6 July, 2009 For immediate release — Middle East Report 251 Summer 2009

“Not a real country or nation but an acronym.” “An incubator of Islamist violence.” “The central front in the war on terror.” Thus do ex-leftist commentator Christopher Hitchens, Der Spiegel columnist Erich Follath and President Barack Obama, respectively, describe the much feared and little understood country of Pakistan. To outside observers, Pakistan has been “a problem” since its inception in 1947 — because its generals are enemies of Western-friendly India, because its frontiers are uncontrolled by the capital, because its nuclear arsenal is controlled by a coup-prone state. The summer 2009 issue of Middle East Report, “Pakistan Under Pressure,” peels back the clichés to examine the complex place underneath.

In Washington, Pakistan is mainly a security concern, the less tractable half of the dyad clumsily referred to as “Af-Pak.” In Islamabad, as veteran reporter Graham Usher writes, the question of Afghanistan is inseparable from the issue of Kashmir and, more importantly, the decades-long impasse with India. Any lasting solution for “Af-Pak” will require some resolution of the larger regional conflict.

For Pakistanis, the big strategic picture is no mere abstraction, because the state’s efforts to please its foreign patrons and contain its domestic foes deeply affect daily life. Humeira Iqtidar of Cambridge University details the social activism that has entrenched Islamist groups, including those with militant armed wings, in the country. Stephen Dedalus reports on how state sectarianism has generated Sunni-Shi’i animosity in the troubled province of Balochistan.

Despite intermittent military rule, Pakistan boasts a vigorous civil society. Princeton University’s Daud Munir narrates the dramatic struggle of Pakistani attorneys to bolster the rule of law and curtail the arbitrariness of power. Middle East Report interviews “typewriter guerrilla” Imran Aslam of Pakistan’s Geo TV on journalists’ battle to enlarge the space for discussion, debate and dissent.

Also featured: Lisa Hajjar reviews the grim “lessons learned” from the US experimentation with torture; Christopher Davidson explains why the economic bubble burst in Dubai; Rebecca Bryant outlines the new dimensions of the Cyprus dispute; and more.

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Middle East Report is published by the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP), a progressive, independent organization based in Washington, DC. Since 1971 MERIP has provided critical analysis of the Middle East, focusing on political economy, popular struggles and the implications of US and international policy for the region.

Middle East Report Online is a free service of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).

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