Tag Archive for 'Zardari'

When Manmohan Singh comes to Islamabad

Pervez Hoodbhoy in the Express Tribune:

The coincidence between President Asif Ali Zardari’s sprint to Delhi last week, and the $10 million head-money on Hafiz Saeed announced by the US could be purely accidental. But this action certainly refocused Indian attention on the alleged Mumbai attack planner, who heads the pantheon of jihadi ‘heroes’ that now freely parades across Pakistan. In such circumstances, holding the olive branch before PM Manmohan Singh surely required guts. The scepticism to Zardari in India was, of course, predictable.

It is easy to pooh-pooh the visit. Mr Zardari is not a popular president or a clean one, and the PPP is unlikely to survive the elections scheduled in a few months from now. Plus, he wields no power on issues that India considers critical: nuclear weapons, Kashmir, and Afghanistan. Most importantly, he can do nothing to rein in the anti-India jihadist network, a matter that belongs squarely to the army’s domain. Moving against Hafiz Saeed is not an option. Zardari cannot forget Memogate — which he somehow survived but Ambassador Husain Haqqani did not.

And yet, a weak and embattled government did something refreshingly good for the country. According India, the MFN status for trade and related commercial activity is sure to be a game-changer that could bring peace and prosperity to the region.Ignoring the angry howls of the Difah-e-Pakistan crowd, the government for once listened to the country’s majority — most Pakistanis do want trade with India even though they consider it a threat. More:

Just neighbours at lunch

Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh. The author, Sanjaya Baru, is second from right. He was media advisor to the prime minister from 2004-08.

Sanjaya Baru in The Indian Express:

Musharraf’s public solicitation of an invitation from India was met with stunning silence from New Delhi. After waiting for a couple of days, the Indian media became restive for a response. Several journalists called me to find out if the PM was aware of Musharraf’s stated desire and whether he would invite the Pakistan president to come watch a match. I walked into the PM’s room in South Block and sought an answer. “I have been advised that this is not a good time for a visit because the budget session is going on”, the PM told me. “The foreign ministry will inform Pakistan that the visit can take place sometime later.”

I asked the PM if he and his diplomatic advisors had considered what headline they would get the next morning — “Musharraf wants to go to India to watch a cricket match. India says no!” The PM laughed and asked, “So what do you think we should do? You realise if he visits India, it will not be just to watch a cricket match but for formal discussions”. True, but for now Musharraf was only seeking an invitation to watch a cricket match. I urged the PM to invite him for the match and let things take their own course. If there is a meeting, so be it! He agreed and I could see he was quite willing to invite Musharraf and continue their conversation from where it had left off in September 2004.

The PM picked up the phone and summoned foreign secretary Shyam Saran and national security advisor M.K. Narayanan. Within minutes they joined us. “Sanjaya says I must invite Musharraf”, he told his two senior aides who already appeared unhappy to find me present at such a hurriedly convened meeting with the PM. Both of them stared at me with total disapproval, as if to say, “who are you to poke your nose into such matters of high national importance”.

Both rejected my advice. In the meanwhile, we were joined by the PM’s principal secretary T.K.A. Nair and secretary in the PMO, Pulok Chatterjee. I explained to them the logic of my advice to the PM. Both Nair and Chatterjee agreed with me. The PM turned to Saran and asked him to draft a letter of invitation to Musharraf. The meeting ended.

I was asked not to breathe a word to the media till the diplomats did their job of deciding date and venue, and getting a formal acceptance of the PM’s invitation from Islamabad. More:

President Zardari suddenly leaves Pakistan — is he on the way out?

From Foreign Policy:

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari left Pakistan suddenly on Tuesday, complaining of heart pains, and is now in Dubai. His planned testimony before a joint session of Pakistan’s parliament on the Memogate scandal is now postponed indefinitely.

On Dec. 4, Zardari announced that he would address Pakistan’s parliament about the Memogate issue, in which his former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani stands accused of orchestrating a scheme to take power away from Pakistan’s senior military and intelligence leadership and asking for U.S. help in preventing a military coup. Haqqani has denied that he wrote the memo at the heart of the scheme, which also asked for U.S. support for the Zardari government and promised to realign Pakistani foreign policy to match U.S. interests.

The memo was passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to former National Security Advisor Jim Jones, to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen on May 10, only nine days after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad.

