Pakistan is sliding toward extremism
October 16th, 2014
06:27 PM ET

Pakistan is sliding toward extremism

By Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Farahnaz Ispahani is a former member of the Pakistani parliament and Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center 2013-2014. Her forthcoming book is 'Waiting to Die: Pakistan's religious minorities'. Nina Shea is a senior fellow, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom and co- author of 'Silenced; How apostasy and blasphemy codes are choking freedom worldwide'. The views expressed are their own.

The decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize last week was a good one. After all, the 17 year-old, who was named a joint winner with along with Kailash Satyarthi, personifies the struggle for modernity, women’s equality and individual rights to religious freedom against the threat of Islamic extremism. But while Malala’s award is a triumph for her determination, it is far from clear that the cause she champions will meet as much success.

The reality is that Pakistan is facing a serious problem, with the mushrooming of Islamist appeal within Pakistani society reminding us that we risk seeing the Talibanization not simply of a small minority of ordinary citizens, but large swathes of the populace of the world’s second largest – and only nuclear-armed – Muslim country.

Pakistan abounds with violent sectarian and Islamist groups headquartered in semiautonomous tribal areas. Foreign jihadists, including Westerners like American David Headley, flock to areas such as North Waziristan. Yet although Islamabad devotes a full third of its armed forces to the northwest of the country, it is also pursuing policies that encourage a mainstream slide toward extremism. FULL POST

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Topics: Islam • Pakistan
September 24th, 2014
12:06 AM ET

Modi: We want Afghanistan to be happy

Fareed speaks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the situation in Afghanistan, and asks for his take on the role Pakistan might play there.

When you look at what is going on in Afghanistan – the United States is going to draw down its forces. Historically, Pakistan has always played a role in Afghanistan, usually by supporting the Taliban, historically at least. Do you worry that that may happen again, that as the United States draws down, Pakistan will try to increase its involvement, and that will have negative consequences for India?

America will have learned from its experience in Iraq. I don’t believe that it will do the same thing with Afghanistan and that it will be on its own. My guess is that the United States will have a different policy in Afghanistan from what it had in Iraq.

The other issue is that we want Afghanistan to become happy, prosperous and peaceful. It should live in harmony with its neighborhood and progress. We have a special attachment with Afghanistan. From childhood, every person in India has an impression in their hearts that a person from Afghanistan is very honest, good at heart…Our connection with Afghanistan is not with reference to Pakistan. We have our own cultural heritage, with deep relations. We want to see them happy, and in this process we want everyone to be together. We invite Pakistan to come and join us all together, for the happiness of Afghanistan.

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Topics: Afghanistan • GPS Show • India • Pakistan
June 15th, 2014
03:53 AM ET

Journalist: Pakistan facing watershed moment

Fareed speaks with Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan and Afghanistan, about the siege of Karachi airport. Watch the video for the full interview.

Ahmed, what should we make of this? One thinks of terrorism in Pakistan taking place in the northwestern frontier, in remote places. This is one of the central locations in the whole country.

Well, I think it's a watershed for the country in its half-hearted fight with terrorism and extremism.But unfortunately, I fear that neither the political government nor the military is going to bring about the kind of policy changes that are required, and which will make people understand that this is a watershed.

This attack was critical, and that Pakistan can start unraveling like what we are seeing in Iraq right now.After all, there too, we've seen an army collapse. We've seen civil society collapse. In Pakistan, you have militant groups who are very small in number, but you have large numbers of students who’ve been studying in the madrassas who could well provide backbone in the cities to a very large scale movement across the country that will really test the government and the military. FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Pakistan
Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?
June 13th, 2014
03:44 PM ET

Will Pakistan finally tackle the Taliban?

By Daniel Markey, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Markey is a senior fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of No Exit from Pakistan: America’s Tortured Relationship with Islamabad. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

On Wednesday and Thursday, U.S. drones fired missiles in Pakistan’s tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan for the first known strikes since late December. In the wake of this week’s two terrorist attacks on Karachi’s airport, the drone strikes mean one of two things. Either Pakistan’s leaders have finally decided to launch a long-awaited military offensive in North Waziristan, the home base of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), or U.S. officials have grown so frustrated with Pakistan’s dithering that they decided to take the fight into their own hands.

Let’s hope that Pakistan has finally decided for war. The next six months offer what is likely the best – and quite possibly the last – chance for Washington and Islamabad to work together against a terrorist group that threatens the peace in Pakistan, has extended its operations into Afghanistan, and would undoubtedly attack the United States if ever given the chance.

Any further delay would be costly. As President Barack Obama announced last month, all but 9,800 U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by year’s end. That drawdown in military power will also mean reduced CIA operations along the Pakistani border, including the sort of surveillance and drone strikes that would give any Pakistan military operation a greater lethal punch.

FULL POST

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Topics: Pakistan • Terrorism
May 7th, 2014
12:09 PM ET

Why the power went off for Pakistan's prime minister

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

Last week, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif found out what happens when you don't pay electricity bills – the hard way.

Electricity is often stolen or unpaid for in Pakistan, as it is in many developing nations. And last week, Sharif directed his Ministry of Water and Power to begin a "zero tolerance" policy toward theft, and to crackdown on failure to pay bills.

Well, the minister of state for water and power agreed, and shut off power to more than 18 government buildings (including Pakistan's version of the White House: where the prime minister both lives and works) for failure to pay large bills.

He told us he did so to show that "nobody was above the law." The lights went off for 48 hours in the prime minister's home, but were restored when the bills were paid.

Hats off to Mr. Sharif for trying – and for finally paying his bills.

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Topics: Last Look • Pakistan
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.

FULL POST

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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."

FULL POST

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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.

FULL POST

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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.

FULL POST

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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.

FULL POST

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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.

FULL POST

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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.

FULL POST

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Topics: Military • Pakistan
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