Archive for ‘South Asia’

Bin Laden Dead: The Sovereignty Debate

By , 6 May, 2011, 1 Comment

A post on the legal status of U.S.-Pakistan relations right now. Verdict: they’re pretty ambiguous.

Thankfully, for the moment, the United States doesn’t need to defend its actions on Sunday because Pakistan is not pushing it. For this particular raid. But the Pakistani government has been very clear that a future raid–on other high value targets believed to also be in Pakistan, say–would be received as a hostile act and merit retaliation.

Legally, most scholars I’ve spoken to say an official statement saying ‘no’ has to be respected. Or at least, explains Gabriella Blum, a professor at Harvard Law School, it constitutes a reclaiming of sovereignty temporarily, a resetting of the accountability clock, and has to be taken–whether this seems plausible or not–as a promise to try again. The United States would have to build up a new case for Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to combat terrorism if it wanted to go in again. To continue to pursue covert raids without a break now could very easily be described as a attack on Pakistan. That’s quite concerning, since it appears from the recent re-shuffling of CIA and Pentagon leadership, that more covert raids and other intelligence-heavy operations are going to be a staple of the Obama Administration’s war on terror.

If you need further enticement, there’s a clip from the West Wing. Read here.

Bin Laden Dead: Pakistan Responds

By , 3 May, 2011, No Comment

Have started a new post tonight, with some information from the Pakistani government on their role. Probably best to read yesterday’s post as background first.

Bin Laden Dead: Fallout in Pakistan

By , 2 May, 2011, 1 Comment

A post up at Foreign Exchange on the bin Laden raid and what’s come of it in Pakistan:

In other words, as Pakistan has sunk deeper into the abyss of violence, the country’s political debate has divided on two related questions: how involved are we in America’s war, and does more involvement make us safer or less safe?

The raid on bin Laden’s compound only underscores that debate, and the information emerging so far presents all sides with new ammunition.

Read it all here.

Raymond Davis and the Media

By , 5 March, 2011, 2 Comments

The Raymond Davis saga in Pakistan is far from over, and I’ll have a piece sooner or later on the implications, broadly, for US-Pak relations. But there’s a meta-story that’s worth taking note of now: the coverage of the story in the Pakistani and international press. Essentially, Davis’ CIA status was being floated in the Pakistani press for several weeks before it ‘broke’ in the Guardian. It turned out that the New York Times and other American news organizations had deliberately held back the information at the request of U.S. authorities. Though a similar request was made of the Guardian, the paper’s editors and reporters refused.

As a reader of the Pakistani press, I’d seen the CIA claim, but in part because of the easy way in which the CIA is used as a bogeyman in Pakistani political discourse, I must admit I was skeptical of the claim until the Guardian verified it. As a critic of the Times’ inconsistent policy about withholding information for ‘the safety of the subject,’ I’m disappointed, but unsurprised, by their call on this one. Points to the Guardian for getting it right. For more on the details, this video from Al Jazeera’s media-watch show, Listening Post, is good:

The story is amusing coming on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s takedown of the American media at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week. Clinton asserted that the U.S. is losing the global information war because of the frivolity in American journalism: you don’t feel when watching American news stations, she says, that you are getting real news.

Problematically, one reason American news outlets don’t deliver enough ‘real news’ is because they comply too readily with the intelligence agencies trying to win that information war. Yet another example of misaligned agendas coming from the State Department and the CIA.

Indo-Pak Peace Talks Resume

By , 11 February, 2011, No Comment

Big news out of the Subcontinent this week: India and Pakistan are resuming peace talks after almost two years’ stalemate. The talks, which Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is calling the ‘comprehensive dialogue,’ will cover political, economic and security issues and will be structured not only around meetings between the two countries’ heads of state and foreign ministries, but also the ministries overseeing commerce, culture and natural resources. This structure will prevent, significantly, progress on any one area from being held hostage by stagnation on another.

Will these talks bear fruit? I’m skeptical, though not for the usual reasons. Read why here.

Ben Ali’s Rhetorical Alchemy, or How the West Was Duped

By , 15 January, 2011, No Comment

An opinionated post today at Foreign Exchange on the coup in Tunisia:

Like many journalists reporting on Tunisia this weekend, I’ve been dismayed by the response coming from France. To recap, the French government backed and defended Ben Ali’s regime throughout its tenure, including in the final weeks when his forces were clashing with protesters in the streets, and when other countries–notably the U.S.–were cutting their ties. Now the dam has burst, their statement to the press translates roughly to, ‘We’ll wait and see.’ Charmant.

