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  • Shifting Sands in Pakistan

    Pakistani officials have been making a series of surprising statements over the last week. Last Friday, Chief of Army Staff General Kayani told a group of Pakistani naval officers that “[w]hile the external threat to Pakistan continues to exist, it is the internal threat that merits immediate attention.” The statement seemed to signal a welcome shift in Pakistani thinking and apparent acknowledgement of something senior U.S. officials have been trying to drive home to Pakistan’s strategic establishment: the genuine threat to the country’s future comes from terrorists seeking to undermine Pakistani institutions, not traditional rival India.

    Four days later, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari admitted during an interactive meeting with former senior Pakistani civil servants that “militants and extremists were created and nurtured in the country as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives… But they began to haunt the country in the post-9/11 era.” A July 9th editorial in The Times of India called Zardari’s admission “unprecedented,” with the potential for catalyzing “fundamental shifts in the security discourse” between Islamabad and New Delhi.

    But perhaps the most startling revelation was today’s from Pakistan military spokesman Major Gen. Athar Abbas, who acknowledged ongoing contacts with Afghan Taliban commanders using sanctuary in Pakistan to battle Americans across the border in Afghanistan. Abbas was careful to say that even though the Pakistani military maintained contacts with the Taliban leadership and other extremist groups fighting coalition forces in Afghanistan, it did not mean that Pakistan is still providing physical support, funding, or training to the militants.

    These statements, which follow ten weeks of Pakistani fighting against Taliban elements in and around the Swat Valley region, are significant. Yet Washington must react with caution. In the best-case scenario, Pakistan has perhaps finally recognized that a policy of fighting some terrorists, while harboring others, is only hurting its own interests. Taken at face value, Pakistan may actually be willing to help the U.S. stabilize Afghanistan, and in return, expect security guarantees vis-a-vis India.

    But several questions remain. If the Afghan Taliban leadership has been in Pakistan since early 2002, why is Pakistan only now acknowledging its influence on them? Second, although we know the uptick in drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas has hit the al-Qaeda leadership hard, how is the Taliban faring? Are they prepared to become part of a democratic political process in Afghanistan? It’s worth noting that there are a couple of Taliban candidates running in the upcoming Afghan elections, including Maulvi Mohammed Hashmi from Zabol Province, who is campaigning on a platform of peace and stability, claiming he can bring the Taliban back into the political process.

    These developments also need to be seen in the light of the influx of new U.S. troops into Southern Afghanistan and of Pakistani concerns about the impact of the troop surge on its own interests. Between the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan, shifting sands in Pakistan, and the upcoming August 20 Afghan elections, developments in South Asia bear close watching. The context could be turning in America’s favor.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    5 Responses to Shifting Sands in Pakistan

    1. Vijay says:

      There are 6 decades of history pointing to Pakistani duplicity vis-a-vis its relations with the US and yet each new promise by the duplicitous Pakistani army provokes fresh naive hopes that this time around it heralds a new beginning. To hope that things are turning in favor of the US on account of the troop surge or some imaginary shift in the sands is a triumph of hope over expectations. The reality most likely is that the Pakistani army wants to forestall any possible progress in terms of territorial defeats the Taliban will face on account of the insertion of troops. That the Taliban and the Afghan card are chips they intend to keep in their insane quest for strategic depth has been repeated often enough in the western press and yet no one who can make a difference in the US administration is in the least bit interested in drawing the right inferences much less act upon them.

    2. Rob Kalaskos says:

      Very simple. The timing of these "great" new statements by Pakistani establishment honchos are very obviously coincides with the passage of the Pakisan aid bill in congress this week. So, all this charade is a case of the beggars putting up a good honest face.

    3. njunaid says:

      In the end they are going to wear the US out may be in 10 -20 years, and Pakistan, China and evern Russia is never going to allow what and how it settled in Iraq. Iraq is surrounded by US Arab puppets only except Iran which is weak. But here in the Afghan theater everyone is in danger with US or Indian presence. I hope US had chosen to side with Pakistan but this Indian Alliance is never going to be acceptable to Pakistanis and Chinese. So looks like it is going to be ugly for long time.

    4. edward willis -panam says:

      i feel that in the safety of our country and all the people in this country we need to either impeach obama or have him to step down because he is a threat to this country.he does not respect this country in wish he has shown many times,and to me that disrespect alone makes him a danger to this country.

    5. don st joe, ar says:

      there are many hazards in getting involved by conflict where the opposition is religious zealots. pakistan is a can of worms–realizing a consensus for democracy will remain elusive.

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