By Arthur I. Cyr
In South Asia, the new year has begun with brutal fighting which threatens to derail uncertain rapprochement between India and Pakistan. In a daring raid, an armed group invaded an air force base in northern India. The United Jihad Council, a militant group seeking an end to Indian rule in Kashmir, has claimed credit. At the same time, there has been an attack on an Indian consulate in Afghanistan. Only a week earlier, the Indian prime minister visited Pakistan. The attacks threaten multilateral talks involving Afghanistan, India and Pakistan plus China and the U.S. In 2012, young Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan was shot by the Taliban in revenge for her advocacy of education for females. She survived, and has become a vital international symbol of courage. Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization to empower girls and women, established the Malala Fund.
Pakistan’s Strategic Importance Global media emphasis on violence in and around Pakistan reflects the region’s strategic importance, but overshadows progress in democratic politics and orderly alternation of governments. In September 2013, beleaguered Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who did not seek re-election, was succeeded by Mamnoon Hussain. This was the first peaceful presidential transition in the history of the country. In May 2013, National Assembly elections provided a significant victory to Nawaz Sharif and his opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N. President Hussain is a Sharif ally. Despite violence, turnout in these elections was approximately 60 percent.
The orderly office handover to the opposition represents a distinctive departure from the nation’s history of military coups. Sharif was prime minister twice earlier. He was forced out of the post in 1999 in a military coup led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and spent more than a decade in exile in Saudi Arabia. The election was a serious reversal for the powerful Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) dominated by the Bhutto family, and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). Charismatic Benazir Bhutto also served twice as prime minister. She was making a dramatic third effort to win national power when she was brutally assassinated late in December 2007. In recent years, Pakistan-U.S. relations have been vexed. Pakistan since 9/11 has been a front line in the struggle against terrorism. Targeted killings of individuals by American drone aircraft have caused intense continuing controversy.