Pointing guns and stroking backs

The implications of Pakistan’s power triangle

Those who follow Pakistan are familiar with the metaphor that describes that country as “negotiating with a gun to its own head.” Here’s an update: it’s now run by three power centres—the military establishment, the higher judiciary and the civilian government—, where one holds a gun to the another’s head, while not so subtly stroking the back of the third. That makes the drama complex and absorbing, but the upshots for the rest of us are simple.

First, you can’t deal with Pakistan any more. You need to deal with bits, pieces, factions and quarters of Pakistan. Since none of them has the power to see through whatever they might agree, any commitment or deal they make involves, shall we say, immense counter-party risks. In other words, it means they are not worth the paper they are printed on. Whether it’s the IMF dealing with the Pakistani treasury apparatus, or the Indian commerce ministry discussing trade with its Pakistani counterpart or the United States government working on a deal over Afghanistan, there’s no guarantee that the Pakistani side is in a position to see through its end of the bargain. The only reason to persist is perhaps because, well, “the show has to go on.”

Second, the civilian government has neither any control over Pakistan’s foreign and security policies nor has any real means to bring terrorists to justice. The military establishment controls the former and the higher judiciary controls the latter. There is a degree of tacit but not-so-subtle complicity between the two. In other words the military-jihadi complex not only remain in charge but now has a lot more latitude because there are fewer pretenses to keep and fig leaves to hold up. The complex has also regained narrative dominance. To the extent that the presence of US and international forces in Afghanistan keeps the Pakistani army strategically focused on that front, General Kayani and his colleagues are unlikely to want to escalate tensions with India through renewed terrorist or insurgent attacks.

Third, while the general view is that the US-Pakistani alliance is over, it is difficult to shake-off the perception that Washington has decided to work with the Pakistani military establishment rather than strengthen the hands of the civilian government. Therefore, at a critical juncture in Pakistan’s history, Washington has again let go of an opportunity to put the military monster back in the pen. There are good excuses for this, but as much as they are good, they are still excuses.

This does not mean that President Asif Zardari will lose and General Kayani will win decisively. On the contrary, Mr Zardari might be considered to have won if he and his government just survive in office for their term. General Kayani, on the other hand, needs to meet the standards set by his successful coup-making predecessors. That is not a victory for democracy. It is at best an establishment of a new, tenuous distribution of power which, as described above, involves gun-pointing and back-stroking.

What should we make of Memogate?

A bold move to weaken the Pakistani military-jihadi complex backfires

It was a risky enterprise, but the opportunity was unprecedented. Whether or not there was actually a risk of an overt military coup in the early days of May 2011, after the US military raid killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, it nevertheless opened up a window of opportunity to kick the Pakistani military establishment when it was down. The public image of the army as an institution was down. This was different from the previous low of 2007, when the army’s unpopularity was linked to General Musharraf’s person and regime. Getting rid of General Musharraf allowed the army to rehabilitate itself in the eyes of the Pakistani public, and creating war hysteria following the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 restored its position at the apex of power.

However in the first week of May this year, merely getting rid one or two top generals was unlikely to save the army’s reputation. In fact, it would perhaps have led to calls for more, with the Pakistani elite—in their typical bandwagoning fashion—calling for more heads to roll. The military establishment got out of this hole by floating the ‘ghairat’ balloon, creating a confrontation with the United States and letting Imran Khan become a lightning rod for popular sentiment. But we digress. The point is that in May 2011, it was possible for bold political entrepreneurs to make an attempt to go one-up on the military establishment. There are two broad explanations of what happened next.

Here’s the first one. We do not know who those bold political entrepreneurs were. They could well have been President Asif Zardari, his confidant Ambassador Husain Haqqani (who have both denied this), or some other people whose identity we do not know. It has been asked why they should choose someone like Mansoor Ijaz? Their choice of a mercurial personality with a history of attempting diplomatic bravado and making taller claims about his role is quite understandable. Given the risks of such a manoeuvre—which have since materialised—they needed dollops of plausible deniability. Mansoor Ijaz was actually a good candidate to be the “go-between”, for he had both dubiousness and access to high-level back channels within the US government.

Once the memo was drafted and delivered, Kayani & Co got wind of it—the ISI would be incompetent if it didn’t have people in Washington who would find out about these things—and ‘persuaded’ Mr Ijaz to blow the story in a way that would create maximum damage to the Zardari government. All Mr Ijaz had to do was find some pretext to for his going public with the story (“he was angered by attacks on his reputation”, “he was protecting Admiral Mullen’s reputation” and suchlike).

And here’s the second. The ISI might have set all this up as a sting operation to ensnare Mr Haqqani, destabilise the Zardari government and become the darling of the Pakistani nation. In which case, it would have been Mr Ijaz instigated the move, roped in Mr Haqqani and others, and after the ball was sufficiently into play, gave the game away by writing an op-ed in the Financial Times.

Both these explanations would explain why no less a person than the ISI chief personally went to London to meet Mr Ijaz, and ‘verify’ the evidence. From that point onwards, the broad conclusion—GHQ 1, Zardari 0—was foregone, even if the details—who’d be sacrificed and how—were not. The two explanations are not entirely mutually exclusive. It is quite possible that both games were in play, or one game got mixed up with the other. It might matter to the individuals concerned, but as far as the implications of the affair are concerned, it doesn’t.

What are the implications? While the Zardari government never really wielded any power it has lost a great deal of the legitimacy it had in the eyes of the public. Whatever comes next will stick far more closely to the political and ideological narrative of the military-jihadi complex. General Kayani or a successor would have to be a grand fool to seize power directly—not because Washington won’t condone a dictator, but because he will be forced to take the blame for failing to run a country that is deeply in trouble. So the veneer of civilian government will continue, even as Rawalpindi assumes full control of foreign relations. Mr Haqqani’s embassy was one small island that resisted the military establishment’s line. Now that he’s gone, that bastion too has fallen.

If that’s bad news, here’s something worse. A majority of the Pakistani elite are behind the military establishment on this one. They see civilian politicians seeking US support for putting the army back in the barracks as a treasonous violation of sovereignty. Not so when civilians run to Washington pleading to save the army’s skin after one of its numerous adventures. Not so when military leaders invite Saudi Arabia to arbitrate in domestic politics. Not so when military leaders allow terrorists and militants to seize control of territory and impose their own writ on the people.

The political entrepreneurs who sought US help to acquire power in Islamabad might not have really meant to deliver all the promises they made. Even so, to the extent that there are players in Pakistan who claim to want to dismantle the military-jihadi complex, their interests are aligned with India’s. They lost this round. That is a negative for India, in terms of opportunities lost.

Update: By appointing Sherry Rehman as Mr Haqqani’s replacement, Mr Zardari might have used political judo to equalise the score. Ms Rehman is among the more liberal of Pakistan’s politicians and, as head of the Jinnah Institute, has been in the loop on US-Pakistan relations. She is close to the Bhutto-Zardari family, but before quitting the Zardari-Gilani cabinet in 2009, might have rubbed the president a little too much on the wrong side. Even so, appointing her, rather than someone close to the military establishment, suggests that Mr Zardari did not allow himself to be completely squeezed by General Kayani.

Then again, there more rounds in this game.

Bruce Riedel says appeasement doesn’t work

Aid is the enemy of clear thinking

Back in March 2009, when the Obama administration unveiled its Af-Pak strategy (in the formulation of which Bruce Riedel played an important part), this blog wrote:

The main issue in President Barack Obama’s just-announced strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan boils down to this: just how is the United States going to ensure that the Pakistani military establishment plays ball? [But where’s the meat?]

Mr Riedel’s subsequent book also did not offer answers to the question.

In an op-ed in the New York Times today, he argues that the approach now needs, err, “reshaping”:

It is time to move to a policy of containment, which would mean a more hostile relationship. But it should be a focused hostility, aimed not at hurting Pakistan’s people but at holding its army and intelligence branches accountable. When we learn that an officer from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, is aiding terrorism, whether in Afghanistan or India, we should put him on wanted lists, sanction him at the United Nations and, if he is dangerous enough, track him down. Putting sanctions on organizations in Pakistan has not worked in the past, but sanctioning individuals has — as the nuclear proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan could attest.

Offering Pakistan more trade while reducing aid makes sense. When we extend traditional aid, media outlets with ties to the ISI cite the aid to weave conspiracy theories that alienate Pakistanis from us. Mr. Obama should instead announce that he is cutting tariffs on Pakistani textiles to or below the level that India and China enjoy; that would strengthen entrepreneurs and women, two groups who are outside the army’s control and who are interested in peace.

Military assistance to Pakistan should be cut deeply. Regular contacts between our officers and theirs can continue, but under no delusion that we are allies.[NYT]

He’s got it right this time. The Pakistani military-jihadi complex must be contained (before it is dismantled). His prescription though, is not going lead to containment. Why? Because money is fungible.

Even if aid is specifically earmarked for the average Pakistani, money is fungible. As long as the military establishment is in effective control of the administrative spigots, it can divert flows from other domestic revenue sources.

More aid will then only strengthen the army and its nexus with militants. It is not a coincidence that even as the U.S. has spent $20 billion in overt assistance to Pakistan since 2002, there has been both an increase in the size of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and more antipathy toward the U.S. among the population—polls demonstrate this. Both protect the military-jihadi complex from external threats. [WSJ]

To contain the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, it is necessary to cut Pakistan loose. Should we wait for a few more years before Washington’s strategists get this point?

Three grand narratives of Pakistan

The accelerating treadmill of radicalisation

There are three distinct grand narratives of Pakistan by Pakistanis: the first is an establishment narrative of victimisation, defensiveness and denial. The second is the narrative of the liberal elite, focusing on the need for socio-economic development of a vast country of 180 million people. The third, radical Islamist narrative, sees Pakistan as an ideological enterprise under threat from the non-Islamic civilisations of the West, Israel and India. These are not mutually exclusive, and it is not uncommon for an individual narrator making an argument using one of these approaches to also draw upon threads of arguments from the others. Most seminars and conferences feature expositions of the first two narratives, with the radical Islamist view, like Banquo’s ghost, haunting the proceedings.

The establishment narrative, while acknowledging the growing radicalisation of Pakistani society, squarely lays the blame on the West’s policies. Pakistan is cast as the victim of the United States’ pursuit of the ‘war on terror’ against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The use of drones by the United States against militants operating in the tribal areas on Pakistan’s north-western frontiers is seen as a violation of sovereignty. The powerlessness of Pakistanis to stop these attacks—and the connivance of their political and military leadership in permitting them — translates into hostility towards the United States. The civilian casualties caused by drone attacks — regardless of objective measures of collateral damage — exacerbate anti-American to the extent of causing a violent backlash. The increasing number of terrorist attacks, attributed to Islamist militant groups, are thus projected, if not perceived, as a consequence of US policies. Indeed, Faizal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American arrested after a failed attempt to set off a bomb in New York’s Times Square explained his actions as seeking revenge for drone attacks on his home country.

The establishment’s narrative is amplified manifold in the media-fuelled zeitgeist, putting Pakistan on an accelerating treadmill of radicalisation. So deep is the denial that one workshop participant denied the existence of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, suggesting that videos released by the organisation were cut-and-paste manipulations of the kind found in Hollywood movies. This was before the US special forces raid on Mr bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad on May 2nd, that resulted in his killing.

The establishment’s defence of its own policies centers around Pakistan’s vexed relationship with its eastern neighbour, India. In addition to the historical disputes between them, the establishment is sensitive to the growing gap between the trajectories of the two countries. Even as this causes deep concern in Pakistan, there is a growing trend of apathy in India, especially among the younger demographic. Therefore terrorist attacks like the one on Mumbai on 26th November 2008 that originated in Pakistan, and Islamabad’s subsequent stone-walling end up shaping popular Indian perceptions of Pakistan.

The liberal elite narrative sees the source of the country’s problems as “the conflict in the Pakistani mind between civic obligation to the Pakistani state and obligation to the Islamic faith.” Pakistan is seen as being engaged in “a war for national survival against extremists” who want to take over the state. There is debate over whether mass poverty and lack of basic services breeds militancy, with evidence offered by both sides. However, there is general agreement that the institutional structure of the Pakistani state must change. The current structure is seen as elite-dominated, predatory and incapable of sustaining economic growth without external infusion of money. The dependence on external aid in turns makes the elite willing partners in the projects of the security establishment that seek to exploit geopolitical opportunities in ways that ensure that the financial flows continue.

