Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What on Earth is Bruce Riedel Thinking?

Bruce Riedel is, by all accounts, a pretty smart guy. He's been a South Asia hand for the CIA, is a Senior Fellow at Brookings, and led one of President Obama's multiple Afghanistan-Pakistan reviews this past spring. Hopefully he gives better advice to the President, because the article he wrote for The National Interest is useless at best, damaging at worst.
In short he describes what would happen if the Taliban or other Islamic extremists took over Pakistan. He paints a grim scenario: Pakistan's embassies around the world used as terrorist bases, nuclear launches on Israel, Pakistan's Shia minority turning to Iran for help, war with India, etc.
It would be bad, no doubt. The statement is about as surprising as the recent pronouncementt that al-Qaeda would use nuclear weapons if it obtained them (a subject Riedel somehow barely addresses). Yet Riedel dangerously and surprisingly (for a former CIA analyst) devotes little attention to the probability of such an event occurring, stating only that,
A jihadist victory is neither imminent nor inevitable, but it is now a real possibility in the foreseeable future. This essay presumes (though does not predict) an Islamic-militant victory in Pakistan, examining how the country’s creation of and collusion with extremist groups has left Islamabad vulnerable to an Islamist coup.
It would be pretty bad if the Taliban took over North Dakota (home to quite a few nuclear weapons) too, but I don't see it as very likely.
Riedel then outlines quite a few events that would have to occur for the Taliban to take control: aligning with Kasmiri militant groups, defeating the MQM (moderate Muslim party based in the Sindh province), defeating the military (!), the Pashtun Taliban taking over the populous Punjabi region of the country, kicking out the military's current leadership, etc. None of those scenarios (with the possible exception of the first) is remotely likely.
In fact, I see the opposite happening. The Pakistani military is going after the Pakistani Taliban hard, and the Taliban is getting even more frustrated. Various leaders of the Taliban are disagreeing with each other, to the point of assassination. No matter how unpopular the United States is, will bombing Pakistani civilians make them more likely to support the Taliban? Will bombing mosques make Pakistanis more likely to attend?
The vast majority of Pakistanis are moderate and fairly modern, and becoming more so every year. They go to the mosque, but also enjoy a little Johnny Walker Black Label in the privacy of their own homes (political and military leaders included). The country is in a tough place, no doubt, but I believe the trend lines go in the right direction. Mr. Riedel should be more careful what he says and writes.

1 comment:

  1. What a great rebuttal to Mr. Riedel's fantastic predictions.

    Mr. Walker, you need to go farther in your analysis and ask the question: Why is Mr. Riedel willing to go to ridiculous lengths on the subject of Pakistan? The article that Mr. Walker referred to ('Armageddon in Islamabad') is not the only piece written by Mr. Riedel on Pakistan that stretches credibility.

    This is my answer and Mr. Walker I urge you to think about it: There is a concerted and organized effort to demonize Pakistan and whip up a global hysteria over Pakistan. This effort is being played out in the US media, and I suspect that it has the blessing of some quarters of the US government.

    This hype over Pakistan is coupled with actions on the ground. I am referring to direct terrorism sponsored and organized on the US-controlled Afghan soil and unbleashed inside Pakistan, especially inside the two Pakistani provinces adjoining Afghanistna: Balochistan and the NWFP.

    Pakistani military officials are reported to have directly approached the US military leadership and specifically Adm. Mike Mullen to complain about recurring and accumulating evidence that shows the involvment of CIA and two Indian spy outfits (R@AW, DIA) in recruiting Pakistanis to lead a separatist insurgency in Balochistan, while recruiting others in the name of jihad, trainging them in Afghanistan and then sending them to kill Pakistanis.

    You see many reports on Pakistan in the US media based on deliberate leaks. One such report appeared in Pakistan last August in the country's largest English language newspaper. It described a private meeting between American and Pakistani military and intelligence officials, where the Pakistanis accused CIA of fomenting trouble inside Pakistan.

    It is amazing how the American media completely ignored the story, even though the report mentioned names and places and dates and was reported by a famous Pakistani investigative reporter.

    You can read the story at this link: