Posted on 13-10-2012
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Until this week, few people outside of Pakistan and the Swat Valley had heard of Malala Yousafzai.  As she now fights for her life, the victim of neanderthal reactionary thugs, the 14 year old has become a global icon.  The Taliban was notorious for turning women into chattel – good for cooking, bearing children and not much else.  Their Pakistani counterpart is no better.  For a while they held the Swat Valley under their sway while the gutless government in Islamabad dithered on confronting their created Frankenstein monster.

Yousafzai began blogging about life under the Taliban in 2009 while the Swat Valley was still under Taliban control and became a vocal advocate for female education.  In May 2009 the Pakistani army finally moved in and flushed out the Taliban from Swat.  By 2011 she was a celebrity in Pakistan, openly appearing on TV shows and was  nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.  Her blogging identity no longer anonymous she promptly became the target of death threats from Taliban adherents.

So on October 9 came the assassination attempt.  The backlash against the Taliban has been in Pakistan has been severe.  They were trashed on social media and in public rallies.  Yet, even though Pakistan’s foreign minister called this a turning point, all the thunder will not amount to much for now.  This blog has been harsh on Pakistan’s use of Islamic terrorists to further foreign policy goals in Afghanistan (hiding Mullah Omar and co. in Quetta) and India.  Pakistan’s religious parties offered only lip service to Malala’s fate before railing against American drone attacks.  Yet the American drone attacks, troubling as they are, occur only because Pakistan’s army will not move against terrorists perched in own country.

Girls schools and independent women are primary targets of the Taliban.   As a result,  girls like Malala who refuse to be cowed down are an existential threat to these thugs.  The Taliban remains unrepentant and has renewed the threat against her.  And yet, people like Imran Khan want a “political solution” with these assholes.  Nazi comparisons can be a bit overwrought, but I cannot resist noticing similarities to Franz von Papen’s belief that he could box in Hitler after bringing him to power.  The fight against the Taliban will not be won until there are harsh political consequences for their supporters, Pakistan’s educational system is upgraded to bring its teeming underclass out of the sway of the mullahs (whose madrasas are often the only available educational option) and Pakistan’s army gives up the dream that it is possible to support these thugs against its neighbors without being stung by the backwash.

I mocked the Nobel Peace Prize award to the EU yesterday.  I still stand by that.  It should have gone to someone like Malala Yousafzai.  To hear Malala in her own words see the video below. Also see this heartfelt article by Owais Tohid:

 

 

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Posted on 02-04-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

This blog vented last week on Pakistan’s misplaced priorities in accounting for how Osama Bin Laden ended up in the cantonment town of Abbotabad.  The farce continues.  Now Osama Bin Laden’s widows and two of his adult daughters (who have been in custody since last May and formally arrested March 3) have been sentenced to 45 days in prison (with credit for time served) and fined about $110 each.  The crime?  Illegally entering Pakistan.  After serving their sentences the women, and presumably their progeny, will be deported to their home countries.

No news on whether Pakistan’s crack investigative teams have come up with an explanation on how the women ended up in Abbotabad to begin with.  The Pakistan farce continues.

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Posted on 29-03-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan was humiliated last year when the most wanted man in the world was discovered comfortably ensconced in Abbottabad, barely 50 miles from Pakistan’s capital.  Pakistan faced difficult questions.  How long was Bin Laden in Abbotabad?  How could he live there for so long without Pakistan’s security services knowing about it?  To what extent did the Pakistani state and its notorious secret service, the ISI, sponsor Bin Laden’s stay?  How far up the chain did the knowledge of Bin Laden’s whereabouts go?

Most states would try to discover the answers to these questions.  But this is Pakistan we are talking about.  After 20 years of two faced tactics in condemning terrorist activity directed at the west while sponsoring it against India but still hosting/turning a blind eye to the training grounds for both, it was too much to hope that Pakistan would look deep into its soul and provide answers to the questions above.  So far no answers to the Bin Laden mystery have been provided.  The Quetta Shura of the Taliban still resides unmolested in that country, probably with the ISI’s blessings.  Pakistan still makes at best half hearted moves against the Taliban and Al-Queda remnants in the North West Frontier Province.  American drone attacks that have become essential to make up for Pakistan’s failure to act are greeted with howls of outrage.  And with Pakistan perfectly capable of shutting off the land supply lines of American troops in Afghanistan and with the ever present fears of a military coup, it has not been pressed too hard on the Bin Laden story.

