The Pakistan test

November 24, 2008

Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times:

Barack Obama’s most difficult international test in the next year will very likely be here in Pakistan. A country with 170 million people and up to 60 nuclear weapons may be collapsing.

Reporting in Pakistan is scarier than it has ever been. The major city of Peshawar is now controlled in part by the Taliban, and this month alone in the area an American aid worker was shot dead, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped, a Japanese journalist shot and American humvees stolen from a NATO convoy to Afghanistan.

I’ve been coming to Pakistan for 26 years, ever since I hid on the tops of buses to sneak into tribal areas as a backpacking university student, and I’ve never found Pakistanis so gloomy. Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart. I’m not quite that pessimistic, but it’s very likely that the next major terror attack in the West is being planned by extremists here in Pakistan.

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Ringed by foes, Pakistanis fear the US, too

November 23, 2008

There is an increasing belief among some Pakistanis that what the U.S. really wants is the breakup of Pakistan. Jane Perlez from Islamabad in the New York Times:

Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A controversial imaging of borders: Above are sections of maps that opriginally accompanied a speculative June 2006 article by Ralph Peters in Armed Forces Journal that has concerned pakistanis.

A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

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Stephen Cohen on how US sees India

October 13, 2008

In Mint, Jyoti Malhotra interviews Brookings Institution senior fellow of foreign policy Stephen P. Cohen:

Q: Seems to some of us here that the gap between the Indian elite and the Democrats is much wider than between the Indian elite and the Republicans…

A: The Democrats were more influenced by non-proliferation considerations, and for a number of years, this steered US policy towards South Asia, especially after the nuclear tests of 1998. But before that the Democrats were very pro-India, it was the Republicans that were hostile to India. The Republicans thought India was a socialist state, they didn’t like Nehru, they didn’t like Krishna Menon. It’s flip now.

Now that the non-proliferation issue is behind us, I would say one remarkable thing about elite public opinion in the US is that everybody likes India. Whether they are for the deal or against the deal, they like India as a state. I think that is a major accomplishment of India and it puts a new spin on our relationship. But here, for example, the Left parties are systemically anti-American, whereas in the US even those who are against the nuclear deal are very pro-India.

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Insurgency’s scars line Afghanistan’s main road

August 14, 2008

A highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort is now a dangerous gantlet of mines and attacks. From The New York Times:

Saydebad, Afghanistan: Not far from here, just off the highway that was once the showpiece of the United States reconstruction effort in Afghanistan, three American soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were ambushed and killed seven weeks ago.

The soldiers – two of them members of the National Guard from New York – died as their vehicles were hit by mines and rocket-propelled grenades. At least one was dragged off and chopped to pieces, according to Afghan and Western officials. The body was so badly mutilated that at first the military announced that it had found the remains of two men, not one, in a nearby field.

The attack, on June 26, was notable not only for its brutality, but also because it came amid a series of spectacular insurgent attacks along the road that have highlighted the precariousness of the international effort to secure Afghanistan six years after the United States intervened to drive off the Taliban government.

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Mystery of Siddiqui disappearance

August 6, 2008

From BBC:

Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui

Aafia Siddiqui, whom the US accuses of al-Qaeda links, vanished in Karachi with her three children on 30 March 2003. The next day it was reported in local newspapers that a woman had been taken into custody on terrorism charges.

Initially, confirmation came from a Pakistan interior ministry spokesman. But a couple of days later, both the Pakistan government and the FBI publicly denied having anything to do with her disappearance.

Two days after Aafia Siddiqui went missing, “a man wearing a motor-bike helmet” arrived at the Siddiqui home in Karachi, her mother told the BBC. “He did not take off the helmet, but told me that if I ever wanted to see my daughter and grandchildren again, I should keep quiet,” Ms Siddiqui’s mother told me over the phone in 2003.

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Anger in Pakistan as ‘missing’ scientist resurfaces in US court on terror charges

From The Independent:

Aafia Siddiqui reappeared five years later in US custody in Afghanistan

Aafia Siddiqui reappeared five years later in US custody in Afghanistan

A US-trained neuroscientist’s appearance in a New York court charged with the attempted murder of American soldiers and FBI agents has sparked angry protests in her homeland of Pakistan.

