Window on Pak Press: ‘Taliban fighters moving towards Islamabad’

12 02 2009

Source: India today

As an old adage goes ‘you reap what you sow’, Pakistan is now terrified over the threat from Taliban. The News reported on Wednesday that the local Taliban leadership has decided to send its fighters to Islamabad as a reaction to the operations in Darra Adam Khel and Swat Valley and in this regard chalking on the walls of Islamabad are already appearing, forcing the Islamabad administration to whitewash these messages quickly.

Many religious scholars in Islamabad, the leading daily The News and Urdu daily Jang said, have also received messages from the Taliban that they have only two options, either to support the Taliban or leave the capital or they will be considered collaborators of the ‘pro-American Zardari government’ which, they claim, is not different from the previous Musharraf regime.

Taliban threat coincided with US President Barack Obama saying that he has sent his special envoy Richard Holbrooke to Islamabad with a message that the terrorists, who threaten the United States, also threaten Pakistan. In his first prime-time news conference as president, Obama sent forceful message to Pakistan: “Washington seeks a closer relationship with Islamabad, but there can be no compromise on the issue of terrorism.”

“There is no doubt that in the Fata region of Pakistan, in the mountainous regions along the border of Afghanistan, that there are safe havens where terrorists are operating,” he said.

“It’s not acceptable for Pakistan or for us to have folks who, with impunity, will kill innocent men, women and children,” he declared.

President Obama said that he has tasked his special envoy, now in the region, “to deliver a message to Pakistan that they are endangered as much as we are by the continuation of those operations.”

Besides, India asking Pakistan if it needed any help in the investigation into 26/11 Mumbai attack probe and Pakistan and the United States agreeing to jointly review the policy to counter extremism and terrorism to ensure peace in the region, dominated the Pakistan media on Wednesday. Several papers including Daily Times quoted India’s External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee criticising Pakistan on Tuesday for leaking reports to the media concerning its investigation into the Mumbai attacks, saying Islamabad should have communicated any information through official channels.

Meanwhile, The Nation on Wednesday morning said, “India, Pak keen on South Asia trade; mum on bilateral ties”. The paper said India and Pakistan came together on a SAARC platform, discussing ways to mitigate the impact of the global downturn on the South Asian region, even as the two neighbours have snapped bilateral trade talks after the Mumbai attacks. As the commerce secretaries of the eight-nation South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) met in New Delhi, officials from both India and Pakistan remained focused on giving a boost to the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), but remained silent on bilateral ties even on the sidelines.

“We are at the moment talking about SAARC. I think it is important to concentrate on the matters in hand … Multilateral forums are very important and we need to strengthen those,” Pakistan Commerce Secretary Suleiman Ghani said when asked about the fate of India-Pakistan trade ties.

Presiding over the meeting of the Committee on Economic Cooperation, Commerce Secretary G.K. Pillai said, “Our resolve to initiate the review of the sensitive list is a pleasant (happening) in a depressing regional environment.”

This is for the first time that trade officials from Pakistan travelled to India after the Mumbai attacks in November. Officials agreed to work on pruning their sensitive lists to enable increased trade flow under SAFTA.

Daily Times also reported that a three-member team of the Indian Crime Branch investigating the Mumbai carnage has left for the US to meet FBI officials and share details of their investigation, a private TV channel reported on Tuesday. The channel quoted an unidentified Indian police official as saying that the team headed by Additional Commissioner of Police Deven Bharti had left for the US on Monday night. “They will discuss and share the details of the probe and also take input from officials of the FBI,” he said. The police team is likely to spend a week in the US. Meanwhile, Daily Times said Hindustan Times quoted unidentified sources in the Indian Crime Branch as saying that the investigators would collect, analyse and finalise the evidence gathered on the Mumbai case by both agencies in order to compile a comprehensive chargesheet.

The News reported that Pakistan and the United States on Tuesday agreed to jointly review the policy to counter extremism and terrorism to ensure peace in the region. It was the crux of meetings of the visiting US Special Representative Richard Holbrooke with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday.

Holbrooke agreed with Pakistan’s proposal to form a parallel group to review the new US strategy towards Afghanistan, Pakistan and terrorism. In the meeting held in the Presidency, US Ambassador Anne W Patterson, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Information Minister Sherry Rehman, Law Minister Farooq H Naek and Adviser to PM on Finance Shaukat Tarin were also present.

