Monthly Archives: September 2010

Before Push comes to shove

By: Major General Shujaat Ali Khan  (R)           

(THIS IS A PAKPOTPOURRI EXCLUSIVE)

Events have come to such a pass that the people of Pakistan of all classes and shades of opinion are clamoring for a change. The politicians , media and a section of civil society are advocating  a constitutional change, but frustrations are running high and the common man is  pushing for a revolution, or  even direct military intervention. While the Military does not appear to be so inclined, there are widespread speculations that some kind of indirect action in concert with judicial activism is on the cards. There is no smoke without fire.

The confidence and bravado being displayed by the Prime Minister in the face of mounting pressure is either delusional, or an effort to bolster the morale of his Party and Government. (I remember when I was a young captain in erstwhile East Pakistan, just three days before the ignoble surrender, General Niazi, in an effort to boost our morale, boasted that soon we would be flying our flag on the Indian Command Headquarters inCalcutta! )

Change appears to be inevitable. It is desirable that it should be constitutional. However any change brought about constitutionally is likely to be short lived as it will only be “old wine in a new bottle”. The enormous problems facing the Nation would remain unsolved, and the widespread disillusionment will only be compounded, Consequently, sooner rather than later the combined “Push” of diverse forces will come to “Shove,” and the present dispensation may be thrown into the dust bin of history, Before that happens, the President, Parliament, and the Government along with their “Friends” and “Friendly opposition” in the provinces, should voluntarily do self cleansing and correct course. The correction will have to be drastic, surgical and merciless, where heads will roll and many loyalists incarcerated. Political and personal sacrifices will have to be made in the interest of survival. I suggest following initiatives be taken without loss of time :

  • National Emergency should be imposed immediately under Articles 232 and 233 of the Constitution.  (If the present circumstances do not warrant an Emergency, are we waiting for doomsday?) )
  • The President Should confine himself to the role defined for him in the Constitution and give up his Party Office (he will continue to be its head even without the title of Co Chairperson anyway)
  • All controversial governors and ministers should be changed at the Centre and provinces. The Federal Cabinet should be cut down to fifteen ministers with no ministers of state. Provincial cabinets to be restricted to ten.
  • To formulate policy, there should be an advisory team of non political experts/technocrats with each ministry.
  • The appointment of all heads of state enterprises like Steel mill, PIA, etc should be reviewed afresh and corrupt, unqualified or under qualified loyalists replaced.
  • All parliamentary committees should be temporarily suspended, and through an Act of Parliament a National Truth Commission should be formed. Fifty percent members should be drawn from respected and experienced retired  judges, academicians,  technocrats, beaurocrats  generals and businessmen. Such a Commission at federal as well as provincial level should have wide ranging powers to monitor governance and take corrective measures. Similarly smaller commissions could be formed at division and district level. Corruption should be the first priority of the Truth Commission.
  • Local body elections to be held immediately, or the previous bodies to be restored for at least a year.
  • Responsibility for rehabilitation of flood effected people to be given to the Armed forces, assisted by NDMA, credible NGOs and local bodies.
  • The confidence of the beaurocracy should be restored by rewarding merit, providing security of tenure in appointments, and insulation from politics.
  • Sectarianism and religious extremism to be tackled with firm resolve. Maddressa reforms should be strictly implemented. All non registered madrssas for children over twelve years closed immediately, and the senior hierarchy of all banned organization imprisoned under MPO.
  • In serious cases where the law and order situation is beyond the limited competence of police to tackle (which is frequent) the Army should be called “In aid of civil power.”
  • Revenue to be raised on war footing. Revolutionary taxation measures should be introduced including tax on agriculture. The rich should be forced to pay a one time flood tax. Pay, allowances and perks of all parliamentarians should be halved, and foreign visits banned except where absolutely necessary.  Industrial cartels should be dismantled but due care needs to be exercised in dealing with businessmen so as not to scare them.

The list of suggested measure is by no means exhaustive, and they may not turn around the situation immediately. But their effects would be visible soon, infusing confidence in the Nation, giving it a glimpse of good governance. Foreign donors and investors will be likewise encouraged .

While the suggestions have been directed at the Government and politicians,  there is a  heavy responsibility on the media. It should show greater maturity and keep national interests above commercial ratings and personal prejudices. Sensationalism should give way to objectivity.

Dare I advise the Judiciary? Their lordships in all their omnipotence, should keep the “unintended” consequences of their judgments in mind before pronouncement.

And most important of all, the people of Pakistan should show more patience.

(Shujaat Ali Khan was a Major General in the Pakistan Army, later serving as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Morocco. He was also Director General of ISI’s internal wing).

Pakistan: Change is Inevitable

By Gen(R)Mirza Aslam Beg

NOTE:This is a cross post from The Nation.          

We are living in very challenging times, constantly facing the negative impact of developments, taking place across the borders and the turmoil within, caused by bad governance, institutional conflict, corruption, rising inflation, deprivation and insurgency, compounded by unprecedented floods. This all has caused despondency and despair, in the minds of the people, wanting a change. Change is needed, no doubt but not through military intervention, nor through street violence, but through the constitutional democratic process, so that the democratic order is sustained, strengthened and buttressed to face the challenges. That is the process which has set into motion, to correct the course.

The external negative forces, impacting life in Pakistan, gradually have taken a backward turn. For example Iran, which has been facing American pressures since 1979, through sanctions and embargoes; aggression by Iraq; threat of war by Israel and induced ethnic riots, to cause strained relations with Pakistan have failed to deter Iran, from signing the eight billion dollar gas pipeline deal with Pakistan. The American government having realized that they cannot bend or break the Iranian will, now are seeking their help in finding a safe exit from Afghanistan. This is a positive change for Pakistan and Iran and for peace in the region.

Similarly in Afghanistan, the Americans and the allies, having failed in their attempt to again cheat the Taliban, of their victory, are now seeking dialogue with them, for a safe exit. This is a very positive change for Pakistan, because, the exit of the occupation forces, would remove the curse of Indian intrusion into Pakistan, a well as the ingress by the American Marines, the CIA and FBI in our border region since 2002, allowed by Pervez Musharraf, which has now been confirmed by the American scholar Bob Woodward, which I had also exposed, through several articles the rather shameful bartering away of our national interests, several years back, when Musharraf was in power, but no one took notice of it. The exit from Afghanistan will also bring to an end the running war with our own tribals, induced by the joint conspiracy of CIA and Raw. These developments are very significant for Pakistan demanding reorientation of our policies and priorities with regard to Afghanistan, India and USA.

For the last sixty years, India has let loose a reign of terror in occupied Kashmir, killing over hundred thousand Kashmiris since 1990. The state terrorism is now being confronted by the civil disobedience movement of the Kashmiri people, which has unnerved the Indian occupation forces, numbering over seven hundred thousand. The state of conflict and confrontation between India and Pakistan, which has lasted for over sixty years, is coming to an end now, and it is possible only after an amicable settlement of the dispute in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir and not so called ‘out of box’ solution offered by the outgoing dictator.