What Pakistan has done is go after scapegoats.  I have yet to hear of any arrest of a Pakistani official for enabling Bin Laden’s stay.  However they have pursued Dr. Shakeel Afridi for the “crime” of helping the United States track down Osama Bin Laden.  A panel investigating the Bin Laden raid recommended Dr. Afridi be put on trial for treason.  Today Dr. Afridi was sacked from his position as a governmental surgeon on disciplinary grounds.  Other health workers who assisted Dr. Afridi in discovering Bin Laden’s location have also been sacked.

With “allies” like Pakistan, who needs enemies.

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Posted on 22-06-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

These are difficult times for Pakistan and its citizens. Since the 1980’s Pakistan’s military rulers have ridden the tiger of Islamic radicalism to bleed arch-rival India and install pliant regimes in Afghanistan.  However, Pakistan is now discovering how hard it is get off the tiger.  In recent years jihadists have slaughtered innocents in Pakistan’s cities, countryside, mosques, schools and even military bases.  Then came the national humiliation of the American military attack that killed Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani cantonment town of Abbotabad, a stone’s throw from its national military academy.

The raid that eliminated Bin Laden was a double humiliation: First, because the most wanted man in the world was found ensconced comfortably in the heart of Pakistan (leading to suspicions he was protected by Pakistan’s secret service agency the ISI).  Second, because the Americans launched a military raid deep into Pakistan without the Pakistani army’s knowledge or without them being able to do anything about it.

Not given to deep introspection, the military establishment has focused on the latter and has made ham handed to warn the Americans about future Pakistani cooperation against the Taliban by playing the China card.  Unfortunately for the generals, more humiliation was to come.  The Bin Laden raid was followed by a daring terrorist attack on a naval base, possibly with inside involvement.

All of this has severely dented the credibility of the Pakistani military establishment, previously immune from domestic criticism.  Yet criticism of the military can be fatal.  Shortly after writing about Al-Qaeda infiltration of the Pakistani navy, journalist Saleem Shahzad was found beaten to death – allegedly in ISI custody.  Which brings us to the indomitable Asma Jahangir.

Along with her sister Hina Jalani, Jahangir has been one of Pakistan’s foremost human rights advocates who bravely stands up for women’s right in the face of fundamentalist neanderthals.  In the clip below she boldly eviscerates the Pakistani military for sheer incompetence, impotence and venality.

For those of you who do n0t understand Urdu a rough translation from the blogger Beena Sarwar is provided below:

I don’t need to get a medal for patriotism especially from those who belong to the establishment. We must talk harshly and realistically. I remember during the Bangladesh war, we heard the same discourse. People said that those who criticised the army action in Bangladesh were not patriots. My father was imprisoned; many people we know called me the child of a traitor. But I know that the army’s policy – they are duffers, political duffers (idiots). If you go along with their policy the way we have been doing, Pakistan will not progress. I don’t care what people in America or Africa think. I want our people to be saved from the army. They have put us in a situation where terrorism is cropping up at every corner and neighbourhood. They encourage and support it, detract from debate. They’ve got a whole propaganda machinery going. I am not saying that this goes for all soldiers, but for these generals who play golf and laugh, and keep an eye out for plots. What happened in Karachi – there was a wedding hall at that sensitive place. They’ve made us their slaves. It is time to say please, with folded hands, go back to your barracks, let our children live here. We don’t want bloodshed. If you want acclaim, go and fight – and win — a war. You fought Kargil, killed the Light Infantry soldiers. You’ve become used to making young boys into human shields. You can’t fight, or run the country, or make policy. You are the ‘qabza group’ (land grabbers) of this country. Politicians and everyone should say this clearly. If you ask me, I can give several examples of their stupidity. We need to take out a procession on Mall Road, with folded hands, to say please go home, you ‘eating drinking’ party.”

 

Brave words against a military establishment whose raison d’être has been anti-India hostility, towards which end it leeches off a quarter of impoverished Pakistan’s budget in a unwinnable military race with its far larger and stronger neighbor.  In the process the army lost Pakistan its eastern wing in 1971.  And 3 out of its remaining 4 provinces (not counting the so-called Azad Kashmir) are seething with discontent at domination by the Punjabi majority.  It is a pity that Pakistan’s venal civilian politicians are incapable of fulfilling the promise of its brave human rights activists like Asma Jahangir.  Until a competent civilian leadership emerges, Pakistan will continue to be dominated by its incompetent uniformed thugs.

