Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. – Report from South Asia

I have now spent a week in India. This is enough for a visitor to begin to gain a new perspective on the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan and its impact. Attacks  in all three countries in recent days are widely discussed in both print and broadcast media, when in more normal times the rowdy behavior by parliamentarians over the issue of women’s representation in the Indian Parliament would have eclipsed all others.

Last weekend’s suicide attacks in the Afghan city of Kandahar, which killed around 35 people and injured about 60, receive prominent coverage in the Times of India and many other newspapers.  The bombers targeted a local prison and a police station in the city. The Afghan authorities expressed satisfaction that no prisoner escaped. But the casualty figures paint a more distressing picture and their impact is much more. The Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali, said two of the explosions occurred close to his home, but it was not damaged. Ahmed Wali is a member of the Kandahar Provincial Council.

Bombs in the southern Pakistani city of Lahore, less than 20 miles from the Indian border, caused death and destruction, as well as in Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province. And in an apparent plea to the Taliban, the Punjab Chief Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, asked them not to target Punjab as his provincial government ‘would not take dictation from outsiders’. The Chief Minister is the brother of Pakistan’s main opposition leader and former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif.

The Punjab chief minister said that extremism and terrorism were the consequences of wrong policies of a dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, for which the country was paying a heavy price. Further, in a pointed reference to the United States, Sharif accused Pakistan’s ex-military ruler of enacting a bloodbath of innocent Muslims at the behest of others only to prolong his rule. Coming from a mainstream political figure, these remarks represent the views of considerable sections of society in Pakistan.

As American pilotless aircraft continue to attack targets Washington claims to be Taliban and al Qaeda hideouts, and Pakistani forces under US pressure launch more raids in the north-western tribal belt, these political developments mirror the turmoil in military conflict between the foreign forces and the opposition. The Taliban say the latest suicide bombings in Kandahar are a warning to the NATO forces, whose commander Gen. McChrystal has recently said that his next big target after Marjah in Helmand Province would be Kandahar, Taliban’s spiritual center. In this sense, the carnage in Kandahar over the weekend is a sign of things to come. On the other hand, there are those in Pakistan accusing India of being behind the Lahore attack; and Indians accusing Pakistani intelligence of helping groups that are planning attacks in India cities.

The warning from Washington that Lashker-e-Taiba in Pakistan has hundreds of targets in India and worldwide on its list is a fillip to India’s counterinsurgency hawks.

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