Archive for the ‘ Kashmir ’ Category

Why They Get Pakistan Wrong

By Mohsin Hamid for The New York Review of Books

Nearly ten years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the commencement of the US-led war in Afghanistan, the alliance between the US and Pakistan is on shaky ground. The killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces this May in Abbottabad, Pakistan, has incensed officials on both sides: on the American side because bin Laden’s hiding place appears to suggest Pakistani perfidy; and on the Pakistani side because the US raid humiliatingly violated Pakistan’s sovereignty.

As Ted Poe, a Republican congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, puts it: “Unless the State Department can certify to Congress that Pakistan was not harboring America’s number one enemy, Pakistan should not receive one more cent of American funding.” Dramatic words,1 for Pakistan has been allocated quite a few cents of American funding. Yet this money has bought little love. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project, only 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable opinion of the United States, and only 8 percent would like to see US troops “stay in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized.” Why might this be the case?

The past decade has been devastating for Pakistan. The country’s annual death toll from terrorist attacks rose from 164 in 2003 to 3,318 in 2009, a level exceeding the number of Americans killed on September 11. Some 35,000 Pakistanis, including 3,500 members of security forces, have died in terror and counterterror violence. Millions more have been displaced by fighting. It is difficult to convey how profoundly the country has been wounded. In 1989, my Lahore American School classmates and I (including children from Pakistan, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and Korea) were able to go to the beautiful valley of Swat by bus for a weeklong field trip with no security arrangements whatsoever. In 2009, the battle to retake Swat from Taliban militants involved two full divisions of the Pakistani army and hundreds of casualties among Pakistani soldiers. (Similarly, until a few years ago, there had never been a suicide bombing in Lahore. Now one occurs every three or four months.) The Pakistani government puts direct and indirect economic losses from terrorism over the last ten years at $68 billion.

Of the $20.7 billion in US funding allocated to Pakistan from 2002 to 2010, $14.2 billion was for the Pakistani military. On paper, economic assistance came to $6.5 billion, less than a third of the total. In reality the civilian share was even smaller, probably less than a quarter, for the $6.5 billion figure reflects “commitments” (amounts budgeted by the US), not “disbursements” (amounts actually given to Pakistan). The United States Government Accountability Office reports that only 12 percent of the $1.5 billion in economic assistance to Pakistan authorized for 2010 was actually disbursed that year. Independent calculations by the Center for Global Development suggest that $2.2 billion of civilian aid budgeted for Pakistan is currently undisbursed, meaning that total economic assistance actually received from the US over the past nine years is in the vicinity of $4.3 billion, or $480 million per year. (By comparison, Pakistanis abroad remit $11 billion to their families in Pakistan annually, over twenty times the flow of US economic aid.)

Pakistan is a large country, with a population of 180 million and a GDP of $175 billion. Average annual US economic assistance comes to less than 0.3 percent of Pakistan’s current GDP, or $2.67 per Pakistani citizen. Here in Lahore, that’s the price of a six-inch personal-size pizza with no extra toppings from Pizza Hut.

The alliance between the US and Pakistan is thus predominantly between the US and the Pakistani military. To enter the US as a Pakistani civilian “ally” now (a Herculean task, given ever-tighter visa restrictions) is to be subjected to hours of inane secondary screening upon arrival. (“Have you ever had combat training, sir?”) For a decade, meanwhile, successive civilian Pakistani finance ministers have gone to Washington reciting a mantra of “trade not aid.” They have been rebuffed, despite a WikiLeaked 2010 cable from the US embassy in Islamabad strongly supporting a free trade agreement with Pakistan and citing research showing that such an arrangement would likely create 1.4 million new jobs in Pakistan, increase Pakistani GDP growth by 1.5 percent per year, double inflows of foreign direct investment to Pakistan, and (because Pakistani exports would come largely from textile industries that US-based manufacturers are already exiting) have “no discernible impact” on future US employment.

Perhaps the vast majority of Pakistanis with an unfavorable view of the United States simply believe their annual free pizza is not worth the price of a conflict that claims the lives of thousands of their fellow citizens each year.

Pakistani journalist Zahid Hussain, in The Scorpion’s Tail, his examination of the rise of militants in Pakistan, makes clear that both sides of the alliance between the US and the Pakistani military share blame for the violence currently afflicting Pakistan. A long series of mutual policy missteps led to the present bloodshed.

As Hussain reminds us, the US and the Pakistani military together backed the Afghanistan guerrilla campaign against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, thereby bequeathing to the world unprecedented international networks of well-trained jihadist militants. For the US, as in its previous alliance with the Pakistani military in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary objective was to counter the Soviets. For the Pakistani military, as ever, the primary objective of the alliance was to lessen India’s superiority in conventional arms. The US gained a proxy fighting force in the form of the Afghan Mujahideen (literally: “people who do jihad”). The Pakistani military gained access to advanced US-made weapons, the most important of which were forty F-16 fighter aircraft: too few, obviously, to resist any full-blown Soviet air assault, but enough to strengthen meaningfully the Pakistan air force against its Indian rival.

With the Soviet withdrawal, America turned abruptly away from the region and washed its hands of its militant cocreations; in the ensuing power vacuum Afghanistan descended into a bloody civil war among former Mujahideen. The US also severed its alliance with the Pakistani military, cutting off supplies of spare parts for Pakistan’s American weapons and withholding delivery of further F-16s that Pakistan had paid for but not yet received.

