July 12, 2010

Back in Pakistan

I just got back to Pakistan after a two month stay back in London that was initially only supposed to last two weeks.

I've been catching up on the stack of newspapers that greeted me on my return. Not to mention the dust, cockroaches and dodgy plumbing. With me is Ms. Londonstani, also known as Ms Henley-on-Thames, who is whipping things into shape with fearsome efficiency.

The two biggest events while I've been away have been the attacks in Lahore and Mohmand. The Lahore attack did receive substantial coverage in the Western press, however Mohmand, in most hardcopy newspapers, was buried around page eight. And mostly consisted of reprinted wire copy. I suspect the issue in editorial meetings across the world is how to "refresh" the Pakistan story. How to take it beyond a list of attacks on places with funny names, where the only thing that seems to differ is the number of dead.

I'll be doing some more in-depth analysis of events over the coming weeks. In the meantime, during my reading-in this morning a couple of things caught my eye.

From a very interesting NYT article about US military training Pakistani army people: "The scouts face a battle-hardened enemy that has lived in the mountains around here for decades. "We've been here one-and-a-half years," said Col. Ahsan Raza, the training center's commandant. "They have been preparing for the last 20 years.

I might be wrong about this.. rather, Wikipedia might be wrong about this.. but haven't the Frontier Corps been hanging out in the mountains since 1907?

NYT has had a brilliant series of articles getting to the bottom of the conundrum facing Pakistan-Western relations - namely Pakistani mistrust of US intentions. And yes, Pakistani-Western relations rather than Pakistani-US relations, since the view of the US transfers to the West in general. Which is great...if you are al-Qaeda. I met a former Pakistani law maker from the opposition party. As a young man he had worked in the UK, gotten married there, lived there a good number of years. He was convinced the US wanted to see the break up of Pakistan and was probably sponsoring the Taliban. Did he think the UK was working for the same goal? "The UK is working to America's plan. It's not their aim to break-up Pakistan, but it is their aim to further their relationship with the United States," he said.

Going back to the NYT article, this last one by Jane Perlez and Eric Schmitt shows what such views translate to when the two "allies" try to work together.

"Pakistan also restricts the number of American trainers throughout the country to no more than about 120 Special Operations personnel, fearful of being identified too closely with the unpopular United States - even though the Americans reimburse Pakistan more than $1 billion a year for its military operations in the border areas."

"...the American-led war in Afghanistan and its continuing campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal areas have made the United States suspect at all levels of the military, and among the Pakistani population, as anti-Americanism has hit new heights."

It seems to me that without addressing the image problem, all other Western efforts in Pakistan are in trouble. The drone strikes are no more than a convenient tool when all your other options have been blunted. But in the final analysis, they only serve to stuff the future for the sake of "doing something" in the present.