Thursday, August 02, 2007

On Pakistan

From New America's Anatol Lieven and Peter Bergen. Bergen is the world's authority on al-Qaeda. Lieven author of a recent major foreign policy strategic work (Ethical Realism). You can read Lieven's other writings (lots on Pakistan) here. Bergen here.

Both support the return to civilian rule and the Musharraf-Bhutto power sharing agreement being floated.

Lieven focuses on the structure historically of Pakistani politics and states that the ruling classes have a short/medium hold on power that will not be swayed. Minus of course, as they both note, a "black swan" in the form of another catastrophic attack on US and/or British soil. Lieven is fairly pessimistic that a return to even partial civilian rule will actually be a move towards political liberalization.

Bergen focuses more on what he calls a "creeping Talibanization" of Pakistan. The recent encounter at the Red Mosque (Las Masjid) being the prime example. There are neighborhoods in Islamabad where hardline Islamists are attempting to impose sharia law.

Bergen also points out that essentially the Taliban and al-Qaeda have not only merged tactically--that is the Taliban are now using suicide bombings and funding (as a global guerilla group) through narco-trafficking, hostage taking and the like. But they are also merging ideologically. That is the Taliban is now becoming the voice of Pashtun resistance. The Pashtuns are the largest state-less peoples on the planet. There are 40-45 MILLION of them.

This is where Obama's talk about intervention in the wilds of the frontier provinces gets dicey. The Pakistani Army lost the last time it went up there. And there is strong support for the Pashtuns (and Taliban) in Pakistani military and intelligence circles.

Bergen makes a (scary) and fascinating point that with its merger with the Taliban, we may see the rise of an al-Qaeda political movement. This would be tragic in its consequences. If the Taliban and al-Qaeda go on a Hamas-Hezbollah style good-will, charity building tour in Waziristan, look out. They will become permanently entrenched in Pashtun society.

Hence the need (as in Afghanistan) for major reconstruction efforts.

The question still arises as to whether al-Qaeda is completely off-limits in the frontier provinces. Neither really has an answer. And perhaps Obama would say something like "do you we just wait around for them to attack?" How do you actually interdict these guys at this point?

What both Lieven and Bergen point out is that since his loss with the Supreme Court Judge firing, Musharraf is lame. Bergen points out he can either follow in the tradition of Gen. Zia-ul Haq or country-founder Jinnah and revolutionize the system by liberalizing political order (not just returning de-facto authoritarian rule to a civilian as seems will be likely).

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