 

 

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Posted on 03-04-2011
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

A week after Pakistan lost to India in the world cup yet again (having never beaten their arch rivals in the cup), Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi mouthed off about the superior “large and clean hearts” of Pakistan and Muslims (never mind than the Indian team currently has and has always had many Muslim players and India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world).  Pity the superiority bestowed by Allah could not help Pakistan prevail on the field.  Added in for good measure was the typical conspiracy rant against the United States.  Always so much easier to blame outsiders rather than to take a cold hard look at the pitiful condition of your home country.  Afridi has learned the two faced approach of his nation’s diplomats – say one thing in India under the full blaze of the Indian and world media.  Mouth off your true feelings back home in Urdu.  Video in Urdu below:

 

This blog does agree with Afridi on one point, though not for his reasons.  As we have discussed previously, the charade of talks currently being conducted between India and Pakistan to keep the United States and Europe happy are pointless.  There is nothing really to discuss, particularly when Pakistan will not forswear terrorism as a tool of state policy.  The defensiveness was evident in Afridi slamming Indian player Gautam Gambhir for the temerity to dedicate victory in a final played in Mumbai to the victims of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks (note: Gambhir never named Pakistan, but Afridi knows who was responsible by his defensive lash out).   Even the Pakistani government has conceded the origin of the attackers (though not the identity of their trainers).  So Shahid Afridi get your own house in order…and up yours!

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Posted on 28-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pervez Hoodbhoy has this pessimistic take on the perils of a nuclear-armed failing Pakistani state.  For all the opprobrium it received for the Mumbai attacks, Pakistan has still not brought the attack planners to justice or commenced dismantling its terror infrastructure.  Incredibly the bankrupt Pakistani state appears to be betting all its chips on the nuclear shield.  So a state which survives on financial aid is risking an arms race with its larger and stronger neighbor that will make its fragile condition even worse.

Hoodbhoy is probably right in that another attack on India is only a matter of time.  How will India then react to the rogue state on its western border?  Indians have noted that the Bush doctrine allowed the United States to invade Afghanistan, but the United States limits the Indian response to its terrorism sponsoring neighbor.  This perpetuates the Pakistani faith in its nuclear deterrent as a shield for any foreign misadventures.

It must be noted that the second and less appreciated part of Pakistan’s shield will eventually disappear.  The US will get out of Afghanistan and will no longer need Pakistan as a supply route for its troops.  Similar to 1989, it will be far easier for Washington to cut Pakistan loose after it withdraws from Afghanistan.  With China already sponsoring North Korea and Burma, will it want the Pakistani basket case in its lap?  Given its size, location and the size of its nuclear arsenal, the collapse of Pakistan will be a far greater geopolitical nightmare than the fall of the rickety regime in Pyongyang.

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Posted on 05-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Former Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf became the first Pakistani official to openly admit what everybody else already knew.  Pakistan used terrorism as a tool of foreign policy to wrest Kashmir from India (complete interview in German here).  He also openly admitted culpability for the Kargil War, which at the time he tried to pass off as an attack of “freedom fighters.”  Musharraf’s comments come as rumors of a coup in Pakistan are rising and he is planning to return home to wade into politics.

With Pakistan trying again to rake up Kashmir in international forums in its tediously predictable manner, the question is what exactly India needs to negotiate with Pakistan about.  Indian possession the Kashmir valley and the partition of the old princely state of Kashmir is a fait accompli.  While Kashmir has boiled over this summer and India has made more than its share of mistakes in the state (bungling made worse by the state’s demographics), Kashmiris enjoy constitutional protections that preserve their language, culture and property along with full rights as Indian citizens.  Kashmiris do not face the prospect of being swamped in their homeland like the Tibetans.  This is in stark contrast to the legal limbo or outright colonial rule faced by their brethren on the Pakistani side of the line of control.

Ultimately the geopolitical reality is that India cannot let Kashmir go without triggering similar vociferous demands elsewhere.  More than 60 years after partition it will not hand Kashmir over to the failing state on its western border.  The only parties to the negotiations should be the Indian government and the representatives of the Kashmiri people to address their legitimate grievances so that the military presence that infuriates Kashmiris can be drawn down and human rights issues resolved.  The sooner Pakistan comes to grip with this reality it can focus on the disaster within its borders that has been exacerbated by allowing its terrorist proxies free rein.

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Posted on 02-10-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Just when you thought that week 1 of this blog resuming posting could go by without a shout out to our favorite American “allies,” this week has has been full of delightful news in the region.