Thus the external factors, which kept Pakistan hostage to conspiracies for long, are now melting away, one by one and it was in this background that the people of Pakistan, voted in favour of democracy, on 18th February 2008, expecting that the rule of law would prevail and the rich and the poor would get justice equally, but that was not to be. The institutional conflict, self interest of the corrupt rulers, bad governance, deprivation and indifference to the needs of the common people has caused such despondency and despair that the Pakistanis are now clamouring for change which has become inevitable. How this change will occur, is of interest to know, because it would demolish the conspiracy for setting-up a pro-establishment government at the behest of proxy powers.

The instruments of change are the national institutions, such as, the judiciary, the armed forces, the media and the civil society, which struggled to demolish dictatorship and established the democratic order and now stand together to play their role and provide safeguards to the democratic order. The judiciary gave the verdict on the NRO on 16th December 2009, but the government has gone slow in the implementation of the order, to the extent of being defiant. But the court has shown patience and did not invoke the article 190 of the Constitution, as was expected. Rather, the court chose to use other options available and ordered the Inspector General of Police, to take the two NRO beneficiaries – Brig ® Imtiaz and Adnan Khawaja, behind the bars and ordered the Law Secretary and the Attorney General to request the Swiss Court to apprise the reality with respect to the pending case.

The process of change thus has set-in, to correct the course. Step by step it would demolish all the obstacles, which had stood in the way of implementation of the court orders. In this process of cleansing, the parliament has a role and so has the opposition, which had become irrelevant for playing to the gallery. Thus the Pakistani nation today stands at the cross-roads, holding its breath, while the national institutions, having galvanized themselves into action, are poised for their role. None can dissuade, nor detract them from the path they have to tred, to bring about the change.

The change will strength national resolve and fortify democracy, with a message to the United States in particular, that “during the last fifty years, Pakistan has suffered a great deal and lost much of time and opportunity to progress, for being your friend. Its time now, to re-orientate your priorities and become real friend of Pakistan, like the Chinese people, despite adhering to different ideologies their people to people contact has never declined. The same is the message for India, to “dispel and discard the hostility of the decades, at the alter of Kashmir, and follow the Chinese line.”

Miracles have occurred in the past and they do occur even now. The defeat of the two super powers in Afghanistan at the hands of the Afghan freedom fighters, within a short period of three decades is the miracle of the century. So is the emerging order in Pakistan, which stands to defeat all external and internal conspiracies, through a peaceful process of change. The instruments of power, which became part of the Nexus, for regime change, in the past, now they are acting as the ‘Guarantors and Protectors of democracy.’ Change is the essence of life, to guarantee a meaningful existence. Subservience and servility must give way to a dignified existence of cooperation and ‘real’ friendship.

(General Mirza Aslam Beg is former Chief Of Army Staff, Pakistan).

The Truth Will Set U.S. Free: Breaking Israel’s Stranglehold over American Foreign Policy

BY: Maidhc Ó Cathail

If Israel’s stranglehold over U.S. foreign policy is to be broken, Americans will need to be informed about the harm that Washington’s unconditional support for the Jewish state is doing to American interests, say leading analysts of U.S.-Israeli relations.

According to John J. Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, “The only plausible way to weaken the lobby’s influence on U.S. foreign policy is for prominent policymakers and opinion-makers to speak openly about the damage the special relationship is doing to the American national interest.”

“Plenty of people in the United States, especially inside the Beltway, know that Israel is an albatross around America’s neck,” says Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. “But they are afraid to stand up and say that for fear that the lobby will attack them and damage their careers.”

“Hopefully, some of them will develop a backbone,” he adds.

Philip Giraldi, executive director of the Council for the National Interest, believes that Tel Aviv’s stranglehold over Washington can be broken “only by directly challenging the power of the Israel lobby and the false narrative about how it is of value to the United States.”

Giraldi, a contributing editor to The American Conservative, says that “it must be done from the bottom up as Israel cannot be challenged in the mainstream media, Congress, and in the White House.”

“The American people must learn that Israel is and always has been a strategic liability that has done immense damage to the United States and its worldwide interests,” concludes the former CIA officer.

If there is to be an end to Israel’s decades-long “sway over Congress and intimidating presidents,” says Jeffrey Blankfort, a prominent Jewish American critic of Israel and its American lobby, “it will require appeals and actions beginning on a local level that inform the American people not so much about what Israel has done to the Palestinians but what its unregistered agents in the U.S., euphemistically described as ‘lobbyists,’ have done to destroy what little is left of American democracy and the attendant costs in flesh and blood, as well as its tax dollars.”

A long-time pro-Palestinian activist noted for his trenchant critique of Noam Chomsky, Blankfort attributes the failure of such efforts to get off the ground to “the continued unwillingness of the leading figures of the Palestinian solidarity movement in the U.S. to acknowledge the invidious power of the Zionist Lobby,” who, following Chomsky’s anti-imperialist analysis, prefer to “place the primary responsibility for Israel’s crimes and U.S. Middle East policies at Washington’s doorstep.”

“So the first steps,” Blankfort suggests, “may be to publicly challenge these figures while at the same time moving past them and addressing the American people directly.”

No American President will ever have enough latitude to resolve the conflict in Palestine “unless and until enough Americans are informed enough to make their democracy work,” according to Alan Hart, former Middle East Chief Correspondent for Britain’s Independent Television News.

“In other words,” explains Hart, who was also a BBC Panorama presenter specializing in the Middle East, “if President Obama or any of his successors is ever going to be free to confront and defeat the Zionist lobby’s stooges in Congress and the mainstream media, there has got to be created a constituency of understanding about why it is not in America’s own best interests to go on supporting Zionism’s monster child right or wrong.”

The essence of the problem, Hart argues in the three-volume American edition of his book Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, is that “Americans have been conditioned, brainwashed, to believe a version of history, Zionism’s version, which is a pack of propaganda lies.”

Jeff Gates, former counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, believes that “transparency, accountability and better design” are required to break Israel’s hold on American foreign policy.

“At present, the American public is ignorant of Israel’s all-pervasive influence. Its control includes the media-enabled deployment of fixed intelligence to induce this nation to war for Greater Israel,” says Gates, author of Guilt By Association: How Deception and Self-Deceit Took America to War.

“We will know that accountability is underway when we see federal grand juries convened to consider charges against Israel’s agents, assets and sayanim (volunteers). When a jury brings in the first verdict for treason, Americans will know that the rule of law is being restored. We will know that a solution is within sight when the many appendages of its lobby are required to register as foreign agents.”

(Maidhc Ó Cathail is a widely published writer based in Japan).

