The author writes in somewhat cruel jest, of course, but like the best parody, there is more than a grain of uncomfortable truth in what he says. Will U.S. discourse related to South Asia come to be dominated by the problems of terrorism, Islamist extremism, nuclear proliferation, and anti-Americanism at the expense of the incredible opportunities and challenges associated with dynamic economic growth, raucous democracy, immense social and cultural diversity, and broad support for a U.S.-led international system? Let's hope not.
Dhruva Jaishankar is a transatlantic fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @d_jaishankar.
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As I scrolled through my Inbox earlier this week for my daily news clippings from this blog, something seemed amiss. Instead of "AfPak Channel," the header read "South Asia Channel." An error I presumed. Scrolling down further, however, I realized the error was mine: "Next Monday, November 25, the AfPak Channel will be relaunched as the South Asia Channel" with the addition of "key stories and insights from India."
The notification got me thinking about the twists and turns in Washington's conception of South Asia over the past decade. Somewhere along the way "AfPak" had appeared. Due to the distortions it produced, the phrase has for some time now been winding its way into retirement. The 2014 drawdown in Afghanistan will give it the final push. AfPak will no doubt have plenty of company with "hearts and minds" and countless other pithy friends in Washington's little known Archives for Foreign Affairs Shorthands of Fleeting Value. Can't say I'll miss it.
I came to Washington ten years ago to work as an analyst in the Henry L. Stimson Center's South Asia program. Having grown up in Pakistan, I had actually never uttered the phrase "South Asia." The region to me was a simple, if tormented, duality: Pakistan and India. I discovered that in Washington, South Asia meant the same two players, and the issues boiled down to Kashmir, militancy, military, and nuclear issues. Afghanistan was relegated to its own war-torn limbo.
At the time, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf and Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, were talking about peace between the two countries. Both have since fallen silent, with the former facing treason charges; between India's upcoming elections and Pakistan's unending turmoil, peace commands little attention in Delhi and Islamabad today. The United States was two years into the war in Afghanistan, yet the lens on South Asia was varied. Afghanistan was a policy imperative, but so was managing the Indo-Pak rivalry and the risk of nuclear escalation.
Those working on South Asia in Washington seemed to fall into two camps. The South Asia wallahs had spent decades working in and on the region, often with formal academic training. The Cold Warriors sought to apply lessons from a superpower rivalry to a relatively nascent nuclear dynamic on the subcontinent. They reflected the fluidity of functional analysts within the strategic community -- crossing boundaries while the regionalists remained in their lanes.
Soon enough, a new crop of functional analysts crossed over. They anchored their world views on a different issue: counterterrorism. Thereafter came "AfPak." The phrase traces back to the first year of the Obama administration and the tenure of the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), Richard Holbrooke. A region that was once viewed as India-Pakistan, with Afghanistan on the margins, gave way to India on one hand and Afghanistan-Pakistan on the other.
With the change, India got its wish to be "de-hyphenated" from Pakistan. The Bush administration keenly helped facilitate this shift via a civil nuclear deal, in light of India's perceived strategic import in Asia. Meanwhile, AfPak eventually flipped to "PakAf" given deepening concerns about the various militant groups that were "veritable" arms of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and the safety of its nuclear arsenal.
To be sure, AfPak helped focus attention on the war in Afghanistan after a misguided invasion in Iraq. It framed the theatre and the operational challenge posed by "safe havens" in Pakistan. Though Holbrooke espoused a wider view within its confines on forging a broader partnership with Pakistan that extended beyond kinetic issues, the diplomatic piece was and remains fluid, messy, and hard. As the war wore on, patience and imagination dried up. AfPak became shorthand for CT (counterterrorism) -- far too constricted a prism for the colors and complexities of the region.
The Obama administration eventually recognized the limits of the AfPak moniker itself; Islamabad made sure of it. Like Delhi, it had its own gripes about being lumped with its neighbor. Little wonder then that regional integration in South Asia is among the lowest in the world. Yet even as the phrase largely vanished from official public statements, it continued to periodically surface and, importantly, cast a shadow in Washington -- until now.
As the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan winds down by the end of 2014, AfPak is undergoing its own retrograde. The office that embodies the term, SRAP, will need to assess not whether but how and when to reintegrate within the U.S. State Department's Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs.
Think tanks in Washington are also rebooting their South Asia programs. Some are doing so in the pre-AfPak mold, others with variation. The Brookings Institution, for example, now has a stand-alone India program, focusing on politics and economics, as much as foreign policy -- kaleidoscope eyes on a potential Asian power. Along with and related to the shifting geopolitical winds are the interests of funders who share Washington's AfPak fatigue. Their weariness, however, cannot match that in the region whose "troubles" (to borrow from Northern Ireland) are likely to rage on.
Newer shorthands such as the "rebalance" or "pivot" to Asia have also provided a new prism with which to look on South Asia. A fresh crop of scholarship has arisen on how South Asia relates to the Asia-Pacific region, from the "Indo-Pacific" concept to Pakistan's role in the rebalance -- welcome efforts to think beyond traditional silos in an interconnected Asia.
The periodic reimagination of South Asia in Washington is as inevitable as it is easy to miss. We are in such a transition right now. So come next Monday, when the "South Asia Channel" pops up my Inbox, I will be fumbling a bit to figure out how all the pieces fit. So might you.
Ziad Haider is the Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at @Asia_Hand. The views expressed are his own.
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Hope. It's certainly not the first word that comes to mind when contemplating present-day Pakistan. This is, after all, a nation convulsed by terrorism, corruption, poverty, natural resource shortages, economic distress, public health crises, and educational failures.
In recent years, when faced with these immense challenges, Islamabad has dithered. Ultimately, it's offered more shrugs than solutions. Take, for instance, Pakistan's new president, Mamnoon Hussain. In a speech on October 20, he admitted that the country "is in such a bad state that it cannot get any worse." Not really inspiring, is it?
It's especially hard to muster any hope that Pakistan's spiraling sectarian strife -- which killed more than twice as many people last year as it did in 2011 -- will end anytime soon. Pakistani public opinion demonstrates considerable support for the underlying views of sectarian militants (in recent polls, 41 percent and 60 percent, respectively, said Shi'as and Ahmadis aren't Muslims), even if not for the violent means used to express them. Additionally, sectarianism is institutionalized in Pakistan; its second constitutional amendment explicitly brands Ahmadis as non-Muslims (Ahmadis are members of a minority Muslim sect that many Pakistanis regard as heretics for believing there was a prophet after Muhammad). Pakistan has few laws that protect religious minorities, and it rarely arrests, much less prosecutes, perpetrators of sectarian violence.
In effect, deep fractures are steadily gnawing away at Pakistan's social fabric -- and could one day pose an existential threat to the state. If left unaddressed, these violently demarcated cleavages could trigger a Balkanization of sorts.
Yet here is where the narrative changes. The heroic feats of three Pakistanis -- virtual unknowns outside their country -- give reason to believe that such a descent isn't necessarily inevitable. These are Pakistanis who not only deplore sectarianism, but have also taken dramatic steps to combat it (one of them lost his life for his efforts). Most critically, their countrymen have supported them.
On the outskirts of Islamabad stands an extraordinary structure: Pakistan's first sect-free mosque. Zahid Iqbal is the businessman behind it. "We don't belong with any sect of Islam," he told the Associated Press this summer. "We only belong to Islam."
The mosque's main prayer hall can accommodate 350 people. It also holds an inter-sect religious library, and will soon open a women's section. A welcoming sign proclaims a message of tolerance: "This mosque does not discriminate between any sects and welcomes all Muslims."
Iqbal has dispatched mosque officials to other mosques, where they preach messages of tolerance and unity. He told me that he eventually plans to establish branches of the mosque elsewhere in Pakistan. "To me, Islam means Mercy, that is to do good to others," he said in an email. "So, through this mosque I am trying to live up to this message of Islam."
In early October, soon after more than 100 Christians were killed in an attack on their church in Peshawar, Christians and Muslims formed human chains around churches in several major Pakistani cities. Participants included muftis, Christian clergy, women, and children, and they displayed banners that proclaimed: "One Nation, One Blood."
This campaign was led by Jibran Nasir, a Pakistani lawyer and activist who works for an organization called Pakistan for All. "The terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays," he declared at an event in Lahore. "Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite." The intention, he told me, is "to send out a message that every house of God whether a church, temple or synagogue is as sacred as a mosque and hence protection of these places of worship is the responsibility of every Muslim." He says he was inspired by the human chains formed by Muslims to protect Coptic Christians praying in Egypt, another nation where religious minorities are often persecuted and attacked.
Nasir, who has also organized assistance for Shi'a victims of sectarian attacks, recently ran as an independent for a National Assembly seat representing Karachi. In official campaign videos and media interviews, he constantly condemned sectarianism. He also campaigned for Ahmadi rights -- a nearly unfathomable cause for Pakistani politicians to take up. Ultimately, he wasn't elected, but he vows to run again.
Last August, extremists boarded a bus in Balochistan and killed more than a dozen Shi'as. They also gunned down Ghulam Mustafa, a Sunni passenger who dared to confront them. "Why are you doing this?" the 19-year-old student reportedly said to the gunmen. "Why do you want to kill these people? Islam doesn't allow the killing of innocent people." Shortly thereafter, Mustafa was led to the side of the road and executed alongside the Shi'a bus riders.
While these three young men have fought sectarianism directly, they have also had supporting casts -- the staff that run Iqbal's mosque and guide its worshipers; the participants in Nasir's human chain campaign; and several other Sunni bus riders who, like Mustafa, refused to identify Shi'a passengers (according to one media account, two other Sunnis died along with Mustafa).
Such support extends across Pakistan more broadly as well. Iqbal told me that his mosque has not received a single threat, and that the overall response has been "encouraging and supportive." Meanwhile, Nasir told me that his advocacy has generated ample support from numerous religious scholars. He has also revealed that three major political parties invited him to join their ranks -- and continued to offer advice and support even after he declined.
Clearly, sectarian tolerance has a constituency in Pakistan. To be sure, it's a relatively small constituency, but it is one worth highlighting. Pakistan is burdened by such acute privation that many suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The most desperate have set themselves on fire and hurled themselves in front of oncoming trains. Others redress grievances by resorting to violence. The efforts of Iqbal, Nasir, and Mustafa represent a very different type of response to the country's hardships -- yet it is one that shouldn't come as a surprise to even the most casual observer of Pakistani society.
This is because Pakistanis are famously resilient. Communities devastated by catastrophic natural disasters immediately stage fundraising drives for the displaced; doctors threatened with bodily harm by their own patients steadfastly return to work at overcrowded hospitals; and households weather electricity shortages by fashioning crude energy-generating devices from discarded appliances.
In recent months, commentators have suggested that Pakistanis are becoming even more resourceful and entrepreneurial -- just as they point to how civil society is growing more vibrant, private media more pugnacious, and courts more assertive. Additionally, decentralization reforms are devolving power long hogged by the political center and military -- hastening the country's democratization.
In effect, the heroic efforts of Iqbal, Nasir, and the late Mustafa reflect a broader phenomenon sweeping Pakistan -- one of incremental change for the better across society and politics.
Despite such progress, Pakistan's global image remains ugly -- even as it has been somewhat softened in recent months by the likes of education advocate Malala Yousafzai and Oscar-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. That's a pity, and it obscures a powerful message: There's still hope for Pakistan, angry warts and all.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
ASIF HASSAN/AFP/Getty Images
Two months ago, Pakistan's political parties, with support from the powerful military, unanimously passed a resolution to conduct peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). While the new federal government proposed the idea of dialogue with the militant group, the state continues to face the wrath of the insurgency in the form of targeted killings, suicide bombings, and other violent incidents. Following the recent death of Hakimullah Mehsud, the former TTP leader, in a U.S. drone strike, many within Pakistan are expecting strong retaliation from the group and security has been beefed up throughout the country.
Outraged by the drone strike, Pakistan's Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, has called for a review of U.S.-Pakistan relations, stating: "This is not the killing of one person, it is the death of all peace efforts." Ejaz Haider, the editor for national security affairs at a private Pakistani television channel, argues that this reaction is expected, arguing:
The government has made clear its opposition to drone strikes. However, it can't cherry pick which strikes are good and which are bad. The government had convened the APC [All Party Conference] and initiated talks with the TTP so the outrage is apropos of the timing of the strikes and the fact that it took out the chief of the TTP. This is the real issue at hand. Now even if the talks happen, there will a ramped up effort by the new chief of the TTP to prove his mettle, avenge the killing of Mehsud and mount more attacks.
Fulfilling this prediction, the TTP recently elected a new chief, the hardline commander Mullah Fazlullah, who is notoriously known as Mullah Radio for broadcasting sermons against polio vaccinations and girls' education, as well as demanding a strict enforcement of shari'a law in Swat. Fazlullah also ordered the attack on Malala Yousafzai last October.
With Fazlullah's appointment, the TTP has rejected any prospect of peace talks. Shahidullah Shahid, a Taliban spokesman, stated: "There will be no more talks as Mullah Fazlullah is already against negotiations with the Pakistani government." According to him, the Taliban view the peace talks as a U.S-Pakistan deal to sell out Taliban fighters and as nothing more than another "political stunt."
In response to Mehsud's killing and the Taliban's rejection of talks, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to shelve the reconciliation effort until U.S drone strikes in the country are halted. Given Fazlullah's brazen threats to the Pakistani military, it is expected that the establishment will back Sharif's decision. But Taliban threats against the military are not a new phenomenon, and militant attacks have been on the rise since Sharif assumed power in May this year.
Following the initial talks at the APC on September 9, a number of major attacks took place, bringing to light the futility of the government's decision to negotiate. On September 15, a roadside bomb claimed the lives of Maj Gen Sanaullah Khan Niazi and two other officers. Two weeks later, a bomb placed inside a van carrying 40 Civil Secretariat employees in Peshawar exploded, killing 19 people and injuring 44 others. The TTP proudly claimed responsibility for both attacks.
But the most horrific incident since the APC was the suicide blast outside the All Saints Church in Peshawar on September 22 that took the lives of 85 people and injured 120, the majority of whom were women and children. The Jundallah Group, a faction of the Taliban, readily claimed responsibility for the incident. However, the TTP later issued a statement painstakingly denying their direct involvement but affirming that the attack was in accordance with shari'a law.
While the attack was one of the largest on Pakistan's Christian minority group, it was not the first time it had been targeted by the TTP and its allies, nor is it the first time militants have targeted a place of worship. On August 8, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives outside a mosque in Quetta during funeral prayers for a policeman who had been killed the day before. Thirty people, mostly policemen, were killed and 62 were wounded.
Events such as this, along with the killing of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Law Minister Israrullah Gandapur, have shifted public opinion, specifically in Pakistan's northwest region. Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party and perhaps the strongest proponent of peace talks, has been publicly called a ‘Taliban apologist," while policy analysts have criticized his dangerously simplistic and naive understanding of critical security issues. Though he remains a key player in Pakistani politics, Khan's apologetic defense and conspiratorial stance of linking the growing militancy in Pakistan solely to the American intervention in Afghanistan or CIA drone strikes in the region, has dealt a strong blow to the PTI's support base.
A history of peace talks and negotiations
For now it seems that the Pakistani government has decided to postpone the peace talks as it reviews its overall counterterrorism strategy. The problems with conducting such reconciliation talks are manifold and the Sharif government would be wise to address their shortcomings.
First of all, a dialogue or negotiation is conducted between two equal parties that come to the table with a readiness to compromise and a list of terms on which to negotiate. The militants' escalation of violence so soon after the government proposed the talks seems to indicate that they have no interest in pursuing such an offer. With the recent election of Fazlullah, a strong opponent of negotiations, peace talks seem even less likely. Furthermore, the TTP lacks a central command structure; instead it is comprised of a number of different factions that operate under one umbrella group, bound by its hostility towards Islamabad. So the real question is, to whom should the state be talking?
Second, the government should, as a pre-requisite, demand a ceasefire from the militants before it begins any negotiations. That said, Pakistan has entered into a number of previous negotiations, both written and verbal, with the militants, only to see those peace agreements be violated constantly.
In April 2004, for example, after launching an ineffective military operation to pressure Pashtun military leader Nek Mohammad to cease his support for foreign militants, the Pakistani government signed the first of three peace agreements in North and South Waziristan. Despite the agreement, Mohammad refused to surrender foreign militants, and attacks on government supporters and security forces continued.
Then, in February 2005, the government signed the Sararogha Accord with leading militant and future TTP leader, Baitullah Mehsud, which stated that the Pakistan military would compensate militants for any damage the soldiers had caused and that, in return, the militants would stop attacking Pakistani targets. However, the accord was quickly broken. A ceasefire was again announced in May 2006, but the infamous "North Waziristan Agreement" that was signed in September that year allowed the existing militant groups to expand and reorganize.
In May 2008, the Pakistani government signed a peace accord with Fazlullah himself. The terms required Fazlullah to support the government's efforts to establish law and order in the area and to denounce terrorist activities. In return, the government dropped its criminal charges against him. However, his militant Swat Taliban faction violated the agreement by attacking security forces and strictly enforcing shari'a law. The subsequent breakdown of the peace accord led to the Rah-e-Haq military operation in Swat, where the Pakistan army largely emerged successful.