  • Our venal, incompetent ally in the presidential palace in Kabul may be suffering a nervous breakdown, but we are stuck with him.
  • Our venal, incompetent (though well meaning) ally in the presidential palace in Islamabad could be forced out of office in a shadow coup.
  • Pakistan is seething about drone attacks that NATO is now aggressively carrying out on their side of the border for the logical reason that the terrorists are located there.  The problem is that the drones have tendency to kill Pakistani civilians and soldiers.
  • As a result, American supply lines to Afghanistan are threatened by attacks on NATO convoys and by Pakistan blocking them.
  • The overhyped Pakistani offensive in the tribal areas still has not worked (as evidenced by the stoning to death of a woman by the Taliban for being seen with a man).
  • But Pakistan’s leaders are still focused on the drones crossing the border rather than fighting the Taliban in its North Waziristan stronghold.  Their elite in denial try to pretend that they are somehow being sucked into America’s war – even though Pakistan midwifed the Taliban and by sponsoring Al-Qaeda’s ideological allies as proxies against India was the training ground for terror.  This (and the recent discovery of a terror plot in Europe by men of Pakistani origin) got them a dressing down from CIA director Leon Panetta.
  • And last but most importantly, the Afghan army will not be ready in time for the withdrawal of American troops.

I understand the political imperative that forced the Afghan surge, but it has not worked in the face of bumbling civilian allies and duplicitous military ones (as shown by the Wikileaks documents this summer).  The question remains whether the administration will have the courage to cut its losses and focus on a smarter war against Al Qaeda, rather than squandering blood and treasure in the Land of Bones.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan has evidently asked the Interpol to issue arrest warrants for Ajmal Kasab and Fahim Ansari in connection with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  See link.  The oddity stems from the fact that there is no mystery about their presence, both are lodged in Indian jails.  As the article notes it has raised speculation that this is an opening gambit in a sequence of moves designed to let Pakistan’s LeT proxies off the hook.  It could be just innocent bureaucratic paperwork, but this highlights the futility of talks in an atmosphere of deep distrust and until Pakistan’s commitment to dismantling its terror infrastructure is not established.

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Posted on 04-04-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As predicted in previous posts (see here and here) the Indo-Pak talks have hit a dead end.  See link.   The talks were taken for the benefit of the United States and Europe and were never going to go anywhere.  The undiplomatic truth from the Indian perspective is that there isn’t much to talk about as long as Pakistan keeps its terror proxies in reserve.  After being burned by the Pakistani security establishment many times New Delhi is not eager to repeat an experience akin to the classic clip from Animal House below.

What use is a composite dialog of the sort Pakistan wants when there is no trust on the ground and when Pakistan’s civilian government does not have the ability to rein in its military.  In the meantime Pakistan continues to ratchet up its complaints.  The latest concerns alleged violations of the long standing Indus Waters Treaty.  See link.  So the dance between the nuclear emerging power and the nuclear failed state continues.  The result will be headaches for the persons in charge of Washington’s Afghan policy.

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Posted on 24-03-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Pakistan’s foreign minister visited the United States this week.  On deck were a discussion for aid to Pakistan, a civilian nuclear deal similar to what India was granted in the Bush administration and a familiar litany of complaints on Indian intransigence on bilateral talks.  The timing seems propitious as Pakistan is still basking in the warm afterglow of approval for finally moving against its erstwhile Taliban proxies.  Some of the sheen on that accomplishment has started to wane, with Hamid Karzai angrily complaining that Pakistan had disrupted ongoing talks and with intelligence communities still suspicious of Pakistan’s motives.  See here.  Yet, it may be some time before Pakistan gets as favorable a reception in Washington.

However, apart from some more money Pakistan is unlikely to get much of its wish list.   See link.  Since independence Pakistan has aggressively sought diplomatic parity with India.  However, the economic, military and geopolitical gulf between the two countries has widened in the last 20 years.  It is a bitter pill that the Pakistani establishment has not come to terms with.

There was a lot of Congressional resistance for the nuclear deal with India.  A similar deal for a country whose nuclear scientists sold nuclear technology to Libya and North Korea will be dead on arrival.  The thin-skinned Indian response to the prospect does not seem needed.  See link.

The litany of complaints against India is not likely to go too far either.  For the last 30 years Pakistan has agressively sought to internationalize its dispute with India and India has stubbornly pointed to the 1972 Simla Accord as the bench mark for bilateral negotiations.  Foreign diplomats like Robin Raphael or David Miliband who hinted at third party facilitation of negotiations drew a sharp Indian response.  See here.  That is unlikely to change in the near future, particularly with Indian sensibilities sore after the plea bargain by (and the promise not to extradite) David Headley.  See here.

