January 9, 2013

By Azmaish Ka-waqt

The Pieces of the Puzzle

  1. Renewed interest by Scotland Yard in the Imran Farooq murder in London
  2. The unconditional and abject apology by the MQM before the Supreme Court of Pakistan
  3. The Qadri intervention
  4. MQM’s prompt and total support of the Qadri intervention.
  5. Surge in US Drone attacks with TTP being targeted.
  6. Pakistan military’s changed threat perception with the internal threat identified as the main threat and a public announcement of this realization.
  7. US/UK/NATO compulsion to exit Afghanistan in an orderly manner and the need to protect Afghanistan from external inroads in the vulnerable post exit period
  8. Pakistan’s centrality in the entire exit strategy including safe passage for logistic movement.
  9. The political situation in Pakistan and the US/UK desire for status quo so that their exit strategy continues to get support.

The Mosaic

The US and UK decide that an electoral change in Pakistan that could have unpredictable results is not in their interest at this stage. They need the present political and military set up in Pakistan in 2013-2014 to get out of Afghanistan, push the peace process in Afghanistan forward and not face the ignominy of a post exit chaos in Afghanistan. Pakistan must therefore be accorded a central role and given an assurance of continuity of the status quo.

The US/UK does not favor an internal upheaval in Pakistan and want ‘democracy’ to continue. They sense that the people want change and reform to give them a better future and not more of the same that the elections seem to promise. The US and UK do not want a change that triggers a change in policies that may change the relationship with the US.

Enter Qadri with limitless funds and superb organizational ability. He promises reform and elections under a competent and impartial interim government. The implication being that the interim government will have to be given time for the reforms. The MQM ‘decides’ to join Qadri and clears itself with the Supreme Court-surprising many on both counts. To ward off criticism The MQM leader threatens a political Drone strike-obviously a disclosure of some sort.

The military readies itself to face the new threat and an expected disruption in the already serious internal security situation. Increased Drone strikes ratchet up the pressure on insurgents who may be expected to retaliate in Pakistan’s urban areas heightening the internal threat.

The major power players react as expected. The PPP (government) soft pedals the MQM turnabout and goes along with the evolving situation as status quo suits it. The military and the judiciary are satisfied that the Constitutional provisions are being respected. The PML(N) and the PTI are lost in the fog and likely to remain lost.

The interim government is given access to IMF and World Bank funds and acts to reform not just the electoral process but takes long overdue steps to establish the rule of law, to provide services and security to the people through effective governance, tackles the internal threat and puts the country on the road to economic recovery. The people heave a sigh of relief.

Pakistan in 2012: A year in review

December 31, 2012

The year 2012 was no less tumultuous for Pakistan than any other year. Starting from the Supreme Court and former premier Gilani at loggerheads to the return of Tahirul Qadri’s (untimely) arrival on the political scene, Pakistan has seen a healthy share of ups and downs this year. NATO supply routes were resumed, terrorism continued, Metro Bus project was initiated – it is difficult to remember when one event ended and the other began. For the purpose of simplification and to refresh the previous year, Spearhead Research put together a year in review, a compilation of all important news Pakistan saw.

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Karachi calling

December 14, 2012


Urban violence has become a permanent affliction in Karachi. Anyone explaining the roots of this violence to you would say ‘it’s complicated’ – and that is indeed an accurate summary of the bloodshed that erupts across the city in random spurts. The plague of violence in Pakistan’s biggest city and commercial hub is multifaceted. From ethnic strife to gang wars to politically motivated crimes to just petty theft – Karachi has it all. Where does it start? And more importantly, where would it end?

This is strange because less merely 25 years, Karachi was the land of opportunity in Pakistan. Once the capital of the country, this economic hub bustled with life and activity with little thought spared to the horrors awaiting citizens a few years down the road. Fast forward to 2012, Karachi faces (in the words of Bilal Baloch) feeble security, over-population, poor public transportation and housing, weak law and order, abuse of public services by the wealthy and powerful, illegal land-grabbing and squatter settlements, pollution so pervasive that it contaminates food and water for all, ethnic divisions, sectarian divisions, meager education; in short, institutional inadequacies on a grand scale. At the same time, it is this city that allows unbridled port access to NATO, fishermen and businessmen. The city has seen the likes of Alexander the Great, Sir Charles Napier, Muhammad Bin Qasim, poets, authors, bloggers and artists. The City of Lights continues to function under such paradoxical circumstances, with violent bloodshed in one corner of the city and celebrations in another.

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Syria- it’s time to talk

July 16, 2012

Tacstrat Analysis

The news around Syria these days revolves around countries using angrier tones against Assad, Turkey amassing troops along the border, and top Syrian military leaders defecting. All of the developments, combined together have so far done absolutely nothing to Assad’s grip. The facts on the ground are that Assad is still in control of the government’s most powerful bodies, most notably the military, and by extension of Syria.

