Friday, November 30, 2007

Beating a Hawk in the Water

"Beating a dog in the water” is a Chinese expression meaning "exploiting the disadvantageous position of an opponent to gain the upper hand".

I think that’s what’s going on with the Kitty Hawk affair.

As his been widely reported, the Chinese abruptly withheld approval for the Kitty Hawk carrier group’s Thanksgiving port visit to Hong Kong.

President Bush called some PRC diplomat to the White House to express his displeasure and the White House announced that the whole thing had been a misunderstanding.

That, I think, was the U.S. government’s big mistake. It laid us open to an embarrassment that we should have seen coming a mile away.

The Chinese fired back with a statement that the snub had been intentional, and triggered by U.S. sales of $940 million worth of Patriot missile stuff to Taiwan.

From the New York Times:

Beijing also said today that Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had not told President Bush in a meeting Wednesday that the decisions to deny the ship visits were a “misunderstanding,” as the White House had reported after the talks.

“Reports that Foreign Minister Yang said in the United States that it was a misunderstanding do not accord with the facts,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said in Beijing today, adding that China had “grave concern” over United States weapons sales to Taiwan.


The Chinese clearly wanted to make a point with the Kitty Hawk—and make it publicly.

And to have the Bush administration flinch--and trout out a lame, concocted excuse that the Chinese briskly and completely rebutted—makes it looks like the truth about what’s going on in the west Pacific is something that the PRC is ready to deal with, but the U.S. is unwilling to confront.

As a belated riposte, the Kitty Hawk made a big deal of sailing through the Taiwan Strait.

I think there’s something different and greater at stake than complaining about Patriot missile sales or President Bush’s grip and grin session with the Dalai Lama.

What I think is at stake here is whether the United States has the right to treat the western end of the Pacific as its private lake—or whether it needs Chinese agreement to sail in the new “Red” sea.

The symbolism of the Kitty Hawk snub would be rather apt.

The Kitty Hawk is a Cold War relic, the last conventionally-powered aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet, the only carrier group based abroad—at Yokosuka, Japan—whose most recent mission was a big joint exercise with the Japanese practicing sinking (presumably Chinese) submarines.

The Thanksgiving trip was meant to be part of the Kitty Hawk’s final victory lap around the west Pacific before it sails to the United States for decommissioning early next year.

What better way to signal America’s retreat from Asia and declare that the U.S. naval presence in the waters near China is contingent upon Chinese sufferance than denying the Kitty Hawk a graceful, triumphant exit from the scene?

The United States is quite serious about Hong Kong port visits.

As I wrote in March, the U.S. Navy engaged in a frantic scramble to rush (or, in its terms, “surge”) the nuclear carrier Ronald Reagan to visit Hong Kong in place of the John Stennis, which was being redeployed to the Middle East.

If you think the USN jumped through all these hoops to send a carrier 10,000 miles to Hong Kong so its sailors could have the opportunity to party in Wanchai instead of San Diego, there’s a big bridge I’d like to sell you.

In August, the Nimitz visited Hong Kong and was welcomed—though, perhaps significantly, it is based in San Diego and not Japan.

Then, the Kitty Hawk goes to Hong Kong to make a point—that the U.S. is an indispensable and inescapable presence in the Pacific—and this time the Chinese wanted to make exactly the opposite point.

I’ve previously argued that the objective of China’s naval build up is not to slug it out with America’s Seventh Fleet, or create a deterrent to U.S. intervention opposing a Chinese move on Taiwan.

The Chinese do intend to use military power for Taiwan reunification, but only to demonstrate to Taipei the advantages and inevitability of coming to terms peacefully with the dominant power in the west Pacific.

And the true inauguration of the Chinese century—if it’s really coming—will be marked by the arrival of the Chinese navy at Taiwan—during a peaceful, invited port call.

By this reading, the strategy is to establish the Chinese navy as the credible security guarantor (in superpower parlance) for the smaller Pacific nations falling within its economic sphere--or biggest bully on the block in the west Pacific in blunter terms--to a line extending out to the “second line” Pacific Island chain.

A Chinese navy with reach—but not necessarily hyper-power sized technology or muscle-- removes the “the world can’t accept a power vacuum out here” justification for a forward U.S. naval presence in the region, which currently conducts massive exercises in Asian waters on anti-piracy, disaster relief, and near-shore interdiction missions that seem better suited to the Coast Guard.

Whittling down the justification for a massive U.S. naval presence in Japan to Taiwanese security would put the United States and Japan in the awkward position of admitting we are keeping a carrier group in the western Pacific only for confronting the PRC.

Since the United States is officially committed to a one-China policy and we don’t appear ready to characterize our dominant supplier of socks, underwear, and lead-based toys as a our strategic enemy, this would at the very least create some diplomatic and propaganda awkwardness for the U.S.

In a riposte to the Rumsfeld-era unctuousness of “we can’t understand why the PRC is conducting a military build-up”, the Chinese could say, “we can’t understand why U.S. and Japan are maintaining a carrier group in North Asia; our fleet has matters well in hand here.”

“And, in fact, we made it clear in November 2007 that you guys can’t just sail around here like you own the place.”

So the Kitty Hawk’s replacement, the George Washington, will cruise to take up its station in Japan next year under a cloud.

I expect that there will be some of what I characterize is “muscular handwringing”. That’s the pundits’ version of “concern trolling”, framing a decision or position we don’t like as evidence that the people doing it are pathetically deluded dingbats.

In the Kitty Hawk situation, that would take the form of more sorrow than in anger tsk-tsking that the PRC’s civvy-suited Communist leadership is being led down the wide avenue to destruction by reckless elements in the PLA who are endangering China’s aspirations to responsible stakeholderism in the world system.

For the reasons above I, on the other hand, consider the Chinese move to be a rather savvy one, exploiting an important opportunity to advance its foreign policy interests in line with its long term strategic objectives.

And I don’t think the decision to turn away a U.S. carrier group was made by some disgruntled harbor master. This one went to the top.

I would also consider the Black Thanksgiving stunt a particularly clever piece of political theater—because it occurred on the Bush administration’s watch, when the U.S. was trying to inveigle Chinese support for Iran sanctions and unable to respond to the Chinese insult with anything more than an "in your face" sail through the Taiwan Strait.

If the Chinese had pulled this stunt during the administration of the next (and quite possibly Democratic) U.S. president, the Blue Team would have been all over the craven appeasers of the Democratic Party—and the administration might have been stampeded into a harder line as a result.

But critics will have to deal with the fact—which will be noted in foreign ministries throughout the world—that the precedent has been established—and rather meekly acknowledged—during the blood-and-thunder reign of George W. Bush.

When it comes to powerful entities finding themselves in weak and vulnerable positions, the Kitty Hawk isn’t the only dog in the water.
Photo from the Kitty Hawk website

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lotas, Lions, and Sufis: It's All About the Punjab

Looking at the circumstances around opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s return to Pakistan, one has to believe that there is a deal between Musharraf and Sharif, despite Sharif’s vehement denials.

Or, more likely, that there is a deal between Musharraf and Saudi Arabia and between Saudi Arabia and Sharif, with the Saudis acting as guarantors and providing the necessary degree of separation and deniability both two faux-democrats need to maintain their credibility as political leaders.

Because, absent a deal to guide and constrain Sharif’s actions, it is difficult to look at allowing his return as anything less than political suicide by Musharraf.

This can be understand by looking at Punjab—home to 86 million people, the richest of Pakistan’s four provinces and the center of its politics, the key to power in Pakistan--and the political base of Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party.

Since Sharif’s departure from the scene, Musharraf moved to secure Punjab by midwifing a new Punjab-centered political party, the PML-Q, and lavishing patronage on its chief—and his main parliamentary ally-- Chaudhry Shujaat (not to be confused with the Supreme Court Chief Justice).

But all that looks like it might all be swept away by Sharif’s return.

In addition to his innate reserves of charisma, the surviving organization of his party, the electorate’s general disgust with all things Musharraf, and having a real, live lion show up to greet him at the airport—and despite his reputed legacy as a corrupt politico who once had his ruffians storm the Supreme Court, the same institution for which he now professes such a tender regard--Sharif has Saudi good will and possibly Saudi money to spread around in the service of his campaign.

Sharif filed papers to run for a parliamentary seat—indicating that his party will not boycott the elections (hint of a deal there) and triggering a flood of speculation in the Pakistani press that PML-Q will be decimated by a surge of support for Sharif and Chaudhry will fade into irrelevance.

So, unless Musharraf wanted to shatter his base of support in Pakistan’s most important province, gut the political party that provides him with his only parliamentary cover, and, in essence, destroy his tenuous hold on power while he’s attempting a difficult transition to a civilian presidency, he’s not going to let Nawaz Sharif return without a deal, even if Saudi Arabia and the United States are wagging disapproving fingers at him.

And it’s not inconceivable that Musharaff would sacrifice Chaudhry for the sake of a deal with Sharif.

