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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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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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 email@example.com or on Twitter @michaelkugelman.
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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.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
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.
Arif Ali/AFP/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
Despite the sweeping changes occurring across Asia, visits to Pakistan by the Chinese leadership remain remarkably routine affairs. Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Islamabad this week, his first since becoming premier in March, was no exception.
Step 1: Deck the streets with banners proclaiming "Long Live Pak-China friendship."
Step 3: Shower timeless rhetoric on the "all weather," "higher than mountains, deeper than oceans, stronger than steel and sweeter than honey," "iron brother" friendship.
Step 4: Host meetings with the political and military leadership and address Parliament.
Step 5: Issue a joint statement weaving it all together.
Step 6: Prepare for post-visit op-eds praising relations (or the rare critique) in Pakistan and commentary elsewhere on Pakistan's lustrous role in China's "string of pearls" strategy in the Indian Ocean.
So, despite all of the standard pageantry, did anything interesting happen this time around? Six points come to mind.
First, in a conspicuous symbol of robust Sino-Pak defense cooperation, Li was escorted into Pakistani airspace by six jointly manufactured JF-17 fighter aircrafts. Between 2008 and 2012, Pakistan accounted for 55% of Chinese arms exports, pushing China into the ranks of the world's top five arms exporters this year. Despite the logic of a close military relationship driven by historical (read India) and commercial imperatives, China's state news agency has described Beijing as looking for "pragmatic" military cooperation with Pakistan -- a reflection of growing asymmetry in both rhetoric and expectations, even in a sector of close collaboration.
Second, both China and Pakistan are in various stages of a leadership transition, which requires forging new personal ties in a relationship that has held steady across governments for sixty-two years. Pakistan was the second leg of Li's first overseas visit (India was the first), and Li was the first foreign leader to visit Pakistan since general elections were held on May 11. Li's visit notably included meeting with Prime Minister-elect Nawaz Sharif, whose party prevailed in the polls but has yet to officially form a government.
Third, the issue of Uyghur militancy likely made its way into Li's talking points. A video recently emerged showing young children firing weapons at a training camp, reportedly in northwest Pakistan, affiliated with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) -- a militant Muslim separatist group in China's restive Xinjiang region which borders Pakistan. The veracity of the video aside, a rare strain in the relationship in recent decades has been such Uyghur militants lodged and training in Pakistan's tribal belt. Although Pakistani cooperation has been forthcoming in eliminating members of the ETIM, a "common threat" according to the joint statement, the issue remains of concern to Beijing, especially as the broader region contends with how a post-2014 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will reorient a hydra of militant groups.
Fourth, the two countries inked a nebulous accord on a "China-Pakistan Economic Corridor" that underscores an oft-repeated yet largely thwarted desire to expand energy and commercial ties. In February, China acquired control over the Gwadar port in Pakistan's own restive Baluchistan province, a deep sea port that China helped finance and develop in part to diversify its energy supply routes. Meanwhile, Pakistan's economy remains crippled by an energy crisis that Li flagged as a priority area of cooperation. Such aspirations, however, remain captive to Pakistan's chronic insecurity, examples of which shadowed Li's visit. The National Crisis Management Cell directed a suspension of cellular service upon his arrival -- a security measure to prevent the remote detonation of explosives -- and the day before, a bomb blast in Karachi narrowly missed a bus of Chinese port workers, among the 13,000 in Pakistan who have been targeted before.
Fifth, Li's two day visit in Pakistan was preceded by a three-day visit to India. Such scheduling matters figure prominently in the Indo-Pak dynamic, bedeviling many a trip to the region by senior U.S. officials. Yet Li's port of embarkation and duration of stay does not seem to have generated much rancor in Pakistan -- a sign of confidence in the countries' relationship. Indeed, with Sino-Indian border tensions ramping up and inevitable friction between Asia's two rising and neighboring giants, Li's proposed "handshake across the Himalayas" to India may be genuine, given a robust annual trade of $60 billion. However, China will continue to reach out to Pakistan with the other hand.
Sixth, whereas prior joint statements have referred to the importance of Sino-Pak cooperation in the "region," the current statement refers specifically to the "Asia-Pacific region" - potentially implicating the U.S. rebalance to Asia. China has its work cut out across Asia, repairing fractured ties over border and maritime disputes that have created strategic space for the United States. Neighboring Pakistan provides a welcome reprieve for China from fence mending and hard-charging nationalism. Given a longstanding boundary agreement, agreements on maritime cooperation and boundary management, for example, were easily reached during Li's visit. With voices in China calling on Beijing to increasingly look westward even as America tries to rebalance east, how Pakistan fits into the picture (a possible bridge with China?) is a question with which Washington must contend.
Li's visit may have been high on pageantry yet the prestige China enjoys in Pakistan is unparalleled with a 90% approval rating. How it will exercise its influence and with what effect in Pakistan is a question that will become increasingly important as the U.S. scales back in South Asia. Perhaps the next trip will shed just a little bit more light (but don't hold your breath).
Ziad Haider is an attorney at White & Case LLP and the Co-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 looming drawdown of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has raised a multitude of concerns, among them fear that the al-Qaeda organization in Pakistan [hereafter AQC] will return to set up camp. This is overwrought. Any residual U.S. force should contain a heavy concentration of Special Forces operators whose top priority will be hunting al-Qaeda remnants who move back across the border into Afghanistan. AQC may be able to carve out small pieces of territory, but even a small number of U.S. troops in tandem with unmanned aerial vehicles should ensure it enjoys little more freedom of movement than at present in Pakistan's Tribal Areas.
Pakistani militants are likely to receive less attention. This is understandable. Yet their access to territory in Afghanistan, alongside the sanctuaries they already enjoy in Pakistan, is cause for significant concern, as it may amplify the threats they pose to India, to Pakistan, and to U.S. interests in the region. Moreover, as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks to jumpstart stalled peace negotiations, it is worth noting that their presence in Afghanistan further complicates the already tortuous search for a settlement.
Home Away from Home
Most of the major Pakistani militant groups and a host of minor ones are active in Afghanistan. They fight alongside the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network, both of which enjoy sanctuary in and support from Pakistan. Some Pakistani organizations are also engaged in a revolutionary jihad against their own government, with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leading that charge. Organizationally, whether to wage war against the state is the greatest dividing line among militant groups endogenous to and based in Pakistan. Operationally, it does not preclude collaboration on either side of the Durand Line.
Anti-state militants displaced by Pakistani military incursions into FATA and the Swat Valley in 2009-2010 have regrouped across the border in Afghanistan. From there, they launch cross-border raids into Pakistan. The two countries have been waging a low-level border war since the late 2000s, fueling suspicions in Pakistan that Afghan forces are providing sanctuary and support to these militants. Even if true, such assistance would pale in comparison to Pakistan's well-documented support for insurgents fighting in Afghanistan.
Militants fighting against the Pakistani state are sometimes co-located in Northeastern Afghanistan with those from Pakistan's proxy organizations, most notably members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) who have been active there since the mid-2000s. Though still small in number, LeT's presence in Afghanistan has grown since 2010. This likely owes to an increased need for a safety release valve following pressure on the group to reduce its India-centric activities after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, as well as the appeal of the Afghan front for those motivated to fight America or simply to join the biggest jihad in town. Pakistan's intelligence services also may have endorsed this expansion as a means of gathering information about those anti-state militants pushed across the border. The past several years have witnessed attempts by LeT to solidify its presence in the Salafi-strongholds of northern Afghanistan where the group has longstanding roots.
In short, though militants overwhelmingly remain based across the border in Pakistan, Northeastern Afghanistan has become a sanctuary not only for Pakistani militants arrayed against the state, but also those aligned with it.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
No one knows with certainty how the conflict in Afghanistan will evolve once U.S. and NATO troops draw down or what the cascading impacts will be on Pakistan, India or the region. But several broad pathways are easy to envision. The worst-case scenario is a conflagration that draws in regional actors, most notably India. The more likely outcome is an ongoing insurgency that does not lead to the overthrow of the state, but also does not escalate into a full-blown proxy war involving countries other than Afghanistan and Pakistan. Hopes for a political settlement between the Afghan government and the insurgents don't look good at present, but even this best-case result wouldn't come without challenges. In all cases, the drawdown of U.S. and NATO forces brings with it the opportunity for Pakistani militants - pro- and anti-state - to take greater advantage of cross-border sanctuaries in Afghanistan.
In the absence of a negotiated settlement and amidst an ongoing insurgency, relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan could deteriorate further, leading Kabul to provide the TTP and associated anti-Pakistan militants the type of support Islamabad already suspects they are receiving. As a result, Pakistan could face not only a domestic jihadist insurgency, but also the sort of durable threat of cross-border jihadist violence that it has long supported against its neighbors. Moreover, an escalating proxy war could create conditions for a greater instability along both sides of the border. A conflict that draws in regional actors, particularly India, would exacerbate this dynamic. But even increased bilateral tensions, fueling and fueled by a cross-border proxy war, would have a destabilizing impact. For U.S. officials, this would further complicate an already labyrinthine regional environment and could impact the operations of any residual force.
Regardless of the outcome in Afghanistan, LeT is likely to keep a small presence in the Northeast where its members have worked to carve out territory. The group is also likely to agitate for regenerating the jihad directly against India, both in the form of terrorist attacks against the mainland and increased activity in Kashmir. The latter has been torpid since the late 2000s. Several incidents there this year may augur the rumblings of renewed jihadist activity, though it is too early to know whether they will amount to much. Important here is that access to safe haven in Afghanistan for LeT and other Pakistani proxy groups conceivably reduces ISI situational awareness of what their members there are doing. This would increase plausible deniability for militant leaders under some form of Pakistani state control and, thus, for the Pakistani state itself. Each could conceivably claim they did not sanction plots orchestrated from across the border, with the result being to heighten the likelihood of such attacks occurring. This is of most concern to New Delhi. Given LeT's past readiness to include Westerners in its target set for attacks in India, this rightly concerns U.S. policymakers and practitioners too.
In the event of a settlement that enabled the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network to migrate back across the border into Afghanistan, it is possible that elements from among them would provide at least a modicum of assistance to India-centric groups with factions operating there. More troubling, it is far from certain that all Afghan-centric militants would buy into any settlement. Questions exist regarding how much control the Quetta Shura (leaders of the Afghan Taliban currently or previously based in Quetta, Balochistan) has over its own foot soldiers, much less those operating under the banner of the Haqqani Network or the Pakistani Taliban. Some could be expected to fight on and, depending on the posture of the Pakistani state, to assist the TTP in launching cross-border attacks as well. Once again, the result could be a durable threat of cross-border jihadist violence. As a result, accounting for Islamabad's compulsions vis-à-vis those militant groups straddling the Durand Line and waging a domestic insurgency against Pakistan also adds another wrinkle to any peace negotiations.
One Factor Among Many
Multiple variables including host nation preferences, domestic political and budgetary constraints and broader U.S. defense policy objects will (and should) determine the size, composition, and focus of any residual U.S. force in Afghanistan post-2014. It is unrealistic to imagine that the main focus of any residual force will not remain on supporting the Afghan National Army and targeting al-Qaeda along with other actors that have the intent and capabilities to launch transnational attacks. However, the presence of anti-Pakistan militants and possibility for escalating cross-border jihadist violence means U.S. and NATO officials will need to contend with whether to target them too.
Doing so could help serve a political purpose, reducing the threat to Pakistan's internal stability and in so doing possibly helping to defuse regional tensions. However, there is no guarantee such a payoff would accrue. More tangibly, it might provide a means for transactional targeting, i.e. the U.S. removes anti-Pakistani militants from the Afghan battlefield in exchange for assistance capturing, killing or otherwise curtailing militants of significant concern in Pakistan. Yet even this would mean sparing sparse resources and require buy-in from a host government in Kabul that has very different priorities.
Hunting India-centric militants hiding in Afghanistan, though likely to engender less animosity in Kabul, would come with its own set of hurdles. To begin with, debates persist about the costs and benefits of aggressively pursuing the small number of LeT militants in Afghanistan if the group is not actively targeting the U.S. homeland. The direct threat consists primarily in the form of terrorist attacks against India that could include Western interests. Indirectly, of course, are concerns another Indo-Pak crisis might eventuate. Either way, it is unclear what role, if any, the small number of LeT militants in Afghanistan would play in generating such attacks. As already noted, the more relevant issue is one of plausible deniability. This suggests the need to realign intelligence officers and analysts whose expertise will be essential for identifying emerging and evolving jihadist threats in the region, thus making it more difficult for militants to carry forward plots or plausibly claim no involvement in them.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan and re-forged its relationship with Pakistan in order to destroy al-Qaeda Central. Finishing that job is important. However, with the drawdown looming and AQC's capability to strike the homeland severely degraded, Washington must begin reorienting its South Asian counterterrorism architecture in line with the decreasing threat from al-Qaeda and growing potential for regional attacks against U.S. interests and regional instability post-2014. Although it is but one component among many, the availability of sanctuary for Pakistani militants in Afghanistan should inform this process. It also must factor in broader U.S. foreign and defense policy planning for South Asia, including any strategy designed to reach a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His next book, provisionally titled Peripheral Jihads, explores how jihadist groups in S. Asia, the Middle East and N. Africa adapted to the post-9/11 environment and will be published by Columbia University Press in 2014.
On March 19, Pakistan's government gave a briefing to the country's top military officials.
The topic of this high-level meeting was not the Taliban's takeover of the Tirah Valley, fresh tensions with Afghanistan, or other urgent national security matters. Rather, the briefing-delivered by the commerce secretary to the army, air force, and navy chiefs-was about tightening trade ties with India.
This issue has been a priority for Pakistan's civilian and military leadership alike since November 2011, when Pakistan announced its intention to extend Most-Favored Nation status to India (New Delhi granted this privilege to Islamabad in 1996). The decision was rooted in the realization that the potential benefits of a formal trade relationship with India-lower prices and variety for consumers; bigger export markets for producers; more employment for the masses; and greater revenues (currently lost to smuggling and other informal trade) for the government-were too immense to pass up.