Ijaz has repeatedly accused Haqqani of being behind the memo, and Ijaz claims that Haqqani was working with Zardari’s implicit support. More:

Zardari not quitting, says spokesman: Asif Ali Zardari has gone to Dubai for medical tests, his spokesman said on Wednesday as speculation mounted in the country that the President may step down, apparently under intense army pressure over the ‘memogate’ scandal. Reacting to reports that Zardari, who is at the centre of the controversy, may bow out, Farhatullah Babar described them as “totally speculative”.

The reports in The Cable — a blog of prestigious US magazine Foreign Policy – had said Zardari, who had gone to Dubai for treatment, would not return apparently giving in to intense heat put up by the powerful Generals.

Pakistan: sadly, there’s only one Imran Khan

Tariq Ali in The Guardian:

Poor Pakistan. Floods of biblical proportions; millions homeless; a president who pretends to be shocked by cricket’s latest betting scandal when his own persona is the embodiment of corruption. A prime minister shedding crocodile tears because of the cricketing “shame” rather than tending to allegations that flood-relief money has gone missing. And now a sleep-walking cricket captain attempting to deny the ugly truth, but without real conviction, hoping against hope that he will ride out the crisis like others before him and that his bosses in Pakistan’s cricket establishment will cast a veil over this one as well.

Even if guilty, Salman Butt and his vice-captain Kamran Akmal will try to give the appearance of having no idea of the seriousness of the allegations and will try to talk their way back, hoping, as in the past, that after a few gentle raps on the knuckles they can revert to business as usual. That would be a real tragedy, a green light to semi-legalise match fixing, and not just in Pakistan.

The Pakistan Cricket Board is a long-standing joke, its chairmen replaced with every change of government. The current boss, Ijaz Butt, is the brother-in-law of Pakistan’s defence minister, a crony of President Zardari. The International Cricket Council and the England and Wales Cricket Board – somewhat pathetic bodies dominated by political and financial interests respectively – should not fudge this one. Whether Pakistan batting collapses were psychological or based on material interests we still do not know. But the moral collapse of this team stares all cricket-lovers in the face. Any perpetrators should be on the next plane home and the ringleaders given life bans. If guilty, the teenage bowling sensation Mohammad Amir should be banned for some years. His idol, Wasim Akram, is not the best role model on this front. More:

Sixty-three and down on our knees

Ardeshir Cowasjee in Dawn:

Asif Ali Zardari

Cried Cassio in Shakespeare’s Othello: “Reputation, reputation, reputation! O, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial. My reputation, Iago, my reputation!”

Later, in that great tragedy, arch-villain Iago provokes Othello: “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls: Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”

This latter quote was passionately used by Benazir as prime minister, defending herself in the National Assembly in her second round on but one of the occasions during which she was subjected to allegations of corruption, due in no small part to the suspected misdeeds of her husband-minister.

Now, many years later, the latest presidential capers have dragged Pakistan even deeper through the mud and surely put off to an even larger extent the already reluctant donors who keep it afloat.

The husband-minister was transformed accidentally, as a result of an unresolved tragedy, into the head of state of a wounded nation. His reputation preceded him, as it always has done since he married Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter, and as it unfortunately magnified itself year by year. This month his country, and ours, has suffered most grievously, and his current reputation and that of his government with it. More:

Pakistan spies have ‘seat on Taliban council’

Andrew Buncombe, The Independent:

Pakistan’s notorious spy agency provides crucial funding and training to Taliban fighters operating inside Afghanistan and is represented on the movement’s leadership council, according to a new report that says links between the two are deeper than previously believed.

Such is the importance of the relationship, says the report, that President Asif Ali Zardari recently visited Taliban prisoners, assuring them they would soon be released and telling them: “You are our people.”

While links between the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency and the Taliban have been known for many years, the report by the London School of Economics, based on interviews with Taliban commanders inside Afghanistan, suggests it is the “official policy” of Pakistan, which sees the fighters as providing strategic depth.

“The ISI orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences the movement,” said its author, Matt Waldman. More:

Heir reluctant

Hartosh Singh Bal interviews Fatima Bhutto. From Open:

Q What did Benazir see in Zardari?

A Wonderful question, I wouldn’t know how to answer it. She really did love him. She opted for an arranged marriage so she chose him. It was not an accidental decision.

