October 01, 2009

Pakistan... ready to exhale?

Londonstani has been trying to get to the motherland (that would be Pakistan) for ages now, and has finally been given permission by the government to go and run around reporting on...you know.. like..stuff. So, over the past few months, while the wheels of bureaucracy have been slowly turning, Londonstani has been mugging up on a country he feels he knows in the same way some people feel they know celebrities like Katie Price. ie read about it all the time and spout off all knowingly without actually living with the dysfunctional personality/country. In the fashion of any respectable former language student, most of this acclimatisation has involved speaking Urdu to anyone and everyone willing to converse about anything (including the best onions to use when making pakoras), while only a small portion has involved reading the kind of thing grown ups write; like this article by Sir Hilary Synnott, a former British high commissioner in Islamabad who has recently published a paper on Pakistan for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

While those on the ground, like General McChrystal, have stressed the volatile and dangerous nature of the situation in Pakistan, there has been a dropping off of media stories about Pakistan. The general idea seems to be that the Pakistani army has done its job in Swat and now all is good.

Sir Hilary makes the point that Pakistan's problems are not so easily solved.

"It is one thing for the army to confront organizations such as al-Qaida and Pakistani Taliban groups that publicly threaten the state and the army itself. But the touchstone will be how it deals with others, such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa and rebranded versions of Lashkar-e-Taiba, with which its relationships remain open to legitimate question."

The big players of Pakistani political life have a long-established tradition of coming together and doing just enough to avoid disaster when on the 11th-hour they realise that there is an existential threat to the state coming at them head first. But as soon as it looks like the country might just pull through, it's back to kill or be killed (literally) politics Pakistan-style until the next disaster shows up and proves itself to be even scarier than the last.

Pakistan's problems are structural, and there are no quick fixes. Drone attacks are ultimately counterproductive, but what are the other options? Well, whatever they are, they aren't going to be easy. Any initiatives by Western governments or organisations face immense cynicism even from sections of the public that are referred to as "natural allies" (ie. the people who like to come to London in the summer and help the local economy by spending lots of money).

The starting point must revolve around the penultimate sentence in Sir Hilary's article: "For too long, Western heavy-handedness in Afghanistan and in relation to Pakistan has nourished the delusion that Pakistan’s troubles are all a result of ‘Washington’s war’.

The only part Londonstani disgrees with is the sentence that comes after; "Perhaps, Pakistan is now beginning to realize that it should look to itself as well." Read the letters page of the Jang and Nawa i Waqt and you'll see for yourself.