Tag Archives: Pakistan

Preventing a Global Pandemic

A polio vaccination clinic in Pakistan.

A polio vaccination clinic in Pakistan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday warned that the increasing number of cases of polio in Nigeria, Syria, and especially Pakistan, threatened to undermine three decades of effort to eradicate the disease. Polio, which causes paralysis, muscle atrophy, and even death, was one of the most feared diseases of the 19th and 20th centuries. But the discovery of a vaccine against polio in the 1950s, combined with a massive global effort to vaccinate the world’s population against the disease, reduced the scope of the disease from hundreds of thousands to under 1,000 today.  Efforts by the Word Health Organization and various nongovernmental organizations had the world on the verge of eradicating the disease altogether. But a recent upsurge in the number of cases—and the difficulty in vaccinating some populations—has WHO concerned once again.

The biggest concerns center on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria. In Syria, the ability of WHO to address a polio outbreak in the contested region of Deir Ez Zour was undermined by ongoing fighting in the country’s civil war and complicated by the massive dislocation of people caused by the conflict.  In Pakistan, attacks against polio workers, often painted by militants as western spies, undermined the ability of WHO to vaccinate children, especially in the northern parts of the country.

To prevent the spread of the disease outside the country, the World Health Organization has established mandatory immunization checkpoints at Pakistan’s border crossings and airports. Anyone wishing to leave the country will have to provide proof of immunization or be immunized before leaving the country. Similar measures were also put in place in Cameroon and Syria, which are also believed to pose a risk of spreading polio.

What do you think? Can polio still be eradicated by the 2018 goal established in 2013? Why does the number of cases of polio appear to be increasing? How does the spread of polio highlight the complex nature of humanitarian crises in the contemporary era? And what might be done to prevent the disease’s spread?

The Power of Female Education


Malala Yousafzai addresses the United Nations.

Malala Yousafzai addresses the United Nations.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban last October, addressed the United Nations on Friday, marking her 16th birthday. Yousafzi was shot in the head by masked gunmen while on a school bus in an effort to silence her campaign for girls’ rights.

Yousafzi symbolically wore a pink shawl that belonged to assassinated Pakistan leader Benazir Bhutto. In her speech to the United Nations, Yousafzi argued that “The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. They are afraid of women.” She called on political leaders to ensure that every child—boy and girl—has access to education.

“Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

The complete video of the address is available on YouTube (and below).

What do you think? Does education reduce the propensity for violence and extremism? Would greater access to education—particularly female education—in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan reduce the ongoing violence there? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what think.

Pakistani Sovereignty and the U.S. Drone Program

MQ-9 Reaper Drone on a training mission.

MQ-9 Reaper Drone on a training mission.

Ben Emmerson, the leader of a United Nations team investigating the U.S. drone program in Pakistan yesterday said that Pakistan “does not sanction” U.S. drone strikes in the northern part of the country. The statement, made following a recent visit to Pakistan, came as a bit of a surprise. According to Emmerson, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, “The position of the Pakistani government is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The UN team was struck in January and is not expected to publish its conclusions until October. Yet if Emmerson’s comments are any suggestion, it appears likely the UN team will find the program a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

Officially, the Pakistani government has repeatedly objected to U.S. drone strikes in the country, which have killed an estimated 3,460 people since 2004, the vast majority under President Barack Obama’s tenure in office. Privately, however, many observers believe that the program depends on the tacit consent—and indeed, the support—of the Pakistani government. Classified documents released in 2010 by WikiLeaks suggest that Pakistani military and intelligence officials have given approval to the U.S. program, but publically criticize the program.

So is the program a violation of Pakistani sovereignty? It’s a more difficult question that first appears. Sovereignty can be defined in several ways but is generally thought of as exercising independent or autonomous control over a given territory. This control is usually thought of as the ability to enact binding decisions, or laws, and to rule over the people in that territory. In practice, the principle of sovereignty is never as clear cut as the theoretical definition suggests. Many countries, particularly those in the global south, claim legal sovereignty over their territory but often lack the ability to enforce its claims. In such cases, international relations scholars often describe the country as possessing juridical sovereignty.

In the case of Pakistan, the claim is further complicated by the apparently covert agreement between U.S. and Pakistani authorities.

