Monday, October 22, 2007

"Pakistan on the Brink"

"...There is a deep attachment to Islam, for many to the religion of the Islamists but, for the large majority, to Islam in its utopian guise as the source of all answers and solutions. There tends to be a sense of one Pakistani nationality among the people of the Punjab and most people in urban centres in other parts of the country.
Another widely held sentiment is strong anti-US feelings; these are not directed against Americans but against the US government, and are based on what is perceived as its destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, its condoning the destruction of the Palestinians and Lebanon, ...
These various commonalities do not significantly foster national unity but they do create common attitudes and responses to certain events and situations. All these forces, ...operate beneath the surface but, though pervasive and powerful, do not have the capability to move events on their own. This can only be done by the two major repositories of power in Pakistan : the army and the people.
The army has ready-to-use, mobilized power.
The people possess potential power that needs to be mobilized to produce its effect. This cannot be done through elections because they are conducted and controlled by the corrupt and pliable administrative machinery (that is why Benazir Bhutto, even though she believed she had the votes, was forced to make a deal with Gen Musharraf in order to ensure that they would not be nullified in a rigged election). She, as well as some other politicians, have the ability to bring large numbers of people out on the streets, but these demonstrations wield no effective power; a "whiff of grapeshot" can scatter them (actually, a little tear gas will do the trick).
This people power can, however, be effectively mobilized and projected by a dedicated and well-organized group. It is instructive to examine one case where this was successfully done. ZA Bhutto, then prime minister, had the 1977 elections rigged (he didn’t need to as he could have won a comfortable majority in a fair vote, but his vanity demanded an "overwhelming" victory). ..
If the army is used against its compatriots it imposes severe strains on its discipline and cohesion. If these are felt to be at risk the generals will act decisively to end such action, by whatever means are necessary; this is a red line they will not cross.
The critical situation in which Pakistan finds itself today is because, under intense US pressure, Gen Musharraf has sent in the army to seize control of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan,...There is real danger of a catastrophe. If Musharraf keeps forcing the army to continue fighting this war it may fracture; all it will take is one crack, since the strain on the whole edifice is so great that this would be enough to break it apart. Even if the army is pulled back into token operations, the tribesmen are so incensed that they may not cease fighting,...
Meanwhile, the impact of this war, and the ongoing low-level insurgency in Baluchistan, is destabilizing the country. Religious fundamentalism is spreading and terrorist attacks and bombings occur frequently. The US hope that Benazir Bhutto can somehow stabilize the country, defeat internal extremists and mobilize the people against the "Taliban" is based on almost complete ignorance of the country and its dynamics. Even if she becomes prime minister, the war in the tribal areas will be controlled and fought by the generals, not by her. ..
If the army cracks, the country could break down into anarchy, or another military dictator, with a very different orientation, could take over. ...
Critics of the Bush administration point to the invasion of Iraq as its greatest blunder. History may well record that an even bigger blunder was its policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Knowing that al-Qaeda was the real enemy, that they were based in Taliban Afghanistan, and that the Taliban themselves had come to power out of their bases in Pakistan, it focussed its attention instead on invading Iraq...
Compounding this initial blunder, the US administration is now trying to salvage US-NATO operations in Afghanistan by forcing the Pakistan government to undertake a war upon its own tribal people...
It has no comprehension that in seeking this tactical gain it is risking a strategic catastrophe. In its blithe ignorance and wishful policy-making it pursues the chimeras of Benazir Bhutto’s promises that, if the US helps her become prime minister, she will take care of everything and sort out all the problems. Ahmed Chalabi once sold them an identical bill of goods, and led them into the Iraq quagmire. Now they follow Benazir Bhutto’s siren song into an even bigger disaster in the making. Some people never learn.
(continue reading here)

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