Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Last Chance Saloon

Journalist Ahmed Rashid looks at the near-term political scenarios in Pakistan. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

At the same time Gen Musharraf's dwindling popularity, his half hearted moves against the extremists and the army's stark failure in defeating the Pakistani Taleban in the tribal borderlands, contrast sharply with Ms Bhutto's determination to confront rather than appease the extremists.

Her defiance goes down well in Washington and other Western capitals, but not with the army which since 11 September 2001 has played a double game of giving sanctuary to some extremists while attacking others.

Moreover other political parties and much of the mainstream media are either too scared to condemn the extremists, or they sympathise with them and do not want to appear pro-American or antagonise that section of the public which has become far more religiously conservative since Ms Bhutto was last in Pakistan nine years ago.



Westhawk comments:

The standard model of analysis in the West is that Ms. Bhutto, supported by a general election mandate, will restore popular legitimacy to Pakistan’s government. This legitimacy, combined with General Musharraf’s cooperation, will then propel Pakistan’s army to a triumph over the various radical Islamists, now secure in their tribal redoubts. So goes the wishful thinking in Washington.

Instead, Ms. Bhutto’s return is likely to expose even deeper fissures in Pakistani society. The list of those who want her dead, and who are actively plotting her demise, is long and almost certainly includes officers within Pakistan’s security services. It would be something of a minor miracle if Ms. Bhutto even survives to see the general election, scheduled in two month’s time. ...

What is likely to result is something resembling a low-grade, multi-sided civil war. The Islamic extremists will seek to protect and expand their sanctuaries while simultaneously acting out to prevent the establishment of an effective Pakistani government. The army will resist fighting in the tribal areas, will offer minimal cooperation to Ms. Bhutto, and will continue to extract gifts from Washington, pleading its indispensability, while whispering rumors about its nuclear weapons stockpile. Similarly, Ms. Bhutto will display herself as the beacon of democracy in Washington in order to ensure an uninterrupted flow of aid from the U.S., part of which she will divert into her family’s accounts. As she feels the assassins getting closer she may see the wisdom of creating a militia tied to her political party, just like the Shi’ites in Iraq have.

If a low level civil war does break out, every faction will inevitably drag their own international patrons into the conflict, and the game will be played for stakes far higher than in Kosovo; higher even than in Iraq. Never will the lack of a bipartisan strategic consensus be more acutely felt than if Pakistan spirals into a crisis.

At one level the current world terrorist crisis is a direct manifestation of the upheavals in Muslim countries. The contradictions inherent in those societies are boiling over. Those upheavals will have to run their course and their consequences managed, for the crisis to abate. And like any ship heading for heavy weather, thoughts should turn to what's needed to ride out the storm. It may be too early to write off Pakistani stability, but not too early to think about what should be done if slides over the edge.

17 Comments:

Blogger NahnCee said...

Can't we just quarantine the whole Middle East while they fight it out amongst themselves? If it was Bubonic Plague they were carrying, we certainly wouldn't invite and welcome them to come live among us. I don't understand why their particular form of mental disease is any different from the Plague, especially when it comes to being dangerous to uninfected people they're around.

10/24/2007 06:28:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

One fears that Ms. Bhutto, good and brave lady that she is, may be another Cory Aquino. Talks good, envokes sympathy, but in the end has neither recognizes what is required nor has the stomach to impose the real solutions.

10/24/2007 06:43:00 AM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

Whatever her politics you have to admire the lady for dropping herself into the middle of a hornet's nest.

When is the NYT going to publish the Pentagon's contingency plans for when/if the Islamists get their fingers on the nukes?

10/24/2007 07:21:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

It's a little late for a quarantine.

Pakistan has nukes, and the whole area is a major element in the world economy (which gives radical elements funding to spread hate and attack us).

Unless you are ready to countenance the expulsion of every Muslim from the entire West (including Europe and the USA), we can't even come close to a quarantine.

This is the old isolationist impulse, understandable, but not practical.

10/24/2007 07:32:00 AM  
Blogger Brock said...

Although I could never put a number on the chance of it happening, I keep wondering if the next 20 years will see Pakistan dissolve, with half being given to the lawless chaos of Afghanistan, and half returning to its brothers in India.

10/24/2007 07:57:00 AM  
Blogger Aristides said...

If the country spirals into civil war, we need to secure the nuclear sites under the banner of the UN. That is priority number one.

If I remember correctly, Musharraf gave us access to the nuclear weapons sites shortly after Enduring Freedom commenced. That may have been the most important move Bush has made.

