Archive for December, 2008

The next U.S. administration will face numerous issues and challenges, and given the security dilemma posed by the militant threat in the FATA, Pakistan will undoubtedly be at the top of that agenda. Below, Niloufer Siddiqui, an M.A. candidate at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, [where she is concentrating in South Asia Studies and International Economics] delves into how the new Obama/Biden administration should change U.S. policy towards Pakistan:

Of all the foreign policy issues that will engage the attention of Barack Obama and Joe Biden come January 20th – and there will be many – none is more critical than Pakistan. Government and security analysts agree that if another terrorist attack were to be planned against the U.S., it would almost certainly originate in Pakistan’s tribal areas in the border region with Afghanistan.

The seven years since the events of September 11th have seen increased U.S. engagement with Pakistan, and as the country moves forward into another attempted democratic endeavor, such engagement and support must continue.

However, the fundamentals of U.S. policy towards Pakistan must be reworked. There is no easy solution. U.S. policymakers face the difficulty of balancing long-term strategies, which would have a positive impact on underlying structural problems but which fail to sufficiently address immediate dangers, and its short-term policies, which result in increasing anti-American sentiment and are detrimental in the long term.

While some prioritizing of issues would no doubt be necessary, longer-term goals cannot be sacrificed for short-term gain. It is essential, rather, that Pakistan’s many problems be approached in an integrated and mutually reinforcing manner.

Obama’s team has already shown that it recognizes this core policy dilemma by framing the problem of extremism and militancy in regional terms. The events which unfolded in Mumbai last month have no doubt thrown their plans to resolve the long-standing Kashmir dispute into disarray.  The U.S. must now adopt an even more sensitive approach towards India-Pakistan relations, but should continue to realize that the situation in the FATA cannot be viewed in isolation.

Successful bilateral relations are characterized by cooperation and communication which serves one’s own national interests while understanding the motivations underlying the other party’s actions. With this in mind, both the U.S. and Pakistan would both be served well if the Obama administration were to broadly pursue the following recommendations:

  • Continue cooperation with Pakistan’s democratic government and strengthen democratic institutions.

The Bush administration’s relationship with Pakistan over the last eight years has been heavily criticized for being focused on Musharraf and the army. This served both to alienate the larger populace which had begun to increasingly view the former military leader with disdain and also prevented effective engagement with leading civilian figures. There is now an opportunity to rectify the imbalance between support for the military and civilian institutions.

A democratic Pakistan, seen as legitimate by its own people, is in the U.S.’s long-term interests. The U.S. must engage with more than just a handful of senior leaders. This includes taking key stakeholders on board and reaching out to elected Cabinet members and members of Parliament.

At the same time, the U.S. administration must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to strengthening democratic institutions. It should therefore apply quiet pressure on Zardari‘s government to move forward on repeal of Article 58 2(b), or at the very least, some reconfiguration of the powers of the President and Prime Minister. Simultaneously, it must engage with local civil society actors in providing technical assistance and earmarking funds to strengthening the Parliament and judiciary.

  • Alter the scope of development assistance, with the goal of having it centered on socioeconomic reforms rather than military aid.

The U.S. should move forward with the innovative Biden-Lugar legislation (the “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2008”) introduced July 15, 2008. By promoting socio-economic development, the legislation begins to tackle some of the core causes of insurgency and militancy, including lack of employment opportunities and social welfare programs, and demonstrates the U.S.’s long-term commitment to Pakistan.

The U.S. should also continue to move forward on the Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZ) legislation, which would allow for duty-free access to U.S. markets for certain types of goods produced. The zones were chosen as part of a province-wide study to locate the most economically under-developed regions to provide employment opportunities to the people of that area. Such proposals suggest recognition of the link between economic underdevelopment and terrorism.

  • Develop a long-term plan for the FATA, without which military excursions in the tribal areas are worthless.