Since then, both countries have continued to give strong indications that they intend to make their trade relationship a close and formal one. Last year, Pakistan abolished its positive list of goods that could be imported from India, and replaced it with a shorter negative list of items that couldn't be imported. The two capitals also launched a new integrated checkpoint at the Attari-Wagah border crossing (which serves the only land route for Pakistan-India trade), and concluded a landmark visa agreement that loosens travel restrictions.
This year, even after political relations took a plunge following a series of deadly exchanges along the Line of Control in January, the desire for trade cooperation remains strong. In recent weeks, each nation's ambassador to Washington has publicly affirmed-one at Harvard, the other at CSIS-the imperative of a strong trade relationship. Just days ago, Islamabad's envoy to New Delhi assured an audience of Indian and Pakistani businessmen that "we want trade normalization and there is a roadmap for that."
However, despite these encouraging signs, trade normalization remains a work in progress. Pakistan had pledged to phase out its negative list by the end of last year-thereby bringing the two countries closer to a fully operational MFN regime-yet today it remains in place.
So why the holdup?
One commonly cited explanation is the resistance of Pakistan's powerful agricultural interests, who fear the consequences of heavily subsidized, cheap food products coursing into Pakistan-particularly those, such as bananas and oranges, which Pakistani farmers already produce in abundance. Predictably, last November, the president of the Basmati Growers Association warned that his members faced "economic suicide." And the head of Farmers Associates Pakistan (a lobby group) threatened to literally block Indian agricultural products from entering Pakistan.
However, a new Wilson Center report on Pakistan-India trade, edited by Robert M. Hathaway and myself, presents a more complex picture. Some food producers actually relish the prospect of acquiring foodstuffs from India, because they believe such products will be of higher-quality then their own, and hence generate greater profits. Another surprising source of support is the textile industry, which believes it can capture major shares of the Indian market. Pakistani home textile and bed ware manufacturers have already explored joint venture options with Indian partners.
There is, however, strident opposition from other sectors. The pharmaceutical industry fears that India's surfeit of raw materials and large economies of scale will marginalize Pakistani products, while the chemical/synthetic fibers sector worries that India will dump its large fiber surplus in Pakistani markets. Our report also highlights opposition within the automobile industry. Manufacturers are anxious that Indian car parts will flood Pakistani markets and devastate local industry, and fear that Pakistani parts exports will suffer because Indian car makers prefer domestically manufactured parts. Islamabad has given in to the car industry's protectionist proclivities; the sector has nearly 400 items on the 1,209-item negative list-far more than any other sector.
Another likely reason for the MFN delay is politics. Security and territorial disputes have a historic habit of contaminating Pakistan-India trade relations at the most inopportune of times. In 1965, the two countries went to war over Kashmir, bringing an abrupt end to a promising period of commercial ties (in the preceding 18 years, the two nations had concluded 14 trade facilitation agreements). Banks in both countries were seized as enemy properties, and customs officials at the Wagah border crossing were the war's first civilian prisoners of war.
Nearly 50 years later, a more subtle dynamic is at play. Last June, an Indian government official lamented that momentum for trade normalization had slowed because Islamabad was linking trade to progress on the territorial issues of Siachen and Sir Creek. It's a lament that highlights a major obstacle to Pakistan-India trade normalization-because it exposes a major disconnect in each country's motivations for pursuing normalization.
Back in April 2012, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar proclaimed that trade normalization would "put in place the conditions that will enable Pakistan to better pursue its principled positions" on territorial issues. Some observers, however, believe that New Delhi sees stronger commercial relations as an end in themselves. India-at least up to now-has demonstrated no interest in making the territorial concessions that Pakistan hopes closer trade ties will bring about. Islamabad likely understands this disconnect, and is hesitant to consummate MFN because it fears that the Pakistani public would, in time, perceive the move as a sacrificing of political and territorial issues for purely material gain.
Our report, drawing on the views of its eight contributors, offers 15 recommendations aimed at addressing these challenges to normalization. Several suggest how to get Pakistanis to embrace trade as a good thing in of itself. For example, Pakistan's media-a powerful influence on public opinion-should amplify the advantages of bilateral trade by spotlighting the positive sentiments of consumers and producers. Other recommendations focus on how to keep political/territorial issues from sabotaging trade ties. Both sides should remain committed to the Composite Dialogue-a formal process of ongoing bilateral talks that began in 2004 and encompass a wide range of topics, including territorial issues. Additionally, trade should be divorced from developments within the security realm. This means that New Delhi should not impose punitive trade measures or close its borders if Pakistan-based terrorists attack India.
The report also underscores the imperative of acting quickly to cement trade normalization-because global economic developments make doing so a virtual necessity. Rich-country trading partners of India and Pakistan are facing economic slowdowns, and Europe's financial crisis is contributing to diminished exports. Now is therefore the ideal time for India and Pakistan to more robustly tap into each other's markets. To that end, our recommendations call for the implementation of trade-facilitation measures that accelerate the path to normalization.
These include loosening transit restrictions (India and Pakistan restrict each other's ability to use the other's territory to reach third countries); enhancing trade route efficiency (this can be done by improving the quality of roads and railways, and by removing restrictions on the type and size of trucks and train cars); and establishing new private oversight institutions-including a dispute resolution mechanism-to guide the bilateral economic relationship. The emphasis here should be tackling non-tariff barriers (from long waiting times at border crossings to rejections of bank-issued letters of credit) that make many exporters-especially Pakistani-reluctant to pursue cross-border trade.
In recent days, Islamabad has refused to provide a timeframe for completing trade normalization, other than some vague assurances that the negative list will be phased out after this spring's elections. According to Pakistani insiders, such statements are genuine. All political parties in Pakistan fully endorse trade normalization, argue these observers, and whatever the composition of the next government, it will be determined to move forward.
For the sake of regional peace, let's hope so. A new National Intelligence Council study contends that trade may be the only way to keep South Asia peaceful over the next 20 years-because it's the most realistic strategy to dramatically boost employment in Pakistan, and thereby to reduce the prospects for youth radicalization and a new generation of militants who terrorize both Pakistan and India.
So while trade normalization has great potential payoffs for India and Pakistan, it also matters immensely for the rest of us. In the words of one of our report's contributors, "the entire world has a stake in peace in South Asia."
Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @michaelkugelman
The series of trade facilitating measures enacted by India and Pakistan starting in November 2011 were undoubtedly the first steps toward creating new trading opportunities that could lead to a quantum leap in bilateral trade between the two countries. Trade potential between India and Pakistan is estimated to be $19.8 billion (U.S.), which is 10 times larger than the current $1.97 billion in trade. Of this, India's export potential accounts for $16 billion and its import potential accounts for $3.8 billion. The potential in India's mineral fuels is another $10.7 billion, of which export potential accounts for $9.4 billion and import potential $1.3 billion.
The items with the largest export potential include cellular phones, cotton, vehicle components, polypropylene, xylene, tea, textured yarn, synthetic fiber, and polyethylene. The items with largest import potential include jewelry, medical instruments and appliances, cotton, tubes and pipes of iron and steel, polyethylene terephthalate, copper waste and scrap, structures and parts of structures, terephthalic acid and its salts, medicines, and sports equipment.
In a major move towards normalizing trade relations, Pakistan's transition from a positive list to a negative list in March 2012 (except for road-based trade, for which Pakistan continues to maintain a positive list of only 137 items) was perhaps the most significant step toward unleashing bilateral trade potential. Under the positive list approach, Pakistan imported from India a specified list of items. The negative list specifies the banned list rather than the permitted list of imports, allowing a much greater flow of goods from India.
India and Pakistan also maintain sensitive lists as members of the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement. While negative lists specify items that are completely banned from trade, sensitive lists consist of items on which trade is permitted but tariff concessions are not allowed. As in any trade liberalization process, there will be both winners and losers. The negative and sensitive lists indicate sectors in which countries want to protect domestic industry from each other's imports.
A substantial proportion of India's export potential to Pakistan - 58 percent - is in products that are on Pakistan's negative or sensitive lists, applicable to India under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA). Similarly, 32 percent of India's import potential from Pakistan is in items on the sensitive list for Pakistan applicable under SAFTA. Further, Pakistan's negative list indicates that the automobile and component industry is the largest sector that enjoys protection from Indian imports.
On the other hand, agricultural items, for which resistance to liberalization is building up in Pakistan, are unlikely to have any impact as this sector has already been liberalized. Pakistan's sensitive list indicates that textiles account for 24 percent of the items on the list, but this sector accounts for only 3 percent of India's export potential of items on Pakistan's list. India's sensitive list indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most-a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. Most of the items on the sensitive list are fabrics, which if allowed at preferential (lower) tariffs into India will compete with large firms (rather than small firms) in India that produce comparable quality. Even though these firms are likely to oppose liberalization, there is no rationale to protect large firms.
India's sensitive list under SAFTA applicable to Pakistan indicates that the textiles sector is protected the most (accounting for 22 percent of India's import potential) - a sector in which Pakistan enjoys a comparative advantage. It can be inferred that while Pakistan considers its automobile sector as the most vulnerable, India fears competition in the textile sector.
To realize the untapped trade potential between the two countries, several physical and regulatory impediments need to be addressed. Expansion of physical infrastructure at the land borders, amendment of transport protocols to allow seamless transportation without the requirement of transshipment of cargo (the transfer of goods from one country's truck to the other country's truck at the land borders because Indian and Pakistani trucks cannot operate in each other's territory),and dismantling of the road-based positive list are measures that could bring about a substantial reduction in the transaction costs of trading between the two countries.
Non-tariff barriers have been a key issue for Pakistani business people trying to access the Indian market. While there are genuine non-tariff barriers related to the complexity of regulatory procedures, non-transparent regulations, port restrictions, and problems related to recognition of standards and valuation of goods, these are not discriminatory and are being addressed in India's ongoing reform process. It is more difficult to address "perceived" barriers that business people face in entering each other's markets. Business people fear entering these markets as they are not sure their goods will be welcomed. This is more so in the consumer goods market segment. However, there is evidence that some businesses have made a bold entry with their country labels and have not met much resistance. Exhibitions and fairs are an effective way of dealing with these perceived barriers.
For deeper and stronger trade linkages it is important that there are foreign investment flows between the two countries. Businessmen from both countries are reluctant to invest as they fear the consequences of a possible political event. If a bilateral investment treaty is put in place it could improve business confidence. In the meantime, businessmen in both countries have suggested allowing joint ownership of manufacturing facilities located in the respective countries. Thus, investors can enter into joint ventures without physically locating in each other's territory. This could be the first step for entry until legal systems can be altered to safeguard investments, and there is an improvement in investors' confidence.
A key determinant of realization of trade potential is the liberalization of visas. The revised visa regime expected to become operational soon provides only an incremental improvement over the existing system as it introduces measures to ease travel of tourists, pilgrims, elderly and children. The business visa is also more liberal for certain categories. As security is a key concern, information technology-driven systems should be made to screen visa applications and physical movement of people.
India and Pakistan need to engage with each other to understand each other's regulatory regimes. As new businessmen enter the economy it is important to have forums that would bring buyers and sellers together. The business communities must create multilevel channels of communication that can reduce misconceptions, bridge the information gap, and generate a significant change in the business environment of the two countries. This could help in realizing the untapped trade potential between the two countries.
Nisha Taneja is a professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.
NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images
Despite cultural differences, the countries of South Asia share a strong connection through trade, history, and, of course, Indian film. Bollywood is no stranger to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Posters of Indian actors adorn streets from Kabul to Karachi, and bootleg movies are widely available.
But Indian cinema is a male-dominated industry, meaning the portrayal of women in films is a reflection of the woman's role in Indian society from a man's viewpoint. These films mold opinions, and often encourage the poor treatment of women. Often, Bollywood productions focus on the plight of wealthy women, whose treatment at the hands of the men in their lives is offset by their comfortable lifestyles. At the same time, though, most of them omit the difficulties that women of lower socio-economic backgrounds face on a daily basis, such as the harassment on buses and streets that showed itself at its worst in the recent mob rape of two young women. While Bollywood seems to have no problem showing men how women should be treated, it has so far shied away from investigating the repercussions of this behavior.
As a woman of Afghan descent, I watched from a young age as heroines suffered at the hands of the patriarchal society. Even the "good" or "virtuous" women, the traditional housewives, were second-class citizens. The good woman would argue with her husband begging him not to force their daughter to marry a man she didn't love, but he would tell his wife to stay out of matters that didn't concern her. His word was final.
The "bad women," the courtesans that entertained members of the high society, would dance the night away and recite poetry only to be sold to the highest bidder at the end of the night. Sought after for their beauty; they are shown to intoxicate men with their skills, dancing in such a way that would only be seen in such settings. Countless movies display this, such as Umraoo Jaan, Pakeezah, Sharafat and Mughal-e-Azam. They depict men who sitting on cushions, smoking, and chewing betel leaves. The only women in their scenes were the courtesans and the madame who gives her prized possession, the courtesan, to the man offering the most money, displayed in gold coins.
The madame in these films loves her young possessions and raises them as daughters. She appears to do the girls a favor by taking them off the streets where they would otherwise beg for food and shelter. Instead, they become dancers for elite men, regaled with gifts and beautiful clothes. Most of these women were trafficked domestically as young girls and then raised to dance and entertain with a poise not found in other areas of society.
Powerful men in these films visit such establishments with little repercussion, but it is the women who are left to face the real blowback. The men still marry well, hold high ranks in society, and have their lawful wives accept the fact that they have a second life with other women. The most a woman could do was approach the courtesan dancer and ask her to stop luring her husband.
Deemed unclean, these courtesans were not even permitted to enter places of worship. In movies like Mehbooba, the townspeople react with public outcry when the dancer enters the temple to pray. Another movie, Suhaag, portrays a young girl who kills a man about to rape her. She recognizes the realities of the local judiciary procedures where, should she be found out, she would have no due process or justice, given that she was both poor and a female. She escapes her village only to be taken in by a "motherly woman" to become a dancer. Luckily for her, she does not sell her body at the end of the night. Although the main character's story in this movie has a happy ending, women who find themselves in her situation in reality do not share her fate.