But despite that success, throughout 2008, Taliban militants re-entered Swat and engaged in battles with security forces. By 2009, the TTP had regained control of 80 percent of the area. Pakistan's security forces ended their subsequent offensives when the provincial government signed the Swat Agreement with Fazlullah and released Taliban leaders in exchange for the group halting its attacks on the military.
In April 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari's government signed an ordinance, dubbed the Nizam-e-Adl (System of Justice), allowing the implementation of shari'a law in Malakand, in return for halting violence. With the armed forces effectively abandoning the area, the TTP was granted de facto control over the area, interpreting the ordinance as a formal acquiescence by the Pakistani government to their ruthless rule. However, within days, the Swat Taliban tried to expand their control to the neighboring district of Buner, and violence against civilians and the military spiked. Emboldened by the government's policy of appeasement, the Taliban occupied the Swat district's largest city, Mingora, in May 2009, and advanced up to 60 miles away from Islamabad. This advancement prompted a strong military operation that ended with the Pakistani Army regaining control of Mingora, forcing Fazlullah to flee from the Swat Valley, and capturing or killing a number of Taliban commanders. Though the situation in the area remains precarious four years later, many claim it is far better than its darkest days.
Ejaz Haider argues that: "The notion that the state has never talked is factually incorrect. There have been a number of major and local agreements, some of which have failed and some that are ongoing. The issue of talking is not a wrong policy. The real issue is whether the state is sending signals of strength or weakness. With the APC, it seems to be the latter."
Third, and perhaps most troubling, is the fact that a militant group which rejects the Pakistani constitution, ruthlessly murders innocent civilians, and brazenly targets Pakistan's security forces is dictating the terms of the peace process. Zahid Hussain, author of The Scorpion's Tail: The Relentless Rise of Islamic Militants in Pakistan, warns that "the Taliban terms are very clear. They have dictated exactly what they want. The unconditional talks are a bad idea. A move such as this dangerously legitimizes militancy and terrorism," thus providing more room for the Taliban to exploit any peace negotiation.
A jeopardized peace process
Policy analysts have begun criticizing the government's halt of the peace talks in reaction to Mehsud's death, arguing that if that if the violence was a determining factor, they should also have been halted when Niazi was killed or when countless innocent Pakistanis were butchered at the hands of the TTP.
Since 2003, close to 17,911 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorism-related violence. While Khan claims that the war in which Pakistan currently finds itself embroiled is "America's war," the truth is that escalating attacks against minority groups and innocent civilians on military bases, near places of worship, and in crowded urban areas have transformed it into Pakistan's war; one which must be fought against a breed of elusive and ruthless militants.
And this militancy is no longer confined to Pakistan's tribal areas, to be dealt with solely by Pakistan's military forces. The war has permeated Pakistan's villages, towns, urban centers, and mindsets. Haider notes: "In urban centers, police forces, along with specialized counterterrorism police units, are required to address mounting terrorist attacks. However, the state has had a stunted response to militancy. The state wants to talk, thinking it can achieve desired results where fighting has not been successful. That is incorrect."
Truly fighting this militancy requires not only army action, but also comprehensive political will. While the Taliban has remained clear, consistent, and adamant in their demands, the government has failed to create a consistent and unified political discourse against terrorism that counters the powerful militant narrative. Some analysts claim that Pakistani authorities are only too aware of how imperative a stable Afghanistan is to Pakistan's future. By brokering a peace deal with the TTP beforehand, Pakistan may be able to prevent any internal security distractions as it focuses on a post-2014 Afghanistan. Hussain argues that: "Ambivalence has made the government weak. The state has failed to take a decision. The Taliban, on the other hand, are buying time and regaining lost ground," yet all the while tightening the noose around the Pakistani leadership.
As has been seen in the past, despite the government entering into a number of peace agreements with and conducting a handful of military operations against the militants, conducting a reconciliation dialogue from a position of weakness has strengthened the TTP and allowed it to challenge the state. The sad reality of the entire exercise is that the TTP will not lose much if the talks don't take place. The Pakistani state, on the other hand, has already put too much at stake.
Arsla Jawaid is a journalist and Associate Editor of the monthly foreign policy magazine, SouthAsia. She holds a bachelor's degree in International Relations, with a focus on foreign policy and security studies, from Boston University and can be followed on Twitter @arslajawaid.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Waziristan-based Pakistani Taliban, also known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), picked Mullah Fazlullah, nicknamed "Mullah FM Radio," as their new chief on Thursday. Once known for his two-year reign of terror in Pakistan's tourist resort of Swat, Fazlullah is stepping into the shoes of Hakimullah Mehsud, another dreaded TTP chief who was killed in a CIA drone strike in North Waziristan on November 2.
As the newly-elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif struggles to launch peace talks with the TTP, a number of Pakistani analysts believe that any hope of reconciliation is now dead.
"The appointment of Fazlullah as head of the TTP means the chapter of talks is closed for the time being," said Sen. Haji Muhammad Adeel, a top leader for the secular Awami National Party. Talking to this writer on Thursday, hours after Fazlullah's leadership was announced, Adeel said the Pakistani army would also be averse to talks since Fazlullah was behind the attack that killed Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi, a top military officer, in September.
From Fazle Hayat to TTP chief
Fazle Hayat, as Fazlullah was originally known, was a common village boy who joined the religious seminary of a Malakand-based cleric, Sufi Muhammad, and later married one of Muhammad's daughters. He was impressed when his mentor and father-in-law launched the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) in the early nineties, but his first fighting experience began when Muhammad led a lashkar of thousands of volunteers from Malakand, as well as the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal districts, to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban against NATO and U.S. forces in October 2001.
Muhammad's arrest by Pakistani security agencies in late 2001 upon his return from Afghanistan left a vacuum in Swat's militant movement. But his son-in-law, who had himself spent about 17 months in a Pakistani jail, came forward to fill the void and started preaching at a small mosque in the Swati town of Mam Dheri, which he later renamed "Imam Dheri" to add a more Islamic touch.
Born in 1974 or 1975 to a simple farming family in Mam Dheri near Fizza Ghat area of Swat, Hayat changed his name to Fazlullah in the 1990s to bolster his credentials as an Islamic leader, even though he had failed to receive full credentials from any religious institution.
Once an employee at a ski lift in Fizza Ghat, he used to say that he was not a religious scholar, but that did not stop him from advocating for the imposition of shari'a law in Swat.
Though Fazlullah initially taught the Koran to children at his Mam Dheri mosque, his preaching tone changed from sermons to threats after he launched his unauthorized FM radio channel in 2004. People started supporting him with men and material as he earned the nickname "Maulana Radio." Though he addressed the people of Swat very generally at first, he soon gained supporters among the conservative Pashtuns of the area, as well as erstwhile supporters of the jailed Muhammad and Pakistanis working abroad in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, whose families back in the country relayed Fazlullah's messages.
While encouraging his listeners to pray five times a day and avoid sins, Fazlullah also preached anti-Americanism, focusing on the U.S. forces fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. As his audience grew, he started discouraging parents from sending their girls to schools and spoke out against watching television or listening to music. In November 2005, after he criticized the "evil of television," some local Swatis responded by setting fire to thousands of TV sets.
According to Fazlullah himself, he burned television sets, video equipment, computers, and digital cameras worth 20 million rupees (approximately $32,000) because "these are the main sources of sin." He added: "Now we have no other option but to re-organize our movement and work for a society purged of all types of evils including music, dancing and drinking alcohol." In September 2007, Fazlullah's supporters also tried to destroy the centuries-old statues of Buddha and prehistoric rock carvings in the Swat Valley on the grounds that they were un-Islamic.
Fazlullah's fiery speeches carried an appeal for virtually everyone, from household women and laborers to landowners. They came forward in large numbers to donate goods such as wheat flour, cooking oil, and sugar, as well as cement and bricks for construction work. But despite the Swatis' initial support for Fazlullah, his movement began to lose popularity. His armed brigades patrolled marketplaces across the valley, intimidating locals into keeping their daughters home from school and beheading local opponents. But the general population was unable to resist publicly, because by late 2007, Fazlullah had gained too much power.
Fighting and agreements
During his 2007-2009 reign in Swat, the Pakistani government signed two peace agreements with Fazlullah, both of which ended in a military operation and further escalation of violence.
The first peace agreement was signed on May 21, 2008, and the Swat Taliban said they would not challenge the writ of the state in exchange for the release of Taliban prisoners and the implementation of the shari'a system. The agreement, however, only lasted for a little more than a month when Fazlullah demanded the government withdraw army troops from Swat. Soon after, the Taliban launched attacks on the army and police, and the government launched Operation Rah-e-Haq (Just Path) in June 2008.
In February 2009, the Fazlullah-led Taliban and the government of Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province signed another peace agreement. Like the previous agreement, this one lasted for just a few months and the Pakistani government had to order a massive operation, Rah-e-Raast (Right Path), in May 2009.
After the operation, the Taliban vacated Swat and Fazlullah fled from the area, taking refuge across the border in Afghanistan. Several of his close associates were killed during the operation, while several others were captured -- some of which, like his spokesman Muslim Khan, are still believed to be in the custody of the Pakistani security agencies.
Since 2009, the 39-year-old Fazlullah has been hiding in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan and orchestrating attacks in Pakistan from across the border. Prominent among those attacks are the shooting of Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai in October 2012, and the bomb blast that killed Niazi.
While some in the Pakistani government still hope the Taliban will agree to carry forward the peace process, Adeel, whose party held extensive negotiations with Fazlullah in 2008 and 2009, says "the chapter is closed, at least for the coming few months, if not years, after the appointment of Fazlullah as the TTP head."
While Fazlullah is regarded as a hardliner, it took at least seven days and a lot of maneuvering for the Taliban shura council members to choose their new leader and operational head. Though his appointment was not unexpected, analysts and locals from Waziristan, the Taliban's stronghold, believe his status as a non-Mehsud TTP leader and his living across the border in Afghanistan will neutralize his strategic skills, vast fighting experience and oratory, and that some Mehsud Taliban leader could challenge him and cause cracks in the umbrella organization in the future.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. He has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has written for the Christian Science Monitor and London Sunday Times.
The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
The recent killing of Hakimullah Mehsud, the notorious leader of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), in a U.S. drone strike has not only put the newly-elected Pakistani government in a difficult position, it has also presented the militant group with a serious leadership crisis that may culminate in wider rifts, fragmentation, and even armed confrontations if it persists for a long time.
Looking at the reign of terror let loose by the ruthless TTP fighters under Mehsud's command, both in Pakistan's tribal areas and the country's cities, there is every reason to celebrate his death. However, the reaction from the Pakistani ruling and opposition political parties have converted him from a dreaded villain, whose daring attacks on Pakistani civilians and government installations forced state authorities to place a 50m-rupee ($470,000) bounty on his head, to a hero.
In an emotional press conference on November 2, Pakistan's Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, announced that "this is not just the killing of one person, it is the death of all peace efforts." While this may seem like hyperbole to some, Khan has to avert the wrath of the Taliban, as well as snatch the opportunity away from his government's key rival, Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, who has threatened to block the NATO supply route through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where his party controls the government.
Since the May 2013 election, the PTI has emerged as the third biggest party in Pakistan's parliament and Khan himself is a staunch opponent of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the covert CIA drone program that targets wanted al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. Although public opinion over Mehsud's death is widely divided, Sharif has had to condemn the U.S. strike, even though it killed a wanted terrorist, lest his opponents -- like Khan and Monawar Hassan, leader of the anti-U.S. Jamiat-e-Islami party -- accuse him of being complicit.
In September, under pressure from the opposition, the government convened an All Parties Conference and continued appealing to the Taliban to begin peace talks, despite the latter's ruthless attacks on civilians and military personnel, which include the killing of a two-star general and a double suicide attack on a church in Peshawar.
The second, and somewhat more important, factor behind the Pakistani government's angry reaction to Mehsud's death is the fear of revenge attacks by the TTP. Silence, let alone a hint of satisfaction on part of the government, could provide enough ground for Taliban suicide bombers and target killers to chase government ministers, just as they did with the Awami National Party and Pakistan People's Party during this year's election campaign. (The two parties had ordered military operations against the TTP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and South Waziristan in 2009.)
In discussing the Pakistani reactions to the killings of Osama bin Laden in 2011 and Mehsud last week, local columnist and commentator Ayaz Amir said: "When Osama bin Ladin [sic] was killed the army went into mourning, citing breach of national sovereignty. Hakeemullah [sic] Mehsud's killing has plunged much of the political class into mourning." As there has been no serious reaction to the November 1 drone strike from Pakistan's military, the silence is being seen as consent on the part of Pakistan's security establishment.
Apart from the unnecessary hysteria about the release of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and an end to U.S. drone strikes, which was mostly for public consumption, Sharif's October visit to Washington was quite successful, particularly on the economic and social fronts, military-to-military relations, and Pakistani concerns about the post-2014 Afghanistan. But the November 1 drone strike and the political considerations Sharif faces at home present the Pakistani government with a dilemma.
Being a close U.S. and NATO ally, Sharif can't raise the issue of the killing of a declared terrorist via diplomatic channels. But Pakistan can't welcome Mehsud's death either, lest that invite the wrath of the TTP and provide an excuse for opposition groups to take to the streets. However, those in Sharif's close circles believe that, despite the rhetoric of his interior minister and angry speeches in the Pakistani parliament, the prime minister is still supportive of close ties with the United States.
Testing time for the TTP
If the killing of TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud in a U.S. drone strike on August 5, 2009 was the first serious blow to this loose network of a dozen-plus militant outfits, Hakimullah Mehsud's death may prove fatal.
In 2009, signs of rift among the TTP factions emerged as the group tried to find Baitullah Mehsud's successor, choosing between his two close associates Wali ur-Rehman Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud. Though the matter was resolved when Hakimullah was appointed as the new TTP commander and Wali ur-Rehman was named as his deputy, the differences persisted, despite the duo's appearances exchanging smiles in several videos.
Tensions flared up again when Wali ur-Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May 2013 and his group declared Khan Said, alias Sajna, as their leader, without consulting Hakimullah or the TTP shura (consultative body). It was the same old rivalry that resurfaced this past weekend when Hakimullah loyalists refused to endorse Said as his successor, despite the fact that he had received support from 43 of the 60 shura members.
Local sources told this writer that Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, who was named the group's interim chief, comes from Hakimullah's group and is maneuvering hard to draw maximum support for a Meshud group commander from the shura members. If that occurs, the grievances, even open opposition and confrontation, from Said supporters could lead to fragmentation in the network.
Apart from Said, there are quite a few names on the potential successor list, but the tribal dynamics are such that it is unlikely the Mehsud faction will concede leadership to a non-Mehsud. Prominent among the potential candidates are Fazlullah, the chief of the Swat Taliban who is also known as "Mullah FM" for his notorious FM radio channel and is now running his bases from Afghanistan; Omar Khalid Khurasani, who leads the Taliban in the Mohmand tribal agency; Hafiz Saeed Khan in the Orakzai tribal district; and Bhittani.
Since the TTP is drawing most of its fighting force from the Mehsud tribe and uses Mehsud terrain for its base, the Mehsud loyalists will always want a lead role in the organization. However, serious tensions exist among the Mehsud, and even if the shura were to pick Hakimullah's successor soon, the years of disputes and bad blood between the two main factions could lead to serious divisions in the TTP rank and file.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. He has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has written for the Christian Science Monitor and London Sunday Times.
The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent those of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
NASEER MEHSUD/AFP/Getty Images
Dan Markey, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
Since President Obama took office in 2009, there have been several books published highlighting the deception, failures, and flaws of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Most of these books, such as Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth, Vali Nasr's The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat, and David Sanger's Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power offer insider accounts of the U.S. and Pakistani political dynamics that made it so, with a particular focus on U.S. counterterrorism policies and the war in Afghanistan.
All of these texts open a window into Washington's thinking, infighting, and attempts to fix what has become America's most tortured relationship. Nasr talks about Pakistan's "frenemy" status with the United States and whether it is in the U.S. interest "to stress the friend part or the enemy part." Sanger elaborates on Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who as Chief of Army Staff "understood the American paranoia about a Pakistani meltdown, and he took advantage of it." Mazzetti gets to the heart of the matter when he says that the CIA's war in places like Pakistan was conceived as "a surgery without complications," but became a "way of the knife" that "created enemies just as it has obliterated them," fomenting "resentment among former allies and at times contribut[ing] to instability even as it has attempted to bring order to chaos."
While American policymaking in Pakistan remains haunted by the demons of the September 11th attacks, even older demons linger on the Pakistani side, among them the memory of U.S. sanctions, American pressure on its nuclear weapons program, and the CIA's reliance on Pakistan's covert support during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. During a 1995 Senate hearing, then-Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel described the discontent of the Pakistanis, explaining that: "the key impact of sanctions relief is not military or financial. The effect would be primarily in the political realm, creating a sense of faith restored and an unfairness rectified with a country and people who have been loyal friends of the United States over the decades."
Dan Markey's new book, No Exit from Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad, heeds Raphel's comments and attempts to answer the perennial questions of the relationship: why do they hate us? How did it get so bad? What are America's options for future relations with Pakistan? Markey roots his analysis in French existentialism, of all things. In French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre's play No Exit, "three sinners, all dead to the word" are subject to "eternal torment by each other," each both capable of and vulnerable to the punishment doled out by the others. Building on this idea, No Exit from Pakistan argues that while "Pakistan's leaders tend to be tough negotiators with high thresholds for pain, Washington can cut new deals and level credible threats to achieve U.S. goals. This is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit."