Q Your book offers another way of looking at Zardari. You mention your grandfather humiliated his father. Wouldn’t it be natural for him to look for some recompense on marrying Benazir?

A His story is indeed unusual. In a perverse way, it can be seen as a revenge story. But what is missing is the hard work, the pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. He is a man very connected to money and greed. A man who believes once you are in power, you can make the rules. In his father’s case, more than the humiliation, the story that matters to me is the story of a man who jumped from party to party and was part of an anti-Bhutto alliance. More:

Also read Aakar Patel in The News: Reading Fatima Bhutto in Bombay

The literary gladiator

Fatima Bhutto says Pakistan’s President had a hand in her father’s death. Samrat in the Hindustan Times:

I ask her where she sees herself living. In Pakistan, she says. And will she join politics? “No. “I always wanted to be a writer. I followed journalists and writers, they were my heroes”.

Like who, I ask. The first writer she names, strangely enough, is Malcolm X. “I liked his autobiography very much”. And Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. “They were prolific writers but undeniably political”.

“Is there anything in Pakistani politics you think is right?” I ask.

“Currently?” she asks. I nod, yes.

There’s a long pause. Finally, getting no response, I say “I take it there isn’t”.

The good work is done by ordinary people, not the government, she responds. “Like the people who brought attention to the disappeared during the War on Terror. They’re ordinary people, family members and local reporters … They are the backbone of the country. “.

In the government itself, she sees no hope. Or in the international community for that matter. “America is fighting this highly unjust war. It needs unjust rulers to help it. They will allow someone like this to remain in power so long as he follows their orders. And he is. We have drone attacks on an almost daily basis”, she says.

Who is in charge in Pakistan, I ask. “It seems America is”. And America is in charge in Afghanistan as well. And in charge of Pakistan’s relations with India, she adds. More:

And C. Raja Mohan in The Indian Express: Among the few common features shared by South Asian nations are dynastic power and political violence. The friction between the two is marked by frequent political assassinations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And nowhere has the intersection been bloodier than in what Pakistan’s Bhuttos had to bear. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto founded the political dynasty and gave it a powerful populist platform, the Pakistan People’s Party. More than three decades after his assassination, the PPP remains the only mass party with a following in all the provinces of Pakistan. More:

Pakistan’s advocates of justice

Robert Fisk reports from Islamabad in The Independent:

Three years ago, Pakistan’s dethroned chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was portrayed in the American press as a nationalist firebrand, intent on destroying the Washington-friendly Dictator-General-President Pervez Musharraf.

And today – a year after he was restored to his Supreme Court post – Mr Chaudhry is being condemned by some as a closet fundamentalist, a pseudo-Taliban anxious to overthrow his country’s dodgy democracy.

Mr Chaudhry once again became the most prominent man in Pakistan this week when he pursued the civilian government of Asif Ali Zardari over allegations of corruption. As a result of his threats, officials in Islamabad took the surprising step yesterday of asking the Swiss authorities to reopen a series of old money-laundering allegations against Mr Zardari, a move which opens the prospect of the sitting President facing a criminal investigation. More:

To ward off evil, Zardari kills one black goat a day

From Dawn:

A black goat is slaughtered almost daily to ward off ‘evil eyes’ and protect President Asif Ali Zardari from ‘black magic’. Does this, and the use of camel and goat milk, make the beleaguered president appear to be a superstitious man?

Well, not to his spokesman. “It has been an old practice of Mr Zardari to offer Sadqa (animal sacrifice). He has been doing this for a long time,” spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn on Tuesday. More:

Pakistan in 2010

From the Economist:

By its recent chaotic standards, Pakistan had quite a good 2009. Admittedly, more than 2m people were displaced by fighting between the army and Taliban militants. The economy was in the doldrums. And a threat of political crisis, pitting President Asif Zardari against his main rival, Nawaz Sharif, loomed. Yet his government, a coalition led by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), looked stable. An injection of IMF cash—and a promise from America of an extra $1.5 billion a year—kept its creditors at bay. And the army, despite much suffering, won the biggest victories of a floundering eight-year campaign on its north-west frontier. Without catastrophic violence—an important assassination or a terrorist attack in India—Pakistan will be messy, but stable after this fashion, in 2010.

