Diplomatic bargaining at the edge — I —Prof. Ijaz Khan

Prof. Ijaz Khan is an academic and active commentator at various discussion forums, mailing groups and social networks. He is associated with Peshawar University and is Chairman, Department of International Relations.  He annotates on US Af-Pak policy, Pakistan Afghan policy and its implications on the region and the people living in it. Here’s first part of his take on the current row of overheated bargaining between US and Pakistan and Pakistan wishlist in post US withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan.(ali arqam)

The conflict in the Af-Pak region has entered a new phase, which may be termed the pre-2014 phase. This phase is currently witnessing a serious row between the US and Pakistan, supposedly allies in the ‘war against terrorism’. All parties want to influence the outcome in 2014 so that the post-2014 situation best meets its perceived interests. To influence that outcome Pakistan and the US are pursuing policies that appear to be at odds. Both also consider the behaviour of the other to be vital for achievement of its goal. So they are using various means to influence each other’s behaviour. The current row between the two allies can be explained as an overheated diplomatic bargaining.

President Obama announced disengagement from active combat in Afghanistan by 2014, thus the withdrawal of US combat troops from Afghanistan. This was announced along with a plan to enable the US to do so after succeeding in Afghanistan and not losing the war there. The plan was based on the US’s increased action at different levels: one was an increased military action through increased military presence, the so-called ‘surge policy’, and two, raising of the Afghan Army and a viable governance system. The strategy also includes peeling away as much of the Taliban as possible through negotiations. The purpose is to strengthen the Afghan government in relation to the Taliban resistance. The US does not intend to abandon Afghanistan, as it does not want a repeat of the 1990s when Afghanistan became a safe haven for terrorists from all over the world, especially Al-Qaeda.

Given adjustments for language, style and rhetoric, Pakistan’s Afghan policy has continuously been guided by two considerations: security threat perceptions from India and the question of the Durand Line. It was hosting most of the mujahideen leaders of the 1980s since the early 1970s or becoming a front-line state in the 1980s against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan or the half-cooked ideas of ‘strategic depth’ in the 1990s leading to the rise of the Taliban. Pakistan appeared to have taken a U-turn after 9/11. However, that perception soon proved wrong by what Ahmad Rashid called a ‘double U-turn’. Pakistan has been playing the role of a broker between the US and the Taliban even before 9/11. After 9/11, Pakistan — while announcing support for the US — tried its best to salvage whatever was left of its Afghan policy that banked on a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Pakistan tried to bridge the gap between the Taliban and the US, with the aim of saving the Taliban from any military action against them. It continued its diplomatic relations with their government in Kabul to the very end. However, when the US attacked and dislodged the Taliban government, Pakistan adjusted its policy accordingly. Since then its policy has aimed to get a government in Kabul in which it will have a strong say and Indian influence will be minimum. For that end, Pakistan has been acting against the Taliban with a policy that will limit them but not eliminate them. Pakistan also wishes to see a complete withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, however only after meeting Pakistan’s concerns. Pakistan now wants to limit Afghanistan’s military capability as well, so a recent Pakistan foreign policy elite study proposed limiting of the Afghan Army.

Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban have been quite complex. It is like you construct a canal to direct the flow of water over whose flow you do not have much control. You stop the Taliban from acting where you do not want them to and shut your eyes when they act where you want them to. Whether Pakistan controls some of them and to what extent is debatable, however, it finds their defeat unless Pakistan’s concerns are met as not desirable. Its actions or inaction against them must be understood in this background. It is this policy that angers and frustrates the US.

The US is also facing a dilemma. It is aware of Pakistan’s position and its role. It also knows how vital that role is for the current phase of the Afghan imbroglio. Admiral (retd) Mullen’s as well as other statements, including those from the White House itself, clearly establish that the US has not been able to make Pakistan act the way it wants to with a policy that can largely be described as that of carrots and the threat of use of sticks.

With 2014 approaching fast, the US’s choices are getting limited. The American leadership seems to be getting convinced that carrots are not convincing enough and neither are the threats. Pakistani policy makers know that the US will bend over backwards as much as possible to avoid materialising of the threats — to avoid the use of sticks. They bank on US calculations that it must not entangle itself in a country bigger than both Afghanistan and Iraq put together. This does not mean that Pakistan is a match for the US militarily. Even the Pakistani establishment knows that. This means the US would need much more troops afterwards and still much more resources. Pakistan cannot be just hit, destroyed and left for the extremists to take over. If the US ever decides to hit decisively against Pakistan then it has to commit for a much longer, bigger and direct commitment than it can be worth in terms of interests — security or economic, both immediate or strategic. This is what emboldens Pakistan and pushes it to bargain hard.

Read the 2nd part here..