Markey spends a good portion of the book summarizing themes, issues, and events since 1947 that explain this mutual vulnerability and mutual gain between the United States and Pakistan. And he covers the full gamut: Cold War cooperation, sanctions, anti-Americanism, energy, trade, infrastructure development, India, China, the Musharraf years, demographics, youth culture, Afghanistan, the Osama bin Laden Raid, the list goes on.
As an introductory primer for understanding what ails the relationship, this approach is constructive, especially in understanding the U.S.-Pakistan dynamics since 9/11. Markey also writes with a directness and honesty that should be appreciated in the context of one of Washington's most sensitive relationships. He accuses the Pakistanis of being addicted to U.S. assistance dollars, while claiming "Washington's top policymakers felt a personal animus towards Pakistan."
Markey also rightly focuses on new political trends and ideas in Pakistani popular culture that have been largely ignored in other accounts of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as well as in the course of much of the policymaking in both countries. For example, when discussing Pakistani notions of abandonment and national honor, Markey highlights the nationalist anti-American sentiment that grew from nuclear sanctions both among the government and the Pakistani public. As a sign of progress, he notes the success of Pakistani pop band Beygairat Brigade, who released a video on YouTube in 2011 "with thinly veiled references to a wide cast of Pakistani xenophobes, religious extremists, and conspiracy theorists" with lyrics that "lampoon many of the notions associated with defending Pakistan's national pride."
Herein lies the strength of Markey's analysis - his acknowledgment of the grassroots efforts currently afoot that are trying to transform Pakistani politics. He identifies four complex and often contradictory identities of Pakistan: "the elite-dominated basket case," the "garrison state," a "terrorist incubator," and a "youthful idealist, teeming with energy and reform-minded ambition." Without this information, the casual observer of Pakistani politics can easily conclude that the government and its people are merely confused, duplicitous, careless - or all three.
It is hard to argue with the claim that knowing Pakistan is critical to understanding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. But what of the Pakistanis - do they not need to understand why the United States behaves the way it does? Markey's approach puts the entire onus on the Americans to understand how complex Pakistan can be.
While he does outline a comprehensive set of options for managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship - ranging from looking beyond Afghanistan, waiting until after 2014, "defensive isolation" which involves ending formal cooperation, to comprehensive cooperation - he fails to suggest which specific path the countries should take, or even how the United States and Pakistan might prioritize the management or mitigation of threats over time. Markey simply recommends that the solution for this troubled relationship is nothing other than "patient, sustained effort, not by way of quick fixes or neglect" and that "managing or mitigating threats over time is a more realistic expectation." But is he speaking for the United States, Pakistan, or both? It is not clear.
No Exit from Pakistan is more useful as a relationship management strategy than a policy prescription. But the United States and Pakistan seem to have already entered the realm of relationship management over disengagement. This proved true after a NATO cross-border strike in November 2011 at the Salala border post, where over 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. Pakistan closed NATO routes for nearly seven months and the United States delayed coalition support funds payments. The two countries eventually resumed dialogue after the brief period of disengagement with the tacit acknowledgement that they had gone too far, especially so close to the pending withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Ultimately, No Exit from Pakistan introduces some uncomfortable questions about ownership and blame in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. On the one hand, Markey blames the basket case quality of Pakistan on the country's political elites, who "sent their children to private boarding schools while millions of other children never learned to read. Too many sipped cool cucumber soup even as their countrymen struggled to find safe drinking water." But on the other hand, he recognizes that the $1.5 billion-per-year U.S. assistance pledge, known as "Kerry-Lugar-Berman," "was not grounded in an assessment of specific Pakistani development needs or America's ability to meet them."
This is perhaps the true perennial question Markey has set out to answer - who is responsible for Pakistan's problems? He would agree that the United States and Pakistan share in the blame. The decades-long focus of the bilateral relationship on security assistance, militancy, covert activity, and proxy wars has left much unattended by way of development, economics, and stability. Likewise, in Pakistan: A Hard Country, Anatol Lieven pushes for the recognition that the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan "has been responsible for increasing Islamist insurgency and terrorism since 2001." In Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, it becomes acutely apparent whom and what is to blame. The book is a fictional account of the events leading up to the deaths of Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul-Haq and American Ambassador Arnie Raphel in a C-130 plane crash in 1989. As they walk to the plane to enjoy a case of Pakistani mangoes, Zia says to Raphel: "Now we must put our heads together and suck national security."
The controversial writer Salman Rushdie tackled the same question from another angle in his 1983 work of fiction, Shame, which focuses on internal politics in Pakistan and relations between the East and West. Rushdie writes:
Wherever I turn, there is something of which to be ashamed. But shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture...you can find shame in every house, burning in an ashtray, hanging framed upon a wall, covering a bed. But nobody notices it any more. And everyone is civilized.
Rushdie's final reminder is simply: "Shame, dear reader, is not the exclusive property of the East."
While the anguish of Sartre's No Exit resonates strongly with the current psychology of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, Rushdie's commentary on shame is a much stronger parallel. It too recognizes that both countries pursue their own interests even as they inflict harm upon themselves and each other. But it focuses on a much more embarrassing aspect of the mutual vulnerability: the fact that the harm, which has become so prevalent, is unacknowledged. Yet both move forward together because, as Markey says, "this is not a friendly game, but out of it both sides can still benefit," even though there is much to be ashamed about.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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No country aside from Afghanistan has more to lose than Pakistan from the coming departure of international forces. All post-2014 scenarios seem dark for Pakistan should the challenged Afghan state begin to unravel. In a protracted civil war, a reluctant Pakistan stands a good chance of being drawn into the conflict along with other regional powers. Taliban gains leading to a radical Islamic regime in all or most of Afghanistan, while once welcomed by Pakistan, may now result in empowering Pakistan's own militant extremists. Intensified fighting across the border is certain to push millions of new refugees into a Pakistan unprepared and unwilling to absorb them. Prospects that a successfully negotiated political agreement might some time soon avert these outcomes seem dim.
And yet, Pakistan does have one policy option that can result in a brighter scenario for itself and its Afghan neighbor. This opportunity has, in fact, been available throughout the course of the last 12 years, but it requires a strategic reassessment by Pakistan of its long-term national security interests, recognizing that they are best served when there is a stable, peaceful, prospering and, yes, independent Afghanistan. While Pakistan officially endorses this vision, its policies regularly undermine its achievement, above all by giving sanctuary and sustenance to Afghan insurgents. Instead, Pakistan should fully embrace efforts that improve prospects for the emergence of a moderate, economically improving, and accountably-governed Afghanistan. As University of Peshawar professor Ijza Khan advises, rather than pursuing a strategy focused on ensuring a friendly regime in Kabul, Pakistan should strive to win the friendship of the Afghan state and its people.
Convincing Afghans of Pakistan's good intentions will not be easy. Almost regardless of their political disposition, Afghans view their neighbor as overbearing and covetous, blaming it for much of the country's problems. Building trust is bound to be a slow process. Yet Pakistan is not without the means with which to allay Afghan suspicions. An economically-strapped Pakistani government cannot offer the kind of financial assistance that the West and Japan provide Afghanistan, or even match India's development aid portfolio. But Pakistan has advantages that come with geographical proximity, overlapping cultural and ethnic affinities, and established economic ties. It also has a relative abundance of human capital available with which to help strengthen the Afghan state.
To begin, Pakistan could agree to open the long denied trans-country routes that block India's trade with Afghanistan. Afghanistan's critical dependence on road links to the port of Karachi could be better secured and border impediments removed. Existing training programs in Pakistan for Afghan civil servants could be greatly expanded. Pakistan can do more to allay Afghans' beliefs that it is obstructing a peace deal with the Taliban and assure them that it has no plans to divide Afghan territory ethnically. Pakistan can also help secure Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in 2014 and 2015, respectively, by using its not inconsiderable influence to limit Taliban interference. It could also place additional troops at the border to reduce infiltration, much as it did during elections in 2004 and 2005. Although largely symbolic, Pakistan might even propose a non-aggression pact. But all these trust-building actions would pale against a decision by Pakistan to withdraw its patronage of the Afghan Taliban. Simply put, it must be willing to evict, if not arrest, Afghan Taliban fighters and their leaders on its soil.
Admittedly this will be hard. It will incur risks for Pakistan, particularly inviting a backlash not just from Afghan Taliban in the country, but also from their Pakistani allies. Afghans may be driven into open alliance with Pakistani insurgents and other extremist groups against the state. Yet this is a fight that Pakistan must eventually undertake. It cannot continue trying to differentiate between good and bad militants and expect the country's endemic violence to end. Delay has only made the task more difficult. If there is to be a reckoning, Pakistan may find that dismantling the Afghan Taliban offers a less difficult first step toward eliminating all of the militant groups that are currently or will inevitably be challenging the Pakistani state.
Pakistan has much to gain from a strategic reappraisal. Aside from possibly avoiding an Afghan civil war and its consequences, Pakistan could expect to enlist Afghan efforts to deny Pakistan's Taliban insurgents the safe haven they have found across the border. Pakistan could feel confident that the Baloch rebellion is not being fueled from the Afghan side of the border and that India does not overplay its hand once NATO forces leave. More broadly, Pakistan should have less reason to fear India's role in Afghanistan. A stabilized, secure Afghanistan would find it unnecessary to look to India to provide a counterweight to Pakistan or worry Pakistan by maintaining an oversized army.
Building confidence between the two countries could also perhaps permanently defuse their long-standing dispute over the Durand Line that separates them. With improved security in Afghanistan, new life could be breathed into plans to construct a gas pipeline from the fields in Turkmenistan. A growing Afghan economy would open up new markets for Pakistani goods and services and improve opportunities for investment. And Pakistan's dreams of using Afghanistan as a road bridge to Central Asia to extend its commerce and political influence might finally become a reality.
Without reciprocating Afghan policies, friendly overtures by Pakistan cannot be sustained. But it is Pakistan's initiatives that will drive any embrace. More than any external power, its actions will determine whether the present Afghan state can succeed against the current odds. And through assisting its struggling neighbor, Pakistan may help secure its own future.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
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Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made his first official visit to the United States since being elected by a strong majority to serve his third term in office. The word from the White House is that the bilateral relationship is back on track, and the Prime Minister's public address supports that conclusion. While Sharif continued to condemn U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions -- remarks that may have prompted the leak to the Washington Post of documents implicating at least some Pakistan government officials in secretly endorsing the program -- he also expressed a desire for cooperation on critical issues such as increased trade and foreign investment in Pakistan, cooperation with India, and a willingness to pursue difficult reforms outlined in the recent loan package from the International Monetary Fund. In exchange for the Prime Minister's willingness to play nice, the United States government released $1.6 billion in military assistance to Pakistan that had been held up since 2011.
A renewal of military aid will, for the time being, shore up the relations between Washington and Islamabad. But military aid will not help Pakistan deal with the daunting development challenges it faces: the loss of its territorial integrity to the Taliban and other groups; the rise of sectarian conflict; high youth unemployment; ongoing power blackouts; underfunded health and schooling services; potentially catastrophic water problems and agricultural losses to soil salinization; and a hopelessly low level of tax revenue for the state to address these challenges.
So what about economic development aid, which continued to flow over the last two years as envisioned in the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act (better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill)? Washington reported real progress in the aid program toward achieving important medium term goals, but U.S. economic aid, even at 10 times the current levels, cannot serve as a substitute for the decisions and political will the civilian government of Pakistan needs to provide -- whether increasing energy tariffs to attract desperately needed investment in the power sector, or raising and collecting taxes on the country's small but powerful elite.
One point of economic aid is to enable the United States to work alongside Pakistan's civilian government in tackling its considerable challenges, working as a partner and building the sense of shared understanding and trust that can spill over into cooperation on more sensitive security and anti-terrorism issues. That is the vision Richard Holbrooke, the first Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan had, and we believe it is a vision that can still animate the U.S. approach.
Though the current aid program is handicapped by U.S. government mandates to track money instead of results, red tape, security constraints on U.S. staff working in Pakistan, and the difficulty of shifting management of programs from U.S. contractors to local Pakistani institutions, it can be fixed. At least equally, if not more, important, the United States has other tools in its development toolbox beyond traditional aid. These include mechanisms that facilitate trade, such as providing duty-free, quota-free access to U.S. markets, and unleashing the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to encourage private investment in the country's small and medium-sized enterprise sector and its beleaguered energy sector.
U.S. officials are already deploying some of these tools, but to ensure they constitute a coherent development program rather than a haphazard set of projects, we recommend that the State Department and the government of Pakistan establish a formalized Development Dialogue. This should be a discrete component of the Strategic Dialogue Secretary of State John Kerry has agreed to host by March 2014. Discussions could focus on ways to forge a long-term partnership between Pakistan's civilian government and the U.S. government, including but going well beyond traditional aid.
To use the marriage metaphor often invoked to describe the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, a Development Dialogue could help build the resilience that any healthy marriage needs to withstand life's trials and tribulations. It could bolster the countries' vows to work together in good times and in bad by insulating the development agenda from often competing security and diplomatic objectives. And if successful, it could lead to more times of health and fewer times of sickness -- both for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, and the people of Pakistan.
Nancy Birdsall is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. From 1993 to 1998, she was executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank and previously served 14 years in research, policy, and management positions, including director of the Policy Research Department, at the World Bank.
Alexis Sowa is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development focused on the organization's ongoing work on Pakistan and contributing to the Oil-to-Cash initiative. She has worked as a governance advisor in Liberia with the Africa Governance Initiative and as a program and policy manager at Malaria No More UK where she identified, developed, and managed investments in sub-Saharan Africa.
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Dear Mr. President:
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is meeting with you on Wednesday with high expectations. He is a pragmatic business-oriented politician with a powerful electoral base who has shown magnanimity and deftness in allowing opposition parties to form governments in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, and he backed the election of a nationalist Baloch as the chief minister in Baluchistan. While this could be seen as a policy of sharing the misery of trying to govern an ungovernable Pakistan, it could also be an attempt to work within a fractured political system. Regardless, he represents a chance to provide continuity for civilian governance in Pakistan and to build a relationship that goes beyond our immediate need to exit Afghanistan gracefully.
On Afghanistan, his advisors, both civil and military, will have told him that we need them badly; Pakistan tends to overestimate its leverage on such security issues. You will have likely been told by many yourself that we can get the Pakistanis to yield, if only we tighten the screws on them -- militarily via our aid program and the use of drone strikes, and economically via threats to withhold assistance directly or from international financial institutions.
We already have some credit on the latter. Pakistan has a new loan package with the International Monetary Fund, that we supported, though it remains to be seen if they will be able to deliver on the tough policy shifts they have to make to sustain the loan. This type of international financial support is an easier way for us to help or squeeze Pakistan without bringing Congress into the game.
As for the game itself, we can play the short game, focusing primarily on Afghanistan. In that case, making smoother payments from the Coalition Support Fund, and replacing Pakistan's heavily-used military materiel will help. Closer collaboration in helping them target their local Taliban fighters would also win points and cooperation.
Or, we could go for the long game and broaden our influence beyond the central government to the business community and the people of Pakistan. Large numbers of Pakistanis hate the United States because they have seen us support unpopular leaders, both civil and military, in the past. Sharif, a popular and business-oriented leader, appears to have the right instincts on a number of issues. He favors trade over aid, and he favors open borders with his neighbors. We could directly assist him by lowering the tariff rates on Pakistani imports, especially those on textiles -- at least to the level of European countries which have already given Pakistan that concession. Call it a level-playing field. At worst, you will lose South Carolina. But we will bring the emerging and powerful Pakistani business community to our side. In turn, it will help Sharif make the case domestically for open trade with India. You could also use quiet diplomacy with India to help it work things out with Pakistan on trade and border issues while waiting for the next Indian elections in spring 2014.
We also have a substantial proportion of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman funds that have not yet been disbursed and though that aid program ends next year, you could extend it for another two years without seeking additional monies and thus use the full $7.5 billion that has been allocated. Though this is not a huge amount when compared with Pakistan's needs, the symbolic value would be substantial.
Currently, Sharif is personally running the foreign, commerce, and defense ministries -- a tall order for any prime minister. But it allows us to deal with him on a wide range of issues at the highest level. His energy ministers are already working with our key officials and even intelligence collaboration exists, regardless of the underlying mistrust. If we can avoid looking for an obvious quid pro quo in the short run, we may be able to help the Pakistanis also play the long game.
In short, we may be able to do business with Sharif. Recall that he did help President George H. W. Bush with Somalia in the early 1990s.
You will have only a short time with him on Wednesday. Instead of having him recite his grievances, it might be better to have him define a path for the future that helps both countries, and offer to help strengthen his position at home as a result. He will get that. You do not get to be prime minister of Pakistan for a record third time without such smarts. Trust him. But tell him you will verify his moves once he gets home.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's memories of Washington cannot be pretty. He was last in town in July 1999, when he met then-President Bill Clinton to discuss the escalation of tensions amongst India and Pakistan in the Kargil district of Kashmir, an area long disputed between the two neighbors. Four months later, Sharif was out of a job.
