The latest political tensions in Pakistan, which could see key members of government ousted, threaten to unravel President Obama’s Afghan strategy before it even has the chance to take root.
Already facing external pressure from the United States to “do more” in the fight against Taliban militants and prevent Al Qaeda sanctuaries from forming along the Afghan border, the Pakistani government must now also contend with the internal pressure of a Supreme Court ruling that threatens to fundamentally change Pakistani domestic politics.
The Supreme Court’s decision last week to annul the 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), which granted amnesty from corruption prosecution to over thirty senior politicians—among them current President Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistani Peoples Party (PPP), Defense Minister Ahmed Muktar, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and other political allies in close communication with Washington—comes less than a month after Barack Obama announced his Afghan strategy.
The repeal of the NRO also comes close on the heels of the controversial Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB). The KLB’s passage managed to stoke anti-American sentiment, particularly in the Pakistani military establishment, who voiced their displeasure over the bill’s military and economic conditions for aid by endeavouring to discredit the already-weak civilian government in Islamabad.
Although President Zardari will be able to legally remain in office owing to his presidential immunity, calls for him to step down have been ringing out from opposition parties. President Zardari and his allies have responded by challenging the ruling. Overall, the crisis unfolding in Pakistani politics threatens to distract Islamabad from the task of fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda along the Pak-Afghan border, a task of fundamental importance for any future success in Afghanistan.
Yet even prior to the crisis, Pakistan’s commitment to fighting extremism within its borders has been in doubt. Weak political institutions, corruption, and Islamist sympathizers within the security services have long frustrated attempts to reign in militancy. To many in the ISI, Afghan militants provide a useful insurance policy against India gaining too much influence in Afghanistan and managing to ‘encircle’ Pakistan.
Although a military coup is unlikely, there is a high chance that Zardari and his PPP will succumb to political pressure from the opposition and the judiciary, all against the backdrop of continued U.S. pressure in the form of increased drone strikes, covert ops, and further checks on aid. In turn, such developments are likely to strain civilian institutions and strengthen the Pakistani military’s resolve to cool their heels on offensives against Afghan militants and al-Qaeda networks in South and North Waziristan respectively.
Thus, political wrangling over the NRO will provide a window of opportunity for militants to further their reach along the Pak-Afghan border, and renew concerns about civil war in the nuclear armed state.
SUMMARY OF EVENTS: December 14 – 21, 2009
Three days of action from ministers are needed to “seal a deal” at the climate talks in Copenhagen, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The climate summit in Copenhagen reached a crucial phase with key rounds of talks on Thursday set to determining success or failure of the meeting, the United Nations climate chief has said.
Negotiators from about 30 countries at climate talks in Denmark have worked on an outline draft accord, hours before scores of world leaders were due to arrive for the summit’s final day.
Five countries have reached a non-binding agreement at the Copenhagen climate change summit, but leaders from developing countries have reacted angrily to the deal.
Private contractors will make up at least half of the total military workforce in Afghanistan going forward, according to Defense Department officials cited in a new congressional study.
CENTRAL AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN
Mexican drug gangs are increasingly using Costa Rica as a pick-up point for South American cocaine headed north and the problem is likely to get worse, President Oscar Arias said on Monday.
Two of Colombia’s biggest rebel groups have announced they intend to unite to fight the country’s security forces.
President Hugo Chavez on Thursday accused the Netherlands of planning “aggression” against Venezuela by allowing U.S. troops access to Dutch islands off the Caribbean coast of the OPEC nation.
A British court issued an arrest warrant for former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni on war crimes charges but withdrew it on finding she had canceled a planned trip to Britain, the Guardian newspaper reported.
President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that Russia’s relations with NATO are entering a new stage.
Russia should stop seeing the West as a threat, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday, as he called for a new partnership between Moscow and the transatlantic alliance.
Confidential intelligence documents obtained by The Times show that Iran is working on testing a key final component of a nuclear bomb.
Iran has successfully test-fired its longest-range missile, according to reports on the country’s state television.
At least eight people were killed on Tuesday in a series of car bombs targeting morning commuters in Baghdad’s government district and churches in northern Iraq, police said.
Iranian forces took control of a southern Iraqi oil well on a disputed section of the border on Friday, US and Iraqi officials told AFP.
Israel demanded Britain change its law on Tuesday after reports that ex-foreign minister Tzipi Livni would have risked arrest on war crimes charges over last year’s Gaza offensive, had she not canceled a visit to London.
United Arab Emirates
Dubai said on Monday that it has received $10 billion from Abu Dhabi, another member of the United Arab Emirates, sparing the city state from defaulting on a $3.52 billion bond maturing that day.
A major operation involving more than 1,100 soldiers, including 800 French legionnaires as well as US and Afghan commandos, has been launched east of the Afghan capital, the AFP news agency has reported.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai will keep technocrats in key ministries when he unveils his new cabinet, parliamentary officials said on Friday, a move likely to appease Western backers who want a clampdown on corruption.
An American man charged with plotting the attacks on Mumbai was a double agent for both the United States and al-Qaeda terror group Lashkar e Taiba, Indian officials have claimed.
Rumors of a Pakistan coup sparked by a government minister being barred from leaving the country were dismissed on Friday after briefly causing flutters in financial markets.
The Philippines announced on Wednesday that one of the co-founders of the Al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf extremist group had been arrested after being detained at Jakarta airport for using a false passport.
A UN-backed military operation in eastern Congo in which government soldiers are accused of massacring hundreds of civilians will end this month, the top U.N. official in Congo said on Wednesday.
Three alleged al-Qaeda members arrived in New York Friday to face charges of trying to set up a drug trafficking ring in Africa, US officials said.
Yemen’s Houthi fighters said Monday that U.S. fighter jets have launched 28 attacks on the northwestern province of Sa’ada.
At least 13 civilians have lost their lives in a series of air strikes by Saudi military air planes along the border between Yemen and the oil-rich kingdom, Houthi fighters said Friday.