Some food for thought. Here's Seattle Times from 2006:

Pakistan's loss of control over some or all of its nuclear weapons has been quietly discussed and war-gamed at senior levels in the Defense Department. But given the political sensitivity of discussing possible armed intervention in an allied country, Pentagon officials declined to answer questions. A spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh, said, "Unclassified answers do not exist."

Here it is:

America has mounted a covert operation to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and prevent warheads from falling under the control of rogue commanders or Islamist terrorists.

Teams of American specialists, deployed in Pakistan's most sensitive military sites, have formulated launch codes to prevent the unauthorised use of nuclear missiles.

America's involvement in compiling missile codes raises the possibility that it might be able to prevent Pakistan from launching its nuclear weapons.

According to reports on NBC, an American television network, a liaison committee of nuclear experts has been working to "safeguard" Pakistan's arsenal since the attacks on September 11. President George W Bush pointedly remarked last month that Pakistan's arsenal was "secure".


Other than that, our objective should be to contain the violence and the humanitarian crises sure to follow. We should hover over the situation like an Olympian God, take advantage of the chaos when opportunities arise, and under cover of the fog of war check off our wish-list in Waziristan with extreme prejudice.

10/24/2007 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Westhawk's comment about the lack of a political consensus here to combat this rings true. Watch the Zombietime video of Nonie Darwish speaking at Berkeley to see the enemy within at work.It is absolutely chilling.

10/24/2007 09:42:00 AM  
Blogger DocMike1484 said...

If Pakistan does dissolve into chaos, it seems to me that India, not "The West" has most to fear.

If the Indian military fears that Pakistani nukes are in danger of falling into the wrong hands, the temptation to launch a first strike would be overwhelming.

10/24/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

If the country spirals into civil war, we need to secure the nuclear sites under the banner of the UN.

I refuse to allow American troops to do the UN's job for them, no matter what the consequences. If the UN wants to send some of their Smurf pedophiles in to secure Pakistan's nukes, fine. If American troops are doing the securing, however, then those nukes become ours, and the UN can go sit in the corner and wear their dunce cap some more.

10/24/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

by wretchard: "At one level the current world terrorist crisis is a direct manifestation of the upheavals in Muslim countries. The contradictions inherent in those societies are boiling over. Those upheavals will have to run their course and their consequences managed, for the crisis to abate. And like any ship heading for heavy weather, thoughts should turn to what's needed to ride out the storm. It may be too early to write off Pakistani stability, but not too early to think about what should be done if slides over the edge."

The religious and political conclusions arrived at by Egyptians,Osama and other Arabs during the war with the Soviets made the upheaval inevitable. The clash is between the Islamists and moderate Islam. Will the same mistakes made in Afghanistan and Iraq be made in Pakistan? Or does the Islamist version of Jurisprudence itself become more moderate which would make Al Queda and its efforts quite meaningless.

Has the Islamist revolution already run its course? Could it now be in rapid decline? Then all of this about power politics as opposed to a religious war (civil or otherwise). I don't think Bhutto could have returned if the Islamists were still in the ascendancy.

If a democracy is to be Pakistan's future, the Army needs overwhelming popular support to defeat the extremists. Popular support is something I do not think the residual extremists have outside of the Frontier territories.

I may be wrong, but I think the effects of AL Anbar are already being felt in Pakistan, and the shake up (or shake down depending on perspective), has commenced. At least some things lead me to believe so more than merely to hope so.

10/24/2007 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

The idea that Americans have now or can have in the future "control" over Pakistani nukes is laughable.

What, American forces will go into Pakistan and fight off 164 million people and the unknown amount of people in the military? Hah.

The only option is strikes against the nuclear weapons or accepting their use against us. That's it.

10/24/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

I don't have a problem with Option #1. It's just a hop, skip and a jump away from Iran, while we're doing them at the same time. MUCH closer than Okinawa is to Iraq!

10/24/2007 02:27:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Wadeusaf,

I hope it's true Bhutto senses a weariness with radical politics and wants to turn it into an opportunity. At any rate, the key to influencing Pakistani events in the short run is less likely to be large numbers of US forces (who in any case will take time to understand the situation on the ground) as much as small numbers of Americans who are intimately familiar with the situation and have large personal networks of loyalty.

Like Iraq, Pakistan is a problem only its nationals can fix. The question is whether the US is able to effectively advise and support those Pakistanis who are trying to move things in the right direction.