The outraged Pakistani military was seriously weakened as a conventional fighting force vis-à-vis India. But it now, as Hussain shows, had enormous experience of projecting power through jihadist militants and two opportunities to continue doing so. One was in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir (the divided Muslim-majority territory at the center of the Indian–Pakistani conflict, claimed in its entirety by both Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan), where an insurgency against Indian troops had broken out in 1989 following a disputed election.

The other was in Afghanistan, where the largely ethnic-Pashtun, Pakistan-backed Taliban were battling the largely non-Pashtun, India-backed Northern Alliance, consisting of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and others. During the 1990s, Hussain writes,

the jihadist movement in Pakistan was focused entirely on supporting the regional strategy of the Pakistani military establishment: to liberate Kashmir from India and install a Pashtun government in Afghanistan.
But following the terrorist attacks of September 11, linked to members of al-Qaeda living under Taliban protection in Afghanistan, the US returned to the region in force and demanded that Pakistan choose sides. President Pervez Musharraf’s subsequent decision to align Pakistan with the US was perceived by many militants as a “betrayal.” Still, Musharraf hoped the Pakistani military’s conflict with its infuriated, jihadist offspring could be circumscribed, that it might be possible “to drive a wedge between the Pakistani militants and the al-Qaeda foreigners.”

This plan, besides denying the extent of the militant threat to Pakistan, was also undermined by US strategy, a strategy that suffered from the outset from what Hussein identifies as two “fundamental flaws.” The first of these was a failure to understand that unless Pashtun grievances were addressed—particularly their demand for a fair share of power—the war in Afghanistan would become “a Pashtun war, and that the Pashtuns in Pakistan would become…strongly allied with both al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

As the US campaign in Afghanistan began, Hussain writes, Musharraf “warned the United States not to allow the [Northern] Alliance forces to enter Kabul before a broad-based Afghan national government was put in place.” But the US ignored this advice, and later, at the Bonn conference of December 2001, Hamid Karzai was installed as chairman (and subsequently president) as Pashtun “window dressing, while the Northern Alliance took over the most powerful sections of the government.”

By backing the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and then failing to include a meaningful representation of Pashtuns in a power-sharing deal in Kabul, the US not only sided with India in the Indian–Pakistani proxy war in Afghanistan, it also elevated a coalition of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnicities above its largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns. Conflict was inevitable, and since twice as many Pashtuns live in Pakistan as in Afghanistan, it was also inevitable that this conflict would spill over the border.

The results for Pakistan were catastrophic. Over the following decade, as Hussain describes in detail, the Pakistani military’s attempts to separate “good” militants from “bad” foundered. Instead, strong networks developed between radical groups in Pakistan’s Punjabi east and those in its Pashtun west. With each move of the Pakistani military against them, the frequency and lethality of counterattacks by terrorists inside Pakistan, on both military and civilian targets, intensified. Pakistani casualties soared.

The only way out of this trap, in which an unwinnable “Pashtun war” threatens to swamp an essential Pakistani program to neutralize militants, Hussain suggests, is to address the second “fundamental flaw” in US strategy: the “failure to appreciate that combating the militant threat required something far more than a military campaign,” namely a “political settlement with the insurgents, requiring direct talks with the Taliban.”

Equally vital, it must be added, is a push toward political settlement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. This simmering conflict fuels the Indian–Pakistani proxy war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban in Afghanistan, encourages the Pakistani military’s embrace of militants, and helps subordinate Pakistani civilian governments to the Pakistani military (by allowing a near-perpetual state of security crisis to be maintained in Pakistan). The outlines of a deal on Kashmir were reportedly secretly agreed upon in 2007, but progress has been frozen since Musharraf’s fall from power in 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai that same year.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama acknowledged Kashmir’s central role. “The most important thing we’re going to have to do with respect to Afghanistan is actually deal with Pakistan,” he said in October 2008.

We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India, and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants.
Once he was elected, however, talk of Kashmir and peace between India and Pakistan receded from President Obama’s official pronouncements, and he embarked upon an Afghanistan policy that might be described as “shoot first, talk later.” US drone strikes in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt intensified, with more—53—in 2009, Obama’s first year in office, than during the entire Bush administration—42—followed by a further sharp increase in 2010, to 118. This unmanned assault was accompanied by a tripling of US military manpower in Afghanistan, which in turn resulted in a fourfold increase in the American fatality rate, with more deaths there of US soldiers in twenty-nine months under Obama (974) than in eighty-seven months under Bush (630).

Obama has now begun to reverse his Afghanistan escalation. His June 22 speech announced that 33,000 US forces (described as those of his “surge,” but more accurately representing the second of his two roughly equal-sized surges) would begin withdrawing this summer and be gone by the end of the next. There will then, he said, be a “steady pace” of further reductions until by 2014 the change of mission “from combat to support…will be complete.” He also stated that “America will join initiatives that reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban.”

The following day, in an interview with the Voice of America, Obama acknowledged a US “focus shifted to Pakistan” and declared:

I think what’s happened is that the [US–Pakistan] relationship has become more honest over time and that raises some differences that are real. And obviously the operation to take out Osama bin Laden created additional tensions, but I had always been very clear with Pakistan that if we ever found him and had a shot, that we would take it. We think that if Pakistan recognizes the threat to its sovereignty that comes out of the extremists in its midst, that there’s no reason why we can’t work cooperatively….
The tone of Obama’s underlying message to Pakistan is certainly much improved from that of the US in September 2001, when Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reportedly told Pakistan to cooperate with the imminent US campaign in Afghanistan or be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age.” But implicit in Obama’s words, and explicit in his actions, is a continued willingness to escalate US armed intervention in Pakistan should Pakistani cooperation prove insufficient. The alliance between the US and the Pakistani military remains, therefore, a relationship between parties viewing one another through gunsights. Each side blames the other for putting its citizens in grave danger, and each is correct to do so.