Pakistan’s revenues go into three items: defence, debt-servicing and subsidies, with little fiscal space for development expenditure which might act as a channel of redistribution of wealth in a highly unequal society. In fact, the fiscal mechanism might work in a perverse way, transferring wealth from the low-income groups to the elite. For instance, 62% of Pakistan’s tax revenues accruing from indirect taxes, the benefits of which flow to the richest decile. Political power comes from using state resources to benefit favoured “constituencies”.
The international community, including the IMF and the Friends of Pakistan group of aid donors, have been unwilling to bail Pakistan out in the last two years, with the former insisting that the Pakistani government follow through on the package of fiscal reforms it had agreed to earlier. A participant noted that the IMF’s terms could not be implemented because the institutional structures of the Pakistani states were against it.

What then, are the prospects for change? It was noted that terrorism is weaved into the political calculations—political parties do not criticise terrorist groups not only out of fear but out of consideration for political rewards. While the judiciary has acquired a certain degree of power, its activism was also seen as a problem. A participant noted that the elite is not sensitive to ideology and do not have “ownership” because it is predatory. With safety valves in the form of foreign passports and foreign capital, it is unlikely that the elite would be enthusiastic participants in a project to reform the Pakistani state.

The prognosis, therefore, is grim. The most likely trajectories of Pakistan are either towards a “hybrid theocratic state” or one where “holistic Pakistani nationalism” has primacy. The military establishment’s hegemony over Pakistan’s political, economic and intellectual space is likely to strengthen, allow it to continue to shape the national narrative. The military-militancy partnership is spreading, and areas from South Punjab to Sindh are falling to militant groups. The weakness of the Pakistani state, the radicalisation of society and the power of the militant groups is making the latter the new social arbiters.

Direct foreign intervention aimed to dismantle the military-jihadi complex is extremely unlikely in the Pakistani context. Ergo, the world must rely on endogenous mechanisms of change. Yet it may well be that these mechanisms are either too weak or uninterested in reforming institutional structures. However, to the extent that the external environment lets the elite off the hook, chances of change from within become less likely. The least the world can do, therefore, is ensure that foreign involvement does not damage the incentives of the Pakistani people to fix their state.

(This was written in May 2011 for an internal publication of the National University of Singapore)

The screws, they tighten on Pakistan’s military establishment

Washington is negotiating by other methods

So the Obama administration has announced that it has suspended $800m in aid to the Pakistani military establishment, amounting to around a third of the annual outlay. This is a bold departure from the traditional throw-more-money-at-the-problem approach that has not quite worked for the United States, Pakistan or other countries affected by the depredations of the military-jihadi complex. It does not yet, however, amount to a decision to cut Pakistan loose. (As I advocated in a recent WSJ op-ed).

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, is right when he says a “pause” is not quite the same as “aid cut-off.” In recent weeks, Washington has ratcheted up the pressure on the Pakistani military establishment. (See this post). Cutting off military aid marks a further turning of the knob, albeit a much bigger one. Why? To make the Pakistani military more amenable to doing what Washington wants it to, and what since even before Osama bin Laden’s killing, General Ashfaq Kayani was refusing to do. What might these be? Taking down al-Qaeda linked taliban groups that Pakistan shelters on its soil, permitting US counter-terrorism operations in Pakistan and ensuring that Pakistan’s Afghan proxies do not disrupt a settlement in Kabul.

These are limited objectives. It is premature to conclude that the Obama administration has decided to break with its ally (the Pakistani military establishment), or even to make the rebalancing of civil-military relations a policy goal.

Even so, Washington’s move will have the effect of strengthening the civilian, anti-military political establishment, not least because the country’s elite will see that the all-powerful generals do not have the US behind them. This can galvanise greater opposition to the army although an open revolt is nowhere on the cards. It is unfortunate that at a time when the military establishment is at its weakest, the main political parties are fighting internecine battles. Given the ISI’s history of manipulating the country’s political parties, the eruption of conflict among Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Sharif, Muttahida Quami Movement and Awami National Party might not be a mere coincidence.

As the US reduces its troop levels in Afghanistan and its dependence of Pakistan to provide supply routes, it becomes less beholden to the Pakistani military establishment. Unless Pakistan manages get China and Saudi Arabia to intervene on its behalf, the Obama administration can continue to mount pressure on General Kayani & Co.

The risk now is of the military establishment attempting out-of-the-box solutions to get out of the box.