Assad is a man who grew up watching his father, exterminate entire rebellions without word ever reaching the outside world. With the advent of the internet, this is no longer possible, but Assad still behaves as if it is. The reason he does this is because he knows the chances of a foreign military intervention is unlikely. This isn’t some pariah state like Libya where it mattered to no one if the government was toppled, or like Tunisia where the monarchy could be evacuated in a single day and the system destroyed. With Syria there seems to be the complexities of Libya but this time the regime has international backing. So far China and Russia have successfully vetoed any bill that would entail military intervention. This time NATO doesn’t seem likely to intervene either because of the upcoming U.S elections. Even so the Free Syria Army is receiving a lot of help. Qatar’s president has even hinted, and we use the term lightly, at a military intervention without the Security Council. Turkey has been pushing for harder steps against its neighbour, but for the moment it seems that everyone is too busy squabbling

The resistance will not last with a military intervention. Reiterating, Assad is still the most powerful military force in Syria by a mile, and he has no qualms using indiscriminate force. This should be more than evident to everyone by now. Assuming, with good reason, that such an intervention will not be possible until the U.S elections this year, it may not be wrong to assume that the U.S may hammer out a diplomatic solution yet. Assad will be important to this. Russia is very keen on protecting its interests in Syria and it is unlikely to balk. The resulting deal would be Assad with fewer powers. However it seems that such a deal will never be accepted by the rebelling forces for two main reasons.

The first is Assad’s excesses in his counter-revolution. He has repeatedly and with obvious determination attacked civilian centres with heavy weapons with reckless regard for innocent life. As mentioned before, mass media is an important feature of this revolution. Because of this, Assad’s excesses have been seen all around Syria on computer screens.

Secondly, the Free Syrian Army which seems like one monolithic unit because of the name is actually various independent resistance movements adopting the same slogan. They have no unified command structure, and at this point have the most basic military training. The defections of Assad’s generals have not strengthened their ranks without significantly weakening Assad’s, but it has given them a morale boost.

Al Qaeda style tactics have added a more sinister undertone to the uprising. The suicide attack in Damascus that killed two dozen civilians was tracked to Ayman Zawahiri’s call for holy warriors to fight against Assad. Panetta said that while US has intelligence that Al Qaeda is involved to an extent, their activities are off the radar. It is argued that the failure of the west to come to Syria’s aid created the chasm that militants stepped in to fill. What with Al Qaeda’s historic interest in securing Levant, Free Syrian Army’s protests that they have nothing to do with terrorist organizations don’t sound very convincing.

“From their point of view, the battle going on in Syria is against defenceless Sunnis, that no one is helping them,” said Elliott Abrams, a senior national security advisor to President George W. Bush and staunch advocate of more decisive action in the Middle East to contain Iran and Shiite militias. While the key indicators of their presence would be the increasingly sophisticated attacks on government sites and buildings, what’s also possible is that after 16 months of fighting the rebels just got better.

Fact of the matter is Syria is no Egypt. The piece de resistance in the scenario being an Allawite’s monopoly over force targeted towards a largely Sunni majority of untrained civilians with meagre weapons; and yet there is no turning back for the Free Syrian Army. A political solution might be possible if defecting generals and Assad are brought to the table to negotiate a settlement underwritten by Russia and Turkey. In an ideal world, UN would have already stepped in to conduct a nationwide referendum and settled the matter in a democratic fashion. As it is Assad will be hard to oust completely without military intervention and the Free Syrian Army needs to come to terms with it and be open to the idea of a peaceful settlement. Cries of viva la resistance sound more like a hollow echo with every passing day.

US-PAK relations post-2014

May 14, 2012

By Nida Afaque

The Davis affair, OBL raid, Salalah attack, closure of NATO supply routes were one pitfall succeeded by another until one could only wonder: could this get any worse? The current state of affairs does not appear any less dismal. Persistent demands of abstaining from drone strikes from Pakistan’s end have only fallen on deaf ears. Suspicions of al-Zawahiri’s presence and the US House subcommittee’s proposal of imposing conditions on aid to Pakistan indicate that reconciliation may not be around the corner. The looming withdrawal of coalition forces in 2014 also means an agreement acceptable to the regional powers has to be made before the forces exit Afghanistan.

What does this mean for Pakistan and where does it see its relations with America heading?