A gunsight is not, however, the primary lens through which King’s College professor and former London Times journalist Anatol Lieven sees Pakistan. Quite the opposite: his Pakistan: A Hard Country, by far the most insightful survey of Pakistan I have read in recent years, reflects sensitivity and considerable, if clear-eyed, affection. Lieven has traveled extensively through Pakistan (dismayingly atypical for a contemporary foreign commentator), exploring all of its provinces and speaking with Pakistanis from a very broad range of backgrounds. He has also immersed himself in written sources, including pertinent anthropological research produced over a period of some two hundred years.

Pakistan’s is a diverse society, so diverse, in fact, that observers who deal best in generalizations are bound to get the country horribly wrong. Lieven recognizes this diversity and makes it central to his analysis. For him, Pakistan is a place of competing and overlapping clans, sects, tribes, beliefs, and practices. Its society, in order to function, has evolved powerful mechanisms to deal with rivalries inside shared localities. As a result, Lieven argues, Pakistan is characterized by structures—military, bureaucratic, social, political, spiritual, judicial—that are profoundly “Janus-faced,” in the manner of the two-faced Roman deity who gazes and speaks in opposite, contradictory directions. These structures, at once predatory and protective, operate to make the country both (frustratingly for reformers) very difficult to change and (bafflingly for forecasters of its demise) remarkably resilient.2

At the heart of Lieven’s account of Pakistan is kinship, pervasive networks of clans and biradiris (groups of extended kin) that he identifies as “the most important force in society,” usually far stronger than any competing religious, ethnic, or political cause. Several millennia of invasions, occupations, colonizations, and rule by self-interested states resulted in a “collective solidarity for interest and defense” based on kinship becoming paramount in the area that is Pakistan. It now, as Lieven points out, “is a cultural system so strong that it can persuade a father to kill a much-loved daughter, not even for having an affair or becoming pregnant, but for marrying outside her kinship group without permission.” Moreover it is enduring, having survived, for example, “more than half a century of transplantation of Pakistani immigrants to the very different climes of Britain.” It has done much the same in the far less dislocating shift to Pakistan’s cities, sustained, as in Britain, through constant replenishment by newly migrating kin from the countryside.

The effects of kinship on Pakistani politics are profound. Most of Pakistan’s leading political parties are dynastic, including the Bhutto family’s PPP and the Sharif family’s PML-N; even individual members of parliament are often elected on the basis of clan alliances and support. Politics is therefore about patronage far more than ideology. Furthermore, the Pakistani state is relatively weak, collecting taxes that amount to less than 10 percent of GDP.

As a consequence, Lieven notes, Pakistani governments follow a predictable pattern. They are elected (usually as coalitions, Pakistan’s many divisions making absolute majorities exceedingly rare) on general promises of higher living standards for the population and individual promises to particular politicians, families, and districts. The governments lack the resources to keep many of these promises (which are, in any case, often conflicting); their majorities ebb away; they lose power and await another turn.

Yet because of patronage, much of what politicians extract financially from official positions circulates among their kinship groups, which cut across class. Lieven believes this system, while hugely ineffective at driving real change, helps explain “Pakistan’s remarkably low inequality rating according to the Gini Co-efficient, measuring the ratio of the income of the poorest group in society relative to the richest.” By that measure in 2002 “the figure for Pakistan was 30.6, compared with 36.8 for India, 40.8 for the US, and 43.7 for Nigeria.”

The role of religion in Pakistan, a source of much hand-wringing in policy think tanks, is similarly complex. As Lieven points out: “the Islam of the Pakistani masses contains very different traditions.” Moreover, unlike in Saudi Arabia or Iran, where an oil-bankrolled state has tried to impose one monolithic version of Islam, “the Pakistani state is too weak to achieve this even if it wanted to.” Lieven describes the theological divisions among Sunnis sustained by Pakistan’s clan and kinship diversity. The Ahl-e-Hadith, heavily influenced by Wahabism, loathe saintly traditions. The Deobandis may praise saints but object to worshiping them. The Barelvis, Pakistan’s most numerous (and “fissiparous”) school, tend to embrace the intercession of saints with God. Veneration of saints is also central to Pakistan’s Shias. Because saintliness can be inherited, the heads of Pakistan’s powerful landowning “pir families remain of immense political importance.” They can actively create bridges among religious groups and they serve as major bosses in several mainstream political parties, especially the “secular” PPP.

Religiosity thus fuses with kinship networks and politics to reinforce Pakistan’s existing elite. But it also helps marginalize Pakistan’s Islamist parties, drawn primarily from the Ahl-e-Hadith and Deobandi schools, which struggle to capture more than a few percent of the country’s vote. (Away from politics and “hardly noticed outside the country,” Lieven believes Pakistan’s religiosity also softens “the misery of Pakistan’s poor” by contributing to an astounding level of charitable donation, which, “at almost 5 percent of GDP, is one of the highest rates in the world.”)