Sharif's own Chief of Army Staff, Pervez Musharraf, initiated the coup that led to his ouster after Sharif pulled troops out of Kargil -- at Clinton's urging -- to avoid any further escalation. His entrée into the "military's space" by initiating these troop withdrawals ultimately led to his downfall.
This time around, Sharif is in a much stronger position politically. His party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, dominates the National Assembly as a result of its landslide victory in the May elections earlier this year. The military, a perpetual thorn in the side of the civilian government, is showing no visible signs of getting in Sharif's way for the time being. The government is about to receive a multi-billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund to breathe life back into the country's economy. Sharif's economic team seems to be making all the right noises on other aspects of economic reform, mainly in the privatization of state-owned steel mills and railways, as well as improvements in the energy sector.
This week, Sharif is in Washington, where he will meet President Barack Obama on Wednesday for an official visit at the White House. Meeting with Obama is typically a sign of strength for foreign leaders back home, but in Pakistan, the American president is so unpopular that Sharif wins no domestic brownie points for the meeting. In fact, it could hurt Sharif or be used against him. When he returns to Pakistan, any dramatic moves on security issues could be construed as a response to American pressure, real or not.
Furthermore, the strengths of Sharif's government are irrelevant under the current circumstances, especially on the issues the United States cares about the most. While his engagements with the American business and development communities will be more positive, Sharif will face "hard messages" from Obama and other American officials that won't be as easily answered. Among many issues, high on the White House's agenda will be the drawdown in Afghanistan, the lingering al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan, the recent uptick in tensions with India, and everlasting concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. High on Pakistan's agenda will be pushing for an end to CIA drone strikes, asking for continued assistance in fighting the Pakistani Taliban, and seeking more information on NATO's plans for withdrawing from Afghanistan.
If it sounds like nothing's changed, that's because it hasn't. A combination of patronage, pressure, and mixed messages has always defined U.S.-Pakistan relations. In December 1998, when Sharif traveled to Washington at Clinton's invitation, security concerns at the time centered on India and nonproliferation. When President Asif Ali Zardari was in Washington in January 2011 for the memorial service of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Amb. Richard C. Holbrooke, he was lucky Obama even met with him. Some American policy advisors at the time seriously questioned Pakistan's willingness to disrupt the Taliban, viewing the country's "double game" with the militants as reason enough to deny Zardari an audience with Obama.
While military ruler-turned-president Pervez Musharraf received a much warmer reception in Washington during his 2006 trip, he too faced the music when dealing with American officials on Pakistan's relations with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its nuclear weapons program. Another military ruler, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, probably enjoyed the highest level of American patronage in the history of Pakistani leaders -- the result of his covert cooperation with the United States in defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan. But during his 1980 visit to Washington, even Zia faced pressure from the Carter administration to give up Islamabad's secretly expanding nuclear program.
Given the trends, it is apparent that Sharif will have the same kind of trip every other Pakistani leader to the United States has had: beset with unrealistic expectations in Washington and Islamabad; a scramble for "deliverables" identifying progress in the relationship; disappointment that the White House did not grant the Pakistanis the coveted "state visit;" mixed messages on both sides about how "hard" and "soft" the talking points were; and an underlying cynicism questioning the existence of the "unholy alliance" between the two countries. In all fairness, the same circumstances apply when American officials travel to Pakistan.
It is easy to get excited at the prospect of high-level engagements; such visits offer a potential pivot moment for bilateral relationships going through difficult times. We all know how badly the United States and Pakistan need a pivot, but the two countries may have already moved beyond that point. The visit occurs at a time when the countries have initiated a period of more subdued, private, and pragmatic engagement. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to Pakistan in August was an initial attempt to "open a new chapter" in the relationship. The recent release of $1.6 billion in military and economic aid was possible because "ties have improved enough to allow the money to flow again." And while the recent decreased frequency of drone strikes does not appear to be coordinated, it probably doesn't hurt.
This new tone and approach can be helped along by strong diplomatic ties at the highest levels of government -- a condition that has been lacking in both U.S. and Pakistani policymaking circles for several years. Sharif's visit to Washington this week gives both him and Obama an opportunity to formally begin a professional relationship that could do just that.
But as in all things U.S. and Pakistan, a heavy dose of reality is recommended. The two countries face many potential pitfalls as they look towards 2014 when NATO departs Afghanistan, and high-level diplomacy alone cannot ensure that Pakistan and the United States successfully avoid them. Coordination between American and Pakistani militaries, intelligence services, diplomats, and development specialists will also be in demand; engagement on many of these fronts is still recovering from the conflicts of the past two years, whether it be the Osama bin Laden raid, the Raymond Davis incident, or the cross-border incident at Salala. At the least, the Sharif-Obama discussion will offer a taste of what challenges lay ahead and one way to engage on them.
Shamila N. Chaudhary is Senior Advisor to Dean Vali R. Nasr at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School for Advanced International Studies and is a Senior South Asia Fellow at the New America Foundation.
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When Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lands in Washington this weekend, he would not be blamed if he is wracked by mixed feelings. His last visit to the U.S. capital, in July 1999, occurred in the wake of the Kargil adventure with India that he allowed to get out of hand, and which led to a break with his army chief and his eventual ouster as prime minister. Due to the coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan was in the political doghouse until the then-president became a U.S. ally in the wake of the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the allied invasion of Afghanistan. For over a decade, Musharraf played the Afghanistan and terrorism cards to his advantage, while his own country slid into the depths of militancy and terrorism. Ironically, he never visited his own troops who were fighting and dying inside the border region. Neither did most of Pakistan's civilian leaders.
Sharif promised a change toward more active democratic governance when he took over after the May 2013 elections, but his tenure has had a slow start. If he is to make a difference, he will need to show much more alacrity, planning, and boldness in his dealings at home and abroad. He comes to Washington, a place that Charles Dickens once called city of "magnificent intentions," though a number of realities will challenge him both during and after this visit.
First, Washington is distracted at home by its recent budgetary battle and government shutdown. Abroad, Syria and Iran have stolen the attention of policymakers and lawmakers alike. The good news is that Pakistan is not on the front burner. But the bad news is also that Pakistan is not on the front burner. Sharif will, at best, meet a polite reception, but it is unclear what big issues bring the two countries together, while many issues potentially threaten this tenuous relationship. The impending coalition exit from Afghanistan is a short-term issue. A stable and prosperous Pakistan is what will matter most for the long run. Sharif needs to resist the temptation of showing how important he is to the Americans. If he is strong at home in governing and delivering on the promise of democracy, he will carry greater weight abroad.
Second, Sharif has yet to establish clear civilian control over the military. His tentative steps in handling the upcoming changes in the military's leadership leave more questions on the table than answers. Exercising his constitutional prerogative to appoint military commanders is critical, but so is the timing of those actions. Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani gave him an opportunity by publicly announcing that he would in fact be stepping down at the end of November. Sharif muddled that opening by delaying the naming of the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Army chief. What lessons will the Americans draw from this? Most likely that they must continue their military-to-military relationship as the dependable cornerstone of the current engagement with Pakistan, at least until they exit Afghanistan next year.
Third, despite Pakistani claims of victory when the United States agreed on Friday to pay $322 million worth of arrears of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to Pakistan, the future is uncertain. Pakistani Finance Minister Sen. Ishaq Dar, during his recent visit to Washington to attend the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, said he had taken up the issue of CSF payments with U.S. State and Treasury Departments and they had assured him that payment would be made soon. But the reality has been obfuscated by that cheerful announcement.
CSF payments will cease at the end of 2014. Currently, there are no U.S. plans to support Pakistani military operations beyond next year. Furthermore, no payments will be given to Pakistan for the period when the Ground Lines of Communication with Afghanistan were closed. So forget about those seven months. And U.S. authorities have laid down new rules, meaning that the previous claims for expenditures outside the border region and unrelated to military operations will no longer be entertained for reimbursement. In effect, roughly a third of the previous claims will not be paid. The only bright side is that claims will now be paid on a quarterly basis at the potential rate of roughly $100 million a month.
Fourth, Pakistan has not shown many signs of ground work in Washington since the Sharif government took over. Not on the Hill, nor with the administration. Even the prime minister's own visit was not preceded by high-level preparation. And there is no Pakistani ambassador in town, as yet. All of this leads one to believe that no major issues will actually be discussed or resolved. Afghanistan will loom large. India may be raised. But the United States has its own India agenda that does not always include Pakistan. Congress will likely want to know what will happen to Dr. Shakil Afridi and to Musharraf. Will Sharif be able to provide a clear set of answers?
Pakistan needs a new and clear strategic overview of its region and global relationships. It cannot lurch from crisis to crisis, nor can it rely on the global fear of its nuclear arsenal falling into the wrong hands to be the excuse for aid to a country that has not clearly defined its domestic or foreign policy. It faces a huge domestic terror threat. It needs to open its borders to its neighbors and to trade across the region. Sharif has an opportunity to boldly and unambiguously state where he stands on these issues. If he does so in Washington, he may mark an early turning point in his tenure. Ambiguity and business as usual, however, will not do.
Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within.
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A curious thing happened two weeks ago in the militancy-ravaged Pakistani city of Peshawar.
An anti-terrorism court sentenced a man named Muhammad Saeed to two years in prison. His crime? Distributing pamphlets critical of the Pakistani army and election commissioner.
Pakistan is a nation where anti-state insurgents and sectarian militants murder civilians with savage regularity -- yet are rarely arrested, much less prosecuted. It's also a nation where terrorist leaders live free and are protected by the state.
And yet Saeed received two years' imprisonment simply for passing out anti-state literature.
Stranger still, Saeed belongs to a global Islamic organization that embraces nonviolence and boasts a Pakistan-based membership numbering only in the hundreds-represented mainly, purportedly, by academics, engineers, and other seemingly innocuous educated elites.
Tellingly, in recent months other Pakistan-based members of this organization, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HuT), have suffered fates similar to Saeed's. They've been arrested for hanging anti-government banners and handing out leaflets urging Pakistanis to boycott elections. They've even been jailed for violating the country's sedition law. Last year, the organization's spokesman in Pakistan, Naveed Butt, went missing. HuT says he was abducted by intelligence agents.
So what gives?
For starters, one can reasonably argue that HuT actually constitutes a considerable threat -- thereby justifying the draconian measures against its members.
HuT vows to overthrow, via bloodless revolution, democratic governments worldwide -- and then establish a global caliphate. This campaign is to be orchestrated not by the masses, but by educated, affluent professionals and senior-level military officers -- strategically-placed elites with the capacity and clout to effect change. HuT has launched recruitment efforts at prestigious Pakistani universities, and earlier this year, according to Pakistani and Western media reports, activists descended on a Pakistani youth leadership conference at the University of Oxford to influence the discussions and disseminate marketing materials. Officers have also reportedly been recruited at Britain's Sandhurst military academy.
And this recruitment strategy has apparently worked. Last year, 19 engineers, professors, and scientists were arrested in an affluent Lahore neighborhood for alleged ties to HuT. In recent years, senior military officials -- including a former Air Force base commanding officer and a Major-rank security officer for former president Pervez Musharraf -- have been arrested as well. Last year, five army officers -- including a brigadier named Ali Khan -- received jail sentences for their links to HuT.
Another troubling aspect of HuT is its belligerent rhetoric, which belies its assurances of nonviolence. A pamphlet in Indonesia has depicted a decapitated Statue of Liberty flanked by a Manhattan skyline in flames. In Pakistan, official statements speak of "shattering the ribs" of traitors, and of military commanders leading "noble armed forces to the conquest of India." HuT's views are often indistinguishable from those of violent militant organizations -- and are quite distinct from more moderate global Islamist outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood. A recent press release, for example, blames America for last month's deadly church bombing in Peshawar, contending that Washington is "punishing" Pakistanis for refusing to support "the American occupation in Afghanistan."
Then there are HuT's activities in neighboring nations. New Delhi has accused HuT of providing "intellectual and often financial assistance" to the Indian Mujahideen, an indigenous militant organization. Dhaka linked HuT to an unsuccessful 2012 coup attempt, and has since arrested university students for HuT ties. Moscow describes HuT as an "international terrorist organization," and has even blamed the group for organizing attacks on civilians. Finally, officials often accuse HuT of fomenting hatred in Central Asia -- a critical region in this story, given that analysts allege links between Pakistan's HuT chapter and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, an extremist organization that claims to be fighting Pakistan's government.
Not surprisingly, Pakistani security officials have painted a disturbing picture of HuT, a banned organization in the country. One intelligence official, speaking to a Pakistani newspaper, says it has a "potentially far more destructive method of operation" than al-Qaeda. The official, who was not identified, added that HuT members "target minds instead of strategic installations and personnel, using the power of the intellect instead of roadside bombs." No wonder Pakistan cracks down so hard.
Yet there's likely another reason: Pakistan's relationship with the United States, one of Islamabad's chief sources of military and economic assistance.
Washington regards Islamabad as either unwilling or unable to wage an all-out assault on extremism -- especially because several militant groups have ties to the Pakistani security establishment.
Enter HuT. Unlike the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network, or Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), HuT has never been sponsored by the Pakistani state. And unlike the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), HuT does not use violence. In other words, it is neither a trusted proxy nor an active combatant. This allows Islamabad to demonstrate to Washington, without strategic or tactical obstacles, that it can and does take robust action against militant threats. It's an easy way to impress its American benefactor.
Consider that Khan, the officer convicted for HuT ties, was arrested four days after U.S. special forces raided Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. Khan's detention can be interpreted as assurance to the Americans that despite the bin Laden debacle, Pakistan remains serious about apprehending militants.
Similarly, according to his supporters, HuT spokesman Butt disappeared on May 11, 2012 -- four days before Pakistani and American officials announced an "imminent" deal to reopen NATO supply routes in Pakistan, which Islamabad had closed the previous November after NATO aircraft accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. This announcement came just after the United States agreed to invite then-President Asif Ali Zardari to Chicago for a NATO summit on Afghanistan -- an invitation Islamabad would describe as "critical" for a supply lines deal. Certainly Butt's seizure alone didn't prompt Washington's invitation to Zardari, but it nonetheless could have been a factor (the supply routes would reopen in July, after Washington apologized for the deadly airstrikes).
Skeptics may argue, with reason, that Islamabad, in its zeal to demonstrate its countermilitancy bona fides, inflates the threat posed by HuT. The sensational charges originally leveled against Khan -- planning to have the Pakistani Air Force bomb a corps commanders' conference so that HuT could swoop in and implement Islamic rule -- were eventually dropped. In the end, he was convicted on more vague charges of "links with a banned organization." Khan has consistently denied any guilt. It also bears mentioning that the most alarmist assessments of HuT in Pakistan -- including one describing it as "a potentially more potent threat" than the TTP -- are expressed through anonymous quotations in media reports, and not through public statements.
Furthermore, few if any serious charges against HuT have been proven in other countries -- from the Bangladesh coup allegations and Indian Mujahideen links to its reputed strength in the Caucuses (independent analysts actually say HuT has committed few if any attacks in Uzbekistan, and enjoys "virtually no support" in Turkmenistan).
So perhaps HuT should ultimately be seen not as a destructive threat, but as an ultra-conservative and bellicose gadfly: more likely to disrupt conferences or, as seen in recent days, protest the Miss World beauty competition than to take up arms and pull off putsches. At least for now.
Still, given Pakistan's nuclear status and pathological instability, HuT's presence and activities in the country are troubling -- and Islamabad's emphatic countermeasures are therefore laudable. If only Pakistan could be as vigilant toward the murderous TTP and LeJ as it is toward the likes of Muhammad Saeed, the hapless HuT member jailed for passing out pamphlets.
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
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On Friday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, passing over a remarkable top contender: Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year for speaking out about girls' education. Instead of falling silent, Yousafzai's voice has only grown louder since the attack. She continues to champion her cause for a land to which she cannot return; the Taliban renewed their death threats against her this week. While she is surrounded by well-wishers on her current visit to the United States, perhaps no one can share her sense of acclaim and exclusion as well as Pakistan's (still) only Nobel laureate, Dr. Abdus Salam.
Salam was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1979 for his work on characterizing what is now known as the Higgs boson particle. Coincidentally, this year the Nobel Prize in Physics was shared by Peter Higgs, after whom the particle is named. Dubbed the "God particle," the Higgs boson is viewed as a potential building block of the universe. While some of Salam's critics might have cried heresy at his work, they instead chose to do so about his faith.
For just as Malala's mistake was being a girl, Salam's was being a member of the Ahmadi sect - a religious group declared to be non-Muslims in a 1974 constitutional amendment. After the amendment passed, Salam resigned from his government post. A Nobel prize five years later engendered no rapturous embrace upon his return home. Pakistan's leaders chose to keep him at arm's length. Even the word "Muslim" in the "first Muslim Nobel laureate" engraved on his tombstone is painted over. His colleagues continue to speak with equal wonder of his work and sadness for his treatment.
It is one of the many contradictions of Pakistan that the very town, Jhang, which produced a man of Salam's learning -- one who sought to unlock the secrets of the cosmos -- now produces parochial militancy. A militancy that has metastasized like a cancer in Pakistan and now consumes its children. When she first heard of the Taliban's threats against her, Yousafzai feared not for her own safety but for her father's. In a recent interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart she said that she thought the Taliban would never stoop to attacking a young girl. She was wrong.
