Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

PAKISTAN....Over at the Atlantic, Joshua Hammer describes a CSIS exercise a few months ago that posited an incident in Pakistan leading to an apparent coup attempt. What should the U.S. do in such a case?

At this point, the policy makers broke into groups and tried to come up with a strategy to deal with the apparent change of leadership. But this proved difficult: The groups were unable to resolve critical questions with confidence. Though most agreed that the military would continue running the show, as it has for 33 of the last 60 years, there was widespread concern over whether the new army brass would likely be pro-American, anti-American, or something in between. There was also no consensus on whether the military — with Musharraf out of the picture — could hold the country.

I'd say that perfectly describes the situation: nobody really knows what to do or what might happen next if we do it. The biggest question, as always, is whether Pervez Musharraf is really holding back a tide of Islamist sentiment in the world's most unstable nuclear state, as he frequently claims, or not. Hammer continues:

Pervez Hoodbhoy, chairman of the Quaid-e-Azam University physics department, told me that the university has been "taken over" by Islamist fervor — more hijabs in the classrooms, more prayer, and "no bookstores, but three mosques with a fourth under construction" on campus. Hoodbhoy, a highly regarded nuclear physicist and a critic of military rule, told me that an Islamist takeover of the country, either by outright domination of the electoral process or in conjunction with a radical Islamist general, "is a real possibility."

Yet despite their clout in parliament and their seeming strength on the street, the Islamists are not widely popular: Their parties won only 11 percent of the vote in the 2002 elections (gerrymandering gave them a share of seats far greater than their numbers). Even in their stronghold, the North-West Frontier Province, they polled only 26 percent. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to the MMA's growth is its abysmal record of governance: In the North-West Frontier Province, which the alliance controls, social services are disintegrating. Unless anti-Western sentiment reaches sustained and unprecedented levels, the Islamists seem highly unlikely to muster enough votes to gain control of parliament in the next decade.

Over at Informed Comment, Juan Cole suggests that the Islamist movement in Pakistan isn't really very impressive, but adds that events could change that: "What is really significant, however, is that Qazi Hussain [the leader of the fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami] is the only major party leader openly calling for mass resistance against Musharraf, a stance which will help the popularity of his party even if (as seems likely) he winds up in jail over it."

And now a question for the masses. A couple of years ago I looked around for some good sites about Pakistan and came away empty handed. (By "good," I mean something that provides perspective beyond what I can get from mainstream news sources.) The basic problem was that every site I found seemed to have a major axe to grind, and since I don't have a strong position myself it was impossible to judge which axe grinders to listen to. So: any suggestions? Leave 'em in comments if you know of a go-to site.

Kevin Drum 12:28 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (48)

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Comments

The surge is working!

Posted by: A. Troll on November 5, 2007 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I cannot imagine why America's bipartisan condescension to 'little countries' is becoming a problem for us.

Yes, I am being sarcastic, but I fear there are many within the Beltway who wouldn't be in saying that.

At some point, we have done so many bad things that even if we acted like perfect friends, we would be ignored. I fear that Pakistan is one such place.

Posted by: freelunch on November 5, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

The best information is not always available on the Web. Dead trees (books) still have their place. I recommend the book Pakistan: between mosque and military by Husain Haggani. The book provides an interesting history of Pakistan and gives some insight into the roots of current events.

Posted by: Ian Kaplan on November 5, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's certainly worth looking at the polling.

Latest figures are here.

Posted by: DavidS on November 5, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Musharraf isn't directing his coup against Islamic extremists; that's not who he's arresting. He's putting lawyers and Supreme Court members under house arrest. He apparently isn't too worried about the Islamists; it is civil society that he fears.

Posted by: Joe Buck on November 5, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I second the Haqqani book (I took two great courses with him on political Islam as an undergrad), and would additionally recommend Steven Cohen's "The Idea of Pakistan". The "Military, Inc." book whose author Hammer interviews is also supposed to be quite good though I haven't got myself a copy yet. I'm also looking for more Pakistan-related blogs; I've been reading the Pakistan Policy Blog for the past couple weeks, and Informed Comment: Global Affairs has some good on-the-spot analysis from Barnett Rubin at the moment.