Chaudhry is apparently corrupt in a big way—the besetting affliction of Pakistani politicians, it seems—and was a practitioner of the politics of appeasement with Islamic extremists, a policy that fell by the wayside with Musharraf’s assault on the Lal Masjid mosque in July (which bloodily terminated Chaudhry's prolonged negotiations with the leaders holed up inside the mosque).

While detesting Nawaz Sharif as his competitor for power, Chaudhry is also terminally on the outs with Benazir Bhutto (whose renegade brother, in an interesting twist of Pakistani politics—small world!--was reputedly responsible for the murder of Chaudhry's father) and would probably be able only to orchestrate a parliamentary alliance on behalf of Musharraf with some Islamicist parties—the kiss of death as far as U.S. support would be concerned. (For this perspective, I’m indebted to a prescient analysis on the Pakistan blog Watandost that parsed Chaudhry’s shaky political standing back in June of this year).

So Chaudhry and his inability to coexist with Sharif and Bhutto perhaps became a liability that Musharraf, in his extremity, could no longer afford.
And perhaps Musharraf made a deal, via Saudi Arabia, agreeing to condone Sharif's triumphal return to his privileged position in Punjab as a politician of national stature in return Sharif's support of Musharraf's second term as president.

While trolling the Pakistan blogs, I came across this gem:

Generalissimo Pervez Musharraf is not at his own. He is now fighting for himself, and has clarified it to Chaudharies that now they have to earn their keep at their own too. Its now the game of ‘survival of the fittest’. Nawaz Sharif’s calm and cool tone is giving creeps to the Chaudharies and lots of lotas. Lotas are desperate to roll and wring, but still they are not finding a leeway. These chathas, Wattooes, Tawanas, Mazaris, Legharis, Chaudharies, sials, tarrarrs, sheikhs, haqs, and other chronicle waderas and Jagirdars have sensed the tide of change, and they are finding it much harder this time to find their niche.

Chathas, Wattoes, and Tawanas oh my!
What are all those things? Specifically, what is a lota? A rolling and wringing lota?
Googling informs me:

While a lota is technically an urn used to clean oneself after going to the loo in South Asia, the term has been used to describe opportunistic politicians who have no qualms in switching sides whenever they feel that the tide is turning.

More details—including a cautionary tale for people who find a coffeemaker in their motel bathroom--can be found here.

So, think Pontius Pilate washing his hands; or “I’m going to wash that [inconvenient former ally] out of my [hair]”.

Or, more simply, “opportunist”.

That’s what some people call the PML-Q—the Lota party.

The other terms in the jeremiad refer to influential families, landlords, and feudal lords (presumably hyperbole) who may find that being cosseted by Musharraf for the last few years is a political black mark now that Sharif is back and getting ready to call the shots.

In contrast to Bhutto, who grotesquely over-reached and counterproductively traded on her U.S. support, Sharif seems to be playing his political hand with considerable skill and coolness—a fact that has probably not escaped Pakistanis wearied of Musharraf’s spectacular ineptness as a political leader.

In an interesting move for a politician who once tried to get himself anointed “Defender of the Faith”, upon his return Sharif visited the Datar Durbar complex, the tomb of a Sufi saint revered throughout South Asia.

Sufism is at the heart of Punjab’s cultural identity and Sharif visited the tomb no doubt to play up his Punjab roots but also to place some distance between himself and Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the arbiter of Islamic orthodoxy and looks askance at Sufism.

Sharif outlined his stance on the elections in an interview on Monday.

He’s being rather equivocal on the issue of the boycott, more so than the Western press—which usually describes him as “calling for a boycott”--reports.

The Pakistan Times article is worth quoting at length:

LAHORE: Pakistan’s ex-Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif said Monday that the opposition should use the option of boycotting the general elections in case a level playing field is not provided to it in the electioneering process. He was addressing a press conference at his Model Town residence here on Monday.

Former Punjab chief minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and PML-N leader Saranjam Khan were also present.Nawaz Sharif said the opposition do not want to indulge in any confrontation or to boycott the polls, but it will be left with no other option if it is pushed to the wall.

“We believe in reconciliation and Pakistan’s welfare, not in confrontation; the people at the helm of affairs need to understand the feelings of the people and act according to their aspirations to remove emergency and restore the rule of law in the country,” he said.

He demanded lifting of the emergency, restoration of the constitution and reinstatement of the judiciary as it was before November 3 and said that the judicial setup prior to the emergency be allowed to decide the matter of the presidential election.

Nawaz Sharif said that he would try to convince all the opposition parties to boycott the upcoming general elections. [emph. added]

It’s clear that Sharif wants to use the threat of a widespread boycott of the parliamentary elections by his party and Bhutto’s to force Musharraf to lift the State of Emergency.

Winning such a confrontation would give Sharif considerable momentum going into the poll, as well as making it more difficult for Musharraf to pursue whatever skullduggery he might consider in order to dilute Sharif’s success in the elections and play off a weakened PML-N against Bhutto's PPP as a coalition partner.

The dealbreaker (if there is a deal, of course) is Sharif’s demand for Musharraf not only to reinstate the judiciary but to allow the profoundly anti-Musharraf courts to decide on the legality of Musharraf’s (blatantly illegal and unconstitutional) State of Emergency.

If that were to happen, Musharraf would not only surely lose his job as president; he would fall under the same kind of extreme legal jeopardy that afflicts every Pakistani leader, Bhutto and Sharif included, who come out on the losing side of a political struggle.

My prognosis: ain’t gonna happen.

At least the part about re-opening the case of Musharraf’s presidential election. Musharraf is never going to lift the State of Emergency if Sharif’s threat is real, and I wonder if the popular or international support would be there either.

That’s exactly the kind of destructive judicial vendetta that has poisoned Pakistan’s politics for the last two decades.

The judiciary might be reinstated, but stripping Musharraf of his presidency and putting him on trial should be short-circuited by talk (encouraged by the U.S., the Saudis, and Pakistan’s army and already tacitly agreed by Sharif and Bhutto) of national reconciliation.

If Sharif plays the electoral endgame with finesse, emerges as the recognized power broker, reneges on whatever understanding he had with Musharraf, gains the upper hand over Musharraf, and wins the support of the army, the Saudis, and the United States as Our Man in Pakistan—no slam dunk—then maybe Musharraf goes.

And if Mush does go, he goes quietly after the election—and without the threat of a jail term over his head.

That’s my prediction, anyway.

We’ll see how things play out.
Photos: Sharif's lion from Der Spiegel
Tomb at Data Durbar from Wikipedia

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Nawaz Sharif: Saudi Arabia's Plan B for Pakistan?

Western scribes are perhaps overly enamored of the “Musharraf has his back against the wall and is being forced to make democratic concessions” narrative, which grows organically out of misrepresentation of Benazir Bhutto and the United States as the leader and sponsor, respectively, of an anti-Musharraf democratic vanguard.

Onthe contrary, events in recent days have shown that Bhutto is an ambitious, overly opportunistic, and by now perhaps fatally compromised American client, and the United States—as opposed to an apparent neo-con rump egging Bhutto and the Bush administration on—is an American patron committed to Musharraf but with a fatal and counterproductive desire to meddle in Pakistan’s internal politics.

The "democracy on the march" narrative has been applied to coverage of Musharraf’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Nawaz Sharif’s plans to return to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia.

The Western version is that Musharraf went to Saudi Arabia to try to convince the Saudis not to let Sharif return from exile and add to Musharraf’s electoral woes in Pakistan.

But, accustomed to the assumption that American plans and wishes direct Pakistan’s politics, it looks like we are missing the manifestation of Musharraf’s careful calculation and a guiding Saudi hand in Islamabad’s affairs.

And everything in the English language press in Pakistan and the Middle East indicates that the Anglo-American take on Pakistan’s politics is just plain wrong.

Typical is a Reuters report headlined Sharif due in Pakistan, Musharraf’s problems mount. It goes on to state:

Sharif's return, just in time to file nomination papers for a Jan. 8 parliamentary election, means the increasingly unpopular Musharraf will have to contend with two ex-premiers he has spent much of the last eight years trying to marginalise.

It makes a certain amount of sense on the surface, since Musharraf deposed Sharif in a coup and there is no love lost between them.

However, in contrast to the Reuters headline, the Pakistan Daily Times lede read:

* Insiders say Nawaz allowed to return in order to neutralise Benazir

Even before we turn to the regional coverage, the western coverage begged a fundamental question.

Why would Musharraf go to Saudi Arabia to try to convince the Saudis not to let Sharif come back?

A. Musharraf is in control of Pakistan’s borders. He doesn’t need to ask the Saudis to keep Sharif out. All he has to do is not let Sharif in.

B. Musharraf did just that on September 10. Sharif arrived on a plane from Saudi Arabia and Musharraf turned him around and sent him right back.

Another possible explanation—which I prefer—is that Musharraf has matters pretty well in hand, he went to Saudi Arabia to discuss Sharif’s return, and his trip represents a decline in Bhutto’s fortunes and a diminution of U.S. influence.

