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.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
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.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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.
Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images
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.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Ng Han Guan - Pool via Getty Images
"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.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
A recently published jihadi Internet magazine, Azan: A Call to Jihad, produced by a group calling itself the "Taliban of Khurasan," has led to speculation about disappearing lines between Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Afghan Taliban, and other affiliated groups in the region. The numerous "Taliban" groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, from the TTP umbrella movement to factions of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, pay allegiance to Mullah Muhammad Umar, the founder of the original Afghan Taliban movement. However, the degree to which this rhetoric translates into active cooperation and coordination on the ground remains hotly debated. Using available primary sources, it is possible to sketch out the complex militant milieu in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal regions, and get a picture of the types of cooperation and inter-group dynamics at play among the different organizations.
The TTP, for example, has forged a close alliance with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an Uzbek militant group that has had a presence inside Pakistan's Pashtun tribal regions for over a decade. Having previously been aligned with the Afghan Taliban, the IMU shifted many of its fighters and senior leadership to Pakistan following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. In late 2003, the IMU's leader, Uzbek preacher Tahir Yuldashev, met with his followers in Waziristan and announced that he was dedicating himself to fight the Pakistani state due to its targeting of the IMU's local allies and protectors. Since then, the IMU has integrated into segments of the local societies that have sheltered it for over a decade. It has forged alliances with local militant outfits such as the TTP, with which it has carried out joint attacks on Pakistani state targets, though it also carries out independent operations.
Most recently, the IMU claimed responsibility for the May 12 "martyrdom operation" that targeted Pakistani police in Quetta, which it said was carried out in retaliation for an attack by the Pakistani military on one of the IMU's "jihad schools." And one of the most successful joint operations was the April 2012 attack on Pakistan's Bannu prison, an operation which freed nearly 400 prisoners. Among those freed was Adnan Rashid, a former member of the Pakistani military who had been imprisoned for his role in an assassination attempt on then-Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf. Rashid has since been featured in media productions produced by both the TTP's Umar Media and the IMU's Jundullah Studio.
Both the TTP and IMU have acknowledged the groups' integration, as well as some instances of intermarriage between non-Pashtun/non-Pakistani members of the IMU and local Pashtuns, including the daughters of one of the IMU's most important local patrons, Hajji Nur Islam. In addition to drawing upon a pool of foreign fighters from Central Asia, Europe, and the Arab world, the IMU recruits local Pashtuns in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The two groups have shown ideological cross-fertilization, too. TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud has said that one of his earliest influences was Yuldashev, whose example played a significant role in his decision to join the "jihad in Pakistan." The TTP and IMU also share the juridical voice of Abu Zarr al-Burmi, a militant Pakistani preacher and religious scholar. Al-Burmi is a key jihadi religious scholar and has long been featured in TTP, IMU, and other regional jihadi audiovisual productions. He starred in a widely discussed audio exchange with a Pakistan military spokesman, who fared rather poorly in the debate, and was at the forefront of attempting to delegitimize Malala Yousafzai, who was severely wounded in an attack carried out by the TTP's Swat faction earlier this year.
With regard to the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Umar, the TTP continues to pledge at least rhetorical allegiance to him as the so-called "commander of the believers." In his 2011 message for the annual Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Hakimullah Mehsud stated that Mullah Umar was the TTP's "amir, guide, and leader," for whom he and other TTP leaders and fighters were "loyal soldiers."
Yet, the TTP is first and foremost engaged in a war with the Pakistani state -- both its political leadership and military establishment -- the latter of which has historically been one of the primary patrons of Mullah Umar and the original Afghan Taliban, as well as affiliated groups such as the Haqqani Network.
The TTP has, according to its own statements, participated in some joint military operations inside Afghanistan alongside the Afghan Taliban. Most recently, the TTP issued a statement in late March about an operation against NATO and Afghan government forces in Paktia, claiming that over 200 of its fighters had participated. Photographs purportedly showing captured weapons, ammunition, and other military equipment were released with the statement. And according to a 2010 IMU statement, Bekkay Harrach, a senior al Qaeda media operative, was killed during a coordinated attack by the TTP, Afghan Taliban, al Qaeda Central (AQC), and IMU on the U.S. military base at Bagram Airfield. However, the extent and frequency of this type of military cooperation remains debated.
