While its mediation between Israel and Syria continues, Turkey’s foreign ministry has now also launched a mediation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fascinating.
Juan Cole is reporting that the leaders of the Bhutto-ist “Pakistan People’s Party” have anointed Benazir’s 19-year-old son Bilawal to be the party’s next leader, with a feudal lord of some slightly lesser order to be the party’s candidate in the elections that are still scheduled to go ahead January 8. I guess Bilawal’s daddy, Asif Zardari either could not run or would not have made a credible candidate in the elections because of his past convictions for serious corruption. Benazir herself had won an agreement from Musharraf that the indictments outstanding against herself on similar charges would not be pressed on her recent return from exile. But I guess the deal did not extend to wiping Zardari’s slate clean as well.
The crowning of the youthful Bilawal as the leader of this avowedly populist or even perhaps “socialist” party reminds me of leadership norms within Lebanon’s main “socialist” party, the Progressive Socialist party (PSP). It was founded by Druze feudal overlord Kamal Jumblatt and was headed by him until he was killed (by the Syrians) in 1977, at which time the leadership passed immediately to Kamal’s youthful son Walid, who has headed it ever since.
In the case of the PSP, almost no-one in Lebanon takes seriously its claim to be a “socialist” party in any meaningful sense. The only people who apparently do are the leaders of the “Socialist International” who still list the PSP as a “Full member party”. On the other hand, that web-page there, which is on the SI’s official website, also lists Fatah as a “consultative party”, which I find equally hilarious.
Benazir Bhutto’s killing was horrific. At a personal level I can only hope she didn’t suffer too much as she died. But she had already shown herself to be an extremely courageous leader. It is true– though it is not nearly sufficient– to say that assassinating her was a cowardly act. And western commentators are quite right to point out that this assassination pushes Pakistan further and faster on the path it already seemed to be on, towards an even more serious political crisis and perhaps state failure of a catastrophic kind… This, in a country that (a) has nuclear weapons, and (b) is an absolutely crucial part of, and location for, the US-led campaign against Al-Qaeda and its supporters.
But where most western commentators have it wrong, I think, is when they assume that this is just about all that is at stake in Pakistan. That is an extremely solipsistic, occidocentric viewpoint.
Hey, people! Pakistan is located in Asia. So is Afghanistan. And developments in those two countries are not simply of concern to the US-led west. In fact, other major world powers including China, India, and Russia, have far greater stakes in the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan than do the US or its western allies, and correspondingly greater concerns about the threat of political meltdown in those two countries.
We could remember, first of all, that Pakistan received some key assists in the development of its nuclear weapons program from China (and also some from the US, I seem to recall.) That happened at a time when China was not unreasonably concerned about India’s development of nuclear weapons. At that time, India had a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union (and yes, there still was a Soviet Union.) And Russia and the Soviet Union were in serious strategic competition with each other.
So there is, for starters, a very tight historical nexus among the nuclear-weapons stances of the four large Asian countries…
Well, that was back in the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, relations among these and many other Asian countries have shifted significantly. Today’s China has much better relations with Russia and India than it did back then. All three of those countries have reason to be extremely concerned indeed about any further eruption and consolidation of violent Islamism in and from central Asia, such as might well ensue from further social/political breakdown in Pakistan and Afghanistan. China, India, and Russia probably all feel themselves to be in the front rank of those threatened by any Taliban/Qaeda resurgence in Central Asia– much more than distant America, or Europe.
So what is the logic of having the US and NATO play such a prominent role in the anti-Qaeda campaign in Afghanistan, and having the US play such a prominent role in it, in Pakistan? Especially given the political toxicity of the US and its western allies in Muslim societies at the present time… This really does not make any sense to me.
(I found this article, by BBC producer Ben Anderson, who was embedded with the British forces in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province last summer, very informative. The bottom line I took from it was that even 5.5 years into the West’s anti-Taleban campaign inside Afghanistan, its leaders still didn’t have any clue as to how they might succeed, and in the interim were relying only on loosing massive amounts of deadly ordnance into the country and its people.)
But at a broader political level it doesn’t make much sense, either. Unless, I suppose, you were a wily Russian or Chinese strategic planner and you saw the military and power-projection capabilities of the US and its NATO allies being rapidly and very expensively attrited there in the mountains of Afghanistan. But it strikes me that if such planners exist, their joy at seeing NATO and the Taleban slugging at each other there in the mountains would not be unbounded, or endless. Especially because the West’s position in the fight now seems so very, very precarious, bringing us closer to the point where its forces might actually need to be bailed out if the whole world– including of course, those front-line Asian nations– is not to be faced with a massive growth of Taleban/Qaeda-style power.