In fact, maybe the Saudis got impatient with America’s stumbling and destabilizing approach to the Pakistan problem, and stepped in to broker a deal between Musharraf and Sharif.

And the deal involves Sharif being allowed to return to Pakistan.

This aspect has received exhaustive coverage in the regional media.

Here’s a very interesting and circumstantial account, including hints of Islamic derring-do and secret meetings in Saudi mosques, from Asian News International:

Islamabad, Nov 22 : A top security official of the Musharraf regime has reached 'minimum understanding', who accompanied President Pervez Musharraf to Riyadh, stayed back and met former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the presence of Saudi royal family members. "The Saudis succeeded in creating a minimum understanding for peaceful coexistence between the two sides," well placed sources said. ...

Saudi Arabia's envoy in Pakistan, Ali Saeed Awadh Assiri, who played an important role, is also staying back in Jeddah. He came to the airport to see off Musharraf. ...

The General arrived in Jeddah late in the evening on Tuesday from Riyadh and proceeded straight to Mecca to perform Umrah with his brief entourage, he said. According to reports when he came back to the port city, Sharif, who lives in a posh area of the city, left for offering his Isha (night prayers) in a mosque in the vicinity with his male family members and some newsmen of Jeddah.

Sharif spent more than two hours in the mosque and in the meantime officials kept on trying to contact him, but he was not available, sources said. Musharraf spent less than 16 hours in Riyadh and left for Jeddah after talks with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia's ambassadors to the United States Adel A. Al-Jubeir and to Pakistan Ali Saeed Awadh Assiri were present in the meetings with the King Abdullah. The presence of the Saudi envoy to the US was important since it indicated that the US would also be on board in the ongoing interaction between Sharif and the authorities in Pakistan, sources added.

Pakistan Daily Times added a few evocative and somewhat greasy details about the deal, while also including PML-N denials that any deal had happened:

Nawaz, following a meeting with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, met with senior Pakistani officials and close associates of President General Pervez Musharraf, and agreed that the Sharif family could return to Pakistan as long as the PML-N did not boycott the elections, PML-Q sources told Daily Times. They said the understanding also involves the restoration of some of Nawaz’s business interests in the country and his Model Town residence. ISI DG Gen Nadeem Taj and Brig (r) Niaz, a mutual “friend” of Gen Musharraf and Nawaz, mediated the negotiations in Jeddah. The sources said that Nawaz had also agreed not to destabilise Gen Musharraf’s “transition” to democracy or try to overthrow him.

In any case, Sharif is returning to Pakistan with more than a little Saudi political and material support:

The Saudi monarch is sending Sharif to Pakistan on a royal plane and has gifted him two bulletproof Mercedes cars and also lent him a helicopter for use during the elections.

According to early reports, Sharif wouldn’t personally run in the upcoming election but his party won’t boycott the January 8 parliamentary poll.

But Sharif is keeping Musharraf off-balance by returning hours before the deadline for filing election papers expires.

The Pakistan Daily Times stated:

“The Saudi king, Musharraf and Nawaz know what has been agreed to among them,” a PML-N leader said when asked about details of the “agreement” between President Musharraf and Nawaz. However, he said it would be clear in a few days. “November 26 is the last date for filing nomination papers. The cat will be out of the bag after the deadline for nomination papers ends,” he said.

We’ll see.

If Sharif’s party joins the elections the threat to the legitimacy of the elections and the vulnerability of Musharraf’s government by a boycott by Bhutto’s PPP is significantly diminished.

Bhutto’s insistence on a boycott has been weakening; if she faces the prospect of being supplanted by another opposition party that does participate in the elections, her principled resistance to joining the poll will probably evaporate.

Furthermore, with Sharif’s party competing, Musharraf will now have a convenient alternative to Bhutto when negotiating the post-election coalition between his PML-Q party and the two alternatives acceptable to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia—Bhutto’s PPP and Sharif’s PML-N.

There are even indications that it is not unthinkable for Musharraf to let Sharif personally stand for a seat and put himself in the running for the prime ministership, even if it means undercutting the electoral fortunes of Musharraf’s own party or even forcing a merger between the two.

An article entitled Panic in PML-Q, jubiliation in PML-N reported:

Alarm bells have started ringing in the PML-Q with its leadership fearing a major dent in the party as most ticket-holders might defect to the PML-N following former premier Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country today (Sunday) to participate in politics.
Insiders ... do not foresee any merger of the PML-Q and PML-N at this stage, they do predict a possible understanding between the two estranged leagues on the basis of seat adjustments to avoid split of the anti-Benazir vote.

Sharif, who has quite possibly noticed how Bhutto’s political standing has been compromised by her open embrace of a U.S. brokered deal with Musharraf, is ostentatiously declaring he has no deal with Musharraf.

Well, deal or no deal?

On November 23, the Pakistan media organization Dawn gave a run-down of the conflicting spin and indignant denials put on the rumored deal by the PML-N, the PML-Q, and the PPP entitled Deal shadow over Sharifs’ homecoming:

First, the PML-N:

[A spokesman for Sharif] denied that Gen Musharraf had allowed Nawaz to return home on the condition that he would not boycott the forthcoming elections.

On the contrary, Nadir said, President Musharraf tried to persuade King Abdullah against allowing Nawaz Sharif to go back home before the completion of the “10-year exile deal” he had signed with the Saudi authorities in 2000.

Then Musharraf’s PML-Q weighed in:

Although equally vague on the specifics, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, the head of the pro-Musharraf PML-Q, told DAWN NEWS TV that if Mr Sharif returns to Pakistan before the elections, it would be a result of a “deal” with the Saudi government, and that his party would welcome the development. He said the party was prepared to take on all such challenges. “We are not afraid of him.”

Last and perhaps least, Bhutto’s PPP:

The reports also brought worries to members of the PPP, but some of them pointed out that perhaps Benazir Bhutto, sensing such an eventuality, had already made direct contacts with Mr Sharif to offset the impact of his return.

As to the presumed endgame for all this maneuvering, Dawn concluded:

CONSENSUS GOVT: There have also been suggestions that with Benazir Bhutto already supporting the idea of a government of national consensus, and Nawaz Sharif now softening his tone to talk about reconciliation, there is a possibility that fresh attempt could be made to assemble all major players around a negotiating table, leading to the forming of a consensus government to ensure a smooth transition to democracy.

According to analysts, Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan and pressure from the international community made the Saudi authorities review their decision to keep Nawaz Sharif in exile for another three years.

A plausible interpretation is that Benazir Bhutto relied excessively on U.S. support that didn’t materialize and overplayed her hand, alienating Musharraf and giving grounds for him to reject her as the democratic partner that the U.S. was clamoring for.

And America, by cynically acquiescing to Musharraf’s extra-judicial and unconstitutional second term as president, has effectively dealt itself out of whatever leverage it hoped to have in Pakistani politics.

A close reading of events implies that Musharraf has found in Sharif and Saudi Arabia a more more reliable partner and sympathetic patron than the combination of Bhutto and the United States.

Reporting on Sharif’s return, Pakistan’s Daily Times wrote:

“The understanding with Benazir was that she would return to Pakistan after the general elections but her early arrival and her brinkmanship made the president rethink his policy towards Nawaz,” a source close to the president said.

Now it’s up to Nawaz Sharif--and the Saudis.

It looks like Sharif is the Saudi’s—but not necessarily America’s--Plan B to keep Musharraf comfortably on top of Pakistan’s political heap.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Another Fine Mess

posted this on American Footprints on November 13

Maybe one reason the Bush administration is unable to develop a coherent foreign policy is because it’s stuck in reactive mode, flinching as fresh catastrophes come down the pipe and scrambling to come up with new excuses and rationales for initiatives that—had they worked out—would have been tucked away in the “case-closed” file of foreign policy successes.

Pakistan looks like it might turn into a colossal botch. Certainly, our stated objective for shoehorning Benazir Bhutto back into Pakistan—to broaden the popular base for Musharraf’s regime—isn’t working out. In fact, the exact opposite is occurring.

In the same week, Georgia—home of the Rose Revolution we helped foment—declared its own state of emergency.

And now Somalia.

McClatchy’s Shashank Bengali lays it out:

Last December, Ethiopian forces supported by the American military invaded neighboring Somalia to oust a hard-line Islamist regime that U.S. officials claimed was linked to al Qaida. Since then, the Ethiopians have faced stubborn resistance from fighters loyal to the Islamists, who've proved adept at ambushes and remote-controlled bombings.

Ethiopia's campaign has become an open-ended military intervention besieged by a stubborn insurgency, and Ethiopians recently responded by sending in a surge of reinforcement troops. Human rights groups charge that the Ethiopian forces are carelessly killing civilians.

Today’s word is probably not “Quagmire”; it’s “Meltdown”.

More than 114,000 people fled their homes over the past two weeks, according to United Nations estimates released on Friday. Humanitarian officials said that many more fled over the weekend after Islamists ambushed a convoy of Ethiopian troops and dragged the dead body of a soldier through the streets, triggering a spasm of Ethiopian reprisal attacks.

"Somalia's worst displacement ever took place in the last few days," said an official with a Western aid agency in Mogadishu who asked not to be identified for security reasons. "Nearly four districts of the city have been totally cleared out."

Some 850,000 Somalis — perhaps one in six — are displaced within their own country, the most in years. Fewer than 10 percent of them are receiving any humanitarian aid, and most live in desperate conditions in makeshift refugee encampments scattered around Mogadishu's outskirts.

The latest turmoil is producing a ghastly conclusion to an apocalyptic year, even for Somalia, which hasn't had a functioning government in 16 years.
What to do, what to do?

Well, we can certainly point fingers at our proxies the Ethiopians, the hapless African Union, and that ineffectual but convenient punching bag, the U.N.:

"The Ethiopians are becoming impatient, meaning that they now retaliate indiscriminately," said the Western aid official. "That, of course, leads to more resistance."

The African Union has deployed a vanguard force of 1,600 peacekeepers, but they've been confined to Mogadishu's airport and seaport. No reinforcements appear to be forthcoming, and last week U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the situation was too chaotic to send in U.N. forces.

For those who have short memories and don’t recall the Somalia invasion as a particularly ham-fisted piece of American adventurism, see Democracy Now! and the WSWS website).

It would be a bit too much to expect the Bush administration to enforce some accountability on the U.S. dingbats who thought it was a good idea to orchestrate an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia.

Maybe Jendayi Frazier of the State Department, point person for our Somalia policy--who is also blamed for our inept Sudan policy--should answer a question or two.

At least that’s what a highly indignant Sophia Tesfamariam thinks. In February 2007 she wrote in American Chronicle:

[UK Channel 4 News’ Jon] Snow told his listeners “the blueprint for a very American supported Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was hatched” at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa...[Snow] referred to a “UN record of a meeting” that took place sometime in June 2006 and was attended by a US Commander of the Fleet off Somalia, Rear Admiral Richard Hunt, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi E. Frazier and an unnamed UN official. According to the report, the attendees discussed possible scenarios in Somalia and how to deal with them:
•“…The worst case scenario would result from a total control by the UIC [United Islamic Courts of Somalia] over Somalia…the US would not allow it…”
•In the event of a rapid Ethiopian in and out intervention “…the US would rally with Ethiopia if the ‘Jihadists’ took over…”
•Jendayi Frazier is quoted as saying, “It would be a mistake for the international community to condemn such an invasion”
•An unnamed UN official is quoted as saying, “any Ethiopian action in Somalia would have Washington’s blessing”

Tesfamariam concludes:

[T]he UIC was never a threat to international peace and security, but rather, the threat we now face is the result of the crisis in Somalia that Meles Zenawi [of Ethiopia] and Jendayi E. Frazier have created and are advancing in the Horn of Africa.

Accountability shmacountability. That’s why we have proxies and cutouts.

Instead let’s assert our impotence (and lack of culpability) by engaging in some anguished handwringing from the sidelines (McClatchy again):

Bush administration envoys have called for Somalia's transitional government to make peace with its opponents, but the Pentagon, which has long worried about Somalia becoming a haven for terrorists, supports Ethiopia's presence in the country.

Remind me. Who made this mess?

A Moment of Clarity for Pakistan

For those of you keeping score, the United States has been pushing Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing in order to broaden the base of Musharraf’s support.

Musharraf’s fan club has shrunk to the military core after a series of political mis-steps, so that vote-rigging any significant success for his PML-Q party in the upcoming parliamentary elections would have been greeted with disbelief, derision, and outrage.

Bhutto was supposed to come in, lead her PPP to contest the parliamentary elections, emerge with enough support to form a coalition with Musharraf’s party, lead the government as PM and provide a meaningful civilian endorsement of Musharraf’s rule as president.

And the coalition of Islamicist parties, the MMA, would be kept safely in minority opposition status and unable to play any significant power-broker role.

The objective has, as the term indicates, always been power-sharing—keeping Musharraf in power and giving Bhutto a piece of the pie in return for her support.

Not democracy.

Which is why the United States and Bhutto have essentially turned a blind eye toward Musharraf’s ham-fisted efforts to destroy the genuine constitutional and democratic opposition to his rule: Pakistan’s independent judiciary and its lawyers.

The narrative got confusing for a while. The power sharing arrangement hit a bump in the road when Musharraf declared a State of Emergency to prevent the Supreme Court from disallowing his second term as president.

Bhutto adopted the rhetoric and tactics of the democracy movement to improve her political standing inside Pakistan and increase her leverage on Musharraf.

But now clarity emerges. The deal is just about done.

Msuharraf’s new, improved, and hand-packed Supreme Court (still, I believe, one member short since his regime has been unable to find enough cooperative jurists to staff it) first threw out the petitions challenging the presidential elections.

(It wasn’t necessary to throw out the one filed by Bhutto’s PPP, since they declined to argue their case.)

Nary a peep from the United States or Benazir Bhutto.

Today, additional legerdemain:

via AFP:

Musharraf moved to give a solid legal footing to his November 3 declaration of a state of emergency, issuing an amendment to the constitution which says it cannot be over-ruled in court.
Musharraf has pledged to quit the army as soon as the Supreme Court -- now stuffed with selected judges -- dismisses all the challenges, and Wednesday's ordinance could accelerate the process by shoring up his legal position.

Qayyum said the presidential order "has ratified and validated the action taken on November 3."

Musharraf amended the constitution by fiat.

Solid legal footing, indeed.

The current state of affairs may be good enough for Benazir Bhutto.

Via AP :

Bhutto said late Tuesday that it would be a "good sign" if Musharraf quits his army post, and avoided criticizing him directly. She said her party needed a few more days to decide whether to boycott the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.

...though I’m sure a factor in her deliberations is how well her party is really going to do in the elections now that she has done a pretty good job of burning her bridges with Musharraf, whose political apparatus will probably have a say in how many votes she gets, and where.

But no place at the table, I think, for Nawaz Sharif. It seems Musharraf has been able to convince the United States that injecting one ambitious émigré—Bhutto—into the volatile mix of Pakistani politics is more than enough.

AP again:

Musharraf flew back [to Pakistan] early Wednesday after meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. Saudi officials said efforts had been made to arrange a meeting between Musharraf and Sharif, who was ousted as prime minister by the general's 1999 coup.

A Pakistani official said Musharraf's goal was to prevent Sharif from returning before the parliamentary elections. Sharif's party suggested he had snubbed the general.

Meanwhile, the kabuki theater of releasing detained politicians proceeds, and Musharraf gains the White House seal of approval.

AP again:

Authorities on Tuesday set general elections for January 8 and announced the release of more than 3,400 prisoners detained under emergency rule, with another 2,000 to be freed "soon."
That step was welcomed by US President George W. Bush who said Musharraf -- a key ally in the fight against Islamic extremism -- "hasn't crossed the line" where he would lose Washington's support.

"I think he truly is somebody who believes in democracy," Bush told the US television network ABC.

He voiced confidence that Musharraf would restore democracy, saying he had always found him to be "a man of his word."

In other news, Musharraf, that believer in democracy, continues nailing the genuinely democratic force within Pakistan—the judiciary and lawyers—that might interfere with the staged parliamentary elections meant to consecrate the power-sharing deal (AP again):

Meanwhile, there were fresh arrests Wednesday. Wajihuddin Ahmed, a former Supreme Court judge who was the only candidate against Musharraf in the October presidential election, was taken into custody in Islamabad along with Athar Minallah, an opposition lawyer.

"They were driving a car when men in plainclothes stopped them," said Minallah's wife, Ghazala. "We do not know where they have been taken."

It looks like the grand U.S. plan for Pakistan is not going to result in greater stability or democracy.

Turning a blind eye to the suppression of the judiciary and the shredding of the constitution is not going to enhance the popular stature of Musharraf, Bhutto, or the United States.

Using a rigged election to pack Parliament with Bhutto supporters may wean Musharraf away from the Islamic parties and encourage him to confront instead of conciliate them.

But the rickety and illegitimate power-sharing deal that will put them there may cause a popular backlash and exacerbate the problems it was meant to solve.

And, even if Musharraf no longer needs the Islamicist parties in parliament, the facts on the ground in the Northwest—and the understandable unwillingness of Pakistan’s armies to conduct the full-spectrum counterinsurgency that the U.S. is demanding—are unlikely to change.

At first, I thought l there might be a grander U.S. purpose at work: restructuring Pakistan’s politics to put civilians instead of the military at its center; goading the military into more enthusiastic prosecution of the counterinsurgency and anti-al Qaeda operations on the border; supplanting China as the great power at the center of Pakistan’s affections; or even a rapprochement between Pakistan and India.

Maybe there was.