Pakistan’s security establishment seems still stuck in the 1980s when its allies in Congress would issue annual anti-India resolutions and India would have to go all out to stop them.  By the mid 1990s, Pakistan’s staunchest ally Dan Burton could not even get a sufficient number of co-signers for his resolutions to proceed.  The best Pakistan can hope for on the subject are bland statements calling for dialogue.  See link.

As noted in a previous blog the talks are meaningless so long as Pakistan’s terror support infrastructure remains in place.  See link.  From India’s perspective there is no point coming to the table to discuss disputes while Pakistan treats terrorism as a bargaining chip.  For all of Pakistan’s bluster of similar Indian activities in Baluchistan, precious little evidence has been made public.  Unlike Kashmir, Baluchistan does not lie along the India-Pakistan border making it hard logistically for India to provide much meaningful support to Baluch separatists.

On the flip side it is time for India (and its media) to recognize India’s rising maturity as a global player not hyperventilate on perceived slights every time the Obama administration dangles Pakistan a carrot.  American policy makers in both parties are only too aware of the greater desirability of India as a strategic ally.  However, the realities on the ground in Afghanistan force the United States to make some concessions to Pakistan.  It is the only strategic card Pakistan has at present and it is hardly surprising that it will be played as often as possible.  With low global tolerance of terrorism as a tool of foreign policy, Pakistan’s diplomatic options are limited.

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Posted on 25-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The Christian Science Monitor has reported that Pakistan  arrested half of the Afghan Taliban leadership in recent days.  See link.  Speculation abounds about the timing of the crackdown and whether it was related to Pakistan seeking a more direct role in the Afghan peace negotiations.  To me the speed at which the Taliban leadership is being rounded up raises the question why this was not possible in the past eight years or even in the last couple of years when Pakistan itself became the target of the fundamentalist terror it midwifed.  Pakistan’s future actions will show just how serious it is in tackling the threat, or whether this is merely the latest gambit in the new Great Game (see previous blog post).

Also, unclear is the extent the lack of leadership affects the Taliban’s military operations.  It should make it harder to coordinate joint attacks, but there are enough lower level commanders with guns and experience to continue fighting.  Similar decapitations of the leadership among the Pakistani branch of the Taliban appear to have lead to militants training their guns at each other as they jockey for power.  Whether and to what extent the pattern repeats itself here remains to be seen.

For now, this should be a boost to the American surge.  But good news in Aghanistan seems to be accompanied by bad.  As usual it comes from the man supposed to provide the good governance essential for a lasting peace.  In recent days Hamid Karzai has tried to pack Afghanistan’s impartial election commission with his cronies, deepened his ties to the corrupt warlords and once again pandered to the fundamentalist fringe by weakening constitutional protections for female representation in parliament. See here, here and here.  Some things never change.

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It has become a predictable pattern ever since Pervez Musharraf as chief of the Pakistani army instigated the the Kargil War.  Barely a week after the announcement that India and Pakistan would resume the talks that were put on hold after the Mumbai attacks, comes a bomb attack.  See link.  This time the target is the city of Pune.  As in Mumbai, the target of the attacks was a location where foreigners congregated.  Even though the perpetrators have not been identified, the site of the attack was surveyed by David Headley, the Chicago man of Pakistani origin who is being investigated for his connection with Mumbai attacks.  See link.

The attacks promptly brought calls to suspend talks with Pakistan, which the Indian government has said will continue.  Personally, I see the talks as a charade played out for public (particularly Western) consumption.  President Zardari’s government simply does not have the power to make the compromises necessary for a lasting peace treaty and does not control the Pakistani security establishment.  Islamabad still tries to distinguish the jihadi movement in Afghanistan from the proxies launched against India.  India is never going to accede to a demand to sever Kashmir from the Union of India, at best the Kashmiris on the Indian side of the LOC can look forward to a type of enhanced autonomy (which should probably be extended to the other states of India).  If Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the height of his power did not have the ability to recognize the LOC as the international border with India (when he signed the Simla Accord), his widely despised son in law (Asif Zardari) who genuinely seems to want peace with India will not be able to do so either.

