Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Our leaders and us

If ever proof was needed that our leaders see us as gullible fools, here is Senator Reid . (h/t Arthur Silber)

REID: I’m saying that the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans, do not want terrorists to be released in the United States. That’s very clear.

QUESTION: No one’s talking about releasing them. We’re talking about putting them in prison somewhere in the United States.

REID: Can’t put them in prison unless you release them.

QUESTION: Sir, are you going to clarify that a little bit? I mean (OFF-MIKE).

REID: I can’t -- I can’t -- I can’t make it any more clear than the statement I have given to you. We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States. I think the majority -- I speak for the majority of the Senate.

QUESTION: But you don’t want to (OFF-MIKE).

REID: Only until we get the plan.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) of your position (OFF-MIKE)

REID: We’ll wait until we get the plan.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) mean that Guantanamo will remain open indefinitely (OFF-MIKE)

REID: I repeat: I agree with McCain, Bush and Obama: Guantanamo should be closed because it makes us less safe and it will be closed. We’re waiting for a plan from the president and (OFF- MIKE).


REID: Can’t say anything but what I’ve said, and re-said it three times. Can’t say it four times. That’s how I feel.


QUESTION: But Senator, Senator, it’s not that you’re not being clear when you say you don’t want them released. But could you say -- would you be all right with them being transferred to an American prison?

REID: Not in the United States.


REID: I think I’ve had about enough of this.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

And so it goes

It seems TARP (the Taliban Recruitment Program) is working as predicted.

A banned jihadi charity accused of links to November's Mumbai attacks has resurfaced in north-western Pakistan, where it is running an extensive aid programme for people fleeing fighting in Swat.

The Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) offers food, medical care and transport to villagers fleeing into Mardan district, where authorities are struggling to cope with an influx of more than 500,000 people.

But the charity, according to experts, officials and some of its own members, is the renamed relief wing of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group the Pakistani government banned last December after the UN declared it a terrorist organisation.

Jamaat-ud-Dawa is considered to be the public face of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the militant group accused of orchestrating the Mumbai attack on hotels and cafes that killed at least 173 people.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What to do?

Philip Giraldi makes some sensible recommendations.

Again, as in Afghanistan, what should Obama do? Providing technical support to help secure the Pakistani missiles is a good step that is already taking place and is indisputably in America’s national interest, but a halt to drone strikes and disengagement from Pakistan’s fractious internal politics would send a welcome message that the United States will cease its interference. President Zardari is seen as a U.S. puppet, precisely the same perception that first weakened and then brought down his predecessor, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Removing the heavy U.S. footprint from a highly volatile situation would increase the president’s authority, not weaken it. Pakistan has an interest in curbing both terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and its own domestic Taliban. It should be encouraged to do so on its own terms, not given marching orders and then rebuked when the orders prove impossible to execute. The more Washington interferes, the worse the situation will inevitably become, an axiom that has been true almost everywhere in the world of late, the poisonous fruit of the "Bush Doctrine."

Leaving Central Asia alone might seem like a radical step to some, but it could be the only option that would actually improve the situation, forcing the people of the region to come up with their own answers and solutions. It would also be better than turning on the nightly news and watching wave after wave of U.S. helicopters evacuating staff from the roofs of the embassies in Kabul and Islamabad. We Americans have been there before.


Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: "Beheadings and use of human shields by Taleban forces are not a blank cheque for the Pakistani army.

"Winning the war, but also the peace, in Swat can only be achieved by minimising civilian suffering."

Monday, May 11, 2009

The greatest threats

The threats to Pakistan's stability are the problems of incompetent governance, an unequal distribution of wealth and resources, and a reluctance by the feudal elites and the military to share power. A recent poll seems to indicate that, regardless of what Ms. Clinton says, the Pakistanis do not view the threats to themselves the same way as the US.

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The prospect of Islamist militants destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan is a global fear, but only 10 percent of Pakistanis saw terrorism as their biggest worry, according to an opinion poll released on Monday.

For the vast majority economic issues such as inflation, unemployment and poverty were a greater problem, according to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based organization chaired by Senator John McCain.