I have tried to think like a Pentagon planner, too. Pakistan is crucial to the US-led fight against the Taleban– not just because it has its own Talebs and provides a safe haven for the Talebs from Afghanistan, but also because a huge proportion of the military and support materiel the Western forces in Afghanistan rely on is shipped in along the land routes through Pakistan. (75%, according to this November report.)
Alert JWN readers will recall this post I published here December 17, taking note of and commenting on the report the WaPo ran that same day, to the effect that planners in the US military were already starting to call for a hastened shifting of focus and troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.
Bhutto’s killing will probably make such a shift seem even more urgent. However, all the questions I raised in that earlier post about whether simply adding more US troops into support of a pacification campaign in Afghanistan that does not look designed or headed for success– and may indeed be actually unwinnable in the way it is currently being waged– still stand.
I see that a researcher at the usually very sober Congressional Research Service wrote in this recent (PDF) report on the NATO campaign in Afghanistan that
- The mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Afghanistan is seen as a test of the alliance’s political will and military capabilities. The allies are seeking to create a “new” NATO, able to go beyond the European theater and combat new threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Afghanistan is NATO’s first “out-of-area” mission beyond Europe…
What the researcher there, Paul Gallis, does not specify is who is doing this “seeing”. Member-states of NATO, obviously; but equally clearly, other states around the world, too, who might not have any particular interest in seeing NATO succeed at developing an “out of area” capability.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think there are some interesting geostrategic parallels between the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In both, you have the US leading an intentionally non-UN “coalition of the willing” (COTW) that is fighting a non-winning pacification campaign in the middle of a country marked by huge political complexity, very high levels of violence, and state bodies that are not able to deliver any services at all to the vast majority of the country’s national territory.
In both countries, too, you have the leaders of other nearby countries sitting by, watching with some degree of satisfaction as the US-led COTW grinds itself deeper and deeper into the quagmire– but these countries also don’t want the US’s most determined opponents in either country to win, either… So there is some careful calibrating that these neighbors need to do. Above all, they don’t want to make it impossible for the US to “ask” them to come to its aid if the present COTW’s situation should start to fall apart very rapidly– which it might, in either Iraq, or Afghanistan.
In Iraq, the main neighbors sitting in this position are Iran (and Syria.) But in Afghanistan, it seems to me the geostrategic stakes are even higher, since China and Russia are both among the neighbors who are currently sitting there in “watchful waiting” mode…
… This time it comes from veteran warmonger Fred Kagan and (imho, sadly) Brookings’s Michael O’Hanlon, writing in today’s NYT.
In a sense, the title of their op-ed says it all:
- Pakistan’s collapse, Our Problem
I beg your pardon? Wouldn’t a collapse of government power in Pakistan be in the first instance a massive problem for its own 160 million people?
No hint of that in the K&O’H text.
But also, no hint that a collapse of government power in Pakistan– a country that has a nuclear arsenal estimated to contain 24-48 HEU warheads and perhaps 3-5 plutonium warheads– would pose a massive challenge to everyone in the world. And most especially those sizeable and well-armed nations that are its neighbors. Like India. Like Russia. Like China. Not to mention Afghanistan and a host of other very vulnerable countries in that region…
The US homeland is, by contrast, located almost exactly on the other side of the world.
What on earth is it with the hubris of so many US “strategic analysts”? That they think that US is in some way “uniquely” threatened by developments in distant Pakistan? That those developments are therefore somehow “uniquely” a problem for the US. And therefore, that it is the US, alone, that needs to figure out how to “respond”?
K&O’H lead their piece thus:
- AS the government of Pakistan totters, we must face a fact: the United States simply could not stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss. Nor would it be strategically prudent to withdraw our forces from an improving situation in Iraq to cope with a deteriorating one in Pakistan. We need to think — now — about our feasible military options in Pakistan, should it really come to that…
Then, as the piece unfolds, there is, I swear, not even a word of recognition that the possible loosening of the controls the Pakistani government may have (even if, who knows, imperfectly) on the country’s nuclear arsenal and production and research facilities could be a threat to anyone else except the US!
Similarly, there is no recognition that any other power, apart from the US, might be part of a pro-stability political-diplomatic process/solution in Pakistan. This, though the two authors go to great lengths to game-plan out various scenarios for– you guessed it– unilateral US military action aimed at securing, at the very least, Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.
