Good Reads: Pakistan's Musharraf speaks, US talks tough, and Congo's elections loom

Pakistan's former president Musharraf says the US, which has accused Pakistan of complicity in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, must understand Pakistan's national interests.

Alessia Pierdomenico/AP/File
Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf speaks at the Royal United Services Institute in central London, in 2008. He told a British newspaper that the US needs to keep working with Pakistan to find a solution to their common problem, the instability of Afghanistan.

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There's something about launching a frontal assault on a US embassy and then having a shootout inside a CIA station that captures the attention of US policymakers and news media.

The US blames a Pakistan-based group called the Haqqani network for the US embassy attack in Kabul on Sept. 13, and for more broadly cooperating with the Taliban in their long guerrilla war against the Afghan government. Now, Washington has been considering a number of strong actions against the Haqqani network and its perceived sponsors, the Pakistani military. One US senator even hinted at military action.

But in London, former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told the Telegraph's Duncan Gardham that the US needs to keep working with Pakistan to find a solution to their common problem, the instability of Afghanistan. And, he told the Telegraph, Washington needs to understand that Pakistan has a right to defend its own national interests in a region dominated by Pakistan's existential rival, India.

Responding to a specific question on why Pakistan might be working with the Haqqani network, Mr. Musharraf replied: “If I was in government I would certainly be thinking how best to defend Pakistan’s interests."

“The United States must understand Pakistan has its own national interest. The United States must accept the compulsions of Pakistan and give assurances."

He added: “When the coalition talk of leaving in 2014, Pakistan has to really think, what will be the environment and fend for itself against all the exterior pressures, all the exterior manoeuvrings and political manoeuvrings against Pakistan.”

So that's it, then. Pakistan's interests and America's interests are at odds, and it's up to diplomats in Washington and Islamabad to come up with some compromise that makes everyone, if not happy, then at least a little less aggressively homicidal. Which means that the seemingly decision of whether to label the group behind the US embassy attack a "terrorist organization" is not as simple as it sounds.

Haqqani and Taliban

The Monitor's Howard LaFranchi writes from Washington that putting the Haqqani network on the US State Department's terror watch list could scupper any lingering chance of peace talks with the Taliban – already stalled after the Taliban killed the Afghan government's chief negotiator – and could further worsen relations with Pakistan.

“Certainly the biggest concern is that designating the Haqqani network would put a lot of pressure on Washington to go a step further and designate Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror,” says Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center International Center for Scholars in Washington. “That would effectively spell the end of US-Pakistan relations as we have known them.”

In any case, the Taliban appear to already be at the gates, waiting for the US and its NATO allies to depart, and the Washington Post's Joshua Partlow spends some quality time with a Taliban commander on the outskirts of Afghanistan's safest city, Mazar-i-Sharif.

In a meeting arranged by intermediaries, Mr. Partlow talks with Taliban commander Hejran and finds that the Taliban enjoy a certain amount of support, both among the Pashtun minority that lives up north as well as others who have become disaffected with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.

[Hejran] said he returned and took up a roving existence, traveling with his fighters between deserts and villages, sleeping under trees and in the homes of Taliban sympathizers. A network of informants, including Afghan police officers, tells Hejran’s men about the location of NATO troops, he said. “Without people’s support, we could not do this fight,” he said. “People cooperate with us because they know that [foreign troops] are the enemies of Islam.”

A democratic exercise in Congo

Less noticed in the press these days is another conflict, one that has brewed off and on since the 1990s in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

War in the Congo erupted in the mid-1990s in the wake of the Rwandan genocide, when Rwandan forces pursued the genocidal Hutu forces across the border into what was then called Zaire, and then continued marching up to the gates of Kinshasa itself, when Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko refused to halt his support for the Hutu rebels. In total, the Congolese civil war may have killed up to 5 million people, according to UN estimates.

Now, in November, Congo will be holding an election, and the Guardian's Madeleine Bunting writes that this democratic exercise could either bring the beginning of lasting peace and stable government, or a return to civil war if either President Joseph Kabila or his opposition rivals refuses to accept the results of the vote.

With weeks to go in the campaign, the signs are not good.

In speeches by politicians, there are frequent exhortations to take up machetes and kill to assert the strength and power of the Hutu. Radio stations broadcast similar messages. Violence is being used to mobilise the vote along ethnic lines, and bad feeling between the 10 candidates running for president is increasing.

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