The last three or four years experience in Afghanistan, right across from the NWFP, will have made us at least passingly familiar with the problems. I wonder whether it will be enough though, if the conflict increases by another order of magnitude.

One comforting thought is that unlike post-Saddam Iraq the institutions of Pakistani authority have not wholly collapsed. The Red Mosque incident did not become another Sammara mosque. The carbomb attack on Bhutto didn't send rioting multitudes into the street. So there is some inherent stability in the system.

But Pakistani ship of state is taking water and the angle of roll is getting worse each time. So the priority must be a) having a damage control plan; b) creating damage control parties and activating the appropriate systems. After that's done may the ship can relight the boilers and sail on its way.

The chief wildcard is whether some kind of political typhoon could break out which will overwhelm the efforts of the both the Pakistanis and the Americans trying to shore up the bulkheads and pump out the flooded compartments.

10/24/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Re: NahnCee (first comment) and larryd's response - Not to mention that there's this thing called the Internet which makes any attempt at containing such dangerous memes within any set of physical borders pretty much futile in any event.

docmike1484: If Pakistan does dissolve into chaos, it seems to me that India, not "The West" has most to fear.

Indeed, even China (which has Pakistan right on its back doorstep, and a Uighur Muslim separatist movement in the same region) may have more to fear than any Western nation does. Ironically (or maybe just a case of karma coming back to bite Beijing in the @$$), IIRC Pakistan's nuclear arsenal owes a significant amount to Chinese know-how.

10/24/2007 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Joshua -- that is manifestly untrue. The easiest way to build unity among Pakistan by any victor in a post-Musharraf regime is to attack the US with nuclear weapons, handed off to AQ.

EVERYONE in Pakistan can agree: killing Americans is a good thing. Even Bhutto would agree on this since she has no principles but corruption and one dead kuffr is like another.

If the Taliban win, well it excites their base. The military will go along, as will any other partners, since many of them are Taliban anyway.

If the Military wins, well nuking America will keep the Taliban and AQ happy.

There is no prospect of Bhutto "winning" though she may make some accommodation and act as a junior coalition partner because she lacks one critical resource: men with guns. Who decide such things in Pakistan.

No one in Pakistan fears a US response. They see weakness and indecision and laugh at any threats. OF COURSE they want to (and will if Musharaff passes from the scene) nuke the US. What possible negative consequence can come of it? They will simply shrug and say AQ stole it. Some "unauthorized" General was lax. Then dance in the streets, serene in the knowledge driven by experience that a Democratic Congress and Media will prevent any serious response.

Heck their attacks on China (by AQ and the Taliban) indicate they think the Chinese are also weak. I would not be shocked to see the Chinese also attacked. And some serious comeback of course. China can not afford to be seen as weak any more than Russia could with Yeltsin. Heck Putin's entire course of action has been to be as tough and threatening as possible to prevent another Beslan.

10/24/2007 08:07:00 PM  
Blogger Wadeusaf said...

"Like Iraq, Pakistan is a problem only its nationals can fix. The question is whether the US is able to effectively advise and support those Pakistanis who are trying to move things in the right direction.

IMO, The disposition of the Pakistani military is the source of much of the water in the bilge, and the place from which and to which the most important wild cards would be played.

I look forward to the vetting process. As the battle for military hearts and minds, tribal ties and heritage will have to be skillfully brought to bear. It could take longer than the year or so taken in Al Anbar.

I am no expert but still, it appears there are a lot of potential networks, and loyalties, So it is not like anyone would be starting fresh, or even at a disadvantage like in Al Anbar. But the enemy is adaptable and is no doubt feeling the squeeze of inevitability.

10/24/2007 08:24:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

OF COURSE they want to (and will if Musharaff passes from the scene) nuke the US.

Well, yes, of course, they *want* to nuke America, but the question I keep wondering is how they gonna get their little bombs here? Awful lot of mountains, dirt and oceans between here and there, and I'm pretty sure our eyes in the sky would notice a camel train the size needed to transport a nuclear bomb and its accoutrements. After all, we also noticed the trains North Korea was transporting really big explosives on because they kept blowing up.

I have to think if I was a rabid Pakistani nuclear islamist dude, I'd pitch it at India first as a rest run because it's MUCH closer and therefore more do-able. But then again, given that it's a dirt poor third-world Muslim hell-hole, what are the chances that Pakistan has more than one bomb to spare?

10/25/2007 02:04:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home


Powered by Blogger