NOTE:This is a cross post from Salem-News.com

Arabs Bracing against Iran

By Saeed Qureshi    

The Arab’s conservative dynastic monarchies are bracing against Iran, an Islamic country with different racial and religious denomination. Four Arab monarchies namely Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, and United Arab Emirates will buy military hardware from the United States by pooling $ 123 billion. The Arab countries are buying this assortment of weapons to counterpoise the Iranian emerging military prowess and its projected ambition to become a nuclear weapon power. Paradoxically, while Iran is working for a nuclear weapon or the attainment of technology, aimed at to countervailing Israel’s threatening military might, the Arabs too feel threatened by the Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Under the massive arms deal, Saudi Arabia will receive 85 new F-15 jet fighters while another 70 of its fleet will be upgraded. But the analysts view this unprecedented shopping spree by these four Arab states as a plausible cover-up to give a boost to the failing American economy especially the aircraft and arms manufacturing industrial complex that would go sluggish after the termination of military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military garrisons in these four countries would be primarily maintained by the American and perhaps by Israeli pilots and technical staff. The deal is also interpreted to be hammered out under the American pressure.

The Arab and Ajam’s (non-Arabs, literally meaning dumb)) conflict particularly with Persia or the present day Iran is rooted in the past. Until the battle of “Ziwaqar” that took place during the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad, the Arabs remained under the tutelage of the Persian Empire.

Upon the first ever-historic victory against Persia in that battle, the prophet of Islam uttered a stunning remark, “This is the first day that Arab has taken revenge from Ajam.” That was a turning point and a milestone, in the perennially troubled relations between Arabs and the Persians. With this sentence, the prophet whose message of Islam is universal, in a moment of ecstatic triumph proclaimed himself to be an Arab nationalist.

He was indeed mindful of the Arab-Persian centuries’ old conflict and the racial cleavage between the two civilizations. It was during the caliphate of second caliph Omar that, after the battles of Kadessia, Maidan, Jalula, and Nehawand, that the whole of Persia passed under the Muslim domination. The armies of the final Persian emperor Yazd Gard II were conclusively routed in 661 A. D.  

In the post-Islamic era, the main cause of rivalry is not only ethnic but also religious. The Iranians profess the Shia branch of Islamic creed while most of the Arab countries particularly Saudi Arabia are strict Sunnis. The cardinal dispute between Sunnis and Shias is about succession of Prophet Muhammad.

So the Islamic myth if universal unity has always remained in shambles and would remain so until eternity or until the time religions lose their significance. The sublime concept of Muslim fraternity that has been touted so frequently and so profusely by word of mouth by Muslim clerics, stressed in the holy book Qur’an and in the verbal sayings of the prophet of Islam, received its first jolt upon the assassination of the third caliph of Islam Hazrat Osman. Thereafter, the Muslim nation was clearly divided into two distinct clans: one of Banu Ommeyades and the other Banu Hashim both vying for caliphate.

This clannish rivalry was always simmering underneath, over the question of succession to the prophet Muhammad. Upon the demise of prophet, the cousin brother and son in law of the prophet had laid a claim to be the successor by virtue of the blood descent, which meant the tribe of Banu Hashim to which the prophet belonged. It erupted into full-blown feud after the murder of the third caliph Hazrat Osman a notable scion of Ommeyades.

Although till that time it was a common faith with no sectarian division but the ensuing battles raging for several years between the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali and Ummyad governor Amir Muawiyah led to a distinct and widening gulf between what was later called as Shias and those as Sunnis. This sectarian schism further snowballed with the time passage although the Ommeyade and Abbasid caliphs, though being heads of Islamic state, were secular, mundane, and ruthless. The massacre of Hazrat Ali’s son Hussain and his family at the desert of Karbala near Baghdad resulted into a group of supporters than later came to be known as Shias. The Shias all along believed that succession of Prophet Muhammad went to the wrong persons, which in fact should have been given to Ali and his successors for belonging to the family of prophet.

Since Hussain’s wife Shahr Banu was the daughter of the last Persian emperors Yazd Gard II, the Shias had developed a close affinity and blood relationship with Persians, who later embraced   Shia Islam. The eighth Imam of Shias Imam Ali Reza, a descendent of Banu Hashim and having the blood of the fourth caliph Hazrat Ali and his progeny in his veins, is buried in Iran. The Shrine of Imam Ali Reza is situated in the Mashhad city of Iran and is visited by 15 to 20 million devotees and pilgrims every year. It nurtures and sustains the spiritual fervor of Shia faithfuls besides assuming the symbol of Shia divinity attributed to their Imams.

So Islamic Ummah (nation) is clearly divided into two theological schools: the Sunni brand spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the Shia brand led by Iran. Ideologically poles apart and adversaries for centuries there is no possibility that they can develop consensus on one code of Islam. To great extent, this is akin to the sharp theological division in the Christianity between Catholics and the Protests, notwithstanding their further split into countless denominations in Christendom.

The religious rivalry has its spillover in politics also. The Saudis would never relinquish their leadership of the Sunnis sect, which is around 80 per cent of the Muslims population. Likewise Iran the majority country with over 90 percent Shias would never compromise over her faith, national solidarity, and cohesion based on one religion and one language. Therefore, there is one Islam with two drastically and irreconcilably divergent interpretations or schools of Islamic theology. The virulent degree of antagonism between Arabs and the Persians (present day Iranians) stems not only from the unbridgeable religious chasm but also from the racial incongruity.

As such, the purchase of armament by these four Arab countries is a spillover of the rivalry from ancient to the present times. Israel, the Arabs, and United States are under the dangling specter of Iranophobia. The super duper arms deal is aimed at countering Tehran’s growing influence in the region. The Arab countries particularly Saudi Arabia fear that a militarily strong and nuclear-armed Iran would pose a threat to their ideological leadership and territorial integrity.

In this framework of fear and phobia, otherwise from a member of Islamic fraternity, the dogma of Muslim unity repeatedly emphasized in the holy book Quran is rendered meaningless, save its rhetorical import. These four Muslim countries are ready to stand on the side of Israel, an inveterate enemy of Muslims, in opposing and even destroying Iran. As such, the regional, racial, and parochial priorities, Arab nationalism, and psyche have overshadowed the religious unity as variously emphasized in Quran. One of the verses exhorts the Muslims “And hold fast all together by the rope of Allah and be not divided among yourselves ;( Verse 013, Al-i-Imran).

Saddam Hussain too had tried to annihilate Iran at the outset of the clerical regime but had to enter into a ceasefire due to tenacity and fighting spirit of the Iranians against a foreign threat to their survival. It is therefore, doubtful that despite equipping themselves up to the teeth with arms and ammunition, the Arabs have the muscle and will to fight Iran. It is another scenario if the America and Israel wage a proxy war on behalf of Arab countries. But keeping in view the dismal outcome of American and NATO wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hypothetical to surmise if the Iranians would ever be subdued by Arabs and their allies.

(The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist and a former diplomat writing mostly on International Affairs with specific focus on Pakistan and the United States).