David Petraeus is in da house

And is making the Pakistani military establishment squirm

Abdul Qadeer Khan wrote a 11-page confession in 2004. He also wrote and spirited out of Pakistan copies of another letter in 2003 to buy him protection from the Pakistani military-jihadi complex.

Simon Henderson, a former British journalist, acquired a copy of the letter in 2007, by his own admission. He wrote about its contents in the London Times in September 2009. Then almost half-a-year later, in March 2010, the Washington Post published an article, covering similar ground, pitched as if it were revealing Iran’s attempts to purchase “atomic bombs” from Pakistan in the late-1980s.

Today, the Washington Post has another report, based on the same source material (which it obtained in March 2010, if not earlier), alleging two top Pakistani generals, General Jehangir Karamat and Lt Gen Zulfiqar Khan, received $3 million and three diamond and ruby sets from the North Korean regime in return for nuclear technology. It also suggests that the money which might have gone into ‘secret funds’, which might have been used to fund militants fighting in Kashmir.

Other than fingering Generals Karamat and Khan, today’s report doesn’t tell us anything substantially new—Mr Henderson’s 2009 report mentions $3 million being paid to Pakistani generals.

So why is the Washington Post publishing reports based on information it is likely to have received more than a year ago, if not even earlier? If news is something to be broken as soon as it is reliably verified, why take six months to do it? And why do it again 15 months later?

One reason to explain the Post’s curious behaviour is that its editors had been persuaded not to publish certain details by the US government. Going by this explanation, the US government must have withdrawn parts of that request in March 2010 and now.

Earlier this week, the New York Times, citing newly classified information, alleged that the ISI ordered the killing of Syed Saleem Shehzad. No, not ‘rogue elements’ or other fig leaves, but senior officials of the ISI were held responsible.

And today, the Washington Post released a letter naming Pakistan’s army chief and another senior general, both of who were in service when the North Korean deal took place.

The United States is threatening to push the Pakistani military establishment into the doghouse. It looks like General Petraeus (“Mr” Petraeus in Rawalpindi), now in charge of the CIA, is signaling how he intends to play the game.

Hitchens v Fair

The dangers of letting policy recommendations get ahead of objective assessment of facts

Over at the Huffington Post, C Christine Fair, an experienced, astute and bold analyst of Pakistan has rebutted Christopher Hitchens’ article on Pakistan in Vanity Fair. She faults Mr Hitchens for “the absurdities, fallacies and dubious assertions in the rest of his troubling account of Pakistan’s malaise.”

This is a critique of the critique.

Hitchens:

Let me try to summarize and update the situation like this: Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame—which is the noble word “honor”—becomes most commonly associated with the word “killing.” Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter. [Vanity Fair]

Fair:

The former refers to the rare, horrific instances where women and girls are subject to sexual assault by, in the words of the author, “tribal and religious kangaroo courts”…In this paragraph a complex polity of 180 million — most of whom condemn both practices — are essentialized as a barbarous people who embrace the notion that “moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter. [Huffington Post]

Mr Hitchens does not generalise the support for honour killings to all 180 million people. “Here is a society where people fly in their own private jets” does not mean all 307 million US citizens have their own private jets. It is Ms Fair who stretches Mr Hitchens’s argument in an attempt to prove it wrong. In any case, she does not offer any evidence to show that most of the 180 million Pakistanis condemn these heinous practices.

Hitchens:

Thus, President Asif Ali Zardari cringes daily in front of the forces who openly murdered his wife, Benazir Bhutto, and who then contemptuously ordered the crime scene cleansed with fire hoses, as if to spit even on the pretense of an investigation. A man so lacking in pride—indeed lacking in manliness—will seek desperately to compensate in other ways.

Fair:

This offensive passage reveals more about the psychology of the author than it does about that of President Zardari.

Mr Hitchens is factually correct on Mr Zardari’s cringing to the forces that killed his wife. We can agree with Ms Fair that Hitchens’ interpretation of that fact reveals something about his psychology.

Fair:

However, there is no evidence that the government of Pakistan — then under President Musharraf — ordered her death. In fact, the U.S. government has consistently claimed that elements of the Pakistan Taliban ordered her death.

Here Ms Fair is being selective with facts. Shortly before her death, Benazir Bhutto herself blamed General Musharraf for her murder by not providing her the requisite personal security. The UN investigation report conveys the unmistakeable impression that the military establishment is culpable. It is disingenuous of Ms Fair to suggest that “there’s no evidence” of official complicity, not least because few Pakistanis are likely to believe it. Citing the US government’s claims on this is neither here nor there. It even believes that Pakistan is a “major non-NATO ally”.