Reading the piece, I was amazed and saddened to see the degree to which such authors– okay, well specifically, Michael O’Hanlon, whose expertise and judgment in military-strategic matters I had until recently held in quite a degree of respect– can just simply assume that the prospect of internal collapse is a problem only for the US.
And why would the op-ed page editors of the NYT publish a piece expressing such an amazingly Americo-myopic worldview? Wouldn’t a smart and informed editor insist on asking the question, “Hey guys, maybe you should put in something about a few other actors and not just the US?”
But no. Apparently, all of them now live inside this incredibly self-bounded, self-referential, and provincial little Americo-bubble whose inhabitants don’t even really grasp, let alone give any public acknowledgment of, the idea that there are many other countries and people in the world who all also have their own interests and capabilities… And that, indeed, on a world scale, the US makes up less than 5% of the world’s people, and has no valid claim whatsoever to act “on behalf of” the whole world community in a matter of truly global concern such as this one.
I guess 15-plus years of drumbeating rhetoric about US “leadership” in the world has left as an effect a lot of US people who think that the unexamined “fact” of US leadership gives the US an equally unexamined “right” to act on behalf of the world community whenever and wherever it pleases around the world.
Sad. And very, very shortsighted.
I guess I find O’Hanlon’s descent into this very childish kind of Americo-myopia particularly discouraging since, as I noted, until recently I saw him as much more realistic and objective an analyst than the sad old (or young-old) warmonger Fred Kagan.
So yes, we really do need to have a serious, globe-circling discussion of the very destabilizing situation that several decades of bad US policy– along with other factors– have brought both Afghanistan and Pakistan to today. But please, let that not be a discussion based on the childish, “me”-centered assumptions of Americo-myopia.
So here’s the deal: The Bush administration, which until recently has been pushing Pakistan’s Prez Musharraf very hard to “take off his uniform” and rule as a civilian, has become frustrated with his unwillingness to do that to order. So now they are moving a lot closer to trying to topple him– with a military coup.
A gang of three NYT reporters are currently the administration’s leakees of choice in this campaign. Is the goal to use these always-anonymous leaks to put additional pressure on Musharraf– or, to encourage their chosen successor-general to him, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to finally launch this posited coup against him? Hard to tell.
But not hard to tell that there is a concerted campaign of leaks on this subject to these NYT reporters, who use a three-headed byline on today’s story– “This article is by Helene Cooper, Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde.” How’s that for diluting the responsibility of the individual reporter? Just like the sleaziest practices of Time magazine, etc..
This reporting, I should note, looks a near-total reprise of some of Judith Miller’s wildest days of anonymous Cheney-channeling over there at the NYT.
The story leads thus:
- Almost two weeks into Pakistan’s political crisis, Bush administration officials are losing faith that the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, can survive in office and have begun discussing what might come next, according to senior administration officials…
A few grafs down, we are told that:
- More than a dozen officials in Washington and Islamabad from a number of countries spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fragility of Pakistan’s current political situation.
Not a single administration source is named in the whole piece. Do I need to repeat that?
Then, there is the question of whether this tricephalous reportorial unit has its own “point of view” regarding the complex political judgments that their piece purports to “report”. The NYT has a separate category of articles that, though they appear on the “news” pages also contain the authors’ analytical judgments. Those pieces are clearly titled “News Analysis.” This piece is not titled thus. Therefore, it is supposed to contain only reporting. (And good, thorough, reporting, too; which this piece notably does not.)
Buried one-third way down in the piece we have this:
- the State Department and the Pentagon now say they recognize that the Pakistani Army remains a powerful force for stability in Pakistan, and that there is little prospect of an Islamic takeover if General Musharraf should fall.
Note that verb “recognize”. It is one of those supposedly “reportorial” verbs that also carries the author’s own judgment about the truth-value of the judgment being reported: namely, that it is a correct judgment. Good neutral ways to convey the same bit of reporting would be to say that these official bodies “judge”, “say”, or “claim” that the Pakistani Army remains a powerful force, etc etc. Not that they “recognize” that this is the case.
Well, the unintentionally revelatory writing style of these three reporters is only a secondary aspect of this story, with its main aspect being that there evidently does seem to be an increasingly strong tendency in the Bush administration that’s urging a military coup in Pakistan.
Here is the scenario laid out by the Gang of Three, citing, presumably, some or all of their “dozen” anonymous administration sources:
- If General Musharraf is forced from power, they say, it would most likely be in a gentle push by fellow officers, who would try to install a civilian president and push for parliamentary elections to produce the next prime minister, perhaps even Ms. Bhutto, despite past strains between her and the military.
