How’s that U.S. plan to stabilize Pakistan working out?
Not too great.
And not all the troublemakers are inside Pakistan.
In fact, a lot of them are right here in the U.S.A.
It’s not just Islamist extremists who see U.S. meddling as the source of Pakistan’s problems.
Liberal, secular opinion inside Pakistan increasingly sees U.S. interference in Pakistan’s politics on behalf of military rule and in pursuit of its own misguided and dangerous security priorities as the root cause of that country’s miserable political instability.
Recent events make it easy to see why.
Acting on their unofficial motto “Where there’s death there’s hope”, the currently sidelined enthusiasts for military action constellated around Dick Cheney are doing their best to take advantage of the unrest in Pakistan triggered by Benazir Bhutto’s assassination—and the resultant disarray in the State Department—to push their own plans to broaden the hot war on terror with a third front in West Pakistan.
From the New York Times:
…at the White House and the Pentagon, officials see an opportunity in the changing power structure for the Americans to advocate for the expanded authority in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country. “After years of focusing on Afghanistan, we think the extremists now see a chance for the big prize — creating chaos in Pakistan itself,” one senior official said.
Aah. The sweet smell of chaos…and opportunity.
The new options for expanded covert operations include loosening restrictions on the C.I.A. to strike selected targets in Pakistan, in some cases using intelligence provided by Pakistani sources…
… if the C.I.A. were given broader authority, it could call for help from the military or deputize some forces of the Special Operations Command to act under the authority of the agency.
And, in a series of nice hmmm-inducing asides:
The meeting on Friday, which was not publicly announced, included Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser; Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and top intelligence officials…
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was on vacation last week and did not attend the White House meeting…
It doesn’t take a lot of reading between the lines to guess that Condoleezza Rice doesn’t like this plan, since unleashing the CIA and Special Ops to slaughter and abduct suspected terrorists in the border areas in unilateral paramilitary operations would be wildly unpopular within Pakistan, accelerate Musharraf’s political collapse, and contribute mightily to the deadly instability she would like to avert.
Although Secretary Rice was forced to take the meeting bereft of reinforcement from her most effective realist ally, Robert Gates, she has thankfully taken steps to spike the initiative through the press.
Rice’s minions leaked the news of the meeting to the New York Times, and the article concludes with a plethora of, to my mind, completely accurate predictions of disaster from two on-the-record think tankers and that ubiquitous but circumspect presence, Mr. Officials Say:
[O]fficials say, some American diplomats and military officials, as well as outside experts, argue that American-led military operations on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan could result in a tremendous backlash and ultimately do more harm than good. That is particularly true, they say, if Americans were captured or killed in the territory.
For good measure, the Pakistanis don’t like the idea either.
Here’s what Dawn, Pakistan’s major English-language media outlet, had to say in an editorial:
AMERICAN threats to intervene in Pakistan militarily have become a routine affair. This time, however, the threat …has evoked the usual response by the Foreign Office spokesman. Islamabad, he said, would not allow America to intervene militarily in Pakistan, because fighting terrorism in Fata and elsewhere was the government’s responsibility. One does not know who to pick up first for some plain speaking. The naivety being show by the Bush administration is amazing.
The second absurdity is the Bush administration’s belief that it knows something about guerilla war. Actually, going by the mess they have created in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush aides are the last people on earth to claim anti-insurgency expertise.
So far so good.
And, if Secretary Rice can steer President Bush’s force-infatuated and success-averse attention away from this plan, Pakistan will be better off.
However, it looks like we can’t expect anything good to come out of Secretary Rice’s shop either.
Having announced in oblivious “it’s not a bug it’s a feature” style that we have no Plan B for Pakistan, the State Department has redoubled its efforts to push through the elections and the coalition between Bhutto’s PPP and Musharraf’s creatures in Pakistan’s parliament, the PML-Q.
This unavoidably means trashing Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N, the only opposition politician with national organizational reach and stature after Bhutto’s death.
Because Nawaz Sharif might be good for Pakistan, but he’s not good for the U.S. State Department.
