Pakistan’s internal and ever-lasting war

PAKISTAN’S INTERNAL AND EVER-LASTING WAR

 

The attacks of Monday are a reminder of how terrorism continues to be the main challenge for Pakistan and how Islamabad has more than one reason to embrace a non-ambiguous and effective policy of counter-terrorism

 

On Monday morning, the Pakistani city of Quetta became (once again) the theatre of a brutal terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 64 people and wounded dozens more. The target of the attack was a gathering of lawyers who had gone to a local hospital where a colleague of their – the President of the Balochistan Bar Association, Mr Bilal Anwar Kasi – had been brought after being shot while on his way to work.

The terrorist attack was claimed within some hours by spokesmen of both a branch of the Pakistani Taliban and of ISIS. Nevertheless, whoever the actual responsible is, what the attack of Monday pointed out is that – despite the shy improvements in terms of crackdown made by the Pakistani government – terrorism continues to be a major source of internal insecurity for Pakistan and a major threat for the Pakistani population.

 

The terrorist threat, embodied mainly by the Tareek-e-Taliban Pakistan but also by emerging groups such as the South Asian branch of ISIS, is particularly problematic in volatile provinces such as Balochistan (where the city of Quetta indeed is). Here, in fact, the central government has always faced difficulties in extending its control due to the existence of tribal insurgence movements who reject Islamabad’s legitimacy – and this has made it easier for terrorist groups to find ground for recruitment, training and action.

 

However, in order to understand how this state of things has come into being and has evolved one cannot only look at Islamabad’s difficulties in controlling the country’s tribal areas (with FATA being the most emblematic case) but needs to look deeper into the government’s traditional approach to regional terrorism.

As far as terrorism is concerned, in fact, Islamabad has always played a dangerous “double game”: elaborating a non-sense distinction between the so-called “good Taliban” who operate within Afghanistan and the so-called “bad Taliban” who are instead active in Pakistan, Islamabad has traditionally maintained an opposite approach to the two groups. On the one hand, it has (not even too covertly) supported the Afghan Taliban and, when needed, given to them a safe haven where to hid and re-organize. On the other hand, instead, the Pakistani government has always considered the presence of terrorists in Pakistan as a major threat and a destabilizing factor and has tried to act militarily against them (or at least keep them confined to peripheral areas only).

 

But what are the roots of Pakistan’s double approach to the jihadi terrorism espoused by the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban? For that, one needs to look at the country’s historical relations with its immediate neighbours – Afghanistan and India.

With respect to Afghanistan, Islamabad has always tried to exploit the threat posed by the Taliban to Kabul’s credibility and the destabilizing effect of their activity in order to turn the Afghan government into a puppet eager to follow Islamabad’s guidelines (read impositions), such as the undiscussed acceptance of the 1893 Durand Line (the line that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan for a length of 2640 km) and the adoption of an anti-India foreign policy. This last element is especially important: Pakistan, indeed, has always tried to use the Taliban and to take advantage of their presence in Afghanistan in order to gain strategic depth in an anti-India logic.

In other words, treating the Afghani Taliban as “good terrorists” and sustaining (or at least not refraining) their activity so as to weaken Kabul has always been part of Pakistan’s calculations to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the Indian enemy and turn in its favour the regional system of alliances.

 

However, what the wave of attacks that has been hitting Pakistan over the past years highlights is that Islamabad is now paying the price (and an extremely high one) of its “double game” with terrorism. Over the past years, the country has become a preferred target for many terrorist groups operating in the region and this is now starting to make Islamabad aware that no such distinction between “good” and “bad” can exist when terrorism is concerned and that a single approach aimed at its defeat is rather needed.

 

Pakistan today cannot escape the reality of facts that a serious fight against terrorism is vital to protect its own national security and its international credibility.

 

In addition – as if the above was not enough – Pakistan now has also economic motivations to pursue a harder line against terrorists, and this is evident if the Pakistan-China relationship is taken into consideration.