Besides terrorism and extremism, the meeting discussed the regional situation in the wake of the Mumbai incident, the Kashmir issue and the situation in Afghanistan. According to sources, during the meeting, President Asif Ali Zardari presented some new proposals for peace in the region. But it was the Taliban threat that attracted attention. The News went on to say that it was also surprising that the Taliban of Swat and Bajaur have included the names of some religious and Jihadi leaders, who are not ready to fight inside Pakistan against their own countrymen, in their hit lists.

The Taliban have accused some militant leaders of the tribal areas and some leaders of the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, Harkatul Mujahideen and Hizbul Mujahideen of trying to stop youngsters from fighting the Pakistani forces. Taliban have declared all these “pro-Pakistan” Jihadis as their enemies.

The names of Maulvi Nazir from South Wazirastan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur from North Waziristan, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, Maulana Farooq Kashmiri and Syed Salahudin have been included in the hit lists of the Taliban, who have threatened some Hizbul Mujahideen leaders in Swat and Dir to leave the areas as soon as possible.

Another Taliban leader in the Mohmand Agency Maulvi Omar Khalid has threatened boys belonging to the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba to leave the tribal agency or face death. Omar Khalid has claimed that these boys are only interested in fighting against the foreign troops in Afghanistan or against India, which means that they don’t want an Islamic government in Pakistan.

“This complicated situation has forced the government to take some extreme steps against the Taliban in Darra Adamkhel and Swat, who had killed a Polish engineer as a reaction to the operations in their areas,” the paper said.

“Some diplomatic sources have revealed that initially Pakistan was ready to release some arrested Taliban fighters in exchange for the abducted Polish and Chinese engineers but the US authorities raised objections and a deal could not be finalised,” the paper said.

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Troops throng Afghan capital after Taliban attacks

12 02 2009
Source: AFP

By HEIDI VOGT – 3 hours ago

KABUL (AP) — Heavily armed government troops thronged the streets of Afghanistan’s capital Thursday, stepping up security before the arrival of the new U.S. envoy to the region the day after Taliban attacks showed how easily the city’s defenses can be breached.

Richard Holbrooke, President Barack Obama’s recently appointed envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was expected later in the day for his first trip to the country. Security would have already been high for such a visit, but Holbrooke arrives following one of the Taliban’s most audacious attacks on the capital.

On Wednesday, Taliban militants killed 20 people in a coordinated assault on three government buildings. Armed with guns, grenades and suicide vests, they stormed through barricades at the Justice Ministry in the heart of Kabul and a corrections department building to the north.

One attacker was killed before he could force his way into a third building, the Education Ministry.

The Taliban claimed responsibility soon after the assault began.

The attack served as a reminder of the challenges facing Obama as he increases America’s focus — and troop levels — in Afghanistan. The new administration has promised up to 30,000 new troops. Holbrooke is helping the Obama administration chart a new strategy to beat Taliban insurgencies in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Under rain and snow, troops armed with heavy machine guns swarmed street intersections in Kabul on Thursday, checking drivers’ papers and searching cars.

“Security measures have been increased 100 percent, particularly at the gates of Kabul,” said Abdul Gafar Pacha, the head of the police criminal investigation unit.

All eight attackers died in Wednesday’s assaults, bringing the death toll to 28. Another 57 people were wounded, according to the Interior Ministry.

Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, said the attackers sent text messages to a militant leader in Pakistan before the attack.

Afghanistan has accused militants based in Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas or Pakistan’s spy service of being behind several major attacks in Kabul, including the bombing of the Indian Embassy last July, an assassination attempt against President Hamid Karzai in April and an assault on the luxury Serena Hotel in January 2008.





‘Pakistan must close Taliban bases that train anti-India militants’