A good place to start is to understand United States’ objectives for the region and the role Pakistan comes to play in achieving these objectives. The US wants to ensure that terrorists from this region are no longer a threat to its national security and that Afghanistan has a democratically stable government which works in the interests of the masses. Coalition forces have been carrying out a direct attack on terrorists and have recently started divulging power to Afghan National Forces and accepting many of their terms to culminate in the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Over the years, Pakistan’s role in the war on terror has become increasingly active. For a third world country, Pakistan has tried to relocate its meager resources and armed forces against terrorists taking refuge near the Afghan border. Thousands of lives have been lost and cities and towns have turned to dust. America, however, is not too sympathetic for it believes Pakistan is not mustering all the force it can behind this cause. One cannot blame Pakistan if they fall short in their efforts. America has not set a good precedent from the Soviet war and Iraq is still reeling from the effects of foreign intervention. It is thus quite natural for Pakistan to look out for itself by holding the Taliban card. Pakistan has protested against US demands and presence by boycotting the Bonn Conference and evacuating US forces from some of its airbases. But it will remain wary of taking drastic steps with matters like CSF funds still due unsettled.

The US needs the support of local powers to ensure sustainability of peace efforts. But reaching out to India, Russian and Central Asian republics over Pakistan only reflects American distrust of their so-called ally, Pakistan. Things are not too sunny for these Asian powers whose national economies and people are proving to be a handful for the governments. India is experiencing a decline in rupee against the dollar while Russia’s domestic politics are a major concern for its public. Russia also continues to maintain a strong influence on the central Asian republics. Even China has been losing its manufacturing activities to other countries. Therefore, these countries may not be willing to wholeheartedly participate in achieving US’s goals because of which US may have to resign to Pakistani assistance.

For Pakistan, diplomatic relations with the United States extend to the economic and social realms too. America remains amongst Pakistan’s top trading partners and has carried out developmental projects to improve living and social conditions of its people. Collaborating with NGOs and local business partners the US has funded projects aiming to tap Pakistan’s natural resources help alleviate the rampant energy crisis. Time and again US’s strong commitment towards alleviating Pakistan’s internal crises has surfaced, but this interest reflects US’s own regional interests. The US has offered cheaper gas alternatives and has tried to revive the TAPI project which had until recently lost much of its fervor in an attempt to discourage the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project. For now, despite its level of dependence on the IMF and World Bank (both of which are highly influenced by the US), and an open call for sanctions by the US, Pakistan has decided to go ahead with the IP pipeline.

Contributions in the social sector have been more than significant. Since 2002, the US has been providing $ 2 billion aid annually to Pakistan making it the third largest recipient of US aid. Just last year $ 1277 million and $ 1143 million were allocated to military and civilian programs respectively. Some of their eminent projects include Fulbright Scholarship, BISP and HEC.

After 2014, the US will have a remarkably smaller force present and with no impending security mission, Pakistan can expect them to be more forthcoming in civilian projects. In fact, America has already started to improve its image by publicizing its share in agriculture, education and health sectors. This could help legitimize US aid and at the same time make a difference to Pakistan’s paltry social welfare system.

While the governments of the two countries seem to be struggling to make things work, the masses may not harbor the same sentiments. Some conservatives have been remonstrating against US influence in Pakistan and have successfully organized themselves under the banner of Difa-e-Pakistan. Even though US aid to Pakistan is less than 1.2% of the GDP, this small amount of aid magnifies its effect in terms of the efficacy with which these institutions work, and the sectors it has been channeled towards. Breaking ties with US therefore might prove disastrous for the social welfare development, whereas aligning with them can open doors to diplomatic relations with other foreign powers. However, staying under US influence might only make us increasingly dependent, and with a strong backbone to structure and solidify the building blocks of our nation, these high levels of dependence may eventually compromise on our sovereignty. Such a mindset is also found on the American side which doubts Pakistan’s intentions in the war on terror.

Times may be tumultuous but a complete breakdown of diplomatic relations will be prevented by the interdependence of the two countries. The recent setbacks have sent the relationship decades behind. American withdrawal from Afghanistan coupled with changes in the internal climate of Asia’s regional countries will produce a shift in political and economic power dynamics.

These power dynamics may shift in favor of America. Its global power and influence is widely acknowledged. Neither Pakistan nor any of its other allies pose as a formidable competition to the US. Thus it is highly possible to expect Pakistan to bend to the terms demanded by US. But as Hafeez Malik suggests in US Relations with Afghanistan and Pakistan: The Imperial Dimension, America might lose its stronghold due to an “imperial overstretch”. Pakistan’s current civilian government has been resisting what they believe is unnecessary US interference. It did close down NATO routes, expel US forces from the Shamsi air base and may continue to stand against US imperialism. Pakistan may altogether decide to abandon the War on Terror and risk losing military and possibly civilian aid. Even worst is the possibility of US interpreting this to be a hostile move and giving in to its fears of a terrorist nation. We could then be looking at the latest venue of the War on Terror. Then again, we must not overlook the anxious efforts US is making to leave Afghanistan. Just like it came to accept Afghan demands for the transition process, it may also agree to do so with Pakistan. After all, it has repeatedly been stressed that Pakistan is an essential component to their operations in the region.