If the PML-N and the PPP, who will probably both do well—but not too well—in the elections, went ahead and formed a ruling coalition, parliament could push for sanctions of every conceivable kind against Musharraf, such as invalidating his blatantly illegal presidency…
…and undoubtedly cleave to Sharif’s popular anti-American and cautious line in dealing with Pakistan’s Islamicist/Taliban/al Qaeda problem.
That means that the U.S. takeaway from Pakistan be zero in terms of shoring up the eastern front against the Taleban resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas…
…and less than zero if one factors in the inadvertent political destruction of Musharraf, the wayward U.S. client we meant to rescue…
…not to mention the slaughter of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s most prominent pro-Western politician…
…and the descent of Pakistan into political crisis and, in some areas, near anarchy.
Not the kind of legacy-building Secretary Rice was looking for in the last year of her dismal term at State.
So we are left with a policy of support for the PPP + Musharraf that is, clinically speaking, insane.
Let me count the ways.
First, the U.S. is openly committing to keeping Musharraf in power. We are allying with the most despised political force in Pakistan.
Second, U.S. patronage is distorting the political activities of the PPP—to its and our detriment.
Unconditional support of the PPP brings with it unconditional support for Benazir Bhutto’s creepy widower, Asif Ali Zardari.
For those accustomed to patronizing him with the insulting nickname Mr. 10%,: Hey, it’s Mr. 30% to you!
[Zardari] acquired the less-than-flattering nickname ‘Mr 10 Per Cent’ — a reference to the cut he took for approving government contracts. That government was dismissed for corruption by the president, but Benazir was returned to power in 1993. Her second stint in office proved no different, however — except that Zardari’s nickname was ‘Mr 30 Per Cent’.
It remains to be seen at what percentage a Zardari government would finally max out at, given the immense amount of patronage he would need to dispense to keep his unpopular presence on top of the PPP.
With Bhutto gone, the PPP has lost its transcendent image-management resource and the party is increasingly portrayed in the Western press as the feudal plaything of a corrupt and vindictive operator who bungees his son in to front the party for brief English-language press availabilities before popping him back to Oxford and blissful obscurity.
Here’s the lede from the current Time cover story on Pakistan:
As the new self-appointed standard bearers of Pakistani democracy, Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari don’t inspire much confidence. One is a feudal aristocrat widely reviled as corrupt and blamed for his wife’s undoing when she was the country’s Prime Minister in the 1990s. The other, their son, is a bookish Oxford undergraduate who talks of democracy but whose political clout derives entirely from his middle name. Yet there they were, three days after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, their beloved wife and mother, proclaiming themselves inheritors of her political fief, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and assuring Pakistan that they were the answer to all its problems.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s most recent press conference informed the world that the elder Zardari has decided to pursue the Hariri option—pushing for a U.N. investigation of Bhutto’s assassination.
Giving the U.N. Security Council—and U.S. and Great Britain—carte blanche to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs might provide Zardari with another valuable political weapon in his struggle with Musharraf, but Pakistanis will resent a measure that would undoubtedly undermine Pakistan’s sovereignty and political stability.
Zardari is desperate for quick elections, despite the horrific violence that gripped Pakistan since the assassination. I assume he knows that as time passes the image of Benazir Bhutto will fade from the public mind, to be replaced with awareness of the dubious and flawed legacy she left behind.
The PPP—and Pakistan—could have used a period of reflection and restructuring, which they aren’t going to get, given Zadari’s need to wave the bloody shirt and U.S. haste to push the PPP—Musharraf deal down people’s throats asap.
Third, Sharif is one of the most popular politicians in Pakistan. Even if he can’t win significant support from PPP voters after Bhutto’s demise, he’s probably the single most well-known—and one of the more trusted—political figures in Pakistan. So by allying with Musharraf and spurning Sharif, the U.S. is allying with the least popular national figure in Pakistan in opposition to the most popular.
Fourth, we are once again selling out Pakistan’s genuine democracy movement—the activists of the judiciary and legal profession who have been trying to get Pakistan to live up to the democratic promises of its constitution—by pushing our backroom deal instead of supporting a return to constitutional rule. This gives the anti-Musharraf bourgeoisie yet another reason to hate us.
Fifth, we are pushing the military strongman—anti Taliban/anti terrorist regional security model on Pakistan that nobody likes.
That includes the army, of course.
