Monday, April 27, 2009

More Reading on Pakistan

I highly recommend Nicholas Schmidle's piece in Slate on "How to Save Pakistan." He argues for treating the FATA and NWFP as lost causes and focusing on preserving the rest of Pakistan (and its nuclear weapons) by using a containment strategy. Send the $1.5 billion a year in civilian aid to Punjab, not the Pashtun areas, and demonstrate that development and modernization (and cooperation with the West) is better than Islamic law. Meanwhile the Taliban's internal bickering and harsh policies will reflect poorly on them, and cause the population to turn against them.
Juan Cole answers Stephen Walt's questions about why opinions differ on whether Pakistan is in danger of collapsing. Cole argues that ethnic differences between the Pashtun Taliban and the Punjabis and Sindalese who make up 85% of Pakistan's population create a natural fault line for potential Taliban advance.
The NYT's breathless observation that there are Taliban a hundred miles from Islamabad doesn't actually tell us very much, since Islamabad is geographically close to the Pushtun regions without that implying that Pushtuns dominate or could dominate it. It is like saying that Lynchburg, Va., is close to Washington DC and thereby implying that Jerry Falwell's movement is about to take over the latter.
He continues:
My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.
An interesting point. A friend of mine in the intelligence community who works on Pakistan doesn't think Musharraf is done playing his hand either.
Finally, Mohammed Hanif wrote an article in yesterday's Washington Post about the situation in Pakistan. He writes about how Pakistanis are justifying the Taliban's actions to each other, saying they are not that bad, or it's just their Pashtun culture. It really illustrates how hungry the people are for a functioning organizational structure around them.
There were hopes that Pakistan's security services would fight the Taliban, but the army and the intelligence agencies seem so obsessed with the supposed menace from India that they are ignoring the menace at home. If they are not colluding with the Taliban, as many observers believe they are, they are staying neutral. In fact, they are so neutral that they rent their bases to the United States for launching missile-laden unmanned aircraft while simultaneously supporting the very people those missiles are aimed at....

In Swat, I heard the same story again and again: Before the peace deal, soldiers would stop people at checkpoints and say, "Don't go that way, the Taliban are slitting someone's throat." But they wouldn't intercede to stop the throat-slitting.

The problem, as many see it, is that there's no alternative. Yes, the Taliban routinely place near the bottom of opinion polls, and in elections they garner less than 10 percent of the vote. But we seem to be an exhausted society, incapable of rising to this challenge.

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