Sunday, September 7, 2003

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What do you do with a country like Pakistan?

In anticipation of President Bush's progress report on Iraq and the war on terror tonight, here's a conundrum to consider:

Weak states are the incubator of terrorists. Pakistan is a weak, dusfunctional state that lacks a coherent sense of national identity. Its leader may be perceived as both strong and pro-Western, but that's only in comparison to the rest of the Pakistani elite, for whom the sectarian comes before the national.

The outcome from a weak Pakistani government is a perfect haven for Taliban remnants to harrass U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid makes this point in an article for YaleGlobal. Some highlights:

The war on terror has done little to address the issue of Pashtun desire for political autonomy. The Taliban's dramatic offensive in Afghanistan during the past few weeks has been fuelled by recruits, arms, money, and logistical support from Pakistan's two provinces of North West Frontier (NWFP) and Baluchistan, where Pashtun tribesmen and Islamic parties are sympathetic to the Taliban. Pakistan's Pashtuns find common ethnic and political cause with the Taliban, who are also largely Pashtun. Pashtuns on both sides of the border are bitterly opposed to the presence of US forces in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The sense of Pashtun brotherhood is even stronger in Pakistan's seven Federal Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA), which run north to south forming a 1,200-kilometer wedge between Afghanistan and the settled areas of NWFP. FATA are nominally under the control of Pakistan, but the tribes have been semi-autonomous since the British Raj. They have always carried arms and sold arms to everyone in the region, from Tamil Tigers and Kashmiri militants to the Taliban. These days the bazaars in FATA are filled with Taliban – both Afghan and Pakistani – looking to stock up before going into Afghanistan. ''The Taliban are clean, honest, believe in Islam, and will rout the Americans,'' says Shakirullah, a Mohmand shopkeeper. ''Anyone fighting the Americans is our friend,'' he adds.

The Mohmands are just one of dozens of major tribes that straddle the border, but their views are similar to most tribal Pashtuns. Isolated from mainstream Pakistan and the media, misinformation is rampant. After dozens of interviews it is apparent that most Mohmands refuse to accept that Al' Qaeda carried out the attacks of September 11, believing instead that they were perpetrated by ''the CIA and Jews.'' Most Mohmands also believe that the Americans and, in particular, President George Bush, hate the Pashtuns.

Read the whole article. To be fair to the U.S. and Pakistani governments, they're not blind to the problem. They have taken actions to try and reverse the flow of arms and men across the border.

But as the article also makes clear, they haven't done enough.

[Thanks to alert reader A.A. for the tip.]

posted by Dan on 09.07.03 at 09:02 AM


You write that the Pakistani elites are to blame for the crisis of the country. This is true, but not for the reason you cite ("sectarianism"). The fact is, Pakistan's elite IS extremely Westernized, and compared with elites elsewhere in the developing world (most esp. the Muslim part of it) surprisingly progressive vis-a-vis gender equality. But not unlike the Saudi royals, Pakistani elites have made a deal with the Islamist devil--you let us live our lives in peace, we let you dominate the great unwashed. Now they are perched precariously atop a grotesquely imbalanced social pyramid; the majority is hopeless, illiterate and backward. The elite has done nothing since partition to alter this (in fact, quite the opposite) and now they are reaping the rewards.

The question for Pakistan is the same as that for most of the developing world: how can we (outsiders, westerners) induce these countries elites to do the right thing by their own people? Indeed, to see their own people as fully human citizens of their own country? I don't have an answer to this, does anyone out there?

posted by: Kelli on 09.07.03 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

Pakistan's future is generally admitted to be bleak. Here are the URL's for two pessimistic articles:

Washington Quarterly, Summer 2002, by Stephen Phillip Cohen

Bharat Rakshak Monitor, September-October 2002, by J.L. Khayyan Coelho

IMO Pakistan is a failed state which will eventually, after many megadeaths, be reincorporated into India. Our ability to avert this is minimal. The most we can hope for is to limit the damage to us.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 09.07.03 at 09:02 AM [permalink]

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