Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reading assignments: Pakistan

Open a conversation about Pakistan and watch American eyes glaze over. Even most of the media doesn't get it right. What passes for democracy in America -- a party-driven public catfight funded by a variety of special interests pissing away small fortunes left, right and center to anyone with a clever soundbite -- overshadows reasonable attempts to educate voters.

Rant over. Sorry about that. Had to get it out of my system...

A blog put together by academics is now in my aggregator.

A Group of independent Pakistani academics have launched a new blog which is going to inform Pakistani and international audiences through analytical insights into the immediate and longer term adverse impacts and ramifications of the imposition of Emergency in Pakistan on November 3, 2007.

I have been mystified by the complexities of foreign policy that embraces Pakistan and vilifies Iran. I understand (although I do not approve of) why Iraq and Afghanistan became targets of US military occupation. But officially tagging Pakistan an "ally" strikes me as odd at best, if not transparently disingenuous. Here are some reading assignments I hope will help me better understand what's going on in Pakistan.

Joe Biden, presidential candidate, placed a call to Pakistan to ask for himself what is going on.

To help defuse the current political crisis, we must be far more pro-active, not reactive and make it clear to Pakistan that actions have consequences.

President Bush's first reaction was to call on President Musharraf to reverse course.Given the stakes, I thought it was important to actually call him - which is exactly what I did. I also spoke to opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

An essay by Samia Altaf spells out some basic realities about Pakistan.

Pakistan, labeled the most dangerous country in the world, with loose nukes and angry jihadis, is unraveling. It needs help. To be helped it needs to be understood. Urging a transition to “true democracy,” after the fourth military dictator has suspended the constitution for the second time and sacked a judiciary that dared to question his legitimacy, betrays either naiveté or disinterest. Both will hurt in the long run, if there is a long run.

I have already expressed my own concerns about the seriousness of what can happen there.

Just this morning I came across a trove of commentary by Leon Hadar that falls like a load of ice on much of what's now taking place in the news...

Thus, there is therefore no strong disagreement in Congress and elsewhere in the US with the idea that Washington needs to "do something" in order to force Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to "take off" his military uniform and allow free elections in the country.

Similarly, Republicans and Democrats as well as the media seem to be infatuated with former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto whose current performance suggests that she auditioned to play the role of Corazon Aquino in a Pakistani remake of the Philippines' "People's Power" extravaganza. And if she succeeds, she will be like Ukraine's Viktor Yushchenko and Georgia's Mikhail Saakashvili and add another color to US-sponsored democratic revolution, and in the process emerge as a leading opponent of radical Islamic terrorism.
And according to the script written in Washington, the American producer would not only get a woman who is committed to – supposedly! – liberal democratic values elected as prime minister but would even succeed in winning Gen. Musharraf's agreement to play the role of supporting actor (as president) in the movie. Pakistan's powerful military would be co-opted as willing extras.

This all sounds great if you wanted to produce a political fantasy about Pakistan. But if you were doing a documentary about the country – that is, dealing with reality as opposed to wishful thinking – consider the following.

First, like Iraq, Pakistan is not a unified nation-state but a confederation of several ethnic, religious and tribal groups. Indeed, the regime doesn't even control large parts of the country which are dominated by tribal leaders with links to the Taliban

At the same time, Pakistani politics is a depressing story of military coups, civil wars, assassinations and ethnic and religious bloodbaths – and a lot of corruption; all of which has been tolerated by Washington in exchange for Pakistani support during the Cold War and, lately, in the war on terrorism.

Ms. Bhutto and her illustrious family have been very much an integral part of this tragic story. "Pakistani democracy" is an oxymoron – and the buying into the notion that Ms. Bhutto would lead it reflects an astounding naïveté, if not ignorance.

Moreover, at a time when Osama bin Laden is more popular either than Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Bush in Pakistan, is it realistic to imagine that a political figure who is so divisive would ride into power with public support through a political scheme designed in Washington?

Ms. Bhutto can surely talk the talk – employing PR and lobbying firms to market herself, an articulate and attractive Oxford-educated female – as America's Woman in Islamabad. But she lacks the power and the skills to walk the walk.

Even in a best-case scenario, she would end up playing the role of the puppet of Pakistan's military and security services, just as she did during her last term in power in the country.

And, yes, did we mention that Pakistan, unlike Saddam's Iraq – or for that matter, Ukraine and Georgia – has nuclear weapons?

That, plus a lot more to cover...

This is gonna be a long Sunday.

Sunday night...
Aquol is running an open discussion thread on Pakistan with some interesting links and comments.
At this point the political situation is a minuet. As long as they continue to dance and talk there is hope. When and if violence breaks out it can be like a spark to flammables.

1 comment:

Mortart said...

I was fascinated by your literary exploration of Pakistan. Having "lived" (thanks to the U.S. Army)in parts of India that became Pakistan, I have always had a great interest in that country. The irony is that Pakistan was partitioned off from India's Hindu majority to provide a homeland for what had been India's Muslim minority. Pakistan's political chaos demonstrates that religion is not enough to establish political stability.
Thanks for your visits to my blog and your kind comments. You do a good job in massaging my geriatric ego.