Posted by: mc_masterchef on November 5, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

The biggest question, as always, is whether Pervez Musharraf is really holding back a tide of Islamist sentiment in the world's most unstable nuclear state, as he frequently claims, or not.

I think he is and that is why I would be careful before doing anything to destabilize the Musharraf government. It bears mentioning during the American Civil War, President Lincoln also did the same thing in order to win the war. President Musharraf is Pakistan's Abraham Lincoln in doing similar things also.
Musharraf would never have had to take such steps if the liberal judicial activists on the Pakistan Supreme Court hadn't tried to step in and force its will on the political process. It is the job of judges to apply laws and not to make laws. By trying to take down Musharraf for its own political agenda, the Supreme Court judges violated this basic principle of a democracy.
But I trust President Musharraf will do the right thing, and that's why we should trust him to do as he has promised instead of just assuming the worst of a trusted ally in the War on Terrorism.

Posted by: Al on November 5, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I am a big fan of your blog and your writing style. I am sure you will like this video too.
This is a wonderful and funny video from Bangalore, India on American aggression. It would be awesome if your American readers get a chance to watch this.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGZ-HxIzsWA

Posted by: yugan on November 5, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

For an interesting read without US slant on a variety of timely issues, take a look at the Asia Times (www.atimes.com). Two lead stories on Pakistan today: 'Musharraf Plays His Last Ace,' Shahzad and 'Pakistan Shakes Off US Shackles,' Bhadrakumar. Extremely well-written and informative stuff.

Posted by: nepeta on November 5, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

Don't worry, we would never allow a dictator in the middle east to possess nuclear weapons.

Posted by: AJ on November 5, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Putting my tinfoil hat on, and observing the recent picture,

But this proved difficult: The groups were unable to resolve critical questions with confidence.

I would say that Cheney, Condi et. al., have now resolved those questions to their satisfaction.

Posted by: jerry on November 5, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

Just want to say that yugan's post may look like blog spam, but it's actually for real and interesting if not clever.

Posted by: jerry on November 5, 2007 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy, at Obsidian Wings, linked to several Pakistan blogs in her weekend post, Pakistan.

Posted by: ScottM on November 5, 2007 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yugan,

"...Bin Laden is paid.. to be an enemy!"

I Like that one...

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on November 5, 2007 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Pakistan's political situation reads a lot like the United States'. Regardless of the what the people want, both countries are dominated either by the military or by religious nuts.

Posted by: Brojo on November 5, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Some Pakistani blogs:

All Things Pakistan
Pakistan Policy Blog
Teeth Maestro
An aggregation of Pakistani blogs
Chapati Mystery
My blog

Posted by: Zack on November 5, 2007 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

It's mainstream, but I really like the Times of India for most things in that region.

Posted by: Dan Croak on November 5, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Do the 2002 election results tell us anything about a situation that is changing 5 years later? I think we need better figures than that to reach any conclusions. This appears to be a very volatile and very dangerous situation, but it is difficul to know what is really going on. Everyone has reason to distort facts and spin the figures, so how much confidence can we have in anything we read? I suspect the answer is "very, very little."

Posted by: Peter A on November 5, 2007 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

From what I read in the Asia Times, the recent emergency rule in Pakistan has nothing to do with fighting Islamists but instead has to do with Musharraf's desire to remain in power, both as President and as head of the military. The Court was likely to have ruled before January elections that such a power combo was not allowed under the constitution. Bhutto's return, at the conniving of Washington and London, was another complicating factor and Musharraf's move pretty much cancelled out any possibility of power sharing.

Posted by: nepeta on November 5, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK


The biggest question, as always, is whether Pervez Musharraf is really holding back a tide of Islamist sentiment in the world's most unstable nuclear state, as he frequently claims, or not.

Well, it does appear that Pakistan is tolerating the Taliban, and allowing them to use Pakistan as a staging ground for insurgency attacks. So here we have a nuclear state, with an anti-democratic leader, allowing and tacitly supporting a terrorist insurgency from within its borders. The answer, of course, is to invade Iran.

Posted by: Andy on November 5, 2007 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Good point, Andy. My reading is that Musharraf played Bush's 'War on Terrorism' for his own and Pakistan's advantage. Lots of money, lots of prestige from being a US ally. Now that Bush is becoming a lame duck, Mush is looking ahead to his 'real' interests.

Posted by: nepeta on November 5, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking from a superficially informed perspective, it appears as though Pakistan's meltdown fits rather nicely into the PNAC and neocon agenda of regional destabilization. Plus, with a taxpayer funded, privatized mercenary army requiring work to survive (shark!!!), can more brown folks in need of salvationist corporate/Christian warriors be such a bad thing?
And even if Pakistan pulls it together and, say, goes theocratic Islamicist (50% likelihood?), well, we ARE in the existential fight of our lives, aren't we? And wouldn't a theocratic Islamicist Pakistan just be added proof of this? And won't we be bound by our newly defined (whether you like it or not - take note, you filthy anti-imperialists) role as global police force to step in and fix things aright? I mean, we've ALWAYS been at war with Oceania, haven't we?

Posted by: Conrad's Ghost on November 5, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

There must be one or two people out there who hate us and would like to nuke us (and Israel) into oblivion.

So, we must attack everybody, destroy everything and spend ourselves into bankruptcy while cowering in a corner, shivering with fear and dread while our new overlords (same as the old overlords) spy on us and force us to work for pennies a day (with NO health care).

Yes, fear has it's benefits.

Hey, if Pakistan is a problem why don't we attack somewhere with nice weather, like Hawaii or Bermuda or something. Why does it always have to be a place it's boiling outside, but there's lots of oil?

Posted by: MarkH on November 5, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

I suppose, instead of just being snarky, I should add that any politician who continues to promote this world view probably isn't going to lead us onto another path towards peace and prosperity for everyone.

Don't let fear get you in it's grip. The only thing you truly have to fear is fear itself.

Posted by: MarkH on November 5, 2007 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

al: It is the job of judges to apply laws and not to make laws.


you mean like a military general in pakistan overthrowing an elected government?

oh..wait..

Posted by: mr. irony on November 5, 2007 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

All revolutions are successful because a fanatical minority was willing to do anything to take over. Islamic radicals may only be 5% (or less) of Pakistan's population, but that is probably sufficient to take over the country.

The question is whether or not there is a compelling alternative to living under Sharia law in Pakistan - something compelling enough to create a counterweight to the Islamicists. And in that formula, to what extent is suspension of civil liberties and brutal eradication of these fanatics a prerequisite for success?

Islamic fanatics, like the Nazis and the Khymer Rouge and other minority movements in history, won the war because they would stop at nothing. And stopping them may require similar resolve.

Posted by: John Stout on November 5, 2007 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I listed some Pakistani blogs etc. but that comment went into moderation and hasn't shown up here. Oh well, may be Kevin will see the links.

Posted by: Zack on November 5, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

John Stout, you lost me at "Islamic fanatics"

Posted by: elmo on November 5, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Elmo: What would you call them?

Posted by: John Stout on November 5, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Elmo: What would you call them?

"Islamic Theocrats"

Posted by: elmo on November 5, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

A little birdie told me they're not too interested in big business...

Posted by: elmo on November 5, 2007 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Yet despite their clout in parliament and their seeming strength on the street, the Islamists are not widely popular:

Should we feel better now? Lots of people live under governments that are not very popular. 300 million Americans, for one.

Posted by: craigie on November 5, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Kev, I cannot believe that you are not blogging more about this. As others have said, Mush's declaration of martial law and suspension of the constitution has nothing to do with Islamic radicals and everything to do with protecting himself against a an adverse ruling by the judicial branch. This is f-ing huge, and marks a point around which US policy toward the Islamic world better well pivot.

Posted by: Disputo on November 5, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Musharraf would never have had to take such steps if the liberal judicial activists on the Pakistan Supreme Court hadn't tried to step in and force its will on the political process.

Ah, I often dream about what would have happened if WJC did the same thing to prevent conservative judicial activists on the US Supreme Court from stepping in an enforcing their will on the political process....

Posted by: Disputo on November 5, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

declaration of martial law and suspension of the constitution has... everything to do with protecting himself against an adverse ruling by the judicial branch.