AQC, which has been primarily based in Pakistan since 2001, has tried to integrate itself more deeply into the Pakistani militant milieu, in part to counter the significant losses it has suffered over the past three years. Between 2010 and 2012, the organization lost some of its key leaders and nearly all of its major ideological voices, including alleged AQC "chief financial officer" and Afghanistan commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid (2010), founder Usama bin Laden and senior ideological and juridical voice Atiyyatullah al-Libi (2011), and unofficial AQC "mufti" Abu Yahya al-Libi and missionary preacher Khalid bin Abd al-Rahman Husaynan (2012). Before their deaths, both Abu Yahya and Husaynan delivered religious lectures to members of other militant groups active in the region, such as the Islamic Jihad Union and the East Turkestan Islamic Party.
These losses mean that the organization is increasingly reliant on its chief Pakistani ideologue, Ahmad Faruq, to attract new recruits from Pakistan and other South Asian countries. Faruq, a shadowy but prolific figure has written numerous tracts and recorded many audiovisual lectures supporting the organization, militancy in Pakistan, and global jihad. AQC's leaders, including the late Abu Yahya al-Libi and the group's current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have contributed to the Sunni jihadi discourse legitimizing the Pakistani state as a target of violence due to its ongoing alliance with the United States and other foreign powers seen as actively oppressing Muslims throughout the world.
As for Azan, questions remain about whether it is actually a publication of the TTP, Afghan Taliban, or one of their affiliates or allies. It does not feature the logo of known militant media departments and contact information given for the Azan "team" is a Yahoo e-mail address, not one known to be connected to any group. As yet, no group has claimed responsibility for the magazine, and the TTP issued a statement in January saying any official media releases would be released by its Umar Media department.
Azan's layout, graphic design, and writing style are very similar to two previous English-language Internet magazines, Jihad Recollections and Inspire, brainstormed and stewarded by the late Samir Khan, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki. Jihad Recollections was an independent magazine produced by Khan for four issues in 2009, before he left the United States for Yemen. Inspire emerged the next year as a production of AQAP's Al-Malahem Media Foundation.
Like Jihad Recollections and Inspire, Azan includes original content and previously released material, as well as some translations and common features like a dedication to Muslim prisoners. While some of these things are common in Sunni jihadi media, there are a few possible hints as to the background of the magazine's producers, including the bad phonetic spelling of "Khost" as "Koast," which is similar to how the Afghan province's name is often pronounced in English, as well as the preponderance of Pakistan-related content, particularly among the original articles. There is also a lengthy "exclusive" interview with Rashid, who is now a member of the TTP, and a translation of an article by Pakistani jihadi religious scholar Maulana Asim Umar.
Though the significance of Azan to the interactions between jihadi militant groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains unclear, it is likely that the main militant groups operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan will continue to coordinate at least some of their military and media operations. They share a common opposition to those they see as U.S. lackeys in the region, as well as to the continued NATO military presence inside Afghanistan. But it also remains unclear whether these groups' long-term political goals are in sync, particularly with regard to the Afghan Taliban and more globally or "glocally" focused militant groups such as the TTP and IMU.
Christopher Anzalone is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Islamic Studies at McGill University where he studies modern Muslim socio-political movements, contemporary jihadi movements, Shi'ite Islam, and Islamist visual cultures. He blogs at Views from the Occident and Al-Wasat. He is also an adjunct research fellow at the Ali Vural Ak Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University and the managing editor for the center's forthcoming web portal Islamium.org.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Image
screams tore through the sky, travelling the deep lengths of haunting silence guarded
by military men at River Neelum. She wanted to grab her son, Ali Ahmad, from
the other side of the border and run. Instead, Jamila saw him being dragged
away by Indian soldiers, away from the river, away from the border, away from
her sight. The cross-border meeting time was over.
Ali Ahmad is 20 years old and was raised in the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir by one of his mother's relatives, who had looked after him since he was an infant. He was left or forgotten on the Indian side of the border when his mother was swept up in the mad rush to flee to Pakistan during the violence of the early 90s. He now lives and studies in New Delhi, and made the long journey to the border for the rare opportunity to see his mother. In fact, it was the rarest of opportunities, as she stood in front of him for the first time across the border at River Neelum -- also known as Kishanganga -- that splits the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan; the place where all the wars in his life began.
Jamila still lives in the beautiful, isolated valley of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir very near to the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two countries and continues to be their single most threatening bone of contention.
"Return my son", she pleaded as people held her from trying to cross over the river. "Forgive me for leaving India. I was scared. Please return my son before I die."
