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Pakistan: troubles, troubles ...

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Robin Lustig | 10:28 UK time, Friday, 6 August 2010

Once upon a time, not such a long time ago, Asif Ali Zardari was known to his fellow-countrymen as Mr 10 per cent.

He was in jail, facing corruption charges, relating to allegations that he had skimmed huge commission payments off government contracts while his wife, Benazir Bhutto, was prime minister.

Then, in December 2007, she was assassinated. Within a year, he had been elected President. Last night, as Pakistan faced what the UN is now calling a "major catastrophe" - the devastating floods that are laying waste to huge swathes of the country - he was dining at Chequers with David Cameron.

Over the past three years, I have written on this blog more often about Pakistan than almost any other country.

After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I wrote: "Pakistan now becomes the most dangerous of all current global flash-points. It is a nuclear power; and it harbours jihadists who in the past have played a major role in the disintegration of neighbouring Afghanistan and have offered finance, training and organisational infrastructure to bombers in the UK and elsewhere in Europe."

Less than two years later, after another spate of violence, I wrote: "Pakistan is in a permanent state of crisis. It is used to weak government, rampant corruption and insecurity. I've lost count of the number of times I've read - or even written - that Pakistan is teetering on the brink of collapse."

This week, The Economist writes: "Pakistan is lurching from crisis to crisis, with an anaemic economy, religious extremism and an uncertain political dispensation."

How's this for a litany of disaster? Pakistan's worst ever air crash, 152 people killed. The worst floods for 80 years, at least 1,600 people killed, four million people affected. Three days of violence in Karachi, the country's business centre and largest city, at least 80 dead.

That's just in the past nine days. Oh, and did I mention the Taliban insurgency along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan? The 12,000-plus people who were killed in political or sectarian violence last year alone?

And as if all that wasn't enough, along comes David Cameron and chooses - in India, Pakistan's giant neighbour and rival - to accuse it of "looking two ways" on terrorism.

Regional analysts have been arguing for quite a while now that Pakistan may well turn out to be a much bigger international security threat than Afghanistan. (We hear so much more about Afghanistan becuse that's where US and British soldiers are dying. This week New Zealand suffered its first fatality there.)

When suspected jihadi terrorists are arrested in the UK, they're far more likely to have links to Pakistan than to Afghanistan. Even Osama bin Laden, if he's still alive, is more likely to be in Pakistan than in Afghanistan. At our counter-terrorism conference at Chatham House last month, Pakistan was the word on nearly everyone's lips.

But bear this in mind: to the Pashtuns who live along the Afghan-Pakistani border, there is no border. The Durand Line, drawn up by the British colonial diplomat Henry Mortimer Durand in the 1890s, slices through the Pashtun tribal area - and it exists more in the imagination of cartographers than on the ground.

On the Afghan side, the Afghan Taliban fight to remove foreign troops from their land and avoid domination by Tajiks (who make up more than half of the Afghan National Army) and other non-Pashtuns. On the Pakistani side, the Pakistani Taliban fight to preserve their rule over the border areas and keep the central government weak.

When President Zardari insists that Pakistan is fighting terrorism with all its might, he's thinking of the Pakistani, not the Afghan, Taliban. And when David Cameron says he's not doing enough, he's thinking of the other lot.

It's a mess - and it's dangerous.


  • 1. At 11:02am on 06 Aug 2010, OurManinAfrica wrote:

    According to the book 'Afrique, pillage a huit clos', Congo-Brazzaville's president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso used to have the nickname "Monsieur 17%" in France because his government took so little money (17%) from the French oil companies exploiting his off-shore reserves.

    Well after the nickname was given he then decided to end his dictatorship (in the spirit of the early 90s) by organising multiparty elections, and promptly lost, gaining only 17% of the vote.

    Of course, he came back with an armed group in 1997 and has been in power ever since...

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  • 2. At 11:05pm on 06 Aug 2010, quietoaktree wrote:

    It took Britain and European countries hundreds of years of oppression, wars and civil wars to attain a semblance of peace and Democracy. We have now achieved 65 years of success.