3 02 2009

31 Jan 2009, 1240 hrs IST, IANS

WASHINGTON: Getting Islamabad’s cooperation to close Taliban sanctuaries in its tribal areas may be Washington’s single hardest challenge as Pakistan has always used them to train people to operate in Kashmir or India, says a leading US expert.
Bruce O. Riedel, an expert on South Asia who has worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Pentagon and National Security Council, says new special envoy Richard Holbrooke needs to reverse the negative momentum in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s military successes in Afghanistan have to be reversed and Islamabad must help close their sanctuaries on Pakistani territory, he said in an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank.
But Riedel says “trying to get that cooperation out of the Pakistani government in my judgment will be the single hardest test that Ambassador Holbrooke faces and in fact may be the single hardest foreign policy challenge President (Barack) Obama faces”. The Pakistani military is of two minds about the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) along the border with Afghanistan, he said.
It has always used FATA “as the place where it could create groups like the Taliban, or encourage the development of the Taliban, where it could train people to operate in Kashmir or to operate in India”.
“But now that it sees that it’s losing control of that area, it’s increasingly concerned about the future,” Riedel added.
US Predator attacks on al-Qaida targets in that area had scored some important successes, but they had also helped further the alienation of the Pakistani people away from the US and badly eroded American brand image, Riedel said.
“Polling in Pakistan shows that a majority of Pakistanis blame America for the country’s internal violence. India comes in second place, and the al-Qaida and militancy comes in third place,” he said. “Any time that you are outpolling India as the bad guy in Pakistan, you’re in deep, deep trouble.”
Pakistan’s concerns in Afghanistan derive in large part from its concerns about India, the expert said.
“It can’t try to deal with these problems in isolation. But you also have to deal with them with a great degree of subtlety and sophistication, because there are decades-old fears among all the parties about American intentions,” Riedel said.





US anti-terror aid for Pakistan cut by $50m

29 01 2009

Source: Daily Times, India Today

LAHORE: The United States has paid Pakistan $100 million for its frontline-state role in the war on terror, against an originally planned amount of $150 million, a private TV channel reported on Monday. Talking to the media in a ceremony of Pakistan Microfinance Network in Islamabad, Finance Adviser Shaukat Tareen said the reason for the reduced funding was a new payment system in the US. He said the government was in contact with the US administration and was expecting to receive a positive response in this regard, the channel said. –daily times monitor.

The US has deducted $55 million out of the $156 million bill set by Pakistan for rendering its military services to fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda in volatile bordering tribal areas adjacent to war-torn Afghanistan.

Shaukat Tarin, a financial advisor in the prime minister’s office, said the US had “changed the format” for money released under the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) for Islamabad, resulting in a “massive” deduction.

Pakistan, a key US ally in the fight against terrorism, has mobilised its more than 100,000 troops in tribal areas to contain Islamic militants launching cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, and bills US for the expenditure.

The cut in its reimbursements is a setback to the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former Pakistani premier Benazir Bhutto.

Tarin said Islamabad had taken the matter of the deducted money with Washington.

Pakistan joined the US-led international alliance against terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, with Islamabad getting some $297 million every year since 2003, in the form of Foreign Military Grants to quell the Taliban militancy.

But the authorities in Washington have said repeatedly that Islamabad was not doing enough to control Islamic insurgency in its ungoverned tribal region.

The new US government, led by President Barack Obama, has vowed to focus more on Pakistan in its policy to defeat Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. In its efforts, the new administration would link Pakistan’s aid with the security in the border region in Afghanistan, the White House said in a policy statement last week.

Pakistan, which has recently avoided default by obtaining a $7.6 billion loan package from the IMF, is relying heavily on US to revive its economy.

The US has so far provided between $10 and $11 billion of aid for social development as well as in form of military aid. But Pakistan says it has suffered financial losses many times more than it has collectively received aid from American and its western allies after becoming front line state in the ongoing war against terrorism.





Fata insurgency challenge of highest order: Obama

24 01 2009

Source: Pakistani newspaper

WASHINGTON, Jan 23: An international challenge of the highest order and an urgent threat to global security is how the new US President Barack Obama described the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his maiden speech to his diplomatic corps.

Mr Obama was equally forceful while talking about another pivotal issue that has occupied US policy makers for half a century: the Middle East. ‘Let me be clear: America is committed to Israel’s security. And we will always support Israel’s right to defend itself against legitimate threats,’ he said.

‘Now, just as the terror of rocket fire aimed at innocent Israelis is intolerable, so too is a future without hope for the Palestinians,’ he added.

Reacting to his statement, the pro-Israeli neo-con media welcomed Mr Obama’s commitment to Israel but rejected his suggestion for creating a better future for the Palestinians. ‘We need to wipe them out,’ said a neo-con blogger. Some Arab commentators were also disappointed.

‘Mr Obama dispelled any notions of a change in the US Middle East policy,’ As’ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, told a US media outlet. ‘It’s like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza.’ But both groups noticed that Mr Obama acted fast, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush who ignored the Arab-Israeli conflict for too long and was not sincere to his own peace plan.