Courtesy: Dailytimes

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we sinful women

A few days ago at the Pakistan Policy blog, Arif linked to the NYT documentary about Ziauddin Yusufzai and his daughter Malala in the days leading up to the January 15 school closure deadline in Swat. He commented:

Watch this video. It will be difficult to get Ziauddin Yusufzai and his daughter, Malala, out of your mind. Learning of their story inspires hope and produces anguish at the same time.
I hope the young, brave girl follows her father’s wishes and becomes a politician. Pakistan would be well-served by a Prime Minister Malala Yusufzai — not an underachieving brat of a discredited politician.

Kalsoom, at Changing Up Pakistan also linked to the video and transcribed the moving speech made by a schoolgirl to her classmates with her face veiled to hide her identity:

The title of my speech is the situation in Swat. Swat Valley: the paradise on earth, is in the northwest of Pakistan. Swat Valley: the land of waterfalls, lush green hills and other gifts bestowed upon it by nature. But my dear friends, today Swat has in the past few years become a heartland for Pakistan Islamic militancy. Today this idyllic valley of peace is burning. Why the peace of this valley destroyed? Why the peace and innocent people of the valley targeted? Why our future is targeted? …Who will solve our problems? Who will return our Valley to peace? I say nobody, no one. Our dreams are shattered…

Today, I watched this video of Kishwar Naheed reading her powerful poem “Hum Gunahgar auratein” and it made me think of those two girls:

Here is the English translation (courtesy of ana):

We Sinful Women

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our lives
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

It is we sinful women
while those who sell the harvests of our bodies
become exalted
become distinguished
become the just princes of the material world.

It is we sinful women
who come out raising the banner of truth
up against barricades of lies on the highways
who find stories of persecution piled on each threshold
who find that tongues which could speak have been severed.

It is we sinful women.
Now, even if the night gives chase
these eyes shall not be put out.
For the wall which has been razed
don’t insist now on raising it again.

It is we sinful women
who are not awed by the grandeur of those who wear gowns

who don’t sell our bodies
who don’t bow our heads
who don’t fold our hands together.

Everywhere you look, doors are closing for Pakistani women. From this journal entry by a girl in Mingora about going to China Market to buy as much as she could because the stores are all closing down:

آج خواتین کے ساتھ چینہ مارکیٹ گئی تھی اور وہاں میں نے خوب شاپنگ کی کیونکہ وہاں ایک دوکاندار اپنی دوکان ختم کر رہا ہے۔ وہ کم قیمت پر چیزیں بیچ رہا ہے۔ چینہ مارکیٹ میں زیادہ تر دوکانیں اب بند ہوگئی ہیں۔

To these banners posted by Tazeen on her blog, in the most posh area of Karachi which say “An increase in employment quotas means an increase in deprived children – Women and Family Commission” — a not so subtle way of intimidating working women.

And yet the apologies and excuses and looking the other way continue.

The nightingale’s torment…

  

Post by takhalus
Rahman Baba was a famous 17th century Pashtun poet and sufi, nicknamed the nightingale of Peshawar. A symbol of Pashtun culture and poetry, his contribution to Pashtun culture was acknowledged by the provincial government which constructed a mazar near Peshawar city in his honour.

Writer William Dalrymple wrote about the mystic nature of Rahman Baba in this article back in 2004:

Last autumn I visited a Sufi shrine just outside Peshawar in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. Rahman Baba was a 17th-century mystic poet, and his tomb has for centuries been a place where musicians and poets have gathered. A friend who lived nearby in the 1980s advised me to go on a Thursday night when great crowds of Pathans would sing mystical love songs to their saint by the light of the moon.
“What can we do?” he replied. “We pray that right will overpower wrong. But our way is pacifist. We love. We never fight. When these Arabs come here I don’t know what to do.”

I asked the guardian of the shrine what had happened to the musicians.

“My family have been singing here for generations,” he told me. “But now these Arab madrasa students come here and create trouble. They tell us that what we do is wrong. Sometimes arguments break out – even fist fights and brawls.

“Before the Afghan war there was nothing like this. It only began when Reagan and the Saudis starting sending jihadis to Peshawar. Before that the Pushtuns here loved Sufism. Now trouble happens more and more frequently.”

A prophetic comment, as yesterday morning the shrine was bombed by militants, according to the dailytimes

Locals said the administration had also been warned before the attack to stop women from visiting the shrine.

While he would not have recognised the explosives used, Rahman Baba would have recognised this attempt by the masters of religiosity to destroy his philosophy. After all.. he was targetted by the mullahs of his time..he wrote

“I couldn’t find peace in my search for him. It became unlawful for me to be careless in my religion.”

…and sadly so it had again…rest in peace, Rahman Baba.

P.S the systematic targetting of Pashtun culture in NWFP and FATA is something which I shall be writing about another time.