Throughout his analysis, Lieven rejects the notion that Pakistan fits somehow in a category apart from the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, a sui generis nuclear-armed “failed state” on the verge of collapse. Rather, he writes,

Pakistan is in fact a great deal more like India—or India like Pakistan—than either country would wish to admit. If Pakistan were an Indian state, then in terms of development, order and per capita income it would find itself somewhere in the middle, considerably below Karnataka but considerably above Bihar.

Indeed, even in the violent challenges confronting its state authority, Pakistan is like its subcontinental neighbors: “All of the states of this region have faced insurgencies over the past generation,” Lieven notes, and by comparison to the Taliban conflict in Pakistan, Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebellion “caused proportionally far more casualties” and India’s Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls “a far greater proportion of India.”

Lieven has evident sympathy for the Pakistani military (indeed there are points when, in referring to a uniformed ancestor who served during British rule in what is now Pakistan, one suspects Lieven may have his own feelings of kinship with the Pakistan army). But he is clear about the role the army has played in fomenting militancy, and about the deadly threat militants now pose to Pakistan, especially the potential for far worse bloodshed if the remaining militant groups that have not yet turned on the military and are therefore being kept “in existence ‘on the shelf ‘”—including Pashtun militants focused on Afghanistan and Punjabi militants focused on India—were to do so.

Still, despite the ineffectiveness of much of the Pakistani state, he believes Pakistan’s kinship groups and its stabilizing and antireformist social structures give the country a combination of diversity and toughness that makes successful revolution highly unlikely. He also writes that the Pakistani army, as it demonstrated in the “brutal but in the end brutally effective” operation to liberate Swat from militant control in 2009, is fully capable of routing guerrillas who seize territory when it sets its mind to doing so.

A key question, therefore, is whether the army itself could split. Lieven thinks not (and we must fervently hope that he is right). The army, he explains, is an all-volunteer institution with a strong shared ethos, nationalistic rather than pan-Islamic in outlook, and increasingly vigilant against Taliban sympathizers within—”after all, we are not suicidal idiots,” an officer tells him. The real risk, which Lieven argues must be avoided at all costs, is of “open intervention of US ground forces” in Pakistan. For if ordered by their commanders not to resist, “parts of the Pakistani army would mutiny in order to fight the invaders,” and in such an eventuality “Islamist upheaval and the collapse of the state would indeed be all too likely.”

In passages such as this, Lieven comes close to describing Pakistan as if through a gunsight; but the gunsight belongs to an American decision-maker on the hunt, with Lieven playing the role of preservationist guide. The best Western strategy, he counsels, would “stem from a recognition that Pakistan’s goals in Afghanistan are in part legitimate—even if the means with which they have been sought have not been”—and would “seek a peaceful solution to the Kashmir dispute, despite all the immense obstacles in both India and Pakistan.” For in the end, “not even the greatest imaginable benefits of US–Indian friendship could compensate for the actual collapse of Pakistan, with all the frightful dangers this would create not just for the West but for India too.”

Lieven’s is a vital book, with much wisdom in its advice for the West. But equally importantly, this detailed and nuanced survey offers Pakistanis a mirror in which to look hard at their country and themselves. Pakistan’s resilience is bound up with its resistance to reform, yet reform will be essential for facing the great challenges ahead, including the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on a dry and overpopulated land that is dependent on a single river and its tributaries. Pakistanis, and above all members of Pakistan’s military, would do well finally to reject their country’s disastrous embrace of militants. Pakistan must urgently mend its relationships in its own neighborhood and refocus on taking care of itself. Time is not on its side.

1
Indeed, perhaps more than just words: on July 9 the US announced it was holding back $800 million of military aid for Pakistan. ↩

2
Lieven is careful to point out that his analysis refers only to Pakistan as it has been configured for the past forty years, a territory with “more of a natural unity…[and] a degree of common history and ethnic intertwining stretching back long before British rule,” and not to what he terms 1947–1971’s “freak of history…[with] its two ethnically and culturally very different wings separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India,” a situation from which Bangladesh should have been given a “civilized divorce” but which instead “ended in horrible bloodshed.”

-Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. He lives in Lahore, London, and New York. (Article originally appeared late September 2011)

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– The views expressed in this article are the solely the opinions of the writer and although interesting, do not necessarily reflect nor represent the views of Pakistanis for Peace and or Manzer Munir. 

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Trust Deficit with Pakistan Shrinking: Singh

As Reported by The Express-Tribune via AFP

 

 

The leaders of India and Pakistan will meet on the sidelines of a regional summit this week, as the nuclear-armed rivals seek to push a tentative rapprochement in their fractious relationship.

Talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani will take place at the summit of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations that opens Thursday in the Maldives.

India’s foreign minister said Wednesday that a “trust deficit” with Pakistan was shrinking as he headed for a regional summit, in a clear sign of warming relations between the neighbours.

“The trust deficit with Pakistan is shrinking,” S.M. Krishna said on board his flight to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in the Maldives, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

He also said that it was necessary for Pakistan and India to develop a joint strategy to fight terror in the region, the agency reported.

Their meeting follows what Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai described as “positive indicators” from Pakistan in recent weeks that it is serious about reducing tensions.

An Indian military helicopter which strayed into Pakistani territory last month was promptly released along with its crew and returned to India, avoiding what in the past could easily have escalated into a diplomatic row.

And last week the Pakistani cabinet approved a proposal to grant India the status of “most favoured nation” in a move towards normalising trade relations.