Just two days after talking oath, Mr Obama made telephone calls to Washington’s long-standing allies in the Middle East – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

But his Thursday afternoon statement at the State Department makes it clear that he is equally, if not more, focused on South Asia. ‘Another urgent threat to global security is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said.

‘This is the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.’

Drawing a parallel between the two issues, Mr Obama observed: ‘There, as in the Middle East, we must understand that we cannot deal with our problem in isolation. There is no answer in Afghanistan that does not confront the al Qaeda and Taliban bases along the border.’ He also acknowledged that the military option alone cannot end this crisis. ‘And there will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,’ he said. ‘This is truly an international challenge of the highest order.’ The American people and the international community must understand that the situation in the two countries ‘is perilous and progress will take time,’ he warned.

Mr Obama conceded that violence in Afghanistan was ‘up dramatically.’ In describing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Mr Obama did not focus only on the existence of the so-called terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan, indicating that his administration is open also to pointing out the drawbacks of its Afghan allies.

‘A deadly insurgency has taken deep root. The opium trade is far and away the largest in the world. The Afghan government has been unable to deliver basic services,’ he said. Mr Obama then turned to the issue that he also highlighted during his election campaign: militancy in the tribal areas.

‘Al Qaeda and the Taliban strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border,’ he said, adding that this does not only threaten Afghanistan but also is a threat to the United States. ‘While we have yet to see another attack on our soil since 9/11, al Qaeda terrorists remain at large and remain plotting,’ he warned. Toning down his election rhetoric, which focused on using the US military might to subdue the militants, in this policy statement Mr Obama spoke instead of setting ‘achievable goals.’ ‘Going forward, we must set clear priorities in pursuit of achievable goals that contribute to our collective security,’ he said.

Mr Obama said that his administration was committed to refocusing attention and resources on Afghanistan and Pakistan and to spending those resources wisely.

‘We will seek stronger partnerships with the governments of the region, sustained cooperation with our Nato allies, deeper engagement with the Afghan and Pakistani people and a comprehensive strategy to combat terror and extremism,’ he declared.

‘The world needs to understand that America will be unyielding in its defence of its security and relentless in its pursuit of those who would carry out terrorism or threaten the United States,’ the new US president warned.

Earlier, President Barack Obama has described his new chief diplomat Hillary Clinton Hillary as “an early gift” to the State Department.

“It is my privilege to come here and to pay tribute to all of you, the talented men and women of the State Department,” Obama told the employees during a visit to underscore “my commitment to the importance of diplomacy in renewing American leadership.”

“I’ve given you an early gift, Hillary Clinton,” he said amid laughter and applause. “You will have a secretary of state who has my full confidence,” he said of his one- time Democratic rival for the nation’s highest office.

The former first lady too, leaving the bitterness of the election campaign behind, reciprocated his sentiments: “We are not only honoured and delighted, but challenged, by the president coming here on the second day.”





opinion: A just war on terror —Rafia Zakaria

24 01 2009

Source: Dailytimes

A just war on terror can only be a war that abandons force and invests faith in the idea that if people are no longer bombed in the name of protecting America, they will themselves join the just fight against terror?

On January 2, 2009, his first day in office, Barack Obama ordered the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay within a year. This pivotal move was long expected by his supporters and marked the beginning of what has been touted as the forthcoming theme of Obama’s nascent presidency: regaining America’s moral stature in the world.

By all accounts, shutting down Guantanamo seems to be a calculated symbolic first move, putting a dramatic and visible end to the kind of flippant rejection of the rule of law so closely associated with the Bush-Cheney Administration.

In addition to the Guantanamo order, another executive order forbade the use of torture in the interrogation of terror suspects in an effort to show, in the president’s own words, “that we are able to follow the core standards of conduct not solely when it is easy but also when it is hard.”

However, the closure of Guantanamo and the official cessation of the use of torture, welcome as it is, puts into focus what will be the Obama administration’s most challenging task in the days ahead: redefining the war on terror as a just war. Inherent in this project is reconfiguring not simply the means and rules by which America conducts warfare but also taking a second look at the strategic goals that Obama has not questioned in his campaign.