The U.S. should stop its unilateral military strikes as soon as possible, with the realization that such actions fail to solve any short-run problems and merely exacerbate the long-term situation. The costs of intrusions by U.S. Special Forces and air strikes by U.S. drones far outweigh the benefits. The impact on both the central government, which has publicly denounced the air strikes and vowed to uphold Pakistan’s sovereignty at all costs, and the public has been detrimental. In the absence of reliable information, media reports merely fuel anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

The U.S. should encourage the recently formed Friends of Pakistan group to assist Pakistan in its efforts towards local development of the FATA. In line with this, the U.S. must develop a road map in consultation with the Pakistan central and provincial governments, and other international actors, for political and socio-economic reform in the FATA.

  • Promote regional stability and address Pakistan’s security concerns.

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the U.S. should quietly convince both India and Pakistan of the urgent need for increased cooperation on issues of joint security and counterterrorism efforts. While pressuring Pakistan to crackdown on terrorist groups, particularly if linkages to the Mumbai attack are proven, it must simultaneously stress to India the need for restraint in its rhetoric. The fragility of Pakistan’s domestic political situation must be taken into account when devising regional plans.

Pakistan’s security concerns on both its eastern and western borders determine its strategic culture and objectives. Addressing Pakistan’s insecurities vis-à-vis India are essential to enable it to focus its attention on its western border, and may also address the root cause of linkages between rogue elements of the ISI and military with terrorist outfits.

Progress on Kashmir is key in this regard. The next administration should follow up on its campaign promises of turning attention to this issue, and apply pressure on both sides to be innovative and creative in their own approach to resolving the long-lasting conflict. It must, however, recognize the limitations of its own role and its failed attempts at mediation in the past. Therefore, its policy would reap rich dividends if characterized by patience and even-handedness.

If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom with your idea/potential piece at changinguppakistan@gmail.com. Pieces should be relevant to Pakistan, and be no longer than 800 words.

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[Image from the AFP]

More than 100,000 grieving Pakistanis gathered at the mausoleum of former PM Benazir Bhutto in honor of her death anniversary today. According to Dawn, “A sea of mourners, some wailing and beating their chests in a wrenching outpouring of emotion, flooded through security checkpoints into the mausoelum in rural southern Garhi Khuda Bakhsh for the commemoration.” AAJ Television cited statements made by President Asif Ali Zardari [Bhutto’s widower] during his address to the nation. He said, “In the tradition of a true Benazir Bhutto, she faced certain death rather than abandon her principles or the people…The tyrants and the killers have killed her but they shall never be able to kill her ideas, which drove and inspired a generation to lofty aims.”

Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and suicide attack as she left a campaign rally in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007. At the time, she had been campaigning to bring her party, the Pakistan People’s Party [PPP] to power in the country’s parliamentary elections. According to Dawn, “Benazir is buried alongside her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former premier who was hanged in 1979 by the country’s military regime. Her brothers Shahnawaz and Murtaza, who died in violent circumstances, are also buried in the tomb.”

Some media outlets provided more personalized accounts of Bhutto’s mourners in their coverage. The AFP noted that Tariq Waseem, a 25-year-old student from Balochistan, walked about 400 kilometres (250 miles) over 10 days with about a dozen friends in order to be at Saturday’s event. But unlike his friends, he walked barefoot. He told the news agency, “These are not painful,” pointing with pride at blisters covering his soles. “These are a gift from my martyred leader.”

At the site, GEO Television reported, “Various stalls have been set up where the people are purchasing posters and badges with photographs of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Cassettes of her speeches and songs in BB’s and PPP’s praise were also on high sale.” The Nation added in its coverage, “One year on, Pakistan’s reverence for Bhutto continues unabated — television programs about her life have been running for days, and the government has issued a 10-rupee coin and stamps bearing her portrait.” An interesting article in the Daily Times, entitled, “BB Remembered through Songs and Her Speeches,” reported,

Since Bhutto’s assassination, around 56 audio and video albums focusing on her life and paying tribute to her have appeared in the market. Different companies, like KTN, Marvi production, Jan production, Naz production and Sindh TV, have produced these compilations. Ironically, the CD/DVD release of her last speech delivered at Liaquat Bagh, Rawalpindi, just minutes before her assassination is a major super hit. According to the records of the wholesale dealers at Rainbow center, “Daughter of the East” (an audio/video compilation) has sold more then 3.3 million copies to date.