The army will also make a bit more progress against the militants. Goaded into action in early 2009, after the Taliban seized areas of North-West Frontier Province alarmingly close to Islamabad, it pushed them back ruthlessly. Compounding the Taliban’s troubles, their supreme leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was responsible for a two-year suicide-bomb spree (and allegedly for the 2007 murder of Mr Zardari’s wife, Benazir Bhutto), was killed by an American missile last August. And in October the army launched an assault on his former fief, in South Waziristan. Alas, it has shown no interest in pursuing members of the other Taliban, Afghanistan’s former rulers, who have found refuge in Pakistan. More:

Who will save Pakistan?

Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto in The News, Pakistan:

While the entire focus is on the game of musical chairs being played by Zardari and Nawaz Sharif and the question being asked is “When will Zardari quit?”

The Zardari-Sharif game is easy to comprehend: Zardari, of course, has no desire to vacate the house on the hill and has devised a strategy of paying out the rope a little when the pull gets too strong in the tug-of-war for power. First of all, it was reconciliation, through which Zardari appeased the opposition and, beyond his wildest dreams, got the top job while others too received huge shares of power. Consequently, there are 90 federal ministers and advisers, compared to less than 20 during the tenure of Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, each of them costing people Rs100,000 per day. Then we have the repeated agreements at Bhurban, Islamabad, Dubai and London to restore the judges, but Zardari relented only in the face of the long march. However, he did manage to get a few months’ reprieve out of the wrangle. Recently there has been the matter of the NRO and finally the surrender on that too, which has again bought Zardari another respite until the fate of the cases against him and his fellow travellers are decided by the courts. More:

A year of Zardari

Sardar Mumtaz Ali Bhutto in the News:

The present dispensation is the direct result of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto’s murder. It is believed that the deal sponsored by the Americans between Musharraf and her, was “Plan A.” She deviated from this on her return to Pakistan and had to be eliminated. This is a view recently supported by Gen (Retd.) Aslam Baig, former chief of army staff. Thus, the standby “Plan B” came into operation and her long-estranged husband came on the scene. A controversial and often-questioned will emerged, according to which Asif Ali Zardari was made co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

It is not astonishing or surprising that Plan B has worked. The rot that set in with Zia’s success in corrupting not just politics but the very mindset of people, and is a practice advanced by all his successors to facilitate a shortcut to power. Thus even the most sceptical elements in the PPP found it expedient to climb onto the Zardari bandwagon. High offices, membership of assemblies, advisory positions and access to the corridors of power was just around the corner, and it became imperative to pretend that the emperor was fully clothed. “Democracy is the best revenge” was the absurd slogan coined to bury the murder of Benazir, while referring the matter to a UN tribunal was done to seek a permanent closure of this sordid chapter.

Thus began the journey to Olympus at the foot of Margalla Hills fuelled by the endless use of the “Jiay Bhutto” slogan and crocodile tears for Benazir. Meanwhile, people continued to be fed the stale promise of not only their supremacy but the forty-year-old clichés of roti, kapra aur makan and that democracy was gospel and Parliament sovereign. To this was added the concept of reconciliation and change of the system. More:

Eyewitness: Pakistan

In the New York Times, Joshua Kurlantzick reviews “To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan,” by Nicholas Schmidle:

schmidle_bookTaking office in January, Barack Obama promised a radically different vision of foreign policy from that of his predecessor. But on perhaps the most critical issue, the new king looks a lot like the old one. In Pakistan, President Obama has retained the Bush administration’s targeted drone missile attacks against suspected militants and may quietly be expanding the Central Intelligence Agency’s covert battle against jihadis along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

As Nicholas Schmidle, a contributor to publications including The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic and Slate, reveals in a richly reported book based on his two years traveling across Pakistan, United States policy does not change because Pakistan, sadly, does not change. Birthed in 1947 by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the lawyer son of a rich merchant, the country remains in the grip of venal, feudal, wealthy politician-landlords like the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif and the current president, Asif Ali Zardari, for whom democracy means one vote one time, after which the victors go on to dominate indefinitely. Worse, greed and graft have led Islamabad’s ruling class to ignore large portions of the population, who remain illiterate, and their incompetent governance has opened the door to Islamists’ offering average Pakistanis promises that the first Mayor Daley would have recognized – safe and orderly streets – not through machine politics but through the brutal application of Shariah law. More:

Pakistan’s governance deficit

Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News, in the Financial Times:

One year and some months in office may seem like early days in extraordinary times for the coalition government led by President Asif Zardari but there is a discernible pattern to the nature and quality of its governance.

