Coup d’état in Pakistan soon?

Flood survivors at Muzaffargarh, in central Pakistan, on August 19 Photo: Khalid Tanveer

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It appears that a military takeover is imminent in Pakistan, as M.J. Akbar has reasoned in this blog post.

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt; Zardari was frolicking in Europe while Pakistan flooded.

President Kayani?

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UPDATE: The Daily Telegraph reports (on 2010/08/25) that Pakistan’s floods have left a country that’s too difficult to rule; the government in Islamabad is floundering and ripe for a coup – if anyone wanted to launch one, says its op-ed columnist Con Coughlin.

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Whither Kashmir?

It is interesting to read M.J. Akbar’s column to realize that “Pakistan pre-empted a peaceful settlement in 1948 by organizing an invasion thinly disguised as an “uprising”, in October 1947″.

This was because “A little after Partition [in August 1947], Nehru wrote to Mountbatten that the best time for discussions on the future of Kashmir would be after the spring thaw of 1948 since his government was overburdened by the bitter aftermath of riots and resettlement.”

“If Pakistan had not sought to seize Kashmir through war, the Kashmir problem would have been resolved across a table in 1948”, says Mr. Akbar. He concludes that “The war that Pakistan began is a recipe for disaster; the negotiations that Nehru and Mountbatten wanted are still the only option”.

Pakistani floods and aid?

Suffering its worst flood in 80 years, one-fifth of Pakistan is under water. The numbers of people affected are more than by the Indian tsunami in 2004: about 14 million affected, almost 2 million displaced, and over 1600 dead. (Video 1, Video 2)

The flood has also revealed the crisis in the country’s leadership. For one, the civilian government is weak and its writ doesn’t apply to almost half of the state. The real power lies with the armed forces, notably in foreign policy (especially when it comes to India). And yes, there are large pockets where the only authority is the Taliban.

Almost a failed state (number ten in Foreign Policy ‘Failed State Index 2010‘), the latest calamity will further devastate Pakistan’s economy. This is very disconcerting. Our prayers are with the people who are suffering.

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However, the international aid fails to flow. Partly, it is an unease among western donors. The US alone has poured over $10 billion during the last decade, and there is not much to show for it. A lot of the money, given to Pakistan for any reason, finds its way to the Army which builds buildings and purchases weapons for use against its arch-enemy, India. There is no guarantee that the money meant for flood victims will not be similarly misused.

Due to corruption, much of this money goes to enrich individuals, both civilian and military, as well. It appears the donors are wising up to the fact that “Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.” (Douglas Casey, 1992).

Between this donor reluctance and the poor state of governance in Pakistan, it is a real and present danger that the terrorist organizations will leverage this tragedy to recruit and flourish.

All in all, this is a sad situation. Very sad.

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UPDATE 1: The UN launched a fresh appeal on 11 August for 459 million

UPDATE 2: India offers $5 million flood aid to Pakistan.

UPDATE 3: Taliban has told flood victims to boycott aid from “foreign infidels”


Reap what you sow?

The Pakistani establishment was full of glee in the 1990s, when they were able to deflect the mujahideen, created with the help of money and expertise from the US, which had helped oust the Russians from Afghanistan, to operate in Kashmir. After having lost the war*, which Pakistan declared on India in 1971, the then Prime Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, declared that it will “bleed India with a thousand cuts”.

Pakistan had deemed that with this ‘proxy’ war it will kill many birds with one stone. It will have deniability of waging a war, and the battle hardened mujahideen will bleed enough of India’s vastly superior armed forces (Pakistan was not yet a nuclear power; it became one in 1998) so they don’t pose a threat to Pakistan. The ensuing mayhem, they felt, would also keep India occupied enough to slow its advance to become a regional superpower. For them, it was a win-win situation.

Pakistan had thought that it could carry on this third-party guerilla warfare forever, or until it is able to wrest Kashmir from India, after having lost three wars it started for this purpose.

However, every action has unintended consequences as well. Nobody foresaw 9/11, and how it would change the whole geo-political dynamic. Pakistan had to make a u-turn in its support for the Afghani Taliban at American behest, and rein it many terrorist outfits that had linkages with al Qaeda and were having international ambitions although they were supposed to operate exclusively in Kashmir.

This created a backlash which progressed rather unchecked. The Pakistani establishment was unable to stem their activities since it had nurtured them for years, and had indoctrinated the population that India is a mortal threat, and that the use of violent methods to achieve goals in the name of Islam are legitimate. Little did they realize that these terrorists will bite the hand that fed them, and create anarchy in the Land of the Pure itself.