The ceremonies today are expected to culminate with special prayers at 05:20 p.m. [PST], “about the time Benazir was attacked,” Dawn noted. Security precautions have reportedly been taken to ward off potential violence today. Dawn reported in its coverage, “A special wall has been erected around the mausoleum as part of a raft of precautions taken to safeguard President Zardari. Closed-circuit cameras have been installed, and mourners were required to pass through metal detectors.”

Benazir’s assassination was an immense tragedy for Pakistan, regardless of what your political affiliation or past feelings were towards the former PM. Her death was actually what inspired me to create CHUP. In my first post, written several weeks after Bhutto’s assasination, I noted, “Today, assassinations of former Pakistani leaders are a tragedy not just because of the person or persons involved but because of the moderate voice that was extinguished in the process.” Benazir’s return to the Pakistani political stage last year was without a doubt courageous, not just because she inspired supporters of her  own party, but because she did it in the face of militant death threats and daily violence. She did not hide behind the safety of closed doors. She delivered many of her speeches in large rallies that inspired those at the grassroots level. Although this populist approach essentially ended her life [she was shot as she left her political rally], she became a larger-than-life figure after her death, evidenced by the countless numbers of people that have gathered to commemorate her death anniversary. So, today, remember what Benazir Bhutto symbolized – someone not afraid to stand up for her country and for her people, regardless of what forces stood against her.

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On Friday, media outlets reported that Pakistan has cancelled leave for “operational” armed forces personnel and redeployed troops to the Indian border amid simmering tensions with New Delhi. According to the AFP, “Both sides have said they do not want war, but warn they would act if provoked.” Although Pakistan’s chief military spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas declined to comment on the development, a “senior defense ministry official” told the news agency, “We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat. Leaves of all operational personnel of the armed forces have been canceled as a defensive measure.” Although the NY Times cited a senior official who reportedly refused to say where the troops would be redeployed, the Associated Press provided more details in its coverage, noting, “Two intelligence officials said the army’s 14th Division was being redeployed to the towns of Kasur and Sialkot, close to the Indian border. They said some 20,000 troops were on the move.”  A senior security official told AFP the new deployments on the Indian border were not in “significant numbers, but only in areas opposite the points where India is believed to have brought forward its troops.” The forces are reportedly being pulled from the Afghan border, deepening concerns among American officials “about Pakistan’s commitment to battling Taliban militants in the country’s lawless western frontier regions,” noted the Times.

According to the NY Times, “The redeployment came as Indian authorities warned their citizens not to travel to Pakistan given the heightened tensions between the two nations, news agencies reported, particularly since Indian citizens had been arrested there in connection with a bombing in the Pakistani city of Lahore.” On Friday, the Indian media reported the country’s PM Manmohan Singh had summoned leaders of the Indian armed forces to further discuss the current security situation.

While it appears that tensions are reaching a climax, we should all hope that neither India nor Pakistan take that first step towards an “all-out” conflict. Although nationalist sentiment is increasing in both countries, a war is not the solution to any of the domestic or regional issues at hand. Let’s hope this action-reaction cycle of tensions and violence will stop before this conflict snowballs out of control.

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First of all, Merry Christmas to all of our Christian readers out there, and Happy Quaid-e-Azam Day to my fellow Pakistanis, since today is a national holiday  in honor of Mohammed Ali Jinnah‘s birthday, [the father of Pakistan]. Sorry that my coverage this week has been a bit sporadic – I’ve been traveling and have had limited access to the internet. However, I did read today that the Islamabad Marriott Hotel, which was bombed on September 20, [click here and here for some of CHUP’s past coverage] is slated to re-open this Sunday, December 28. According to Dawn, “Peter Alex, the chief operating officer of the Hashoo group which owns the 289-room hotel, says ‘new concepts of security and safety’ have been used in the extensive renovation work to ensure guests can check in without fear.” Alex told the AFP, “It will be the Fort Knox of Pakistan,” [referring to the site where the United States stores most of its official gold reserves].