How the situation unfolds has yet to be seen but one thing is for certain; this is relationship is worth salvaging in some form than not having any relationship at all. The latest impasse is an opportunity for Pakistan and US to reach a common ground on contentious issues and build a relationship which is not based on merely temporary circumstances.

Reconciling with Reconciliation

May 11, 2012

Spearhead Research

The US Ambassador to Pakistan has worked tirelessly to put US-Pakistan relations on a positive track and both he and his wife have earned the respect of Pakistanis. He was expected to stay at least another year so there is much speculation on the reasons behind his early departure especially because the announcement comes soon after the US Secretary of State stated in India that the US believed that Ayman al Zawahiri was in Pakistan and that the US wanted Hafiz Saeed brought to justice. Ambassador Munter has been trying to find middle ground in the stand-off between the US and Pakistan and there is no doubt that he discerned the pragmatic opinion in Pakistan that wants the relationship revived and the drift into corners that overrules this pragmatism. The US talks to Pakistan from a position of strength as it is perhaps the only country that has the power to shape external environments in pursuit of its interests. The US-India relationship gets a boost whenever high ranking US officials speak down to Pakistan from India and no doubt this goes down well with the Afghan government too. Pakistan understands the coercion and pressure especially when all US aid is tied to US determination of Pakistan’s cooperation on counter-terrorism operations and actions against the use of IED’s. The US has clearly spelt out that there will be no apology from the US over the Salala incident in which twenty four Pakistani soldiers were killed by US forces and no change in the policy on Drone strikes. The US has kicked the ball fully and squarely into the Pakistani court. The next call has to be by the government of Pakistan-an elected government that is trying desperately to balance civil-military relations and establish civilian supremacy over national security policy formulation.

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February 16, 2012

By Ahsan Waheed

There is a big hype in the media about the Prime Minister’s fate at the hands of the judiciary. It is certainly news and a sad day for Pakistan but not the kind of catastrophe that it is made out to be. If he is convicted and goes there will be another Prime Minister and it will be business as usual. The majority feel that he should be allowed to complete his term and that writing a letter to a foreign government about an elected President is not what our government should be doing. In any case these matters are good for drawing room discussions and media speculations but do not matter one way or the other.

Then there is the furor over the memo, the so called memo-gate. This non starter from the outset started off with a bang, created some fireworks and collapsed with a whimper. It is being dragged along but no one is interested any more. If two functionaries had to depart then another two took their place. If there was some hard talk then it was followed by clarifications and assurance. The whole thing was and remains farcical.

We now have the drama of the ISI Chiefs replacement. This is a routine affair and there are clear cut procedures for it. If he gets another extension it will be good because he is a straight talking and straight shooting man who has done a great job. If he retires he will be replaced by a suitable lieutenant general selected from the panel of names given by the military. The US Ambassador has commented upon this change in his address in Massachusetts. The US is ‘monitoring’ this change as if it matters or as if it can do anything about it. One of the analysts from the many who make a living out of commenting on Pakistan has said that this change is very significant because the ISI is not just an intelligence agency but it actually makes policy. So has it made all the policies that are being implemented? All this does boost the ISI image by driving home the point that it is an obsession for many who are terrified by it. That’s not too bad-is it?

The US is talking to the Taliban and have allowed them an office in Qatar so that others can talk too. Everyone and his aunt know that the US is preparing for a face saving exit after being defeated and after failing to create any sustainable structures in Afghanistan. The Taliban and others are licking their chops at the prospect of tucking into the pathetic caricature that is the Afghan Security Forces. The suited guys in government are looking at getting out as quietly as possible to wherever they came from. After the US and NATO leave it will be business as usual in and around Afghanistan. Karzai will be ditched and will be history-not that it will make any difference.

There is the matter of who kept Osama under wraps. A bitter, sick retired general with an axe to grind has blamed Musharraf and everyone is running round in circles. A doctor recruited by the US to find Osama is being interrogated and the US is ‘concerned’—he is a Pakistani and not a US citizen. US ‘diplomats’ continue to be tripped up some where or the other-the latest being one caught at an airport with bullets in his bag. Every one wonders where his gun was hidden and whether they searched him thoroughly. Some mad cap ‘fundos’ with some misguided former position holders get up on a stage and make threatening noises and tremors go through the land and as far away as the US! The good thing is that Pakistan continues to tick over and Pakistanis cope with power shortages and soaring costs. If the NATO logistics resume through Pakistan the dollars will flow in—not bad at all.

What matters is Pakistan’s economy, its internal situation, its institutions and public sector enterprises, its relations with neighbors and the world, its people and internal security. This is what we should be focusing on because if we get this right we are home free. Till we can do that let us develop thick skins and not get tickled by all these meaningless straws in the wind.


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