“These are I would say indications of forward movement,” Mathai said, adding that “all aspects” of the India-Pakistan relationship would be discussed during the Singh-Gilani talks.

The two prime ministers last met in March when Gilani accepted Singh’s invitation to watch the India-Pakistan cricket World Cup semi-final. They last held formal talks at the 2010 SAARC summit in Bhutan.

Talks between the neighbours’ foreign ministers in July failed to produce a major breakthrough, but both sides signalled a warming of ties, with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani speaking of a “new era of cooperation.”

But efforts to reduce tensions have been complicated by the increasing influence of Afghanistan in the bilateral equation.

Indian involvement in Afghanistan is sensitive, with Pakistan vehemently opposed to its arch foe meddling in what it considers its backyard. Islamabad’s suspicions were fuelled when Afghanistan and India signed a strategic partnership pact last month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will also attend the SAARC summit, along with the leaders of other member nations Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Previous summits of the regional body have been largely overshadowed by the India-Pakistan dynamic — a fact that Mathai acknowledged with regret.

“We would like the focus to remain essentially on the common business of SAARC … and hope that the focus will not be diverted to one single event,” he said. The summit is being held in Addu, on the southern Maldives’ island of Gan.

Pakistan, India take Another Cautious Step Forward

By Alex Rodriguez and Mark Magnier for The Los Angeles Times

 

In cautious increments, nuclear archrivals Pakistan and Indiahave been easing the pall of tension that has overshadowed the two nations in recent years, as Islamabad increasingly worries about another neighbor: volatile Afghanistan.

The latest move toward rapprochement came last week, when the Pakistani Cabinet announced it would normalize trade relations with India by granting its longtime foe “most favored nation” status.

The designation has practical ramifications, including the elimination of discriminatory pricing and mutual imposition of lower tariffs and high import quotas. More important, however, it marks the latest in a series of decisions and events that signals a warming in relations between two countries that have fought three wars since their independence after the 1947 partition of British India.

Driving the move toward improved relations with India is Pakistan’s belief that strained ties with traditional allies such as the U.S. and Afghanistan are leaving it increasingly isolated, analysts say. India and Afghanistan signed a strategic partnership pact last month that included the training of Afghan troops by Indian forces — a move that rankled Islamabad.

The steps between the two South Asian neighbors have been small yet striking.

After an Indian military helicopter flying in bad weather strayed into Pakistani-controlled territory Oct. 23, Pakistani troops promptly released the aircraft and its crew and returned them to India, averting a crisis. Earlier this year, the two countries also resumed peace talks scuttled by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people. Pakistani militants carried out the attacks, and India has accused Pakistan’s ISI spy agency of involvement in the assault.

Both countries are also discussing a deal that would allow Pakistan to import electricity from India to relieve massive power shortages crippling the Muslim nation’s economy. In addition, India didn’t oppose Pakistan’s nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council last month, which passed by a single vote. And, earlier this year, New Delhi didn’t fight a European Union bid to allow duty-free imports of Pakistani textiles, even though it would cost competing Indian textile makers an estimated $1 billion a year in lost sales.

Experts warn that major roadblocks still loom. At the top of that list is the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir, claimed by both countries and the cause of two wars since 1947. A dispute over water rights remains unresolved, and New Delhi continues to accuse the ISI of backing militant groups that target India.

Still, bolstering trade relations between the two countries, said Zafar Hilaly, a former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., “is a good first step. It shows a genuine feeling within Pakistan that the relationship should be normalized.”

Particularly significant is the Pakistani military’s decision to endorse granting MFN status to India. Foreign policy remains the purview of Pakistan’s security establishment, especially when it comes to the country historically regarded by the military as its chief enemy.

“All the stakeholders, including the military … are on board,” Pakistani Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said in announcing the decision. “Such a big step could not be taken alone.”

The military’s backing of MFN status for India, Hilaly said, likely represents a realization that an easing of tensions with New Delhi may now be in Pakistan’s best interests, particularly at a time when relations with Washington and Kabul have soured. Both the U.S. and Afghanistan assert that their efforts to battle Afghan Taliban insurgents have been hampered by Pakistan’s backing of the insurgency there, a charge that Islamabad denies.

“What has happened is that, with respect to issues that the military faces, the priorities have changed,” Hilaly said. “India is still the main culprit as far as security is concerned, but the eastern front is much less active than the one developing in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Washington have been encouraged by the movement toward trade normalization between Islamabad and New Delhi, especially because economic interdependence is seen as an ideal path toward stability in South Asia. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the Pakistan-India relationship “the real game-changer in the region.”

“We have in Pakistan today a leadership, both civilian and military, that wants to see progress with India, and we have the same on the Indian side,” Clinton told lawmakers. “I firmly believe greater regional economic integration would revolutionize the economy in Pakistan.”

Though India extended MFN status to Pakistan in 1996, Pakistan had not reciprocated until now. Observers in India wondered why it took Islamabad so long to see the value in the move. “Not allowing MFN status hurt Pakistan more than India and was shortsighted,” said Satish Chandra, an analyst and former Indian ambassador to Pakistan. “It was an exercise in cutting your nose to spite your face.”

With trade normalization, experts estimate two-way trade could triple to $8 billion within five years. Official trade flows currently run nearly 7 to 1 in New Delhi’s favor, with Indian exports to Pakistan totaling about $2.33 billion versus $332 million in the other direction.