So far the government’s performance has been uninspired and uninspiring. Even if allowance is made for the daunting and complex challenges at hand its record has been underwhelming. Its momentum has seemed to sag, and there is still no sense of direction. It has adopted a patchwork approach to addressing fundamental issues and relied on firefighting rather than evolving a thoughtful and coherent strategy.

Several features seem to have become hallmarks of the style and substance of governance of the PPP-led administration. Six key characteristics can be identified as: 1) Unstructured or informal governance; 2) Decision making confined to a cabal or narrow circle with close ties to the president; 3) Reactive mode of addressing issues; 4) Substituting platitudes for policy; 5) Using parliament as a passive body to affirm rather than debate and shape policy actions; and 6) A proclivity to focus excessively on external help to address internal issues. More:

Do Pakistan’s gains in the Swat valley mean it is overcoming the Taliban?

Andrew Buncombe in the Independent:

swatWhy is the battle for Swat so important?

Before it fell under the mounting influence of the Taliban two years ago, the stunning, rugged valley was a popular tourist destination for middle-class Pakistanis and – unlike the tribal areas – was seen a part of “Pakistan proper”. But after militants took effective control of the valley and then, in April, spilled into several neighbouring areas, including Buner and Lower Dir, no more than 60 miles from Islamabad, there was mounting pressure on the government to act.

The Obama administration considers the operation a test of resolve for President Asif Ali Zardari and the Pakistani military following years of claims that the army has been reluctant or unable to go to war against the militants. In turn, the Pakistani leadership has pitched the operation as nothing less than a fight for the survival of the country. As such, to this point, it appears to have a fair degree of popular support – even if Mr Zardari himself does not.

Had the government tried to do a deal with the Taliban?

Among the population of Swat – which until 1969 was a so-called princely state and not fully incorporated into Pakistan – there was mounting frustration with the official justice system. People complained about corruption and bureaucracy. The valley had a tradition of Sharia or Islamic law and the Taliban seized on the people’s desire for speedier justice to push for the establishment of Sharia. The militants’ version of this code, however, was overwhelmingly brutal; girls schools were burned, people were flogged or beheaded and women were banned from appearing in public.

Despite this, the government brokered a ceasefire deal in February that involved the establishment of official Sharia courts. But the Taliban failed to meet its end of the deal and lay down its weapons. In April, as the Taliban started to extend its grip into surrounding areas, the military launched its operation. More:

Pakistan on the brink

Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

To get to President Asif Ali Zardari’s presidential palace in the heart of Islamabad for dinner is like running an obstacle course. Pakistan’s once sleepy capital, full of restaurant-going bureaucrats and diplomats, is now littered with concrete barriers, blast walls, checkpoints, armed police, and soldiers; as a result of recent suicide bombings the city now resembles Baghdad or Kabul. At the first checkpoint, two miles from the palace, they have my name and my car’s license number. There are seven more checkpoints to negotiate along the way.

Apart from traveling to the airport by helicopter to take trips abroad, the President stays inside the palace; he fears threats to his life by the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda, who in December 2007 killed his wife, the charismatic Benazir Bhutto, then perhaps the country’s only genuine national leader. Zardari’s isolation has only added to his growing unpopularity, his indecisiveness, and the public feeling that he is out of touch. Even as most Pakistanis have concluded that the Taliban now pose the greatest threat to the Pakistani state since its cre- ation, the president, the prime minister, and the army chief have, until recently, been in a state of denial of reality.

“We are not a failed state yet but we may become one in ten years if we don’t receive international support to combat the Taliban threat,” Zardari indignantly says, pointing out that in contrast to the more than $11 billion former president Pervez Musharraf received from the US in the years after the September 11 attacks, his own administration has received only between “$10 and $15 million,” despite all the new American promises of aid. More:

Pakistan’s ‘Daily Show’ diplomacy

From the New York Times news blog The Lede:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
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Last week on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart showed part of a CNN interview (embedded above) in which Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Husain Haqqani, responded to questions about why his government has been unable to defeat the Taliban insurgency by asking a question of his own: “Why hasn’t the United States, with all the might at its disposal, been able to put down the Taliban in Afghanistan since 9/11?”