Hitchens:

They hate us because they owe us, and are dependent upon us. The two main symbols of Pakistan’s pride—its army and its nuclear program—are wholly parasitic on American indulgence and patronage.

Fair:

According to the USAID Green Book, in 2009, total economic assistance to Pakistan came to $1.35 billion and military assistance totaled $0.429 (for a grand sum of $1.78 billion). In 2009, Pakistan’s gross domestic product was $162 billion. Calling this is a dependency is an obvious stretch. (In fairness, I too have been guilty of lapsing into this idiom until I crunched the numbers.)

Again, Ms Fair is being selective with facts. According to the US Congressional Research Service, direct overt aid to Pakistan was to the tune of $20.7 billion for the period 2002-2011. In 2009, the year Ms Fair quotes, CRS analysts estimate direct overt US aid to Pakistan at $3 billion. Further comparing it to Pakistan’s GDP is misleading. It is far more meaningful to see what the aid is in proportion of the Pakistani government’s budget. In 2010, the Pakistani government spent around $29 billion. US aid for the year was around $4.46 billion—that’s around 15% of Pakistani government’s budget.

Ms Fair refers to Israel. Its 2009 budget was $92 billion. Using Ms Fair’s figure for US aid to Israel ($2.43 billion) it amounts to a mere 2.6% of the Israeli government’s budget. It’s unclear at what level we can say a country is dependent on US aid, but Pakistan is certainly more dependent than Israel. That said, the reference to Israel is irrelevant. If we are to accept that Israel is dependent on the United States, it hardly means that Pakistan doesn’t. We should therefore treat Ms Fair’s allusion to Israel as gratuitous.

Hitchens:

Everybody knew that the Taliban was originally an instrument for Pakistani colonization of Afghanistan. Everybody knew that al-Qaeda forces were being sheltered in the Pakistani frontier town of Quetta, and that Khalid Sheikh Muhammed was found hiding in Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani Army.

Fair:

Mr. Hitchens of course takes refuge again in the passive voice to avoid saying precisely who sheltered al Qaeda. It would appear that the author has confused al Qaeda (an international terrorist organization) and the Afghan Taliban (a regressive Pashtun-dominated Deobandi insurgent organization presently focused upon the international occupation of Afghanistan). The former has not been harbored by the Pakistani state while the latter has been a long-standing client.

Ms Fair has a point on Hitchens’ use of the passive voice. It is not clear “who” was doing the sheltering. We can’t say for sure but he’s probably wrong on al-Qaeda being sheltered in Quetta. It is the shura of Mullah Omar’s Taliban outfit that is being sheltered there, evidently, by the Pakistani military establishment. This outfit is involved in killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. But does this materially change Hitchens’ argument that the “lapdog’s surreptitious revenge has consisted in the provision of kennels for attack dogs?” Not quite.

Fair:

Mr Hitchens next describes his own shock that “Osama bin Laden himself would be given a villa in a Pakistani garrison town on Islamabad’s periphery.” Dodging again behind the passive tense, he offers no evidence for this reckless and dangerous assertion. In contrast to Mr. Hitchens, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said that he had seen evidence that suggested Pakistan’s senior officials were unaware of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Hitchens’ claim that the state sheltered Pakistan is feckless journalism that encourages further ignorant speculation among publics who have no real understanding of the other and their governments.

Here Ms Fair is asking us to believe that Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad for five years without knowledge and connivance of the Pakistani military leadership and further, to take Robert Gates’ word for it. Perhaps a wee bit of scepticism is in order. Credulous journalism is as bad, if not worse, than feckless journalism.

The use of the term “Pakistani state” to discharge the Pakistani establishment of complicity is a device that has outlived its plausibility. The Pakistani state is always innocent because it is merely putative. It’s the military-jihadi complex that rules the place. It is understandable why US officials might want to exonerate their Pakistani ‘allies’ to save the alliance. That doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to swallow that line.

