How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties
March 7th, 2014
06:03 PM ET

How Pakistan moves against Taliban could complicate Afghan ties

By Frederic Grare, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frederic Grare is a senior associate and director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Pakistan’s military is set to launch a major military operation in North Waziristan, AP reported this week, after weeks of hesitation over its strategy of negotiating with Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Yet although the expected operation follows the killing of 23 Pakistani soldiers last month by a Taliban faction, it seems likely to have been motivated by something more than a desire to retaliate and coerce the TTP into talks.

Whatever the motivation, it will have a significant impact on the country’s relationship with its weaker neighbor: Afghanistan.

In early 2012, Pakistan’s Foreign Office publicly declared a “strategic shift” in its thinking on Afghanistan, and began promoting its own version of an inclusive reconciliation process, as well as actively reaching out to elements of the Northern Alliance. Islamabad adopted this new policy after concluding that its strategy of supporting the Taliban alone was unlikely to produce a “friendly” Afghanistan (in other words, one under close Pakistani influence) because the Taliban is, for now at least, simply not capable of taking the reins of power on its own.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Pakistan • Taliban
March 7th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Time for Pakistan's leaders to stand up for women

By Farahnaz Ispahani, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s parliament, is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

International Women’s Day, being marked Saturday, is as good a time as any not just to celebrate how much progress has been made, but also how much farther there is to go on the road toward guaranteeing women’s rights. Sadly, for women in at least one country, the journey is getting increasingly arduous.

For decades, the status and rights of women in Pakistan have been a casualty of concessions made by the state to those clamoring for what they describe as Islamic rule. But with the Taliban’s call for the imposition of Sharia law during current peace talks between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani government, there are growing concerns that women’s freedoms will be further eroded.

The reality is that Pakistan’s women have no real voice in the government’s talks with the Taliban – not only is there a lack of representation on the government’s negotiating team, but negotiators from both sides represent a similar conservative religious viewpoint. And despite some changes in the negotiating procedure, and the men who will negotiate, the government remains committed to working with the Taliban instead of fighting them."

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Topics: Pakistan • Women
February 13th, 2014
11:05 AM ET

Could Pakistan become a Sharia state?

By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. You can follow him @michaelkugelman. The views expressed are his own.

Shireen Mazari is a prominent Pakistani politician who many say is as feisty as she is conservative. In 2011, for example, Pakistan’s Express Tribune reported an incident at an Islamabad restaurant in which Mazari allegedly cursed out a Westerner after his chair bumped into hers. One of the printable portions of the polemic was “Who do you think you are, you bloody CIA agent?”

These days, Mazari is strongly supporting Islamabad’s preliminary peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). It’s a little ironic, because if these talks succeed, Mazari may no longer have the same kind of freedom to pick fights at restaurants – or even many freedoms at all. After all, the TTP vows to impose extreme forms of Sharia law throughout Pakistan – just as it once did in Swat, a region it briefly controlled in 2009. Girls’ schools were shuttered or blown up, and women were whipped. The region gained international notoriety when gunmen boarded a bus and shot schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai.

In reality, the current talks will likely go nowhere. The TTP’s demands – which go well beyond Sharia – are hopelessly unrealistic. They reportedly require Pakistan to sever all ties with Washington, and to withdraw all its troops from the tribal belt.

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism
Pakistan in 2014: Time ripe for a virtuous cycle?
January 2nd, 2014
11:51 AM ET

Pakistan in 2014: Time ripe for a virtuous cycle?

By Robert D. Lamb, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert D. Lamb is senior fellow and director of the Program on Crisis, Conflict, and Cooperation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The views expressed are solely those of the author. This is the latest in the '14 in 2014' series, looking at what the year ahead holds for key countries.

During U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s meetings last month with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and new Chief of Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif, the two countries traded familiar complaints: for Pakistan, the continuing U.S. drone strikes against targets in Pakistan’s sovereign territory; for the United States, the ongoing use of Pakistani territory as a safe haven for Taliban, Haqqani network, and other militants fighting in Afghanistan.

But they also reaffirmed the importance of the partnership, given their shared concern over the very real threats to Pakistan’s stability: armed militants attacking Pakistani state targets, sectarian and political violence increasing intercommunal tensions, terrorist groups threatening India with cross-border attacks and increasing on-again-off-again tensions with its larger neighbor, and devastating energy and economic crises that keep tens of millions of Pakistanis in poverty and threaten Pakistan’s social cohesion. Pakistan is a country that is too big to fail: its population is large, it has nuclear weapons, and its extremist groups have international connections. Instability there would affect too many international security concerns to ignore.