Starting on Sunday, 60 rooms will reportedly be available for the hotel’s “soft-opening,” and the entire Marriott will be open for business starting in March. Peter Alex showed the AFP the hotel’s new “bomb-proof” wall in front of the freshly repainted building. According to the news agency, the wall is 14 feet (3.5-metre) high and 15 feet thick, and “has been designed to absorb the shock of even a massive explosion outside, like the one in September. Visitors will have to pass through a bombproof room within the wall in order to gain access to the hotel, which will feature sophisticated scanning equipment.” Although the hotel’s restaurants will also reopen on Sunday, there will be no available parking, and visitors will instead have to be dropped off at the front gate.

I will be home in Islamabad soon after the opening, and am interested to see if the re-opened and re-designed Marriott will still attract its usual crowd of people. [Image from the AFP]

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[Image from the NY Times]

By now, many of us have seen or read about Miss Pakistan World Natasha Paracha‘s CNN debacle – if you haven’t, you can watch the clip here. Paracha, who is a University of California-Berkeley graduate, caused an internet/media stir when she stated in the CNN interview, “The image of Pakistan has been threatened with these recent attacks and I feel now as Pakistanis we have to stand up and condone what has happened in the country of India and through these Mumbai attacks.” Yep, the word she used was condone, not condemn.

Before last week, I was not even aware that a Miss Pakistan World existed. Now, though, Miss Paracha seems more infamous for her on-air slip than famous for her beauty queen achievements. However, she did receive some positive media attention – the NY Times profiles her a few days after the interview, noting,

The Miss Pakistan pageant, now in its sixth year, is unique as these things go. None of this year’s 12 contestants, to start, reside in Pakistan, but hail instead from the United States, Canada and England. (The full title reflects that international flavor: Miss Pakistan World.) And the contestants do not compete for the crown in Lahore or Islamabad, but in Mississauga, Ontario. Pakistan, apparently, is not yet ready for a beauty pageant, although why that is depends on whom you ask.

According to Miss Pakistan World, reported the Times, the answer was absurdly simplistic – “It’s still a new country, and pageantry is a new concept there,” said Ms. Paracha, chic in a Nanette Lepore dress, sipping an espresso at the Blue Water Grill. “The entertainment industry is just developing.” Amna Buttar, a founder of the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights, presented an answer that was much more in line with my opinion – “In Pakistan, we are trying to get basic rights for women: right to marry, right to divorce, equal opportunity for job and education, and issues like Miss Pakistan create problems for this movement…An average Pakistani young woman does not want to wear a bikini in public, and for her it is important to have equal opportunity and all focus should be on that, and not on a pageant where only the elite can participate.”

To me, beauty pageants seem an odd way to champion female empowerment, especially in Pakistan. In the United States, these contests proclaim to “[empower] young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to express their opinions, talent and intelligence.” However, in order to be “pageant ready,” most of these women have to fulfill certain criteria, ultimately [arguably] exacerbating stereotypes more than challenging societal norms. In the case of Miss Pakistan World, the point may be “to show that Pakistani women are strong and… can definitely do a lot to represent the nation on a global sphere,” [as Paracha said on CNN] but how does the contest ultimately change the status of the average woman living in Pakistan? Does a Miss Pakistan [World] represent progress for women’s rights in the country or is it simply an extravagant waste of our time? [Left image of the pageant from the Pakistani Spectator]

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Media coverage of Pakistan today was dominated by news of the government protesting India’s alleged airspace violation. According to Dawn, “Pakistan has said that Indian air force planes ‘inadvertently’ violated its airspace last week, flying over the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and the eastern city of Lahore.” Reuters added in its coverage, “Pakistan said its own fighter jets were scrambled to chase off the intruders, but it also played down the incident by describing the violations as ‘technical‘ and ‘inadvertent.'” On Thursday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry reportedly “summoned” India’s deputy high commissioner, Manpreet Vohra, and gave him a written letter against the intrusions, “saying they contravened a 1991 agreement aimed at preventing such incidents.” AAJ Television reported, “The note conveyed the ‘concern of the government of Pakistan on technical and airspace violations by Indian aircraft on December 12 and 13 in non-conformity with a bilateral agreement.'”