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
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While Mr. Stewart pointed out that diverting U.S. resources away from Afghanistan and toward Iraq might be part of the answer, clearly another part is that the Taliban withdrew across the border into safe havens inside Pakistan to regroup. Explaining why that was allowed to happen is clearly one of the trickier parts of the job of being Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States these days. More:

Karzai and Zardari on Charlie Rose

On a recent visit to Washington, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari sat down together for an exclusive conversation with “Charlie Rose tonight”. This is the first time the leaders of these two countries have done such an interview. Below, the full transcript of the interview [via SAJA]:

Charlie Rose:

There is no protocol for where I start, so I’ll just begin from left to right. What do you hope this accomplishes? And what do you believe it accomplishes?

Asif Ali Zardari:

Well, I personally feel that this should have been done much earlier. We are three countries facing the same challenge. And how unfortunate that nobody ever thought of this before. I am new at my job. I’ve been president of Pakistan seven months. But there are establishments around, and I think it’s a great accomplishment. I think that President Obama’s — this idea is very good. We bring a lot of strength to each other. And our people bring a lot of understanding to each other. So I think it’s better late than never, and I think it’s a step in the right direction.

Charlie Rose:

President Karzai.

Hamid Karzai:

Very good idea that we are together. This was a positive event in helping a better understanding and cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a better ground for better improvement for the United States of America with both of us in the common [unintelligible] of us in the struggle against terrorism.

Charlie Rose:

I would like for both of you to tell me what you believe is at stake in this moment from what is going on in Afghanistan with the Taliban, what is going on in Pakistan with the Taliban.

Hamid Karzai:

What is at stake is, of course, our freedom, the security of our lives, our future prosperity and well-being and the security of the world at large. If we do not make our two countries and the region secure from the threats of terrorism and radicalism, it will travel further afield into the rest of the world, as it did. Therefore, it’s not only the two countries that are at risk, having great stakes, but the rest of the world too. And that’s why the United States and its allies are there.

Asif Ali Zardari:

I would agree. I would second that motion totally of my brother Karzai, that the world is at stake, not just our two nations, the way of our life and our coming generations. But there’s a challenge to the world which needs to be stemmed.

Charlie Rose:

What specific things happened here that will allow things to be done that have not been done before so that the Taliban has advanced to levels and proximity to Islamabad and in Afghanistan that worries everyone? What steps here? Continue reading ‘Karzai and Zardari on Charlie Rose’

Trouble comes in threes

Huma Yusuf in The Indian Express:

The problem with a love triangle is that someone always winds up with a broken heart. As Pakistanis rejoice at the restoration of the deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, I can’t help but wonder who will come away broken-hearted from the sordid entanglement that brought Chaudhry, President Asif Zardari, and Pakistan Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif together in an ill-fated ménage a trois. Flags are waving in the streets of Islamabad and Lahore, music is blaring, congratulatory text messages are being forwarded, and bloggers are beginning to tire of the words “historic day.”

So, is President Zardari the triangle’s victim?


Missing you already

Fatima Bhutto in The New Statesman:

mush“Droned” is a verb we use now in Pakistan. It turns out, interestingly enough, that those US predator drones that have been killing Pakistani citizens almost weekly have been taking off from and landing within our own country. Secret airbases in Balochistan – what did we ever do before Google Earth?

The PPP-led government, hailed as being “democratic”, capitulated to the Pakistan Taliban’s demands for sharia law in the Swat Valley in February. There was no vote, no referendum, nothing. The government, tired of fighting those pesky militants who’ve been burning down Sufi shrines and local girls’ schools, just declared that a part of the country would be ruled no longer by federal law, but by a myopically interpreted and Taliban-approved “Islamic” code. And verily it shall be.


Inside Swat Valley: Just 100 miles from Islamabad…

The Zardari Government is making peace with the Taliban which is hanging amputated bodies from electric poles. In Tehelka, Islamabad-based journalist Amir Mateen analyses the dangers for Pakistan:

The rich have left for Peshawar – 70 miles away, and the richer for more posh Islamabad – 100 miles in the south. The poor, with no place to go, suffered the trauma that makes Hollywood horrors look like a picnic. Intelligence sources dubbed as ‘spies’ and government officials – particularly from law-enforcing agencies – were specifically targeted by the Taliban. They were abducted and maimed and their killing turned into a gruesome spectacle in order to send a message to others.