Where Ms Fair is on a stronger wicket is in her analysis of the US-Pakistan relationship. As she puts it: “Navigating this strained relationship under the pressures of reality is hard enough.” However her last couple of sentences offer a clue as to why as talented an analyst as she is selective with facts in this article: “However, accounts like that of Hitchens and others here and in Pakistan, dims the prospects for salvaging a relationship that is extremely important for the United States if not for Pakistan. And one has to wonder if that’s not the very goal of such fact-free musings.”

Ms Fair has allowed her opinion of what ought to happen to the relationship to get in the way of full objectivity. In so doing, she ends up being guilty of the same failings she accuses Mr Hitchens of.

This blog’s biases are clear: The Acorn sees the Pakistani military-jihadi complex as the irreconcilable source of threats to India, the United States, the international community, and indeed, to Pakistan. It must be contained and dismantled. Cutting off US aid to Pakistan is a good way to get there.

To the extent that exonerating ‘Pakistan’ also exonerates the military-jihadi complex, doing so is a bad idea. On the balance, therefore, Mr Hitchens provides a narrative that is far more useful in the project of containing and dismantling the military-jihadi complex.

My op-ed in WSJ Asia – Cut Pakistan Loose

Bailing it out will only impede its transformation into a normal state.

You have read about what the military-jihadi complex is and why it is a problem. In today’s Wall Street Journal I argue that the United States, China and Saudi Arabia should discontinue aid and instead, allow Pakistanis to decide the future of their state.

Read the whole thing on WSJ. Here’s an excerpt:

The international community should therefore rely on domestic processes to dismantle the military-jihadi complex. So far, the Pakistani elite who lead the putative state have had little incentive to put up an existential struggle against the complex: They know that the latter enjoys the West’s tacit support and they believe that foreign sponsors will avert the fiscal crises caused by the army eating up resources. The elite is likely to fight harder if they know that there is no bailout package in the offing.

They can certainly fight, if they want to. Over the last decade, they first backed Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator; then Chief Justice Iftikar Chaudhry in his legal battle against the dictator; then Mr. Zardari and so on. Clearly, the elite are pragmatic; they will support whichever side can win. If the military-jihadi complex is seen to be losing, they will pile up against it.

The time is right for Islamabad’s three chief bankrollers, the U.S., China and Saudi Arabia, to cut it loose. So far the onus of preventing really bad outcomes in Pakistan—the most extreme of which is represented as a jihadi takeover of the nuclear-armed state—has fallen on them.

But the current moment provides an opportunity for them to get out of the way of Pakistan’s political transformation. Recent incidents, from the killing of bin Laden in Abbottabad to the raid on a Pakistani naval base, should begin to turn public opinion against the army. The civilian leaders of the state have the opportunity to force reform. They can reduce defense expenditure, place the military under civilian control and wind down support for militants. However, if external aid and political support shores up the credibility of the military establishment, this process will stop and the old dynamic will resume.

Needless to say, turning off aid flows to Pakistan comes with risks. The army will try to play the U.S., China and Saudi Arabia against each other. In the past month, Pakistan has made a show of cozying up to China for military support. Yet China’s response has been lukewarm, indicating that Beijing or Riyadh wouldn’t want to become the sole guardians of a delinquent ward. Their own self-interest, along with persuasion from Washington, might bring about cooperation.

And what if tough love actually brings about the nightmare, putting a jihadi regime in control of nuclear weapons? Yes, the risks of nuclear proliferation, international terrorism and war with India are likely to increase. Even so, the overall situation would at least inject clarity in the minds of statesmen to allow them to work together and move to contain or dismantle the source of the threats.

But this worst-case outcome is unlikely simply because it is not in the interests of the Pakistani elite. It is certainly not in the interests of the army, which is primarily interested in its own survival. When threatened with the risk of punishment by the Bush administration in 2001, Mr. Musharraf promptly changed course.

Once aid is cut off, ground realities will create more chances for Pakistan’s own state to force the army to change course. All the more reason then for the world to allow Pakistanis to decide what they want to do about their state.
[WSJ]

The beans that will spill in Chicago

Regarding Tahawwur Rana’s trial in Chicago

Here are some comments I made in response to questions asked by a British journalist regarding the the trial of a Chicago businessman of Pakistani origin, on charges related to the 26/11 terrorist attacks on Mumbai.

Q: How important is this trial for those who watch the India-Pak relationship. Are we really going to learn something new?

While it’s unlikely that the trial will reveal anything that’ll add to what we already know about the big picture, some details might emerge as to the exact pathways in which the military-jihadi complex operates.

