Friday, November 09, 2007

Third Time's the Charm?

Cross-posted at

Zalmay Khalilzad Tries for Regime Change in Pakistan

Robert Cohen’s op-ed on Pakistan is, I think, pretty important.

Not necessarily for its content, a pundit-driven exercise in pseudo-realism that I would characterize as "muscular handwringing".

It's because Cohen gives center stage to the man who may well be the key actor in our Pakistan strategy--Zalmay Khalilzad.

In the opening grafs, Cohen writes:

When Zalmay Khalilzad was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, he would clash with Colin Powell, then secretary of state, over whether General Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan was friend or foe.

Khalilzad saw a disingenuous Pakistan whose post-9/11 commitment to undoing its Taliban creation was ambivalent at best. Far from confronting the Islamist radicals, Musharraf's intelligence and security apparatus - or elements of it - abetted the reconstitution of the Taliban in the border areas.

It was clear enough to Khalilzad that the age-old Pakistani dream of a weak Afghanistan under Islamabad's sway endured.

Well, Powell is long gone and Khalilzad, currently our ambassador to the U.N. and previously America’s man on the scene in Kabul and Baghdad, looks like the architect of our current Pakistan policy.

Khalilzad’s fingerprints are all over the events surrounding Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan and the ongoing political crisis there.

That’s bad news for Musharraf.

Here’s another piece of perspective on Khalilzad's none-too-edifying experiences with Pakistan, from Asia Times in 2005:

The outgoing US ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad, was a staunch critic of Pakistan's support for the Taliban. However, his anger was especially evident when he excoriated Pakistan a few weeks ago after a Pakistani television network was able to interview a Taliban commander named Mullah Usmani. Khalilzad questioned Pakistan's sincerity and wondered how a television network was able to talk to a Taliban commander even as Pakistani officials denied a Taliban presence in the country. What was left unsaid was that the US government soon came to know that Mullah Usmani gave the interview not from the tribal areas of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan, but from the port city of Karachi.

If we try to construe our Pakistan policy as pro-Musharraf and structured by people keen to keep close relations with the Pakistani military, it makes no sense.

If we interpret our Pakistan policy as pro-Bhutto and structured by Khalilzad, with Musharraf as a devalued asset well on the way to becoming collateral damage, it makes a lot of sense.

At this point in the lame-duck Bush administration, it would seem risible that the U.S. would even consider, let alone implement any grand plan for regime change.

But Khalilzad, the only U.S. player to emerge from the smoking crater of our Middle East policy with his stature and mojo enhanced, a man of undeniable energy and ability, and, as an Afghan, with a visceral stake in the fate of his homeland’s would-be suzerain, Pakistan, is the guy who might try to pull it off.

A little recap.

In March, Robert Dreyfuss reported on Indian intelligence chatter that the U.S. had a Musharraf problem it wanted to solve:

A team of CIA operatives was subsequently sent to [Pakistan] to sort out pro-US army officers, one of whom could be considered Musharraf’s successor as the commander-in-chief. A vital skill required of the candidate was the capacity to enhance engagement with pro-democracy forces, which would eventually lead to the establishment of a civilian government.

In self-imposed exile since 1999, Bhutto has been patiently networking Washington for almost ten years to try to get U.S. backing, while we staked our hopes on Musharraf.

The tide turned this year, according to an informative New York Times backgrounder by Mark Mazzetti and Helen Cooper.

“The Bush administration for a long time decided that the only telephone number in Pakistan they were going to call was Musharraf’s,” said Husain Haqqani, a former adviser to Ms. Bhutto and a professor of international relations at Boston University. “But Bhutto made it clear to them that her phone number was available to call anytime.”
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.

Khalilzad was deeply involved in pushing the Bhutto power-sharing arrangement:

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. The sessions included a dinner for Ms. Bhutto in New York in August with Mr. Khalilzad, followed several weeks later by a shared ride on a private jet to Aspen, Colo., where both addressed a conference of corporate leaders.