So I am dismayed, yes, but not entirely surprised. It is not the first time that a major Western democracy has backed a dictator in the Muslim world and found their support meaningless in the face of popular revolt: the U.S. experience with the Shah in Iran and Musharraf in Pakistan are two important precedents.

In this case, as in those, two explanations are emerging for this behavior.

Don’t you desperately want to know what they are? Find out here.

Thinking Long Term on India and Iran

By , 5 January, 2011, No Comment

New post at Foreign Exchange on the India-Iran oil deal and the challenges of securing funding for it amidst the US-led sanctions on Tehran. My take:

the U.S. position in recent years has been that India is most valuable as an ally when it is looking eastwards, and competing with China in the South China Sea or through trade relationships in South East Asia; that is the view favored too by a number of Indian policy wonks and popular in the Indian press.

But this banking move suggests that inside the halls of power, Indian leaders understand what I tried to argue in November: that India is most likely to challenge China, and thereby benefit other great powers, if it rectifies relations in South Asia and uses its relationship with Iran to build a trading zone to its west.

From Washington’s perspective, it’s a classic clash between short- and long- term policy objectives, between the nuclear issue and the need for an India that is strong in the region. There are no signs as yet that the U.S. government wants to shift its strategy towards the long-term and let this deal stand, but if it did, I for one would welcome it.

Read it all.

Turmoil in Pakistan: Personal and Political

By , 4 January, 2011, No Comment

Tragic news out of Islamabad this morning–the assassination of Salman Taseer, a liberal giant and provincial bigwig in Punjab. I’ve got a post up at Foreign Exchange on Taseer, what prompted the attack and what it means for the already testy political situation in the country:

Taseer was a staunch progressive, an outspoken defender of the rights of women and minorities, and a telco tycoon who launched an English-language newspaper, and a TV station, to promote his liberal, secular politics. As such, he was a divisive figure: reviled on the right for his ideas, admired (but cautiously) on the left given his melding of money and political power.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, the killer told police after his arrest that he was seeking retribution for Taseer’s criticisms of the country’s blasphemy laws, which are illiberal enough as written, but are often abused to settle differences over property or other personal disputes…

Importantly, Taseer was a member of the Pakistan People’s Party, currently at the head of a government with dwindling political authority. While the PPP’s liberal members are no friends of the blasphemy laws, the tenuous nature of the party’s hold on power at the federal level has precluded picking the fight with the religious right that repealing the blasphemy laws would entail…

It is possible that the assassination changes things…

For the full picture, go here.

Disappearances in Pakistan

By , 30 December, 2010, 1 Comment

I’m vague and inconclusive over at Foreign Exchange again today, this time in response to an NYT story about disappearances in Pakistan.

I must admit the Times story doesn’t sit easily with my reporting in Pakistan…The Times makes two common foreign policy reporting mistakes–trying to fold an old local dispute largely ignored by the international community into a more recent narrative in which the West has a stake; and glossing over the conflicting interests of diverse factions within Pakistan (the courts, the President, the army). That’s a shame because ultimately, the competing centers of power in Pakistan are a much larger problem for its NATO allies than are these human rights violations, and in desperate need of elucidation.

Read it here.

China’s New Pakistan Strategy

By , 21 December, 2010, No Comment

Post at Foreign Exchange today looks at the geostrategic significance of some new investment MOUs between China and Pakistan. The post is a follow-up to a story I wrote for Forbes in the spring about Chinese investment in Balochistan, where I highlighted a mining contract gone sour under Chinese pressure. That contract finally fell apart last week, and the lessons I learned reporting on it hang heavily over my analysis of the new deals:

Throughout my travels in South Asia, I’ve heard stories about what it means to do business with China. The running refrain has always been that Chinese investors are politically neutral, that they protect their own material interests while doing their best to appease local leaders with a cut of any deal, but with very little concern for the day-to-day running of local life. This is always subtly (or not so subtly) contrasted to an American approach of promoting foreign investment as a mechanism of societal makeover. In much of South Asia, Chinese investment has proven appealing to those who would rather not be re-made. That was very much the theme of my time in Balochistan. This weekend’s deals do not fit that mold…

Want to know why? Read it here.