W. Bush is either very envious of Musharraf or planning something similar.

Posted by: Brojo on November 5, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

The Karachi Dawn newspaper has some excellent columnists, especially Irfan Husain and Ardeshir Cowasjee (though Cowasjee is very difficult to follow if you're not already familiar with Pakistan).

http://www.dawn.com/weekly/mazdak/mazdak.htm

Posted by: Andrew on November 5, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

"Pakistaniat.com"?

http://pakistaniat.com/

Posted by: PW on November 5, 2007 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

From my experience, DAWN seems to be the best Pakistani newspaper as far as presenting information in a way that is accessible to Western audiences. A lot of the others get too bogged down in local politicans, domestic squabbles, and a generally narrow focus that can be overwhelming in the number of names and sources for a Western reader to digest.

www.dawn.com

Posted by: hj on November 5, 2007 at 8:04 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Pervez Musharraf, hated now by all of Pakistan because he listen to Bush and Cheney, he should never have listened to Bush and Cheney, never taken any onesided deals. Bush never wanted Osama anyway, he only wanted the oil in Iraq. Wanted Richard Clarke to lie and say Saddam caused 9/11.

Even as we watch what happens in Iraq, it just goes to show that helping Bush is getting Mideast people killed and at least with Iraq, Bush doesn't care that people who helped him get kidnapped and killed. The UN told Bush he would destabilize the Mideast and now Bush is pushing to create WW III, pushing to destablize the Mideast, hoping he can lie American into more war.

Posted by: Me_again on November 5, 2007 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

John Stout, you should have nailed me for that fuck up, I deserved it.

Posted by: elmo on November 5, 2007 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK

Musharraf isn't directing his coup against Islamic extremists; that's not who he's arresting. He's putting lawyers and Supreme Court members under house arrest. He apparently isn't too worried about the Islamists; it is civil society that he fears.
Posted by: Joe Buck on November 5, 2007 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

What I don't get is how after all this, all the pundits and so-called "experts" can be so damn STUPID when it comes to Mushty. It's been 9 years since the coup, and y'all STILL don't realize that this guy is a PNAC stooge?

It's common knowledge, the link between the CIA and Osama bin Laden from the Soviet-Afghan invasion era.

It's common knowledge, the linkage between Pakistan's ISI, and the formation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, as a means to use a pseudo PROXY war to shunt Islamic-fundamentalist anger AWAY from the Pakistan regime, (no doubt, with backing from the CIA; to what end? to make god-damn certain that Islamic-fundamentalists don't get their hands on Pakistani nuclear amament, that's why!)

And the result of this operation? The coup, and 9/11 you idiots!

And in the 6 years since 9/11? Our government has danced around this issue with lame excuses of "our strongest ally" (even though Mushty has demonstrated the exact opposite! quite often. Yes, that's $10 Billion in US Aid, flushed down the crapper!) And, never mind the BS Iraq diversion - which has everything to do with War Profiteering, and nothing to do with anything else. If the Bush Administration were concerned about National Security - we'd have a war-tax, we'd have a draft, and we'd have 1,000,000 swinging-dicks crawling the hills of Pakistan right now, and maybe a few newscasters would take a spare minute or two to talk about Saddam and Ahmadinijad lobbing shells at eachother over the Arab/Persia border, locked in the same convenient stalemate they'd had them selves locked in since 1980. Nobody would be giving a flying fuck about Iraq, oil would be $50 a barrel, instead of $100, and maybe some poor Democrat would be offered up as a sacrificial candidate next year, or maybe they wouldn't even bother.

But Bush fucked it all up. And the Republicans Let Him Do It. An So Did the Democrats!

Know this:
Mushty coddles radical Islamic elements in his own secret service. If he goes down, the next dictator will be a fundamentalist. And Pakistan has The Bomb. And bin Laden walks there, free. And there's not a damn thing the US can do about it, tied up as we are in Iraq, with our own economy on the brink of a Wiemar-style death spiral.

Tell your grandchildren, so they can remember, and curse the name "Bush".

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on November 6, 2007 at 1:40 AM | PERMALINK

somewhat related trivial comment -

NEWS AND COMMENT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 5 — Angry protests by thousands of lawyers in Lahore and other cities on Monday demonstrated the first organized resistance to the emergency rule imposed by the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Comment - Can we possibly picture our well-heeled lawyers pouring out of their office suites to march in protest against warrantless wiretapping, torture, habeas corpus denial, and other affronts to our constitution by the Bush administration?

homer www.altara.blogspot.com

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