With U.S. backing, Bhutto met with a resentful Musharraf in Abu Dhabi in July for negotiations.

The deal that was hammered out was that Musharraf could be president (Bhutto’s allies inside Pakistan would abstain from the vote and not oppose him), he would resign as army chief of staff and govern as a civilian, and Bhutto’s party would ally with Musharraf’s MPL-Q and, by dint of her reputed popularity and the army’s mastery of vote rigging, sweep the January 15 parliamentary elections and install Bhutto as prime minister.

As quid pro quo (caution: irony alert), Bhutto would receive amnesty for corruption charges outstanding against her, and a law that forbids third terms for prime ministers (she’s already had her two, albeit uncompleted) would be overturned.

After the negotiations, another meeting with Khalilzad, reported by Robert Novak in his August 20 column:

After meeting Musharraf, ...Bhutto also met in Manhattan with Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the UN, to discuss the complicated situation. This is not the time for her to criticize the Americans, but she is known to be impatient about the U.S. forbearance toward and persistent support of Musharraf.

The New York Sun covered the meeting in an unconvincing the “nothing to see here” vein, writing:

Ms. Bhutto's meeting with Mr. Khalilzad earlier this week was portrayed by her Pakistani opponents as part of an American grand plan — even as it was described as "private" by American officials. "They've been friends for years," Mr. Khalilzad's spokesman, Richard Grenell, said yesterday.

Meanwhile, in order to justify Washington’s enthusiastic support, Bhutto pretty much bent over backwards.

She visited Washington in September to speak before the Middle East Institute and emphasize not only that she was enthusiastic about the war on terror, but that it could be only fought if there was virtual regime change in Pakistan.

From Intellibriefs:

Bhutto said that under President Musharraf, Pakistan had become "the petri dish of the international extremist movement" and that only a new government with broad support could root out Islamic militancy.

Fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda "requires a national effort that can only flow from legitimate elections," she said on Washington's Capitol Hill, appealing to the United States to drop its deep-pocketed backing for Musharraf.

In a move reminiscent of Ahmad Chalabi’s extravagant promises to the neocons of intimate Iraq-Israeli friendship after he took power, in August Bhutto also initiated a meeting with Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., presumably to demonstrate that she would not be intimidated by Islamic fundamentalists inside Pakistan.

As reported by the New York Sun:

[The] three-hour dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Midtown was attended by the exiled former prime minister of Pakistan, the Israeli ambassador, and a few associates. But Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Gillerman also conducted a private conversation during the evening, according to several sources familiar with the event, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ms. Bhutto initiated the meeting with Mr. Gillerman as she attempts to return to power in her homeland.

Even at the time, some observers thought the whole plan was crazy.

From the New York Times again:

“This backroom deal I think is going to explode in our face,” said Bruce Riedel, who advised three presidents on South Asian issues and is now at the Brookings Institution. “Ms. Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf detest each other, and the concept that they can somehow work collaboratively is a real stretch.”

Nevertheless, Musharraf went back to Pakistan, delivered on his side of the deal, and juggled some military appointments and promotions to ensure that, even when he was in civvies, his allies would control the military and provide him with a significant power base.

Then, after Musharraf had stage-managed the election, Pakistan’s refractory Supreme Court threw a spanner in the works, ruling the election was invalid because he had stood for office while still in uniform.


Musharraf’s in a tight spot. He’s supposed to quit his army job, but the civilian job he was supposed to slide into—the presidency—is blocked by the Supreme Court.

So he declares a state of emergency and packs the Supreme Court with flunkies who will reverse the decision and let him be president. Meanwhile, he can think about whether he’ll renege on the deal to step down as army chief of staff (as he already did once before) and maybe even back out of the unpalatable power-sharing deal with Bhutto.

He undoubtedly notices that he’s not getting a lot of love from Benazir Bhutto, who is still pushing him to resign from the army but is not anywhere near taking the unpopular stand of opposing those constitutional heroes in the Pakistani judiciary and supporting Musharraf for the presidency.

