In the current issue of Middle East Report, we write about the strategic logic of China’s increasing investment in teaching Middle Eastern languages, particularly Arabic, Persian and Turkish. A key goal of the push for Middle Eastern language competency is to help rebuild the Silk Road that China stood astride in centuries past.
In the coming years, China is expected to invest some $18 billion in an “economic corridor” crossing Pakistan to the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. The latest installment is the development of the Pakistani port of Gwadar. The port scheme is a strategic move linked to the restoration of Gwadar’s oil refining capacity. The plan is that China’s purchases of crude from the Middle East will be refined there before flowing to China by pipeline.
China has been Pakistan’s close economic and military ally since soon after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. But Chinese influence in South Asia has been ideological as well.
On a cold February day in London, over 40 Hazara men, women and children sat wrapped in blankets at the foot of the King George V monument opposite the Houses of Parliament. They were protesting the bombing of a vegetable market on February 16 in Quetta, Pakistan, that killed at least 91 of their brethren and wounded 190 more. It was the second day of their three-day sit-in and many had braved the freezing temperatures and the rain overnight. They had chosen to protest in this way as Hazaras — a predominantly Shi‘i Afghan ethnic group with a large, long-standing community in southwestern Pakistan — rather than joining the larger and more vocal crowd of diverse Shi‘i protesters outside the Pakistani High Commission two miles away.
Pakistanis should be more supportive of having their national sovereignty violated by Americans, according to US-based political scientists who favor drone strikes in Pakistan. I am trying hard not make this sound like an Onion article, even though it does.
In a January 23 article for The Atlantic, professors Christine Fair, Karl Kaltenthaler and William J. Miller argue that Pakistani opposition to drone strikes is not as widespread as previously claimed, and that the US government should take steps to convert Pakistanis to the official US view on drone strikes:
Quite a few eyebrows were raised last week when Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, perhaps one of the most infamous “terrorists” in Pakistan, extended an offer of humanitarian aid to the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — notwithstanding the $10 million bounty Washington has placed on his head.
Drones are President Barack Obama’s weapon of choice in the war on terror.
Since taking office, he has ordered over 280 drone strikes in Pakistan alone. That’s more than eight times as many as George W. Bush authorized and doesn’t even count the scores of other unmanned attacks in Somalia and Yemen. When the mainstream media reports these operations, it claims that almost all the people killed are “militants” — members of al-Qaeda or affiliated radical groups.
American policymakers and their advisers are struggling with the question of Pakistan. The last ten years have produced a host of policy reviews, study group reports, congressional hearings and a few academic and more popular books, with more expected as the 2014 deadline for the end of US major combat operations in Afghanistan nears. Much of this literature sees Pakistan as a policy problem and seeks to inform Washington’s debate on how to get Pakistan to do what the United States wants it to do. The literature also reveals the limits of American knowledge and power when it comes to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s generals are besieged on all sides. Like never before, they are at odds with their own rank and file. According to the New York Times, the discontent with the top brass is so great as to evoke concerns of a colonels’ coup. The army also is losing support from its domestic political allies and subject to the increasing hostility of the Pakistani public. The generals are even at risk of being dumped by their oldest and most generous supporter, the United States.
Back in 2004, three years into the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission report made its debut to the gushing admiration of the Washington press corps. The report was everything that the mainstream media adores: bipartisan, devoid of divisive finger-pointing, full of conventional wisdom.
Take this pearl: “One of the lessons of the Cold War was that short-term gains in cooperating with the most brutal and repressive governments were often outweighed by long-term setbacks for America’s stature and interests.”
In the city of Lahore, Pakistan on January 27, 2011, a 36-year old American CIA contractor named Raymond Davis was charged with double murder in the deaths of two Pakistani men, Faizan Haider and Fahim Shamshad. Newspaper accounts describe Davis firing his gun at two men on motorcycles whom he believed were armed and attempting to rob him as he stopped his vehicle at a traffic signal. At the same time, reports place another US employee driving a truck nearby; in his rush to rescue Davis, this American hit and killed a third passing motorcyclist. The driver of the truck somehow managed to leave the country but Davis was unable to disappear from what escalated into a tense international and legal incident between Pakistan and the United States.
The flooding of most of the Indus River valley in Pakistan has the makings of a history-altering catastrophe. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 20 million Pakistanis are in dire need, many of them homeless or displaced, others cut off from help by fallen bridges and submerged highways, untold numbers lacking supplies of food and potable water. In the August heat, waterborne disease is a mortal peril, especially to children, 3.5 million of whom are said to be vulnerable. Measured in numbers of people affected, says OCHA spokesman Maurizio Giuliano, “This disaster is worse than the tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake.”
Pakistan lies at the heart of President Barack Obama’s plan to wind down America’s war in Afghanistan. If — as he avers — the “overarching goal” is to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” the war will be fought mainly in Pakistan. With fewer than a hundred fighters, al-Qaeda was defeated long ago in Afghanistan.
In March 2007, when President (and General) Pervez Musharraf suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, Pakistani lawyers took to the streets in large numbers. It was a dangerous street where they were met with batons, barbed wire, tear gas, bullets and bombs. If their immediate demand was Chaudhry’s return to the bench, the incipient goal of their movement was restoration and respect for the rule of law. Over the last two years, protesting lawyers fundamentally transformed the political landscape in Pakistan.
The Pakistani army’s operation in the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan is the most sustained in five years of selective counterinsurgency against the local Taliban. The toll already is immense: 1.9 million internally displaced, including tens of thousands housed in tents on parched plains; 15,000 soldiers battling 5,000 guerrillas; and more than a thousand dead, mainly militants according to available counts but also soldiers and of course civilians.
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) as the army has launched ground operations and air raids to “eliminate and expel” the Islamist militant groups commonly known as the Tehreek-e Taliban or the Taliban in Pakistan (TIP). The targeted districts border Swat, a well-watered mountain vale described as “paradise on earth” in Pakistani tourist brochures, where the provincial government tried to placate the Taliban by agreeing to implement Islamic law (sharia). The February agreement, the Nizam-e Adal regulation, was approved by the lower house of the Pakistani parliament on April 12 and signed into law soon afterward by the president, Asif Zardari.
The day after Christmas, the wires buzzed with reports that Pakistan was moving 20,000 troops from its western border with Afghanistan to locations near the eastern border with India. The redeployment, said Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Qureshi, came in response to “certain developments” on the Indian side of the boundary, one reportedly being that New Delhi might be considering military strikes on militant bases inside Pakistan. Pakistani security officials stressed that these moves were “minimum defensive measures”: No soldiers had been taken away from the theater of counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, only from “snowbound areas” where the army sits idle.