There have been reports of another vengeful group emerging in Pakistan, the Ghazi Force. Unlike many other Pakistan-based terror groups, the targets of this band is solely within the country. Suicide bombers have recently attacked a Sufi shrine in Lahore, because these extremists consider the orthodox strain of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia, Wahabism, as the only true face of the religion. And no surprise, Pakistanis are blaming the US after this shrine attack, because America is “killing muslims” all over the world.


*Mr. Bhutto’s vow was to avenge the re-partition of Pakistan by the creation of Bangladesh. That India’s involvement was mainly because of millions of refugees from ‘East’ Pakistan crossing the border and creating chaos, and that Pakistan had itself declared the war, was summarily forgotten.

It was also overlooked that the one of the  reasons of dissent in that wing of Pakistan was the denial of the ‘West’ Pakistani establishment to honor the election of Mujibur Rehman, an ‘East’ Pakistani whose party had won the majority of seats in the Parliament in the 1971 general election, making him eligible to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan, both ‘East’ and ‘West’.

Another reason was the coercion of the Bengali speaking populace of the ‘East’ to only use Urdu, a North Indian language, as their lingua franca, and systemic assaults of their distinctive culture. The ‘East’ Pakistanis were growing tired of constant intimidation and oppression meted out by the ‘West’.

Apparently, religion (read Islam) was not a strong enough glue to hold them together, as it had been the supposed reason for Partition from India.

These fractures are visible even in the current day Pakistan, where Baluchis and Sindhis rebel against hegemony from Punjabis. One of the four provinces, Punjab is the most populous and dominant, and Punjabis still command the upper echelons of power in the establishment, including the armed forces. These disturbances were ignored until they started happening in Punjab itself, by outfits like the Pakistani Taliban and now the Ghazi Force.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

Pakistanis have been suggesting that the US should talk to the Taliban, otherwise the US strategy will fail, and Mr. Obama seems to agree. The Defense Secrataty, Mr. Gates, believes that you cannot say that one Taliban is good, and the other not good, but agrees with his boss that there is a need to talk to some Taliban commanders.

Pakistan has nurtured the Afghan Taliban since its inception, and in fact the Pakistani military’s secret service, the ISI, created it and helped it take over Afghanistan as a ‘strategic depth’ against India. Although tables turned after 9/11, the Government of Pakistan admits it is reaching out to them at all levels. It is the Pakistani Taliban that Pakistanis want to root out, because they are causing mayhem within their borders; they are the ‘bad’ Taliban, according to them.

I think talking to any Taliban would be a bad idea, and would only foster more terrorism. On the other hand, the US should encourage other countries in the region, like India – which has sunk $1.2 billion so far, to continue to assist in building Afghani infrastructure. After all, Afghanistan needs all the help it can get, especially now that we know that it has over $1 trillion worth of untapped natural reserves.


Land of the impure?

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek explains why Pakistan keeps exporting jihad, and is a terrorism supermarket. He traces the beginnings of this culture shortly after the birth of this nation over 60 years ago*, and quotes the book written by the current Pakistani ambassador to the US, Mr. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military.

Mr. Zakaria alludes to the classification of Taliban by the Pakistani military as good and bad. The good Taliban attacks Westerners, Afghans and Indians, but spare Pakistanis. The bad Taliban attack Pakistan, and the Pakistani Army has tried to smoke them out of their hideouts in South Waziristan.

The US and its allies have been prodding the Pakistani Armed Forces to launch similar offensives in North Waziristan, but is faced with countless excuses why it is not a right time to do so. Perhaps the real reason is that this area is home to the ‘good’ Taliban, as seen by the Pakistani Army.

A study published by the London School of Economics claims that Pakistan is Funding and training Taliban in Afghanistan. Of course, the Government and the Army of Pakistan deny it, but apparantly a senior official admits to militancy’s deep roots in Pakistan.


*The raison d’être of Pakistan since 1947, when it was partitioned from India, was a ‘two-nation’ theory, which expounds that Hindus and Muslims are two separate cultures that cannot live together peacefully. This theorem was busted in 1971 with the formation of Bangladesh, when it became evident that the glue to unity was something other than religion. Six decades later, it seems that Pakistan is still having an identity crisis, as explained by Ali Sethi in a NY Times op-ed piece, One Myth, Many Pakistans.

What are you thinking, Mr. President?

The Obama administration continues to push the Congress to pass the aid packet to Pakistan, which, in addition to increasing the military aid, will triple the non-military assistance to the tune of $7.5 billion over the next five years.

This is fine and good. There is an urgent need to pump money to infrastructure projects in that country to reverse the root causes of terrorism. However, it is befuddling that the Administration wants to extend this money without any conditions or benchmarks.

It is widely known that Pakistan has two power centers, and the Armed Forces wield much more power than the weak civilian government. It is also common knowledge that any aid given to Pakistan disappears without much trace. In addition, the current President, Mr. Zardari, is locally known as ‘Mr. 10%’ because of the ‘commission’ he exacted from suppliers during the two-time Prime Ministership of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto.