Benazir Bhutto herself would probably have been incapable of getting the Pakistan military to abandon the comfortable strategic posture of standing as Pakistan’s modern, well-armed, and prestigious national bulwark against India in favor the dangerous and dirty work of pursuing its ex-clients and enemies through the mud villages of western Pakistan more than it’s already doing.
No chance for the disorganized and opportunistic no-names who would be staffing a PML-Q/PPP administration.
No chance they’d try, given the intense public opposition to U.S. security policy inside Pakistan.
Increasingly, Pakistani opinion sees the dysfunctional dynamic of a military strongman propped up by the U.S. and permitted to trample on the constitution so he can pursue the U.S. aim of chasing terrorists as the thing that is destroying Pakistan.
The U.S. global war on terror only enjoys 15% support in Pakistan, according to the International Republican Institute.
U.S. security policy—and not Islamist extremism—is seen as doing the greatest damage to Pakistan’s civil society.
I’d like to stress that a little bit.
As Kevin Drum pointed out, in a November poll by the University of Maryland’s Program of International Policy Attitudes, Pakistanis were asked to characterize threats to Pakistan’s national interests in the next 10 years.
The largest number characterized the U.S. military presence in Asia a critical threat.
How many people? 72%
What’s the next biggest threat?
The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, characterized by 68% of resondents as a critical threat.
Those are big numbers. Really big numbers.
Especially since we’re actually allies with Pakistan. We’re not supposed to be a threat.
Even Pakistan’s enemies are seen as less of a threat than us.
The Indian threat—that old standby of Pakistani security policy, politics, and military rule—clocked in third at 53%.
(Since I write a China blog, I should point out that rising China came in at the bottom of the list, viewed as a critical threat by only 10% of respondents.)
As for the areas that interest us the most:
Al Qaeda clocked in as a critical threat to a respectable but distant 4th for 41% of the respondents.
The local Taliban: 34%.
Islamist movements are definitely a problem, but here’s something to chew on from the poll results:
Asked about the “cooperation in the last few years between Pakistan and the US on military and security matters”, only one in four (27%) said that it had brought any benefits to akistan…Nearly one-third said US-Pakistani cooperation had actually hurt Pakistan…
Supporters of all leaders were united in their distrust of the United States and its motives. Majorities of all said they did not trust the United States to act responsibly in the world, including 68% of Sharif supporters, 65% of Bhutto supporters, and 55% of Musharraf supporters.[emph. added].
And those are the people we think support us.
As for allowing U.S. or foreign troops to capture al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan?
We’re not just pushing an unpopular client. We’re an unpopular patron. And we’re pushing very unpopular policies, seemingly without regard for the facts on the ground or the interests of our “ally”.
In other words, in the name of stabilizing Pakistan and shoring up support for Musharraf, we are pretty much guaranteeing that Musharraf will be less popular—and Pakistan’s government less stable—than before our failed injection of Bhutto into Pakistani politics threw that nation into disarray.
I assume the geniuses of Foggy Bottom—and the Office of the Vice President–are well aware of these numbers and the bleak situation.
Maybe State is pushing the doomed PPP—Musharraf alliance because we know that only a regime of weak and unpopular clients reliant on American aid will keep the threat of a populist, united, anti-American and Taleban friendly regime at bay, at least until the Bush administration is out of office.
Maybe that same vision of a helpless, discredited pro-US regime in Islamabad convinced Cheney’s people that the time was ripe to discard the dream of stabilizing a friendly Pakistan for the thrill of kindling America’s third Eurasian land war in the mountains and valleys of West Pakistan.
I looked at the recent Time cover and actually had to laugh.
It’s a classic piece of what I call “muscular handwringing”—the unwillingness to understand that the bizarre problems that the World’s Only Superpower can’t seem to solve are not arising out of mysterious local conditions, the political and/or moral perversity of the subject population, or our client’s inexplicable political dysfunction.
The cover story is entitled:
No One Could Save Benazir Bhutto. Why We Need To Save Pakistan
It’s too disturbing and inconvenient to realize that the source of the mess can be discovered by looking in a mirror.
In Pakistan, we are dealing with the inevitable consequences of our own failed policies.
Actually, the best way to save Pakistan is for us to leave it alone.
That might have saved Benazir Bhutto, too