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Topics: 14 in 2014 • Pakistan
Why Pakistanis are angry about Taliban leader's death
November 6th, 2013
08:39 AM ET

Why Pakistanis are angry about Taliban leader's death

By Michael Kugelman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Kugelman is the senior program associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.

On August 5, 2009, a U.S. drone strike killed Pakistani Taliban (TTP) leader Baitullah Mehsud. In the days that followed, his death was confirmed by the TTP, which immediately made plans to select his successor. One person, however, had a different view on what happened – an energetic young TTP commander named Hakimullah Mehsud. He’s just “a bit sick,” he told a reporter.

What a strange remark. And yet four years later, the unhappy response in Pakistan to the death-by-drone of Hakimullah, Baitullah’s successor, is similarly perplexing.

Hakimullah Mehsud enjoyed, even by the TTP’s savage standards, an outsize reputation for cruelty. He contrasted sharply with Baitullah Mehsud, to whom he served as a close aide. Baitullah was portly and afflicted by diabetes – a condition that caused him chronic leg pain. He was killed while reportedly reclining on the roof of his father-in-law’s home, receiving a leg massage from a female companion. Hakimullah, by contrast, was big and athletic – and is believed to have survived several prior strikes.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Pakistan • Taliban
Pragmatism, not grand gestures, should guide Sharif
October 23rd, 2013
09:07 AM ET

Pragmatism, not grand gestures, should guide Sharif

By Khurram Husain, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Khurram Husain is the Pakistan scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The views expressed are his own.

As Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif prepares to sit down with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, he might want to look to history for guidance.

Almost a quarter century ago, newly elected Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto visited Washington DC, where she was received like a celebrity. There was an address to a joint sitting of Congress, a commencement address at Harvard University and a dinner at the White House in her honor. In her address to Congress, Bhutto repeatedly emphasized her democratic credentials, and tapped into the triumphalist mood sweeping Western capitals as the disintegration of the Soviet Union gathered pace. She also underlined the common purpose between her country and her hosts as the war in Afghanistan drew to a close, describing both countries as “friends and partners, who have fought, side by side, in the cause of liberty.”

“We are now moral as well as political partners,” she said. “Two elected governments bonded together in a common respect for constitutional government, accountability, and a commitment to freedom.”

These words might have made some of her hosts a little uncomfortable.  After all, here was a woman in her 30s who had already endured imprisonment and exile at the hands of a dictator embraced as a friend by the United States, one lavished with U.S. economic and military assistance.

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism • United States
Time for U.S. to end drone secrecy
October 22nd, 2013
01:47 PM ET

Time for U.S. to end drone secrecy

By Mustafa Qadri, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mustafa Qadri is Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher. The views expressed are his own.

It was a sunny October afternoon last year when Mamana Bibi was blown to pieces before her grandchildren’s very eyes. The family matriarch, Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family fields in northwestern Pakistan when a remotely piloted aircraft – or “drone” – used by the United States fired a missile directly toward her, killing Mamana instantly. A second volley of missiles was fired a few minutes later, injuring some of the children who ventured out to where their grandmother had been struck.

Almost a year to the day, the Bibi family’s lives have been torn apart. In a number of in-depth interviews over the last eight months, the family recounted to me how they sold ancestral lands to pay for their injured relatives’ steep medical bills. Mamana’s grief-stricken elderly husband, a respected retired local headmaster, rarely leaves the house. Their grandchildren, including 8-year-old Nabeela, now live in constant fear of the drones, which seem ever present in the skies.

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Topics: Military • Pakistan
Women have a dream, too
August 28th, 2013
09:38 AM ET

Women have a dream, too

By Yasmeen Hassan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Yasmeen Hassan is Global Director of Equality Now, a non-governmental organization focused on the rights of women and girls. The views expressed are her own.

I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan and witnessed firsthand the destruction of the fiber of a society through discrimination. The introduction in 1979 of so-called Islamic laws effectively made women second class citizens and encouraged myriad forms of violence and discrimination against them. Women’s testimony in many cases became equivalent to half that of a man, women were not able to sign financial documents on their own, and women who were raped were punished under adultery/fornication laws when they could not produce eye witnesses to the rape.

I strongly believe that Pakistan’s current situation, with its economy and infrastructure in shambles and rising terrorism and political instability, stems directly from the decisions made more than three decades ago. And I also believe that the inspiring words of Martin Luther King, who delivered a landmark speech on race discrimination sixty years ago, speak to the plight today of women and girls who are too often subjugated on the basis of their sex.