REGIME CHANGE: REAL OR COSMETIC SURGERY

By: Brig.(R) Samson Sharaf

When we as Pakistanis discuss the partition of the sub continent and creation of Pakistan, we usually refer to the freedom movement led by both Congress and Muslim League in the backdrop of events within the united India and the Jinnah-Nehru rivalry. We also ignore to shut our eyes to the reality that despite a sustained freedom struggle, Jinnah’s Pakistan has remained elusive due to the instability created by various power houses within and outside Pakistan’s politic body.

By 1951, most of the die hard and ideological supporters of Jinnah had become back benchers, others left for India and those who dared became traitors or got the lead clad in copper. The entire construct of Pakistan as an equal opportunity and democratic republic evaporated in the heat of political machinations exploited by elites and zealots who themselves were never the vanguard of Jinnah’s movement. By 1956, the army as the strongest institution was hobnobbing with USA and in 1958 in full grip of political power. This political seesaw has continued without addressing the factors of perennial political instability; except that all interventions notwithstanding military or political have served to secure great power interests while compromising Pakistan’s strategic equilibrium and political institutions.

Though most Pakistanis recognize and acknowledge the foreign intervention factor, none dilate that this same factor could have had an effect on the creation and future of Pakistan, evidently so because such research does not help our process of inventive nationalism and distortion of history. Had the bull be taken by the horns then, our generation of Pakistanis and the one before us would have evolved a modern and prosperous Pakistan.

History suggests that at the end of WW II, USA having emerged as the greatest military, economic and maritime power was not interested in dividing India. However due to relentless pressure of Jinnah and Nehru’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan, it was not possible for Britain to deny freedom to India through partition. It was also in their interests to create a Muslim buffer between the godless communism and rapidly growing relations between the congress, USSR and China. Hence Pakistan was given freedom with a bleeding Kashmir wound and the containing Radcliffe Award drawn not by Mountbatten as the common perception is but by Frank Wavell who handed him a map cutting across the Indus River System. The controversies thus created would ensure that Pakistan does not grow beyond a certain point and coalesce with other Muslim neighbors to challenge imperial interests. Britain’s Afghan Policy with obsession of CARS could be pursued through a containment front that ultimately served the British and US interests in the 80s.  This remains the constant road map; and hence the interchangeability of military interventions and political instability.

Ayub Khan’s intimate relations with USA not only allowed him to modernize the armed forces but also urged him to become the first military dictator of Pakistan. Yet when he began to say, ‘Friend not Masters’ it needed a price hike in sugar to remove him through another military man who presided over the partition of Pakistan.

When Bhutto coalesced too close to the Saudis and Iranians to make an Islamic Union, challenge the world through an oil embargo, settle Durand Line with Afghanistan and nuclearise Pakistan, he was sent to the gallows by another military man harvested in the killing fields of Jordan.

The man who served US interests so well in the Mock Afghan Jihad was blown up in air because he too had begun to harbor notions of a greater Ummah and Islamic Bomb.

Benazir was thrown out twice not because she was corrupt but for supporting Pakistan’s Nuclear Development much beyond the point her father had envisioned and bringing political stability to a war torn Afghanistan by cajoling Mullah Umar and Taliban. She was murdered because it was impossible to kill the Bhutto in her.

General Pervez Musharraf was forced to resign not because he wanted but because he was accused of playing a double game by USA. He was guilty of not doing enough.

If this be the precedence, empirically what is next?

The print and electronic media is rife with conspiracy theories about the winds of change. There are at least five lists being circulated by aspirants, technocrats and fly by night reformers. Most pundits due to obvious reasons rule out a conventional military intervention. Some theorists are pointing towards a military backed political change with the objective to eradicate corruption and usher good governance. There are still others who pray that the change takes place constitutionally in light of various Supreme Court Judgments and their defiance by the government. Yet there are diverse dreamers who wish to re revamp the entire system through a revolution and either return to Jinnah’s Dream or a Talibanised Emirate.

Having been a keen and critical student of Pakistan’s political sociology, allow me to comment that that if a change does take place, it shall only be cosmetic. In view of many skeletons in the cupboard, only the pawns will perish and Pakistan will continue to serve other’s interests but its own.

As ever, I also pray that if a constitutional change does take place, it pursues the aspirations of the people of Pakistan. This wish is not asking the moon.

(Brigadier Samson Simon Sharaf is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a Political Economist).

Baba Banaras

Editor’s Note: A moving account of those torn apart by floods. May Allah shower his choicest blessings on those who hold out a lending hand today to Pakistan.

By: Dr Ghayur Ayub

An old man was desperately walking fast in the rubble of a demolished house, which once was his home. His torn dirty vest hardly covered his emaciated body exposing his brown skin to the burning sun. His weak hands were holding his curved back as if it was going to give way. There was dust on his wrinkled face, dirt in his bushy white beard and clay on his bare feet. There were signs of despair and pain in his lustreless eyes. Now and again, he would take off his dirty white cap, rub his head with his mucky hands and wipe his face of pouring sweat. It was difficult to guess how old he was as the hard life he lived had disguised his actual age. He looked old; a Baba. Someone introduced him to the visiting TV team as Baba Banaras.

A well known media personality was assessing post-flood devastation near Nowshera in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Let us call him Mr. ’H’. Coming closer, the pain in Baba’s eyes changed into confusion and a faint ill-defined smile appeared on his face which failed to take away the obvious misery haunting him. He was short of breath from the hard work he had been doing rebuilding his home with his bare hands. Mr.‘ H’ started asking questions in Urdu; the poor man hardly understood the language. He started answering in typical half baked lingo mixing Pakhtu with Urdu. Now and again, he would lose a thread and looked for help from a youngster standing opposite him. An interesting conversation revealed he was a retired Chaukidar and getting a pension of Rs 1500/ per month. At the time of retirement, he received Rs 2 Lacs lump sum on which he built the home which the floods turned into ruins. In his broken language he said that he sold part of his house and donated the money to the village mosque in the name of Allah. There was pronounced innocence and sincerity in his utterance.

Further questioning revealed he had one daughter, three granddaughters and no son. In Pakhtun culture, a man without a son is called ‘Meeraath’ meaning by; such person is doomed as he has no one to look after him when he is old. That seemed to be the case. There was no one except his womenfolk to give Baba Banaras a hand to rebuild his home. He said he bought dowry worth Rs 90,000/ for his granddaughter’s marriage which was due if floods had not washed away everything. When asked what would he do? His blank face showed traces of ache and a few tears appeared in his eyes. All he could utter was, ‘what can I do?’ He turned his face to look the other way trying to control his emotions. Then he looked up to the sky leaving everything to Allah; so strong was his Faith. After a while a boy came to him and told him something in Pakhtu.  A touch of anger appeared in his tone, slapped his own forehead and cursed his luck.

