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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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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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.
By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN
Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.
President Barack Obama’s counterterrorism speech Thursday did not deliver any radical policy changes or huge revelations, but it was well done nonetheless. It explained his reasoning behind the use of certain techniques of warfare including drone strikes and Guantanamo detentions, even as he also promised to minimize the use of these methods in the future and try to move towards a world in which the 2001 authorization for war against al Qaeda and affiliates would no longer be needed. It was an intelligent blend of the tone of his more idealistic speeches, such as the Cairo address of June 2009, with his more muscular messages like the December 2009 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.
But one section of his speech is worth particular focus – the use of armed unmanned combat vehicles or drones. Even though President Obama did not specify exactly how drone strikes would change in the future, and did not provide a great deal of new information about them, the modest amount of detail he did provide was welcome. That is because U.S. drone strikes are badly misunderstood around the world, a point underscored by a New York Times op-ed today contained the following statements:
“...the C.I.A. has no idea who is actually being killed in most of the strikes. Despite this acknowledgment, the drone program in Pakistan still continues without any Congressional oversight or accountability.”
By Mustafa Qadri, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mustafa Qadri is Amnesty International’s Pakistan researcher. The views expressed are his own.
Saturday was a milestone is Pakistan’s short history – for the first time since the country’s creation in 1947, one elected civilian government will be followed by another after seeing out a full term in office. Up until now, every democratically elected government’s term in office has been cut short by an intervention from the powerful military. But this historic moment was overshadowed by a wave of coordinated attacks targeting election candidates, their supporters and election officials. More than 100 people were killed and many more injured countrywide.
The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for the majority of the attacks, which have mostly targeted secular political parties, especially the Awami National Party and Muttahida Quami Movement. The Pakistan Peoples Party also had to drastically scale down on campaigning in the face of threats.
By Richard Wike, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Richard Wike is associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. You can follow him @RichardWike. The views expressed are his own.
Last Saturday, three people were killed and more than 30 injured when two bombs exploded near the headquarters of the Muttahida Quami Movement, or MQM, a leading political party in Karachi, Pakistan. It was yet another tragic incident in a campaign season plagued by violence that has seen dozens killed. As the country prepares for this weekend’s elections, the Taliban has significantly stepped up its attacks. And no matter which party emerges victorious from the May 11 poll, it will have to answer to a public that is increasingly worried about the threat extremism poses to the Pakistani state.
Pakistani fears about extremism had actually been on the wane over the last few years. The high mark of concern was 2009, when the Taliban gained control of the Swat Valley and neighboring areas within 100 miles of the nation’s capital Islamabad. In a spring 2009 Pew Research Center poll, 57 percent of Pakistanis described the Taliban as a very serious threat to the country. But after the Pakistani military forced a Taliban retreat, fears declined, and by 2012 a little more than a third of Pakistanis held this view.
GPS readers ask William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and currently a senior scholar on the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, about the implications of upcoming elections, terrorism and ties with America.
“Elizabeth Shanaz” asks on Facebook whether you see anything undermining a smooth election and transfer to power?
No. Elections in South Asia always have a few rough patches, but I see nothing that will undermine the election or prevent a peaceful transfer of power. It’s likely, of course, that neither major party will win an overall majority of seats in the National Assembly, and the party with the greater number of seats will need to form a coalition to govern. This might require an extended period of time as often there’s a good deal of bargaining and haggling necessary to get a coalition together.
“Bonnie Geffen” asks what the differences are between the leading candidates?
In a sense the leaders of the two major parties are more alike than different, and their political parties are the same, grouped around one family or clan, based mainly on patronage. These parties are neither ideological nor issue oriented. Their goal is political power for its own sake. The leaders of the two major parties are both the scions of rich and powerful families. There are a few smaller regional based parties that are structured similarly, but the dynastic character of Pakistani politics remains intact.
Still, some parties have broken out of this mold. The first has drawn much attention in the past year, the PTI, of former cricket star Imran Khan. Last year, Khan caught a lot of media attention by drawing immense crowds to rallies, partially because of his celebrity, but mainly because of his effective attacks on the government for its corruption and especially for its foreign policy of cooperation with the U.S. on counter-terrorism and for its seeming acquiescence in the U.S. drone campaign. However, his crowds have dwindled this past year, and it’s now unclear how much popular support he really has. There’s often a large gap between the candidate Pakistanis say they like best and the one they vote for.
But will the election really run smoothly? Who are the key players and what do they stand for? And what does it all mean for Pakistan's relations with its neighbors, especially India?
William Milam, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and currently a senior scholar on the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, will be taking questions from GPS readers. Please leave your questions in the comment section below.
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.
Will Pakistan experience an Arab Spring? The question has been on many minds since revolution swept across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 – and especially since a major anti-government rally took place in Islamabad this month.
It's easy to understand why. Pakistan, like the Arab Spring nations, boasts a young and mobile communications savvy population. Its masses are victims of the same indignities that incited revolt in the Middle East: corruption, oppression, and injustice.
However, the similarities end there. Let’s stop talking about a revolution in Pakistan, because it’s not going to happen.
By Hassan Abbas, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Hassan Abbas is an academic and a senior advisor at the Asia Society. The views expressed are his own.
Pakistan is only months away from a first: a democratically elected government is slated to hand over power to another democratically elected government. Too bad few in Pakistan are in a celebratory mood.
The lack of excitement is due, in part, to a worsening economic situation and rampant corruption. Today, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf over fraud related to power plant deals. The previous day, Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a former elected parliamentarian and an important religious figure who just returned from Canada, led tens of thousands of people in a protest against political corruption in the capital of Islamabad.
Taking control of the reins of government after a long military rule is never easy. Often people expect quick results and don’t fully realize the damage done to both the polity and society by dictators. They dream of jobs, justice and security, but it takes decades to build foundations of systems that deliver such goals in a progressive fashion. That said, if the transition can happen without any extra constitutional step, elections expected between April to June this year could be an important move toward a more successful Pakistan.
By Polly Truscott, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Polly Truscott, Deputy Asia-Pacific Director for Amnesty International. The views expressed are her own.
The Taliban’s brazen assassination attempt on brave teenage human rights activist Malala Yousafzai grabbed the world’s attention, shining a rare light on the ongoing cycle of violence in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit northwest Tribal Areas.
Malala miraculously survived the October shooting, but the incident is but one of many in a region locked in a climate of lawlessness where perpetrators of human rights abuses act with impunity.
In an extensively researched report released last week by Amnesty International, a disturbing pattern of violations by Pakistani forces – from torture and other ill-treatment to enforced disappearance without access to family, lawyers, the courts and with no information about their fate and whereabouts – reveals the failure of Pakistani authorities to address the fundamental lawlessness of the Tribal Areas.
This is the third in a series of entries looking at what we can expect in 2013. Each weekday, a guest analyst will look at the key challenges facing a selected country – and what next year might hold in store.
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.
Four years ago, the U.S. Congress announced the findings of a bipartisan investigation into weapons of mass destruction.
Chillingly, the study predicted a nuclear or biological attack by the end of 2013 – with a high likelihood that it would originate in Pakistan.
Could this prediction come true next year? The risk of Pakistani nukes falling into the wrong hands is certainly high. Last August, militants attacked an air force base near Islamabad thought to store nuclear weapons. Several weeks later, security officials acknowledged a “serious” threat from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) to assault one of Pakistan’s largest nuclear installations. All this in a country where, according to an unsettling Atlantic report, assets are frequently exposed: “[N]uclear bombs capable of destroying entire cities are transported in delivery vans [by the military] on congested and dangerous roads.”