According to a New York Times blog post published last December, India has the highest number of human trafficking victims in the world. While authorities have closed hundreds of brothels where occurrences of human trafficking of underage females have been found, prostitution and trafficking continues. Because of the stigma, women who have been forced to live and work in brothels aren't able to escape that life even if given an opportunity. Were they to return to their villages, they would most likely be rejected by their families. .
But with regard to other women's issues, Bollywood has done a much better job of portraying reality. Prostitution and brothels are not the only way Indian women fall victim to the patriarchal society. Widows in India are ostracized and deemed financial burdens. Their presence is considered bad luck. According to tradition they have to flee to the holy city of Vrindivan where they live until they die. Several Bollywood movies, such as the 2005 film Water, portray the lives of such widows. At Vrindivan, they must live a life without pleasure of any sort in order to abide by the traditions. This lifestyle begins with the shaving of their heads. Vrindivan is said to have about 15,000 widows that have been forced to reside there.
In India and parts of Pakistan, female feticide, the act of aborting a fetus because it's a female, is practiced. When medical technology made it possible to determine the sex of a fetus, clinics across the country advertised their ability to perform sex-related abortions. Before the advent of such technology, female babies were often left at doorstops or murdered upon birth. A national census reveals a shocking ratio of 914 girls to 1000 boys under the age of seven. The 2004 film Mathruboomi: A Nation without Women, examines the impact of female feticide and infanticide.
Bollywood movies have shed light on the plight of Afghan and Pakistani women as well (though they continue to play to the stereotypes). The Afghan woman is often portrayed as a warrior, able to fight next to a man. On the other hand, she is still a prize to be won. In the movie Khuda Gawa, the heroine, an Afghan woman, promised her hand in marriage to the hero if he would kill her worst enemy, the man who murdered her father. She was a Buzkash, a champion of the extreme Afghan sport of buzkashi; she had power within her community. Yet, at the end, she was still weaker because she needed this man to carry out her mission, and she was willing to give herself to him should he be successful.
Veer Zaara provides a classic example of the subjugation of Pakistani women. It portrays a loud and quirky girl whose father listens to all her demands in other facets of life, yet her outgoing character cannot overpower her father's decision to marry her off to the son of an influential figure whose election depends on the marriage. When, as a Muslim, she falls in love with a Hindu man, she is ordered not to see him again.
In Indian circles it is common to hear women saying that their daughter's wedding costs their life's savings. According to tradition, the bride's family is to pay a dowry to the groom's family. Women are often criticized, ridiculed and even beaten for not having a large enough dowry. Although India outlawed dowries in 1961, they still exist, and the exchange of the dowry is a common scene in Bollywood films. Lajja is the perfect example of a movie that portrays the pressure a family is under to pay a dowry.
Pakistan has a similar problem with the burdens of the dowry, mostly among the Urdu-speaking communities or those of Punjabi origin, who can trace their lineages back to India. Many women are left unwed simply because their parents aren't able to afford the increasing demands from the groom's family. In Afghanistan, and amongst the Pashtun cultures of Pakistan, there is a reverse dowry system, or the mehr, which is to be paid to the female's family. With it comes the cost of the wedding and all expenses thereof. Thus, females are not a financial burden in Pashtun Pakistani communities, nor throughout Afghanistan.
That doesn't mean that females are necessarily better off. Many families negotiate their daughter's price, giving her not to the best man, but to the one that can pay the higher price. Laila Majnu depicts the true story which later evolved into Arabic literature and then consecutively into Persian literature. It is indeed dubbed the Romeo and Juliet of the Muslim World, because it is the story of two lovers from enemy tribes, both of whom end up dead, Majnun at the hands of an enemy and Laila taking her own life. In the scene of the "Juliet's" marriage to a King in which the vows are exchanged, the mullah asks the groom if he agrees to pay the one lakh or one hundred thousand for her, and it is agreed upon.
What is the connection between a rape victim and a woman portrayed in Bollywood films? The movies are dramatized reflections of the realities of life in South Asian societies, where the poor are second class citizens and women are what men decide them to be. More importantly, the movies can shape societies' viewpoints, reinforcing the discrimination; over time people can and have accepted that women are inferior.
Bollywood plays an important role in shaping ideologies in India and South Asia as a whole. Lollywood, Pakistan's movie industry, has had its ups and downs in recent years due to increasing levels of violence and militancy in the country. It is, however, slowly recovering, and Pakistani soap operas are widely watched in the region.
For their part, Bollywood films have changed somewhat in recent years to depict the woman as more of an equal to her male counterpart and less of an object; their roles are more career-driven and less subservient. Women are standing up to society and their families where injustices such as forced marriages exist.
These trends are not enough. Bollywood can become more progressive on women's issues by portraying lives of ordinary women living in South Asia, and the challenges they have to face on a daily basis. Behind the opulence that is often portrayed in Bollywood films, the troubling reality of Indian and Pakistani societies is that the injustices against the women of the top 1% most often do not reflect the same gender discriminations of the vast majority of women within society. After all, the wealthiest individuals are not the ones who ride the bus every day.
Humira Noorestani is a Human Rights Activist and the Founder/Director of Ariana Outreach, an NGO dedicated to building bridges between the United States and Afghanistan, primarily through connecting women of both countries.
"Sooner or later the Americans are going to leave the region. The problem isn't that they will just leave, but that they might abandon the region altogether. That will leave us alone with these thousands of militants to deal with without any international support"
This bold statement about Pakistan's militancy problem was given to me by a recently retired military officer in the Pakistan Army, who served at a key appointment during Operation Zalzala in 2008 in South Waziristan against domestic militants. According to another General of the Pakistan Army who was active in the Wana Operation against militants in 2004, Pakistan's basic counterterrorism policy has been fairly simple: "either kill the terrorists wherever they are found, or coerce them to support your cause against the other anti-state militants." It is under this lens that Hafiz Saeed, founder of the banned Lashkar-e-Tayyaba needs to be understood.
Pakistan's refusal to arrest Hafiz Saeed might seem confusing. A man carrying a 10 million dollar bounty on his head, and who has been charged by the United States and India for links to terrorism and hijacking, walks around freely in major city centers of Pakistan, is invited for television interviews, and now runs one of the country's fastest growing charity organizations, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). What is more confusing still is the fact that while the United States has placed a handsome bounty on his head, it has been fairly silent over the issue ever since, and hasn't been pushing the authorities in Pakistan to take any action against Saeed.
Recent interviews with key officials in the military and police forces of Pakistan revealed to this author that Hafiz Saeed has been left alone because although he might be a threat to India, at the moment he and his followers are not a threat to Pakistan.
The security establishment of Pakistan categorizes militant threats into three spheres: 1) Groups that are threat to Pakistan only, 2) Groups that are threat to both Pakistan and the United States, 3) Groups that are a threat to only the United States, India, or any other country. Hafiz Saeed, for Pakistan, falls into the third category. Moreover, if anything Hafiz Saeed has recently transformed and rebranded himself as a political and social actor renouncing violence altogether. Could Hafiz Saeed lead to a Sinn Fein-style of transformation of militant groups in Pakistan? According to some in the power circles of Pakistan, he certainly could.
Saeed is increasingly looked upon by the security establishment as a key figure who will, after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, mobilize the armed militants from different factions, and either pacify their animosity toward the Pakistan state, or encourage their evolution into political actors. Many in the establishment entertain the view that militants can only be dealt in their own language; in other words, by another militant on behalf of the establishment. But why Saeed?
Hafiz Saeed is a perfect mix of what the establishment requires: an anti-Indian down to the bone, a patriot in the sense that he would not rise up against the Pakistani state, Saeed is considered radical enough by all types of militants, which allows him to sit down and negotiate with groups like the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and the anti-government Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But he is not motivated by sectarian differences - something that is particularly attractive to the security establishment in the midst of the wave of sectarian and religious violence crippling Pakistan.
In a sense, Saeed is the new face of the evolution of militancy in Pakistan, the kind that Humaira Iqtidar predicts in her book, Secularizing Islamists: Jama'at-e-Islami and Jama'at-ud-Da'wa in Urban Pakistan, from far right extremism to center right, and then to progressive. Saeed's evolution into a political actor, along with his charismatic ability to mobilize thousands of people, is what makes him marketable to an establishment that is desperately seeking ways to counter terrorism in Pakistan during and after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the words of Saeed, "The militant struggle helped grab the world's attention," he told the New York Times, in what would have been an unimaginable interview even a year ago. "But now the political movement is stronger, and it should be at the forefront of the struggle."
While Saeed was once used as a pivotal player against India in Kashmir, the establishment in Pakistan is currently more concerned with the internal threat that Pakistan faces from groups like the TTP. A senior police official who has led several offenses against militants in southern Punjab told me that he believes "Saeed has been redirected and is now being used as a tool to ensure the disarmament and evolution of militant groups in Pakistan".
The analysis of this police official makes even more sense when juxtaposed with the recent rise of the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), which is a consortium of over 36 right wing and religious organizations. DPC is one of the movements led by Hafiz Saeed that has united and mobilized followers of different radical ideologies, which Pakistani officials hope will create a force to broker peace between the government and militants. In other words, Hafiz Saeed is seen as a middle-man between the anti-state militants and the security establishment of Pakistan. And for this reason, Pakistan is unlikely to act against or compromise on Hafiz Saeed, despite overwhelming pressure from India, and dossier of evidence suggesting links between Hafiz Saeed and terrorism.
Saeed has successfully maintained his relevance and importance to the establishment of Pakistan, and is now being cultivated as a major political actor who could ensure that the militants disarm, and will negotiate peace on behalf of the establishment. It remains to be seen whether this policy will eventually work, but the fact is that Pakistan really doesn't seem to have any other option to fight the ever growing number of militants. And until this policy fails to bear fruit, Pakistan will have to live with the burden of being blamed for supporting militants like Hafiz Saeed.
Hussain Nadim is a faculty member at the Department of Government and Public Policy at National University of Science and Technology (NUST), in Islamabad. He was previously a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He can be reached at email@example.com
Conflict in Kashmir has been back in the news recently. In January, a series of attacks and counter-attacks by Indian and Pakistani soldiers were reportedly sparked by a grandmother who crossed the Line of Control to be near her children and their families, resulting in the deaths of soldiers on both sides. What is striking about recent events and seems to be a particular throw back to earlier times, is the apparent brutality with which two Indian soldiers involved were killed. One was reportedly beheaded, whilst another ‘mutilated.' This particular detail seems to belong to an earlier time highlighted in Adrian Levy's and Cathy Scott-Clark's book about the kidnapping of a group of western tourists in July 1995 in Kashmir, when the full insurgency was underway between Pakistan and India over the disputed province.
The portrait that Levy and Scott-Clark paint of the 1990s insurgency in Kashmir is a brutal one: locals living in fear as groups and alliances shift around them. No one is certain who is on whose side, as idealistic Kashmiri freedom fighters are manipulated by Pakistani ISI agents and their families are punished by Indian authorities. Local warlords change sides regularly, turning on each other with ready brutality at the right price. Police and intelligence agents on the same side end up working against each other, each with a different goal in mind. And caught up in the middle of this is a group of foreign hikers, drawn by the beauty of the countryside and kept in the dark about potential danger by inept local authorities eager for the much-needed tourist revenue.
The Meadow is written in the style of a thriller, with an investigative journalist's eye for detail. It uncovers new information, offering definitive conclusions about what happened to the unfortunate foreigners entangled in the kidnapping. It has attracted less attention than previous books the authors have written about the region - their earlier book Deception, about the Pakistani nuclear program, has been widely praised - but nonetheless comes to some dramatic conclusions about what happened to the group of tourists.
At the heart of this narrative are six western (American, British, German and Norwegian) nationals. Snatched by a group of Kashmiri warriors supported by Pakistan, the intention was for the men to be traded for a group of supporters of the Kashmiri jihad, including Maulana Masood Azhar, an increasingly important preacher who had managed to get himself caught by Indian authorities some weeks before. This was in the days prior to Azhar's later fame as the founder and head of Jaish-e-Mohammed.
Led by a Kashmiri called Sikander who fought in Afghanistan during the 1980s, the team was a mix of raw recruits and experienced fighters. Sikander had participated in an operation involving foreigners before, abducting two British citizens, Kim Housego and David Mackie, in June 1994 in an operation that ended in failure. Under intense international pressure, Sikander's cell had given the hostages up to Kashmiri journalists. The second time around they hoped to avoid this pressure by creating a shell group, al Faran, which people would be unable to link so easily to the group's well-known organizers, the Pakistani-supported, Kashmiri-oriented Harakat ul Ansar (HuA). According to the book, the new group name was chosen ‘randomly.... by someone in Islamabad that had vague Islamic connotations, being a mountain in Saudi Arabia' (p.95).
The kidnappers were initially planning on snatching foreign workers at infrastructure projects, but as they got sidetracked in other operations time pushed on and they decided instead to go after a group of foreign tourists. By the time they were able to get moving on the plot it was June 1995 and it was only by July 1995 that they made it into the eponymous ‘Meadow' above and around Pahalgam in the Anantnag district of Kashmir. Here, they wandered around the various campsites, capturing two British (Paul Wells and Keith Mangan) and two American (John Childs and Don Hutchings) trekkers they found, sending the women they were travelling with back down the mountain with a note demanding the release of Masood Azhar and other leaders. When one of the Americans, John Childs, managed to escape, the group panicked and snatched another two foreigners they found, this time a Norwegian (Hans Christian Ostrø) and a German (Dirk Hastert). Sikander's father recalls his son telling him ‘human cargo' was not ‘like transporting bullets of rice' requiring all sorts of attention and care (p.93).