Many Western diplomats in Islamabad said they believed that even a flawed arrangement like that one was ultimately better than an oppressive and unpopular military dictatorship under General Musharraf.
Such a scenario would be a return to the diffuse and sometimes unwieldy democracy that Pakistan had in the 1990s before General Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup.
So now, the game plan seems to be that, instead of pushing for a Musharraf-Bhutto two-handed power-play, they are switching to an Army-Bhutto two-handed power play, with hopes for the coup pinned, for now, on Kayani, whom they describe thus:
- General Kayani is a moderate, pro-American infantry commander who is widely seen as commanding respect within the army and, within Western circles, as a potential alternative to General Musharraf.
They do note, however, that Kayani has already been designated by Musharraf as his the man who will head the army after, as Musharraf still promises, he steps down as Chief of Staff within the coming weeks… No surprise, then, that the NYT Three describe him as a bit reluctant to move against Musharraf at this time.
What effect might the publication of this “news” report be expected to have on Kayani? H’mm. Maybe increase his reluctance?
Meanwhile, I’d like to also note that nearly all the US MSM is continuing to report the Pakistan crisis as one that, among non-Pakistani powers, involves only the US. Given Pakistan’s lengthy history of close relations with China, and it position in Southwest Asia between Afghanistan and India, this is a very myopic view of the matter, indeed.
China Hand has had another couple of good posts on her/his blog, about Pakistan. Here and here.
Definitely always worth reading CH’s non-US-centric commentary.
China Hand had another very informative post yesterday about the US and Pakistan. S/he was looking specifically about the role that Zal Khalilzad may well have been playing in pushing forward the “Benazir Bhutto” option. As in his previous post on Pakistan, CH has marshalled a good array of serious evidence and uses it well to make a point.
- Khalilzad’s fingerprints are all over the events surrounding Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and the ongoing political crisis there.
That’s bad news for Musharraf.
… If we interpret our Pakistan policy as pro-Bhutto and structured by Khalilzad, with Musharraf as a devalued asset well on the way to becoming collateral damage, it makes a lot of sense.
At this point in the lame-duck Bush administration, it would seem risible that the U.S. would even consider, let alone implement any grand plan for regime change.
But Khalilzad, the only U.S. player to emerge from the smoking crater of our Middle East policy with his stature and mojo enhanced, a man of undeniable energy and ability, and, as an Afghan, with a visceral stake in the fate of his homeland’s would-be suzerain, Pakistan, is the guy who might try to pull it off.
Oh, and Benazir took the following obligatory step on the road to winning Washington’s endorsement of her candidacy:
- In a move reminiscent of Ahmad Chalabi’s extravagant promises to the neocons of intimate Iraq-Israeli friendship after he took power, in August Bhutto also initiated a meeting with Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., presumably to demonstrate that she would not be intimidated by Islamic fundamentalists inside Pakistan.
CH posits that the Khalilzad/Bushist game-plan may be as follows. First, they shoe-horn Benazir into power. Then they persuade India to make some concessions on Kashmir, strengthening BB politically within Pakistan and allowing her to turn the army more fully to battling the pro-Taliban insurgents in the north…
- Then the United States can open the military and economic aid spigots and win hearts and minds in a big way—a possibility that the Chinese are now presumably considering and planning for.
After all, for Washington the opportunity to wean Pakistan away from the army and from the army’s major supporter and ally, China, is something that might make the whole venture worth risking by itself.
A grandiose plan. If true. But workable?
I don’t know how good a read on the pulse of the army or Pakistan Ms. Bhutto has after almost a decade of exile.
Pakistan’s security establishment has ties to the Taliban dating back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Beyond that, the war on the borders is, in a word awful. The Pakistani army doesn’t want to fight it. The army is built to fight India, not chase tribesmen. And no army in the world likes to do counterinsurgency…
CH notes that, along with maintaining her longstanding ties to Khalilzad, BB has also been laying out some big money on “inside Washington” consultants… (Uh-oh. More shades of Chalabi here.) CH cites this piece from the new Washington political tabloid The Politico, which tells us that DC p.r. giant Burston-Marsteller and its lobbying and polling affiliates recently signed a contract with BB’s party, whereby the party pays them $75K upfront and then $28.5K monthly after that. No term mentioned there for the contract.
The names of all these firms are a sort of dizzying and frequently changing melange of names half-remembered from Congressmembers past, second-rate pundits, etc etc. But I think the polling firm is the same as the one Hillary Clinton’s using. (Can someone check that and confirm?)