Sine 2001, the US has forked over $12 billion to the then regime of General Musharraf, who came to power in 1999 after a bloodless coup. The Pentagon has found that the accounting for this money has been absent or dubious.

Candidate Obama avowed to end this policy of giving Pakistan “a blank check” if elected. He also pointed out how Pakistan is diverting the money given to fight the terrorists towards enhancing its defense capabilities against India.

Now, his administration nixes any efforts by the Congress to attach any conditionsto the Kerry-Lugar bill, as is being attempted in the House version; the Administration prefers the less stringent Senate one. His point man for the AfPak region, Mr. Holbrooke, is advising Congress to hand over the money to Pakistan without many restrictions. He urged Congress to find a “sweet spot” in terms of requirements made on Pakistan’s government.

This push comes from the Administration despite the statements by its own members about the dangerous situation in Pakistan. Defense Secretary Gates has accused the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) of “playing both sides”, adding that though Islamabad has committed itself to be part of the US-led war against terrorism in the region, it continues to maintain links with the extremist elements.

Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff said about the terrorists: “They’re living in Pakistan and being protected by the Pakistanis… the Taliban in particular….” He too is concerned about the ISI-terrorist nexus.

Responding to a question from Senator John McCain about Pakistan’s obsession with India, Admiral Mullen said the Pakistan army still is “heavily focused on India”. To another Senator’s question if Pakistan was increasing its nuclear arsenal, he gave a one-word answer, “Yes”.

This is indeed very worrisome. In July 2006, the ISIS (Institute for Science and International Security) reported that satellite imagery suggested that Pakistan is constructing “…a second heavy water production reactor inside the Khushab Complex…”

In April 2006, ISIS issued an update: “The [satellite] imagery shows that major construction of the buildings associated with the second Khushab reactor are likely finished and that the roof beams are being placed on top of the third Khushab reactor hall”

This can explain where the part of the $12 billion given to General Musharraf by President Bush went. Now Mr. Obama wants to assist Pakistan knowing that some or most of the money will be diverted to enhancing its military capabilities against a perceived threat from India, rather that helping the US fight the terrorists. As Admiral Mullen said, “We’ve got a long way to go with respect to the entire [Pakistani] army thinking that the only existential threat they have is from the west [and not from India]“

Though not much is know to the West about the Pakistani nuclear program, it is known that there are four sites where the reactors are based. No place in Pakistan is free from terrorists – as evidenced by them taking over territory within 60 miles of the capital, Islamabad – one is in Quetta. This is the capital of Baluchistan, where,according to Admiral Mullen, resides Mullah Omar, the deposed leader of Taliban in Afghanistan.

According to an Israeli journal, Debka, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has warned President Obama that nuclear sites in Pakistan’s restive frontier province are “already partly” in the hands of Islamic extremists. It is believed thatofficials in Washington are already aware of this fact.

Robert Windrem, a visiting scholar with the Center for Law and Security in New York University and an expert on South Asia nuclear issues, told the Times of India: “It is quite disturbing that the administration is allowing Pakistan to quantitatively and qualitatively step up production of fissile material without as much as a public reproach… Iraq and Iran did not get a similar concessions… and Pakistan has a much worse record of proliferation and security breaches than any other country in the world.”

In his memoir “At the Center of the Storm”, former CIA Director George Tenet has pointed out that Khushab’s (the nuclear reactor being expanded) former director, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood met with Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and offered a nuclear weapons tutorial around an Afghanistan campfire.

In a recent article, Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, wonders if Pakistani Army has changed its mind. Mr. Zakaria refers to a book by Mr. Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani diplomat who recently became ambassador to Washington, “Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military”.

In the book, Mr. Husain marshals strong evidence that, at least until recently, the Pakistani military made the pretense of arresting militants in order to get funds from Washington. But it never shut down the networks. “From the point of view of Pakistan’s Islamists and their backers in the ISI [Pakistan’s military intelligence],” Haqqani writes, “jihad is on hold but not yet over. Pakistan still has an unfinished agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir.”

This explains why the Pakistani Army has suddenly woken up to the dangers terrorists pose in Swat: The bill for aid to Pakistan is now being debated in the Congress!

Mr. Zakaria contends that “The book concludes by telling how Pakistan’s military has used the threat from these militant groups to maintain power, delegitimize the civilian government and—most crucial of all—keep aid flowing from the United States.”

So, does Mr. Obama feel that a sudden change has descended in the thinking of the Pakistani State and Military? Is this why he wishes to continue to provide a blank check to Pakistan, something he had himself opposed?

Mr. Zakaria reminds us of what Warren Buffett once called the four most dangerous words in investing: “This time it’s different.”