At this point, the story becomes murkier. Intrepid journalists, Levy and Scott-Clark rounded up as many different contacts as they could, but patching together what happened to the hostages while they were in captivity is something that is always going to be shrouded in mystery and reserved primarily to the hostages and their captors, none of whom are able to talk now. Using interviews with locals, family members, subsequent intelligence reports, and gathering the pieces of information that the hostages managed to leave secreted with locals as they were transported around the region, the authors piece a compelling narrative together. They uncover how particularly vivacious and infuriating a captive Hans Christian Ostrø was, apparently trying repeatedly to escape whilst charming locals with his enthusiasm. Eventually, a brutal faction within the cell tires of him and leaves his beheaded body to be found with the words ‘al Faran' engraved on his chest.
The others were never found; their family members remain uncertain of their end to this day. For the women who had been trekking with the men before they were snatched, the nightmare was made all the worse by the seemingly limited and incompetent assistance they report receiving from Indian authorities. Having come down the mountain to disbelieving and slow-moving authorities, they then find themselves sidelined as geopolitics overtake the incident.
It is here that Levy and Scott-Clark are able to bring the most new information to light, digging into the grim world of the Kashmiri insurgency to offer a novel conclusion of what happened to the hapless trekkers. After Childs escaped, he lobbied for U.S. Special Forces to go back and rescue the others. But he was ignored, as Indian authorities refused to let foreign boots on the ground or accept much international assistance, eager to keep foreign eyes from the awkward domestic insurgency. And so, the captives were left in an isolated area where, as the authors paint it, India had full control. Even though authorities were in contact with the group, and according to the negotiators had managed to obtain a fixed amount of $250,000 to secure the foreigners release, no exchange actually took place. As the book portrays it, elements within India preferred a grim conclusion to highlight Pakistani perfidy. So once the demand had been made through a private communication between a local officer and the group - who allegedly told the officer ‘the movement [those who had sent him to carry out the kidnapping] can go to hell' (p.325) - someone promptly leaked it, rendering it void as the move had not been approved al Faran's superiors.
Instead, the men are sold to a local warlord fighting for the Indians, who then has them executed and disposed of. Indian authorities (or elements within the Indian power structures) are implied to have had full knowledge of everything that was going on, and to have actively pushed events in this direction, a searing indictment that has attracted ire within India.
The Meadow connects this incident to the larger events of September 11, highlighting the proximity of elements linked to al-Qaeda and the subsequent group that Masood Azhar founded when he was eventually released in exchange for a planeload of Indians held hostage while en route to Nepal. That group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, has been responsible for a number of major atrocities, including the first use of suicide bombers in Kashmir: on Christmas Day 2000, Asif Sadiq, a 24 year old Birmingham student blew himself up at a checkpoint in Srinagar. A year later, as the world was still rocking from the September 11 attacks, a JeM team joined by fighters from Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) launched an attack on India's parliament that almost brought the sub-continent to nuclear conflict.
Levy and Scott-Clark push this web of shadowy links even further, pointing out a connection between Masood Azhar and Rashid Rauf, the British al Qaeda leader who would go on to act as the overseer of the July 7 and July 21 plots against London, before helping mastermind the aborted August 2006 plot to bring down some eight airplanes on transatlantic routes. In their book, Rauf is a bit part, with Azhar meeting Rauf's father on a trip to Birmingham and being introduced to young Rashid as ‘his rootless teenage son...whom he said was in need of a mentor' (p.296). But the connection nonetheless cements Azhar's importance in helping provide links for a man who went on to be one of al Qaeda's most dynamic foreign leaders.
A hefty book at almost 500 pages, the text sometimes gets lost in its own detail and in the numerous, long and detailed interviews the authors conducted. But drawing on a wealth of primary interviews, it tells a compelling narrative about a specific incident, while also painting a picture of a brutal conflict that, as we saw recently, has all the kindling in place to light up again.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) and the author of the forthcoming ‘We Love Death As You Love Life; Britain's Suburban Mujahedeen' (Hurst/Columbia University Press).
Farooq Khan-Pool/Getty Images
As the Obama administration rethinks its strategy for South Asian engagement, and Senator John Kerry assumes his duties as Secretary of State, a more "naturalized" approach to diplomacy should be considered. Despite their many differences, South Asia's acrimonious nations are tied together by ecological factors which can provide fertile ground for regional cooperation, thereby building trust in other areas and reducing chances of greater conflict. The term "ecology" connotes environmental factors such as climate change, water and food availability as well as pollution concerns, but more significantly implies an appreciation for the relationship which humans must have with their environment in order to form productive societies. Given President Barack Obama's bold statement at his second inauguration regarding the salience of climate change, and his commitment to peace-building in South Asia, the timing may be right for making these connections for 'green diplomacy.'
The greatest loss of human life and economic damage suffered by South Asia since 2001 has not been due to terrorism and its ensuing conflicts, but rather due to natural disasters ranging from the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the Indus floods of 2010 to seasonal water shortages and drought. Although such calamities themselves might not be preventable, their human impact can certainly be mitigated. Such mitigation of environmental stresses is most efficacious through regional approaches to ecological cooperation to draw on efficiencies across the ecology of the area. Furthermore, the cooperation from such regionalism has the potential for building trust to resolve long-standing territorial disputes, especially between India and Pakistan.
Raising ecological factors from a technocratic matter to one of high politics will require leaders to reconsider the role of existing regional organizations, most notably the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), as well as scientific organizations such as the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). SAARC's charter, for example, prevents India and Pakistan from linking technical regional cooperation to broader territorial disputes that are deemed to be bilateral matters. However, bilateral agreements such as the Indus Waters Treaty between India and Pakistan are also confined by their highly specific terms of reference. The treaty has been tested by the numerous ongoing disputes between the two countries on water management projects, but it was never intended to be an ecological management agreement; rather, it divided up the rivers based on water flow metrics. Instead of renegotiating an agreement that is structurally focused on dividing natural resources rather than finding environmentally efficient solutions, it would be more productive to consider new cooperative mechanisms regarding conservation and improving the quality of the watershed.
International environmental treaties, such as the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands protection, which include transboundary cooperation within their mandates, can also provide a mechanism for linking ecological cooperation to broader resolution of disputes and enhanced regional security. If with technology nations can find more efficient means of water and energy utilization across South Asia, the pressures on distributive aspects of water and energy scarcity can also be reduced, thus lessening the chance for conflicts over these resources.
The most consequential ecological features in South Asia are the Himalayas and the rivers that are largely derived from their geography. Some of the worst territorial disputes in the region also span these mountains. Hence, scientific and socio-cultural research on mountain ecosystems is likely to play a pivotal role in galvanizing regional cooperation and reaping peace dividends. International development donors need to configure existing programs to incentivize projects that build trust and have the potential for subsequent peace-building.
For example, cooperation on glacial scientific research or estuarine ecology could be constructively linked to resolution prospects for the Siachen and Sir Creek disputes. Some of the notable programs with potential for such reconfiguration include the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), the South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE), the South Asia Regional Initiative for Energy (SARI/Energy), and the South Asian Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP). Yet, the current approach of donors, as exemplified by efforts such as ICIMOD's program covering seven transboundary corridors (none of which include both India and Pakistan), tends to focus on the low-hanging fruit rather than initiatives that could provide a more lasting impact on regional peace. Connecting environmental factors with basic human necessities such as food and healthcare can also raise the political prominence of these approaches. Recent concerns about communicable diseases such as dengue and polio can provide impetus for regional cooperation that has broader peace-building goals.
Trade can also be more appropriately configured to consider environmental factors as a cooperative mechanism. For example, goods for which one country has a comparative advantage in terms of climate or water availability could be targeted for trade priority. Thus trade should focus on importing products whose energy or water inputs are more efficiently obtained elsewhere rather than trying to build massive new domestic infrastructure for water or energy. At the same time, trade in energy itself, through efforts such as gas pipelines or technology transfer for renewable energy infrastructure, should be encouraged, as the huge rise in resource consumption projected for South Asia will require supply-side as well as demand-side cooperative strategies.
All of these prospects for ‘green diplomacy' are pragmatic and plausible if science can be coupled with good leadership and resource incentives from the international community. South Asia has much potential for development and peace but the linkage between ecology and security will be essential in most efficiently and effectively realizing that potential.
Saleem H. Ali is professor of politics and international studies at the University of Queensland Australia, and the founding director of the Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security at the University of Vermont. He is the author most recently of a report titled "Ecological Cooperation in South Asia: The Way Forward" for the New America Foundation. He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali
Pakistan's new engagement in efforts to find a peaceful end to the conflict in Afghanistan has been received with optimism in the West. In just the past month, members of Afghanistan's High Peace Council visited Islamabad for discussions with Pakistani officials, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited Kabul to sign an agreement on border security, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasool visited Islamabad for talks, and Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khan met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Brussels to discuss their cooperation on counterterrorism in the region.
However, a deeper look at Pakistan's recent behavior reveals that these events may represent more of a change of tactics than a change of mind. Admittedly, the ethnic divisions, widespread corruption, and weak central government that plague Afghanistan also have Pakistan worried about a failing government in its backyard. It is possible that a focus strategic depth really has been overpowered by this looming threat. But it is more likely that the government of Pakistan still clings to the long-held strategic depth objectives, while choosing now to take a more indirect approach to reaching it.
With the 2014 withdrawal of NATO combat troops from Afghanistan looming, Pakistani officials now say they just want to be recognized and given a seat at the negotiation table with the Taliban and other Afghan factions.
But at the same time, of course, Pakistan also still wants to minimize India's presence and restrict its increasing influence in Afghanistan in the future. Since the 1960s, when the doctrine of "strategic depth" was first developed, Pakistan -- both right and wrongly -- has been obsessed with addressing its paranoia of Indian-Afghan encirclement. The Pakistani government now seems to be downplaying the security-centric goal of strategic depth, though this should not be taken to mean that Pakistan has abandoned this ultimate aim.
"The post-withdrawal Afghanistan should not be an enemy, if it is not going to be a friend," says a diplomatic source referring to the strategic depth doctrine of Pakistan's security establishment.
There are reasons behind this apparent change in tactics. Pakistani policy makers have now come to believe, with a heavy heart, that a Taliban-led regime like the one before 2001 in Afghanistan is an unrealistic dream.
Persistent U.S. drone strikes, with or without the consent of the Pakistani government, have forced Pakistan to come to terms with the reality that modern technology has now replaced the conventional means of hot pursuit, and it is far easier for the United States or other powers to target their enemies without sending ground troops.
And, the United States has adopted silence over the sticky issue of asking Pakistan to conduct military operations against the dreaded Haqqanis in North Waziristan, while the hardliners in the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) in Pakistan have gone into hibernation and adopted silence over drone attacks.
To give credence to the impression of shedding the strategic depth policy, Pakistan recently freed several Taliban prisoners, while another batch, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who has reportedly established contacts with the Afghan government, may also be freed shortly if the United States agrees.
Now, the Pakistani side seems to be confronted with two key questions regarding stability in Afghanistan after 2014, and the future of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Although Pakistan has been persuaded through the ‘carrot and stick' approach not to be a spoiler if it is not going to buttress the peace process, policy makers in Islamabad are weighing their options in a divided Afghanistan, not geographically but on ethnic and factional basis.
In the post-withdrawal Afghanistan, Pakistan sees a Taliban-controlled south, Haqqanis leading in the south-east, and the rest of Afghanistan under the non-Pashtuns -- led by ethnic Tajiks. In this scenario, Pakistan will get a secured border even though the government in Kabul remains hostile (in other words pro-India).
In this way, Pakistan will not only ensure its influence in the strategically important southeastern part of Afghanistan, but could also push the TTP and other Pakistan-based militant groups, including the Kashmir-focused jihadis, into the Haqqani- and Taliban- controlled parts of Afghanistan.
Before 2001, the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups had established bases and training camps in the areas that Pakistan expects to come under the influence of Haqqanis in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. Those regions could house sleeper cells of Kashmiri fighters, whom Pakistan could later use as a balancing factor in case of Indian support for Baloch independence-seekers.
The Afghan Taliban spokesman, however, in a December 18, 2012 interview with the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) said they would never accept a divided Afghanistan. Quoting the Taliban spokesman Zabeehullah Mujahid, AIP said "we will not allow anyone to implement methods of disintegration in Afghanistan." The spokesman added that their ‘jihad' was meant for full control of the country rather than struggling for a particular part or chunk of land.
Informed sources told this writer that during recent negotiations, both the U.S. and Afghan sides assured their Pakistani counterparts that due consideration would be given to their concerns about the future Afghan government and the Indian role.
"Now Pakistan's response is wait and see. The Pakistani side has placed some concerns and conditions on the table and watching what is being picked and what is left by the Americans and the Afghan side," said a parliamentarian involved with a few round of meetings.
"The recent Taliban release was Pakistan's goodwill gesture. The next step will be taken when the Pakistani side sees some ‘positive' development," added the lawmaker. A number of observers in Islamabad are of the view that the release of Mullah Baradar is that ‘next step,' which will be taken after the desired ‘progress'.
The other important decision for Pakistan is the role it will play with regard to the TTP and other militant groups after 2014. On December 4, 2012, a senior provincial official told the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa cabinet that "we should not expect an end to the ongoing Taliban attacks in Pakistan with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan." The provincial government has limited options: it can either accept the Taliban by holding talks with them and attempting to bring them into mainstream politics with a give-and-take approach, or it can try to root them out with the use of force.
However, the thinking in Islamabad is somewhat optimistic. It is believed that the Haqqanis will return to areas under their influence in eastern Afghanistan like Khost, Paktia and Paktika, while their local allies and the pro-Pakistan militants led by Mullah Nazir and Hafiz Gul Bahadar will either merge in the tribal society or join their brothers in arms across the border.
And as and when needed, they could be used by Pakistan to browbeat the Indians and the government in Kabul, or keep the Pashtun nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in check. In the past few years, the nationalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA have frequently been the target of Taliban attacks.