Jamila uttered gibberish and let go of her last scream, before the sun slipped
behind the dark green mountains splitting Kehran into what Pakistanis generally
call ‘Azad [free] and Occupied Kashmir.'
For 20 years, Jamila had waited to meet her son, attempted to reach him, and since the recent initiation of cross border permits, has made dozens of visits to the permit office. All to no avail. Her application to cross the border has never been rejected, "they don't reject or give a reason for delay. They just don't grant us the permit," Jamila later told the AfPak Channel. "I have been trying for several years, and have spent hundreds of thousands of rupees just making incessant visits to the office, sometimes bribing officials who never really helped. Those who do get their permits must be really lucky, but I have never met anyone like that."
Jamila has no family on the Pakistani side of the border. Her father and husband were killed during the massacres of the 1990s in Indian-held Kashmir a few months after her marriage. The Indian army is accused of committing thousands of extra-judicial killings, and "stories of arrests, torture, killings, and secret burials were rife in Kashmir" at the time.
Jamila's town of Zachaldara, Handwara in North Kashmir's Kupwara district was infamous for such violence, and her "only hope was to escape." Her son was just a year old when she decided to go to Pakistan with a group from her village that was "fleeing to Azad Kashmir for freedom." "It sounded like a miraculous imagination, a dream, at that time to be able to live freely," Jamila said. "But freedom is pointless if it separates you from your own child." Today she is 45 but looks a decade older, perhaps aged by a lifelong desperation to live with her son again.
"I want to see him graduate from college and find a nice girl to marry. For
years I have dressed him for school in my head and I have imagined tucking him
to bed. But like the dreams we have had of freedom in Azad Kashmir, these
dreams I have for him are not real and I fear they shall never become." She
says she is "very tired" and fears dying from this wait.
What do Kashmiris want?
It seems for many Kashmiris that there is nothing more horrible than having a family and knowing that you will never meet them. Jamila is one of thousands of such Kashmiris in Pakistan, who are now speaking out about their issues through protests and demonstrations. On July 10th and August 5th of this year protesters gathered on both the Pakistan-controlled (Azad) and Indian-controlled sides of Kashmir bordering the Neelum Valley, and caught the attention of local and foreign media outlets. Chanting in demand for freedom from the armed forces of the two countries, they held banners that said "India, Pakistan, leave us alone." "Kashmir belongs to Kashmiris," and "Kashmir is burning, leave us alone."
Among the various difficulties that Azad Kashmiris face when trying to meet with their families on the other side of the border, the topmost include: (a) being unable to communicate with their relatives either via mobile phones or land lines; (b) being unable to send and receive mail, letters and packages, "It is also commonplace, that our mails and letter never really reach our families on the other side, and if they ever do, they are always open," pointed out Jamila; and (c) being unable to commute and meet their families across border.
The question is, why do these Kashmiris have to gather in dissent when India and Pakistan seem to be having rather healthy negotiations and agreeing on confidence building measures (CBMs) that often focus on relaxing regulations for Kashmiris? Kashmiris are now nominally permitted to meet their families as often as three times per year, for as long as 30 days per visit. And Kashmir now has five transit routes at the LoC for Kashmiri-born traders.
The most recent CBMs discussed by the two countries have resulted in landmark developments, including increasing the number of trading points along the Line of Control, increasing the number of days on which trading can occur, the launching of a new bus service to operate via new routes between northwestern Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and southern Indian-occupied Kashmir, and an increase in the frequency of the bus service between Muzaffarabad (the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir) and Srinagar (the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir). However, there is clearly a vast different between agreeing to a policy and implementing it on ground.
Local analyst and professor Khalil Sajjad, who works in the Peace Studies department at the University of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, believes that CBMs are merely a marketing tool to flaunt improving relations between India and Pakistan, and are not really delivering on the promises made to Kashmiris. "Even though new developments such as re-opening and regularizing of bus routes seems to provide unstinting opportunity to traders and people, if thousands of families have still been unable to meet their relatives for the past two decades, then in essence the impermeability is intact."
The core issue: Who gets the cross border permits?
Jamila is one of the approximately 10,000 applicants who have been seeking cross border permits since 2005. There are no exact numbers on how many applicants actually receive permits every year. The bus using the route between Chakoti in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and Srinagar in Indian-controlled Kashmir carries around 40 passengers every Monday. Major Iftikhar from the Chakoti Military check post says, "90% of valid applicants get their permits. Only those declined by our verification procedure have to wait."