But whatever the original plans, dreams, and theories; the fine-sounding pretexts we’re using to sell the idea; or the energetic spinning by Bhutto’s supporters, the end result looks like little more than a convoluted backroomdeal that gets Musharraf another term in office, albeit complemented with a pro-U.S. parliamentary coalition.

We'll have to see if that represents progress, either for Pakistan or the United States.

Ken Fireman at Bloomberg, in an otherwise befuddled article that illustrates the contradictions inherent in misconstruing a power-sharing deal imposed by the United States as a democratic movement supposedly led by Benazir Bhutto, delivered this money quote:

Kamran Shafi, a retired Pakistani army officer and Bhutto's former press secretary, said Musharraf is increasingly perceived as a ``Pakistani Tonto'' who has been ``riding shotgun for the policies of a very stupid U.S. administration.'’

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pakistan Newswire

First a news flash: Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon are idiots

via, Pakistan Daily reports:

Frederick Kagan of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute and Michael O’Hanlon of the more liberal Brookings Institution argue in an article published in the New York Times on Sunday that the US simply cannot stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descended into the abyss.
Possible plan: One possible plan would be a Special Forces operation with the limited goal of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear materials and warheads from getting into the wrong hands. Given the degree to which Pakistani nationalists cherish these assets, it is unlikely the United States would get permission to destroy them. Somehow, American forces would have to team with Pakistanis to secure critical sites and possibly to move the material to a safer place. For the United States, the safest bet would be shipping the material to someplace like New Mexico, but even pro-American Pakistanis would be unlikely to cooperate. It would be better for the US to settle for establishing a remote redoubt within Pakistan, with the nuclear technology guarded by elite Pakistani forces backed up and watched over by crack international troops.

That’s not just jumping the shark. That’s jumping on the shark, tap-dancing on its nose, and using a secret brain ray to force it to type the plays of Shakespeare on a vintage Underwood.

And that’s before they come up with the idea of abducting Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal to a secret location in New Mexico.

I actually had to check the New York Times website to make sure this wasn’t a spoof or some piece of anti-American psyops by the Pakistani media. And yes, they really said it .


Second, via, The Australian gets it...

with the headline Bhutto's backflip as poll is called

The lede:

PAKISTANI President Pervez Musharraf yesterday nailed down January 8 for elections while opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, in yet another political backflip, appeared to lay the groundwork for resuming power-sharing negotiations with the military ruler.

Recall that Bhutto’s attorney also chose not to argue the suit against Musharraf’s election as president; another sign that the PPP is party to a new U.S-brokered deal to let Musharraf have the presidency in return for “taking off the uniform” and governing as a civilian and smoothing the path to January parliamentary elections.

So everybody’s priority (except the hapless Pakistani lawyers’) for Pakistan is not democracy; it’s to prevent democracy from screwing up a power-sharing deal that the U.S., Bhutto, and Musharraf all want to see go ahead—even though they all hate and mistrust each other.

Finally, the great game continues...

Bhutto, in an effort to maintain her street cred and to keep the threat of a legal challenge to Musharraf’s presidency alive, had, while refusing to argue the election case, also refused to confirm the legality of Musharraf’s presidency.

Well, if Benazir wants to keep Mush in legal limbo, well, he'll return the favor.

In a tit-for-tat move, Musharraf’s attorney general announces that the amnesty that Musharraf granted Bhutto on graft charges as part of the original power-sharing deal maybe has a bit of a problem:

Former premier Benazir Bhutto may soon face the same corruption cases that forced her into exile for eight years as the amnesty [National Reconciliation Order] lifting the charges was likely to be overturned, said Attorney General (AG) Malik Qayyum.

Five writs have been issued against the amnesty in the Supreme Court and it would not survive the challenge, Qayyum told The Sunday Times.President Pervez Musharraf had granted the amnesty to Bhutto by promulgating the National Reconciliation Order (NRO) ahead of her return to the country on October 18.

NRO not ‘happily worded’: “I don’t think it [amnesty] will survive the challenge,” Qayyum said. “Whoever drafted it, it was not happily worded. Only the courts can decide to throw charges out, not governments.”

Take that!

And on with the games!

The Deal Goes Down--For Now

The deal I speculated about here and here —that the U.S. would turn a blind eye to the unconstitutionality of Musharraf’s election as president in return for his promise to govern as a civilian and maybe lift the State of Emergency for the January parliamentary elections, and that the PPP would be inclined to sell out the lawyers and go along--looks like it’s going down.

From the AP :

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A Supreme Court hand-picked by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf swiftly dismissed legal challenges to his continued rule on Monday, opening the way for him to serve another five-year term — this time solely as a civilian president.
Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar dismissed three opposition petitions challenging Musharraf's victory in a disputed presidential election last month, saying two had been "withdrawn" because opposition lawyers were not present in court.

The third was withdrawn by a lawyer for the party of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who suggested the court was illegitimate.

"We asked for (the case) to be postponed because we said there is no constitution," she told reporters in Karachi after a meeting with the U.S. ambassador. She said she had no plans to revive power-sharing negotiations with Musharraf, broken off after the general's decision to declare emergency rule. [emph. added]

To me, it looks like Bhutto went along with the deal and isn’t challenging Musharraf’s gutting of the judiciary—for now.

But she didn't explicitly endorse the legality of Musharraf's presidency, so she retains some democratic-opposition cred.

More importantly, she’s keeping the extremely powerful weapon of a legal challenge in reserve in case Musharraf gets balky either on lifting the State of Emergency or simply giving Bhutto whatever she wants—legal or illegal institutional support or maybe just a free hand--in order to make sure the PPP emerges from the January elections with a powerful position in parliament that assures Bhutto the PM spot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Judicious Betrayal

United States Ignoring Pakistan’s Judiciary and Supporting Musharraf’s Bid for Second Term

In my previous post, I noted that the United States has been oddly silent on the central, precipitating factor in Pakistan’s crisis—Musharraf’s use of the State of Emergency to move against the Supreme Court that was poised to disallow his election to another term as president.

I speculated that the U.S. silence signaled a New Deal v.2: the U.S. would disregard the illegality of Musharraf’s bid for another term as president if he took office as a civilian and lifted the State of Emergency prior to parliamentary elections.

It looks like that’s what’s going on. And that probably means the judiciary gets hung out to dry.

In John Negroponte’s statement before leaving Pakistan there wasn't a word about restoring the Supreme Court, releasing the lawyers and judges from jail, or maintaining an independent judiciary.

But there was a reference to Musharraf's second term:

We welcome President Musharraf's announcement that elections will take place in January, a commitment he repeated to me yesterday in categorical terms. He also repeated his commitment to retire from his army post before commencing his second presidential term, and we urge him to do so as soon as possible. [emph. added]

The only people getting a leg up from the United States are the political parties, by extension Bhutto and her PPP:

Unfortunately, the recent police actions against protestors, suppression of the media, and the arrests of political and human rights leaders run directly counter to the reforms that have been undertaken in recent years. Their continuation undermines the progress Pakistan has made.

I urged the Government to stop such actions, lift the state of emergency, and release all political detainees.

With typical calculation, Bhutto’s PPP also appears willing to let the judiciary twist in the wind, according to Dawn.

[A PPP spokesman] did not give a clear reply when asked if the PPP would accept a judgment by the present Supreme Court upholding Gen Musharraf’s election. The real question was of the notification of the result which had been stayed by the ‘previous court’, he said.

The fact that the lawyers aren’t getting lip service either from the United States or the PPP indicates that the last thing we want is for a straightforward legal challenge to the constitutionality of Musharraf’s second term to upset the applecart.

I guess our vision of democracy does not accommodate the idea of an activist judiciary seeking to enforce constitutional limits on an executive that sees itself as above the law.

Snark aside, the back of the hand approach to Pakistan’s lawyers is significant, and not just in a Hey! Look who got shafted this time! perspective on great power and machine politics in Pakistan.

The nucleus of prosperous, bourgeois Pakistan’s drive for civilian rule, political and theological moderation, and democracy is not the corrupt political parties headed by Bhutto and Sharif.

It’s the lawyers and judges who have been fighting for law-abiding, civilian, secular, and democratic rule since the beginning of this year that have been taking it on the chin.

And they are probably so estranged from Musharraf by now that there’s no concession that can reconcile them to him, and allow him to claim a second presidential term with the genuine backing of the judiciary.

What to do?

Maybe a dose of internal exile is what the doctor ordered!

According to the University of Pittsburgh’s Jurist legal news site, the deposed head of the Supreme Court, Iftkhar Mohammed Chaudrhy, expects Musharraf to try and remove him from his official residence and send him to a city called Quetta.

And he doesn’t mean to go quietly:

Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted Chaudhry as saying:
I am not interested in going to Quetta or elsewhere and it will be an act of abduction and forcible detention for which the secretary for interior, Islamabad’s commissioner [of police], deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner on duty shall be responsible along with law-enforcement agencies...Presently, I am holding the post of Chief Justice of Pakistan under Constitution and I am occupying the official accommodation.

