A difficult year for Pakistan (2011 in Retrospect)

December 25th, 2011 - 2:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad, Dec 25 (IANS) The year 2011 saw Pakistan making headlines for all the wrong reasons, compounded by yearend uncertainty about the political future of a nation that is a declared nuclear power. Will the military take over the reins of government yet again was the common refrain among Pakistanis following the memogate scandal and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s accusation that the army was acting like a “state within a state”.

Of greatest significance was the deterioration of its ties with the US, mostly because of a daring American commando operation to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden, and a US-led air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

From the assassinations of two top politicians to cricketers being found guilty of match-fixing, Pakistan witnessed some of the worst events ever.

A bid to reform the country’s blasphemy law, and support for a Christian woman sentenced to death, led to the deaths of two prominent politicians — Punjab governor Salman Taseer by his own bodyguard, and minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.

One of the most important events that put Pakistan in the dock in front of the whole world was the May 2 killing of bin Laden. The Al Qaeda founder was gunned down in a unilateral operation by US commandos at his hideout at Abbottabad.

While Pakistan claimed it had no idea about the whereabouts of the terrorist, Washington said it did not inform Islamabad about the raid because it did not want to “jeopardize” the mission.

The Taliban struck back.

Twin suicide bombers attacked Pakistani paramilitary personnel as they were about to leave a training centre in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. At least 73 troops and 17 civilians were killed.

Then, there was the Raymond Davis episode. A CIA contractor, suspected to be an undercover agent, he shot dead two people in Lahore. Davis allegedly had links with the Pakistani Taliban.

For the media too, the scenario was bleak. At least seven journalists were killed while reporting from the field. The most prominent among them was Saleem Shahzad.

In May, Shahzad, who was Southeast Asia bureau chief for Asia Times Online and also worked for Italian news agency Adnkroknos International, disappeared from Islamabad. His body was recovered two days later 150 km from the capital. The killing occurred just days after Shahzad published an article alleging links between Al Qaeda and Pakistani Navy officers.

Another bone of contention between Pakistan and the US was drone strikes.

Pakistani officials reportedly told top CIA authorities that the raids have become a “major source of embarrassment” for the government as it was blamed for failing to stop a foreign power from killing its own citizens. Since June 2004, when the strikes began, more than 2,500 people have been killed in around 250 such incidents.

However, the worst infraction was yet to come for Pakistan.

A US-led NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) air strike from across the Afghan border against two Pakistani army border check-posts killed 24 soldiers Nov 26.

Though NATO said Pakistan had given the go-ahead, Islamabad insists US army authorities gave them the wrong coordinates, saying the check-posts were Taliban hideouts.

Pakistan retaliated by shutting down NATO supply routes to Afghanistan through its territory, boycotting an international conference on the future of Afghanistan and ordering the US to vacate the key Shamsi air base in Balochistan.

Ties with the US further suffered with Pakistan’s ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani quitting in November over a secret memo to Washington that said President Asif Ali Zardari feared a military coup after Osama’s killing.

Pakistani American businessman Mansoor Ijaz alleged that a “senior Pakistani diplomat” asked for help in getting a message from Zardari to the then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Zardari added fuel to fire when he abruptly left the country for Dubai Dec 6, and underwent treatment for a heart condition, giving rise to speculation that he feared a coup.

Even in sports, Pakistan had a bad year. Former cricket captain Salman Butt and fast bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir were jailed for their involvement in spot-fixing during a Test match against England.

On the economic front too, Pakistan suffered.

The Pakistan Economic Survey 2010-11 said the country suffered losses of up to $67.93 billion due its role as a frontline state in operations against terrorists since 2001.

An annual report published in the Foreign Policy magazine titled “The Failed States Index 2011″ ranked Pakistan at number 12. From refugee flows to poverty, public services to security threats, the list gathered together a country’s performance to reflect its stability.

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