Monday, March 9, 2009

Where do we go from here

There is a lot of talk in the US press about what to do about Pakistan. In this most militaristic of societies most of the options have something to do with military force. This makes sense if we consider that we are planning to spend somewhere near a trillion dollars on "defense." If you pay that much for something you want to use it. As Madeleine Albright put it "What’s the point of you saving this superb military for, Colin, if we can't use it?" The long term and the not so long term effect of the further militarization of the region will be disastrous, for us and certainly for the hapless Pakistanis. But what then is a superpower to do. Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist for the Pakistani newspaper The News has a modest suggestion: support the one sector of the Pakistani society that made a difference - the lawyers. You really should read the entire column but here are some extracts: ( Daniel Markey - Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations - had previously suggested to the Bush administration that they not back off their support for General Musharraf. Michael Scheuer, despite having a rather fascist view of the world, became somewhat of a darling of the progressives because of his disdain for the Bush administration handling of the issue of terrorism. )

Daniel Markey suggests to President Obama that his country should "prepare for that unwelcome contingency by formulating a list of its highest-priority demands for any new military regime, including, but not limited to, a timeline and plans for Pakistan's return to constitutional democracy." Say again, Dan? Surely you have been asleep for about a decade. Surely you didn't just give the closest thing to a reverse Amber Alert for another military disaster in Pakistan's unfortunate history.

Surely, the Foreign Policy magazine website has been hacked by the regressive strains within the ISI. Surely, no red-blooded American whose job it is to understand Pakistan, would suggest, in year 2009, that Pakistan has no choice but to turn to its military to solve problems that require political solutions.

Markey's not alone. In an interview with the BBC over the weekend, the former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, was livid with his own government for having pressured Gen Musharraf to hold elections and give up his hold on power. With the country in turmoil at home and with friends like Markey and Scheuer, it is hard to have any confidence at all in the future. No one, however, should quite yet start planning the parade route for Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.


As long as there is hope that Pakistan's rightful chief justice may yet be restored, there is hope that Pakistan will overcome.

Pakistan is lucky that the world is not painted entirely in the post-modern Orientalism of the Micheal Scheuers of the world. No matter how much protocol low-level representatives of the great world powers receive in Pakistan, this country is not entirely run by the telegrams they send and receive. Americans that delude themselves into thinking that the US has done Pakistan any favours by locking itself in an unsustainable and ignorant embrace with the PPP, should think again. There is nothing quite so un-American as the tolerance of injustice. And there is nothing quite so unjust as the continued absence of Iftikhar Choudhry from the Supreme Court as the decider-in-chief.

The reality is that politicians did not bring democracy back to Pakistan--neither the assassinated Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, heroic and iconic as she was, nor Nawaz Sharif, who is morphing into the same kind of icon as his one-time nemesis. Nor is it any kind of support from the United States government that enabled democracy to rear its unstable, unmanageable, yet glorious and beautiful head forward once more in Pakistan. Democracy came back to Pakistan on the back of several hundred thousand black coats. Those coats have been delayed, and denied, and deferred. Now, by suggesting that it was somehow Uncle Sam that forced Gen Musharraf to retreat to retired life, analysts do a great disservice to Pakistan.

The iron will of an ordinary (perhaps, painfully ordinary) judge defeated the proud and exceptionally talented Gen Musharraf. That will is what steels the lawyers' movement and its resolve for the judge's restoration. Every politician, capitalist, general, diplomat and mullah fears the judge. There are some good reasons to fear him. But there is no reason to deny him the opportunity to be restored. He is the legal and moral Chief Justice of Pakistan.

The big question now about what do with Pakistan is not one that is formulated in punitive language. Smart people in New Delhi, London, Washington DC and Riyadh recognise that Pakistan has punished itself enough. And the smartest ones know that the tools for that punishment have often been sharpened for Pakistan by their countries' governments. The era of blame and punish Pakistan is coming to a close not because it should, or because Pakistanis have somehow won the unwinnable war of perception. It is because Pakistan has gone from flirting with danger and dancing perilously close to the edge, to actually being in free fall. This player has gone off the reservation.

If ever there was a time to get real, and to get real serious about Pakistan, it is now. There is a lot more political instability where Salmaan Taseer has come from. But if Pakistan is to exist in any way as a stable country, order must be restored. That is an awfully short conversation. It starts with the Chief Justice, and ends with the 1973 Constitution.

American spokespeople who feign neutrality can take MSNBC and Fox News for a ride all they please. But they mustn't take the Pakistani people for fools. The firing of Shahbaz Sharif, and the imposition of Governor's Raj in Punjab is not "an internal matter for Pakistan." Not when American engineers are playing Missile Command in Jalalabad, as they navigate Predator drones, and drop bombs on Pakistan, with their remote-control joysticks. Once you penetrate something the way those drones have penetrated Pakistan, you are internal to Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan's internal matters are America's matters.

The most gripping, most urgent, and most dangerous matter for American foreign policy is the continued free fall of Pakistan from a country that can fake it well, to a country that can't tell what time of day it is. The only parachute Pakistan can deploy is to restore the chief justice.

Will he beat the terrorists? Make peace with India? Restore sanity to FATA? Beat back Sufi Mohammad from Swat? Educate little girls? Vaccinate families? No. Those things are not his job. He will do his job. To dispense justice from his desk.

To see the gavel in his hand, and the gown back on his shoulder, will inspire the kind of confidence in this grief- and panic-stricken nation that Sherry Rehman and the advisory brigade of the PPP never will. That kind of confidence in the state is the beginning of the end for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

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