Then, without saying anything, he left the place in hurry and disappeared behind the heap of rubbles. On enquiry Mr. ‘H’ was told that Baba had asked the boy to get soft drinks for the guests and the boy told him the shopkeeper wanted Baba to go there himself. Powerful emotions appeared on the face of Mr. ‘H’. He was witnessing an illustration of Pakhtun hospitality called ‘Mailmantob’. On his return, Baba told him in simplistic but honourable pitch that he couldn’t let his guest go without serving him. Despite all the misery he was in, he couldn’t lose his Pakhtunwalay. Mr ‘H’ squatted on the ground next to Baba with bottle of cold drink by his side and continued to ask him question upon question. Like always Allah’s name was visible in his replies.

Then suddenly, Mr ‘H’ surprised everyone by offering him his help. Initially Baba didn’t understand and asked the interpreter what he was talking about. He was told that he was offering help to rebuild his home and to help with his granddaughter’s marriage. He turned his face toward Mr. ‘H with astonishment and took off his cap, held it in his outstretched hands and burst into tears. It was his way of thanking him. Then he looked up yet again into the sky praising Allah for sending an angel to help him. Mr. ‘H’ told his partner to tell him in Pakhtu that it was not his money he was offering; it belonged to decent donors who wanted to help people like him. The translator tried to make Baba understand, but his actions showed that it was Divine help reaching him through Mr ‘H’ at this time of need. In his husky voice he tried to argue that Mr. ‘H’ could be sitting somewhere in a cosy place doing something else; instead, he was going from place to place helping needy people. His simple argument carried weight. He kept his cap in his hands for a long time and kept praying for Mr H and his family. Not once did he mention the government in his praises or prayers. One could sense an emotional tempo developing in the scene and feel a spiritual beat in the environment.

This was a typical picture of misery spread all over the country in the flood-hit areas. There are millions of Baba Banarases working with their bare hands to build what they lost in the floods. And there are many TV personalities, independent entrepreneurs, NGOs, religious groups, Pak army and even foreigners reaching to them and helping them. Unfortunately, the help is uncoordinated and ill planned because of sheer mismanagement on behalf of the government resulting in unnecessary loss of resources. It is make or break point for the government. If the slackness of the government continued, it will add to the miseries of the deprived ones increasing their resentment. Their anger is multiplied when the independent media report that the dishonest high ups give irregular extensions or fresh appointments to their corrupt cronies and buy expensive properties in posh areas abroad during these appalling times. With exception of a few, most of the political figures especially from the power corridors have failed to act like their saviours. All they seem to do is to visit the affected areas for photo sessions and disappear without interacting with the affected people like Mr. ‘H’ did in the case of Baba Banaras. As a result, they are fast losing faith in the government. Our society is full of good, decent and talented people; why can’t the political elite and the government officials follow their example and show the world community that we are capable of turning flood-hit Pakistan into a new modern country as Germany or Japan did after devastations of WWII with added technical and monetary support of the world.

(Dr Ghayyur is a writer of long standing on current affairs).

NOTE: This is a cross post.Please also note the picture of an old man is NOT Baba Banaras but a random picture.

Secret, CIA-run Afghan army taking the fight against al-Qaeda into Pakistan, new book reports

By Steve Luxenberg Washington Post Staff Reporter

Bob Woodward book details Obama battles with advisers over exit plan for Afghan war

President Obama urgently looked for a way out of the war in Afghanistan last year, repeatedly pressing his top military advisers for an exit plan that they never gave him, according to secret meeting notes and documents cited in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.

Frustrated with his military commanders for consistently offering only options that required significantly more troops, Obama finally crafted his own strategy, dictating a classified six-page “terms sheet” that sought to limit U.S. involvement, Woodward reports in “Obama’s Wars,” to be released on Monday.

According to Woodward’s meeting-by-meeting, memo-by-memo account of the 2009 Afghan strategy review, the president avoided talk of victory as he described his objectives.

“This needs to be a plan about how we’re going to hand it off and get out of Afghanistan,” Obama is quoted as telling White House aides as he laid out his reasons for adding 30,000 troops in a short-term escalation. “Everything we’re doing has to be focused on how we’re going to get to the point where we can reduce our footprint. It’s in our national security interest. There cannot be any wiggle room.”

Obama rejected the military’s request for 40,000 troops as part of an expansive mission that had no foreseeable end. “I’m not doing 10 years,” he told Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a meeting on Oct. 26, 2009. “I’m not doing long-term nation-building. I am not spending a trillion dollars.”

Woodward’s book portrays Obama and the White House as barraged by warnings about the threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and confronted with the difficulty in preventing them. During an interview with Woodward in July, the president said, “We can absorb a terrorist attack. We’ll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever . . . we absorbed it and we are stronger.”

But most of the book centers on the strategy review, and the dissension, distrust and infighting that consumed Obama’s national security team as it was locked in a fierce and emotional struggle over the direction, goals, timetable, troop levels and the chances of success for a war that is almost certain to be one of the defining events of this presidency.

“Obama’s Wars” marks the 16th book by Woodward, 67, a Washington Post associate editor. Woodward’s reporting with Carl Bernstein on the Watergate coverup in the early 1970s led to their bestselling book “All the President’s Men.”

Among the book’s other disclosures:

— Obama told Woodward in the July interview that he didn’t think about the Afghan war in the “classic” terms of the United States winning or losing. “I think about it more in terms of: Do you successfully prosecute a strategy that results in the country being stronger rather than weaker at the end?” he said.

— The CIA created, controls and pays for a clandestine 3,000-man paramilitary army of local Afghans, known as Counterterrorism Pursuit Teams. Woodward describes these teams as elite, well-trained units that conduct highly sensitive covert operations into Pakistan as part of a stepped-up campaign against al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens there.

— Obama has kept in place or expanded 14 intelligence orders, known as findings, issued by his predecessor,George W. Bush. The orders provide the legal basis for the CIA’s worldwide covert operations.

— A new capability developed by the National Security Agency has dramatically increased the speed at which intercepted communications can be turned around into useful information for intelligence analysts and covert operators. “They talk, we listen. They move, we observe. Given the opportunity, we react operationally,” then-Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell explained to Obama at a briefing two days after he was elected president.

— A classified exercise in May showed that the government was woefully unprepared to deal with a nuclear terrorist attack in the United States. The scenario involved the detonation of a small, crude nuclear weapon in Indianapolis and the simultaneous threat of a second blast in Los Angeles. Obama, in the interview with Woodward, called a nuclear attack here “a potential game changer.” He said: “When I go down the list of things I have to worry about all the time, that is at the top, because that’s one where you can’t afford any mistakes.”

— Afghan President Hamid Karzai was diagnosed as manic depressive, according to U.S. intelligence reports. “He’s on his meds, he’s off his meds,” Woodward quotes U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry as saying.