To be sure, many Pakistanis are ambivalent about Yousafzai. In an environment rampant with anti-American sentiment and conspiracy theories, some view praise for her a way of shaming Pakistan. Others question the degree of attention merited to one individual when over 5,000 lives have reportedly been lost to terrorism over the past five years. Weariness with the West's fascination with the latest "victim" from Pakistan has also emerged. A few years ago, for instance, U.S. media outlets were abuzz with stories about another Pakistani woman who had been brutally raped and had similarly channeled her tragedy into championing women's rights.
Such cynicism, however, is of less import than the pernicious politics of exclusion in Pakistan -- a politics whereby one segment of society fervently believes it has a monopoly over deen (faith) and duniya (world). At best, the other is inferior; at worst, he or she merits elimination. It's an exclusionary system whereby individuals as different as a physicist and a teenage girl continue to be pushed outside society's bounds - either by force or by law. Nobel laureates, usually feted in other countries, seem strangely destined to be banished in Pakistan.
Much ink has been spilt on Pakistan's troubles, which seem to know no end. Yet the same country produced a young girl who is optimistically forging ahead, despite the horror she has experienced. Malala Yousafzai channels Pakistan's remarkable resilience. That she did not win the Nobel Peace Prize is thus ultimately irrelevant. What really matters is when can she go home.
Ziad Haider is Director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group and author of the Ideological Struggle for Pakistan (Hoover Institution Press, 2010). He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at @Asia_Hand. The views expressed are his own.
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In an historic moment this weekend, Pakistan's two-term army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani announced that he would retire at the end of November after six years at the helm. An official later stated that Kayani would not seek any other job after retirement, putting an end to speculation in Pakistan that Kayani may stay on in another perhaps more powerful role. This marks a necessary transition in the slow return to the supremacy of the elected civilian government over the military that has dominated decision making in Pakistan for the past 13 plus years, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's first government was overthrown by a coup on behalf of Gen. Pervez Musharraf. But the road ahead for Pakistan's political evolution remains difficult, as stunted civilian institutions struggle to assert themselves in the face not only of lingering military power, but also a massive internal militancy and potentially hot borders on both Pakistan's East (with India) and West (with Afghanistan). While this is a start, a number of other transitions are needed for Pakistan to regain its stability. Kayani may be gone, but military influence in the country remains powerful. His successor as army chief would do well to keep it on a downward trajectory.
Kayani, a graduate of the command and staff college at Fort Leavenworth, was the first head of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate to become army chief. He is also the last army chief to have fought in a full-fledged war, with perennial rival India in 1971. His U.S. training often led U.S. leaders to mistakenly assume that he was "pro-American," most notably former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who made 26 visits to Pakistan to with meet Kayani during his tenure as chairman. Mullen also penned an over-the-top paen to Kayani for TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People" issue in 2009, calling Kayani "a man with a plan." However, Mullen ended that relationship in 2011 on Capitol Hill with a scathing attack that described the anti-U.S. and pro-Taliban Haqqani Network as a "veritable arm of the ISI." Mullen, like others, had made the mistake of assuming that Kayani would bury his strong nationalism in favor of meeting U.S. goals in the region, even after Kayani had made it clear that he did not think the United States had a clearly defined strategy for Afghanistan or the region and hedged his bets accordingly.
At home, Kayani tried to act as a political umpire between often-warring political parties, resisting the temptation to intercede or take over when they got into seemingly intractable feuds. In 2009, for instance, he prevented a major crisis during the Pakistan Peoples Party government of then-President Asif Ali Zardari when then-opposition leader Sharif led a "long march" into Islamabad to restore the ousted chief justice, admitting to a visitor: "I could have taken over then but did not." Kayani stayed his hand for six years, but some powerful negatives have also marked his two-term stint.
Within the army itself, Kayani fostered unhappiness, especially among the younger officers, when he accepted a second three-year term from Zardari in 2010. The gap between him and his senior officers also widened. His newestcorps commanders are some 17 courses junior to him at the Pakistan Military Academy, a veritable lifetime in military circles. And the disastrous 2011 killing of two Pakistani civilians by Raymond Davis in Lahore, followed by the U.S. raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden, the attack on the Pakistani border post at Salala, and the subsequent closing of the ground line of communications for the coalition in Afghanistan tarnished Kayani's tenure. He had to face angry young officers at the National Defence University after the Abbottabad raid, and some senior officers were critical of his management style, saying that he reflected a paradoxical desire to be close but to retain a cool aloofness. As a result, Kayani kept his cards very close to his chest and relied on a handful of key colleagues to keep him informed of developments inside the army.
During this time, the ISI also came under severe criticism with accusations that it had overstepped legal boundaries in its pursuit of critics, including journalist Saleem Shahzad who was killed after publishing critical articles of the military's dealings with militants. Separately, Kayani announced an inquiry, but did not share the results of the investigation, into the videotaped killings of unarmed, bound, and blindfolded captives during the counter militancy campaign in Swat.
But for all of the criticism, the ISI appeared to gain greater strength during Kayani's term as army chief. Instead of becoming a policy-neutral intelligence agency, it came to be more of a policymaking body. If the post-Kayani transition is to take hold, the role of the ISI will need to be re-examined and reduced, and its relationship as a multi-service institution (rather than as a fief of the army alone) should be reshaped with civilian authorities. Sharif must take the lead in selecting the head of the ISI and also demand regular intelligence briefings, while resisting the urge to ask for policy advice or implementation. He must also regain control of a Defence Ministry that is heavily dominated by retired military officers. The challenge for Sharif will be to find capable civilians, starting with a full-time Defence Minister, who can make defense-related decisions, rather than trying to manage the ministry himself.
Kayani made history by averting a coup and supporting the return of civilian rule. Sharif could make history by regaining control of the country's polity. He must begin by exercising his constitutional prerogative to select the next Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff and the head of Pakistan's army. He has a choice among capable three-stars, one of whom will have to provide strong and inspiring leadership for an army that has suffered the ravages of continuous insurgency and militancy for over a decade.Shuja Nawaz is the Director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., and is the author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within
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Irfan Ali, a tireless campaigner for the rights of minority Shiites in his native Pakistan, volunteered to collect scattered limbs after an explosion tore through the billiard hall of his hometown Quetta in January 2013. The 33-year-old tweeted from the scene. "Was on the way to home nearly escaped bomb blast," he wrote in English. As he helped the injured to ambulances, he wrote in another tweet: "Sad day for diversity." Moments later, a second explosion ripped through the carnage, killing Ali on the spot. Sunni militants Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the twin attacks, which killed at least 80, kick-starting another bloody year for Pakistani Shiites, who bear the brunt of their country's increasing sectarian violence.
Between January 2012 and June 2013, 77 attacks were launched against Shiites in Pakistan, killing 635. At least 120 more have been killed since July and the bloodletting shows no signs of abating. The widespread violence against Shiites, estimated to make up to 20 percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million, is unprecedented. Entire Shiite communities feel under siege, and many blame the government for failing to protect them. Human Rights Watch went so far as to say the government's seeming indifference in hunting down perpetrators could be seen as masking covert backing.
Out of this tense arena of escalating hatred, a small Pakistani Shiite political party rose out of obscurity to victory in May's general elections.
Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), which roughly translates from Urdu as the Assembly of the Unification of Muslims, became the first Shiite party to ever win a seat. Fiercely nationalist, MWM believes sharia law should be implemented across Pakistan and wants to eradicate sectarian violence by providing free education.
Party leaders say its success comes from unlikely advocates: women.
I met Ali's mother, Saida, several months after her son was killed. She was in a group of mourning mothers at a martyrs' conference in Rawalpindi, an energetic sprawl of a city adjacent to the capital Islamabad. The women, including a 15-year-old girl who lost her entire family to attacks on Shiites, were being feted by MWM in a large, dimly lit hall decorated with black and green lines from the Koran. Hundreds of men and women sat divided on either side of the hall, sobbing quietly. Some held plates of pungent rose petals on their laps.
Cloaked in black, her eyes creased and dampened with tears, Saida leaned towards me: "I'm a proud mother and have no regrets my son was sacrificed." Like the others, she clutched a framed picture of her slain son. Smiling, he was waving a placard that read ‘Peace we Love.' "We're being victimized for following Hussein," she said, referring to the son of Ali, Mohammad's son-in-law, whom Shiites say is his rightful successor, a belief at the core of the Sunni-Shiite split.
Since that conference in late March, MWM has organized 15 such events across the country, each honoring mothers of the "martyred." In the lead up to the May 11 elections, the party organized scores of protests against what it says is genocide. Women were the "protest pioneers," said MWM's deputy leader Amin Shahidi. As the government failed to make arrests for Shiite attacks, mothers launched street protests - first in Quetta, where most Shiites come from the ethnic Hazara minority, and later across the country. "Women have this ability to transfer the feelings of struggle, of sacrifice, to their communities," Shahidi told me at his cliff-top home near Islamabad. Crowned by a white turban and elegantly dressed in a diaphanous brown gown over linen, Shahidi charted MWM's mercurial rise from its creation in 2008 to the present day, where it can command tens of thousands of supporters at rallies. "And it is the women who are getting this many people," he said, almost in surprise at his own statement.
Female branches of MWM were first set up in 2010 to double the party's impact. "Once we involved women, our messages and goals spread very quickly," said Zahra Najafi, who runs the women's wing in Karachi, nestled in a concrete Shiite neighborhood covered in MWM graffiti. Her tiny frame engulfed in a black chador, she said 750 women in Sindh province, which includes Karachi, now report to her. Most are involved in door-to-door campaigning and frequently organize sit-ins, demanding justice for Shiite attacks.
This kind of activism among Pakistani Shiites is not new. For many, it begins with the Imamia Students Organization, which was founded in 1972 to prevent encroaching socialism. Another Shiite political party, Islami Tehrik Pakistan, has existed since 1979 but merged with the Pakistan People's Party for the recent elections.
But not all Shiites agree with MWM's vociferous approach. "We're more under attack as a result of these protests," deputy speaker of the Sindh assembly, Shehla Raza, told me in her Karachi home where armed policemen keep 24-hour watch, reflecting increasing fear after eight of her relatives were killed in bomb attacks and targeted shootings.
MWM's win, however, carried weight. Its candidate Syed Mohammed Raza won a seat - one of 65 - in Baluchistan's provincial assembly in Quetta. Though numerically tiny - each of Pakistan's four provinces has its own parliament, in addition to contributing members to the national assembly - "we now have a firm foot in the ground," said Sandleen Rizvi, head of MWM's Rawalpindi women's wing.
Though no official gender data exists for individual party votes, Rizvi, whose husband Saeed ran for office in Rawalpindi, believes women made up at least 60 percent of MWM's vote across the country - at least 15 percent more than the national average. Ejaz Hussain Bahishti, a cleric on MWM's Islamabad ticket, reckoned women made up to 70 percent of the vote. "They came as a duty to the martyred," he told me.
Despite former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto serving in the position twice, women have played a relatively marginal role in Pakistani politics. But female voter participation is increasing, and women made up 44 percent of the country's overall vote in May.
Pudgy-cheeked and bubbling with enthusiasm, 37-year-old Rizvi has been hard at work since she organized the martyrs' conference I attended, setting up MWM units around Rawalpindi where women are taught about campaigning. "We are afraid that a Syria-style situation will arise here with the Shiites," she tells me over ice cream in her home, where miniature replicas of Ali's sword, the Zulfiqar, hang on her walls. Rizvi's 10-year-old son and three teenage daughters, their heads wrapped in bright headscarves, surround their mother to listen eagerly. "We must convince all Shiites to unite," she says.
As such, the focus of MWM's protests has expanded to include "the oppressed" around the world, in a display of solidarity with Shiites in Syria and Egypt. Accusations are rife that Shiite groups such as MWM receive funding from Iran as part of its wider proxy war with Saudi Arabia, which the State Department says supports Sunni extremists. When asked if MWM received financial support from Tehran, Shahidi smiled and pointed to a bowl of pistachios on the table between us. "The only things here from Iran are those nuts!"
Such suspicion, however, is likely to continue as MWM broadens its influence and cements its position as a political platform for Shiites across the country. Earlier this month the party took aim at the central government by calling for anti-American demonstrations, exposing an agenda largely hidden from its election campaign. Its leaders are becoming more brazen, delivering confidence-packed speeches that demand the government do more to protect Shiites. As such, what began as a measured reaction to a minority under siege could become the latest fault line in Pakistan's identity crisis.
Amie Ferris-Rotman, a John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University, was formerly Reuters' senior correspondent in Kabul.
The two suicide bombers struck just as worshippers were leaving the morning service at All Saints Church in Peshawar on Sunday, September 22, 2013. Instantly, a scene of peace became one of carnage, with more than 80 people killed and 130 injured, though the death toll will likely climb as hospitals are unable to save the wounded.
All Saints is one of the oldest churches in Pakistan, but before Sunday, many outside observers probably were unaware that any church, let alone one holding 600 congregants, existed just miles from the Afghan border near Pakistan's tribal region. Built in 1883 during the British colonial period, its architecture resembles a mosque more than a European cathedral. Now it shows pocket marks and other scars from the ball bearings used in the attack. After years of successfully navigating the challenging political and religious terrain, the church is now the site of arguably the largest attack on the Christian community in Pakistan.
However, this was not the first act of violence against Christians in Pakistan. And unless the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif takes resolute action, it will not be the last.
For instance, the Pakistan Religious Violence Project of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) documented attacks between January 2012 and June 2013 against all religious communities in the country. Based on publicly available information, the project recorded 37 attacks against Christians, resulting in 11 deaths and 36 injuries, as well as five women who were reportedly targeted for rape. On Sunday, this body count jumped almost tenfold.
Earlier this year near Lahore, an entire Christian village named Joseph Colony was burned to the ground after an allegation of blasphemy. Instead of trying to stop the attack, police ordered the residents to flee. While the Punjabi government is rebuilding the destroyed homes and other buildings, no one has been held accountable. The incident was eerily similar to the 2009 burning of the village of Gojra, where seven Christians were burned alive. Past being prologue, all of the Gojra cases were dropped and no one was found guilty.
Other high profile instances of violence include the 2011 murder of Federal Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian in the previous government's cabinet. He was killed by the Pakistani Taliban for his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law. The Zardari government did not seriously investigate his death, and the unsolved crime sent a chilling signal to the Christian community that not even their leaders will be protected. There was a recent break in the case when two Pakistani Taliban members arrested for their involvement in other crimes confessed to killing Bhatti. However, this was due to dumb luck, not a tireless investigation. Whether they will be prosecuted remains to be seen.
In addition, Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law is repeatedly used against religious minorities. Most recently, a 29-year-old Christian named Sajjad Masih was found guilty in July of denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and sentenced to life in prison, despite the accuser recanting. Reports indicate that mobs pressured the judge into the conviction and sentence. With Masih's imprisonment, almost 40 individuals are serving life sentences or sitting on death row for blasphemy - a statistic unmatched by any other country in the world - the majority of which are believed to be Christians. This includes Asia Bibi, the Christian mother of five who was sentenced to death for blasphemy in 2010, who continues to languish in jail.
But the Christian community isn't alone in its suffering. USCIRF's Pakistan Religious Violence Project also recorded the killing of 635 Shi'a in 77 separate suicide bombings and targeted shootings between the same timeframe. The Pakistani Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, another militant organization, repeatedly claimed credit. Ahmadis continue to face drive-by shootings and live under an apartheid-like legal system that criminalizes their faith, while Hindus are reportedly leaving for India to escape the religiously-inspired violence against their community.
Even members of the Muslim majority who dare encroach on the religious turf of extremists are not immune from violence. The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, paid with his life for criticizing the blasphemy law, while the Pakistani Taliban tried to assassinate young Malala Yousafzai for her advocacy for women's education, which they deemed un-Islamic. The Pakistani Taliban also targeted politicians they deemed "secular" during the run-up to the May election and afterwards. Scores were killed from the more moderate Pakistan People's Party and the Awami National Party, which had a senior member murdered in August.
The Peshawar attackers are believed to be from Pakistani Jundullah, an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban. They justified the church attack because of the ongoing drone strikes by the United States, saying that they will continue to target non-Muslims until those end. The terrorists see the churchgoers as symbols of the West, not as Pakistanis. Unfortunately, Imran Khan, whose party runs Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Peshawar, seemed to give credence to this deeply problematic linkage in his comments after the attack, noting that a drone attack had occurred earlier that same day.
Pakistan's political leaders have condemned the All Saints bombing, as did the National Assembly in a unanimous vote. Sharif has also called off peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban as a consequence of the attack, after having recently built political consensus on negotiating with them and other militants. International condemnation was universal and swift, coming from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, the United Nations, and even Japan. However, talk is cheap and more must be done to prevent future attacks. Inaction will impact all Pakistanis, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
What is needed is not complicated - it is basic law enforcement and legal reform. The federal and provincial authorities must do more to provide protection, arrest perpetrators or those inciting violence, vigorously prosecute them, and send them to jail. Turning a blind eye or continuing to enforce the blasphemy law will only further embolden militants and foster a culture of violent extremism and impunity. The international community can help create political will by insisting that Pakistan address the violence, both on human rights grounds and also because of the destabilizing effect it is having on this nuclear-armed country.
Knox Thames is the Director of Policy and Research at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed here are his own. He can be followed on Twitter @thames22.
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As the insurgencies and drone strikes continue along Pakistan's northern border with Afghanistan, a different kind of operation has begun in the country's south: the pacification of Karachi, one of Pakistan's most important cities.
