Pervez Hoodbhoy at The Express Tribune:
Once upon a time Iran was Pakistan’s close ally — probably its closest one. In 1947, Iran was the first to recognise the newly independent Pakistan. In the 1965 war with India, Pakistani fighter jets flew to Iranian bases in Zahedan and Mehrabad for protection and refuelling. Both countries were members of the US-led Seato and Cento defence pacts, Iran opened wide its universities to Pakistani students, and the Shah of Iran was considered Pakistan’s great friend and benefactor. Sometime around 1960, thousands of flag-waving school children lined the streets of Karachi to greet him. I was one of them.
The friendship has soured, replaced by low-level hostility and suspicion. In 1979, Ayatollah Khomenei’s Islamic revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, set major realignments in motion. As Iran exited the US orbit, Pakistan joined the Americans to fight the Soviets. With Saudi money, they together created and armed the hyper-religious Pashtun mujahideen. Iran too supported the mujahideen — but those of the Tajik Northern Alliance. But as religion assumed centrality in matters of state in both Pakistan and Iran, doctrinal rifts widened. More:
Matteo Tacconi at Reset Dialogues on Civilizations:
In the 19th Century the British Empire and Tsarist Russia competed for hegemony in Central Asia. London fought to slow down Moscow’s expansionism, fearing that tessera after tessera Russia would have reached the borders of India, which was Britain’s most prized possession. Russia instead worked to restrict British influence, in a region perceived both as its own backyard and as a buffer zone. The comings and goings of spies and wheeler-dealers, ruthless traders and officers, the ups and downs of plots and intrigue, double-crossing and diplomatic discourtesies reported between the Caspian and Kabul during the 19th Century were catalogued under one single heading, the Great Game. The copyright, it is said, came from Arthur Conolly, an English secret agent serving with the East India Company. The novelist Rudyard Kipling took possession of the saying, bringing it to the attention of the public.
Times change, as do situations, empires die and imperial democracies are born, but Central Asia, this vast portion of the world bordered on the west by the Caspian, on the east by China, on the north by Russia and on the south by Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, continues to be the theatre of significant manoeuvring. It is no coincidence that geopolitical analysts call it the New Great Game. China, Russia and the United States are the leading players in this competition, a trio of powers competing in a region that is crucial for global balance. The match is particularly intense in Kabul, Islamabad and Tehran, as confirmed by news reports. But the Great Game is also played in the five “stans” – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizstan – born from the fall of the Soviet Union, which together with Azerbaijan, also a former USSR republic, form the heart of the Central Asian region. Although less visible in the headlines of the world press, the debate here is equally inflamed, certainly more fluid and hence more uncertain. More:
Dawn correspondent Anwar Iqbal interviews President Obama:
‘Some people say that it is still too early to push Pakistan into a military offensive in South Waziristan; that the Pakistan army, and the Pakistani state, is not strong enough to win this war and that it may break up the country.
What do you say?’
‘Well, let me make two points. Number one, nobody can or should push the Pakistani government. The Pakistani government is accountable to the people of Pakistan,’ said Mr Obama.
‘I think the Pakistani government and the people of Pakistan recognise that when you have extremists who are assassinating moderate clerics like Dr Naeemi, when you have explosions that are killing innocent women and children, that that can’t be the path for development and prosperity for Pakistan,’ he said.
‘And so there’s been a decision that’s made that we support, that the Pakistani military and the Pakistani government will not stand by idly as extremists attempt to disrupt the country,’ Mr Obama said.
‘But ultimately these are decisions to be made by the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people. What the United States believes is, is that we are a partner in the process of peace-loving nations seeking to root out extremism, increase development, and that is the kind of role that we want to play with Pakistan.’ More:
[Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy / CC]
A CIA deal with a family of Swiss engineers helped end Libya’s bomb program, reveal Iran’s atomic labors and undo Abdul Qadeer Khan’s nuclear black market. From International Herald Tribune:
The president of Switzerland stepped to a podium in Bern last May and read a statement confirming rumors that had swirled through the capital for months. The government, he acknowledged, had indeed destroyed a huge trove of computer files and other material documenting the business dealings of a family of Swiss engineers suspected of helping smuggle nuclear technology to Libya and Iran.
The files were of particular interest not only to Swiss prosecutors but to international atomic inspectors working to unwind the activities of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani bomb pioneer-turned-nuclear black marketeer. The Swiss engineers, Friedrich Tinner and his two sons, were accused of having deep associations with Khan, acting as middlemen in his dealings with rogue nations seeking nuclear equipment and expertise.
The Swiss president, Pascal Couchepin, took no questions. But he asserted that the files – which included an array of plans for nuclear arms and technologies, among them a highly sophisticated Pakistani bomb design – had been destroyed so that they would never fall into terrorist hands.
Behind that official explanation, though, is a far more intriguing tale of spies, moles and the compromises that governments make in the name of national security.
In The Times, UK, a review of A Jihad for Love, a film about gay Muslims by Parvez Sharma. Parvez was born and raised in India, and educated in India, the US, and the UK. He lives in New York.
Inevitably, Parvez Sharma filmed some moving testimonies in A Jihad for Love, a collection of real-life stories that show what it is like to be gay or lesbian and living within, or in the shadow, of Islam. The stories come from Iran, Turkey, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
Sharma isn’t your typical campaigning film-maker. He shows how tough life can be for his subjects though he believes strongly that gay activists have behaved arrogantly in their condemnation of Iran which is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon of “Iran-bashing”. He adds: “Around 70 per cent of Iran’s population is under 30: issues are being talked about, it’s a vibrant society. And don’t forget history: a long time ago the West looked to the East as a place where homosexuality was tolerated, sometimes celebrated.”
Like America’s overt support for the Shah, assisting Musharraf is risky for several reasons, writes Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, in The Washington Post.
America’s most vulnerable ally in the war on terror is Pakistan. But our alliance with the nuclear-armed Islamic state may be exacerbating that country’s instability.
For eight years, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has delayed, deferred and ultimately denied his citizens the right to freely choose their next leader. U.S. policymakers and analysts concede that Musharraf’s autocratic rule is a problem but fear that whoever replaces him may be worse.
Once before in that part of the world, Washington backed a high-profile ruler without regard to his constituents’ wishes: Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi of Iran. The result was a fiasco for American foreign policy.
Eurasia Group, a global political risk advisory and consulting firm, released on Wednesday its list of 10 leaders to watch in 2008. The list, published in Mint, includes leaders whose performance will have global implications.
“The first four leaders on our list-from Iran, France, Russia, and Pakistan-will be making decisions for their countries that have powerful geostrategic implications,” said the Eurasia Group.
Iran’s conflict with the West and Pakistan’s internal conflict could have dramatic implications for global security in 2008, and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Pervez Musharraf are key players in these struggles,” it added. The list also includes those who will exert considerable influence on their own countries which, in turn, have important roles to play in the emerging global order.
The list includes Mayawati, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.