    The Kings and Queens have been pacified as has their War Lord families and side-kicks. The crumbs go to the citizens (subjects) -- and everybody is happy (including the local religion with world expansionist dreams)

    Both Pakistan and Afghanistan will need at least 200 years ( past world experience) to get anything straightened out, with the local religious dreams complicating the problems.

    The idea that any military action by outside forces can change anything is naive. Our various intrusions have catapulted 16th century problems into the 21st century and transformed the local problems into world problems.

    It will only get worse --with or without our interference !

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  • 3. At 8:50pm on 07 Aug 2010, U14578402 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 8:52pm on 07 Aug 2010, U14578402 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 8:55pm on 07 Aug 2010, U14578402 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 8:58pm on 07 Aug 2010, U14578402 wrote:


    Both the United States' Senate and House of Representatives Defence and budget-related committees are deliberating proposals to substantially downsize their country's navy and how budget reductions can be implemented in all of their armed forces branches...

    This while the UK is struggling to find ways of financing major- but very needed- military acquisition programmes, particularly for the Royal Navy and ancillary services...

    Could a productive strategy to perhaps partially meet both countries' objectives be the US 'gifting to the UK' several of its most recently built fighter aircraft & helicopter carrying naval vessels (along with their aircraft + weapons) that could be inducted into the RN in place of the UK's planned- but, due to budget constraints- enormously counterproductively lacking in capabilities- new 'big deck' aircraft carriers??

    The UK could sell its 2 partially completed, impractically-designed 'big deck' aircraft carriers to reliable countries such as India, S. Korea or even Brazil; work with the buyer(s) to 'custom fit' these vessels with radars, communications, armaments, etc; and could commit future years' funding to a 're-design' of the botched-by-the-previous-Labour-govt' big deck' aircraft carrier programme...


    1) http://www.navy.mil/local/lhd8/ -

    2) http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&ct=4&tid=400 -

    3) http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/navy/lhd-8.htm

    4) http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/cvn-21/

    5) http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/cvn-21/cvn-213.html

    6) http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/cvn-21/cvn-214.html

    7) http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/cvn-78-specs.htm

    Roderick V. Louis,
    Vancouver, BC, Canada

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  • 7. At 3:51pm on 08 Aug 2010, GeoffWard wrote:

    At last, a blog on the BBC about moslems in jail!

    Ms. Ashtiani, the Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery has now been accused by the Tehran government of new crimes.

    Her death sentence by stoning has been suspended pending a review, but she could still be executed by hanging. (A man has been convicted and jailed for the murder of Ashtiani's husband, but is not facing the death penalty.)

    A senior Iranian official has very recently told the UN that Ms. Ashtiani, 43, had also been tried and convicted of conspiracy to murder her husband, in addition to adultery; but Ms. Ashtiani told the Guardian (7 August), via an intermediary, that was a lie.

    Ms. Ashtiani said “They’re lying. They are embarrassed by the international attention in my case and they are desperately trying to distract attention and confuse the media so that they can kill me in secret." She asserted that she had been acquitted of murder, but found guilty of adultery; she also said her harsh treatment was down to the fact she was a woman.

    Ms. Ashtiani has been offered a new life in Brazil, as part of a humanitarian arrangement proposed by President Lula da Silva to his (supposed) political friend President Ahmadinejad.

    It would seem that the desire to retain 'face' when challenged by world-wide condemnation and opprobrium outweighs Iran’s desire to be part of the community of the modern world. Arguably, Iran has sunk so low in world esteem that there is nowhere lower that it could go.
    Has there been, or is there going to be, a BBC discussion forum on this ‘stoning to death’ case and the issues it raises?
    Has the Government has told the BBC to steer clear of this subject (it would certainly not be the first time!)?
    This humanitarian/political impasse is crying out for comment through (eg) BBC Have Your Say - an internationally respected mouthpiece of the British people.

