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The 'Cold War' Heats Up Between India and Pakistan Disember 11, 2008

Posted by ummahonline in Islam Bi La Hudud, Kolum.

In the wake of the attacks on Mumbai last month, tension between India and Pakistan has soared to hitherto unprecedented levels in recent times. With the visit of Condoleeza Rice to Islamabad and the statements that has issued from Barack Obama of late, the eyes of the world are once again trained on the two countries that have dominated and determined the post-colonial development of South Asia since 1948; neighbours that have gone to war three times already.

President-elect Obama’s claim that henceforth American foreign policy will shift from the imbroglio in Iraq to the troubles of Afghanistan and South Asia, however, has left scholars and policy-makers alike dumfounded. What exactly does this shift in priorities signify and what may be its long term implications?

For a start, cynics have begun to sound the warning bells that the situation in Iraq is about to implode upon itself faster and greater than everyone anticipated. A hurried rush from Iraq now may well allow Obama the room and opportunity to escape from America’s messy entanglements in the Arab world – which were not his doing or responsibility, one may add. But it will certainly not calm the situation in Iraq or her neighbouring states and will probably only lead to even more strife and chaos. Now if this is Mr Obama’s way of washing his hands of the dirty mess that was created by Bush junior, a speedy exit that is unplanned and bereft of contingency plans may well create an even greater mess than before; as was the case with the US’s retreat from Afghanistan at the end of the Afghan conflict, which merely abandoned the country and the region to the militant forces who eventually gelled into the Taliban…

Furthermore the new focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia likewise beggars understanding. Is the Obama administration-to-be already operating on the assumption that the root of the region’s woes lie in Afghanistan, a country that was already devastated and sent off the tangent thanks to the machinations of the Eastern and Western blocs at the height of the Cold War?

The statements and behaviour of American politicians like Obama and Condoleeza Rice on, in and about the region seem to suggest a consensus of opinion of sorts: That the source of the problem lies in South and Central Asia, and that only a determined effort on the part of the US (re. US armed forces) will finally put the troubles to rest.

This of course is happening at a time when the world is speedily slipping into a state of recession and the scramble for rapidly depleting resources like oil, gas and water is growing by the day. South Asia has been designated as a hot spot to watch thanks to the combination of economic development as well as the potential threats to capital investment that may arise as a result of skewered, uneven development. Naturally the governments of the developed world are now throwing their weight in the region, demanding that the government of Pakistan co-operate with India (and by extension the West) in ensuring that militant forces and underground militant movements are kept at bay in the country.

Making things worse are some of the more stringent voices on both sides of the India-Pak border, calling for retaliatory measures to be taken while the other side stands down. It is against this backdrop that markets in the West as well as Asia are watching the tense drama that unfolds between New Delhi and Islamabad; with nobody wanting a new conflict between India and Pakistan anytime soon.

This mess, however, cannot and will not simply be wished away unless and until the international community also plays its part and accepts its own culpability in the unfolding drama across the India-Pak border today. Its roots lie in the Afghan conflict of the past and how for too long Pakistan was used (and allowed itself to be used) as a front-line state in the War against Communism. During this period civil liberties were curtailed, press freedom denied, political detentions and assassinations rife, and fundamentalist hot-heads and their ilk were allowed to roam free. Lest it be forgotten, most of the radical groups operating in and from Pakistan today were the forsaken children of the Cold War’s drive to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, by all means necessary. Today they have become a burden that everyone is embarrassed about, and worse still a near-permanent feature on the Pakistani political landscape that cannot be denied or glossed over.

Dealing with the militant groups in Pakistan will therefore have to be a systematic, organised, rational and thought-out process, that will require structural, institutional and financial backing from square one. It is pointless for American and Western leaders to keep telling Pakistani elites to close down madrasahs and religious NGOs without helping the Pakistani state to create and maintain a working public service sector that offers basic education, healthcare and social support. Nor would it be useful to invite yet another contingent of ‘moderate Muslims’ to be parachuted to Pakistan to preach about Islamic pacifism and the love of brotherhood, for what motivates many of the militant movements is politics and not faith. A political solution is required, rather than more rosy speeches about change in a new world…

For now, however, it is evident that the world can only look from afar at the rising tension between India and Pakistan with dismay and wonder. While the investigations into what really happened during the attacks in Mumbai continue, already fingers are pointing across the border and both sides are playing the blame game. America and Western Europe’s inclination to take the Indian side of the argument is a reflection of the reality of global power-politics and geo-strategy, and indicative of India’s growing importance in the eyes of the Western market and their governments.

But failure to deal with the matter in an objective even-handed manner will only reinforce the impression that this is a campaign to besmirch the name of Pakistan; which will in turn weaken the hand of moderate Pakistani leaders who themselves have been the victims of terror attacks and who want to see them stop for good in their own country. Now, more than ever, Pakistan needs to be understood and helped in a balanced, objective and sustained manner. Do keep the frothy rhetoric for the soap operas instead.



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