‘The cancer is in Pakistan’

Obama campaigned on a promise to extract U.S. forces from Iraq and focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, which he described as the greater threat to American security. At McConnell’s top-secret briefing for Obama, the intelligence chief told the president-elect that Pakistan is a dishonest partner, unwilling or unable to stop elements of the Pakistani intelligence service from giving clandestine aid, weapons and money to the Afghan Taliban, Woodward writes.

By the end of the 2009 strategy review, Woodward reports, Obama concluded that no mission in Afghanistan could be successful without attacking the al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban havens operating with impunity in Pakistan’s remote tribal regions.

“We need to make clear to people that the cancer is in Pakistan,” Obama is quoted as saying at an Oval Office meeting on Nov. 25, 2009. Creating a more secure Afghanistan is imperative, the president said, “so the cancer doesn’t spread” there.

The war in Iraq draws no attention in the book, except as a reference point for considering and developing a new Afghanistan strategy. The book’s title, “Obama’s Wars,” appears to refer to the conflict in Afghanistan and the conflicts among the president’s national security team.

An older war – the Vietnam conflict – does figure prominently in the minds of Obama and his advisers. When Vice President Biden rushed to the White House on a Sunday morning to make one last appeal for a narrowly defined mission, he warned Obama that a major escalation would mean “we’re locked into Vietnam.”

Obama kept asking for “an exit plan” to go along with any further troop commitment, and is shown growing increasingly frustrated with the military hierarchy for not providing one. At one strategy session, the president waved a memo from the Office of Management and Budget, which put a price tag of $889 billion over 10 years on the military’s open-ended approach.

In the end, Obama essentially designed his own strategy for the 30,000 troops, which some aides considered a compromise between the military command’s request for 40,000 and Biden’s relentless efforts to limit the escalation to 20,000 as part of a “hybrid option” that he had developed with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a dramatic scene at the White House on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2009, Obama summoned the national security team to outline his decision and distribute his six-page terms sheet. He went around the room, one by one, asking each participant whether he or she had any objections – to “say so now,” Woodward reports.

The document – a copy of which is reprinted in the book – took the unusual step of stating, along with the strategy’s objectives, what the military was not supposed to do. The president went into detail, according to Woodward, to make sure that the military wouldn’t attempt to expand the mission.

After Obama informed the military of his decision, Woodward writes, the Pentagon kept trying to reopen the decision, peppering the White House with new questions. Obama, in exasperation, reacted by asking, “Why do we keep having these meetings?”

Along with Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan at the time, they kept pushing for their 40,000-troop option as part of a broad counterinsurgency plan along the lines of what Petraeus had developed for Iraq.

The president is quoted as telling Mullen, Petraeus and Gates: “In 2010, we will not be having a conversation about how to do more. I will not want to hear, ‘We’re doing fine, Mr. President, but we’d be better if we just do more.’ We’re not going to be having a conversation about how to change [the mission] . . . unless we’re talking about how to draw down faster than anticipated in 2011.”

Petraeus took Obama’s decision as a personal repudiation, Woodward writes. Petraeus continued to believe that a “protect-the-Afghan-people” counterinsurgency was the best plan. When the president tapped Petraeus this year to replace McChrystal as the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus found himself in charge of making Obama’s more limited strategy a success.

Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying, “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. It’s a little bit like Iraq, actually. . . . Yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”

NOTE:THIS IS A CROSS POST FROM WASHINGTON POST

KALABAGH DAM, A MATTER OF SURVIVAL FOR PAKISTAN

By Asad Omar Cheema

The country on our INDEPENDENCE DAY lay in ruins because of flooding ONLY because of poor planning. Had our leaders understood the real need and importance of KALABAGH Dam the poor people of our country would not have been suffering like this. It is always good planning which makes life easier or difficult. Alll politically ambiguos cofusions and fears of those against the building of the dam can be sorted out thru parliamentary debates if the correct vision and understanding is kept in mind of the colossal harm our nation goes thru when flooding like we are going thru occurs. The country has slid back at least five years and we are begging the world for help for our own mistakes.
The Prime Minister should initiate the process of developing a national consensus on the construction of Kalabagh Dam as soon as possible and satisfy the provinces of their reservations through discussions/debates in the Parliament so that those generally hostile to the dam should also be satisfied and come to know how important it is for the national economy to start work on the dam and how any further delay in its construction would be an invitation to disaster for the country in the near future.

The perils of depleting water reservoirs and the need for construction of not only Kalabagh Dam but many other dams to meet the future water requirements of the country should be undertaken specially of the Sindh Province. Our existing dams are depleting and we have a water short fall of over 15 million acre feet which is equal to water stored in Mangla Dam and this shortage will continue to increase with every passing year and the biggest sufferer will be the province of Sindh. The depleting capacity of the existing water reservoirs call for at least one dam like Kalabagh, Bhasha or Bunji every 10 years. We have been neglecting this dire requirement and did not construct any new dam during the last 30 years and the country is today suffering for this criminal neglect in the form of floods, drought and acute water shortage throughout the country specially in Sindh and Balochistan. Punjab has plenty of sweet sub soil water and in case of shortage it can meet its requirement by sinking more tubwells. But Sindh has brackish sub soil water which cannot be used for irrigation purposes. The water shortage in Sindh thus will be much more acute in the coming years and this disaster can be averted only by undertaking construction of new dams on warfooting.
Big dams take a long time to build and that even the feasibility study for a major dam can take several years. Pakistan urgently needs to build more dams to boost the country’s water-storage capacity like Turkey which has built 40 dams on the Tigris River and other rivers over the last five decades, while Pakistan, during the same period, has built only two. Mangla Dam on the River of Jhelum (completed in 1968) and Tarbela Dam on the River Indus (completed in 1974). If we take a decision right now to go ahead with the construction of a dam, it will be completed in the year 2020, by which time the water shortage in the country will rise to 25 million acre-feet, and by the year 2024 or 2025 the shortage will go up to 28 million to 30 million acre-feet. It is stupidity if we keep losing our water to the sea each year while our people keep longing for it.

The feasibility study of Kalabagh Dam was prepared long ago and a lot of preliminary work has already been done on the project. Its construction can be started in few months hoping to be completed by 2019/2020. In the meanwhile work on feasibilities of Bhasha and Nunji has been undertaken and work on these two dams should be completed by 2015 and 2020 respectively. If we want to meet the water requirements of next fifty years, we will have to build all these dams besides identifying new sites.