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  • 8. At 1:53pm on 09 Aug 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    These discussions about how one is put to death are confusing. It seems there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to be put to death. I guess this is how we measure advanced civilizations. Pakistan is what it is. Generations old customs and beliefs cannot be undone because someone sends a couple of Human Rights NGO's into a country. This will all take time and everyone wants things changed on unrealistic schedules. How the Muslim world changes the status of women is the most important issue and once that has been resolved progress will be made. Brains are where you find them and India is just realizing that women are just as capable as men in the world of work. China has done a better job but still has cultural barriers as well. The media tends to use exceptions as the rule and that is misleading. The steam-roller of Western consumerism is difficult for any culture to resist and as it has founded these concepts such as a global economy, which has existed for well over a thousand years, and gobal banking, which is the newest form of technology based robbery, the cultures that are traditional in make up are crushed. It is difficult for the West to grasp that some cultures do not see the premissiveness and vulgar advertising onslaught as a great cultural addition. Most in South Asia would contend that the West is simply corrupt in different ways and the higher moral ground from which the West often speaks is hardly higher and certainly not moral. The West is viewed as a pariah only looking to make a profit from other peoples and their resources offering little in return. Because of the history of the West in that part of the world that is not a difficult argument to sell.

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  • 9. At 02:19am on 11 Aug 2010, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    ghost of sechuan chicken;

    I have concluded from your postings that the way you feel it is most acceptable to end people's lives is by boring them to death. If one makes it through to the end of one of your offerings and isn't dead yet, they wish they were if for no other reason than the vapidity of it.

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  • 10. At 3:26pm on 11 Aug 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:


    I am sorry that reality bores you....but you tend to occupy a mental state where delusion is portrayed as reality. Is that "Onward Christian Soldiers" I hear in the background.

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  • 11. At 3:32pm on 11 Aug 2010, quietoaktree wrote:


    No, its ´Nearer my God to Thee´

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  • 12. At 6:50pm on 11 Aug 2010, _marko wrote:

    I have read ghostofsichuan's many posts and I'm still alive.

    To Marcus,

    We know you feel that there's no point in having laws that aren't enforced. Apart from moaning about things on blogs, what action have you taken to express your feelings of hate?

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  • 13. At 11:50am on 12 Aug 2010, MarcusAureliusII wrote:

    We've been told that about two thirds of the people in Pakistan support al Qaeda and the Taleban, hate "the West" and see America much as al Qaeda does as their enemy. It is small wonder. The largely isolated ignorant population in rural areas and those in more urban areas inculcated most of their lives in a culture of militant Islam have been conditioned to see the world through this narrow perspective. America's powerful culture, the antithesis of what they value is a threat to the existing order of mullahs, tribal enclaves, and a way of life that puts Pakistan in direct conflict with many other cultures incuding India's, Britain's, much of Europe's, Iran, Russia. Pakistan has served as a sanctuary, haven, training ground, recruiting ground for militant islamic groups including those the west labels as terrorists. It wasn't until these militants began to attack Pakistan's society itself that any change of view was even possible. But the danger to the world is far too great to try to win the hearts and minds of the vast majority of people who are still very much our adversaries by their own choice, not ours.

    There is now a tacit understanding between "the West" in general and America in particular and the government of Pakistan that the US will send drone reconaissance and attack aircraft to hunt down al Qaeda and Taleban leaders but will not cross Pakistan's borders with troops to attack even the most dangerous enemy bases. That is left to the Pakistani military itself.

    With sympathies among the people in these so called wild ungoverned regions still strongly with the enemies of modern civilization it is small wonder that there hasn't been much sympathy or enthusiasm among the outside world to provide aid and relief to the millions now currently displaced by flooding and other natural disasters. One of the consequences of making yourself a bad neighbor is that few will come knocking on your door to help when trouble strikes. Those people are now pretty much on their own left to fend for themselves except for what little relief Pakistan's government can provide. I don't think it will dawn on them that they are in part responsible for whatever befalls them as a result of the rest of the world's indifference at their plight. There are times when the simple human connection of people reaching out to you isn't enough to overcome the past and frankly the likely future. There are times when we just can't bring ourselves to love our enemies.