The reign of terror is symbolised by what has come to be known as Khooni Chowk – the Crossing of Blood. A band of Taliban would, late at night, block the central crossing in the city centre of Mingora, the district headquarters the size of Srinagar and no less beautiful. They hung amputated bodies – some headless – on an electrical pole in the middle of the crossing, with notes giving their name and details of their ‘misdeeds’ against Islam. The bodies were not to be removed before a given date. Anybody violating this dictat could do so only at the risk of being himself put up headless.

Click here for the rest of the story.

Also in Tehelka, Ahmed Rashid, author of a book on the Taliban, tells that even India needs to worry enormously. In an interview with Harinder Baweja, Rashid said: “The fact is that there are Pakistani Taliban fighting in Afghanistan and there are Afghan Taliban fighting in Pakistan. I think it would very immature for us to be in a state of denial about that. The Afghans are not in denial about that but elements in Pakistan certainly are.” More here:

A secret CIA airbase in southern Pakistan

Tom Coghlan in Kabul, Zahid Hussain in Islamabad and Jeremy Page in Delhi. From The Times:

The CIA is secretly using an airbase in southern Pakistan to launch the Predator drones that observe and attack al-Qaeda and Taleban militants on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan, a Times investigation has found.

The Pakistani and US governments have repeatedly denied that Washington is running military operations, covert or otherwise, on Pakistani territory – a hugely sensitive issue in the predominantly Muslim country.

The Pakistani Government has also repeatedly demanded that the US halt drone attacks on northern tribal areas that it says have caused hundreds of civilian casualties and fuelled anti-American sentiment.


Dangerous double game that mirrors Pakistan’s identity crisis

Jeremy Page in The Times:

The discovery of a secret CIA airbase in southern Pakistan exposes the dangerous double game that Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s President, has to play as he tries to manage relations both with the United States and with a fiercely anti-American public.

While he is criticised in Washington for surrendering to the Taleban by allowing Sharia in the Swat Valley, he will be lambasted at home for allowing the Americans to use a Pakistani base to launch drone attacks on his own territory.


Moment of truth for Pakistan’s transition

India might now do well to resist the temptation to behave as the U.S. did after 9/11, and show the world how a responsible and confident Asian power carries itself even when in pain. Haris Gazdar in the Hindu:

Who knows if the timing of Mumbai had anything to do with the struggle within the Pakistani state, but it is worth remembering that Mr. Musharraf’s coup followed Kargil, which followed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s bus yatra to Lahore. Mumbai is relevant to Pakistan’s transition because regardless of any evidence of Pakistani complicity, the policy of reconciliation with India requires that assistance requested should be rendered. The civilian leadership was right to respond positively to India’s request for high-level representation of Pakistan’s secret agencies, and it was wrong to wriggle out of its commitment. The rethink may have been forced by the military’s displeasure.

Nevertheless, the ball is now in the court of the military. By falling in line with the civilian government’s diplomatic effort they will reveal their intention to be on board in the transition.


Zardari: ‘Pakistan in no way responsible’ for Mumbai attacks

Pakistan president on CNN Larry King Live:

zadariPakistani President Asif Ali Zardari denied his nation was involved in last week’s deadly attacks on Mumbai, India, and told CNN on Tuesday he’s seen no evidence that a suspect in custody is a Pakistani national as Indian officials claim.

“I think these are stateless actors who have been operating all throughout the region,” Zardari said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in an interview set to air Tuesday night. “The gunmen plus the planners, whoever they are, [are] stateless actors who have been holding hostage the whole world.”

Click here for full transcript:

King: What do you know about this lone surviving attacker, the man that’s in custody? Is he definitely a Pakistani?

Zardari: Not as yet. We have not been giving any tangible proof to say that he is definitely a Pakistani. I very much doubt, Larry, that he’s a Pakistani.

King: Really? Who do you think — what’s your guess?

ZARDARI: Like I said, these are stateless individuals who operate throughout — I mean, I’ve got a situation in Pakistan that the fourth largest army in the world is challenged on my border on the west. I’ve got 150 people out, boys out, soldiers out. We have casualties every day.

We’ve had incidents just the past two days in Karachi where we’ve lost more than 40 to 45 people, hundreds injured. These are stateless actors who are moving throughout this region.