China is not only a long-time political ally of Islamabad but it is also the number one investor in Pakistan’s economic development, with a recent plan of a 46-billion-dollar investment for the construction of ports, railways, roads, telecommunication and energy infrastructures.

Thanks to these massive investments, Pakistan would see its potential of economic development fuelled and it could retrieve the levels of economic growth that it had known in the past and that had led many to see in it the next Asian economic power. However, nothing of this will become reality if Pakistan does not create a stable and reliable security environment: the waves of terrorist attacks, in fact, risk discouraging China from proceeding with its investment plans and if this were to happen and China’s projects were stymied, Pakistan economy would lag behind that of the other Asian countries for the next future.

 

Islamabad’s double game has thus security and economic costs that cannot simply be ignored.

 

 

 

[Picture: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2016/08/pakistan-mourns-victims-hospital-attack-160809070245225.html%5D

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Race and Politics in post-apartheid South Africa

 

How the latest municipal elections have marked a shift in South Africans’ approach to politics

 

One could hardly find in the world a country as complex and contradictory as South Africa.

Twenty-two years ago -under the untiring leadership and the unshakable determination of Mandela- the country was walking its way out of the apartheid regime that for 56 years had kept South Africa’s black majority in a condition of discrimination, oppression and fear.

Twenty-two years ago, the South African people was writing one of the brightest chapters of the world’s recent history: Mandela’s rise to power came to symbolize the rise to freedom of all oppressed people worldwide and had a significance and an impact that went much beyond the borders of South Africa.

Twenty-two years ago, Mandela became South Africa’s first black President and the African National Congress (ANC) became the dominant party in the country’s political landscape.

Nevertheless, contradictions did not take long to emerge.

The ANC, in fact, was a black-dominated party whose political legitimacy was based on having defended the rights of the black people against the white minority and having defeated apartheid. And this rhetoric was further strengthened over the years: as other parties emerged, the leaders of the ANC went back to the fight for black equality to secure the support of the black voters and to weaken parties such as the mostly-white Democratic Alliance (DA) that could not refer to any comparable achievement as the defeat of apartheid was.

The result was thus the emergence of a South African political landscape in which allegiance to parties is mostly ethnically based and political views are mostly racially justified. These perceptions have constantly defined the political interactions between the country’s diverse ethnic groups and have paradoxically made of a “rainbow nation” that had long fought for equality one in which race still influences politics.

All this, though, is now about to change.

In the municipal elections held on the 3rd of August, in fact, new dynamics have taken shape and have come to redefine the country’s political environment.

For the first time since 1994 votes were not influenced by history but rather by a concern over future, and people cast their votes not on the basis of traditional ethnic affiliation but on the basis of their assessment of politicians’ performance.

What the elections made clear is that a new approach to politics and a new political sensitivity has gradually emerged among voters – and the consequence of this new awareness was a blown for President Zuma’s ANC and a success for Maimane’s DA. Tired of a political establishment dominated by corruption, scandals and lack of transparency, tired of a stagnating economy with unemployment at 26%, and tired of a poverty whose “face is still black” and of a persistent inequality between poor black workers and wealthy white employers, many black voters who in the past had loyally supported the ANC and all it represented turned their back to it and voted for the DA.

It is thus in this changing political context that Zuma found himself paying the price of his poor political performance and that the DA obtained a stunning success winning in cities as relevant as Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela Bay and challenging the ANC in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

What took place on the 3rd of August was the biggest shake-up in the country’s post-apartheid’s political order and the most impressive change in the people’s political awareness since 1994.  This new approach to politics, to the significance of voting, and to the accountability of politicians marked in fact a real turning-point for a country in which -despite apartheid having formally ended twenty-two years ago- race and politics actually continued to go hand in hand.

In 1994, black people went to vote for the first time as free and self-aware black citizens. Today they have gone to vote as informed and self-aware South African citizens.

A new chapter has thus begun for South Africa – one in which the past is past and apartheid memories have been consigned to history.