So the impasse will continue.  A few months from now Pakistan will complain the Indians are not serious about negotiations.  India will respond that the jihadi network still flourishes in Pakistan.  A terrorist strike that tests India’s patience will occur.  Pakistan will make some token arrests and bans to deflect attention.  One difference from the Musharraf years is that Pakistan stands alone and bereft of world sympathy as a result of its role in midwifing global terrorism.  As the Indian economy grows stronger and as Pakistan crumbles the balance of power is inexorably tilting in New Delhi’s favor.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

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A recent Foreign Policy article highlights a danger to stability in Afghanistan not often discussed – the toxic relationship between India and Pakistan.  See link.  This dates back to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947.  Afghanistan (even under the Pakistani created and supported Taliban) never accepted the Durand Line drawn by the British as the border between the two countries.  This line divides the Pashtun people between the two countries.  As a result every government in Kabul (other than the Taliban) has had a frosty relationship with Pakistan and a warm one with India.  Paranoid about facing hostile states on both flanks, Pakistan has always sought to install a more pliant regime in Kabul.

Baluch and Pashtun dispersion between Pakistan and Afghanistan

Durand Line border between Afghanistan and Pakistan (in red). The blue area represents the predominant Pashtun and Baloch area.

It is one of the reasons why Pakistan has proved so unwilling to dump its Taliban clients and has eagerly pushed the idea of a reconciliation with the “Good Taliban.”  India having faced a tide of Pakistani sponsored Islamic terrorism in the past decades sees this as a distinction without a difference.

India has been one of the major aid contributors to rebuilding Afghanistan.  This has, as usual, stirred paranoia about Indian intentions in Pakistan with wilder theories speculating that India intends to install military bases in the region once the Americans leave.  In 2008, these fears appear to have prompted an attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul allegedly sponsored by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.  See link.

Given its ethnic divisions, Afghanistan is always likely to be a weak state subject to meddling by its neighbors.  The Indo-Pakistani tussle is yet another destabilizing influence that imperils any attempt to pacify Afghanistan.  And then there is Iranian meddling in the western part of the country.  The world community should prepare contingency plans if (or maybe when) things fall apart after the United States departs the region.

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Posted on 31-01-2010
Filed Under (Sports) by Rashtrakut

Ever since the notorious Bodyline series in 1932-33 caused a diplomatic incident between England and Australia, politics has rarely stayed away from the game.  In stark contrast to many other team sports, international cricket has generally been played at the national level with various domestic leagues within cricket playing countries.  While some like English county cricket occasionally brought in a few foreign players, domestic cricket as the name suggests generally consisted of teams stocked with local lads.

Until the formation of the Indian Premier League two years ago, cricket did not have a private league (and even this one was started by the Indian cricket board with private team owners) akin to the various soccer, baseball, basketball and ice hockey leagues around the world.    The new IPL also had to reach an accommodation with various national cricket boards to make sure that players would be available for international tournaments.  A very different setup than that which exists in the United States where the MLB and NHL seriously consider not making their baseball and hockey players available for the Olympics.

But these controversies pale before the brouhaha sweeping the subcontinent today.  It started when the latest IPL player auction failed to select a single player from World Twenty20 champion Pakistan.  See link.  This promptly brought tit for tat exchanges between the Pakistani and Indian governments.  Pakistan alleging that this was orchestrated by an Indian government not serious about peace with Pakistan and the Indian government retorting that they had placed no restrictions on the operations of the private league Pakistan should look to themselves as to why the snub occurred.  The Pakistani media has resorted to its typical bout of conspiracy theories involving the Indian spy agency RAW, the local mafia and hard right nationalist politicians.  See link.  Stung by the snub, Pakistan has revoked future participation by its players in the IPL.  See link.

I think Occam’s razor rather than any deep conspiracy to humiliate Pakistan probably provides the likeliest explanation.  Emotions in India still run high from the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the half-hearted Pakistani attempts to suppress the terror groups Pakistan spawned. The 2009 IPL season was played in South Africa due to concerns for player security (not helped by the attack on the Sri Lankan team visiting Pakistan).  It is likely that the IPL owners simply did not want to deal with the security hassles involved with Pakistani players.

Then there is the issue of local xenophobes disrupting play.  Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray has already lashed out at film actor Shah Rukh Khan (the owner of an IPL team) for suggesting that he would have signed a Pakistani player.  See link.  While purists can hope for the old Olympic ideal of suspending hostilities during a major athletic event, the reality never lives up to the ideal.  Right wing nuts like the Shiv Sena have been disrupting Indian-Pakistani cricket matches scheduled to be played in India for the past 20 years.

It is hard not to sympathize with IPL owners for wanting to avoid this headaches.  It is not the only one they have had to deal with.  Thackeray has also turned his fire on the Australian cricketers as scapegoats for the rash of attacks on Indian students in Australia in the past year.  Now the Australians are considering skipping the lucre offered by the IPL.  See link.  A group in the Telangana region agitating for statehood within the Indian union is promising to disrupt local matches as this would distract from their pet cause.  See link.