“When trade picks up, there’s more and more confidence to ease political and other differences,” said Shaqeel Qalander, a furniture maker and former president of a business group on the Indian-held portion of Kashmir. “It’s a very good decision.”

Wake up Pakistan

By Najam Sethi for The Friday Times

US- PAK relations have broken down. The United States has “ suspended” military aid and all but closed the Kerry- Lugar- Berman tap of funds for the civilians. Proud Pakistanis have puffed up their chests and vowed to eat grass, if necessary, in order to defend their country’s “sovereignty”. What’s the big deal, they aver, US aid was peanuts anyway, and our traditional friends like China and Saudi Arabia can bail us out of our problems.

To be sure, our relationship with the US has been no small disaster.

In the 1950s, we begged the US to befriend us instead of India, cheerily going along with the US into the Cold War against the USSR when it wasn’t our war at all. In consequence, the military became the dominant theme of our life and wrecked the budding impulse of democracy. Once again, in the 1980s and 2000s, we tripped over ourselves to rent out our services to the US in Afghanistan.

Today we are reaping the terrorist whirlwind of our greed and opportunism.

But a little introspection is in order to prove that we don’t need the US as an enemy because we are our own worst enemies.

More Pakistanis are eating “ grass” now than ever before. The number of Pakistanis below the poverty line has increased from 27 per cent five years ago to 33 per cent in 2011. And this has nothing to do with the US. The growth rate of the economy has fallen from 6.5 per cent five years ago to 3 per cent now. The fiscal deficit is yawning at 7.5 per cent of the GDP today compared to 4.5 per cent five years ago. And this has nothing to do with the US. The Rupee has fallen from 77 to the dollar five years ago to 90 today. General inflation is running at 15% and food inflation at 25%. And this has nothing to do with the US. The tax to GDP ratio is down to 8.7% in 2011 from 11.5% five years ago. And this has nothing to do with the US. Floods continue to devastate the lives and produce of millions of poor people across the country.

And this has nothing to do with the US. Sunni extremists are rampaging, killing Shias. Ethnic parties continue to mow down people in Karachi. And this has nothing to do with the US. Power breakdowns have made the lives of tens of millions wretched and miserable while rendering millions of others jobless.

And this has nothing to do with the US. Instead of rooting for Pakistani nationalism, we are proud to undermine it as Muslims first, or Sindhis, Muhajirs, Baloch, Pakhtun, Punjabi, Seraiki, Hazarajat, Kashmiri, Sunni, Shia, Deobandi, Barelvi. And this has nothing to do with the US. We are counted amongst the most corrupt countries of the world. We have waged four wars with India and lost each of them, in the bargain losing half of Pakistan.

And this has nothing to do with the US. As if this litany of self- induced failures isn’t enough, there is the hypocrisy of double standards to contend with too. Of course, the US has violated our sovereignty by raining drones on FATA. But so have the Afghan Taliban and Al- Qaeda who have established safe havens there too. But we are quick to blast the US and quicker still to pretend that Al- Qaeda doesn’t exist and the Taliban are innocent refugees for whom our traditional hospitality is on offer.

The story doesn’t end here.

The IMF is not welcome. How dare it demand that we tax the rich, plug the bleeding in public sector corporations, stop the theft of power, and spend according to our means. US aid is dispensable.

We don’t need to build dams and reservoirs for managing our natural resources, we don’t need schools and teachers for our children and hospitals for the poor.

Our all- weather friends are China and Saudi Arabia. Never mind that China doesn’t help us much when we are ravaged by earthquakes and floods or when we are short of cash to pay our foreign bills.

NEVER MIND that Saudi Arabia treats our migrant workers like slaves, rents our military to crack down on Shia majorities in Bahrain and exports extremist “ Islam” to our lands.

At the end of the day, who eats grass when we rise to defend our sovereignty? Not our pot- bellied traders and businessmen. Not our golf- playing generals. Not our Defence Housing Society residents.

Not our foreign- asset holding politicians whose kids go to English- medium private schools at home and abroad. Not our self righteous media Mughals who berate our slavish black- skins and white masks. Not our corrupt judges and civil servants. It’s the wretched of the earth, the poorest of the poor, who eat grass.

For too long we have made foreign scapegoats for our own failures and corruptions. It is time to wake up and set our house in order without begging or berating the US.

Growing Hope for Trade Ties Between India and Pakistan

By Shahzeb Jillani

Business leaders from India and Pakistan say there’s new optimism about the efforts their governments are making to improve trade ties. But critics warn that overcoming decades of mistrust may not be that easy.

For the first time in 35 years, a Pakistani commerce minister led a business delegation to India last week. The entourage included nearly 80 leading industrialists, traders and high-ranking officials.

Peace talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbours broke down in 2008 after the attacks in the Indian city of Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Nearly three years on, as if to emphasise a sense of normalcy, the Pakistani Commerce Minister, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, stayed at the city’s Taj Mahal Hotel – which was one of the main targets of the 2008 attacks.

There, leading Pakistani traders got a chance to mingle with their equally eager-for-business Indian counterparts.

Between them, they spoke not just of the profits their individual businesses could make if their governments removed the long standing hurdles in their way. But also of how much the people of their two countries, and indeed the wider region, stand to benefit from freer movement of goods, money and commodities.

The only way I see realisation of trade potential between our two countries is for India to remove its non-tariff trade barriers and for Pakistan to reciprocate by granting the MFN status to India”

Vijay Kalantri, president of All India Association of Industries, said traders on both sides feel business between India and Pakistan is a win-win situation for everyone.