In early September, after admitting the failure of the police to control the violence, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif empowered a paramilitary group, the Sindh Rangers, to conduct targeted operations within Karachi. These ongoing operations aim to restore peace in the city, but some of the arrests have led to widespread business closures and even more violence. While Sharif has already expressed his satisfaction on the progress of these operations, it is highly unlikely that they will produce any real long-term changes for Karachi, as there are too many militant factions to be quashed in a single campaign and too many groups, including political parties, criminals, and terrorist organizations, with vested interests in the current system to be swept away.
Though there has certainly been an uptick in violence recently, Karachi has been a center of conflict for years. It was widely considered the most dangerous megacity in the world in 2012, with approximately 2,500 violent deaths that year alone. Indian megacity New Delhi, by comparison, had only 521. Extortion and kidnappings have also become commonplace. But these crimes are not solely the work of ethnic-based mafias or terrorist groups, though groups like the Tehreek-i Taliban Pakistan are known to operate out of Karachi. Many are committed by groups linked to political parties, particularly the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is a dominant political force in the city.
This fact speaks to a much deeper and systemic issue in Karachi: any and all interest groups, both within and outside of the system, likely have some ties to militants. Politics by the barrel of a gun is nothing new to a country as prone to military coups as Pakistan, but if most vested interests in the city can be presumed to have some violent elements, then the only way for the police and military to regain control is by reining in all those groups, not just a few of the most obvious offenders. This is especially true as previous attempts to quell the violence in Karachi by targeting only some of the offenders have failed.
The Rangers, for example, were called into the city in 2011 in an attempt to end the gang-based violence that was then paralyzing Karachi. These operations were limited to addressing only one facet of the violence, the criminal gangs. Two years later, it is obvious that those operations were unsuccessful as the violence continues unabated. While the current operations have included the arrests of political party members, the operations remain too narrow in scope to address all the violent factions plaguing Karachi.
The use of the Rangers, a paramilitary organization under civilian control, rather than the Pakistani army highlights the government's continued fear of the military establishment. This, too, has a precedent.
During the 2011 operations in Karachi, the then ruling Pakistan People's Party decided against using the military amid fears that it would destabilize the civilian government. Sharif may share these fears, or wish to consolidate power in his own hands, or both. While neither is a positive omen for the improvement of civil-military relations in Pakistan, this made end up being a blessing in disguise for the army as their resources are badly needed to fight counterterrorism operations along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pacifying Karachi might have stretched the army's resources too thin for effective operations in either arena.
Despite Sharif's satisfaction with the Rangers' operations, one cannot expect a single series of operations to end the violence that plagues Karachi. Sending the Rangers into the city can be viewed as a stopgap measure at best. Without a more permanent security and institutional solution, violence and extortion will simply resume after these targeted operations have been completed. What Karachi, and indeed all of Pakistan, needs is a long-term, sustained security and political effort that targets all guilty parties, including the corrupt and militant branches of the political parties. Unfortunately, at the moment, it appears that the current government has neither the resources nor the will for such an undertaking. Coupled with that is the danger that any long-term force in Karachi, be it paramilitary or political, will end up as another well-armed faction pursuing its own interests, thus exacerbating the problem.
The current security situation in Karachi is in many ways a microcosm of the problems Pakistan faces as a whole: rapidly expanding population with fighting between different ethnic groups, sectarian violence, the strong presence of terrorist groups, and militants linked to political parties, as well as a severe lack of infrastructure and systemic corruption. Karachi is a failed city, and its lawlessness and violence is a picture of what Pakistan could be as a failed state. If the government cannot create a permanent security solution in the city, there is little hope that it will be able to solve the exact same problems on a country-wide scale.
Kathryn Alexeeff has a masters degree in Security Studies from Georgetown University and currently works at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. All views expressed here are her own.
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On Sunday, September 8, 2013, Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) stepped down as the president of Pakistan. Many will write about this historic day as it represents the first time a democratically elected president completed a five-year term, followed by a peaceful transition to another democratically elected government. Most of Pakistan's leaders have been removed from office in coups d'état or have been forced to resign. Zardari is the only one to leave office with a formal lunch hosted by his political rivals.
Although Zardari's tenure in office was characterized by judicial activism and media opposition that often bordered on hatred, it will be remembered for its tolerance of that criticism. Since Pakistan's independence 66 years ago, its politics have been intensely polarized. Opponents of the subsequent governments have been routinely jailed and even killed after being labeled "enemies of the state." Zardari, however, chose to take the criticism, preferring the noise of a fledgling democracy to the enforced silence of superficial stability.
Polarization in Pakistan has not ended but it has diminished, at least among the major electable national leaders and parties. Much of what it took to achieve this historic moment is publicly known, but there are many stressful and difficult moments known to just a few. Perhaps one day the entirety of the struggle to deliver democracy and strengthen Pakistan's parliamentary roots will become public knowledge.
What most people do know is that since the February 2008 parliamentary election, and especially after the resignation of former president and military strongman Pervez Musharraf, there has been a powerful lobby in Pakistan hankering for the "good old days" when the reins of authority were held solely by the country's powerful generals, bureaucrats, and judges, who were assisted by powerful media barons and urban industrialists.
When Zardari took office, many politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, and citizens had very little idea of who he was. The picture painted by the country's intelligence agencies and the permanent establishment thrived in a nation obsessed by rumors and hungry for conspiracy theories.
Pakistan's urban elite have often been more comfortable with military rule and historically, elected leaders have been denigrated as incompetent and corrupt. It was not always easy to muddy and blacken the image of democratic leader Benazir Bhutto, especially on the international stage or with her party members, who stood by her like a rock. But it was very easy to scapegoat Zardari, the businessman-consort of the leading pro-democracy politician. He was accused of many things over the past two and a half decades without any charge ever being proved in any court. Anyone who has spent time in political life knows well that once your public image has been defined for you, it is often impossible to change that image.
As such, Zardari took little interest in restoring his personal image once he became president. He did not care that analysts and journalists tied to Pakistan's establishment described him as an "accidental president" and repeated unproved past allegations against him. Instead, his focus was to redress the imbalance in Pakistan's power structure.
Unelected presidents and military dictators had, in the past, accumulated power in that office at the expense of Pakistan's parliament and its provincial governments, the constituting units of the Pakistani federation. Zardari worked with the various parties in parliament to shape amendments that restored the constitution to its original form. Because of his efforts, Pakistan can now be a functional parliamentary democracy and a proper federation, with real authority in the hands of its provinces.
Hardline opponents constantly claimed that Zardari and the PPP government, led by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, would be gone in three months. This was then consistently repeated by the sages on Pakistani cable television and by print columnists. The entire effort was to destabilize the government itself, but it didn't work. Instead, it undermined the effectiveness of the government and deferred tough economic decisions.
The relentless pressure from many quarters, including the Supreme Court of Pakistan, eventually resulted in Gilani's removal over a contempt of court charge, something unheard of in any democracy. This judicial activism and the discretionary use of the court's Suo Moto powers paralyzed the executive branch of government. PPP cabinet ministers and administrative heads of government departments and agencies spent a lot more time answering frivolous petitions in court than they did in their offices governing the country. But with the May 2013 elections, which resulted in a new government led by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, the question of the PPP government's performance is now history.
Zardari's legacy will instead be the strengthening of the democratic process. Out of office, he can now work on rebuilding the PPP so that the party can seek a mandate from the people during the next election to actually govern and deliver -- something it was not allowed to do last time.
While Pakistan's constitution bars the outgoing president from running for elective office for two years, Zardari is not prohibited from generating ideas and direction for his party. Hopefully, he will reform the party by bringing in new blood not associated with allegations of corruption and inefficiency. The PPP remains a mass political party that needs to be rejuvenated to make the case for a liberal, tolerant, pluralist and fair Pakistan. Zardari's son, Bilawal Bhutto, who is co-leader of the party, has already spoken of that need publicly on social media.
If the democratic environment, free of excessive polarization, which Zardari sought to create in the last five years, lasts for the next five, there will be room for Pakistani politicians to debate the country's fundamental issues: terrorism, international isolation and economic reform.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and a former Pakistan Peoples Party member of Pakistan's parliament.
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It is past time to shed the illusion that talks with the Afghan Taliban can result in a grand bargain that somehow resolves the Afghan conflict. The belief that there is, after all, nothing to lose in trying to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table is misguided. Three years of continuing American attempts to get talks going have had consequences that are anything but benign. These efforts have diverted attention from needed domestic reforms; undermined confidence in the critical economic, political, and security transitions underway with the departure of U.S. and other NATO forces; and harmed prospects for a viable Afghan state after 2014.
The damage accruing from mostly wishful thinking about reaching a comprehensive settlement with the insurgents is widely evident. It has planted doubts about American intentions and further strained Washington's testy relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai and his close advisors have interpreted American diplomatic initiatives as deliberately sidelining the Kabul government's participation in negotiations. Fears that the United States and Pakistan are working in tandem to strike a deal with the Taliban that would divide up Afghanistan have also worsened Kabul's already acrimonious relations with Islamabad. The Karzai government's own peace initiatives have also intensified differences with Pakistan, which is accused of blocking Taliban participation in talks. Karzai's recent visit with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while cordial, is unlikely to end those suspicions.
But the most destructive fallout from the ill-founded prospect of a negotiated peace with the insurgency has been its effect on the Afghan people, only a minor fraction of who support the Taliban's return. The possibility that the Taliban might once again wield power has exacerbated ethnic tensions within Afghanistan. In particular, the country's northerners detect what they believe to be a Pakistani solution that cedes the south and east to the Taliban, who are then thought certain to make a bid for power over the entire country.
Overall, the possibility of a Taliban return to power has spread confusion among Afghans and intensified hedging strategies beyond those already occasioned by the withdrawal of foreign forces. Local and foreign economic investment has dried up, and the flight of human and physical capital has accelerated. Afghans in the provinces and districts, many ambivalent in their loyalties, have greater reason to distance themselves from Kabul. While Afghan leaders keep pursuing a political outcome, the country's security forces are being asked to take greater risks against the insurgency.
The allure of a political settlement in Afghanistan for the United States and others is, perhaps, understandable. With an outright military victory against the Taliban unlikely in the foreseeable future and an insurgency that faces great difficulty in overrunning the country, it is tempting to conclude that both sides are ready for a negotiated peace. A power-sharing agreement would presumably avoid further conflict and the high probability of a protracted civil war. Talks hold out the promise that with the Taliban and its allies joining a political process, a stable, inclusive Afghan government could emerge. Necessary compromises might shift the country in a more conservative religious direction, but an agreement, it would be hoped, could preserve the core of the Afghan constitution and protect the social and economic gains of the last 12 years. Certainly the Afghan people are anxious to see an end to 35 years of almost continuous warfare.
For departing coalition forces, a political solution would avoid testing the ability of the Afghan security forces to fend off the insurgency. By fostering an agreement, the United States and its allies could be absolved of the criticism that they will desert the Afghan people. Despite all they have failed to accomplish, these countries could say that the years of military involvement were justified by having laid the groundwork for a durable peace.
Afghanistan's neighbors also see the attractions of a political outcome as they all fear the uncertainties of a civil war that might follow the withdrawal of foreign troops. None would welcome an outright Taliban military victory that might spill extremist ideas and militants across their borders. Even Pakistan recognizes the possible gains from a political accord, albeit one that promotes its interests. Although it firmly backed Taliban efforts to wrest full power in Afghanistan until 2001, that was before Pakistan had to contend with a radical Islamic insurgency of its own.
Yet all of the various back channels employed by the United States to get the Taliban to start negotiating have only revealed that they have no strong incentive to stop fighting. The more tireless the U.S. efforts to get a peace process going, the seemingly more convinced the insurgents are of American desperation, and the more they believe their current strategies are working. While those in the West may doubt that there is a military solution, the insurgents apparently still believe in one.
Supposedly among an increasingly divided Taliban leadership there are those who favor holding peace talks, but even these alleged pragmatists offer little hope for serious negotiations. Privately they have made it clear that their side will not agree to a ceasefire and disarming, or accede to many of the basic principles of the constitution. The Taliban have shown no interest in negotiating directly with the Karzai government, and it is doubtful that they would accept the presence of any foreign military personnel in the country post 2014. The Taliban representatives who opened a political office in Doha proved to be mainly interested in winning the release of the group's prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in gaining legitimacy for the insurgency.
It is high time that the United States and its partners stop believing that there exists a shortcut to ending the Afghan conflict and a clear path for a graceful exit. The United States should instead concentrate its remaining resources and influence in the country on working with the Afghan government to improve its governance, development, and security forces. There may indeed be a political outcome in Afghanistan, but only when elements of the insurgency, seeing that the state is here to stay, conclude that time is not on their side and their grievances are best addressed within the system. Such a peace is likely to be realized through the gradual reintegration of insurgents in hundreds of small agreements across the country, not around a negotiating table in Doha or anywhere else.
Marvin G. Weinbaum is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is a scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute. He served as an analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research from 1999 to 2003.
Assertions and opinions in this editorial are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Middle East Institute, which expressly does not take positions on Middle East policy.
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As the United States draws down in Afghanistan, seeks to rebalance towards Asia, and remains enmeshed in the Middle East, deliberations continue in Washington on a post-2014 Pakistan policy. But such discussions tend to view Pakistan through a South and Central Asian lens, from the Indo-Pak nuclear dynamic grounded in Kashmir (once again heating up) to the more nebulous New Silk Road initiative. Few analysts are creatively assessing how Pakistan might fit into the U.S.'s rebalance to Asia given the key role of its neighbors, India and China, and the potentially stabilizing effect of including Pakistan in a wider Asian economic web. Such an analysis partly turns on a question that has drawn scant attention: exactly how does Islamabad view the rebalance?
Last month, I spoke on the evolution and elements of the rebalance policy during President Obama's first term at the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, a leading think tank in Islamabad. My remarks coincided with the leak of the Abbottabad Commission report, a Pakistani inquiry into U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in May 2011. Encouraging the audience of former senior diplomats, army officers, academics, and journalists to think beyond the terrorism-related concerns of the day, I inquired about how Pakistan perceives the U.S. rebalance to Asia and, irrespective of the U.S. posture, how does it intend to plug into the economic dynamism of the Asia-Pacific for its own benefit? Five views emerged that reflect the strain on Pakistan, and its relations with the United States, as it seeks to transcend its troubles and assess its position in the wider region.
First, to some, the rebalance is "old wine in a new bottle." The United States has always been engaged in Asia with its military bases both far and wide, so the talk of rebalancing is mere rhetoric. Moreover, Washington is incapable of acting strategically, as shown by its misguided forays into Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade, the latter of which has had dire consequences for Pakistan.
Second, others claim that the rebalance is "pro-India" and "anti-China." As the Obama administration calls India a "key partner" in the rebalance, Pakistan continues to hear from its "all-weather friend" China that the policy is containment, plain and simple. Pakistan wants no part of a policy that bolsters its enemy and hems in its friend.
Third, attendants argued that the rebalance is irrelevant. Pakistan's priority must instead be to get its economic house in order and to overcome its "global pariah" status. To the extent it can lift its gaze beyond its borders, it has enough to contend with India and Afghanistan.
Fourth, further responses suggested that Pakistan's own efforts to look east through its "Vision East Asia" policy have been less successful than hoped. Attempts to enhance engagement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), for example, have faltered; ASEAN continues to deny Pakistan full dialogue partner status. The reasons potentially range from a desire to ensure ASEAN's coherence to uncertainty about Pakistan's contribution to concerns about an unwanted import: militancy. China thus remains Pakistan's only viable avenue into the broader Asia-Pacific region. The same week I was in Islamabad, Pakistan's prime minister was in Beijing pitching a China-Pak economic corridor that would funnel in greater trade and investment.
Fifth, participants believed that Pakistan has little room to maneuver. The United States and China are great powers, while Pakistan is a small global player. It does not have the ability to act strategically in an analogous manner and meaningfully project itself into the Asia-Pacific region. Instead it is at the mercy of a new great game.
Given Pakistan's geography, travails, and anti-American sentiment, confusion and suspicion about the U.S. rebalance is understandable, just as the dearth of thought on how to tap Asia-Pacific's prosperity or apply relevant lessons is striking. Skepticism in Islamabad overlaps with that in Washington, where patience mutually runs thin given a fractious counter-terrorism partnership. Moreover, Pakistan is seen as a conceptual misfit in a policy anchored in the Asia-Pacific.
Yet the rebalance may be a more elastic concept and extend beyond the Asia-Pacific. In his remarks on "The United States and the Asia-Pacific" last month, Vice President Joe Biden underscored Latin America's role in the rebalance saying: "Our goal is to help tie Asia-Pacific nations together from India to the Americas." Meanwhile, others have argued that the rebalance should extend westward, beyond India, to include South Asia and the Middle East in an effort to match growing Chinese influence there.
Given this potential fluidity, the Obama administration should reassess how Pakistan relates to the rebalance as it searches for a coherent and constructive relationship post-2014. There may not be a fit but nonetheless, gauging and engaging Islamabad is a good place to start.
Ziad Haider is the director of the Truman National Security Project's Asia Expert Group. He served as a White House Fellow in the U.S. Department of Justice and as a national security aide in the U.S. Senate. You can follow him on Twitter at: @Asia_Hand.