The Taleban are a symptom, not only of the desperation of a people facing grinding poverty and incompetent governance, but also of the lack of viable alternatives to express their despair. As long as the Taleban were a distant threat the people did not pay them much attention. In fact, many in Pakistan saw them as a legitimate resistance to occupation. As long as that was the case, the Pakistan army was reluctant to openly move against them, in spite of the tremendous pressure coming from the US. The shift of public opinion after the flogging video surfaced and, more importantly, after the Taleban expansion into Buner, gave them an opening which they have taken. But the opening is limited. The plight of the refugees is going to move public opinion against the military as will the tales of the civilians who will die because of this offensive. As opposed to the somewhat simplistic view of the military in the west, the Pakistan military derives much of its legitimacy from popular opinion. Musharraf's opening of the media means they can no longer rely on state propaganda to cover up for their shortcomings. If they see a major shift in public opinion against them they will respond accordingly. For the military to accomplish what they want to do in the short period they have will require real leadership. They will have to move quickly to complete the offensive portion of their action and take the lead in rebuilding efforts which will have to be conducted with transparency and efficiency. It remains to be seen whether Kayani can provide this leadership

Saturday, May 9, 2009


The flood of refugees escaping from the Pakistani army assault on the Taleban in Swat will soon increase as the military tries to take what it should have secured before their assault on Buner. This does not bode well for the future of Pakistan. This is clearly a situation where the military is attacking the citizens of its own country. This is not East Pakistan redux, but the parallels are there. The military attacking the citizens has never redounded in favor of the military. And there will be consequences, both short term and long term, for the status of the military, and hence its ability to wield power. This increased flux of refugees, apart from being tragic by its very existence will weaken the government both directly and indirectly. Directly, by exposing their incompetence and their lack of empathy for the people they supposedly represent. This will leave the door open to those who present themselves as an alternative.
However, the Government’s inability to cope with the flood of refugees is now angering many people — and opening another window for Islamist political parties and illegal militant groups. Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s largest Islamic political party, which has openly opposed the army operation against the militants, is most active in all the camps, providing the refugees with all kinds of help. Members of banned radical groups are also reported to have been seen working there.
And indirectly by exacerbating the existing tensions within the country. The economic impact of a million displaced people trying to find some way of replacing their likelihood is going to be another hit on a fragile economy. The NWFP and the economic center of Karachi will be further destabilized by the influx of refugees. The danger is not exactly lost on the Pakistanis. This from an editorial in the Pakistani newspaper Dawn.
PEOPLE are pouring out of Swat and they must be housed and fed without delay. Refugees who have fled other conflict zones in the country’s northwest also need to be provided with basic necessities such as tents, food, water and healthcare. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we urge the government to help the displaced who have been scarred for life by both the Taliban and the security establishment’s response to militant activities. Having a home is something one takes for granted, and it is perhaps impossible from this remove to relate to the plight of people running for their lives clutching a few possessions. The agonies suffered by a trader, farmer or labourer who may now have to beg for bread can never be fully comprehended by analysts tapping on keyboards, however furiously. The internally displaced have paid a heavy price for the policy failures of successive governments. They have seen the brutality of the Taliban from close range. Practical measures are needed now to assure the dispossessed that the state is on their side and will not let them down, come what may. If the refugees are not afforded a semblance of dignity, the battle for hearts and minds is as good as lost. A hungry child, if he or she lives, may one day be a bitter adult willing to lend an ear to the voice of obscurantism.
The problem though will not wait until that hungry child grows up. And the likelihood of the government responding with any level of competence is remote. The President is widely seen as a crook who is willing to sell out the country to the US in exchange for their support of his criminal enterprise. The columnist Ayaz Amir in the News:
With the skeletons in his closet, Zardari can be expected only to look out for himself. He is already indebted to the Americans for helping him to come to power. He knows that if the US pulls the rug from under his feet he is lost. He mumbles rehearsed words which sound worse than platitudes. It is too much to expect that he can stand up against the odds and court, where necessary, American displeasure.
The Dawn editorial writer is a bit, (but only a bit) more circumspect.
Given the track record of a bureaucracy known for its incompetence, lethargy and dishonesty, the government should perhaps consider the option of channelling at least a portion of relief funds through reputable private-sector organisations.
The refugees are a harbinger of much instability. If, as seems very likely, the Pakistani army's assault on Swat was in response to our pressure, we really did not do ourselves a favor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short term and long term

It was 2003 and the conversation was an intense one between a high ranking Pakistani military officer and a politician from PATA - the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas which include the Swat valley. The politician was arguing that the government needed to move quickly to fully incorporate the PATA region into the political structure of Pakistan - give it all the rights that any other region had. And the officer was mostly in agreement. At least that was what I took away given my less than perfect language skills. Neither the politician nor the officer was at a high enough level to make an agreement. But they were high enough to have an influence. I have often thought of that conversation since then. I knew then that it was not in our short term interest for there to be any change in the political status of the frontier region as that would mean uncertainty. We were engaged in Afghanistan - successfully it seemed at the time - and we really did not need uncertainty on the Pakistan side of the Durand line. I don't know if US influence scuppered the deal. Or even if the Pakistanis had progressed to the point of having a deal to scupper. What I do know is if there was any US involvement it was probably to the detriment of any change in the political status of the PATA. We would have acted for our short term interest and against the long term interest of Pakistan. Looking at the situation in Swat and other PATA regions today it turns out our actions would have also been against the long term interest of the US.