“Why are Indians and Pakistanis forced to trade unofficially via third countries like Dubai or Sri Lanka?” he tells the BBC from Mumbai.

“All we are asking is, let there be direct business-to-business contact between us.”

After the talks in Delhi, ministers from the two sides announced their agreement to boost their annual bilateral trade from current $2.7bn (£1.7bn) to $6bn by 2015.

They also pledged to ease business travel and promote bilateral trade through the land route.

For Pakistan, a significant announcement was a pledge by India to drop its opposition to the European Union’s plan to grant Pakistan tariff waiver on select commodities to help it recover from the devastation of 2010 floods.

There was hope that Pakistan might reciprocate and grant India the Most Favoured Nation status (India granted Pakistan MFN status way back in the 1990s).

Even though no such announcement came, Pakistan committed itself to a road map to implement preferential trade ties with India, as prescribed under the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta).

Trade barriers
There are a number of explanations why Pakistan has so far withheld the MFN status from India.

At present there are a number of barriers to prevent trade between Indian and Pakistan
First is political. Pakistani leaders have often linked it to the resolution of the core issue of Kashmir.

It’s a stance which has long been propagated for mainly domestic consumption.

But there is a sense in Pakistan that while the country should continue to push for a negotiated settlement of the Kashmir issue, trade and commerce should not be held hostage to resolution of political disputes.

The second is protectionism. For years, domestic industry in Pakistan has feared it would be swamped by imports from India. But even there, the mood appears to have shifted.

Senator Haji Ghulam Ali, president of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, says there’s a consensus that Pakistan should open up to Indian business.

“Everyone now recognises it will be beneficial for both sides. It’s just a matter of time before it’s done,” he tells the BBC from Delhi.

Business leaders say that less trade barriers would benefit firms in both countries, However, the last, and more plausible, obstacle is the issue of non-tariff barriers.

“In my experience, India has one of the most restrictive trade regimes in the region,” asserts Dr Ashfaq Hasan Khan, a former advisor to Pakistan’s Ministry of Finance. His view matters, given has decades of dealings with South Asian governments on trade liberalization.

He explains that despite granting Pakistan the MFN status, India has a variety of non-tariff barriers in place – such as, stringent certification codes, customs rules, security clearances and movement restrictions – which make it virtually impossible for Pakistani traders to do business in India.

“The only way I see realisation of trade potential between our two countries is for India to remove its non-tariff trade barriers and for Pakistan to reciprocate by granting the MFN status to India,” says Mr Khan.

He adds: “Unless there’s political will to do that, everything else is just talk and photo op.”

Jinnah’s Pakistan

By Ziyad Faisal for The Friday Times

When a suicide-bomber targets a market-place, a rabid Islamist kills a figure who is not pious enough or Independence Day comes, we are reminded of the psychosis of the Pakistani state. We are reminded that in addition to shaky material foundations, the Pakistani state rests upon highly flimsy and contested ideological grounds. At such times, there is almost always a chorus from the literate urban middle-classes of the country: they want “Jinnah’s Pakistan”. For the more conservative sections of our urban middle-class, the Pakistan they long for is the “laboratory” which Jinnah claimed he sought, to implement Islamic values. For the more liberal sections of the urban middle-class, the Pakistan they want was described by a secular Jinnah in his speech on August 11, 1947. The more perceptive reader will already realize that while every historical figure can be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, if a single leader can be held up by secularists, conservatives, nationalists and Islamists alike, perhaps the leader himself was not so sure about certain things.

But what exactly was Mr Jinnah’s own vision for Pakistan, and how did it interact with the nature of the Pakistan Movement and the realities of post-1947 Pakistan? To understand the yearning for “Quaid-e-Azam ka Pakistan”, one must look at the founding myths of Pakistan and Jinnah’s place therein.

Almost any child who goes to school in Pakistan learns a certain story. The story involves a young man, burning the proverbial midnight oil as he studied at night, trying to shield the light he was using with cardboard sheets, so as not to disturb his siblings. When asked by his sister as to why he would not simply go to bed, he said something along the lines of how important this hard work was, for him to become a great man. The Pakistani reader will recognize immediately the young man we are talking about: the Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Most modern nation-states actively propagate their foundational myths: based on a kernel of truth but embellished greatly with fantasy, exaggeration and historical omissions. It is only natural that such myths centre around the integrity, heroism or ambition of one or more “founding fathers” who were instrumental in creating the state it in its modern, institutional form. So, for instance, Israel has its Bar Kochba and its Ben Gurion. Turkey has its Attaturk leading the fight for independence from barren Anatolia. The United States has its George Washington, who supposedly would not lie to his father about cutting a cherry tree, even as a boy. Latin American countries have their Simon Bolivar, Italy has its Garibaldi, Ireland has its Michael Collins. The Indian state has its own pantheon of founding fathers, from Asoka to the Rani of Jhansi, all the way down to Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose. Even Saudi Arabia has its epic tale of Bedouin raiders from the sand-dunes of Najd turning into majestic kings and defenders of the Holy Kaabah.

As for the foundational myths of Pakistan, let us bear in mind the following: every modern nation-state is ultimately a very artificial social construct, and the more artificial a state, the more artificial its founding myths.

