Who's On First?
And can you tell the players apart without a program? Bill Roggio, who had predicted the crisis in Pakistan while most media outlets were obsessed with Iraq notices that while Musharraf is cracking down in Islamabad, he is cutting deals with the Taliban.
While Musharraf cracks down on his political opposition in the heart of the country, deals are already being cut with the Taliban. In South Waziristan, a deal has already been made with Baitullah Mehsud’s Taliban. In Swat, negotiations are underway to acquiesce to Maulana Qazi Fazullah.
At the risk of oversimplification, politics in Pakistan is a three cornered game between the Army, political parties of various ideological persuasions, and Islamic militants. The three groups infiltrate each other to some degree yet are also engaged in bitter rivalry. The recent declaration of Martial Law by President Pervez Musharraf has suddenly created a nostalgia for the status quo ante. But the recent past was far from ideal. The situation before martial law was itself described as repressive and far from stable. The basic problems of Pakistani politics led directly to the present crisis. But there are fears that with the declaration of Martial Law the situation will go from bad to worse.
Stratfor believes that Musharraf declared Martial Law not so much in order to gain the power to cut the Gordian Knots of Pakistani politics so much as to stay in office a little while longer -- an ambition in which he appears to be supported by the officer corps. With his footing in the Army firm, Musharraf may be cutting deals with the Islamic radicals in order to clamp down on the political parties, who have been giving him trouble of late, in particular challenging his legitimacy through the Pakistani Supreme Court. This will enable him to pit two apexes of the political triangle against the third. Bill Roggio remarks:
In yesterday’s article on the assessment of Musharraf’s suspension of the constitution and declaration of a state of emergency, we noted the government was more likely to cut deals with the Taliban as Musharraf consolidates power in the capital. The release of 25 Taliban leaders and the reinstatement of the Sararogha accord in South Waziristan, along with the formation of a jirga to renegotiate the peace accords in Swat are bad signs of Musharraf’s intentions with respect to al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The question is whether Musharraf will go for the double play. Having forced the political parties out -- temporarily at least -- will Musharraf turn against the Islamic militants after he has consolidated power? Although one might be tempted to view Musharraf's apparent deals with the Taliban has a tactical move to crush the political parties in preparation for a final showdown with the militants there are reasons to suspect otherwise. The question turns on capability.
Does the Pakistani Army have the capability to settle accounts with the militants after declaring Martial Law? Of the three major political forces in Pakistan: the Army, the political parties and the Islamic militants, two have substantial military capability. But while the Army can crush the civilian political parties with relative ease, any campaign against the militants will probably take months and years to execute. It will be difficult. Moreover, creating a military dictatorship in Islamabad makes it internationally difficult even for the countries against terror to support Musharraf. In other words, if Musharraf's eventual intention is to settle accounts with the Taliban he has put himself in a very poor position to undertake it. Therefore the question is whether he intends to challenge the Taliban at all.
If Stratfor is correct and Musharraf's objective is only to stay in power, he need not defeat the Taliban comprehensively; he only needs to reach a stable modus vivendi with them. In other words, he can buy his seat at the expense not only of the tatters of Pakistani democracy but on the account of his international ally: the United States. By narrowing the choices in Pakistan to a horse race between his military government and the Taliban/al-Qaeda, Musharraf may be calculating that America will have no choice but to bet on him. And keep betting on him as long as he is willing to stay in play. This could hold policy hostage to one man. Already Pakistan is being compared to Iran before Khomeini, though we should remember that Iran, unlike Pakistan, did not have nuclear weapons.
ABC's Z. Byron Wolf Reports: Republican candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., looks at the situation in Pakistan and sees Iran in the '70s.
He looks at Iran today and sees short-sightedness in US foreign policy in the '70s.
He is not the only one, but for different reasons. Gary Sick was the desk officer on Iran in the '70s at the National Security Council and now a professor for Columbia. Sick wrote recently for Newsweek and the Washington Post that there are similarities, at least topical ones, between Iran in the '70s and Pakistan now.
Sick complains that the US seems, as with the Shah, to have "put all our eggs in one basket."
Actually I think America actually tried to put its eggs in different baskets. The return of Benazir Bhutto was probably a long shot at reinvigorating the legal political process by creating a viable, but legal opposition. Those efforts have failed for the moment both in the clouds of the recent bomb blasts and the declaration of Martial Law. The question is whether they have failed permanently.