As for the TTP, it is believed that the group will lose its moral ground for fighting against the Pakistani government and security forces once international forces leave Afghanistan. The number of their sympathizers will drop which will affect their recruitment, training and missions. The rest will be done through decapitation of the leading figures to shatter its organizational structure.
However, this is the most simplistic view of the TTP, which has humbled the Pakistani security establishment by launching daring attacks in high security zones all over the country with the help of its al-Qaeda, IMU and sectarian allies. Besides, the mishandling of the word Jihad, either knowingly or unknowingly on the part of the country's security establishment, has created a Taliban mindset in the new generation who could be easily provoked in the name of religion - thanks to the weakening economy, poor governance and justice system, rampant corruption and non-availability of social services.
Unfortunately, neither the democratically elected government, nor the powerful military establishment has so far hinted at any strategy for de-radicalization. Instead, policy makers, as usual, are obsessed with their external relations and reputations. With no rational approach on how to deal with the post-withdrawal militancy scenario, the scourge of radicalism and terrorism will continue to haunt both Afghanistan and Pakistan even if we assume for a while a successful withdrawal and peaceful handover of authority in Afghanistan.
Daud Khattak is a Pakistani journalist currently working as a senior editor of Radio Mashaal of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague. Khattak has worked with Pakistan's English dailies The News and Daily Times, Afghanistan's Pajhwok Afghan News, and has also written for Christian Science Monitor and London's Sunday Times. The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
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.
With a second term assured, President Barack Obama has a shot at making a huge difference in greater South Asia, an opportunity that he failed to take in his first term. This may now be the time for a new hyphenation across the map of that critical part of the globe: bringing together a string of countries ranging from Iran, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to Bangladesh. For this may be the center of gravity of Asian stability and growth in the next couple of decades, if the United States and its partners get their policies right. But first, the President needs to create a center of gravity for decision making on this region in his own Administration, reaching across the aisle and bringing in new blood to rejuvenate his efforts to bring peace. Then he must help create a network among the nations of this region that is based on their own self-interests and from which the United States would profit immeasurably.
The President could use the emerging forces of democracy, gender equality, and civilian supremacy rather than military might as the catalysts for change in the region. No carrots or sticks, but moral suasion, applied quietly and confidently to help these countries build confidence amongst themselves.
India is perhaps the most critical part of this new opportunity. Under a Prime Minister who has dared to think of peace and normalcy even with arch enemy Pakistan, India needs to be encouraged to open its borders to its neighbors for trade and travel, opening far wider the door that has been cracked open in recent months. A paranoid Pakistan that fears hot borders on the east and the west could be helped to get over its concerns. Pakistan must recognize that it is in its own interest to create normalcy with its neighbors, for it cannot afford to continue on the path of military or economic competition, especially with India. Rather, it can catapult its economy to new heights by becoming a regional partner. The United States could also bring together support for strengthening Pakistan's recent overtures to all Afghans, not just the contiguous Pakhtuns, whom Pakistan wrongly saw in the past as its assets.. There are signs that Pakistan is prepared to let Afghanistan be Afghanistan. Much could be done to support that trend by helping open trade and power (gas and hydroelectricity) routes to central Asia. In both these countries, civil society and civilian governments are the key to progress and stability. Pluralism, gender equality, education, and health may be the foundation stones to help them gain their footing as democracies.
This means shifting the focus of expenditures from guns to butter over time. The United States has a great position in that regard, as a strategic partner to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India for the time in history. It can also open the door to engagement with Iran by bringing Iran back to the table on Afghanistan's future stability. By helping create regional ownership for Afghanistan's future it can find a way to exit gracefully from the region. India, again, will be key in creating transparency in its relations with Afghanistan to help Pakistan overcome its suspicions of being hemmed in on both sides.
The region has been ready for some time to create an atmosphere of trust, though much remains to be done on the issues of cross-border terrorism and non-state actors. Civil society groups have started benefiting from the opening of trade relations and visa regimes. The current limited transit trade arrangements need to be extended from Kabul to Dhaka. The cross pollination of ideas -- especially among the burgeoning youthful populations of the region - and the greater involvement of women in their societies, will help ensure that there is no slipping back toward obscurantist thinking of the past. Those positive trends are growing and cannot be turned back, come what may.
President Obama can ride these emerging waves to truly earn his Nobel Prize of four years ago by helping bring lasting peace to greater South Asia. Perhaps he could start by visiting two border posts in the first few months of his second term: Wagah, where India meets Pakistan, and Torkham, where Afghanistan and Pakistan meet, and calling for keeping the gates that now close daily to remain open forever. This would be a grand legacy for the 44th president of the United States.
Shuja Nawaz is director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
When Zabiuddin Ansari was handed over to the Indian authorities several weeks ago, it was big news - at least in India - as a result of the information he was expected to provide to the authorities there about the 2008 Mumbai attacks. As previous posts have illustrated, his story also provided valuable insights into the nature of the jihadist threat to India, the state of India-Pakistan relations, and the importance of international counterterrorism cooperation to contain the threats posed by Pakistan-based and supported militants. The most important angle according to some observers, however, was the fact that Ansari was arrested by the Saudi authorities, who subsequently handed him over to India despite Riyadh's historically close alliance with Islamabad. While at first glance this could suggest a wider geopolitical realignment, the reality is more nuanced. Though Pakistan is in no danger of being completely abandoned, its continued tolerance of militant groups makes even its staunchest allies skittish.
Pakistan remains the only nuclear-armed Muslim nation and, crucially, it's a Sunni Muslim nation, which makes it an essential Saudi ally in the event that Shi'a Iran acquires a nuclear capacity. Furthermore, the Saudi royal family has depended directly on the Pakistan Army for protection at times and Pakistani soldiers continue to play an important role in Saudi Arabia. It's very difficult to imagine India supplanting Pakistan in these areas. Saudi engagement with India began as part of a wider endeavor in which it sought to develop new markets for oil, expand economically where possible, and forge stronger political ties in Asia to augment the traditional U.S.-Saudi relationship and balance against Iran. However, it would be naïve to think India is ready to line up in lock-step against Iran any more than Saudi Arabia is prepared to abandon its alliance with Pakistan.
Nevertheless, Riyadh's decision to hand over Ansari despite his possessing a Pakistan passport and over the vociferous objections of the Pakistani authorities is a significant event and indicative of several important trends. First, it marked an important turning point in Saudi-India counterterrorism cooperation that could only have occurred amidst improved bilateral ties between the two countries. Second, it suggests increasing concerns within the Kingdom about Pakistani militants in general and Lashkar-e-Taiba specifically, as well as Pakistan's ability to control them. This is related to a more troubling trend for Pakistan in which its continued support for militant proxies has put strains on relationships with even its closest allies who fear the repercussions for their own internal security.
Playing the Field
In January 2006, Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud visited India as part of a four-country tour that also included a stop in Beijing. This was the first visit to India by a Saudi king since 1955, after which bilateral relations quickly froze as a result of Cold War politics. At the time of the landmark 2006 visit, Saudi Arabia provided only a trickle of oil to India, but soon after became its number one crude oil source. Although oil remains the lifeline of the relationship, the two countries' interests now extend beyond black gold. Trade between them has boomed, as have Indian investments in Saudi Arabia, where more than 1 million Indians work, making them the biggest expatriate community in the Kingdom. There is significant cultural exchange as well owing largely to the fact that India has the second-largest Muslim population in the world, many of who are interested in Saudi Arabia as the host of Islam's two holiest sites.
The Delhi Declaration signed during King Saud's visit heralded a "new era in India-Saudi relations" in which both countries would develop a broad strategic vision. As such, it served as a major building block for the relationship, which has since expanded to include notable security-related issues. In 2006 the two leaders initially intended to sign a mutual legal assistance treaty pertaining to criminal matters, which often serves as a precursor to an extradition treaty. Instead, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Combating Crime designed to deal with terrorism and transnational crime. Although it appeared comprehensive on paper and covered a range of issues, perceptual disagreements over the concept of terrorism meant that in reality there would be limited cooperation.
By 2010, when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia, bilateral relations had improved significantly. Prime Minister Singh and King Saud signed the Riyadh Declaration, which set the stage for actual counterterrorism cooperation, as well as signing a separate extradition treaty. Earlier this year the two countries boosted defense ties and further deepened counterterrorism cooperation when Indian Defense Minister AK Antony visited the Kingdom. According to Indian officials, Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism issues has improved significantly in the past six months. By this time, Saudi officials had already had Zabiuddin Ansari in custody for more than half a year.
Ansari traveled to Saudi Arabia on a Pakistani passport in the name of Riyasat Ali to launch a recruitment campaign for future attacks against India. As detailed in the previous post, India-U.S. counterterrorism coordination appears to have enabled Ansari's identification and ultimately led to his arrest by Saudi authorities in May 2011. However, Riyadh was reluctant to hand him over to India for fear of upsetting Pakistan, where officials surely recognized the damage he could cause in the court of public opinion. In the past, any suspected militant traveling on a Pakistani passport would be sent back to Pakistan. In this instance, Pakistani pressure to reclaim custody of Ansari appears to have been intense, but so too was Indian and American pressure to secure his handover.
Riyadh ultimately demanded a DNA profile and other evidence from India to establish Ansari's Indian nationality. New Delhi was able to fulfill these requirements, but Pakistan could not show credible proof that Ansari was one of its own. The ability to make a strong legal case for handing him over and improved bilateral ties between Riyadh and New Delhi were undoubtedly important factors. But baser security concerns likely also were at play.
Running Hot and Cold
Saudi Arabia proved a reluctant contributor to the international effort against al-Qaeda and associated movements after 9/11. This remained the case until the Kingdom suffered directly from al-Qaeda attacks beginning in 2003. However, it remained relatively tolerant of Lashkar-e-Taiba. This owed to Saudi Arabia's relationship with Pakistan, but also resulted from Lashkar's position vis-à-vis the Kingdom.
Some Lashkar leaders have ties to Saudi Arabia dating back several decades, and these men often view Saudi Arabia as the best Islamic state, even if it is not an ideal one. In other words, their attachment to the Kingdom extends beyond its mere utility as a fundraising and support base for militant activity. Similarly, Lashkar leaders' strong commitment to spreading Ahl-e-Hadith (or Salafi) Islam via non-violent activism and their decision to eschew revolutionary terrorism in favor of pan-Islamist jihad makes the group more palatable than al-Qaeda to the Saudi state. Several Lashkar watchers, including this author, have speculated that the group distanced itself from al-Qaeda circa 2003 as a result not only of pressure from Islamabad, but also Riyadh.
Lashkar's relationship with al-Qaeda - the Central organization and its affiliate in the Arabian Peninsula - remains a dynamic one, but interlocutors in Pakistan and the United States have told the author that cooperation between the two has increased of late. Meanwhile, the wider narrative generated by the 2008 Mumbai attacks is that Lashkar is becoming a global threat. Regardless of whether one agrees with this assessment, it would be surprising if American and Indian officials did not make the case that an overly permissive environment could spell trouble for Saudi Arabia, and not too difficult to imagine their counterparts in Riyadh entertaining the notion seriously. Acute concerns about Lashkar exist against the backdrop of Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to reign in the group or others like it as well as growing disquiet over possible jihadist influences on elements within the Pakistan Army.
Putting Ansari in Perspective
Saudi Arabia broke a taboo when it handed over Zabiuddin Ansari and, as should be evident, this has significant implications. Saudi authorities are holding additional Indian militants, and they're willingness to deport these men will be an important means of gauging the constancy of the trends highlighted in this post. However, it must be noted that all of these men are Indian - Riyadh is yet to begin evicting Pakistani operatives, much less arresting and deporting them to India. In short, this hardly spells the end of Lashkar operations in the Kingdom, though as the previous post observed the terrain there has become somewhat less hospitable.
In the zero-sum world of India-Pakistan relations, Ansari's handover was an unquestionable win for New Delhi. In addition to the intelligence gleaned and validation offered regarding the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India also scored a diplomatic victory, albeit with U.S. support. Amidst the focus on signals intercepts and direct action, U.S. diplomatic engagement is often overlooked. In this instance, Indian officials have confirmed it was critical to securing a favorable outcome.
Finally, this event should cause concern in Islamabad and Rawalpindi about the degree to which continued tolerance of groups like Lashkar is creating unease among even its closest allies. China too has evinced concern - rarely and diplomatically, but nevertheless publicly - about the potential for Pakistan-based militants to threaten its own internal security. Saudi Arabia has now gone a significant step further. Neither country is about to abandon Pakistan, but nor is their commitment to Pakistan as absolute as some of its leaders might publicly claim or privately wish to believe.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images
This is the third in a series of four posts examining the lessons and implications drawn from the arrest of Zabiuddin Ansari, who played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The first examined the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today. The second explored the impact of Ansari's revelations regarding the persistence of that threat as well as his affirmation of Indian allegations regarding the Mumbai attacks on the renewed India-Pakistan engagement.
As previous posts made clear, Zabiuddin Ansari is likely providing Indian authorities with all manner of information, which will be picked over and analyzed during the coming months. One fact is immediately clear, however, and that is the Pakistan security establishment remains unwilling to end its support for non-state proxies. In the absence of a policy that succeeds in convincing, cajoling or compelling Pakistan to change its behavior, it has become essential to devise mechanisms to mitigate the external threats from Pakistan-based and Pakistan-supported militants. Even if Pakistan were to make an unambiguous effort to dismantle the militant infrastructure on its soil, such mechanisms would still be necessary in the near term. While a host of states have pursued unilateral measures, calls for international cooperation to manage these threats have also increased. Ansari's story illustrates the importance of this cooperation as well as its limits.
The U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism is more than a decade old, but counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries really accelerated after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The U.S. government only began paying greater attention to Lashkar and its Indian affiliates in the wake of those attacks, while American forensic assistance to India in building a strong case that they were planned in Pakistan catalyzed a willingness in New Delhi to work more closely with Washington. In addition to infusing the U.S.-India Joint Working Group on Counterterrorism with new life, the two countries also launched a Homeland Security Dialogue Ministerial in May 2011. Although ample room still exists for improvement, officials in both countries agree that cooperation has increased during the last few years.