Musharraf’s been double-crossed.

He probably expected it and had been planning a few double crosses of his own. The immense bomb that greeted Bhutto on her return to Pakistan comes to mind as a possible example.

But now Bhutto’s in the country, President Bush is singing from the same songbook as she is, and Musharraf’s got his hands full trying to keep Bhutto from parlaying her backroom deal into a nationwide anti-Musharraf social and political movement.

Question is, was U.S. support of the Bhutto powersharing—seemingly disregarding the unlikelihood of successful cooperation between two political enemies and the widely-reported probability that the violently anti-Musharraf Supreme Court would overturn his election—just another example of Bush administration “hope is not a plan” fecklessness?

Or is the political crisis enveloping Pakistan a feature, and not a bug?

If one considers that the U.S. objective is not to bolster Musharraf with an unlikely to succeed power sharing relation...

...and our goal is instead to push not only Musharraf but the army out of its central position in Pakistani politics and replace it with a pro-U.S. civilian political party...

...then bringing Bhutto in under a power sharing pretext while anticipating a power struggle makes a lot of sense.

I think that the Bush administration has come to the realization that Pakistan’s army is not an enthusiastic participant in the war on terror, at least against its erstwhile buddies and strategic allies the Taliban, or even the dangerous pro-al Qaeda tribes in Pakistan’s mountainous west.

In true military-despot fashion, I also expect that the elite units are pampered in less-demanding assignments near Islamabad to ensure their loyalty and availability, while the under-equipped and demoralized Sad Sacks are sent on the dangerous and miserable hump through the mountains—and perform accordingly.

So the current arrangement by which the military controls deployment and tactics presents both doctrinal and structural obstacles to the conduct of a glorious crusade by which Pakistani troops enthusiastically sacrifice themselves in the ratholes of Waziristan to forward U.S. objectives in Aghanistan.

Musharraf’s importance to the United States has been his insistence that he and only he could overcome the army’s visceral aversion to the battle in the Northwest.

But Musharraf is scraping bottom, popularity-wise in the scuffle with the judges and because of his decision to storm the Lal-Masjid mosque in July.

So Musharraf has shown himself increasingly unable to deliver something that is an increasingly devalued asset—a Pakistani military following the U.S. lead—in an obtuse, foot-dragging way--in the war on terror.

I think the Bush administration made the decision that the Pakistani strongman+army model is too dysfunctional, and it wants to role the dice with Bhutto—get a civilian leader in there, presumably with an independent power base, and somehow remake the army into a more enthusiastic and responsive force against terrorism.

So Benazir Bhutto accepts the risky assignment of returning to Pakistan with a caseload of that miraculous Democracy elixir, expecting to push Musharraf aside as slowly or quickly as events and U.S. support permit.

You can hear Khalizad’s voice—and perhaps America’s strategy—in the conclusion of Cohen’s op-ed:

Given the nuclear-charged risks, the United States must stick with Musharraf for now, but with the insistence he move rapidly toward promised elections, restore an independent judiciary, work with Bhutto, and - not least - get real about quashing the Taliban.

Failure to harmonize Afghan and Pakistani policy has been disastrous. You can't beat the Taliban in Afghanistan alone; you can't stabilize Pakistan in a guided democracy while developing Islamism for export and alienating the professional middle class.

These lessons must be learned - by Musharraf and Bush. As Khalilzad put it to me: "Afghanistan and Pakistan need each other. The moderates of both countries must work together."

For this strategy to work, the United States would have to provide a lot of help and shrewd judgement—two qualities that we do not possess in the infinite quantities that we assume.

I may be reading too much into it, but the Bush administration’s seemingly clumsy diplomacy in South Asia—selling F15s (promised but not yet delivered) to Pakistan, then riposting with the ridiculous nuclear giveaway with India—may be part of an effort to establish Washington as an “honest broker” who can mediate with India to deliver a new, Bhutto-led government a tangible victory on Kashmir, and provide the civilian regime the political breathing space to shift military focus away from the Indian border to the mountains facing Afghanistan.