And what is the Pakistani child taught about the founding fathers of the country? Well, if we put aside the valuable nation-building efforts of Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmud of Ghazni, what we are left with is essentially Allama Muhammad Iqbal and, of course, the Quaid-e-Azam. Iqbal, as a brilliant poet and an aspiring philosopher, who dreamt of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah, the great political leader who brought this vision to fruition. Such is the clichéd narrative we are given.

In that famous story about the hard-working youthful Jinnah, the Pakistani student is being taught that a boy in his mid-to-late teens had already within him a young Quaid-e-Azam: the Great Leader. He would go on to study the legal system of the British colonialists, gain the respect of the British and the adulation of the Muslim masses of South Asia and eventually this epic tale culminates in the heroic Muslim League’s achievements of Partition and its accompanying bloodbath.

The historical record suggests that the budding Leader was not exactly convinced about the need for communal Muslim politics until at least the early 1920s. He was, after all, the chief architect of the Lucknow Pact of 1916: the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” as Sarojni Naidu famously described him. Even as late as 1946, Jinnah as a practical politician could entertain the possibility of some sort of compromise with the Congress leadership and the British. The Muslim League leadership would have been satisfied with adequate guarantees of limited autonomy for Muslim-majority regions of Punjab, Sindh and Bengal. The Pashtun leaders of the north-western Frontier, of course, were not to be taken on board, because their loyalty to the Congress amounted to some sort of treachery. As for the Baloch, one imagines, it was assumed that they need not be considered in any calculations: they would somehow automatically be convinced to join the new nation-state and forget centuries of distinct history.

The Muslim League itself, founded in 1905-06 by disinherited and disgruntled members of the former Muslim elite of South Asia, was not committed to mass politics or independence from British rule – and certainly not an independent Pakistan. Unlike the populist appeals of Congress leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and others, the Muslim League’s political programme was for a long time directed towards the Aligarh-educated ex-nobility among Muslims. In the 1940s, were it not for a last-minute alliance with Muslim feudal lords in Punjab and some urban elements from Sindh, the Muslim League could never have mustered the political resources to make their demand for an independent Pakistan into a reality.

Conservative nationalists and Islamists in Pakistan are likely to be disappointed by the real Mr Jinnah. He was an intelligent, British-educated barrister, and had little time for the discourse of village mullahs. Steeped in the traditions of British liberalism, Jinnah could bring only a tiny minority of the Muslim clergy to his side even in the 1940s. It is obvious that he was looking for some form of constitutional liberal democracy, no matter how inspiring the pan-Islamic yearnings of Allama Iqbal might have been.

But perhaps our secular liberals are even more likely to be disappointed, notwithstanding the fact that Mr Jinnah laid out a set of principles for a secular Pakistani state in his speech to our first Constituent Assembly, on the 11th of August, 1947. To quote his memorable words on that occasion:

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State. ”

While these are admirable sentiments, perhaps we can be forgiven for pointing out the glaring contradiction here. If a citizen’s religion is not the business of the state, how does one explain the creation of Pakistan as a separate state? If it were not differences in religion with the Hindus and other religious communities of India, what else was it that motivated the Muslim League to demand Pakistan?

Allow me go one step further and remind the reader of the many occasions on which Mr Jinnah invoked Islamic rhetoric in his various speeches to justify the idea of Pakistan. With apologies beforehand, allow me to recall that it was the same Mr Jinnah who would not accept his daughter marrying a non-Muslim man, even though he himself had married a non-Muslim woman. One is reminded of the typical mindset of the contemporary Pakistani Muslim father or brother.

For years, Mr Jinnah brilliantly argued for federal autonomy in Muslim-majority provinces…until Partition happened and the Pashtuns, Bengalis, Baloch and other nationalities within Pakistan demanded the same autonomy. For years, Mr Jinnah pointed out the distinct cultural identity of South Asian Muslims…until Partition happened and Bengalis asked for their language to be given the status of a national language. Urdu and Urdu alone, Mr Jinnah firmly reminded them.

I understand that quite a few readers ought to be exasperated by now. What am I trying to say? What exactly was Muhammad Ali Jinnah? Was he socially liberal or conservative? Was he secular or not? What future did he envision for Pakistan?

The historical record shows that Mr Jinnah was himself has given us adequate arguments for just about any side we choose. Despite the personal integrity, intelligence and political skill of Mr Jinnah, it has to be recognized that the Muslim League was not exactly what it claimed to be. It was supposed to speak for the Muslims of South Asia, but its actual representative credentials were not very credible, even in the “moth-eaten and truncated” (to quote Mr Jinnah) Pakistan of 1947.

To limit ourselves to an imagined version of what Mr Jinnah wanted would mean limiting our political vision and perhaps the very frontiers of our political morality.

What sort of Pakistan does the hari from Sindh want? What sort of Pakistan does the silenced rape victim want? What sort of Pakistan does the tortured body of the young Baloch student want? What sort of Pakistan does the textile worker from Faisalabad want, considering he is paid some 6000 rupees a month? What sort of Pakistan does the terrified Ahmadi want? What sort of Pakistan do you want? What sort of Pakistan do I want?

You see, perhaps the real question is not what our founding father(s) wanted, but what today’s unfortunate Pakistanis want.

Perhaps it is time to consider a possibility: that the laboratory for implementing Islamic teachings was created, and the experiment went horribly wrong. And perhaps it is time to consider another possibility: given the many different interpretations which Mr Jinnah left himself open to, might we be forgiven for concluding that this is it? That this, where we live today, is Jinnah’s Pakistan in all its glory?

Eid ul-Fitr 2011

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