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Erstwhile coup-making general and former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf was indicted on murder charges Tuesday in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. While the anti-terrorism court (ATC) in Rawalpindi had named Musharraf in the case in early 2011, and declared he was a proclaimed offender in August of that year, today's indictment marks the first time that a former military officer has had to answer to criminal charges in a Pakistani court of law. As such, one can only hope that the focus remains on the merits of the case, and that Bhutto's death and the events surrounding it are not drowned out in a political circus.
Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007, as she left a political rally in Rawalpindi, the Pakistani capital's twin city and the headquarters for the Pakistani military. According to official reports, in addition to Bhutto, 24 others were killed and 91 were injured when a gunman opened fire on the former prime minister as she headed to her car and a bomb exploded near the scene.
It was the second bloody attack on Bhutto after her return from political exile. Just weeks earlier in Karachi, Bhutto was attacked hours after she touched down on Pakistani soil and though she miraculously escaped death, 149 of her Pakistan Peoples Party workers were killed and 402 supporters and bystanders were injured in multiple bombings.
Bhutto had returned to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile to take on two pressing issues that were endangering Pakistan as a nation: the increasing radicalization and strength of militant outfits; and the growing interference of the Pakistani establishment and its intelligence agencies in matters of domestic politics and international concern.
After Bhutto's assassination, the Pakistani government requested that the U.N. Secretary General form a commission to investigate her death. The commission began its work in July 2009, and completed its exhaustive report on March 30, 2010.
While the U.N. Commission Report authored by Heraldo Munoz, Marzuki Darusman, and Peter FitzGerald noted Musharraf's culpability in Bhutto's killing, saying "The federal Government under General Musharraf, although fully aware of and tracking the serious threats to Ms. Bhutto, did little more than pass on those threats to her and to provincial authorities and were not proactive in neutralizing them or ensuring that the security provided was commensurate to the threats," it also noted the security failures by the local police and the involvement of the Pakistani intelligence services in the ensuing investigations - particularly the hosing down of the scene and thereby washing away all traces of evidence.
What was made even clearer by the report was that Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources, including "Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination."
Ultimately, the three-member U.N. panel said Bhutto's death could have been avoided if Musharraf's government and security agencies had taken adequate protection measures, and it urged Pakistani authorities to carry out a "serious, credible" criminal investigation that "determines who conceived, ordered and executed this heinous crime of historic proportions, and brings those responsible to justice."
Just days ago, Munoz reiterated his findings, writing in Foreign Affairs: "In Bhutto's case, it would seem that the village assassinated her: al Qaeda gave the order; the Pakistani Taliban executed the attack, possibly backed or at least encouraged by elements of the establishment; the Musharraf government facilitated the crime through its negligence; local senior policemen attempted a cover-up; Bhutto's lead security team failed to properly safeguard her; and most Pakistani political actors would rather turn the page than continue investigating who was behind her assassination."
He continued: "Probably no government or court of law will be able or willing to fully disentangle the whole truth from that web. It may well be that Bhutto's assassination will be another unsolved case in the long history of impunity in Pakistan, and that the controversy surrounding her assassination will endure as much as her memory."
As gratifying as Musharraf's indictment - a move towards justice - is, the issue with the entire case against the former president is that he alone has been accused, stands charged with Bhutto's murder, and will, at the very least, face trial; even imprisonment is likely if the powerful military establishment does not balk at the sight of one of its own being treated as a mere civilian.
Let's hope that the Pakistani military and justice system treat this trial on its merits and do not move it into a personal or political realm. Justice has long been denied to the Bhutto family by the courts and it is time for the courts to judge those responsible on the facts of the case alone.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and a former Pakistan Peoples Party member of Pakistan's parliament.
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What could make people resent a 14-year-old girl who was shot in the head?
This might seem like a strange question to ask yet resentment is exactly the way that many Pakistanis have reacted to Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl from Swat, Pakistan, who was shot by the Taliban on her way to school one morning last October. While voices have been raised in support of Malala across the globe, with world leaders and civil society figures from India to the United States hailing her as a symbol of hope in the struggle against extremism, many Pakistanis have lashed out at her in the aftermath of her speech at the United Nations on July 12, 2013. Malala has been accused of being a CIA agent, of shamelessly exploiting Pakistan's failures and giving the country a bad name, and of symbolizing the hypocrisy of Western countries that care about the innocent victims of Taliban violence, but ignore the innocent victims of drone attacks.
Worse still, increasingly bizarre theories have started to mushroom in Pakistan to explain what happened to her. While there is no earthly reason to doubt that the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai, especially since they took credit for it (Adnan Rasheed, a Taliban leader, wrote an open letter to her taking full responsibility), such facts have been conveniently ignored. Instead, a number of conspiracy theories have emerged, each one more removed from reality than the next - to the point that none of the basic elements of the story are agreed upon by a majority of people. Some have suggested that Rasheed's letter was fabricated, and Malala was not shot by the Taliban at all - despite the fact that other Taliban spokesmen have also taken credit for the shooting. The simple statement, "Malala Yousafzai, an innocent schoolgirl," has become increasingly contested through a counter-narrative that labels her a "CIA agent." What use the CIA would have had for a 14 year-old girl in Swat is of course a complete mystery. Still others have speculated that she was not shot at all, because her head was not shaved during neurosurgery. How so many non-surgeons could make this determination from just looking at a picture of her head similarly remains mystifying.
What these arguments starkly illustrate is that the domestic debate surrounding Malala has almost completely disintegrated into hyper-exaggerations, polemical statements, and worst of all, conspiracy theories. But where does this sort of public debate leave the average Pakistani? How can Pakistanis make sense of a world where half-truths, conspiracies, and lies are seen lurking around every corner?
Such a debate over the facts of the Malala case may sound outlandish, the past-time of fringe groups, but it brings out an important facet of Pakistani politics today. On many issues, there are no longer any authoritative lines separating fact from fiction; it is almost impossible to have a public debate over contentious issues in Pakistan (specifically those involving Western powers), where all parties agree on the "facts" of a case. Pakistanis increasingly live in an topsy-turvy world where the lines between heroes and villains, fact and fiction, truth and lies have become so blurred that it is hard to determine what the way forward is. This is not the product of a culture war, which presumes circumscribed spheres in a conflict of different cultural or even ideological views. There are no clear camps here - a clash between "liberals" and "religious fundamentalists" is a reductionist view of Pakistani society. This is the product of a deeper problem: a complete disagreement over what sources of information are legitimate and reliable, as well as the failure of most avenues of communication between Pakistan and Western countries.
In the absence of contact and productive interaction with Western countries, it has become easier for many Pakistanis to attribute sinister motivations to the West, to the point that shadowy conspiracy theories start to seem reasonable. And the Pakistani state has not been able to rectify this situation by providing a credible narrative of the problems plaguing Pakistan; in fact, in many cases, state officials exacerbate the situation by giving credence to conspiracy theories, leading to an almost complete breakdown of any consensus on a version of the "truth." The secrecy and contradictory information surrounding many recent events - for example, the Raymond Davis affair in Lahore, the Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad, even recent reports on the Mumbai attacks - all feed into this spiralling de-legitimization of all sources of information. In some cases, foreign governments have been involved in Pakistan in ways that seem to justify the conspiracies - for example, the CIA's use of a hepatitis B vaccination drive to gather information about bin Laden, as well as recent revelations about the British government's secret deals with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement for intelligence gathering to limit the influence of militants in Karachi.
This growing inability to engage in reasonable debates on contentious issues, taking certain facts to be commonly accepted, has very worrying implications for Pakistan. First, by becoming entangled in murky conspiracy theories, Pakistanis are unable to engage in an informed national discussion and reflection on issues that affect everyone. This makes it increasingly difficult to build any kind of consensus on the issues facing Pakistan, whether it is terrorism, inflation, debt, the water and power crisis, or even health policy. Without such a consensus, it will be difficult to find a way forward in creating a peaceful and stable country. Second, when Pakistanis cannot agree on what constitutes a "fact," or on what future they envision for Pakistan, it becomes impossible to decide who the heroes and villains of the country are. It is ironic that, in less than a year, Malala went from being seen as a hero in Pakistan - with demonstrations of support held from Peshawar to Karachi for her fearless efforts in standing up for the right to have an education - to being seen as either a CIA agent or a hypocrite, simply because she is now associated too closely with the West.
As a step towards remedying this, it is important for Pakistanis to collectively recognize and unite behind their country's own heroes, realising that it is not the responsibility of others to celebrate their champions, or to protect their victims. Malala is Pakistan's to take pride in, to care for, to protect, to hold up as a symbol of courage - as are any other innocent victims of violence in Pakistan. If Pakistanis disagree with sectarian killings, with ethnic violence, with the current U.S. drone program, it is for them to raise these issues, to publicize them, to start a conversation both nationally and internationally. One injustice cannot be addressed by creating another. It is unfortunate that the innocent victims of such violence do not receive much attention internationally - but would it be any better to live in a world where even the shooting of a 14-year-old girl gains no reaction?
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
Sairah Yusuf is a graduate of the University of Oxford and is currently working as a researcher at the Generations For Peace Institute in Amman, Jordan.
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When I catch myself wondering about Pakistan's future, I am reminded of an old man I saw standing on the side of Mall Road in Lahore one hot summer evening last year. He stood there all by himself in the sweltering heat, dressed in a suit, holding up a sign that read: "We want Jinnah's Pakistan back." Watching him stand there, I found myself swept away in a moment of deep sadness - his message resonated with my own yearning for a better Pakistan, my own deep-seated desire to believe that Jinnah's dream of a prosperous Pakistan meant something. I later found out that the man had been involved in Pakistan's struggle for independence. He had fought for Pakistan in 1947 and he was clinging to the belief that his struggle had not been for nothing, that Jinnah's dream was still worth fighting for.
Today is August 14, the same day when 66 years ago Pakistan gained its independence and came into existence with the passionate words of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who promised a new beginning:
"If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make."
Jinnah's promise of a Pakistan where caste, color, and creed did not divide people resonated after the bloodbath that had followed the subcontinent's partition. The horrific stories that accompanied the birth of the new state have been well-documented: trains full of bloodied corpses pulling up to stations, women in some villages begging to be killed to avoid being raped by rioters, neighbors slaughtering each other, and widespread rape and killing in what seemed like frenzied madness. In all, half a million people died and 10 million were displaced, a tragedy of momentous proportions that India and Pakistan struggled to deal with.
Sadat Hassan Manto beautifully captures the sense of deep angst, confusion and dislocation that partition created in his famous story Toba Tek Singh. Old identities were thrown into question and new ones were created as people found themselves separated from their lands, their homes, and their families with siblings on different sides of the same border. To some Pakistanis, Jinnah's words offered hope and solace in the aftermath of what became one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.
Yet the birth of the new state of Pakistan was not greeted with joy by many who found themselves, almost overnight, citizens of that state. The movement behind the formation of Pakistan was largely led by Muslims from the Muslim-minority regions of India, such as the United Provinces. This Muslim elite did not represent the views of the Muslim majority provinces that later became a part of Pakistan; in fact, the Muslim League had a very limited grass-roots presence in India's Muslim-majority provinces. Moreover, ethnic and religious tensions emerged quickly after partition. Baloch nationlists, for example, trace some of their grievances back to these early years, arguing that Jinnah had promised autonomy to the Khan of Kalat, ruler of the princely state of Kalat, now Balochistan, but had later forced the Khan to later accede unconditionally to Pakistan. Kashmir became an issue of lasting contention between India and Pakistan, which remains unresolved to this day. Both countries also faced the formidable task of resettling the millions of migrants who had crossed the border at partition.
While Pakistan faced considerable challenges from the very beginning, especially in terms of creating a sense of nationhood out of its diverse regions, there was enough hope surrounding the new state that Jinnah could speak of looking forward to "Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world." The real tragedy of Pakistan is that a mere 66 years later, it is now labeled the "most dangerous nation" in the world rather than one of the greatest nations. But how could things have gone so very wrong in less than seven decades?
This is a question that most Pakistanis have to grapple with today. It hangs heavy in the air during the horrifying aftermath of suicide blasts, sectarian violence, confrontations between the Pakistani military and militants, and separatist violence in Baluchistan. It is a question that plagues the growing population of Pakistanis who cannot get adequate security, clean drinking water, electricity, access to education, proper health care, and affordable food.
And yet this question resists any straightforward answers, with Pakistan's problems often blamed on a wide variety of things, including its problematic relationship with its Islamic identity, the history of military rule, incompetent leadership and bad decisions, President Zia-ul Haq's Islamization reforms, the Soviet-Afghan war, Pakistan's geo-political insecurities (especially involving India), and the U.S.-led "War on Terror," among others. Pakistanis cannot agree on a way forward and in the absence of that, there seems to be no end to the country's downward slide.
"We are in the midst of unparalleled difficulties and untold sufferings", Jinnah said in the aftermath of partition, "we have been through dark days of apprehension and anguish; but I can say with confidence that with courage and self-reliance and by the Grace of God we shall emerge triumphant." These words, spoken 66 years ago, speak just as easily to the situation that Pakistan finds itself in today. Yet, will courage, self-reliance and the Grace of God help Pakistan out of its current quandary? Pakistanis like myself often find themselves wondering - will things ever get better? Is Jinnah's dream of a utopian Pakistan just a distant relic of the country's past, no longer relevant or meaningful in the light of harsh realities?
Maybe now, more than ever, the struggle of the ordinary Pakistani is to believe that another world is possible, even in the face of harsh realities that suggest otherwise, even when the odds are stacked against it. After all, when Pakistanis stop believing that a better future is possible, that is when they have truly given up on their country. Maybe when that old man stood on the road with his banner demanding Jinnah's Pakistan, that's what he was doing - holding onto a dream when the world around him seemed to turn upside down.
Fatima Mustafa is a Carnegie Fellow at the New America Foundation and a PhD candidate at Boston University's Political Science department, writing her dissertation on the failures of state-building in Pakistan.
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On Sunday, August 11, Pakistan will celebrate National Minorities Day, giving recently-elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif his first formal opportunity to recognize the value of religious minority communities to the nation.
Created in 2011, this day is a bittersweet irony for Pakistan.
On the one hand, it recalls the inclusive and tolerant vision of the past: of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, whose speech to the nation on August 11, 1947 included these words:
"You are free. You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship...You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state."
On the other hand, it highlights the stark realities of the present: how Pakistan has betrayed Jinnah's vision by failing to fulfill his words with concrete actions that protect religious minorities from harm. Indeed, Islamabad has done little to stem a rising tide of violence against members of Pakistan's Ahmadi, Christian, Hindu, Shi'a, and Sikh communities.
Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released the findings from its Pakistan Religious Violence Project. Tracking publicly reported attacks against religious communities over the past 18 months, the project collected alarming data that catalogued the human toll of Pakistan's intolerance and hatred. During that time period, there were more than 200 incidents of sectarian violence that led to 1,800 casualties, including more than 700 deaths.
Many of those killed or injured were Shi'a citizens, with some of the most lethal assaults taking place during Shi'a holy months and pilgrimages. During the year-and-a-half period covered by the study, there were 77 attacks against the Shi'a, 54 against Ahmadis, 37 against Christians, 16 against Hindus, and 3 against Sikhs.
Since the publication of USCIRF's report, the death toll has continued to rise. On July 27, at least 57 people were killed and more than 150 wounded by bombs targeting a market frequented by Shi'a in northwestern Pakistan.
To his credit, Sharif raised concerns about the plight of religious minorities in his maiden speech to Pakistan's National Assembly and tasked his government to crack down on militants targeting the Shi'a. Hopefully his comments reflect a realization that the time for mere talk and symbolism has passed and that resolute action is needed to ensure that the perpetrators of violence against religious communities are arrested, prosecuted, and jailed along with the violent extremist groups that have spurred the bloodshed.
Moreover, police officers must be held accountable for thwarting justice when they turn a blind eye to attacks or refuse to file police reports when the victims are religious minorities.
With luck, Sharif's comments also intimate that the government will reconsider its enforcement of blasphemy and anti-Ahmadi laws which violate international human rights standards and encourage extremist attacks on perceived transgressors. Just recently, a Christian man, Sajjad Masih, was found guilty of denigrating the Prophet Mohammed and sentenced to life imprisonment, despite the accuser recanting. He joins nearly 40 others who either are on death row or serving life sentences for allegedly blasphemous activity.
Interestingly, Masih's sentencing occurred on the eve of the fourth anniversary of attacks against Christians in Punjab in the village of Gojra -- where Masih is from-- in which eight were killed, 18 were injured, two churches and at least 75 houses were burned, and not a single perpetrator was brought to justice.
Pakistan's surreal inversion of justice, in which some are punished for alleged words and beliefs while others commit literal acts of violence against them with impunity and without consequence, must end. Sharif's government must prove it is serious about ending this dual attack on its most vulnerable citizens. One simple step it can take immediately is to reopen the Federal Ministry of Interfaith Harmony and reaffirm its mission of promoting respect for members of all religious communities, particularly religious minoritiesIn the meantime, USCIRF will keep monitoring the situation and the Sharif government to determine whether it should continue recommending that the United States designate Pakistan a "country of particular concern," marking it as among the world's most egregious violators of freedom of religion or belief.