If one, for the most part, accepts the articulation of the reasons behind US foreign policy, it seems our long term interests are mostly hurt when we work against the long term interests of other states. Overthrowing Mosaddegh in 1953 gave us a client state in Iran for a quarter century but planted the seeds for the 1979 revolution. Mosaddegh was not someone hostile to the US and one can envision an alternate history in which we had worked with Mosaddegh and Iran would have become and remained a strong and reliable ally. Giving Zia the green light in Pakistan to overthrow Bhutto probably looked like a good move at the time. Removing a nationalizing politician who had sworn to acquire nuclear weapons must have seemed a no-brainer. But the retardation of the democratic process and the Islamization of the country under Zia has, in the long term, been to the detriment of our interests. Stephen Kinzer noted, I think in his book Overthrow, that we want the governments we put in place in the various countries we intervene in to be democratic and to look after our interests. Unfortunately, these are contradictory aims. Rulers who look after our interests before they look after the interests of their own people can by definition not be democratic.

Looking at our entry into the disastrous adventure called the AfPak strategy it is too much to hope that the US has learned any lessons. The problem in Pakistan is not of an increase in religious fanaticism, it is that of a populace increasingly disillusioned with the various power centers that rule the country. In this situation the Taliban gain strength not because people support them but because they do not support the government. The two power centers in Pakistan are the feudals, represented by the political parties, and the military. For brief periods of time the populace ties their hopes to one or the other, only to seem them dashed in short order. What is needed in Pakistan is the development of reasonably competent governance which at least appears to be responsive to the needs of the people. To ask the US to provide this would be ridiculous. However, in a sane world, it would be reasonable to ask the US not to embark upon policies that aggravate the situation. Unfortunately, it seems we are not living in a sane world.

The Swat agreement was disturbing, to say the least, and the Taliban's move into Buner convinced even those who thought they could buy some time (and the people of Swat some peace) that the Taliban had no intention of halting their advance. But the Pakistan army's heavy handed response in Buner, spurred on it seems by US demands that the Pakistanis take harsh action against the Taleban, is only going to sharpen the contradictions that already exist in society. The abruptness of the Pakistani action at a time of increasing criticism from US government representative, and the lack of any planning all suggest a response to external pressure. Pakistan is in a brittle state and the sharp increase in the number of internally displaced people is going to severely strain the social fabric with the beneficiaries being any group that rises up against the established order. The Taleban are not going to take over the country, or the nukes, regardless of what the fearmongers in Washington say. But the process can put sufficient strain on the country to cause it to fracture among other lines. And there are so many of them

The situation in Baluchistan keeps getting worse and worse. A separation movement which has existed in some form of another since the birth of Pakistan is gaining strength. The death of Akbar Bugti, a cunning old feudal lord who was leading the separatists, has introduced a qualitative change. Akbar Bugti had been through enough twists and turns of Pakistan's history, being at one time the Governor and at another the Chief minister of Balochistan, that he knew when to push and when not to. His death leaves the movement in much more radical hands.

Karachi, the commercial heart of Pakistan, is always simmering with barely contained conflict between ethnic groups that have lived side-by-side for generations without integrating. The dominant ethnic group are the descendants of migrants from India whose ancestors came to Pakistan after the 1947 partition of British India into Pakistan and India. The thuggish MQM which is based in this group is in violent conflict with the ANP which represents one of the other major ethnic group in Karachi, the Pashtuns. Most of this group is descendant of economic migrants from the North West Frontier Province. The activities of the Pakistan army in Buner and Swat is sure to swell this population increasing the .

Pakistan is home to a large Shia minority which is anathema to the more fanatical sunni groups. Under normal conditions they are not a major problem. Increasing instability in the country is sure to provide opportunities for murder and mayhem from this group.

And while the Taleban are not going to be taking over Pakistan any time soon they will be a major problem in the North West. The role of the Taleban as the resistance fighting the foreign occupier also makes them appear more sympathetic than they would otherwise be. The habit of the US army of calling in airstrikes on civilian groups is not helping matters any. Or the brutality and immorality of Bagram. Killing the Taleban will not resolve the problem of the Taleban, however strange that sounds. The Taleban are a symptom. They are a short term problem. By focusing on the short term we are making sure we have a long term problem.

The US has the most powerful military the world has ever known and maybe that is the problem. As Robin Williams said "See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis, and only enough blood to run one at a time.” Maybe that powerful military is draining the US of the sanity needed to think of the long term.