One notable example of these is the oft-repeated American aim of catching and imprisoning Osama bin Laden, something Obama has continually recounted during his campaign speeches. The issue of bin Laden’s pursuit and the concomitant portrayal of the Afghan war as the “right” and “just” war by Obama raises the question: can an unmanned drone attack on Pakistani territory in pursuit of this goal, and the killing of innocent civilians that routinely accompanies such attacks, be considered a “just” act equally capable of the moral high ground America achieves to recapture?

The answer from the Pakistani side is no, but will Americans be tempted to believe that all sins of the Bush Administration have been instantly absolved with the closure of Guantanamo and the forbidding of torture?

If they do indulge in such moral compartmentalisation where constitutional flouting in America is considered impermissible but killing civilians abroad is not, then little will have changed in the moral calculus of evaluating America. Americans may indeed believe themselves redeemed by eliminating the visible symbol of Guantanamo, but the rest of the world, most prominently the Muslim world towards which Obama has extended a conciliatory hand, will shake its head with the same disgust and disappointment that has marked its relationship with America in the past eight years.

The juxtaposition of the symbol of Guantanamo and the use of military power against civilians illustrates how both are ultimately symbols of imperial overreach that cannot be reconciled with moral leadership. It also brings forth another crucial dynamic of the war on terror: the gaping economic chasm existing between the countries where it is conceptualised and the countries where it is waged.

Take for example the following scenario: if a future terrorist attack on the United States were traced to a small village on the outskirts of London, how would the United States respond? Would a surgical strike that eliminates the village be an option?

The scenario sounds ludicrous since no one would even consider such a route, but the underlying logic it exposes is integral to understanding the moral dimensions of a war that is waged in a certain way when it involves poor countries and another where rich industrialised nations are involved.

Imagine further if such a strike on an English village is permitted and an unmanned drone kills members of a wedding party. It is undoubted, of course, that the world would be up in arms with moral outrage; there would be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this was an unjust act, despite the presence of possible terrorists.

The purpose of drawing attention to such a hypothetical scenario is not to argue for its plausibility or probability but to emphasise how the Obama’s administration’s strategic military goals may clash with their stated moral goals. This often unaddressed aspect of the war on terror has successfully been used by Islamist groups to cast the struggle as one between the world’s haves and its have-nots. A war where powerful nations can gloss over the sovereignty of poor ones and the lives of the cab drivers in Gaza cannot be equivalent to those of the ones in New York City is thus as much a moral quagmire as Guantanamo and the use of torture.

Recasting the war on terror requires re-evaluating the use of any military options against civilian populations. Support for groups like Al Qaeda and the Tehreek-e Taliban in the Muslim world persists because they are unfailingly able to portray themselves as the “little guy”, the weapon-less, ragtag warriors of faith fighting a military behemoth armed with drones and F-16s. The populations where they have taken root are all identify with being the “little guy”, and when a bomb falls on their village, the memory of burned CD shops, destroyed schools and public floggings fades under the deafening onslaught of an enemy that can kill without sending a single soldier.

In other words, the inherent destruction promised by military operations cannot possibly salvage moral standing for a superpower with much blood on its hands.

Undoubtedly, the impending closure of Guantanamo shows that the Obama administration is invested in turning the tide. The precept that insists that the Guantanamo inmates could be held indefinitely, tortured and refused a fair trial is the same doctrine that says civilian populations in areas where Al Qaeda may be hiding are mere collateral damage.

Accepting this fundamental similarity and abandoning both as epithets of the imperial overreach that has so maligned America in the Bush years requires elevating moral leadership not simply as a rhetorical theme but as a priority superseding the nation’s reliance on brute military force. A just war on terror, thus, can only be a war that abandons force and invests faith in the idea that if people are no longer bombed in the name of protecting America, they will themselves join the just fight against terror.

Rafia Zakaria is an attorney living in the United States where she teaches courses on Constitutional Law and Political Philosophy. She can be contacted at rafia.zakaria@gmail.com





analysis: Swat under siege —Abbas Rashid

24 01 2009

Source: Dailytimes

Both India and Pakistan do not seem optimally positioned in terms of internal dynamics to deal with the pressing issues they face. The dissensions within will allow the militants to secure even greater space

One indicator of the state of Swat is the fate of its schools. According to one estimate, over the last fortnight, around twenty schools have been burnt down — more than one a day on average. The total number of schools in Swat that have been destroyed has now exceeded 150. Most are girls’ schools. In fact, few schools in the area are actually functioning because of understandable concerns on the part of parents and teachers for the safety of the children.