Reuters quoted an Indian Air Force spokesman, Mahesh Upasani, who reiterated India’s claims that they had not violated Pakistan’s airspace. He told the news agency, “We stand by what we said earlier, that we have not violated their airspace. This is not true.” After the incident allegedly took place last week, GEO Television reported, both President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yousaf Raza Gilani called the incident, a “technical error.”

India on Tuesday stated that the Indo-Pak peace process has been placed on “hold,” although it emphasized that it “was not preparing for war.” Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also made diplomatic statements Wednesday, expressing confidence that bilateral dialogue would resume. However, given the current state of affairs, India canceled their 2009 cricket tour of Pakistan, which was slated to take place during the months of January and February. CNN reported, “Indian Cricket Board officer Ratnakar Shetty confirmed they had been notified about the government’s decision although he did not rule out the matches going ahead at a neutral venue.” He told the news agency, “No decision has been made on playing Pakistan at a neutral venue…We have not planned an alternative tour as yet.” BBC News added in its coverage, “It is the third major cricket tour to Pakistan this year to be canceled on security grounds. Australia pulled out of their scheduled visit in March, while the International Cricket Council also postponed the Champions Trophy one-day tournament in September.” The news agency added, “The Pakistan Cricket Board fears this latest decision could cost it £13 million.” [Image from Reuters]

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[Image of Hindu Protests from Reuters]

On Wednesday, media outlets reported on various protests occurring in Pakistan in response to the government’s crackdown on the Jamat-ud-Dawa, an Islamic charity organization that many allege is a front group for the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the Kashmiri-based militant group suspected of being behind last month’s Mumbai attacks, [see this recent CHUP piece for more background]. According to the Associated Press today, more than 100 children rallied against the United Nationsfor branding the Pakistani charity that runs their schools a terrorist front.” The news agency added, “The girls and boys protesting Wednesday in Karachi claim the U.N.’s move is hampering their studies.”

Dawn cited officials in Balochistan today, who stated that the closure of the Jamat-ud-Dawa offices has “hampered earthquake relief in the area,” [the earthquake struck the province in October, see related post]. Abdul Basir, mayor of the quake-hit town of Rod Mullazai in southwestern Balochistan, said, [Jamat-ud-Dawa] were engaged in relief work, they were helping the affected families by providing shelter, warm clothing and food…” The charity said they would provide 600 new homes in the area, but have had to abandon the work following the ban.

Pakistan’s minorities also protested yesterday for the charity, reported GEO Television. According to the news channel, about 300 people from the Hindu and Christian communities demonstrated in Hyderabad, just north of Karachi. GEO noted, “Bhai Chand, a Hindu community leader, said Pakistani government restrictions recently imposed on Jamaat-ud-Dawa threatened their livelihood because the charity has set up a network of water wells in the desert.” He told the network, “The charity would always come to help us…I do not buy it that they are terrorists when they have always been helping us even though we are not Muslims,” [see video below].

It will be interesting to see if these protests will have any impact on those accusing the Jamat-ud-Dawa of being a terrorist front group. GEO cited U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who acknowledged the group’s “so-called charitable activities,” but still added the U.S. “learned the hard way, that sometimes these are too intertwined with organizations that have terrorist ties.”

Breaking News [1600 EST]: Dawn reported that investigators from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation “have concluded after interrogating the lone captured suspect, Ajmal Amir Kasab, that the Inter-Services Intelligence is not involved in the Mumbai attacks.” The news agency added, however, “The sources said that FBI investigators had also reached a conclusion that the attackers had come to Mumbai from Pakistan. The plan was hatched in Pakistan and terrorists were provided necessary training by Laskar-e-Toiba, according to the investigators.”

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