While Pakistan sulks and opportunists and xenophobes bask in the sun, the toxic mix of nationalism, xenophobia and idiocy threaten to deny cricket fans an entertaining sports spectacle.

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Posted on 17-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Pakistani President Zardari’s future is cloudy after the Pakistani Supreme Court voided a controversial amnesty granted by former dictator Pervez Musharraf.  Zardari earned his nickname by the alleged kickbacks he received during his wife’s tenure.

One of the tragedies of Pakistan is the venality and incompetence of its civilian politicians (Zardari’s opponent Nawaz Sharif faces similar charges) that allows the (equally corrupt and incompetent military establishment) to project an aura of superiority.  The weakness of Zardari’s government was on full display when the military establishment torpedoed his overtures to India in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks.  This further weakens his government’s ability to prod the military to take on the Taliban.  Like in Afghanistan there is no clear civilian alternative to this mess, though a place holder from within his party can probably be found if Zardari’s resignation is forced.  More turmoil for South Asia’s nuclear-armed failing state lies ahead.

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The New York Times has a an interesting read about Pakistan’s unwillingness to take on its pet Afghan militant as part of its posturing for a post American Afghan future.  After riding the militant tiger and finding it hard to get off Pakistan is not yet willing to learn its lessons from the past.  Instead as many observers including this blog have noted, it remains steeped in denial and paranoia about Indian intentions in Afghanistan.  It is much easier to engage in tit for tat blame of India (with no real evidence presented) rather than face up to the mess they have made of their country.  While the Pakistani establishment fiddles, its country burns.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

What a difference from the Musharraf years, when the former Pakistani dictator peddled his b.s. and nobody in Washington bothered to check him.  However, by the end even the Bush administration lost patience with him starting covert drone attacks and looking the other way when street protests forced him into exile.  After years of ignoring the problem the Obama administration is essentially throwing down the gauntlet.  One of the concerns with the Afghanistan surge was that the Taliban could execute a strategic retreat to its Pakistani hideouts.  Now Pakistan evidently faces the choice of dealing with insurgents in its territory of having American drones do the job.

Neither option is particularly palatable to Pakistan.  Reeling from a wave of terrorist attacks, a move against the Afghan Taliban could make the situation worse.  On the other hand, its bruised national pride will find it hard to bear expanded American strikes inside its territory.  Another concern is that the civilian government already weakened by a pending court challenge to its legitimacy may not survive.  However, the real power in Pakistan belongs to the Army-ISI nexus.  While presenting them with stark choices, the administration has tried hard not to alienate them.

President Obama’s Afghanistan speech did not spend too much attention on Pakistan.  However, Pakistan is the key to resolving the military portion of the Afghanistan problem.  The Taliban’s safe havens that have existed with relative impunity over the past decade and beyond have to go if the Afghan surge is to have any success.

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Posted on 07-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Sports) by Rashtrakut
  • Just how bad are the Chicago Bulls?  Opposing player with the ball ties his shoes in live play and no Bulls player even tries to take the ball.  See link (includes video).
  • Not a shocker.  Vladimir Putin hints that he may run for President and take back his previous office in 2012.  Meanwhile legal institutions and the rule of law in his country atrophy.
  • Nicolas Sarkozy shoots off his mouth, ticks off the United Kingdom.
  • Former Pakistani dictator’s graft amnesty challenged in court.  It could affect the ability of President Zardari formerly known as Mr. Ten Percent to stay in power.
  • Iraq may have finally got a deal to hold its elections.  Previous blogs here and here.  The electoral deal staves off a potential civil war over sharing power and oil revenues.  Here’s hoping it holds.  Maybe we can finally start satisfying some of the other benchmarks George Bush talked about.

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    Posted on 04-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    As the Pakistani army finally turned its guns on the monsters it help create, the monsters have responded with the type of violence that Afghans and Indians have experienced over the years.  For these so called warriors of Islam it is evidently no sin to send suicide bombers into a mosque (reserved for military families) or to blow up schools.  For the zealots who fund and support these terrorists the question must be asked, what sort of state do you think you would gain in the unlikely event these tactics succeed.  With Pakistan finally facing at home the tactics it has used via proxies against India for the past 25 years it is now or never to fix its corroded institutions and fractured civil society.