Zardari is even more afraid than Musharraf

In The Spectator, Stephen Schwartz and Irfan Al-Alawi say the Marriott bomb in Islamabad shows how weak the new Pakistani President is in the face of the Talebanised sectors of this failing state:

The Pakistani Taleban could not wage war across the border were it not for the long-standing infiltration of the Pakistani army and ISI by jihadists. For years, the Pakistani-Indian conflict over Kashmir was the pretext for ignoring this. Similarly, rivalry with India served as the justification for Mr Zardari’s predecessor, General Pervez Musharraf, to protect Abdul Qadeer Khan, the alleged rogue physicist who we now know helped provide nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. Zardari’s rival and occasional partner, Nawaz Sharif, a recent resident of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, continues his historic alignment with the jihadists.

Zardari insists that his government can handle the situation without foreign involvement. Such arguments are simply more rhetoric. They cover a policy of accommodation with the Taleban invaders, best exemplified when the Pakistani army fired at US helicopters on 21 September, the day after the Marriott atrocity. A week before, Pakistani forces were officially ordered to shoot at American troops if the latter crossed the barely defined Afghan border.


The Long Road to Chaos in Pakistan

By Dexter Filkins, who has covered the Afghanistan and Iraq wars for The New York Times:

Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

Gun market: Near the Khyber Pass is Peshawar, the administrative center for the tribal areas where the Taliban regroups and rearms. Photo: Tyler Hicks / NYTimes

It was more than a decade ago that Pakistan’s leaders began nurturing the Taliban and their brethren to help advance the country’s regional interests. Now they are finding that their home-schooled militants have grown too strong to control. No longer content to just cross into Afghanistan to kill American soldiers, the militants have begun to challenge the government itself. “The Pakistanis are truly concerned about their whole country unraveling,” said a Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the matter is sensitive.

That is a horrifying prospect, especially for Pakistan’s fledgling civilian government, its first since 1999. The country has a substantial arsenal of nuclear weapons. The tribal areas, which harbor thousands of Taliban militants, are also believed to contain Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.


‘Quietly triumphant’ Sharif turns screw on Musharraf

After more than seven years in exile, Pakistan’s former PM is back in power and doing his best to depose the president. In The Guardian, Julian Borger goes to visit him at the family home outside Lahore:

The road to Nawaz Sharif’s house performs some radical zigzags along the way. This is presumably for security purposes – forcing would be suicide-bombers to slow down enough for the guards to take a shot. But the winding drive must also serve as a daily reminder for Sharif of the precarious route to power in Pakistan.

He has twice been prime minister. His last term was cut short in 1999 by a coup by his army chief, Pervez Musharraf. Nine years on, Musharraf is still president but has been haemorrhaging authority for months in the face of public disdain.

Sharif is back from exile and back in power, this time as part of a new democratically elected coalition, and working hard to sideline the president with the aim of eventually forcing him out.


A nest of potential assassins eye each other in Pakistan

Eric Ellis, Southeast Asia correspondent for Fortune Magazine, on Asia Sentinel. Ellis was an official monitor of Pakistan election:

Although the western powers are breathing a sigh of relief over what appears to have been a relatively free and clean election in Pakistan last week, which delivered a decisive drubbing for the strongman Pervez Musharraf, it didn’t take long for the men of violence to re-appear. With the victors still to decide who’ll formally run the country, Pakistan’s military top medic, General Mushtaq Baig, was killed along with eight others by a suicide attack in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

The warm inner glow of the post-election is quickly fading to the realization that the election probably has created a mess that will have to be cleaned up in any time between a year and 18 months from now. Keep an eye on the military, which has run this country for 34 of its 60 years of existence.


I will stay on job: Musharraf

pakelection.gifA day after Pakistan held historic elections that restored the nation to civilian rule, President Pervez Musharraf talked to Peter Wonacott, senior South Asia correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, in Islamabad:

President Pervez Musharraf, confronted with a crushing political defeat, said he intends to stay in office to guide Pakistan’s democratic transition — even if it means working with a man he believes once tried to kill him.

In an interview a day after a landmark national election delivered resounding losses to his allies in Parliament, Mr. Musharraf said he has no plans to step down. Instead, he said he wanted to help end the internecine battles between presidents and prime ministers that have marred Pakistan’s political history and precipitated military interference in the government.


Musharraf Q&A: ‘We Have to Move Forward’