Christopher Lee

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Give Pakistan a chance – it needs it

16th Januaryt 2013

 

This week the Pakistan army has accused Indian troops firing on Pakistani soldiers in the disputed border area in Kashmir. One Pakistani was killed.  The Indian army says its men did not open fire and even did not return fire when Pakistani troops mortared their positions in the Poonch area.

Last week, Indian soldiers were killed in exchanges.  According to Indian PM Manmohan Singh, one of them was beheaded.

The Indians says that in such circumstances, any peace hopes between Pakistan and India can be forgotten.  The Pakistanis say the same. There have been two wars between the countries over Kashmir and two major and continuing shooting incidents.

Does any of this really matter?  Yes it does because this week has seen the worst tension between the two nuclear powers since the Mumbai massacre in 2008. They are not about to go to war again but the region needs the two nations to be on at least co-operative footings because the future of Afghanistan depends on them.

Yet neither is in a good enough political state to take the lead or more subtly, let the other do so.  Pakistan is in something approaching political turmoil and India has the head of its army, General Bikram Singh accusing Pakistan of pre-meditated offensive and told his men to be “aggressive and offensive in the face of provocation and fire” from Pakistan.

Such public utterances from the military make it hard for PM Singh to be quietly diplomatically about it all.
It was only last year that there were justifiable fears of a military coup in Pakistan. The army chief of staff, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani says the military no longer gets into politics as once it did.  Others say that given the state of the political leadership the firm hand of military government with promised elections in two months is exactly what the country needs.

The important aspect of that situation is that in spite of his powers, Kayani may have others on his chiefs of staff corridor who really do long for the old military times.

You can see why people would say that when, for example, just this week the supreme court’s Chief Justice Chaudhry ordered the arrest of Prime Minister  Raja Pervez Ashraf on corruptions charges based on the PM’s earlier times as a minister.  

If this isn’t destabilizing enough, outsiders would do well to learn the name of Muhammad Tahir-u Qadri a Canadian born cleric who a lot of people say will either be assassinated or bring down the government or both.

The preacher man sits in a bullet proof box opposite the presidential building denouncing the President Zadari and demanding his resignation.  It would not mean much if it weren’t for tens of thousands of followers Qadri, who only recently arrived in the country, has.  He calls Parliament a band of looters and lawbreakers and the crowd believe him.  

But he could probably say that about most senior Pakistani politicians in times past and get the same round of applause.  But watch this man.  He has a movement going and Pakistan is getting ready for elections – never a peaceful event in this place.

Could it be that Qadri and Chaudhry are becoming a double act?  They both say No.  Not everyone believes them – including Kayani who knows everything that’s going on.
The hope is that the government can see it through to the elections in March.  It will be the first time that a civilian government in this country has ever got through a five year term.

Zardari has devolved powers to the provinces and supposedly devised a see-though electoral system. Beneath the street politics and border tensions, there are signs that Pakistan at the top is trying to hold the country together with something other than kick-backs.

All of this, especially the importance of Pakistan in the future of Afghanistan, makes the dangerous exchange over Kashmir even more disheartening. So watch Qadri, he knows how to manipulate crowds, uncertain government and maybe even the so-called independent judiciary. It’s a bad news week in Islamabad.

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