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    Posted on 02-12-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut
    • Pakistan’s cautious response to the Obama speech and worries it will push the fighting into Pakistan itself.
    • Counting on the successful elections this weekend to break the country’s isolation, the Honduran parliament refuses to reinstate deposed President Zelaya.  My guess is that other than hot air coming from Caracas and its allies, they are probably right.
    • Jane Hamsher starts a rebellion on Obama’s left flank.  It could be a positive for the Democrats if it energizes their base for 2010.  But it could also turn into the nihilistic crusade of the sort that doomed the Republicans in NY-23 if this spins out control.
    • Elizabeth Warren warns about the disappearance of the middle class.
    • The White House claims executive privilege in preventing its social secretary from testifying before Congress in connection with the party crashing.  Administrations change, executive overreach and refusal to be held accountable does not.
    • Huckabee doubles down on his clemency decision for the teenager who eventually became a cop killer.  As noted in yesterday’s post it does not appear that his commutation order was unjustified by the facts at the time.  However, at least one person thinks he protests too much about the “disgusting” attacks.

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      Posted on 25-11-2009
      Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

      Its been one year since the shocking images of the assault on Mumbai were flashed worldwide.  Time magazine reviews how India’s security situation domestically still leaves it as a soft target.  One of the few things the Indian government can take some pride in is that even its creaky justice system is bringing the accused to prompt trial.  But then unlike 9/11 the Mumbai attacks unfortunately were merely the latest and most public of the myriad terrorist events in India in the last 25 years.  The Indian judicial and legal system has far more experience dealing with such cases and the pitfall of draconian anti-terrorism statutes (TADA and POTA).  Unfortunately after each outrage like the Mumbai attacks the next draconian statute hits the books.

      As the anniversary of the attacks approached and as it prepared for unwelcome attention to the paucity of any meaningful cooperation, Pakistan “rounded up the usual suspects.”  Count me a cynic on the likelihood that anything meaningful will come out of this.  While Pakistan has belatedly launched its assault on the Taliban, it remains unwilling or unable to clean up the terrorist  support infrastructure it created in the last 25 years.  However, 26/11 should also have hammered home just how isolated Pakistan stands in the international arena at present while its rival with all its flaws is increasingly accepted as a major international player.

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      Posted on 08-11-2009
      Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

      David Ignatius on the Iranian regime’s need to keep America as the Great Satan to survive.  This is also why Barack Obama who is not as easily caricatured and demonized is an existential risk to the regime.  It also reflects the fundamental bankruptcy of the Iranian regime that at present can muster broader support by rallying people around the flag against a real or mythical enemy (Think Wag the Dog or Canadian Bacon).  Another reason why military strikes would be just the medicine the mullahs ordered.

      Iran is hardly unique in this.  Ever since the creation of Bangladesh, the strongest glue holding Pakistan together (and used by its army to justify its expenditures) is reflexive anti-India sentiment.  In the United States the military-industrial complex has desperately searched for a new conventional threat to justify America’s obscene military spending, from talking up the Chinese military threat in the mid 1990s, to exaggerating the threat posed by the ramshackle militaries of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and now Iran.  Sadly the tactic works all too often.

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      Posted on 30-10-2009
      Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

      A comment to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her refreshingly frank tour of Pakistan has irritated me more than it should.  During an exchange she was told that Pakistan “was fighting America’s war”.  As Clinton herself acknowledged, the United States did abandon Pakistan when the Soviets left Afghanistan.  But Pakistan’s current situation is the result of the terrible choices made by its security and political establishments in the past 20 years and beyond.  Pakistan’s failure to create a viable educational system or develop its economy delegates a vast section of its population to madrassas where they emerge as radicalized youth with no career skills ripe for harvesting by terror groups.  Pakistan’s security establishment turned a blind eye to many of these groups because they could be used to bleed India in Kashmir.  The ISI created and funded the Taliban’s rise to power in the 90s and Pakistan was one of only three countries (along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) to recognize that brutal regime.

      After 9/11 the Musharraf dictatorship avoided many hard choices with respect to the terrorist establishment and in fixing Pakistani society.  Instead, it used American aid replenish its military arsenal against India.  Pakistan has been riding the jihadi tiger for the last 20 years and is now finding out that it is very hard to get off without being bitten.

      For the  last decade the Pakistani establishment has acted as if it could continue business as usual in launching terrorists against India and pretending all was well in its unruly Northwest.  The American drones were used because the Pakistani army would not or could not launch anti-insurgency operations in Waziristan.  After the Mumbai attacks last year and with the increasingly brazen attacks on army and civilian targets inside Pakistan in the past few months, it is clear that things have to change.  Its time the Pakistani people stopped blaming everybody else and took a close hard look at the ruin they have created from its founder’s dreams.

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