Pakistan News Updated
Tangled foreign policy -- One of the consequences of the focus of our current president's obsessive focus on Iraq has been moving Pakistan and Afghanistan off the front pages of the news. Today's post is a composite of the most important developments in Pakistan in recent weeks. The balance of power has been changed as a result of general elections. Authority for governance switched, following the defeat of President Pervez Musharraf (currently on a trip to China). Yousaf Raza Gilani, a loyal member of martyred Benazir Bhutto's party, the liberal and secular Pakistan Peoples Party, was selected to be the new Prime Minister, according to The National Post (3/24/08). To quote:
Pakistan's National Assembly elected as prime minister on Monday Yousaf Raza Gilani, a top official in assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party, five weeks after it won a general election.
. . . Mr. Gilani, a close aide to Ms. Bhutto and a vice chairman of her party and former National Assembly speaker, had been expected to win the vote with a big majority.
. . . There had been speculation the PPP would nominate a stop-gap prime minister and Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, who now leads the party, would take over the post after entering parliament via a by-election.
But the News newspaper on Monday cited Mr. Zardari as rejecting such speculation, saying Mr. Gilani would be prime minister for a full five-year term.
Significant changes in Pakistan are already taking place. Barack Obama pointed that out in a speech last month, noting Pakistan's new "moderate majority." Parliament will act to remove restrictions on the press. At the end of last month the new PM ordered the release of the judges who had been deposed by Musharraf. Disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan also hopes to be freed by the new government.
At the same time the dilemma in the United States centers around what our dealings with the new PPP coalition government will look like, in relation to its dealings with the more extreme Taliban and tribal elements along the border with Afghanistan. An Asia Times article offers an excellent analysis of how this might play out in "The Taliban will talk, but no 'sugar-coating'," by Syed Saleem Shahzad. To quote:
While responding positively to the Pakistani government's offer of peace talks, the Pakistani Taliban have demanded the release of several key personalities in return for the Taliban freeing about 250 security personnel they are holding.
. . . The Taliban's demand is the first challenge to the new cabinet to make an urgent choice between internal peace on the one side and resentment from Islamabad's "war on terror" allies on the other. . . . Gillani has vowed to eradicate militancy from the country through dialogue.
. . . The government in Islamabad is now in the unenviable position of having to decide between giving in to the Pakistani Taliban's demands and releasing some of its most-wanted detainees, or submitting to inevitable war. Neither option is appealing.
. . . On Monday, the government announced the appointment of Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, retired Major General Mahmood Ali Durrani, as national security advisor to the prime minister. This indicates the PPP does not have any intention of pulling back from its "war on terror" commitments or from Washington's agenda in the region.
What we know for sure is that the same assumptions no longer apply no longer apply in Pakistan. This period of rapid change signals either good news or bad news for U.S. foreign policy as it relates to the Middle East and South Asia.
Miscellaneous references --
- Australian Benjamin Gilmour's award winning movie, "Son of a Lion," was filmed in Pakistan's Northern Tribal Area: "The story of a boy in a gun-making village who fights his former Mujahedin dad's refusal to send him to school - the old man, once a warrior against the Russians, prefers to harden him for battle against the new infidels - was made with local (non) actors."
- Benazir Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was recently acquitted of a murder charge after spending 11 years in jail awaiting trial.
(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)