Sixty-six years ago, Pakistan's founding father laid a dream of equality and freedom before his nation. It is time for Pakistan's government to honor that dream not merely by repeating its words, but enacting it through deeds.
Robert P. George is the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
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For the last few days, Pakistan's capital has been on high alert due to the threat of a possible terrorist attack. Police and military vehicles have paraded around the city, commandos and snipers have been posted on Islamabad's picturesque Margalla Hills, and Pakistan's Navy has been deployed to protect a city that is 915 miles away from the sea. But the mobilization is being portrayed by the country's media as more of an inconvenience than a necessity.
Almost 12 years after it joined the rest of the world in fighting terrorism, Pakistan still remains uncomfortable with the idea of confronting the terrorists. Pakistani politicians, clerics, and journalists see terrorism only as a consequence of their country's alliance with the West, not as Pakistan's problem to handle.
The high alert in Islamabad follows the recent jailbreak in the country's northwestern city of Dera Ismail Khan. On July 29, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an al-Qaeda ally, freed 253 prisoners, including 45 top terrorists, after storming a high-security prison. Besides five of the attackers, 24 people were killed, including 12 policemen, 4 prisoners, and 3 civilians.
But the brazen attack remained the top story in the country's media for barely a few hours. Squabbling among Pakistan's politicians over electing a figurehead president garnered greater attention. Soon after, the antics of Pakistan's Supreme Court, which accused populist cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of contempt of court, became the focus of the nation's media attention. Interestingly, Khan's political party rules the Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province where the jailbreak took place.
After 9/11, Pakistan joined the ranks of nations united to fight the war against terror. But 12 years later, many Pakistanis remain unconvinced that terrorism must be fought as the greatest threat facing them. It's odd that this confusion about national priorities persists as at least 5,152 Pakistani civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda and its associated groups since 2008, while the total number of Pakistanis killed by terrorism and the military's effort to fight it since 2001 stands at 49,000.
The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak could have been averted if lessons had been learnt from an earlier attack almost a year ago on the Bannu Central jail in southern Khyber-Pahtunkhwa province. Around 400 prisoners were freed by over 200 heavily armed Taliban fighters during that assault. In Bannu, the Taliban attacked with 150 suicide bombers and took over the area for more than two hours. Their goal was to set some of their imprisoned comrades free.
The Bannu Central jail was located on the outskirts of the city whereas the Dera Ismail Khan jail was centrally located in the heart of the city. The police headquarters, military cantonment, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps command center were not far from the prison's location. The Taliban passed several checkpoints, roadblocks, and security personnel in the course of their offensive. Both on their way to the prison and on the way back, the Taliban's massive convoy managed to go through without any resistance.
Unluckily for the Shi'a prisoners in the jail, there was to be no release to freedom. Instead they were brutally murdered before the Taliban and the prisoners they freed drove off. The attack lasted six hours, reflecting the slow response of the authorities. No one scrambled fighter jets or sent up helicopters once the attack on the prison was known. The Taliban knew what they were doing and were prepared. The officials, on the other hand, were not.
The Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak was one in a series of attacks on prisons, which Interpol suspects involve al-Qaeda. But so far, no Pakistani official has been held accountable for the incident and there has been no public discussion of the inside help the Taliban might have received. Among those freed from both the Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan prisons were several former military and law enforcement personnel who had sided with the Taliban or al-Qaeda in the past, but there seems to be little effort to figure out the extent of the terrorist groups' penetration of Pakistan's security services.
Over the last year, several U.S. government officials and counterterrorism experts declared that al-Qaeda had been greatly weakened and was no longer a major threat to the United States and its allies; however, recent intelligence about a major threat from the group has revived concern about its rejuvenation. The U.S. reaction to this threat was the immediate temporary closure of dozens of its diplomatic missions in the Middle East and North Africa. In Pakistan, the government's response has been restricted to the show of force in Islamabad.
The claims of victory against al-Qaeda were premature, and the U.S. embassy closures may be the starting point of re-thinking the group's capacity for carrying out attacks. But in Pakistan's case, there is still no willingness to recognize that fighting terrorism must be the country's number one priority. Directly after the Dera Ismail Khan jailbreak and the Islamabad high alert, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif left the country for Saudi Arabia for a non-obligatory religious pilgrimage.
Seeing the government, and even the public, paying attention to everything but the terrorist threat, al-Qaeda and the TTP have stepped up their propaganda efforts alongside their attacks. Just this week, for example, the TTP publicly announced that it was holding hostage the kidnapped son of former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, partly as a warning to his successor about the terrorist group's reach. Instead of being motivated to mobilize public support for a coherent strategy, most Pakistani leaders are content to ignore the Jihadi menace.
Once the current alert recedes, Pakistanis will most likely return to their television sets to watch game shows in which children are given away as prizes. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, however, will be quietly planning their next big attacks.
Farahnaz Ispahani is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former parliamentarian for the Pakistan Peoples Party.
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Militancy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus is undergoing a demographic renaissance and nowhere is this clearer than in the public space occupied by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Since 2011, the insurgency's operational sphere and target selection has witnessed a meteoric expansion from the unregulated Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) - from where it first emerged in 2007 - to the heart of Pakistan's teeming metropolises.
A recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies on the geographic distribution of nationwide attacks revealed that between January and May of this year, only 12 out of a total 148 attacks took place in the FATA; 50 occurred in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 49 in Balochistan, 30 in Sindh, and 7 in Punjab. As for Pakistan's cities, Karachi alone has experienced 25 separate terrorist attacks this year that have claimed 60 lives while injuring 291 others. In early July, the contagion spread to Lahore and the densely populated Anarkali bazaar. Notably, the target of the Anarkali explosion was not one of the many upscale eateries that cater to Lahore's elite, but a nondescript middle-class restaurant popular with lower-income families.
In 2010, American political scientist Robert Pape linked the causality of suicide terrorism to foreign military occupations, arguing that ideological grievances were secondary drivers of terrorist violence. However, the true toll of unplanned military operations in the 21st century is best measured in the aftershocks, not the epicenter. A growing strategic dissonance between the eastward spread of terrorism in Pakistan and the prevailing insurgency against U.S. policy is an expression of this truism.
The geographic delocalization of Pakistan's militant threat from the hinterlands of Wana and Miramshah - traditional nerve centers for transnational militants - suggests an evolution of both tactic and strategy in the TTP's war against the Pakistani state and foreign policy. As the 2014 withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan approaches, it is becoming clearer that the TTP's socio-historical anchoring in the borderlands has been broken. This is partly due to a virulent counterinsurgency campaign that includes targeted aerial hits, such as the drone strike that killed TTP second-in-command Wali-ur-Rehman in May, as well as increased migratory flows of workers from the countryside into towns and cities. This latter process has been embraced by the TTP, inducing a covert but steady trickling of militants from the FATA to the six Frontier Regions of Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Kohat, Lakki Marwat, Peshawar, and Tank - gateways to urban Pakistan.
In the case of violent non-state actors, such migratory patterns have allowed for greater access to social networks, recruits, cash flows, technological innovations, weapons markets, and sensitive high-value targets. In February 2011, Anatol Lieven wrote: "If Pakistan is to be broken as a state, it will be on the streets of Lahore and other great Punjabi cities, not in the Pushtun mountains." The Anarkali attack is symptomatic of the militancy's move from Peshawar to Quetta and Karachi, and now to the gated citadels of Lahore.
But Lahore itself is no stranger to terror, having experienced first-hand the attack on the touring Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009, the abduction of Shahbaz Taseer (son of slain Punjab governor Shahbaz Taseer) in 2011, and the assault on police cadets just last year. The discernible difference now is that the targets of the TTP's guerrilla war are civilian, rather than governmental, in nature. Minutes away from the Wagah border crossing, TTP activity in Lahore threatens to spill over into India. In January, five months before he was killed, Rehman even made a rare video appearance calling for jihad in the Kashmir valley, as well as the spreading of sharia law to the Indian subcontinent - reinforcing the point that the TTP's scope is no longer transfixed to battles in the Af-Pak theater.
The urbanization of militant factions remains, however, path-dependent on the structural design of individual non-state actors. The TTP, for instance, retains three enduring features that make its move successful: its undisputed opposition to the Pakistani state, its decentralized operational command, and its ability to congregate in a number of different environments. These last two features are mutually reinforcing, and allow the TTP to exploit its geographic diffusion. Beyond the central core of the TTP, individual commanders are empowered enough to operate independent of diktats issued by Hakimullah Mehsud, the group's central commander.
At the same time, economists agree that the TTP's external environment is on the cusp of an urbanizing boom. Karachi's current population easily outstrips that of New York City, and it is expected to overtake Shanghai as the world's most populated megalopolis by 2025. With one of the highest rates of national urbanization in South Asia, the proportion of Pakistanis living in cities is also expected to increase to 50 percent. When coupled with militancy, these demographic shifts heighten the ability of violent non-state actors to project their power, and raises both their own technical capacity and their comparative advantage relative to that of the state, given their ability to hold entire cities, and fragile economies, hostage with the threat of collateral damage.
In the north, this eastward displacement has also brought the TTP into closer contact with Punjab-based militant groups. While contact between the TTP and sectarian outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) pre-dates the TTP's own inception, the sectarian strain in the TTP's operations has been relatively circumscribed thus far. However, the group's infiltration of the provinces threatens to reinforce existing sectarian motivations and create alliances of convenience with the dreaded LeJ. Such partnerships are likely to become a permanent fixture of the group's operational psyche.
Similarly, the TTP's inroads into Karachi, a city mired in syndicated terror networks, suggest bloodier days are ahead. Against the backdrop of the port city's neon lights, a dangerous marrying of TTP ideology, extortion, and venture capitalism has proved to be lucrative for the organization's inner-city militants, helping fund costly operations elsewhere in the country. With rising unemployment, the economic alternative presented to young, out-of-work men pushes them towards the TTP. As auxiliary fighters from universities, not madrassahs, flock to join the rebel movement, the group's diversification threatens to transform the TTP from a tribal phenomenon to one that transcends provincial demarcations while still adhering to staunch religious moorings.
The metropolitan face of Pakistani militancy carries staggering pitfalls for security and threat perceptions, with the TTP and its affiliates having masterfully created niche habitats within pre-existing pockets of urban discontent. What began as inter-tribal warfare between the Wazirs and Mehsuds of South Waziristan has morphed into a much more complex and intricate network of associations and allegiances that span the length and breadth of the Indus Basin and deserts south of Balochistan. Within the rank and file of the TTP, tribal identities are now being superseded by ideological motivations that unite as much as they divide.
Through a range of incremental processes, the TTP's urbanized sub-factions are now more fluid, versatile, tech-savvy, and resistant to traditional modes of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. As the sovereignty of the government declines in the battle for Pakistan, and the TTP continues to infringe upon the state's monopoly of violence, it is clear that the insurgency is moving from a localized threat to a national one. The consolidation of the insurgency's urban footing also means that civilian casualties, and attacks such as the one in Anarkali, are likely to become the new normal; at least until Islamabad's own counterinsurgency models start exhibiting greater flexibility and creativity in their larger attempt to save the country's megacities from falling.
Fahd Humayun is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics, and researches conflict and post-conflict security in Islamabad. He tweets at @fahdhumayun.
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"Time is running out" to help nuclear-armed Pakistan's civilian government survive. That is what then-Senator John Kerry (D-MA) said in support of the recommendations of an Atlantic Council report that was released in February 2009. The report, which provided a comprehensive look at Western relations with Pakistan, estimated that, at that point, then-President Asif Ali Zardari's government had between 6 and 12 months to enact successful security and economic policies or face the prospect of collapse. "There is still time for us to be able to help the new civilian government, turn around its economy, stabilize the political system, and address the insurgency" festering in the eastern tribal lands on the Afghan border, said Kerry.
Kerry and his co-sponsor of the report, former senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), stressed that efforts to defeat extremist Islamist militants in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan required help for the people of both strife-torn countries. Speaking from his and Kerry's own experiences in the Vietnam War, Hagel warned that "if you lose the people, you lose everything. We cannot lose the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan."
Today, as Kerry emerges from his first and much delayed visit to Pakistan as the current U.S. Secretary of State, he must have been struck by a sense of déjà vu. The mission that he and Hagel, now the U.S. Secretary of Defense, defined in 2009 remains largely unfinished. Pakistan has another civilian government facing an uphill task after the depradations of the previous one. Complicating the situation is the continuation of U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani soil that anger the Pakistani public and undermine the government's ability to work with the United States, and Pakistan's uncertain behavior regarding the Afghan Taliban that leads it to hedge in bringing them to the reconciliation table. Mistrust still pervades the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
Despite the change in names and positions, it is clear that with the anticipated clash of expectations regarding the hard economic and political realities of Afghanistan and South Asia, Pakistan today faces a tough task ahead, just as it did in 2009. Righting the U.S.-Pakistan relationship will take a longer-term plan of action, similar to one the Atlantic Council outlined four years ago. No Band-Aid approach of financial flows or even arms and equipment will work. The detailed recommendations provided in the 2009 report, and validated by discussions with Pakistan's leaders, including then-opposition leader Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's current Prime Minister, remain unimplemented. Secretaries Kerry and Hagel might do well to dust off the report they co-sponsored and see if they can persuade the Obama administration and the American public to appreciate the gravity of the situation in South Asia, while emphasizing the need for Pakistan to take ownership of its problems at a faster pace than the new government appears to be doing for now.
Re-starting the dormant Strategic Dialogue, as Kerry did last week, is just one component of this bilateral relationship. Pakistan should rapidly select and appoint a person of intellectual and political heft to be its ambassador in Washington, as leaving that slot vacant has sent a negative signal. The much delayed invitation from the White House to Sharif is welcome as a signal of the rebuilding of a relationship that was badly cracked by the successive events of 2011, truly the annus horribilis of this fraught "friendship." It is critical that the United States uses this reengagement to shore up the civilian government in Pakistan, even while it depends on the Pakistani military to help it exit Afghanistan in an orderly fashion.
It will be even more critical for Pakistan's civilian government to exhibit a strong desire and ability to take charge of key ministries. Energy appears to be front and center, and rightly so, though Sharif may want to rethink taking over the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence. Being prime minister is a large enough challenge; he should let other professionals run these key ministries. If civilian supremacy is to be established with confidence in Pakistan, Sharif needs capable persons running those ministries fulltime and should let them rationalize their operations and produce doctrines that are practicable and far-reaching.
Restoring the quality and strength of the federal and provincial bureaucracies is another key element in institutionalizing policy making. Pakistan's problems are too big to be left to the highly personalized "kitchen cabinet" or Punjabi loyalists. Signals matter too. Last week's selection of the new president did not reflect the need to honor a person of national or international standing with that post. Sharif chose a loyalist whom few in Pakistan knew before his nomination. Being a decent person, though necessary, is not enough for the job of Head of State. Sharif had much better candidates at hand but missed an opportunity to restore the grandeur and dignity of the office of President.
On regional relations, Sharif has the right instincts of a good businessman and he needs to stick with them. Open borders with India and Afghanistan can only bring longer-term stability and peace. But then why the inordinate delay in granting India Most Favored Nation status? There will be short-term costs for some trade sectors, for example the Punjabi agriculturalists, but those can be mitigated by persuading India to roll back some of its internal subsidies, allowing both sides to gain from the increase in trade. A regional approach to energy, involving central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India may be far more effective than the pipe dream of the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline that has floundered on the shoals of global politics and threats of U.S. sanctions. Joint Indo-Pakistan private sector investments may be the key to rapid results, starting with export-oriented operations that will not threaten domestic producers or markets; provided the bureaucrats can be persuaded to loosen their grip on the rules and regulations that weigh things down.
But what can the United States do regarding its relations with Pakistan? First, the administration can create a center of gravity for decision making on Pakistan, ensuring that there is a cohesive and comprehensive approach rather than departmental policies that may run at cross purposes. Then, it needs to ensure buy-in from the Pakistanis for its aid programs, including the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill for $7.5 billion that will end in 2014. Adding transparency in financial flows from the United States to the central Pakistan government and down to the provincial level will allow the Pakistan people to trust the U.S. assistance and show that promises are measured against ground realities. It should also change the pattern of expenditures so the aid monies flow into Pakistan and stay there, rather than flowing back to Washington consultancies.
Pakistan has the technological and managerial skills to implement, monitor, and evaluate aid projects to international standards. What it lacks is institutional capacity at the policy making level to make sound economic and financial decisions. This will require investing in centers of excellence across the country, where Pakistanis can learn the tools of decision making, and a new breed of managers and entrepreneurs is fostered. Pakistan needs help with its infrastructure, to connect itself internally and with neighbors, but the economy will only stabilize and grow if policy making keeps pace with its growing needs. A stable polity and growing economy will provide a platform for educating and developing productive jobs for the nearly 100 million Pakistani youth that are currently below Pakistan's median age of 22 years.
But this window of opportunity is narrowing for the governments of Pakistan and the United States. Sharif's honeymoon with the Pakistani population will likely be shorter than expected, as high hopes clash with the inability of the government to deliver results rapidly. As such, he will need to approach these issues in parallel rather than seriatim. To best help Sharif in these efforts, the United States would do well to review, update, and implement the recommendations that then-Senators Kerry and Hagel supported in 2009. If it does not, it will likely repeat the bilateral relationship rollercoaster ride of the past decade and suffer the consequences.
Shuja Nawaz is the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
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