What do you think? Are U.S. drone strikes a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, as Emmerson contends? Or does the covert agreement between U.S. and Pakistani authorities undermine assertions of sovereignty? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Bureaucratic Politics in Pakistan

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress on September 22 that Pakistani intelligence has been cooperating with terrorists in attacks on U.S. targets.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become increasingly strained in recent weeks.  On September 22 Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of aiding the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network in its September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  Mullen went so far as to call the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of the ISI.  Pakistan’s foreign minister fired back that the U.S. would “lose an ally” if such talk continued.  Then, three days ago the New York Times published a report on a 2007 attack in which Pakistani soldiers ambushed U.S. soldiers who were trying to settle a border dispute along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan’s seemingly incoherent “double-dealing” behavior (cooperation with the U.S. in some areas while undermining its interests in others) can be traced to the complexity of its domestic political situation.  As the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole writes in his blog, “Pakistan is a complex place, and its civilian politicians have a different agenda than its conventional army, which in turn has a different agenda from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  Even within the ISI, there appear to be secret rogue cells.  Some ISI officers appear to be hooked up with the Haqqani Network and with terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-i Tayyiba.  But Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting the more militant Afghan and Pakistani-Pashtun fundamentalist groups, and it is not a task the US could take on by itself.”

In short, there is a struggle for power among military, intelligence, and civilian political leaders in Pakistan, and the result is a series of foreign policy actions that are not coherently and centrally coordinated.  This power struggle fits the bureaucratic politics model as famously articulated by Graham Allison in his classic book Essence of Decision.  Allison argues that the rational actor model, which assumes states are unitary actors rationally pursuing the national interest, is oversimplified and misleading.  He contends that states frequently act in incoherent ways that can only be explained by looking at the competing interests and ugly compromises that occur among key governmental players.  For example, the Pakistani military’s main goal may not be advancing some overarching conception of the national interest, but rather promoting its own organizational interests.  The New York Times article on the 2007 attack quotes an American military officer as saying that Pakistan’s military “often seemed to retaliate for losses they had suffered in an accidental attack by United States forces with a deliberate assault on American troops, most probably to maintain morale among their own troops or to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around.”

What are the implications of the bureaucratic politics model for the future of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance?  Can you identify bureaucratic politics shaping actions on the American side as well?  (Think about the interests of the U.S. military, the State Department, the intelligence community, etc.).

Pakistan–Friend or Foe?

Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's Army Chief

Two troubling pieces of news today highlight America’s frayed relationship with Pakistan and add to the growing questions about whether Pakistan can truly be viewed as America’s ally in the Global War on Terror.

News item #1: a Pew Research Center poll was released showing how the Pakistani public views America, President Obama, and Osama bin Laden, among other issues.  Some of the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective):

* only 10% of Pakistanis approve of the U.S. raid that killed Bin Laden

* only 12% have a favorable view of America

* a mere 8% have confidence in President Obama

* 79% say the military is having a good influence on the country

* only 14% believe President Asif Ali Zardari is having a good influence

If there is any good news from the American perspective from this poll, it is that only 12% of the public has a favorable view of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  The fact that the military is the most popular institution in Pakistan highlights the powerful role played by the military in Pakistani politics (recall that it was only in 2008 that General Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, relinquished control to civilian authorities).  In a democracy, which Pakistan aspires to be, elected civilian officials must control the military, but Pakistan has little tradition of civilian control.  You can view the full poll here.

News item #2: a senior Pakistani army officer was detained on suspicion of ties to militant groups.  Brigadier Ali Khan was reportedly linked to Hizb-ul-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which distributed pamphlets in military encampments after the raid on Bin Laden’s compound calling for officers to establish an Islamic caliphate.  “A copy of the pamphlet, posted on Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s Web site in English, claims that the United States is behind attacks blamed on Islamist militants in Pakistan, and calls on the ‘military leadership to mobilize to protect the Muslims from further harm at the hands of the Americans.'”

This news comes on the heels of a string of troubling reports, from Pakistan’s arrest of five informants who helped the CIA locate Bin Laden, to a rumor that Pakistan has “lost the the paperwork that would explain how a compound was bought and built in Abbotabad to house Osama Bin Laden for over five years,” to the apparent “tipping off” of Pakistani militants that U.S. raids were coming.  The latter disclosure “prompted senior members of Congress on Sunday to accuse Pakistan of playing a double game by aiding the United States on some counterterrorism operations while also maintaining ties to violent, extremist organizations operating from its territory.”  As a result of this “double game,” the most serious (though often unstated) concern of many U.S. officials is the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

What do you think?  Can Pakistan legitimately be called an ally or partner of the U.S. in the War on Terror?  Should the U.S. stop giving $2 billion in aid annually to a government that doesn’t have our best interests at heart, or is this fragile “partnership” actually much better than the alternative, as many experts believe?