The verification procedure is long, and includes various levels of checks and double-checks. When applications are submitted, the individual's biographical details are initially verified by different government departments. "If their records are clean, we then give these details to about five agencies that are part of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI)," Major Iftikhar told the AfPak Channel. "We are very careful with who we are allowing to the other side of the border. This develops a feeling of neglect and hostility among many applicants who await permits, but we need to be fastidious since our relation with India is still very sensitive" he added.
Officer Mubarak Abass, who manages the Chakoti Crossing Point and looks after
the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service on the Pakistani side, says "40 percent
of the total permits are currently pending. Many applications are held because
they do not qualify the verification procedure. Some submissions are incomplete;
others are marked red based on security concerns. For example, if we find the
applicant to have suspicious links or the data submitted by candidates is unverifiable
then we hold such applications. One needs to be chary of
the risks involved."
Are these limitations
violating civil rights? Broadcast
journalist Aurangzeb Jarral, who works for the private national channel Dunya
TV, says, "[the most] genuine and the most bland applicants with unblemished
records don't get their permits. I have met and interviewed many people who
have nothing to do with militancy or have the thinnest possibility of something
mistrustful, but they don't get their permits for years if not decades. This is
a clear-cut abuse of human rights, when the government has a system in place
just for these people but they are still not able to avail it. Many of them die
According to Wadood Ahmed,
who is currently conducting academic research on the Kashmir conflict, "It is
tacit knowledge that India and Pakistan do not want to provide absolute cross-border
access to Kashmiris on either side. And Kashmiris on both sides of the
border are well aware of this. More than any militancy threats, the real fear
has to do with a fair people's access." For India, the fear is that more
Kashmiris coming from the Pakistani side may create pressure for freedom, and
in the worst-case scenario, they may join liberation armies in Indian-held
Kashmir. For Pakistan, the fear is of spies sent by the Indian government. "As
long as India and Pakistan want to hold on to their sides of Kashmir, neither
of them will provide fare permits freely, even to the most authentic
Indian journalist Jahangir Ali told the AfPak Channel, "An old lady died in July this year of cancer. She had communicated her last wish to the [Indian] government; it was to meet her son. Her daughter and family tried to urge the government to let her son come to meet her from Pakistan. The government refused to give him the cross border permit. It was heart breaking to watch her die without seeing him. What good are such CBMs if they can't be serviced for genuine cases like this?"
Does this mean that India and Pakistan are only nominally applying the CBMs? Is Kashmir just a convenient rallying point for both countries? And is there is a strong interest on both sides of the border in keeping Kashmir alive?
"Look, absolute peace is really not in the interest of
either of the two countries," researcher Wadood Ahmed told this author. "Neither
of them wants to see Kashmiris independent because that would mean [one] of
them loses their territory." Both governments have failed to provide the
populace with welfare, development or infrastructure. Visa permits are just one
example of how the two states continue to put off the difficult task of giving Kashmiris'
their right to self-determination while giving the world the impression that
real progress is being made.
Kiran Nazish is a journalist based in Pakistan, currently covering the country's conflict areas to report on issues of human rights. She can be followed @kirannazish.
Pakistan is in the midst of a massive outbreak of dengue fever. With tens of thousands of patients affected, mostly under the age of 15, dengue is arousing much chaos and paranoia. While dengue is fatal in few cases (less than 1%), it results in a severe bleeding disorder in about 20% of cases (due to a dramatic reduction in patients' platelets), and in many cases, symptoms such as fatigue and depression persist long after the acute infection has subsided. Therefore it is a source of severe debilitation and its rapid spread is a source of great public panic. Dengue has spread like wildfire throughout the country, with cases being reported in all four provinces. However, modern means of transportation (cars, trains, airplanes) mean that not only can an infectious disease spread easily within the borders of a given nation-state, pathogens can overcome both geography and nationality with much ease. Consider the H1N1/swine flu pandemic of 2009 which within a matter of three months spread to 214 countries and territories, affecting millions, and causing about 18,036 deaths. The flu pandemic spurred the recognition of the need for cross-border collaboration to curtail the spread of infectious diseases. However, these important lessons have not been recognized by the governments of India and Pakistan, which share a 2,308km long border.
