Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pakistan (reprise)

First off, I apologize for the long hiatus since my last post. I can claim no great justification, other than the fact that I must divide my free time between reading and writing, and I've been reading some good books of late. For obvious reasons, I'd like to return briefly to the subject of Pakistan. The standoff at the Red Mosque seems to have ended in about the bloodiest possible way (though I was heartened by reports indicating that a number of the children being held as de-facto hostages inside the complex managed to escape as the government assault began). The political fallout from this event is just beginning, and I am not so intimately knowledgable about Pakistani politics as to be able to give specific predictions about what form it will ultimately take; however, this incident does serve to highlight the increasingly fragile state of the Pakistani regime.

Currently, the Musharraf government is engaging in counter-insurgency operations in Baluchistan (the expense of which could perhaps be avoided if Islamabad would provide the people of the province with some reasonable compensation for the natural gas reserves it seeks to extract there), low-level warfare against Taliban elements in the border region near Afghanistan, and now conflict with Islamists in its urban centers. All this is not to say that the regime is in danger of collapse, merely that it is facing increasingly disruptive and violent pressure from multiple domestic actors in multiple locations, in addition to a crisis of legitimacy among the populace as a whole. John Robb at Global Guerrillas calls attention to recent rioting in Karachi over a simple power-outage, presciently pointing out that if any of the now numerous violent anti-government organizations were to adjust their tactics to assault basic public infrastructure, they could very well throw Pakistan into chaos.

Some might argue that all of this only reinforces the necessity of funnelling resources to Musharraf's government in order to allow him to keep a lid on all this unrest. This certainly seems to be the working logic of the current administration. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Daniel Markey makes a well-reasoned case for sticking with Musharraf, at least for now, because if the U.S. pushes too hard for any political solution that alienates the military, the military will simply engage in an overt seizure of power. I am sympathetic to this notion, and agree that the U.S. needs to tread carefully, but simply defending the status quo is sure to lead to blowback of the worst kind in years to come. The fact that the militants inside the Red Mosque don't seem to have garnered a whole lot of mass support in recent days indicates that the population has not become dangerously radicalized, but Pakistanis are clearly growing impatient with the political stagnation that plagues their country, and if that frustration is not given a constructive outlet, it will find a destructive one.

I don't suggest abandoning Musharraf outright - Markey is correct in his estimation that this would only lead to more desparate repressive measures - but we have to tailor our support to Pakistan such that we serve as an agent of positive change, not of repression. This means that in addition to selling Musharraf F-16 fighters, we build and fund schools, community groups, health organizations, even mosques (indirectly of course). U.S. objectives in Pakistan, and indeed in many places in the Muslim world, will be furthered by the development of civil society organizations with socio-political space to operate outside of radical Islamic institutions. The presence of such networks has often made the difference between constructive political reform (as in post-colonial India) and chaotic and destructive revolution (as in Iran). News from Pakistan provides us with no shortage of warning signs. We should heed them.


Jeb said...


I agree that the we should be working to build up civil society in Pakistan. I'm not as convinced, however, that Musharraf is particularly strong as an ally.

I just read a fascinating report by Fredrick Grare from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and he suggests that the Pakistani government is deliberately allowing regional militant groups (the Taliban, Lashkar-e-Toiba, etc) to operate from within its borders. The objective, Grare claims, is to quietly use these groups to achieve regional goals. If Grare is right, Musharraf is deliberately pulling the wool over our eyes and undermining our objectives in Afghanistan and the region at-large.

If you have a couple of hours sometime, take a look at his full report:


Matt Eckel said...


I don't think Musharfaf is a particularly strong ally. Indeed, he seems to have backed himself into a corner now. What I'm saying is that we ought to use our influence to leverage a democratic transition rather than abruptly cut off support. The former option may give indigenous organizations within Pakistan that are conducive to more just and democratic government time to work, whereas the latter would likely encourage increasing repression which would eventually explode into chaos, which in turn would be conducive to an unwelcome radicalization of Pakistani politics. I'm not arguing for the status quo, but for an intelligent transition to something different, rather than an abrupt break with the past.

Jeb said...

All good points. I'm with you, Matt.