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Pakistan, Contingency and Kashmir
Charley Bravo - 4/9/11

Pakistan has not been faring well. If a litany of woes since the 70's weren't bad enough, it now faces collateral strain from the Afghan conflict and devastating flooding in 2010. Pashtun and/or Taliban elements view the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as something real only on a world atlas. Meanwhile, U.S. drone attacks in Waziristan and other Federally Administered Tribal Areas, where no real government control exists, are viewed by the majority of Pakistanis as serious violations of sovereignty. The Pakistani military and intelligence agencies, though often supporting Taliban elements, nevertheless face insurgency threats and mounting poltical instability.

The picture appears bleak enough to prompt concern for the survival of Pakistan itself. Stephen P. Cohen, author of The Idea of Pakistan, has authored an important new essay, "Coping with a failing Pakistan":

"...will it gradually disintegrate, shedding its character as a moderate Muslim state, losing control over more and more territory? The country is in the metaphorical position of someone who has swallowed poison, sits on a keg of dynamite, is being shot at, all while an earthquake is rumbling through the neighbourhood."

The paper, available as a downloadable pdf, scopes out the wild terrain Pakistan faces both domestically and regionally. The potential of disaster in Pakistan would appear to justify sustained attention and concentrated effort to accomplish something constructive. Healing the dismal state of Pakistani/Indian relations may be the single most important element in that task. And it's there that Kashmir should immediately ping the radar, as Steve Coll argued in another important paper "Kashmir: The time has come".

Although Cohen sees that "a normal relationship with India is a necessary condition for Pakistan to avoid further deterioration", referencing Coll's thesis, he doubts the focus on attempting to effect a settlement in Kashmir can have real legs. Factions in both India and Pakistan have arisen which are hell bent on blocking progress and, moreover, China is seen as bound to work against any normalization, reducing the chances to "near zero".

It's only at this point that Cohen appears to disappoint. For though his analysis may be true enough, the world as we know it has lately proven a capacity to change with astonishing speed - with little regard to accepted wisdom and ossified histories. Because of the very disturbing complexion Cohen portrays in Pakistan, one expects advocacy of more daring and imaginative approaches now rather than later. China's importance in seriously dealing with both North Korea and Kashmir appears to warrant as much - even perhaps going so far as to ensure Beijing's interest via a potential change in the U.S. posture vis a vis Taiwan. So too, then India and Pakistan would see an outside party doing more than merely prescribing outcomes from a repose devoid of the guts for shared sacrifice.


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