Then the United States can open the military and economic aid spigots and win hearts and minds in a big way—a possibility that the Chinese are now presumably considering and planning for.

After all, for Washington the opportunity to wean Pakistan away from the army and from the army’s major supporter and ally, China, is something that might make the whole venture worth risking by itself.

A grandiose plan. If true. But workable?

I don’t know how good a read on the pulse of the army or Pakistan Ms. Bhutto has after almost a decade of exile.

Pakistan’s security establishment has ties to the Taliban dating back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, the war on the borders is, in a word awful. The Pakistani army doesn’t want to fight it. The army is built to fight India, not chase tribesmen. And no army in the world likes to do counterinsurgency.

The Times of India (consider the source, of course) provided a picture of the Pakistan army’s misery that is persuasive:

Under mounting pressure from the US, Pakistan has deployed well over 100,000 soldiers in the volatile tribal areas - inhabited by fiercely independent tribes who resist outside interference in their matters - to take on the Taliban, Al-Qaida and other extremist outfits who have created safe havens there.

"These outfits were once nurtured by ISI, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Our estimates show around 1,000 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in the fighting. Casualties in 'Operation Al Mizan' in north Waziristan have been particularly high," said an [Indian] official.

"As per our intelligence inputs, Pakistani officers are jostling with low morale among their troops. The abductions and killings of soldiers by militants have only added to the disenchantment among troops, which is being reflected in a large number of desertions, suicides and AWOL (absent without leave) cases," he added.

In fact, reports of soldiers even refusing to obey orders have begun to emerge from Waziristan now, in what is being seen as a blow to the otherwise well-disciplined Pakistani Army.

That’s a nasty situation. It’s going to take more than stern fingerwagging from Bhutto to get enthusiasm and results out of the army. I hope we’re supporting Bhutto because of her clout in Pakistan and not because of her indefatigability on the Washington party circuit—and friendship with fellow Muslim member of the great-and-good club Zalmay Khalilzad.

From the Times backgrounder:

For Ms. Bhutto, years of relentless networking among America’s political, diplomatic and media elite also helped to vault her back into position to lead one of the United States’ most critical allies. “She is a networker par excellence, and she’s been keeping her contacts,” said Karl F. Inderfurth, the former assistant secretary of state for South Asia who dined across the table from her at a dinner party during her last swing through Washington, in September.

Politico reports that Washington is perhaps a key battlefront, with Pakistan upping its retainer to its PR firm, and Bhutto is not lagging behind:

Meanwhile, the Pakistani opposition party, led by Bhutto, has retained public relations giant Burson-Marsteller and its affiliates, the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates, and the polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. The firm declined comment on its activities, which it is charging an initial $75,000, to be followed with monthly payments of $28,500. The contract filed with the Justice Department does, however, give some insight into what all of the money buys. Among the promised services: surveys of “100 American political, journalistic, and business elites in Washington, D.C., and New York”; an “internal brainstorming session”; and setting up meetings for Bhutto in Washington “with an eye towards convincing U.S. officials that Prime Minister Bhutto is still relevant to further the democratic process in Pakistan.”

If the battle for control of Pakistan is going to be fought over hors d’oeuvres and aperitifs in Washington, Pakistan might be in for a rough time.

Khalilzad has shown himself to be a natural and able ally of the educated, pro-Western elites in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.

But until now, the regimes he has fostered have been unable to square the circle between the rulers he installed and the impoverished, suspicious, and anti-American masses they’ve tried to lead into the U.S. camp.

Will the third time—with Pakistan’s larger middle class and a society as yet not devastated by war and extremism--be the charm?

Or will Pakistan serve as another example of what happens when the resistible force of democracy promoted by U.S. clients collides with obdurate nationalism fueled by anger and fear of the United States?


Helena Cobban said...

China, another great piece. You forgot the link to the Politico piece on BB's lobbying. Here it is.

~ Helena, JustWorldNews

Nikita Arora said...

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