There are doubts expressed sometimes as to who is responsible for this. Obviously, it is not possible to rule out the involvement of more than one element. But the Taliban have often enough made clear their aversion to girls’ education and the experience of their rule in Afghanistan provides ample testimony as to their determination in this regard.

But what are we doing about the havoc being wreaked in Swat?

Earlier this week members of parliament passed a resolution expressing solidarity with the people of the valley, pledging to “stand up for the protection of their rights in the face of the onslaught by non-state actors”.

We are not quite sure just how this will happen. On Thursday, President Asif Zardari met security chiefs and politicians to discuss the violence in Swat and elsewhere in the northwest, and said the government was following a “three D” policy of dialogue, development and deterrence.

The problem, however, is that dialogue and short-lived peace deals have been tried before, only to have the Taliban return to the area stronger than before. Development interventions are not possible unless preceded by peace and a modicum of stability. And so far, the fairly substantial presence of military and paramilitary forces in the area has somehow not deterred the Taliban from terrorising the people of Swat and FATA, forcing large numbers to leave their homes and flee the area. The majority of the police force is no longer performing its duties and even the security advisor suggested as much when he declared Thursday that the police would have to work at restoring their credibility.

But Swat is now in the grip of a broader Taliban-led insurgency challenging the writ of the state in FATA and increasingly in the settled areas of the NWFP. And a successful counter-insurgency strategy operation cannot be carried out by a demoralised police force. While the military and paramilitary forces have carried out successful operations in the area, there is a general sense that the initiative still rests very much with the Taliban who seem to be running short neither of arms, men or money in what is nothing less than an unrelenting drive to take effective control over large areas of Pakistan and force millions of its citizens to do their bidding.

An ISPR spokesman Wednesday blamed the situation in the area partly on the two months of truce agreed by the new provincial government with the militants, giving them a chance to regroup and tighten their grip. That may be so. Earlier, this was a strategy followed by the military under President Pervez Musharraf as well.

Now, again, the federal government has sought the services of JUIF chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to negotiate with the Taliban. It is unlikely that the latter will agree to anything less than exercising effective control in large parts of the NWFP and imposing their own version of sharia that, among other things, rules out education for women and polio shots for children.

Clearly, a negotiated peace is the best option but it should not be a synonym for the surrender of the writ of the state. In the alternative, force has to be judiciously but effectively used to restore confidence in a terrorised populace. And while the Maulana may be the right person to negotiate with the Taliban, he might need reminding that his party lost in the last elections, held less than an year ago, and the ANP and the PPP won convincingly in the area: it says something about the preferences and aspirations of the people as opposed to those of the militants and terrorists.

Meanwhile, there is a level of uncertainly created by the fallout from the bomb blasts that killed so many innocent people in Mumbai last November. As the threats from India mounted, Pakistan made it clear that it would move troops fighting the insurgency to its eastern border and some were reportedly redeployed.

A major redeployment would obviously provide the Taliban with the opportunity to consolidate their gains and advance further. But, the pressure from India now seems to be receding and with the new US administration headed by Barack Obama, it is likely that there will be an attempt to put a regional initiative in place with regard to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Richard Holbrooke has been reported as Obama’s choice for the position of US special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan But an important part of his mandate could be Pakistan-India relations as well. President Obama spoke during his campaign about the need to resolve the Kashmir issue and the recent remarks made by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband are indicative of the thinking in western capitals that a ‘regional’ solution may not be entirely possible without some kind of a settlement on Kashmir.

Pakistan, for its part, has made it clear that it will go along with any settlement acceptable to the Kashmiris, while India remains deeply suspicious of any third party involvement as indicated yet again by its sharp reaction to the Miliband’s remarks. However, India needs to resolve the Kashmir issue not for Pakistan but for itself just as Pakistan has to meet the challenge posed by the Taliban in FATA and the NWFP not in support of the US war on terror, but for its own integrity and survival as a nation-state.

For now, however, both India and Pakistan do not seem optimally positioned in terms of internal dynamics to deal with the pressing issues they face. The dissensions within will allow the militants to secure even greater space. To deal effectively with the growing menace of militancy and terrorism, both countries need to allow for a regional approach to the issue.

Abbas Rashid lives in Lahore and can be contacted at abbasrh@gmail.com