Indeed, the gender and race equality movements have very similar agendas. What Martin Luther King fought for in the early 1960s is similar to what we are fighting for today – nothing more complex than the ability to fully participate in and contribute to society, without the threat of violence or discrimination.  The anniversary today of his “I have a dream” speech is a good reminder of that.

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Topics: Pakistan
Time for Pakistan to face down extremists
August 22nd, 2013
09:11 AM ET

Time for Pakistan to face down extremists

By Robert M. Hathaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert M. Hathaway directs the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  He is co-editor of New Security Challenges in Asia. The views expressed are his own.

Archenemies India and Pakistan, South Asia’s two nuclear-armed powers, are once again trading fire, taking casualties, and hurling accusations. Recent hopes for better relations between these long-time foes have been set back. Unfortunately, we have seen this movie before – and we know it doesn’t have a happy ending.

The latest crisis erupted earlier this month when five Indian soldiers stationed along the disputed Kashmir border were ambushed and killed. India’s defense minister asserted that Pakistani commandoes were directly involved in the attack. Islamabad denied any role and countered that Indian shelling across the “line of control” separating the two parts of Kashmir had killed an elderly Pakistani civilian.

In the days since, a flurry of accusations and denials has roiled the two countries. Indian protestors demonstrated outside the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi. The Pakistani foreign office summoned an Indian diplomat to lodge a formal complaint. The Indian foreign ministry warned that unprovoked incidents along the line of control “naturally have consequences” for bilateral relations. The Pakistani finance minister announced that his government had shelved the idea of granting India the most-favored-nation status that had been in the works. Previously planned diplomatic talks are on hold.

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Topics: India • Pakistan
August 10th, 2013
03:40 PM ET

Time for optimism over India-Pakistan ties?

By Global Public Square staff

Washington’s efforts to broker Middle East peace have given this age-old conflict a high profile and raised expectations once again. But there is another decades-old dispute, thousands of miles away, that is getting very little attention. And for the first time in many years, there are reasons to be optimistic about its prospects: We’re talking about India and Pakistan.

Yes, the two countries have fought three full-scale wars and are locked in a nuclear arms race. They have frequent skirmishes over disputed territory in Jammu and Kashmir, as they did once again this week when five Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush.

But if you take a step back from Kashmir and examine the broader political climate in the region – India, Pakistan, and also Afghanistan – there are reasons for cautious optimism.

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Topics: India • Pakistan • What in the World?
July 27th, 2013
12:33 PM ET

'Burka Avenger' to take fight to extremists

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Remember Malala Yousafzai? She's the 16-year-old Pakistani who was shot by the Taliban for promoting girls’ education. But she bravely recovered to continue her fight. Well, she has another ally now – another super girl, like her.

Meet “The Burka Avenger,” a new animated series that debuts on Pakistani TV next month.

The hero is a young girl. She wears the burka not as a sign of oppression, but as a ninja-style costume to keep her identity secret. Each episode has a moral payoff as she uses her karate skills to fight off corrupt politicians and evil magicians (or, the Taliban, it seems).

The series has the backing of top Pakistani singers, who perform in each episode.

It is said that women are the stealth reformers of Islam. In Pakistan, now they have the help of the Burka Avenger.

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Topics: Islam • Pakistan • Taliban
July 13th, 2013
12:55 AM ET

Surprising Pakistan

For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Global Public Square staff

Many of the countries we were so hopeful about only a couple of years ago are in turmoil. Egypt's stability is precarious. Turkey has been rocked by protests. The BRIC nations are sagging economically. On the other hand, there is one place, once described as the world's most dangerous country, that’s offering up a pleasant surprise: Pakistan. Yes, it's full of Islamic radicals, nuclear weapons, ambitious generals, and corrupt politicians. But things are changing.

Pakistan has just accomplished a first in its history: an elected government completed its five-year term, giving way to a new set of democratically elected leaders. This was never allowed to happen before. Every prior civilian government in Pakistan had been deposed by a military coup. You see, Pakistan's military is the world's seventh largest, and has ruled the country for almost half its existence.

The elections are even more exceptional when you consider the conditions. The Pakistani Taliban had declared war against democracy, targeting three major political parties for elimination. As a result, the campaign period turned out to be the bloodiest in Pakistan's history. At least 80 people were killed and 400 injured in dozens of attacks. Would you go to the polling booth in these conditions? And yet, voter turnout topped 55 percent – nearly the same as the last U.S. presidential election! In part, this is because Pakistan's demographics are vibrant. A third of the electorate is under the age of 30. These are voters who are not burdened by the memories and missteps of the past. Instead they're optimistic and forward-looking about their country.

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Topics: Pakistan • Protests • What in the World?
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