The Kalabagh Dam has become an absolute necessity for the country and delaying or abandoning its construction would be an invitation to a disaster. The water situation has become precarious and the provinces are going to each others throat already over the issue of water supply. Pakistan is one of the unfortunate country which has not built a major dam in the last three decades. No wonder, today the country is facing a serious water crisis. Millions and millions of rupees have been spent on the feasibility report of this Dam, alterations have been made in the plan to remove the apprehensions of those who have opposed it for one reason or the other, but all these have proved futile exercises and the project has not moved an inch forward. The unnecessary politicisation of the issue has been the major hurdle. However, it would be advisable for the President and Prime Minister to allay the genuine fears, if any, of the critics of the Dam. It would be suicidal to let the Dam become victim of a political controversy. Those who are using the issue as a political ploy to do politicking are advised not to do so as it amounts to playing with the destiny of the country. The government would not find it easy to build up a consensus on the issue. They need to muster support of politicians who matter. And it would require patience, imagination, good sense and finally power of persuasion. It is good that the Chief Executive has already initiated a process of dialogue with the politicians. The governors should also become a part of it at their level. Secondly, the opponents of the project have become allergic to the name of Kalabagh Dam. There is a lot of merit in Imran Khan’s suggestion to change the name of the Dam to Indus Channel. Apparently this may appear a gimmick, but surrounded by a peculiar political controversy as Kalabagh Dam is, this gimmick may deliver, as it could provide a way out to those staunch opponents who had gone too far in their opposition of Kalabagh Dam, but would accept it if given another nomenclature/name.

Kalabagh Dam is imperative for the good of the country and work on the project should begin without the fear of any adverse reactions. It would be a great achievement if the present government makes a breakthrough on this explosive issue. If they should do it, they would not only carve out a name for themselves in the history of the country, but also win the abiding gratitude of the nation.

NOTE:This is a cross post.

How India tried to aphyxiate Pakistan

By Basharat Hussain Qizilbash

This is a cross post from Rupee News.                  

Many Pakistanis are eager to establish strong friendly relations with India; however, the more cautious ones remind us not to be totally oblivious of its past attitude towards Pakistan. Why is there such a trust deficit? Trust, in plain words, means that the entity you trust will not fail you in any situation that demands fairness, protection or discretion. Could there have been better situations to test our trust in India than, when, we, as a newly born nation were struggling for survival?

We expected India to be fair and prudent in its discretion while dealing with us. It had several big leaders – Gandhi, Nehru, Patel – to name a few, tall enough to lay the foundations of a trustworthy relationship with Pakistan but their words and deeds instead created such a huge trust deficit that hasn’t been bridged, till today.

The list of Indian betrayals is long and it starts from the time when the date of transfer of power was announced by the British. Had the original date of June 1, 1948, been followed then instead of two months, the provinces that became Pakistan would have had 11 months to organise themselves before partition. However, the Congress secretly hobnobbed with the British Viceroy Mountbatten to have the date of partition advanced to August 1947 in order to deny Pakistan the opportunity to establish itself on a sound basis from the very beginning.

Next, the colonial economy was so organised that the Muslim majority in East Bengal was made totally dependent upon the port city of Calcutta (now Kolkata). A plebiscite in Calcutta was expected to result in favour of Pakistan. This was not acceptable to the Congress. So it again entered into a clandestine agreement with Mountbatten to secure this crucial city. This is not just an allegation. Much later, in the daily The Hindu of January 15, 1950, Sardar Patel himself spilled the beans: “We made a condition that we could only agree to partition if we did not lose Calcutta. If Calcutta is gone then India is gone.”

Millions of farmers of Pakistan’s Bengal were dependent on Calcutta for selling and exporting their jute, however, India started a trade war by refusing to buy our jute and blocked its export through Calcutta as well. The crisis compelled Pakistan to search for a trade agreement but what the Indians felt about us could be imagined from the callous remark of the leader of an Indian delegation: “What can you do with your jute except sell it to us? Burn it? Throw it into the Bay of Bengal?” So what kind of relationship could have been established between the two countries on the basis of such Indian arrogance?

Another opportunity to build a trustworthy relationship was wasted by India when it deprived Pakistan of its due share of one-third of the military stores, as per decision of the Joint Defence Council. By being fair and just, India could have allayed Pakistan’s sense of insecurity by transferring its military share, besides winning our gratitude in bonus. But it was not to be so.

To understand the nefarious Indian designs, one has to read John Connell’s Auchinleck: A Critical Biography, in which Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck in his capacity as the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian armed forces, as well as a member of the Joint Defence Council, informed the British government on September 28, 1947: “I have no hesitation whatever in affirming that the present Indian Cabinet are implacably determined to do all in their power to prevent the establishment of the Dominion of Pakistan on a firm basis….The Indian leaders, Cabinet Ministers, civil officials and others have persistently tried to obstruct the work of partition of the armed forces….It is becoming increasingly impossible for myself and my officers to continue with our task. If we are removed, there is no hope at all of any just division of assets in the shape of movable stores belonging to the former Indian army. The attitude of Pakistan, on the other hand, has been reasonable and cooperative throughout.” The fact of the matter is that Auchinleck was forced to resign. Moreover, Sardar Patel ensured that not a single piece of defence machinery reached Pakistan. India even refused to give us the machinery for Bren-gun and fuse-filling factories that was lying packed and uninstalled.

Yet, another classic example of India’s Machiavellian duplicity came to the fore on the issue of water distribution of rivers and canals in Punjab. This issue was dealt by Committee B of the Arbitral Tribunal, which was to expire on March 31, 1948. This committee with equal representation from India and Pakistan unanimously agreed that the pre-partition shares of water would not be changed but the day after the Arbitral Tribunal ceased to exist, India stopped the supply of water in every canal coming into Pakistan threatening agriculture over 1.66 million acres. The precarious Pakistani condition was exploited to the hilt by India when a delegation headed by Ghulam Muhammad comprising Shaukat Hayat and Mumtaz Daultana was not given any choice but was made to sign a statement without changing a word or a comma by Nehru’s government on May 4, as a condition for restoring the flow of water. If it were not a blackmail, pure and simple, then what was it?

The threat potential of this ‘water bomb’ was highlighted by David E. Lilienthal, a former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, US, who, after visiting the subcontinent commented in the August 1951 issue of the Collier magazine: “With no water for irrigation (Pakistan) would be desert….No army, with bombs and shellfire, could devastate a land as thoroughly as Pakistan could be devastated by the simple expedient of India’s permanently shutting off the sources of water that keep the fields and the people of Pakistan alive.” In a timeless observation, he termed the water dispute “pure dynamite, a Punjab powder keg” and warned that “peace in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent is not in sight with these inflammables around.” This is indeed the context of today’s “water tensions.”

When lifetime opportunities presented themselves to build a genuine trustworthy friendship with Pakistan, it was India that frittered them away by betraying Pakistan’s trust. When we trusted India to be just, it deceived us. When we expected it to be prudent in its discretion, India showed indiscretion, and when we thought that it would allay our sense of insecurity, it tried to make us defenceless. In this backdrop, can Pakistanis afford to ignore George Santayana’s advice: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

BURNING KASHMIR

Editor’s Note: The Kashmir issue lies at the core of the relations between India and Pakistan. The world has, for long, buried this issue under the sand-it cannot be buried any more. Unless and until, Kashmir issue is addressed, there never will be peace between the two nuclear countries. All the Amn Ki Ashas of the world cannot make an iota of difference to the ground reality.