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  • 14. At 4:14pm on 12 Aug 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Marcus the A:

    Not sure what is the point of your rambling assessment. Are you suggesting we abandon the efforts? Kill them all? Or do you offer some other solution? When faced with cutlural bariers there are two choices: work withinthe cultrual framework or impose your will upon the people. Expectations for cultural evolution should be in generations. Example: Emansipation Proclamation was January 1863, civil rights act was 1964, took about 100 years to recognize such changes in the US. And that process continues. Reconstruction was a messy business and the people of the South did not jump at the opportunity to restructure that society after being defeated. Because certain areas of the globe have had not preceived profit for Western investors they have been ignored and now that they create problems the response is military. Some would suggest that certain elements of the Tea Party movements are not that different from the Taliban in their desire to impose their thinking on everyone else. India is a democracy and still has many of the same problems as Pakistan. The poor usually get attention in this world through the use of arms. Islamic militants are a collection of the criminal elements and religious fanantics both using each other. It is interesting that the Taliban have never garnered enough support to win any elected offices in Pakistan which may undercut your notion of their support within the population. I believe they poll at about 10% in elections.

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  • 15. At 01:06am on 14 Aug 2010, MarcusAureliusII wrote:


    "Not sure what is the point of your rambling assessment"

    I don't know how anyone could have missed it but the point is that few if any outside Pakistan actually cares. Not enough to send money or help at least. Most of us in the US would prefer to see whatever we send to people in trouble go to someplace like Haiti instead. At least they aren't harboring people who want to kill us.

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  • 16. At 9:42pm on 16 Aug 2010, mike boothroyd wrote:

    At 14 GofS wrote "Expectations for cultural evolution should be in generations"
    Whilst I agree with the broad thrust of that statement I would replace the word generations with centuries.
    It's a matter of patience.
    It took the western, broadly Christian, societies 1500 years to experience the "enlightenment".(Notwithstanding their internal divisions)
    For Islam, a much "younger" religion, many centuries will be required for it to reach the same point.(Notwithstanding their internal divisions as well).
    By comparison with the Christian west the Islamic east has, IMHO, a limited history of cultural development. I stress limited, not non-existent.
    Music must be an over-arching example.

    Personally I feel this sometimes explains why we in the west question why we want to try and impose our standards on other societeies that are living in medieval (or possibly earlier)times.
    We lack patience.

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  • 17. At 07:54am on 23 Aug 2010, smartsceptic wrote:

    While I may agree with EBAHGUM that patience on the order of centuries instead of just generations is required to see cultural improvements in some so-called cultural backwaters like Iran and/or Pakistan, I disagree with his assertion that the Islamic east has a limited history of cultural development compared to the Christian west. You are apparently unaware that the Islamic societies preserved and passed on to the West much of the classical learning of Greece and Rome that fueled the Renaissance especially in mathematics and science.

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  • 18. At 9:15pm on 23 Aug 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Yes Pakistan is dangerous for all of the reasons that you have written, plus those listed in the Economist: "Pakistan is lurching from crisis to crisis, with an anaemic economy, religious extremism..." Pakistan is also crippled by IMF loans.
    Yes there is insurgency along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan - mainly because the border has always been porous, the Durand Line meaning essentially nothing to the militants and extremists who are harder to route out than cancer cells.
    But now the floods have drowned the lot, or put them on the run just trying to survive. What a fortuitious flood this was & is from a western point of view. Water - WATER can do what armies cannot do, even what drones cannot do.
    So what do you think?
    Was the flood a HAARP attack. I think it was a HAARP attack. I also believe this about the China floods, the Russian fires, the Haiti Earthquake...HAARP is the new weapon of choice from the American military machine - a weather weapon of mass destruction.

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  • 19. At 10:22am on 27 Aug 2010, TrueToo wrote:

    Robin Lustig wrote:

    When President Zardari insists that Pakistan is fighting terrorism with all its might, he's thinking of the Pakistani, not the Afghan, Taliban. And when David Cameron says he's not doing enough, he's thinking of the other lot.

    Interesting. So can we can conclude then that Pakistan will only fight domestic terror? Or, in other words, will only fight terror that is a direct threat to the Pakistani government, while happily exporting terrorists trained in the madrassas to the West?

    As I indicated on another BBC blog:

    Pakistan is one of the world's major Islamic terror centres. Here's a small fraction of Pakistan's contribution to terror:

    *The abduction and murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, simply because he was Jewish.

    *The bloodthirsty terror attacks against innocents in India and then the ducking and diving when held to account.

    *The murder of Benazir Bhutto because she represented a threat to the medieval tenets of radical Islam.