While Pakistan's border with India is certainly not as open as the one it shares with Afghanistan or China, reflected by the transit of polio cases across these two fronts, it is certainly far from airtight. Research into the subtypes of the dengue virus has shown that the strains circulating recently in India and Pakistan are similar, and an epidemic caused by one strain is usually followed by an epidemic with a similar strain across the border. Such a relationship was clearly reported in the temporally linked epidemics of Delhi and Karachi in 2006. Therefore, there is substantial evidence indicating cross-border spread of dengue, and possibly indicating the spread of other infections as well. Modern means of transport, which have far more mileage than the tiny wings of a mosquito, have made it much easer for infections such as dengue to spread from one side of the border to the other. The threat of cross-border HIV infection has also been reported, and is an important one to keep in mind as the painful memory of the Mumbai attacks recedes, thawing diplomatic relations, thus reopening the door for more people-to-people contact. Furthermore, a case of polio was recently detected at the Attari-Wagah border, raising fears of the spread of polio to the Indian side of the border.
In spite of the overwhelming need for collaboration in health and infectious diseases between India and Pakistan, no official channel is in place to conduct such an exchange. Currently, the Attari-Wagah border is used as a quarantine of sorts to vaccinate children crossing the border to prevent the spread of polio infection. During the H1N1/swine flu pandemic, the train that crosses the border - the Samjhauta Express - is frequently fumigated with insecticide. Custody was sought of animals being transported to India such as pigeons, donkeys and dogs for fear of spread of diseases ‘eradicated from India'. While the issue of cross-border infection has been used for rhetorical purposes, no constructive step to overcome this deficit has so far been taken from either side. While Pakistan has sought medication and insecticide from India to combat the dengue epidemic, there is no robust mechanism to ensure that such positive exchanges can occur on a regular basis.
Pakistan and India face similar public health challenges. Both are third world countries faced with similar geography, population demographics, and infectious diseases such as pneumonia, measles, malaria, and tuberculosis, accompanied by widespread malnutrition. Pakistan and India are also two of only four countries in the world where polio remains endemic, though India has made substantial progress in eradicating polio within its borders this year. Importantly, dengue is also a challenge shared by both Pakistan and India, which in itself is reason enough for close cooperation to occur.
Pakistan's healthcare system is decrepit by any standard. Healthcare remains a luxury reserved for those who can afford expensive services provided by largely privatized providers. Furthermore, the formerly federal responsibilities of coordinating healthcare and health-related services have recently been devolved in both India and Pakistan. This devolution poses similar challenges to Pakistan and India, since the lack of internal systematization of health information precludes international collaboration. According to Dr. Sania Nishtar, president of the Pakistani NGO Heartfile and a leading authority on health systems in the developing world, "The inadvertent fragmentation of health information as a result of health devolution in Pakistan is further undermining the country's ability to share information with its neighbors." However, she suggested a way forward to overcome the disintegration of a central health in order to facilitate international collaboration. "Options are available, however, to cast an institutional construct that will enable Pakistan to step up its capacity so that the country is compliant with International Health Regulations, 2005", she added.
The lack of collaboration between Pakistan and India with regard to infectious diseases is only reflective of the thorny history shared by these two countries and the level of prevalent distrust on both sides of the border. The World Health Organization is a large platform with regional organizations that help countries collaborate in their neighborhood. However, in a move representing a snapshot of the bigger picture, Pakistan opted to be a member of the Eastern Mediterranean region as opposed to the more natural South-East Asia region, which is headquartered in New Delhi. This move away from the South-East Asia region was political and was made so that Pakistan does not have to compete with India, which dominates the regional organization. Therefore, composite dialogue carried out bilaterally by Pakistan and India is the only platform for a health partnership to be forged. A fresh start needs to be sought to elevate the relationship from quarantining birds and other animals on the border to sharing research, disease surveillance data, vector control strategies and health communication material with institutional support. However, this can only occur under the umbrella of wide ranging confidence-building measures. Not only will it be extremely difficult to initiate collaboration, but the sustainability of any initiative might be an even greater issue given that it will always remain hostage to politics.
Haider Warraich, MD, is a research fellow at Harvard Medical School. He is a graduate of the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, and the author of the novel, Auras of the Jinn.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
This week, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari put the fight against polio at the forefront of his domestic agenda, announcing emergency measures to vaccinate 32 million children at risk of the disease. Pakistan is one of four countries in the world to continue to suffer serious incidences of the disease, and this new attention to polio eradication shows how far the world has come in battling the disease, while also showing the serious challenges standing in the way of eliminating it forever.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images