Chaudhry is not formally under house arrest but did say that he was not allowed to leave his house and his children were being prevented from attending school and university. Dawn has more.

In a separate statement to the Northwest Frontier Province Bar Association Wednesday Chaudhry said that he was one of over 60 superior court judges who had refused to take PCO oaths [JURIST report] and still legally held office.

I suppose Musharraf plans to pack the courts, grit his teeth at the rejection of the new legal system’s legitimacy by a significant number of Pakistan’s lawyers and judges, and expect that their discordant, principled voices will be drowned out by the babble of greedy, corrupt, and power-hungry politicos on the hustings come January.

But having a vocal, educated, prosperous, organized, and terminally alienated group with a legitimate sense of grievance at the heart of Pakistan’s bourgeoisie does not bode well for democracy American Style in Pakistan, for Musharraf, whatever military leader follows him...or for any opposition party that cuts a cynical deal with Musharraf for a share of power.

A barrister recently released from detention made the point eloquently and forcefully.

From Dawn:

PESHAWAR, Nov 18: Barrister Baachaa, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, has said that all stakeholders should agree on the one-point agenda of ridding the country of the military dictator.

Barrister Baachaa was sent to the Haripur central prison under the Maintenance of Public Order and released on Friday night along with other lawyers after remaining in captivity for 13 days.In a statement issued here, he said that any politician or party supporting the present dictatorial regime would betray the struggle of lawyers who had made innumerable sacrifices during the last seven months.
Barrister Baachaa said that at a time when the political leadership of the country had failed the people of Pakistan, it was the lawyers who took the initiative and launched a movement in the country. He said people from every walk of life, the print and electronic media in particular, supported the lawyers and forced the once mighty General Musharraf to get off his ‘high horse’ and hold out an olive branch to the same person he himself had accused of looting the national wealth.

Barrister Baachaa highlighted the achievements of lawyers across the country and regretted that even at this crucial juncture when the survival of a democratic Pakistan was at stake, politicians were engaged in point scoring and were interested only in securing a place for themselves in the future set up. [emph. added]

It will be interesting to see if Bhutto, after weighing the lawyers in the balance against the army, the United States, and her own ambition, decides to ignore them, exploit them, or betray them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

Musharraf, America, and Pakistan's Supreme Court

One thing we don’t hear about from the United States concerning the crisis in Pakistan is the sticky situation with Pakistan’s Supreme Court that provoked Musharraf’s declaration of the State of Emergency in the first place.

But no demands from Washington yet that Musharraf reinstate the by now presumably terminally intractable Supreme Court, which had signaled a couple weeks ago that it would decline to certify Musharraf for another term as president because he had run while still in uniform.

That’s the big dog that didn’t bark.

So I’d speculate that the Washington’s Big Deal v. 2 is that Musharraf “take off the uniform”, keep the presidency, lift the state of emergency, and hold the elections. And we'll avert our eyes while he packs the Supreme Court with his cronies and gets his election certified.

Then the Bush administration can kick the can down the road and further distance itself from the mess by watching Musharraf’s party slug it out with Bhutto in the parliamentary elections early next year.

In other words, now that our power-hungry client has slipped the leash and we’ve totally alienated our purported ally, it’s time to sit back and watch the magic of democracy Pakistani-style, complete with bribery and vote-rigging, transform the crisis into something we have nothing to do with.

Good times!

The stumbling block is, of course, Bhutto. She has added a call for Musharraf to step down as one of her demands and, even if she recants, Musharraf is unlikely to trust her.

So Musharraf’s getting ready to roll the dice in his contest with Bhutto.

Dawn, a major Pakistani English-language paper, reports that Musharraf has transferred the power to lift the state of emergency from the army to the presidency, an indication that he’s planning to rule as a civilian to placate world and local opinion, but wants to keep the ultimate bargaining chip--lifting the SofE--close at hand:

President Gen Pervez Musharraf who as Chief of Army Staff promulgated the state of emergency and Provisional Constitution Order on November 3 has transferred the power of lifting the emergency to the office of president. He amended the PCO with the Provisional Constitution (Amendment) Order 2007, issued on Wednesday night....

Mr Qayyum claimed that Gen Musharraf would quit his army post before December 1....

To most people, the amendment only means that Gen Musharraf has transferred the power from himself to himself, as he currently holds both offices of the president and the army chief. However, legal experts say it is not so simple.The attorney general said that since President Musharraf had imposed the emergency as the Chief of the Army Staff, he wanted to lift it himself as and when required after relinquishing the post of the army chief. [emph. added]

Maybe this is an indication of lack of trust in Musharraf’s successor as army head, purported Western darling and anointed army of chief of staff Kayani, and the corrosive acid of paranoia will start eating away at Musharraf’s support within the military.

But on balance, I think it’s intended as a demonstration to Negroponte that Musharraf has the reins of power in hand, is prepared to govern as a civilian and lift the state of emergency when he feels like it, and that Washington should think twice about its disastrous marriage of convenience with Bhutto and its futile, wide-stance flirtation with Kayani and back off.

Washington, relieved that Musharraf has the will and a way to get out of this mess, may very well let him have his way.

Pakistani Double Whammy

I’ve frequently asserted that the fundamental contradiction at the heart of the U.S.—Pakistan relationship—and the one that militates against U.S. efforts to guide Pakistani politics—is that the U.S. wants Pakistan to make battling extremists on the borders its number one priority, while the main interest of the military is in heartland security and the India/Kashmir issue.

If I were to go a step further, I’d say that U.S. policy toward Pakistan is driven by the worsening situation in Afghanistan—an area in which Pakistan is even less eager to support our goals and would rather see nature take its course and the replacement of Karzai’s pro-American government with a quasi-tribal outfit more reliant on and friendly toward Islamabad.

So we’re dealing with a double whammy on our Pakistan policy.

It’s nice to see someone agree with me, at least on the first point.

So I’ll link to him!

Here’s something from a Brookings Institute piece by Moeed Yusuf back in September.

He wrote:

At the moment, there is virtually no support for a massive operation against Taliban sympathizers in the FATA region. The Pushtuns- an overwhelming majority in the NWFP- view any military action against their ethnic kin as solely a function of American influence rather than an internal need. This does not imply that they necessarily support extremist causes in FATA. It simply suggests that any such move is understood as part of a battle that is not Pakistan's, and if continued, may cause tremendous collateral damage, which mainstream Pakistanis are unwilling to tolerate.

Interestingly, the same Pushtuns, as well as a powerful majority of the urban and rural society in the hinterland, are highly supportive of taking those who threaten Pakistan per se, to task. The more than 85 percent approval rating for the raid on the Red Mosque and overwhelming opposition to suicide attacks among average Pakistanis revealed by the recent PEW global attitudes poll is indicative of such sentiments. Yet, Pakistanis continue to believe that imposing a military solution on the problem would create severe fissures within the society and perhaps even the armed forces, the results of which could be catastrophic.

But how does the government then reconcile serious opposition to a wholehearted military operation in FATA with the sense of urgency among the military top brass and the urban elite to act against those threatening the Pakistani heartland? The answer: do 'more of the same', but with much greater sincerity to neutralize the threat. Once the ongoing spat of extremist violence subsides (for which the military has ratcheted up its operations), the military and intelligence agencies will be tasked to reopen communication channels through interlocutors to find new means to forge sustainable peace deals with the militants. [emph. added]

FATA, by the way, is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, a sliver of land bordering Pakistan that is basically run by the central government. NWFP is the North-West Frontier Province, one of the four provinces that make up Pakistan. Combined, these areas account for 22 million of Pakistan’s population and most of its militancy.

In other words, the Pashtun areas of Pakistan are about as big as Iraq, and Musharraf--who has been presiding over a fractious multi-ethnic state for the last decade--doesn't need the example of our trainwreck in Iraq to know he can't solve the problem militarily with less than 500,000 troops, tens of billions of dollars, and emergency powers that would make the current restrictions look trivial.

And that's completely out of reach.

Nevertheless, that's the line Bhutto is pushing, at least for the purpose of attracting U.S. support.

Using Bhutto to destabilitize Pakistan in order to try and save Afghanistan is probably not the most viable or responsible course for America to pursue.

And if part of the plan includes undercutting Pakistan’s efforts to achieve a separate peace with its border militants at the expense of our interests in Afghanistan, it looks like we’ll not only have trouble with the Pakistani military, but also with the Pakistani popular opinion we are currently cultivating with our pro-democracy talk.

That’s a double whammy the beleaguered Bush foreign policy team could probably do without.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Forecast for Pakistan: Declining American Patience with a Chance of Reign by Kayani

With commendable restraint, the New York Times piece on a possible post- Musharraf future didn’t get around to hyping Ashfaq Parvez Kayani until the fourteenth paragraph.

It’s difficult for me to determine whether the dump-Musharraf sentiments in the article issue from the agitated bowels of the Bush administration, or if it’s mainly aggressive spinmeistering by the pro-Bhutto crowd constellated around Zalmay Khalizdad.