Politico gives us these details:
- The contract filed with the Justice Department does, however, give some insight into what all of the money buys. Among the promised services: surveys of “100 American political, journalistic, and business elites in Washington, D.C., and New York”; an “internal brainstorming session”; and setting up meetings for Bhutto in Washington “with an eye towards convincing U.S. officials that Prime Minister Bhutto is still relevant to further the democratic process in Pakistan.”
CH’s very realistic-looking conclusion regarding all this:
- If the battle for control of Pakistan is going to be fought over hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs in Washington, Pakistan might be in for a rough time.
Khalilzad has shown himself to be a natural and able ally of the educated, pro-Western elites in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
But until now, the regimes he has fostered have been unable to square the circle between the rulers he installed and the impoverished, suspicious, and anti-American masses they’ve tried to lead into the U.S. camp.
Will the third time—with Pakistan’s larger middle class and a society as yet not devastated by war and extremism–be the charm?
Or will Pakistan serve as another example of what happens when the resistible force of democracy promoted by U.S. clients collides with obdurate nationalism fueled by anger and fear of the United States?
Can commenters here please stick to the topic at hand.
“China Hand” has a truly great post on “The China Factor in Pakistani Politics” over at her/his China Matters blog. I had noted it briefly toward the end of (the revised version of) this JWN post this morning, but it’s worth a lot more attention.
CH notes– correctly in my view– that, “China’s presence and interests in Pakistan dwarf America’s” and judges that,
- Pakistan’s alliance with China, which supports Islamabad’s confrontation with India and underpins its hopes for economic growth in its populous heartland, is probably a lot more important to Islamabad than the dangerous, destabilizing, and thankless task of pursuing Islamic extremists on its remote and impoverished frontiers at Washington’s behest.
So the question I’m wrestling with now is What role is the present unrest in Pakistan playing in the broader drama of global politics? (That is, the withering of US power on the dessicated vine of the Bushites’ incompetence, and the concomitant rise of China onto the world scene.)
I should note that in the past couple of days, some Chinese officials have done quite a lot to spur the current run on the dollar. As part of a “grand plan” by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, or not?
Not at all clear.
WaPo’s Neil Irwin echoed a lot of other reporting on the currency markets story when he reported in today’s paper,
- Top Chinese officials suggested at a conference yesterday that they would direct more of their future reserves into European assets — that the euro, not just the dollar, would increasingly be a currency of choice…
“We will favor stronger currencies over weaker ones and will readjust accordingly,” said Cheng Siwei, vice chairman of China’s National People’s Congress. Another official said the dollar was losing its position as the world’s default currency.
The words were consistent with signals the Chinese have been sending about wanting to move away from pouring all their reserves into dollars…
The Economist’s always-anonymous writers cast doubt on the “Beijing grand plan” theory when they noted that the “mid-ranking Chinese officials” concerned were “not actually responsible for foreign-exchange policy.”
So we by no means have enough evidence yet to conclude that a 1956 moment is at hand. (That’s a reference to the train of events in late-October 1956 when Eisenhower decided to pull the plug on the US’s support of the pound sterling, in an attempt– successful, as it turned out– to “persuade” the Brits to withdraw from Egypt… a development which by 1970 had led to the dismantling of the entire British military presence east of Suez and curtains for Britain as any kind of an independent global power.)
But regarding the current Chinese-US tussle for power, who yet knows what is actually happening? My judgment is that the Chinese are nowhere near ready yet to “move in” on the task of global governance that US hegemony has been performing with such disturbing results in recent years. Though some adjustment in the global power balance, as between Washington, Beijing, and a number of lesser players, is by now inevitable.
We should remember, too, that in the always-jittery and risk-ridden world of international financial and currency transactions– which has become a lot more potentially risky in the 51 years since 1956– it wouldn’t necessarily require a central “grand plan” from the CCCCP for extremely deep damage to be done to the global financial system. Sometimes, in the horrendous game of poker that international finance has now become, rumors can become self-fulfilling prophecies; what is “traded” internationally often has no relationship to any underlying reality; graft, speculation, and hyper-profits are rampant; and hundreds upon hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people stand to get hurt very badly indeed…
So while we all ponder these matters more, let me just return to China Hand’s blog post, and tease some more of the interesting portions of that out for you…
- Beijing and Islamabad’s strategic priorities—countering India and nurturing economic development before confronting extremists in the hinterland—are in perfect sync.
The two nations grew even closer when the Bush administration abandoned the Pakistan-centric order of battle of the Global War on Terror and opted for closer ties with India in the service of what looks like a different strategic objective—an attempt to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia.