Bin Laden and the War on Terror

Perhaps not surprisingly, the blogosphere has been dominated by discussion of the killing of Osama bin Laden by US special forces operating in Pakistan. While the mission itself was clouded in secrecy, perhaps the most detailed description was offered by Marc Ambinder at the National Journal.

The news prompted spontaneous gatherings outside the White House in Washington DC and at the World Trade Center site in New York City. It also prompted Peter Beinart to assert “The War on Terror is over.”

But as several bloggers have been quick to point out, Beinart’s assertion may be a bit premature. As Daniel Drezner points out, bin Laden’s role in al Qaeda had been minimized. Although he continued to serve as its figurehead leader, bin Laden had little role in the organization’s operational side. Al Qaeda itself had long been fractured into separate commands, each operating essentially as franchises of the larger organization. Operations in Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere will therefore not be affected by bin Laden’s death.

The real question that bin Laden’s death does raise, however, centers on US-Pakistan relations. A number of bloggers, including David Rothkopf, Julian Borger, and Stephen Walt all note that given bin Laden’s location it is improbable in the least to think that he was not receiving support from elements within the Pakistani government. What this means for the future of US-Pakistani relations remains unclear. The United States, however, continues to need Pakistan’s assistance in the war on terror. Al Qaeda may not be the threat it once was, but terrorists nevertheless continue to be key actors on the global stage.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

A suicide bomb attack in Iran killed several senior commanders of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guard and at least twenty tribal leaders in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. The bombing was the first major terrorist attack in Iran in more than twenty years, and represents a major public relations blow for the Iranian government. A group known as Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Iranian government has also attempted to place blame on the British government for the attack, claiming that Britain has an “overt and hidden hand in terrorist attack against Iran.” Juddallah is a Pakistan-based radical Sunni group campaigning for independence for ethnic Baluchis in Iran.

In an unrelated development, the Russian government indicated it would be willing to impose sanctions on Iran if the Iranian government fails to implement promises it made to the international community regarding its nuclear program. This represents a significant hardening of the Russian position on Iran, which it had previously dismissed as “unproductive.”

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. The United Nations-backed panel investigating elections in Afghanistan appears poised to overturn August election results. The panel is recommending that a number of suspicious ballots be thrown out, thus necessitating a runoff election between incumbent president Hamid Karzai and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah. The United States is attempting to resolve the growing political crisis, which threatens to complicate President Barack Obama’s decision on whether or not to expand the U.S. troop presence in the country.

2. Fights between rival drug gangs rocked Rio de Janeiro over the weekend, only one week after the city was named host of the 2016 summer Olympics. At least fourteen people were killed in the violence, and a police helicopter was shot down as members of the Comando Vermelho, Rio’s largest gang, and its rival, Amigos dos Amigos, fought in the favelas that surround the city. The state governor, Sergio Cabral, informed the International Olympic Committee of the events, noting, “We told the OIC this is not a simple matter, and they know this, and we want to arrive in 201 with Rio in peace before, during, and after the games.”

3. The Pakistani government launched a new offensive against Taliban strongholds in the South Waziristan region. The new offensive comes after two weeks in which the Taliban had engaged in a series of attacks against the Pakistani government and military. The Pakistani government believes that the Taliban may have as many as 10,000 militant fighters assembled in the region, which is also believed to be the hiding location for Osama bin Laden.

4. In a dramatic regional contrast, citizens in Botswana are expected to hand the government if Ian Khama a victory in Friday’s elections, while the government of neighboring Zimbabwe is struggling to address the continuing political instability there. Botswana is widely viewed as a success story in Southern Africa, due in part to its political stability and part to its vast diamond wealth.  But as global diamond prices fall, the economy of Botswana may begin to struggle. The government faces a severe budget shortfall, due primarily to a dramatic decline in diamond prices, necessitating a $1.5 billion loan from the African Development Bank.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai threatened to “disengage” from working with President Robert Mugabe. The two have been part of a power sharing arrangement since Febraury, but Tsvangarai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change, has been marginalized from real political power.

5. The United States budget deficit has reached a record level of $1.4 trillion for the last fiscal year, as the government expanded spending significantly in order to address the global economic downturn. The deficit was approximately 10 percent of gross domestic product, but was $162 billion less than the administration forecast in August. Tax revenue fell by more than 16 percent as a result of the economic downturn, but spending increased by more than 18 percent.