By Eric Margolis

The world’s longest-running international conflict – Kashmir – has burst once more into flames.

At least 69 Muslim Kashmiris protesting Indian rule have been shot down in the street by Indian paramilitary police in recent weeks.  Scores more have been wounded as unrest spreads across the Himalayan mountain state.  Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, is under military curfew.

Indian and Pakistani military forces are on heightened alert as a result of the growing tensions.

A century ago, the great British geopolitician, Sir Halford Mackinder, called Kashmir one of the world’s primary strategic pivots – the nexus of continents, empires, and civilizations.

In my first book, `War at the Top of the World,’ which explores the Afghanistan and Kashmir conflicts, I described Kashmir as “the world’s most dangerous crisis.”

The danger still remains.   India and Pakistan, now both nuclear-armed, have fought three major wars over Kashmir. They remain at scimitars drawn over the divided state.  India keeps 500,000 troops and paramilitary police in Kashmir.

In 1999, Pakistani troops moved into the Indian-ruled Ladakh region of Kashmir, nearly provoking another war between the two old foes.  Both sides put their nuclear forces in high alert.   India and Pakistan have only a hair-trigger three minute alert window once they get warnings of enemy attack.  This is almost launch on warning; the potential for an accidental war is enormous.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan would kill and injure tens of millions – and produce clouds of radioactive dust that would pollute all of Asia’s major rivers and, eventually, the entire globe.

I have frequently been under fire on the tense Pakistani-Indian cease fire line, known as the Line of Control, that divided Kashmir into Indian and Pakistani-ruled portions. Border clashes between Indian and Pakistani troops have frequently threatened to escalate into a wider conflict in the south on the broad plains of Punjab.

Kashmir, some 92,000 sq miles (239,000 sq km), is roughly the size of Great Britain. It has 11 million people, which makes it larger than half the world’s nations.  Eight million Kashmiris live in the Indian-ruled portion; 3 million in the Pakistani part.  Another million people of Kashmiri origin live in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region, which is part of historic Kashmir.

Like so many of our world’s problems, the Kashmir conflict harks back to the British Empire.   In 1947, Imperial Britain divided the Indian subcontinent into India and the Muslim majority state of Pakistan.   Millions of Hindus and Muslims died in the ensuing carnage of partition.

Kashmir was an independent princely state ruled by a Hindu maharajah.   Seventy-seven percent of Kashmiris were Muslim; 20% Hindu; and the rest Sikhs and Buddhists.  The Hindu prince wanted to join India, but most of his people wanted union with neighboring Pakistan.

Violence erupted.  Pakistan and India went to war over Kashmir.  By the time the UN imposed a cease-fire, India held two-thirds, including the Vale of Kashmir, and Pakistan one third of the beautiful mountain state.  They have sparred and warred over Kashmir ever since.

Further complicating matters, during the 1950’s,  China quietly occupied and annexed  Kashmir’s 15,000 ft Aksai Chin region in order to build a military road linking its westernmost Xinjang province (the scene of the recent uprising by Muslim Uighurs) with Tibet.
China also claims the Indian-held Ladakh region of Kashmir as part of Chinese-ruled Tibet.    Ladakh is also called “Little Tibet.”

Anti-Indian sentiment in Kashmir simmered until 1989 when full-scale rebellion or intifada by Kashmiri Muslims erupted. India battled for a decade to crush the uprising, often using tactics that Indian human rights groups and foreign rights groups condemned as brutal and violations of human rights.  Massacres, torture, collective reprisals and gang rape became common. So did massacres of Hindus and Sikhs by Muslim insurgents.

Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI, armed and aided Kashmiri mujahidin, and helped sustain the popular uprising, until 9/11 2001 when Washington forced Pakistan to mostly end its intervention in Kashmir.

After 40,000-80,000 deaths, most of them Muslims, India seemed in recent years to have extinguished the uprising.   But now, it has sprung once more to life, sharpening Indian-Pakistani tensions and drawing China into the dispute.

In 1948, the UN Security Council ordered a plebiscite to determine if Kashmiris wanted to remain in India, or join Pakistan.  India has adamantly rejected the UN resolution and insists Kashmir is a purely internal matter.

The uprising, asserts Delhi, is all due to “cross-border terrorism” from Pakistan.  So the conflict has festered for 62 years – even longer than the dispute over Palestine.  Further complicating matters, numerous Kashmiri Muslims are calling for an independent state and demand Pakistan return Gilgit-Baltistan (“Northern Territories” to Pakistan).

Now, the Kashmir conflict can no longer be avoided.  It has become part of the arc of crisis that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan and India’s violence-plagued western regions.  Recent murderous attacks on India by Pakistan-based extremists were motivated by the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.

Equally worrying, there are reports that Chinese troops have entered northern Pakistan, adjacent to Kashmir.   Beijing says these troops are helping repair the fabled Karakoram Highway (KKH), the only land link between close allies China and Pakistan.  I have been over this 15,000 ft-high marvel carved from the ever-shifting mountains, one of my most hair-raising, thrilling adventures.

China is just finishing a deepwater port and naval base on Pakistan’s western Arabian Sea coast at Gwadar.  I first wrote about this highly strategic port in a 1980’s New York Times op-ed piece, predicting it would become a major strategic issue.

Gwadar will afford China’s expanding navy a supply base and safe haven that gives onto the Indian Ocean and Gulf. Today, 55% of China’s oil comes from the Gulf; in a few years, some 80%.  Gwadar lies right on China’s vital oil artery.

New roads, a railroad, and a gas pipeline are building northeast from Gwadar to the KKH, then into China.   India is increasingly alarmed by this strategic development, which it claims is part of China’s growing “encirclement” of India.   Furthermore, India also warns that Chinese troops along the KKH are ready to intervene in Kashmir in the event of a new conflict between Delhi and Islamabad.

In spite of great reluctance, Washington is slowly being drawn into the Kashmir dispute.  The US wants India and Pakistan to resolve their bitter Kashmir conflict so that the bulk of Pakistan’s army, now deployed against an attack from India, can be sent into action in Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier (recently miserably renamed, Pakhtunkhwa).  But this cannot happen so long as Kashmir burns, so Washington is tip-toeing into a new diplomatic mess in the Himalayas.

What a tangled web we weave…..Afghanistan can’t now be solved without stabilizing Pakistan.  But Pakistan will remain unstable and angry so long as the Kashmir conflict continues.  But the Bush administration allied the US with India, infuriating old ally Pakistan which sees India and now the US as its principal enemies.

Enter the dragon, China, Pakistan’s closet current ally, expanding its power westward towards the oil-rich Gulf.   Sir Halford Mackinder, it appears, was quite right about Kashmir, which lies at the nexus of these great events.

(The writer is a Senior Journalist, he writes also for the Toronto Sun).