So, it would be rather ironic if the road to President Musharraf’s downfall began at a Chinese massage parlor in Islamabad.
Actually, not particularly ironic, as such. Intriguing, possibly. Titillating, perhaps…
But CH then goes on to lay out– with lots of good hyperlinked sources– how the actions that the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) Islamist extremists took against Chinese citizens working in that massage parlor back in June prompted Musharraf to launch the big crackdown on the Lal Masjid people… and that led to the security crisis.. that led (later) to last Saturday’s suspension of portions of the Pakistani constitution by Musharraf.
Well, CH doesn’t really adequately describe for us the last link in that causal chain. But s/he does cites this report from the June 22 edition of Pakistan Today as noting that,
- The Chinese ambassador contacted President Hu Jintao two times during the 15-hour [Chinese masseuse] hostage drama, sources said… The Chinese president expressed confidence that the Pakistan government would find out a peaceful solution to the hostage crisis. Sources quoted President Hu Jintao, expressing shock over the kidnapping of the Chinese nationals, has called for security for them.
China Hand notes this:
- China did not want to see its citizens and interests to become pawns in Pakistan’s internal strife.
It’s a non-trivial point for China, which lacks the military reach to effectively protect its overseas citizens itself, but does not want to see them turned into the bargaining chip of first resort for dissidents in dangerous lands like Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and etc. who are looking to get some leverage on the local government–or Beijing.
It looks like China demanded that Pakistan draw a red line at the abduction, extortion, and murder of its citizens.
A week after the kidnapping incident, Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister was in Beijing…
So in early July, handpicked units of the Pakistani security forces finally went in to storm the Red Mosque. Three Chinese workers at an auto-rickshaw factory in the North West Frontier Province were killed in revenge– and as CH notes, the story was “splashed all over the Chinese media.” (As, here.)
CH sums up:
- A trusted ally demands real, meaningful, and risky action by Pakistan against terrorism. Because of the importance of the ally, the proximity of the threat to the political and economic heart of the country, and the tactical and strategic merits of the action, Pakistan responds positively.
That ally is, of course, China.
Not the United States.
And that’s probably not going to change even if Benazir Bhutto takes power.
Tangled webs, huh?
Here, by the way, is what China’s Xinhua News Agency was writing about Pakistan on Tuesday:
- China is highly concerned about the situation in Pakistan, and believes the country has the ability to solve its own issues, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao Tuesday.
“Pakistan is one of the important neighbouring countries of China. We believe the Pakistani government and people have the ability to solve their own problems and hope Pakistan could maintain stability and development,” Liu told a regular press conference.
By the way, as always, I’d love it if any JWN readers who can throw more light on these issues than I can would contribute their own analyses, hyperlinks, etc. to the Comments section here.
Maybe I’m naive, but I have been amazed all over again to see the unthinkingly “imperial” way in which many or most US commentators have been writing and talking about the rising tensions in Pakistan… There they are, earnestly enquiring as to “Who might be better than Musharraf?”, in a context in which the main criterion of being “better” is simply assumed to be “better for us”… or turning their gaze back to Washington and asking self-referentially “Who lost Pakistan?”
Hey guys! Pakistan is not “ours” to lose! It belongs to its own people.
Yes, they have many internal political problems of their own. And yes, the US has been quite intentionally meddling in the country’s politics for decades* (and the Brits for even longer.) And yes, there are big issues in Pakistan that are justifiably of concern to the whole world community– nuclear weapons, and the possible prospect of a Taliban power-base providing a hospitable base to the global terrorists of Al-Qaeda in the future, as in the past (though this is not necessarily the way the Talibs would behave; and their inclusion or exclusion from locally-based peacemaking initiatives could do a lot to affect that question.)
But note that I said these concerns about Pakistan are ones the whole world community faces– and not simply the US, standing all on its own.
Over the past 15 years or so, ways too many US commentators and pols have fallen into what you might call the “Leadership representation fallacy”… That is, because they have just somehow assumed that the US exercises and by the natural order of things should continue to exercise “leadership” within (or over) the whole world community, then by extension, any development that affects the whole world community somehow affects the US uniquely.
In fact, I would be as bold as to say that in that part of the world– let’s say, for simplicity, the whole of the “arc of instability”– the US as an actor and as an idea is currently so toxic that our country is the last one on earth that should seek to exercise “leadership” in crafting solutions to the challenges arising from there that now face the whole world.