But, if pushed, I’d vote for spinmeistering.

Let’s look.

Several senior administration officials said that with each day that passed, more administration officials were coming around to the belief that General Musharraf’s days in power were numbered and that the United States should begin considering contingency plans, including reaching out to Pakistan’s generals.

More than a dozen officials in Washington and Islamabad from a number of countries spoke on condition of anonymity because of the fragility of Pakistan’s current political situation. The doubts that American officials voiced about whether General Musharraf could survive were more pointed than any public statements by the administration, and signaled declining American patience in advance of Mr. Negroponte’s trip.

The “declining American patience” line is one of my favorites.

Whenever we engineer some cock-up in the Middle East and things go wrong, our hapless proxy caught on the local cleft stick trying to implement our flawed policy is slagged for exhausting our patience.

There are no bad policies, you see, just bad clients...

Of course, as I wrote yesterday, Musharraf was armtwisted by the United States into accepting the Bhutto powersharing arrangement that has turned into a total disaster.

I would suggest that the reason it didn’t work has a lot more to do with Bhutto’s vaunting ambition than it does with Musharraf’s undeniably unenthusiastic implementation of America’s grand plan.

But Bhutto has skillfully played the democracy card and she looks untouchable, at least as far as criticism from Washington is concerned.

That leaves Musharraf as the scapegoat for democratization gone awry.

I tend to think Musharraf is doing OK internally with the state of emergency, and so his opponents are counter-attacking in the foreign press, using the international bully pulpit to convince the army that Musharraf has lost the confidence of the Bush administration and they should start making other plans.

Then they go back to the Bush administration and say, The generals are ready to break with Musharraf, and try to get the U.S.government to officially lower the boom on him.

The old whipsaw.

And, to frame the argument in Washington, the article helpfully establishes a rather arbitrary red line that should determine that Mush Must Go:

One red line the military would probably not be prepared to cross would be if it were called on to maintain internal security anywhere beyond the areas of the insurgency. If widespread political protests were to emerge, the army could be called out to enforce law and order.

While no large-scale protests have emerged since the emergency was declared, the apparent collapse over the last week of American-backed talks to create a power-sharing deal between Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf could lead to more street confrontations, diplomats said.

My personal feeling is that making statements like these is like sending Benazir Bhutto off to fight a fire with a bucket of gasoline.

We’ll see if she takes this as invitation to try to foment street disturbances large and violent enough to bring the army out.

The Pakistan endgame apparently involves Kayani, whom Bhutto has known since he served as deputy military minister in her previous administration in the 1990s—and has been assiduously cultivating and praising since he served as Musharraf’s aide at the Abu Dhabi power sharing talks between Musharraf and Bhutto this summer.

Let’s meet Mr. Kayani.

From the New York Times:

Pakistan’s cadre of elite generals, called the corps commanders, have long been kingmakers inside the country. At the top of that cadre is Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, General Musharraf’s designated successor as army chief. General Kayani is a moderate, pro-American infantry commander who is widely seen as commanding respect within the army and, within Western circles, as a potential alternative to General Musharraf.

General Kayani and other military leaders are widely believed to be eager to pull the army out of politics and focus its attention purely on securing the country.

Just to toss in my personal observation about “securing the country”: I think one thing the army doesn’t want to do is be forced to conduct even more aggessive counter-insurgency operations in the northwest as the price of U.S. aid and political support.

My personal theory is that America’s continued insistence on fighting this unpopular, dangerous, and destabilizing war is the biggest hindrance to the army just giving up on Musharraf and making some deal with Washington.

Interestingly, Kayani’s designation as army chief of staff was one of the signs that Musharraf was doggedly proceeding with the power-sharing arrangements.

From India Express:

Islamabad, October 2: Pakistani president pervez musharraf made moves on Tuesday to smooth his re-election by appointing former ISI chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to succeed him as the Army Chief, while his government dropped graft charges against possible ally Benazir Bhutto. Kayani’s appointment as the army chief is the clearest indication yet that Musharraf will follow through with his promise to the Supreme Court and give up his uniform when he is re-elected as President.

And, even more interestingly, he’s the only top military guy with whom Bhutto can claim any kind of positive relationship.

Tracy Rubin, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote in article titled--what else?--U.S. needs to back Plan B in Pakistan:

Musharraf's designated successor as military commander if he leaves the army is Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, a man widely admired within the Pakistani military and by members of Pakistani civil society. Kayani is said to be a "soldier's soldier" who wants the army out of politics.

U.S. and Pakistani military officials have told the media that Kayani supports a stronger military effort against Islamic extremists. Equally important, his background indicates he would be ready to work with an elected civilian leader like Bhutto, who is favored to win free and fair elections.

Bhutto has publicly pledged to fight hard against the Islamists. But some critics argue the army would never cooperate with her. However, a Pakistani source close to Bhutto told me: "Kayani is the only general with whom Bhutto has good relations.... He was her deputy military secretary during her first term as prime minister." [emph. added]

I think we can see the outline of America’s deal with Musharraf. He gets the presidency, Bhutto becomes prime minister, and the army goes to Kayani, who seems willing to play ball with Bhutto and the United States and, hopefully, get even more confrontational with Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

So Bhutto gets her graft charges dropped, the law banning her third term is overturned, and she's able to return to Pakistan and operate freely within the country--an opportunity she's taking the fullest advantage of.

Musharraf designates Kayani, his natural successor, as military strongman, gets ready to assume the presidency, but wait! gets left high and dry because the Supreme Court isn’t ready to certify Musharraf as President.

Musharraf opts for the quick fix: a state of emergency and a packed Supreme Court ready to declare him president.

Then Bhutto says Musharraf has to give up the presidency, and the Bush administration looks more interested in being seen supporting Pakistani democracy than Musharraf.

In other words, Musharraf went through with the deal...only to learn that the deal might end up not involving him.

Funny about that.

And now the Bhutto strategy relies--both for its basic viability and, more importantly, for its credibility with the United States—on securing support of the army through Kayani, even though he just saw his boss getting screwed.

You can almost hear Bhutto’s group fuming, Just mount the fricking coup, for goodness sakes.

Wonder how much longer before we hear about “America’s declining patience” with Kayani for declining to resolve Pakistan’s political crisis with another coup?

Lights Out in Karachi

Loyal reader B directed me to an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times that all but accuses Benazir Bhutto of assassinating one of her main political rivals in 1996.

The hook, as they say, is that the accuser is Bhutto’s niece and the alleged victim is her father—Benazir Bhutto’s brother.

My father was a member of Parliament and a vocal critic of his sister's politics. He was killed outside our home in 1996 in a carefully planned police assassination while she was prime minister. There were 70 to 100 policemen at the scene, all the streetlights had been shut off and the roads were cordoned off. Six men were killed with my father. They were shot at point-blank range, suffered multiple bullet wounds and were left to bleed on the streets.

My father was Benazir's younger brother. To this day, her role in his assassination has never been adequately answered, although the tribunal convened after his death under the leadership of three respected judges concluded that it could not have taken place without approval from a "much higher" political authority.

Things must be pretty tense around the Thanksgiving table at the Bhutto family reunion, that’s all I can say.

And it certainly makes the Democracy on the march in Pakistan narrative overly complicated, so I don’t expect to see a lot of follow-on.

My loyal reader also pointed out that the mechanics of the assassination attempt on Ms. Bhutto were similar to those employed in the murder of her brother.


Ms. Bhutto said that there were circumstances about the attack that needed to be investigated, particularly why streetlights along her motorcade route were not working, forcing her guards to use floodlights to search the crowd for threats.

"And while I'm not blaming the government for the assassination attacks on me at this stage, nonetheless, we need to have an inquiry as to why the streetlights have been shut (off)," Bhutto said.

Witnesses along her route said security had been tight at the start of Ms. Bhutto's procession from the airport in Karachi following her return to Pakistan after eight years of self-imposed exile. But they said the police cordon around her grew more lax after several hours.

Pakistan Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said officials had urged Ms. Bhutto not to drive through Karachi because of the difficulty of protecting her during the long exposure to crowds.

He said officials asked her repeatedly to fly by helicopter. He said, because the leadership of her Pakistan People's Party refused to agree to a flight, they bear some responsibility for the attack.

Did Bhutto stage the attack on herself?

A hostile Karachi blogger thinks so:

On 18th of October, everyone was asked to stay home. These were the orders from all the family members, and not just mine but my friends’ too. Everyone knew it was “NOT SAFE” to go out even on the eve of Bhutto’s return.

While watching the procession from the morning till late at night, everyone knew that something’s going to happen. It seemed they were all watching TV to see when it actually takes place. The tragedy moved us all. This is how this nation is made to bleed. All those people walking beside Ms. Bhutto’s “bullet-proof” and “rocket proof” were poor common people. Most of them were paid to be there. How many of those poor souls might have thought that the money would cost them their lives. More than 130 people died, more than 500 were injured!