The trial is important because it involves the third and remaining judicial branch of the US government into US-Pakistan relations. It will be increasingly difficult for administration officials to obfuscate the involvement of Pakistani military & government officials in conniving in or abetting terrorism & insurgency. Congress is already reflecting massive public outrage against Pakistan for having allowed Osama bin Laden to stay out of US hands for so long. The trial will add other source of pressure on the Obama administration.

Q: Manmohan Singh has gone out of his way to reach out to the Pakistanis; do you believe those efforts could be undermined by any revelations from the trial?

Hard to say, but unlikely in my opinion. His initiatives have been taking place despite Kasab’s capture and confession, despite the broadcast of intercepts of chilling conversations between the 26/11 terrorists and their handlers, despite Headley’s confession, despite stonewalling and brazenness from senior Pakistani officials. I’m not sure what new information can emerge that’ll undermine his outreach, which I think is dogged and dogmatic.

Having said that, the one way it can cause New Delhi to jam the brakes if the revelations come in sync with a new development on the ground that raise tensions. I’ve previously argued that another terrorist attack in an Indian city that can be traced back to Pakistan will put his continuance in office in jeopardy.

How possible is it for there to be good relations between India and Pakistan while the military continues to back militant groups?

As long as Pakistan continues to use terrorism as an instrument of policy, it cannot have good relations with any country, leave alone India. An increasing number of people in Pakistan have received this message. To the extent that editorials and op-ed pieces in Pakistani English dailies reflect a section of public opinion, there is a huge change compared to ten years ago. The Urdu press is a different story.

New Delhi’s policy does not show any sign of trying to overcome this fundamental problem, by making the containment and dismantling of the military-jihadi complex a central policy objective. Instead, the Singh government seems only to want to buy time. It’s unclear what it intends to do with the time, because it has done nothing to spur India’s long-term economic growth.

Pax Indica: Double trouble

Between the military-jihadi complex and the putative Pakistani state

Excerpts from today’s Pax Indica column:

Margulies
Image credit: Margulies

…What this means for the rest of the world is that it is a challenge to implement policies that distinguish between the military-jihadi complex and the putative Pakistani state. This is because the effects of policy are fungible between the two. When the international community imposed sanctions on Pakistan after it conducted nuclear tests in 1998, the average Pakistani suffered more than the average military officer and the average jihadi militant. The military-jihadi complex was able to externalise the punishment. But when the international community rewarded Pakistan for agreeing to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the average Pakistani benefited less than the soldier and the militant. The military-jihadi complex cornered the goodies. Not only are the effects of external actors transferable, they are controllable by the military-jihadi complex.

This is the crux of the problem. Of course, the policies adopted by New Delhi and Washington do not show that they have even registered this. They do sometimes distinguish between the civilians and the military, arguing that the former have to be strengthened relative to the latter. Grief awaits those who follow this script, because the military-jihadi complex has both civilian and military manifestations. Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, for instance, are marching to a different band, compared to Interior Minister Rehman Malik and President Asif Ali Zardari.

Many observers hoped that Pakistan’s civilian government would use the Abbottabad incident to go one up over the military establishment. Instead, Prime Minister Gilani stoutly defended the ISI and shook his fist at the United States. “Civilians vs military” does not explain this as much “military-jihadi complex vs putative Pakistani state”. It makes sense if you look under the civilian attire and realise that Mr Gilani has been the military’s man from the time Mr Zardari became president.

As the United States enters a fresh phase in its relationship with Pakistan, it is all the more important to get the game and the players right. It’s not only about strengthening the civilian government, but really about bolstering the putative Pakistani state. It is not only about giving money to the civilian government but making sure that the civilian government itself is not comprised of people batting for the military-jihadi complex. It’s not only about punishing the military establishment, but making sure that the military establishment does not transfer the blow to the putative Pakistani state. Unfortunately, the Pakistani elite cannot be relied upon to play a constructive role in this process: they are more likely to bandwagon onto the military-jihadi complex in order to preserve the predatory nature of the status quo system.

Of course, it’s not easy. We still need to think about how we can contain the military-jihadi complex without snuffing the life out of the putative Pakistani state. But treating them as two different things will inject a clarity in the way we approach the problem. [Read the rest at Yahoo!]