Crucially, in the last several years, the United States, India, and the United Kingdom all took steps to facilitate counterterrorism efforts in Bangladesh. Lashkar has networks throughout South Asia and stretching into East Asia, but Bangladesh has historically been the most important staging ground for attacks against India. The group began building up its networks there in the mid-1990s, and Indian operatives played an important role in this effort from the outset. The growth of the indigenous Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) provided another mechanism for supporting attacks in India, which other Pakistan-based groups (including the original HuJI) could attempt to leverage for this purpose as well. Even more important than its role as a staging point for attacks, Bangladesh became an important place of refuge for Indian operatives as well as a transit point to and from Pakistan for men, material, and money. Ansari was among those who took advantage of its role in this regard, fleeing to Bangladesh in 2006 before ultimately moving on to Pakistan.
Since the mid-1990s, control of the government in Dhaka has alternated between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, with a military caretaker government in place from late 2006 through early 2009. The Awami League historically has been friendlier to India and less tolerant of Islamist-cum-jihadist actors than the BNP, but at different times both parties have been guilty of turning a blind eye to jihadist activities aimed at India.
Bangladeshi authorities began cracking down on domestic jihadists like HuJI-B after 2005 when some of them launched a series of bomb blasts across the country. In 2008, the Awami League won a landslide election in which it campaigned on closer ties with India and a promised crackdown on Islamist militancy. Meanwhile, New Delhi was reaching out to improve relations with Dhaka, while the United States offered valuable military and counterterrorism assistance as part of its push to degrade jihadist networks in South Asia. In 2009-2010, Bangladesh counterterrorism efforts expanded to include foreign elements as well. Indian, Bangladeshi, British, and American interlocutors with whom the author met during a recent visit to Dhaka all stressed that since 2010 Bangladesh has become less hospitable terrain. Officials from India and Bangladesh also agreed that counterterrorism cooperation between the two countries coupled with U.S. assistance contributed to this improvement, a view shared by independent experts.
The Persian Gulf, however, has remained fertile soil in terms of a support base for South Asian militancy. U.S. counterterrorism efforts vis-à-vis the Gulf have focused primarily on terrorist threat financing, which is understandable given that a host of jihadist groups rely heavily on fundraising networks there. What is often overlooked is the role the Gulf can play as a logistical and recruitment hub; for Lashkar, its Indian affiliates, and other Pakistan-based groups interested in launching attacks against India. For these reasons, this author has maintained that in terms of containing and degrading the threat from South Asian militancy, particularly Lashkar and its Indian affiliates, greater focus needs to be given to monitoring and infiltrating Gulf-based networks that could be used to recruit operatives or provide logistical support for terrorist attacks.
Recruitment efforts typically focus on Indian Muslims working in the region as part of a diaspora presence that numbers over 1 million. The presence of a Pakistani diaspora, coupled with the large number of South Asians who travel annually to Saudi Arabia for legitimate religious purposes, enables militants to blend in with the masses and makes the Gulf an opportune place for operatives to meet. Several Pakistan-based militant groups have ties with Saudi Arabia dating back to the 1980s, while the Indian crime boss-cum-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, currently sheltering in Pakistan, has provided access to additional networks in places such as the United Arab Emirates. Finally, Riyadh's close relationship with Islamabad meant that anyone found engaging in militant activities was simply sent back to Pakistan provided he was traveling on a Pakistani passport. That is, until Zabiuddin Ansari's arrest in May 2011.
Ansari's arrest and subsequent deportation is an example of how such cooperation should work and the impact it can have. As typically is the case, the details of precisely how Ansari's presence was detected in Saudi Arabia are somewhat opaque. It appears he used an alias known to Indian intelligence to set up a website to inveigle new recruits, but according to Indian officials with whom the author spoke, it was U.S. intelligence that initially zoomed in on him. If so, this suggests that information sharing between the two countries coupled with U.S. capabilities to monitor Internet traffic led to his identification. It is clear that once Ansari's identity was confirmed, the United States asked Saudi authorities to detain him, and then worked in tandem with their Indian counterparts to ensure he was not returned to Pakistan despite carrying a passport from that country. It was more than a year before Ansari was turned over to the Indian authorities.
Saudi Arabia's willingness to deport Ansari to India came despite significant Pakistani protestations - a decision which will be explored in the final post of this series. Three points are important here. First, to reiterate, Ansari's identification, arrest and subsequent deportation to India were the result of greater international counterterrorism cooperation. Second, Ansari appears to be providing Indian authorities with a trove of intelligence about Lashkar and IM operations in Pakistan, India, and possibly the Gulf, which they have pledged to share with the United States This is likely to enable additional monitoring and infiltration of Lashkar and IM networks as well as assisting ongoing investigations. Third, the fact that the Gulf is no longer a guaranteed safe space for operations could have an impact on how militants conduct activities there.
None of this spells the end of the threat posed by Lashkar, the Indian Mujahideen, or other militants based in Pakistan. Bangladesh is a far less viable logistical hub than in the past, but gains there are reversible without continued vigilance. Further, although Ansari's arrest and deportation is significant, the Gulf has not suddenly become a no-go area. Finally, international cooperation is primarily a means of threat containment and mitigation. It is no substitute for action in Pakistan. Such a policy shift is unlikely in the near term, but in addition to reducing the efficacy of Pakistan-based or supported militants, international cooperation should send a message to Pakistan that it risks inviting further isolation.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
During the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which Pakistan-based handlers from Lashkar-e-Taiba provided instructions via voice-over-internet protocol communications, Indian intelligence heard an individual speaking with a Mumbai accent directing some of the gunmen on the ground. Last year that same voice was heard again - this time in Saudi Arabia. It belongs to Zabiuddin Ansari (a.k.a. Abu Jundal, a.k.a. Abu Hamza) who Saudi forces arrested in May 2011 and finally turned over to the Indian authorities two weeks ago.
Ansari is proving to be a treasure trove of information regarding past attacks against India, most notably the 10-person assault on Mumbai for which he also helped to prepare the attackers. This understandably has been big news in India, as has Ansari's connections to the Indian Mujahideen network that has claimed a slew of bombings since 2005. However, his story, which began in a small village in Maharashtra's Beed district and reached a crescendo with his arrest by Saudi authorities and subsequent deportation to India, despite significant Pakistani protestations, has wider implications.
To begin with, this development comes amidst a warming in India-Pakistan relations. Early indications suggest that New Delhi will leverage information from Ansari's arrest to pressure Pakistan, albeit with minimal expectations of a positive result. However, the Indian government appears intent that the fallout should not stand in the way of progress on issues such as economic integration, even as territorial disputes and Pakistani support for militancy help keep full normalization out of reach. While it is unclear how long such an approach can last, it is notable that this thaw has been accompanied by intensified counterterrorism cooperation with the United States and various regional actors. Indeed, the most significant aspect of Ansari's arrest and deportation may be that it came at the hands of one of Pakistan's most reliable allies, Saudi Arabia. Such cooperation is intrinsically connected to Pakistan's increasing isolation at a time when India is an emerging global player with growing clout.
Thus, Ansari's arrest provides a prism through which to examine several inter-related issues: the variegated nature of the jihadist threat confronting India today, and the roles that both a small number of Indians and Pakistani state support play in it; how incidents such as this one impact the renewed India-Pakistan engagement; the feasibility of containing Pakistan-based or supported militants via enhanced international counter-terrorism cooperation in the absence of a serious commitment by the Pakistani state to dismantle the jihadist infrastructure on its soil; and Pakistan's increasing international isolation, primarily as a result of growing concerns about its inability or unwillingness to dismantle that infrastructure. This is the first of four articles intended to address these issues and it aims to contextualize the jihadist threat facing India today.
The full story behind Ansari's entrance into militancy is still obscure, but in the words of one Indian journalist, "it is likely that part of the answer lies in the communal violence which formed an organic part of the cultural fabric of his early life." Thus it appears he was part of a small number, in relative and absolute terms, of Indian Muslims motivated to wage jihad against their homeland as a means of exacting revenge for socio-economic deprivation and communal pogroms perpetrated by elements of the Hindu majority.
Some of these would-be Indian militants linked up directly with Pakistani groups like Lashkar, while others began joining India-based cells that simply benefited from Pakistani support. Since 2007, these Indian modules have been known as the Indian Mujahideen, which is best understood as a label for a diffuse and protean network rather than as a proper organization. While one can distinguish between Indians who join Lashkar and those that belong to an IM-branded module, in practice there is significant interplay between the two. Most of the jihadist attacks against India in recent years have been executed either by Indians working directly for Lashkar, those belonging to the IM, or a hybrid of the two. Incidents of expeditionary terrorism, in which Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar deploy Pakistanis to execute terrorist strikes such as the 2008 Mumbai attacks, may be the highest profile threat to India. But these attacks are also the most rare.
There are several reasons for this. First, in some cases Indians may be acting almost entirely on their own, albeit possibly with some form of foreign support, which means they strike when the opportunity presents itself. Second, in those instances when they are working with Pakistan-based actors, Indian operatives are able to move more freely than their Pakistani brethren and so provide greater operational utility. Third, interlocutors in the U.S. and Indian governments believe the ISI is putting pressure on Lashkar to refrain from deploying Pakistani operatives, particularly since the international opprobrium that followed Mumbai. Fourth, according to one Lashkar official interviewed by the author in Pakistan in July 2011, a growing number of Indian Muslims are assuming operational roles in the group, enabling greater collaboration with indigenous actors in India. Hence, it is not surprising that Ansari was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where more than a million members of the Indian diaspora live, while on a mission to recruit more of his countrymen for future attacks.
The domestic grievances motivating would-be Indian militants pose difficult questions for India. However, it is impossible to overlook Pakistan's role in promoting and sustaining these actors. Indian authorities assert that ISI support for Indian militants includes the provision of training, financing, explosives, and logistical support such as false passports like the one Ansari was carrying when arrested. It also entails providing safe haven for Indian operatives, again like Ansari, who fled to Pakistan via Bangladesh in 2006 and allegedly confirmed that others like him are still sheltering in Karachi and continuing to plan terrorist operations.
Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, among others, has admitted the country can no longer point to cross-border modules as the source of all jihadist violence in India, and must acknowledge the role a small number of its own citizens play. Yet India also points to Pakistan's continued support for these actors and assert that its willingness to provide safe haven to some of them enables the ISI to exert direct influence over the Indian Mujahideen. Thus, Chidambaram admitted Ansari was an Indian radicalized in India, but also called on Pakistan to admit he was given safe haven there and played a key role in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Notably, Ansari claims his initial task was to provide Hindi lessons to the Mumbai assault team in order to pass off the operation as the work of Indian jihadists.
True or false, this allegation contributes to the belief among many Indian officials and analysts that Lashkar and its ISI patrons are cultivating Indian operatives in part because they provide a greater level of deniability for Pakistan. It also helps to explain why many Indian officials with whom the author spoke during the past several weeks make only a minimal distinction between the IM and Lashkar, viewing both as tools of the Pakistani state. Ansari's revelations regarding the involvement of officers allegedly working with the ISI in the planning and execution of the 2008 Mumbai attacks have reinforced this perception. Yet contrary to the evidence, Pakistani officials insists no state actors - rogue or otherwise - were involved in Mumbai and that such accusations are designed to malign the ISI.
India has stated publicly that Pakistani action against all of the Mumbai perpetrators would be the greatest confidence-building measure, but when the author spoke with high-ranking officials in New Delhi following Ansari's arrest, none expressed any hope that such action would be forthcoming. Such low expectations did not keep the argument over Ansari and the information he has provided from overshadowing other bilateral issues when foreign secretaries from the two countries met several days prior. Still, despite the Ansari issue clouding the talks, the two managed to touch upon additional topics and to pursue limited progress in improving bilateral ties. The next piece in this series will explore this process and the impact events like Ansari's arrest have on it.
Stephen Tankel is an assistant professor at American University and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He recently returned from an extended research trip to South Asia examining internal security issues and is spending the summer at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as a public policy scholar.
Last month saw a major step forward for the proposed TAPI natural gas pipeline. Regarded as a perennial pipe dream by many energy analysts, many critics of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India project were silenced by the signing of a gas sales and purchase agreement between Turkmengaz, Inter State Gas Systems of Pakistan and the Gas Authority of India (GAIL). With the backing of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the deal set important specifics, including payment and transit terms. But the ambitious project still faces daunting hurdles before it can become reality.
Not least of these challenges is its proposed 750 kilometer route through some of Afghanistan's most war-torn provinces such as Herat and Kandahar. TAPI has received strong support from the United States as part of Washington's "New Silk Road" strategy to bring development to Afghanistan through regional infrastructure connections, and as an alternative to the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. As part of the recent agreement, GAIL will be responsible for managing the pipeline's security -- from the Turkmen border to end consumers in Indian homes -- and Pakistan's participation in the project may spare it some attacks. Despite this factor, there is no question that security will remain a major concern throughout the pipeline's construction and operation.
However, it may not be the greatest challenge to the realization of TAPI. That challenge may come simply from the size and focus of the project. Feasibility studies have been conducted, most notably by the ADB. But if the consortium does not concentrate on quickly constructing a commerc?ally-or?ented pipeline on a manageable scale, it risks repeating the mistakes of the now infamous Nabucco pipeline, which was to have connected Turkmenistan on its Caspian side with natural gas consumers in Central Europe. After close to a decade and a half of discussion, Nabucco is now being scaled back to half its size, and may not go forward at all. Nabucco's faults were that it was a geopolitical project, aimed at busting Russian gas dominance in Eurasia, and that at 3,000+ km it became an unwieldy mess of multiple transit countries and stakeholders. Aimed at providing a massive 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, it was in danger of becoming technically unfeasible, as well as transporting more gas than could realistically be consumed downstream.
