Following one of the worst periods in the history of the relationship between the United States and Pakistan, several encouraging developments have taken place in recent months. Unfortunately, we are passing through the eye of a Pakistani storm that is almost sure to whip up again in 2013, if not sooner.
But first, the good news. In July, following a lengthy parliamentary debate in Islamabad and a frustrating series of diplomatic negotiations with Washington, the Pakistani government agreed to reopen NATO supply lines to Afghanistan that had been closed since late November 2011, when NATO forces mistakenly killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers in a firefight along the Afghan border. The restoration of these routes opened the spigot to more than $1 billion in U.S. aid. That, in turn, revived senior-level diplomatic, military, and intelligence dialogues. » More
Patrol in Jani Khel district, Afghanistan. Image by isafmedia / Flickr.
STOCKHOLM – On a recent visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, I could not fail to notice the increasingly frequent international calls for an “endgame” in Afghanistan. But an endgame for that country is a dangerous illusion: the game will not end, and neither will history. The only thing that could come to an end is the world’s attention and engagement in Afghanistan, which could well lead to catastrophic consequences.
Much international focus is now on the year 2014, the target date for completion of the gradual transfer of responsibility for security from international forces to the Afghan government. This process is not without challenges, but there is no reason to believe that it could not be finalized more or less according to plan and the current timetable.
My belief is that there is another, far more critical challenge facing Afghanistan in 2014: the election of a new president. In a system where so much power – open and hidden, constitutional and traditional – is centered around the president, the election could well turn into an all-out battle for the country’s future. » More
Anti-Putin rally in Moscow on 4 February 2012. Image: Wikimedia Commons (Leonid Faerberg)
The crowds are dwindling at the protest rallies, the energy seems to be draining away.
There are several problems for Russia’s opposition movement. The first is that Vladimir Putin’s crushing victory in the presidential elections – no matter how flawed – has changed the equation in Russia, and the opposition is struggling to adapt to this new reality. Some opposition groups believe that even without any cheating on election day, Putin would have got just over 50 per cent of the vote, and thus won in the first round, (although these groups would also argue that the electoral campaign as a whole was not fair, and that Putin’s return to the Kremlin is a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitution). Nonetheless, the reality is that Putin is back, with a six year term, and this drains the morale of the opposition. » More
The Elephant in the Room, Image: David Blackwell/flickr
Ongoing protests in Cairo have cast a shadow on the inauguration of Egypt’s first democratically elected Parliament, making it clear that the country is still merely at the threshold of achieving a successful transition to democracy. Hovering above the heads of many protesters remains the fear of military rulers not willing to step down from the political arena, and given the military’s core interests, this apprehension would not appear misplaced. Meanwhile, the question of how the Muslim Brotherhood will actually grapple with the burden of government responsibility once in power is predominantly worrisome to liberal Western governments and to Israel in particular.
Considering the Brotherhood’s long history of being in opposition and primarily functioning outside the political realm, this is a highly relevant question. Starting in the 1920’s as a social movement, the organization has built up its strong popular base mainly by avoiding direct government confrontation and providing efficient social services to Egyptian citizens at the margins of a repressive government. Having originally operated in the shadows of Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt regime, the Brotherhood’s grass roots approach has now borne fruit in the form of votes at the ballot, and the people are skeptically waiting to be served. The ever-evolving nature of the Brotherhood seems to be standing at the crossroads once again, having to compromise between pragmatism and ideology, a choice that is likely to determine Egypt’s future at least in the short term. » More