Aafia Siddiqui, 36, is under suspicion of having links to the al-Qa’ida terror network of Osama bin Laden, and is the first woman ever sought by the US in connection with the group, which was behind the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

According to US officials, Ms Siddiqui, who reportedly studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, was arrested in Afghanistan on 17 July in possession of recipes for explosives and chemical weapons, as well as details of landmarks in the United States, including in New York.

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An endgame with no clear winners

July 23, 2008

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu on the day of the confidence vote in Parliament:

When a patient is staring death in the face, the dividing line between self-preservation and self-destruction can be rather thin. In medieval times, leeches were often attached to a dying patient’s body in the belief that the ‘bad’ blood they drew out would help breathe life into him. But even if this drastic remedy worked, the doctor had to know when it was safe to cast aside the pet parasites. Let them feed too long and the sick man might never recover; remove them too soon and they may not have time to deliver their ‘cure.’

Ever since the Left parties withdrew their support to the United Progressive Alliance, the Congress party has sought to prolong the life of the government it leads by resorting to leech therapy. Beginning with the Samajwadi Party, it has struck deals with a range of parties and individuals to ensure at least 271 votes when the confidence motion is put to test on July 22. Some of these deals involve concessions that are in the public domain – a file speeded up here, a Cabinet berth promised there – but the most critical indulgences sought and granted are the ones not being advertised. Whatever they are, these deals could prove counterproductive for the Congress at four levels. First, the perception has gotten around that the UPA will go to any length to win this vote, even if this means accommodating demands that ought not to be accommodated. The Congress may carry the day but its reputation will have been diminished as a result. Second, creating the impression that the SP’s pet agendas will be pursued with vigour has given Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati a compelling reason to go flat out to unseat the government. Third, the impression that one section of big capital is being pandered to has galvanised another section into action, and it is far from clear what the overall effect of this corporate intervention will be for the Congress. Fourth, the understanding with the SP is clearly not momentary. As it matures into a full-fledged political alliance involving seat-sharing in Uttar Pradesh, the compact will represent the Congress’s formal abandonment of any hope of revival in India’s politically most important state.

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Playing the Muslim card on nuclear deal

Also by Siddharth Varadarajan

Going by the statements Indian politicians make, Hindus and Muslims must be the most gullible people on earth. How else can one explain the cynical revival, in the run-up to the next general election, of the Ayodhya temple card by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani? Or the manipulative assertion by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati that the nuclear deal is anti-Muslim.

Sadly, Mayawati is not the only one to look at one of the most important foreign policy issues confronting India in this manner. On June 23, M K Pandhe, a member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), warned the Samajwadi Party against supporting the UPA govern- ment on the nuclear issue because, he claimed, “a majority of the Muslim masses are against the deal”. The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat wisely disowned this shocking statement two days later by saying that Pandhe’s remarks “are not the view of the party” but the damage had al- ready been done. Now that it has been let out of its bottle, this dangerous genie will not be exorcised easily. Parties eager to hoodwink Muslims into supporting them feel they now have an issue. And waiting in the wings are the traditional Muslim- baiters in the BJP, who thrive on the communalisation of any issue and will point an accusatory finger at the community when the time is ripe.

Siddharth Varadarajan’s blog Reality, one bite at a time:


Bhutan a big draw in US

July 3, 2008

The Bhutanese are in Washington, DC for the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival. Kinley Dorji reports in Kuensel:

As thousands of people crowded the Bhutan exhibition to look at a culture that was difficult for them to fathom, however, the Bhutanese participants were equally fascinated by the American people and their country.

“I can’t imagine, even after seeing them, that there are so many different types of people on this earth,” said a Bhutanese swordmaker, looking at the crowd of people of all shapes, sizes, and colours. And, in the heat of Washington’s notoriously hot and humid summer, the Bhutanese find the clothing and lack of clothing of the Americans equally astonishing.

Meanwhile, a Laya herder is still in a daze after the amazing 17-hour flight from Delhi which he found to be an ethereal experience. “I think this is how the deities live,” he said. “It’s so still up in the sky. And they bring you food and drink, serving it up to your chin. I chanted my prayers because I think they would have more merit up there.” He also watched every movie on the menu without understanding a word.

[Photo: His Royal Highness jamming with blues singer Texas Johnny Brown.]

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