Actually, yes, the US is “unique”: right now it is uniquely unqualified to play any kind of a diplomatic “leadership” role anywhere in the Muslim world.
So please. Let’s have a little more self-awareness, and a lot less self-referentiality and self-aggrandizement in the way US commentators think and talk about these issues.
We should keep firmly in mind, firstly, that Pakistan’s governance is the responsibility of the country’s own citizens (and our first responsibility should be good governance in our country, which goodness knows, it certainly needs.)
And inasmuch as events in Pakistan do have an effect on the whole world, we should remember that America’s 300 million people are far from being the people most directly affected by it. India (one billion people), China (1.3 billion), Afghanistan, and the countries of Central Asia and the Middle East are all much more deeply affected than we are.
Think about it.
By the way: truly excellent reporting and analysis of China’s relationship with Pakistan is here, thanks to “China hand.” The opening line there:
- “Americocentrism dies hard.”
* See this good piece by Spencer Ackerman at TPM-Muckraker, on the gobs of accountability-free funding the Bushites have been shoveling over to Musharraf since 9/11. (Hat-tip J. Cole.) Ackerman writes:
- Musharraf, of course, has been a crucial American ally since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, and the U.S. has rewarded him ever since with over $10 billion in civilian and (mostly) military largesse… [T]he U.S. gives Musharraf’s government about $200 million annually and his military $100 million monthly in the form of direct cash transfers. Once that money leaves the U.S. Treasury, Musharraf can do with it whatever he wants. He needs only promise in a secret annual meeting that he’ll use it to invest in the Pakistani people. And whatever happens as the result of Rice’s review, few Pakistan watchers expect the cash transfers to end…
And of course, you can put that together with this post I put up here yesterday, reporting on the significant rise in the Taliban’s power in both Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past year.
US tax dollars well spent there? I’d say not. Let’s have some real accountability here at home! (Not of the “who lost Pakistan?” variety, but of the “who totally mismanaged the reaction to 9/11, wasted our federal budget, and sowed death and havoc throughout a large chunk of the world?” variety.)
Asia Times’s Syed Saleem Shahzad has a must-read story on their website Thursday. He writes:
- While the world’s attention focused on the troubles of President General Pervez Musharraf following his declaration of a state of emergency in Pakistan at the weekend, the Taliban have launched a coup of their own in Afghanistan and the Pashtun areas of Pakistan.
… The November 4 declaration of an emergency and the preparations before it was enforced distracted the military. As a result, several villages and towns in the Swat Valley, only a drive of four hours from Islamabad, have fallen to the Taliban without a single bullet being fired – fearful Pakistani security forces simply surrendered their weapons.
The Taliban have secured similar successes in the northwestern Afghan province of Farah and the southwestern provinces of Uruzgan and Kandahar, where districts have fallen without much resistance.
A new wave of attacks is expanding the Taliban’s grip in the southeastern provinces of Khost and Kunar. And on Tuesday, the Taliban are suspected to have been responsible for the massive suicide attack in northern Baghlan province in which scores of people died, including a number of parliamentarians, most notably Sayed Mustafa Kazimi, the Hazara Shi’ite leader.
I have no reason to doubt the veracity of Shahzad’s account, and have often admired his reporting from Pakistan (and Afghanistan) in the past.
By way of background, in mid-October Tom Koenigs, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, told the Security Council that “the number of violent incidents was up approximately 30 per cent on a month-to-month basis, with a significant increase in civilian casualties — at least 1,200 had been killed since January.”
Not many institutions in the west keep anything like a close enough watch on political and security developments in Afghanistan. One intriguing report I found was this one, issued by Swisspeace on September 30. (That’s a PDF file. You can get around half of the textual material from it in this HTML version. The PDF version has a map that illustrates handily the extent to which Afghanistan-related violence bleeds across the country’s borders– into Pakistan, and into countries to the north.)
The Swisspeace report recalls that the large “peace jirga” held with a total of 850 Afghan and Pakistani participants in mid-August called for the establishment of a smaller peace delegation that would hold a dialogue with the Taliban:
- While the Taliban initially responded positively, a Taliban spokesman later made talks conditional upon a withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.
The idea of seeking a negotiated settlement with the Taliban appears to have gained ground in Afghanistan and now even seems to be backed by the US, which could be explained by a possible military attack of the US in Iran. If the weakened President Karzai intends to win the presidential elections in 2009 he might indeed require Pashtun and Taliban backing to outweigh the growing opposition from former factional leaders of the Northern Alliance…
There is more analysis there, too, about the close linkage between the Afghan/Pakistan situation and the US-Iran situation…
(Talk about an “arc of instability”! And which outside power do we see caught right up in the middle of it???)