Current plans for TAPI call for a 1700 kilometer line bringing up to 33 billion cubic meters of gas per year to consumers along the route. This is already very ambitious for a route traversing dangerous territory, and following last month's agreement, Bangladesh expressed interest in joining the project, potentially extending it to 2500 kilometers, with an increased capacity. Projected costs, calculated by the ADB, have also grown from $7.5 billion to $12 billion, even without the proposed Bangladesh extension.
The Afghanistan portion is undeniably critical to TAPI's construction: there is no other route for Turkmen gas to reach South Asia. It could bring major benefits to the feeble Afghan economy, especially if plans are realized for spin-off projects to serve local communities along the way. But, TAPI will fail if it becomes a "peace pipeline," whether for Afghanistan or between India and Pakistan. To their credit, the U.S. State Department officials working on the project have consistently stressed that it must first and foremost be commercially viable. But that does not stop regional actors, whether part of the consortium or not, from politicizing an already sensitive trans-national project.
TAPI must also maintain a reasonable scope. The construction of a record-breaking pipeline through a conflict zone with too many regional cooks in the kitchen is an insurmountable task. A relatively modest gas link with sound commercial underpinning and adequate security provisions may stand a chance at becoming reality. The current plan still resembles the second option, but there have been indications recently that we could end up with the first. New partners, whether Bangladesh or others, can join later, once pipe has actually been laid. Technical provisions can be made for the pipeline's capacity to be expanded down the road. The key is to have the pipeline built, not to continually talk about building it.
TAPI should move forward on the basis of this past month's agreement. The current partners have been working together for years and, according to the ADB, have finally overcome the majority of the sticking points that stood in the way of implementation. The focus should be on progress towards construction, not expansion of the project. Eurasia has seen its fair share of pipe dreams. It is time for one to become reality. The region does not need another Nabucco.
Alexandros Petersen is author of the The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West and Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His current research is available at www.chinaincentralasia.com.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
Recent months have seen unprecedented progress on trade relations between India and Pakistan. Last November, Pakistan granted India "most favored nation" (MFN) status, fifteen years after India added Pakistan to its MFN list. On April 13, India announced that it would allow foreign direct investment (FDI) from Pakistan. And on the same day, a historic integrated checkpoint opened at the Attari-Wagah border crossing, which will allow commercial traffic and trade to flow between the two countries.
Additionally, Pakistan has replaced its positive list allowing only 2,000 different items to be imported from India with a negative list that bans just 1,209 goods, but allows all others. Currently, this list prohibits trade of items in industries such as agriculture, chemicals, and ceramics, but the Pakistani government pledged to phase out the negative list by the end of this year, thus allowing all Indian goods into Pakistan.
Some in Pakistan welcome the normalization of trade relations between India and Pakistan, while others are skeptical of how it may pan out.
Chaudhry Azhar's family has been a wholesaler of bananas and mangoes for over 30 years, a tradition Azhar continues today at Lahore's largest vegetable and fruit market, Badami Bagh Mandi. "This trade agreement will affect us a lot," he says. "India is giving subsidies to all items, such as free electricity. Our farmers will be at a loss and India will benefit from us. We cannot compete with their subsidies."
Opening the border to Indian crops that are supported by large subsidies might put Pakistani farmers at a disadvantage, but some traders are grateful for the option of importing a better product from their neighbors. Among the bustling sounds of vendors hawking their wares, one of Azhar's employees, Haji Mohammad Akram, proudly shows the bananas that have come from India, and compares them to the ones from Pakistan that have rotted due to bad weather. Increasing the ease with which the two countries can trade will allow vendors to be more selective with their products.
Most business owners agree that bilateral trade will only be effective if Pakistan imports goods that they don't have, though. Saleem Khan brings oranges, apples, and grapes from Balochistan to sell in Lahore. But he says, "We imported oranges from Iran even when Pakistan had supplies of it. The Government benefits the exporters of other countries and hurts the local farmers."
Wholesalers worry that India's larger, more powerful economy will allow it to export goods that Pakistan already produces, such as bananas and oranges. But there appears to be an understanding that India might be able to provide goods and services that are sorely lacking in Pakistan. Nadeem Kambo, a broker at the market who favors the trade between India and Pakistan, suggests getting electricity from India. He says, "If we do not get items that we need from other countries, then what do we have here?"
Similarly, the President of Lahore Chamber of Commerce, Irfan Qaiser Sheikh, supports trade between regional and bordering countries but understands the reservations and concerns brought by local business owners. "We are not in favor of opening trade at the cost of our industries," says Sheikh.
The biggest impact of some of the potential trade policies will be on the farmers that grow the crop and sell it to the wholesalers. Mohammad Qasim, a wholesaler of onions and potatoes says, "This will affect our farmers a lot. If we look at it from a trading perspective, we will get something in return of giving something. We should get the things that the farmers need in return for what we give them."
At the Lahore Chamber of Commerce, Sheikh says they have done their homework on the matter, but he also understands that the Government needs to address the key concerns and take an active role in the normalization of trade relations in order to move forward on an even playing field with India. "We really need to address all core issues once and for all to achieve the desired results."
Mian Anjum Nisar, a local manufacturer, believes some Pakistani industries, such as home textiles and certain raw materials that are not available in India, would benefit from expanding trade relations. Faisalabad is known for its competitive producers of cotton and textiles, which would undoubtedly find eager markets for their products in India. However, Nisar worries that Pakistan as a whole may not be able to benefit in the long run. "India's scale of economy is far bigger than ours." Nisar says.
He also says that the difference in the tariffs levied by India and those levied by Pakistan will also play a big role. Currently, India's peak tariff on Pakistani goods stands at 8%, while Pakistan has placed 25% tariff fee on Indian goods. Under the Trade Liberalization Plan (TLP) of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), India and Pakistan must bring tariffs down to between zero and five percent this year. In order for Pakistan to meet that deadline, the 25% tariff would need to be cut quickly and dramatically, which would likely come as a dangerous shock to the domestic manufacturing industry.
Tariffs are not the only challenge, though. India's non-tariff barriers are widely recognized as significant impediments to efficient, cost-effective trade. Sheikh sees this as a major concern in moving ahead with bilateral trade. He says, "India has got to remove the non-tariff barriers that they have imposed on Pakistan." Non-tariff barriers are non-monetary policies that raise the risk or cost of exporting goods to a country. India has, for example, certain standard approval laboratories where certificates must be issued to goods before they can clear the border. This procedure is lengthy, and the rejection of just one product can endanger an entire consignment.
Haris Naseer, the Director of Marketing at Infotech, an IT company based in Pakistan, considers logistics and visa requirements to be his main concerns, while having more items available for import from India will be beneficial. "In the technology industry, since there is not as much of a physical movement of goods, and due to the new visa requirements, it will be easier to move resources from one country to another." Under the revised visa requirements, businesspersons can be granted multiple-entry visas, and permission to visit up to five different cities. Previous business visas for citizens of India and Pakistan required extensive paperwork, and only allowed visa-holders to visit three cities.
The traders in Lahore are not very optimistic about the prospects of normalizing trade relations with India, though many acknowledged the potential benefits of such a development if it is done the right way. Pakistani authorities will need to address this apprehension in order to get the critical support of small businesses in their effort to reopen economic borders with their neighbors.
Aisha Chowdhry is a freelance journalist, born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She has covered stories from Afghanistan and Pakistan for USA Today, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and The New York Times among other publications. You can follow her on Twitter @ aishach
In this month's issue of FHM India, an international men's magazine, Pakistani actress Veena Malik made worldwide headlines with a risqué nude photo shoot. While much of the attention has been on what Malik wasn't wearing, one of the most powerful elements of her photo shoot was what she was sporting: a big, bold tattoo on her left arm, stating very simply, "ISI," for Pakistani's secretive Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.
The cover headline: "Pakistani W.M.D. Veena Malik Shows You How to Throw a Grenade!"
Indeed, the cover has been explosive; PakAlertPress.com, for instance splashed a headline on its blog: "India and Pakistan Are Going Nuclear Over Provocative Political Tattoo." And the photo has elicited a furious reaction in Pakistan's media and in its living rooms.[[Break]]
In one fell swoop, the enormous tattoo on a bare woman's body managed to demystify, emasculate and parody the ISI -- something most people have been afraid to do in public since the inception of the agency a year after the birth of the nation in 1947. Founded with a mission of coordinating intelligence in the country after Pakistan's loss to India in the 1947 war in Kashmir, the agency has become a feared, though privately mocked, enterprise, its hands allegedly in every back-room Pakistani deal; rigging elections, training militants for battle in India and Afghanistan, and monitoring its own citizens. The tattoo's location on Malik's body takes on special meaning in light of retired Adm. Mike Mullen's statement in September that the militant Haqqani Network, considered by most Western analysts and experts to be based in the tribal areas of Pakistan, is a "veritable arm" of the ISI.
All the while, the ISI works in the cloak of darkness. In 2002, when I was trying to find my kidnapped Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl, I met an ISI officer in my living room in Karachi who acknowledged his employer, but introduced himself as "Major." "Major what?" I asked. "Major Major," he said. Nice. Really helpful.
To scholars on Pakistan, the ISI tattoo is emblematic of an important new civil discourse occurring in Pakistan over issues that were formerly taboo, such as the role of the ISI in society. Hassan Abbas, the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America's War on Terror, about growing militancy in Pakistan, said new media freedoms are eliciting rich debate in the country on deep, contested issues "such as the role of religion in society and the interference of the military in political arena." He adds, "These issues are being openly debated in Pakistan, and that is, overall, a healthy development."
Kabeer Sharma, editor of FHM India, says the ISI tattoo was meant to be a sardonic reflection of India's own conspiracy theories about the intelligence agency. "In India, you say, 'The milk has gone bad. The ISI did it,' They blame all of their problems on ISI," says Sharma.
Sharma, the son of an Indian satirist and New Delhi bookstore owner, says that a dilemma on the subcontinent is that folks don't laugh enough over the absurdities of politics. "The problem," he says, "is that we all blame our problems on this imaginary force. Who is this ISI?" Meanwhile, on the Pakistan side, everything is blamed on RAW. "We collectively have no sense of humor. We have no sense of irony," he says.
As a media image, the Malik photo was a genius expression of a real counterculture movement taking root in Pakistan, taking a dig at the secretive "Major Major" culture of the ISI, by literally exposing the agency -- and by extension, the government -- to the light of day, if just in a simple tattoo. (Malik says that the photo was altered, and both Malik and FHM are engaged in a legal battle over the issue.)
While a Pakistani newspaper said the country "yawns"at the Malik photo, it chronicled columns, commentaries and jokes circulating in the nation, including one that goes like this: "Her arm says ISI but the picture is RAW," a reference to India's intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing.
But this isn't just a conspiracy hatched in India (though the magazine was produced there), feeding the siege mentality behind so much of the rhetoric in Pakistan. In a country where the "ghairat brigade," or honor squad, of talking heads takes regularly to the airwaves to defend Pakistan's honor against enemies -- perceived and imagined -- the photo shoot was a victory for a new movement that is emerging in Pakistan: the beghairat brigade, or the squad "without honor," or more aptly the "shameless brigade."
To many, the beghairat brigade offers a counter to the conspiracy theories that so permeate debates in Pakistan. Josh White, a scholar on Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says, "I think the significance of the small but interesting beghairat movement is that it is trying to forge a way of being genuinely nationalistic without accepting the narrative that all of Pakistan's problems are the result of someone else's meddling."
Malik and her generation in Pakistani society illustrate a deeper battle that is playing out in Pakistan and Muslim communities on issues of honor, or ghairat, and shame, called sharam. Flagging this evolution, the acerbic Pakistani columnist Nadeem Paracha wrote earlier this year, "Goodbye ghairat."
With a sense of wit, irony and humor, the beghairat brigade offers the nation an opportunity to expunge itself of the corrosive relationship with traditional honor-shame culture, by challenging the warped sense of honor and dishonor that has defined much of the country's ethos on issues from corruption to nuclear non-proliferation, "honor killings" of women and men, homegrown militant networks, and the ISI. And the beghairat's work is rooted in Pakistani tradition with sardonic 20th century writers such as Saadat Hasan Manto, the author of the must-read book, Letters to Uncle Sam, and a favorite of Malik's.
The Pakistani military's public relations office reportedly sent a text message to local journalists from the Pakistani grousing that the photo was "the height of humiliation for Pakistan, done by a Pakistani on Indian soil." In a Pakistani socialists' listserv, one Pakistani writer, giving the ISI acronym new meaning, wrote, tongue-in-cheek,"Is this part of a grand conspiracy to implicate the great International Soldiers of Islam (ISI) in a controversy by the enemies of Islam...." If so, he joked, "every soldier of Islam would be eyeing to be part of the investigation team."
What is ironic is that while there have been calls to revoke Malik's Pakistani citizenship (rejected, fortunately, by the courts), there are some less-than-exemplary characters who have been lauded in the country by the "ghairat brigade." For instance, Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber, is considered a victim by many in Pakistan, despite having confessed to the crime for which he has been imprisoned, the attempted murder of a number of innocents.
Then there is A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who signed a confession in 2004 that he gave nuclear secrets to the North Koreans, Iran and Libya, in violation of international nonproliferation agreements; he was pardoned, and today he is a hero in the country. Years ago, Pakistanis took to the streets when American agents caught and extradited Mir Amal Kansi, a Pakistani who shot and killed CIA employees in 1993 as they sat in their cars at a traffic light in Langley, Va. And, then, lest we forget, there is the serious homegrown militancy problem of a Punjabi Taliban and a Pakistani Taliban that includes tens of thousands of militant soldiers, based on many estimates, freely living in the country without much harassment.
Finally, there is Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani MIT graduate known as "Lady al-Qaeda." She was convicted last year in a U.S. court for attempting to shoot a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, but, in a country where the average income is about $450 a year, the government of Pakistan allocated some $2 million for her defense, and Pakistanis in the "Free Aafia" movement march regularly on the streets.
