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On Pakistan

Asif Ali Zardari

Asif Ali Zardari

The current New York Review of Books has a sobering article by the Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid on the current political and military state of affairs in Pakistan, with a focus on the growth of the Taliban in the northern part of the country. I never had great confidence that if (my college classmate) Benazir Bhutto were elected president, she would have been able to solve the immensely complex political challenges facing the country, but in reading the article, I couldn’t help thinking that she would have done a lot better than her husband Zardari is doing.

Here’s a passage from early in the article.

Pakistan is close to the brink, perhaps not to a meltdown of the government, but to a permanent state of anarchy, as the Islamist revolutionaries led by the Taliban and their many allies take more territory, and state power shrinks. There will be no mass revolutionary uprising like in Iran in 1979 or storming of the citadels of power as in Vietnam and Cambodia; rather we can expect a slow, insidious, long-burning fuse of fear, terror, and paralysis that the Taliban have lit and that the state is unable, and partly unwilling, to douse.

In northern Pakistan, where the Taliban and their allies are largely in control, the situation is critical. State institutions are paralyzed, and over one million people have fled their homes. The provincial government of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) has gone into hiding, and law and order have collapsed, with 180 kidnappings for ransom in the NWFP capital of Peshawar in the first months of this year alone. The overall economy is crashing, with drastic power cuts across the country as industry shuts down. Joblessness and lack of access to schools among the young are widespread, creating a new source of recruits to the Taliban. [President] Zardari and [Prime Minister] Gilani have spent the past year battling their political rivals instead of facing up to the Taliban threat and the economic crisis.

And here’s a passage towards the end. Note in particular the incredibly depressing second paragraph regarding policy under the Bush administration This is one area where I have no great confidence that the Obama administration will do better.

The army has always defined Pakistan’s national security goals. Currently it has two strategic interests: first, it seeks to ensure that a balance of terror and power is maintained with respect to India, and the jihadis are seen as part of this strategy. Second, the army supports the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against US withdrawal from Afghanistan and also against Indian influence in Kabul, which has grown considerably. Containing the domestic jihadi threat has been a tactical rather than a strategic matter for the army, so there have been bouts of fighting with the militants and also peace deals with them; and these have been interspersed with policies of jailing them and freeing them—all part of a complex and duplicitous game.

The Bush administration pandered to the illusion that the Pakistani army had a strategic interest in defeating home-grown extremism, including both the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaeda. Under Bush, the US poured $11.9 billion into Pakistan, 80 percent of which went to the army. Instead of revamping Pakistan’s capacity for counterinsurgency, the army bought $8 billion worth of weapons for use against India—funds that are still unaccounted for, either by the US Congress or the Pakistani government. Not a single major public development project was initiated in Pakistan by Washington during the Bush era.

Despite US military aid, anti- Americanism has flourished in the army, public opinion, and the press and television, fueled by the idea that Pakistan was being made to fight America’s war, while the Americans were unwilling to help Pakistan regain influence in Afghanistan. The US is accused both of helping India gain a strong foothold in Kabul and of declining to put pressure on New Delhi to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Bush’s signing of the nuclear deal with India last year was the last straw for the Pakistani army. In military and public thinking, Pakistan was seen as sacrificing some two thousand soldiers in the war on terror on behalf of the Americans, while in return the Americans were recognizing the legitimacy of India’s nuclear weapons program. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons got no such acceptance.

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