Regarding the possibility of the US “backing” the idea of intra-Afghan negotiations that include the Taliban, my first reaction is to say (1) that I think that trying to include one’s opponents in serious peacemaking efforts is always a good idea– q.v., my latest Nation article on Hamas and Hizbullah; but (2) if the administration is indeed considering such a switch, it should at the very least talk about it openly with the US citizenry so we can all understand the reasoning, rather than going about it slyly and as part of a still quite unjustifiable rush into a war with Iran.
I note that the Swisspeace report also stressed that,
- the Karzai administration continuously stresses its good relations with Iran. Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Kabul for the first time in the middle of August. At the end of his visit, the two governments signed various agreements to strengthen mutual cooperation…
Note on the lawyers’ protest in Pakistan.
Much of the political drama currently being played out in Pakistan has to do with the role of lawyers in society and governance. This obviously closely linked to the issue of “the rule of law”, though it is not exactly the same as it. Musharraf’s sacking of four Supreme Court justices last Saturday has many echoes of the campaign Egypt’s Mubarak has been waging against the lawyers in his country, and I can’t help thinking through some of the parallels, and some of the apparent differences, in the two situations…
One thing that struck me, looking at photos both of the street protests mounted by some lawyers and of protesting lawyers being hauled away in trucks by the security forces, was the strong contrast in both dress styles and facial-hair styles between the two groups. The lawyers were almost to a man (no women in sight there) dressed in dark suits, white shirts, and dark ties, with cleanshaven faces. The security forces were wearing uniforms incorporating many more “traditionally Pakistani” sartorial motifs; and many had full, long beards…
In a rambly and extremely ethnocentric reflection on the pics of the protesting lawyers, the WaPo’s Philip Kennicott wrote this:
- It would be comforting to dismiss the image this way: If lawyers are running the revolution, how bad can it get?
But bad news is not kept at bay so easily. To that effort to dismiss the image, the image answers back: If lawyers are this angry, then the trouble is serious.
And indeed, the trouble is very serious. The United States has backed a dictator, while proclaiming democracy our loftiest goal. ..
The story in Pakistan/Afghanistan– which is increasingly only a single intermingled story– is actually far more serious than Kennicott or many people in the US media seem to realize. (See main story above.)
For my part, I’d note that many of the suits I saw in the lawyers’ pics looked far less well tailored than the “Brooks brothers” model Kennicott wrote about. Many of the lawyers looked like guys who’d had to save up a long time or even borrow money to buy the one decent suit required for their work in the courts… Buying into an occidentocentric version of “modernity” that may be increasingly irrelevant in their country as a whole.
Ah, and talking of the “west”, here’s a recent little report from the BBC that gives some indication of the strains that the US-led NATO “mission” in Afghanistan is causing to that august former Cold War alliance.
Amazing feat of geographic legerdemain, if you come to think of it, to be able to re-classify Afghanistan as somehow falling under the rubric of the “North Atlantic”…
The first thing to note is that the (linked) security situations in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been getting significantly worse over the past 18 months. That is bad news– because civil strife is always bad news– first and foremost for the people of the two countries. See, for example, this report of mass arrests in Islamabad.
These situations are also a symptom of the reckless disregard with which the Bushites have viewed every single development in the world since their attention became obsessively focused on Iraq, in 2005-2006.
They are also, like the ongoing deterioration in Palestine, a symptom of the fact that the other big and emerging powers in the world either do not want to step in and stop the US from playing the blocking/disruptive role it has been playing, or they are unable to.
US strategic power everywhere in the world is eroding rapidly. The causes of this erosion are real and deepseated enough. But it is certainly only being accelerated by the Keystone Cops-ish ineptitude of the way US “diplomacy” is being handled.
Friday night, Condi Rice called Pakistani Pres. Musharraf and “warned” him against declaring martial law. The people in the State Dept. also apparently told the press Rice had done so. Musharraf , who has received more than $10 billion in US aid since 2001, swept the warning away like a minor irritant.
So who’s giving Condi and Bush advice on how to handle Washington’s diplomacy? It looks amateurish and desperate.
However, I don’t want to mock the Bushites too much. I’m a bit afraid that if they feel themselves to be in too much of a corner internationally they might take some rash and drastic action…
Meanwhile, Manan Ahmed over at Informed Comment Global Affairs gives an English-language rendering of the entire transcript of Musharraf’s epoch-making t.v. announcement– both the Urdu and the English portions of it.