Deborah Scroggins, a journalist and author of the provocative forthcoming book, Wanted Women: Faith, Lies and the War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui, says, "If Aafia Siddiqui is Pakistan's 'daughter of the nation,' Veena Malik is her perfect alter ego. The 'ghairat brigade' holds up Aafia as the symbol of Pakistan victimized by the West. Veena mocks their pretentions to purity and challenges their obsession with sex."
Scroggins lays out the contrast that is symbolic of the divide that has engulfed Pakistan: Born in 1972, Siddiqui comes from the rigid, puritantical, Deobandi interpretation of Islam, and came of age during the 1980s, when jihad was celebrated in Pakistan as the source of the great defeat over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. "She's revered by the 'ghairat brigade' because although she went to the U.S. to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, she never 'went over to the other side,' so to speak" Scroggins adds. "She never stopped raising money for jihad. She continued to view the U.S. as the enemy of Pakistan and of Muslims. When she was captured in Afghanistan, Pakistan's right-wing pundits and politicians rushed to accuse the country's democratically elected government of selling her to the U.S. in exchange for money, even though there was no evidence that the government had anything to do with it."
Born in 1984, "Veena is a symbol of another Pakistan, one that has existed since the founding of the state, but that we've seen less and less of with the rise of Islamization," says Scroggins. "It's an irreverrant, mocking, creative, secular Pakistan -- the voice of writers and poets like Ahmed Faiz," a biting 20th century intellectual. "Unfortunately it tends to be confined to the upper classes and is very much under threat these days," she says.
Both Malik and Siddiqui "broke the rules about the way Pakistani women are supposed to behave," Scroggins says. Siddiqui was divorced from her doctor husband and remarried a younger man, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, another 9/11 facilitator. Her activities endangered her children; she was caught shooting at a U.S. soldier. "But she is forgiven for all of that because Pakistanis believe she did it for Pakistan and Islam," says Scroggins. "It's assumed that Veena, on the other hand, is only having her nude picture taken for money. And that's the way the ‘ghairat brigade' always portrays the motives of Pakistan's secularists."
Aisha Chowdhry, a 24-year-old Pakistani-American journalist who produced a documentary, "Inside the Tinder Box," about Pakistan, says the Malik cover, whether nude as it appeared or topless, as Malik insists the photo was originally, "should not come as a surprise" to those watching the counterculture movement in Pakistan. "Art always has been a way for Pakistanis to showcase how they feel," she says. "Today, there are songs criticizing the government, paintings depicting terrorism in Pakistan, and now a racy photo of one of the country's most famous models with an ISI tattoo."
Chowdhry says, "In a country where journalists get killed if they dare to investigate sensitive issues, music videos and plays are one of the few ways to connect the young generation with what is going on in their country, and maybe even make a positive change someday."
In a piece on al-Jazeera before the Malik controversy, Syed Ali Abbas Zaida, founder of the Pakistan Youth Alliance, asked, "Can the youth of Pakistan inspire change and turn into pro-active citizens who agree to disagree peacefully?" The next month, the aptly-named band "Beghairat Brigade," uploaded its catchy new tune, "Aalu Anday" (or "Eggs and Potatoes"), calling out the politicians and military for their ineptitude in running the country.
Pakistani singer Ali Azmat just put out a new song, "Bomb Phata," ("Bomb Exploded"), that chronicles the major actors that play a part in Pakistan's instability, from President Asif Ali Zardari to army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. It speaks to the daily worries about electricity and food shortages that vex Pakistanis while bombs explode in Lahore, Karachi, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
And people regularly slam the government's inability to contain the domestic terrorism that is striking the country. This year, Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi won a prestigious award for his art installation, "Blessings upon the land of my love," describing his work as showing "the bloody aftermath of a bombing."
Malik's photo is a little more subtle, but in its nuance, it's likely to become an iconic symbol of a moment when one Pakistani decided to, quite literally and shamelessly, strip bare the truth of how institutions in Pakistan, are focused on the wrong priorities. "My dear patriots, there are far graver issues than this which need your serious consideration," wrote Pakistani economist and writer Raza Habib Raja, after the photo spread earned the rancor of the honor brigade. "The biggest issue is perhaps your screwed up mind set which gets riled up on these trivialities while completely ignoring much serious problems like rising extremism, sectarian killings and massive inequality."
Raja concluded: "...I loved that ISI tattoo. Now that was really liberating and bold!!!"
Asra Q. Nomani, a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal, is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She teaches journalism at Georgetown University.
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On December 5, an international conference on Afghanistan will open in Bonn, Germany, 10 years after the first Bonn conference set up the political system that would help govern Afghanistan for the next decade. The AfPak Channel asked a group of experts and practitioners what should have been done at Bonn 10 years ago, what might happen at this conference, and what Afghanistan needs in the future.
-- Peter Bergen and Andrew Lebovich
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While the upcoming Bonn conference on Afghanistan coincides with the ten-year anniversary of the Bonn Agreement that formally ended the Afghan conflict and formed the basis for a new Afghan government in 2001, its sponsors have spent the past several months stressing that it is neither an assessment of the past ten years, nor a forum for a "Bonn II Agreement" to end the current insurgency. This downplaying of expectations is appropriate, given the recent setbacks to the peace process. But this changed set of goals does not diminish the need for both an honest assessment of how the Bonn Agreement has fared for Afghanistan and a path toward a political settlement that would address its deficiencies.
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For many analysts and policymakers, Pakistan's decision to grant Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India earlier this month appears to be a major breakthrough in India-Pakistan trade relations. Under the MFN clause, all members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are obliged to extend trading benefits to a country that are equal to those accorded to any other country. While India accorded Pakistan MFN status in 1996, Pakistan's decision to reciprocate has only come 15 years later.
Perhaps what has gone unnoticed by the world at large, however, is the unprecedented pace at which the Economic and Commercial Cooperation talks between India and Pakistan, which resumed in April and picked up again this week after a hiatus of three years, have proceeded. While India was keen on Pakistan granting it MFN status, the latter's major concern was that India should remove all non-tariff barriers that impede its market access into the Indian market. And a key feature of these talks has been that timelines have been specified for every item on the agenda. In particular, the April agenda stated that Joint Working Groups to address non-tariff barriers should be set up by August 2011, and that MFN status to India should be accorded by October 2011. Both conditions that have now been satisfied.
Under the extant bilateral trade arrangement between the two countries, Pakistan permits the import of only 1934 items from India, known as a ‘positive list' approach to trade limitations. Following the Pakistani federal cabinet's decision to grant MFN status to India there were three major concerns about its implementation process. First, the time period within which the shift from a positive to negative list (whereby the list contains specific banned, rather than permitted, items) would take place was not stated. Second, Pakistan has maintained a separate positive list for the road route between the two countries at the Wagah border crossing, where only 14 of the 1934 items on the overall positive list are allowed to be traded; analysts doubted whether this extra barrier would be rectified. And third, Pakistan has yet to meet its obligations under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), under which members agreed to offer preferential access to other members by reducing tariffs within a specified timeframe.
The Joint Statement issued following the conclusion of talks on Wednesday addresses all of these concerns. First, it lays down the sequencing and timelines for the move towards full normalization of trade relations. In the initial stage, Pakistan will make a transition from the current ‘positive list' approach to a small negative list of banned items to be finalized and ratified in February 2012. In the second stage, the negative list will be phased out by the end of 2012. The new trading regime will also be applicable to all trade that goes overland between the two countries at the Wagah crossing, after the new infrastructure at the land border is complete, with the announcement of this change timed to coincide with the release of goods on the negative list. Both sides also agreed to move towards enhancing the preferential trading arrangements under the SAFTA process, and they also agreed to designate officials on both sides to work on this issue. If these timelines are met, there will be no contentious issues left with regards to the MFN status.
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Last week's Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia was unsurprisingly uneventful. While not a "head of state" summit -- where traditionally big announcements like the decision to allow new members in would be made -- in the lead-up to the meeting there was a flurry of press about a possible enlargement of the group. But aspirant members and current observers India and Pakistan were not made into full members, and Afghanistan was once again not brought any closer into the club. Generally seen by Western observers as a less threatening entity than before, the organization's inability to move forward on expansion highlights its immaturity and should show outsiders the likely limited role that it will be able to play in post-American Afghanistan.
Initially born as a vehicle through which to resolve long-standing border disputes in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "Shanghai Five" as it was known (made up of China, Russia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) formally changed its name in 2001 when it opened up to Uzbekistan and turned into the SCO. Over time, it developed into a forum in which regional players could forge closer links on a variety of issues, including economics, development, infrastructure projects and most recently education.
At the core of its identity, however, remained security concerns, focused on countering what the SCO members describe -- in a clear emulation of the Chinese definition of a threat -- as "terrorism, separatism and extremism." Its biannual "Peace Mission" joint counter-terrorism exercises have been the most visible expressions of this focus, offering opportunities for nations to get together and practice operations usually focused on countering an assault by a small force of well-armed terrorists. In January 2004 it established the Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and the next year opened its doors to the leaders of India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan, who all attended the annual summit as "observers." Also present was Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and the group agreed to establish the SCO-Afghanistan contact group, "with the purpose of elaborating proposals and recommendations on realization of cooperation between the SCO and Afghanistan on issues of mutual interest." However, since then the Contact Group has done very little, and while further countries have joined the constellation of nations interested in becoming involved in the organization (Belarus and Sri Lanka are now "Dialogue Partners" and Turkey has applied to join this club) no further tangible movement has been made.
Yet it seemed as though this might be changing. Earlier this year, the organization celebrated its ten-year anniversary, and at a high-level conference in Shanghai the question of expansion was brought up repeatedly. However, while Russian participants seemed eager for the organization to allow new members in, the Chinese side seemed hesitant, pushing to deepen the organization's economic focus and develop its international profile through official connections with other international bodies before expanding it further. This was reflected in the public discourse ahead of the St. Petersburg Summit where Russian officials backed the Afghan bid for upgrading the nation to "observer" status and openly supported Pakistan's bid for full-membership. Yet nothing happened, and in his official read-out to journalists on his way back from the Summit, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi made absolutely no mention of the possibilities of expansion.
This inaction is somewhat perplexing to outside observers. The organization was fundamentally founded to clarify borders so as to counter a transnational terrorist threat that most would agree has had a regional home in Afghanistan, and yet the SCO has done surprisingly little in direct terms to help the nation. Individual members have given support and money, but the organization itself has not. The idea of membership, or at least "observer" status, would theoretically tie Afghanistan more closely to regional players and bolster the current administration in Kabul. Yet by this same token, admitting Afghanistan to the group would mean taking sides in a conflict whose outcome remains uncertain. No one yet quite understands what the American withdrawal in 2014 will actually look like, and SCO members are unsure whether they want to become too entangled in a nation that has already subdued at least one SCO member in the past (Russia). And atop all of this there is the capacity question: the SCO has no standing forces and controls few direct funds. Consequently, as a diplomat at the Secretariat in Beijing put it to me last year, "what would you have us do?"
Other potential members face different problems: unwilling to take sides, the organization would most likely have to open its doors to both India and Pakistan at the same time -- something that would also have the effect of bringing into the organization all the disagreements they share. The question of upgrading Iran is one that has taken something of a back seat of late following President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's failed attempt to be admitted last year. The reason for this blockage seems to be a general desire amongst SCO members to not overtly antagonize the United States. Mongolia would seem to be a relatively natural member, but given the precedent that letting a nation in would set, it continues to be obliged to sit on the sidelines.
And so the question remains: Why, in the run-up to the St. Petersburg Summit, was there such a flurry of interest in possible expansion? One explanation is that Islamabad has for some time been trying to bolster its regional partnerships in an attempt to counter-balance American anger and perceived fickleness. Russia also appears to be behind a lot of talk of expansion. Concerned about the in-roads China is making in its Central Asian periphery, Moscow perhaps hopes that expanding the SCO, something seen as primarily a Chinese vehicle, might stretch it beyond its ability to function. While the SCO may not have done much yet, it has laid the foundations for a more weighty future -- a long-term vision that accords with China's approach to foreign policymaking.
Whatever the case, the end result is that another high-level SCO Summit passed with little tangible forward movement. Seemingly obvious achievements like upgrading Afghanistan or Turkey continue to be avoided, while outside China there is little evidence that the regional powers are willing to invest too much into the SCO. All of which is welcome news to those who worry about the organization becoming a "NATO of the East," but less positive to those who hope it might be willing to take on a greater role in Afghanistan when the United States makes its move in 2014.
Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an Associate Fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalisation. His writing can be found at http://www.raffaellopantucci.com.
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While regionalism in Europe is under stress due to a monetary crisis, South Asian efforts at regional cooperation are gaining some tentative strength. The seventeenth summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), held in Addu Atoll in the Maldives, concluded last Friday with a greater sense of regional purpose and international approval. The United States sent Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, and, for the first time, China sent a team of observers to the event.
SAARC was established as a permanent organization in 1985, with a secretariat hosted in Kathmandu, Nepal created in 1987, in partial competition with other regional blocks such as The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. Its original seven members: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, also agreed to add Afghanistan as an eighth member in 2007. The addition of Afghanistan was particularly significant because SAARC could thereby act as a forum for India and Pakistan to negotiate their strategic influence over Afghanistan's development path. In Pakistan, there has been recurring suspicion about ulterior motives for the high level of development aid that India has given to Afghanistan. This is believed to be a major cause for the Pakistani security establishment's interference in Afghanistan's political trajectory. Allowing for a transparent exchange on regional development investment in Afghanistan could be an effective means of assuaging some of this mistrust. A glimmer of this prospect was realized at last week's meeting, where Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with both the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers for talks on regional development and security.
The persistent acrimony and nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan has often hampered substantive progress at regional cooperation. Yet SAARC is evolving into a forum that links civil society and governments in the region through common denominators such as education, the environment and human rights. At this year's summit, "People's SAARC," a parallel initiative to the official SAARC, which was established originally in 1996 as a stakeholder feedback mechanism to regional governments, emerged with a clear "memorandum" that made detailed but practical "demands" on the rights of fishermen in regional waters, migratory populations and communities impacted by climatic changes and disasters.