I laughed out loud sarcastically when I heard on T.V that the attack was an assassination attempt on Bhutto. Hello… For me or others who have “BRAINS” know that if Bhutto really was the target, she was a clear shot. One sniper, and no one would have ever known where the bullet came from. The blast took place near her well-protected car when she was INSIDE, RESTING!

It took her a few minutes to reach her home right after the blast. The people were scattered everywhere when her car braved away from the scene to her well protected home in Clifton.

Everyone of us watched the tragedy on T.V. It’s like acid being poured inside our windpipes.
It hurts me to say this. But I will mercilessly be blatant into saying that people who were there were sacrificed to ensure that Bhutto has sympathy of the rest of the world.


Maybe Ms. Bhutto didn’t plan an attack on herself that might provoke international outrage and the Full-Hariri—a hostile, destabilizing international investigation of the Musharraf government.

But she must have felt a familiar and perhaps guilty thrill of horror as she saw the lights go out in Karachi.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Dare They Taunt Us With Their Tolerance?

Here’s a story I expect will get a lot of play.

From Xinhua (Chinese) Nov. 14 article There are approximately 30,000,000 homosexuals in China:


A researcher of sexuality at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Li Yinhe, revealed to our correspondent that in the most recent survey “Does Homosexuality Influence Job Selection” [presumably questioning employers-ed.], the reply “No” surprisingly reached 90%, exceeding the figure of 86% for the United States. She happily stated: “This is a big step, indicating that Chinese society is more tolerant of homosexuality”.


20 years ago, homosexuality was a crime, and ten years ago it was regarded as a mental illness. Today, the greatest pressure on homosexuals doesn’t come from society; it comes from the family, in most cases when parents find it difficulty to accept this reality.

The article has some more interesting nuggets, addressing the traditional Chinese abhorrence of homosexuality because it would cut off the line of descendants and citing the instance of two lesbians who had experimented (unsuccessfully) with in vitro fertilization.

Addressing the issue of gay marriage, Ms. Li was characterized as an advocate of minority rights. She stated:


In China, there aren’t strong forces in opposition [to gay rights], the resistance to the struggle for gay rights is less than in the rest, and China is making continual progress.

This, I must say, is pretty neat.

The Chinese are certainly engaging in a bit of public relations kungfu, deflecting U.S. attacks on China’s human rights record and countering with a jab at America’s weak spot—the control by religious right (and the politicians that pander to them) of America’s public discourse on homosexuality.

Part of it is pre-Olympic posturing.

But if it produces articles like this in the official media endorsing enlightened public attitudes on homosexuality, it’s not a bad thing.

Sort of reminds me of how making America look good in the Cold War was an important factor in the federal government’s attitude toward civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

Here’s the blurb from a book we should probably all read:

Mary Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy (Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America), Princeton University Press, 2000

In 1958, an African-American handyman named Jimmy Wilson was sentenced to die in Alabama for stealing two dollars. Shocking as this sentence was, it was overturned only after intense international attention and the interference of an embarrassed John Foster Dulles. Soon after the United States' segregated military defeated a racist regime in World War II, American racism was a major concern of U.S. allies, a chief Soviet propaganda theme, and an obstacle to American Cold War goals throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Each lynching harmed foreign relations, and "the Negro problem" became a central issue in every administration from Truman to Johnson.

In what may be the best analysis of how international relations affected any domestic issue, Mary Dudziak interprets postwar civil rights as a Cold War feature. She argues that the Cold War helped facilitate key social reforms, including desegregation. Civil rights activists gained tremendous advantage as the government sought to polish its international image. But improving the nation's reputation did not always require real change. This focus on image rather than substance--combined with constraints on McCarthy-era political activism and the triumph of law-and-order rhetoric--limited the nature and extent of progress.

Archival information, much of it newly available, supports Dudziak's argument that civil rights was Cold War policy. But the story is also one of people: an African-American veteran of World War II lynched in Georgia; an attorney general flooded by civil rights petitions from abroad; the teenagers who desegregated Little Rock's Central High; African diplomats denied restaurant service; black artists living in Europe and supporting the civil rights movement from overseas; conservative politicians viewing desegregation as a communist plot; and civil rights leaders who saw their struggle eclipsed by Vietnam.

Never before has any scholar so directly connected civil rights and the Cold War. Contributing mightily to our understanding of both, Dudziak advances--in clear and lively prose--a new wave of scholarship that corrects isolationist tendencies in American history by applying an international perspective to domestic affairs.

Here’s a link.

Motorized Goalposts, Pakistan Edition

The easiest and psychologically most satisfying solution for failure is to move the goalposts.

We saw it in Iraq, where a glorious end-zone to end-zone drive to save the world from a maniac armed with weapons of mass destruction shrunk incrementally until today success is measured by the America’s ability to reduce sectarian violence in Baghdad—a quarterback sneak on a field the size of a pool table.

Same thing in Pakistan, where the current line is that we’re handwringing spectators in a nasty scrap between Mr. Military and Mrs. Democracy:

Here’s today’s line (from the Nov. 13 WaPo):

Until recently, the Bush administration also had supported Bhutto's exploration of a deal with Musharraf in a bid to help stabilize the country...

That's not quite accurate. The abortive power-sharing deal between Bhutto and Musharraf was, unqestionably, Made in America.

But now that it's blown up in our faces, we're not so keen to admit it.

But those of us whose memories go way back—like maybe a month—will recall a time when the U.S. was unafraid to admit that we were pulling Mr. Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto’s strings for the sake of big plans for Pakistan:

From the October 20 New York Times :

The administration concluded over the summer that a power-sharing deal with Ms. Bhutto might be the only way that General Musharraf could keep from being toppled.

It began quietly nurturing the accord, under which Ms. Bhutto’s party did not boycott General Musharraf’s election last month, and the president issued a decree granting Ms. Bhutto and others amnesty for recent corruption charges, opening the way for her return.

Administration officials say that Ms. Rice stepped up her personal involvement last month, when it seemed possible that General Musharraf’s other political nemesis, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, would make his own bid to return to power, and upset the deal.
In their push to engineer a pact between Ms. Bhutto and General Musharraf, American officials for several months held private meetings in Islamabad, New York and Washington.
John D. Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, and Richard A. Boucher, the top State Department official for Pakistan, each went to Islamabad to press General Musharraf into the deal.

Now that things in Pakistan are going downhill, the goalposts haven’t just been moved.

They’ve been shifted onto somebody else’s field and now we’re not participants—we’re just spectators.

The most significant episode of goalpost shifting has been done by Benazir Bhutto, who upped the ante from her original demands—Musharraf’s retirement from the army and the end of the state of emergency—to a new demand that Musharraf step down.

In analyzing Bhutto’s motivations, I think the money grafs are in today’s LA Times :

Specifically, Bhutto has been unable to get Musharraf to commit himself to a date for stepping down as army chief. A Pakistani law passed several years ago requires that he shed his uniform by Thursday, but Musharraf has said he will do so only when the Supreme Court -- now stacked with his loyalists -- validates his reelection last month as president. A ruling could come this week [emphasis added]."

Until now, he's the one who had taken all the initiative," said Samir Puri, a defense analyst for Rand Europe. "Benazir realized she had to seize her own moment."

Let’s chew on that a little bit.

The power-sharing deal between Musharraf and Bhutto was based on Musharraf becoming president and resigning his military post and Bhutto becoming prime minister.

So, just as Musharraf is about to reach the safe haven of the presidency, take off his military uniform--in time to meet the Thursday deadline!--and, presumably, announce he’s ready to talk about the elections and the end of emergency rule, Bhutto moves the goalposts by insisting he step down.

That’s going to make for some interesting and awkward conversation between Musharraf and Negroponte in Islamabad this week, considering that Big John’s last visit was devoted to twisting Musharraf’s arm into accepting Bhutto and assuring him that everything was going to be OK.

The interesting question is whether this is just another example of Bush administration feckless incompetence, or part of some deeper plan.

Our stated aim was to strengthen Musharraf by injecting some of that popular civilian democracy mojo via Benazir Bhutto. That’s obviously not working. Pakistan is lurching into crisis and Bhutto’s behind a lot of it.

Conspiracy theorists will speculate that Bhutto was Trojan Horse, and the Bush administration wanted to get her into Pakistan under any pretext possible and rely on her to destabilize the country and push Musharraf out of the picture in favor of a civilian government led by Bhutto and backed by the much-beloved (at least by Western pundits) military strongman (and current number 2 to Musharraf) Ishfaq Pervaiz Kiyani.

Bhutto is a wildly ambitious, capable, and powerful politician. It would not be out of the question for her to game the Bush administration with reassuring protestations of her desire to work with Musharraf but then, once Washington was on the hook and she was inside Pakistan, doing everything she can to drop the hammer on Musharraf.

The best way to gauge her intentions and the plans of the Bush administration?

Let’s see where the goalposts are tomorrow.