    *The exporting of nuclear technology to Iran - another major centre of Islamic terror.

    Pakistan plays a double game with the West. I recall that right after 9/11 Musharaf rushed to offer the US his condolences, perhaps the first leader to do so. I believe he knew precisely where that attack originated and was trying to do damage control, perhaps fearful that the US response would be immediate and even nuclear.

    Re the floods, stories have come in of the aid not getting through to the people who need it most and of food prices soaring. No doubt corrupt officials are holding onto aid and selling it to the highest bidder, as inevitably happens in the case of aid to countries like Pakistan.

    I've been following World Service "reporting" on the crisis. It's a daily diet of sob stories with little factual information. Perhaps the World Service can put a good journalist, if it is prepared to employ one, onto the story of the aid. He/she could probe the following issues:

    *How much aid is in the form of cash and how much goods?

    *Where is the cash deposited and who has access to the accounts?

    *If some aid in the form of goods is being sold instead of delivered to those who need it most, who is responsible for this and how can it be stopped?

    It's about time the World Service moderated the excessive "human interest" stories it keeps pumping out. In other words, it should stop simply being a PR outfit for aid for Pakistan and bring us some real reporting re what's going on with the aid.

    Well, I guess we'll just have to wait 30 years or so for the BBC to reveal what actually happened to the aid, as it did with the recent investigation into Bob Geldof and Ethiopia.

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  • 20. At 05:01am on 12 Oct 2010, Salman wrote:

    Yes, we know that we've got Mr. 10% as our President but you would also know the players who appointed him. You must know who's approval are necessary for these sort of appointments. Yes you are right about terrorism and every thing you have mentioned but you haven't mentioned role of CIA, ISI, MOSSAD, RAW, MI6 and others in international conspiracies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. U.S. is not winning the war in Afghanistan and they wanted to turn the war in Pakistan just like they have done to Combodia during Vietnam. U.S. is looking for escapte goat, I think. There is terrorism that we all know about and there is state-sponsored terrorism that we don't wanted to know about. All these terrorism issue is lot to do with Intelligence Agencies around the world. Pakistan is not the only player in this game.

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  • 21. At 11:20am on 21 Jun 2011, Syed Hassan wrote:

    Hi, Peace Lover of the World

    mostly round about 90% peoples of the world thinking about Taliban, Alaqida etc, that these are group of terrorist, but Truth is that these all are actually name of a Thinking of Wahabi Extremists.
    In Pakistan in Zia Govt. Saudi Arabia Funded Wahabi in Pakistan to made Madrisas every where in Pakistan and these fund also use to kill shia Muslims in Pakistan.

    “To impose there thinking / Agenda on all peoples they Do JEHAD with non-muslims and with those who are not accepting there thinking, even they are muslims and they all Must Be Killed.”

    I haired in news many time that Pakistan Army and Intelligence Agency and some Govt. Officials helping Taliban / Al-Qaida,
    In the view of all about that, “There are some peoples in Army, Intelligence and Govt. who have very soft corner for these extremist because they are extremist by there self, and all that happened only Saudi Interference in Pakistan in Zia Govt and Zia Govt. also help to and create extremist groups in Pakistan like Sipah-e-Sahaba. And right now there is also some peoples in there who have very soft corner for them but also helping all these extremist, coz they want Pakistan as they like. And now Wahabi Madrisas are every where in Pakistan to mind washing innocent peoples of Pakistan.
    Remember if these Extremist succeed in Pakistan then no one will be safe in the world.
    I am also mentioned here for whole world that all Pakistanis are not extremist only some of them r/a 10%, 90% are not liking that Wahabi Extremist.

    My humble request to whole world,
    If you really want to stop that then Listen and Help ordinary people of the Pakistan not Rich Govt. Officials, or Rich Peoples.
    Listen what they are thinking and what are there expectation to all of you, and then help them. Right now you are giving add to Govt. and they spend on there own self, we didn’t saw any thing that they spend on real ordinary Pakistani Peoples.

    Hope some one think about that.
    If you quote all above mentioned or some of that Please never ever mentioned my city name there coz then me and my family never be safe here.

    Thanks and Love and Regards for the Whole World.

    Syed Hassan Abbas

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