Tuesday, July 26, 2005

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Pervez Musharraf announces victory!

A lot of Iraq critics have argued that the best thing to do in the country now is "declare victory and go home."

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seems to be pursuing a variant of this strategy with regard to his Northwest Frontier. This is according to the Financial Times' Farhan Bokhari et al:

General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, claims that the command and control system of al-Qaeda in his country has been destroyed, excluding any possibility that the terrorist network could have carried out this month's bombings in London and Egypt.

In comments that British officials will view with scepticism, Gen Musharraf said al-Qaeda's sanctuaries in the northern tribal region bordering Afghanistan had been destroyed and 700 fighters captured. However, Egyptian authorities on Monday said they were investigating possible Pakistani militant suspects in connection with the bombing early on Saturday at Egypt's Sharm el Sheikh resort.

Meanwhile, in London British officials have expressed growing frustration with the Pakistani security service's inability to crack down on militants or keep a comprehensive register of madrassahs. Three of the four suicide bombers who killed 56 people in London on July 7 were Britons of Pakistani origin....

Pakistani officials said privately that they had asked Egypt to share any information on the identities of such suspects but the government publicly denied the connection. “What has appeared on these Arab TV channels is highly speculative,” Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, the interior minister, said. “We have no knowledge of any such link and I don't think it is true.”

Gen Musharraf was adamant there was no connection. “Is it possible in this situation that an al-Qaeda man sitting here, no matter who he is, may control things in London, Sharm el Sheikh, Istanbul or Africa?” he said. “This is absolutely wrong.”

posted by Dan on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM


This is simply the result of allowing him to get away with various forms of obfuscation to date.

When pressed by the United States, the only power Musharraf fears, Pakistan manages to hand over one of OBL's numerous 'right hands'. Or, to address international public opinion (what he calls 'image'), Musharraf orders a crackdown that nets hundreds of extremists. These foot-soldiers spend some time in the cooler and are promptly (and perhaps justly) released. The charade continues.

Britain's lack of any useful levers on Pakistan came to the fore when Musharraf first publicly asked Britain to get its own house in order first. And now this.

So the question is this --- will the United States continue with more of the same, or will it make it incumbent on Musharraf that we'd all like to see the war on terror end in this century.

posted by: Nitin on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

It must be difficult for US allies, they must lose track of what the current line is meant to be. Perhaps total doubleplus Victory could be declared by Bush again and everyone would be happy.

Even within the administration the status seems to change depending on whether you ask Cheney, Rice, Bush or some General.

As far as the whole debacle goes and ignoring the tragedy, the current denial of reality is pretty funny.

Perhaps the Bush administration could find work for Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

posted by: sien on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Selective amnesia in dealing with terrorism will eventually lead to such situations, which would be hilarious, if it were not surrounded by such tragedy.

The infamous "Iraqi Information Minister" atleast had the consolation of toeing the party line, and not being so delusional himself. President Musharraf is the party line here.

Looks like we are set for endless rounds of the political equivalent of "Who's on first ?" routines.. (sigh)

posted by: Subra Srinivasan on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Good to see the Indian commenters come out from the woods. Indians have been quietly telling folks, and rightly so, that if the War on Terrorism was to ever live up to it's name and rhetoric, then Pakistan would be the first country to be dealt with. Some say Saudi Arabia, but the coffers of the Saudi Treasury are so flooded with cash that some level of security can be bought and domestic unrest can be quelled (somewhat). SA's strategic importance affords itself resources to thwart implosion. In Pakistan, this is not so. Nor has it ever been so. Pakistan will continue to be a haven for radicals. Not anti-globalization people but pure radicals.

posted by: No von Mises on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Will India be supplying the troops for the occupation of Pakistan? Great! Most of the critics who demand that Bush and/or Blair "do something" about Pakistan are just asking for the moon under water.

posted by: y81 on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Can we have some precision on the use of the term "Northwest Frontier" (aside from the typo)? It's not just a matter of getting names right, it has real significance. Northwest Frontier is a province of Pakistan. The al Qaeda presence is more likely in the Tribal Areas -- these are areas not within Pakistan's provincial structure, but have autonomy dating from deals with the British that were preserved after 1947. Their quasi-autonomous nature coupled with inaccessibility makes them ideal for al Qaeda. If Osama was in Peshawar (i.e. in NWFP), he could be found relatively quickly. But he's not.

posted by: P O'Neill on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

To Musharraf the terrorism priority is always going to be terrorism in Pakistan and assassination attempts made against himself and members of his government. This in turn is related most of all to the Kashmir question.

Musharraf could divert the abundant energies of terrorism-inclined Pakistanis by resuming full military support for terrorism in Kashmir. This however would risk war with India, a war Pakistan could not win. So Musharraf has dialed back support for jihadis in Kashmir, making it more likely that Muslims coming to Pakistan to learn jihad will travel somewhere else to blow things up.

This is the most fantastically tangled web. Musharraf almost certainly knows, or knows that his ISI leadership knows, the major terrorist leaders in Pakistan and has arrived at understandings sufficient to prevent further attempts on his life (there have been at least two of these since 2002). He knows foreign Islamists have been coming to Pakistan for indoctrination and training. He probably does not know about specific groups of terrorists carrying out individual operations like the bombing in London, and will be anxious to put as much distance between terrorism against Arabs and his government as possible, since Pakistan's government is in some degree dependent on the goodwill of wealthy Arab oil states, particularly Saudi Arabia. At the same time, of course, some of the funding for terrorist groups comes from these same Arab states. Finally, the press reports of Egyptian suspicions that Pakistani nationals were involved in the Sharm al Sheik bombings could either be correct, misleading, or reflective of an Egyptian government that is anxious to portray these bombings as the work of non-Egyptians -- that is, as something other than a failure of Egypt's vaunted internal security services.

Is there a bottom line with Pakistan? Musharraf is almost certainly not being entirely candid about his government's relations with terrorist groups. He could limit their activities outside the subcontinent by resuming full support of terrorism in Kashmir, but he won't; he could try to attack them directly, but only at the risk of civil war in Pakistan. He could also try to tread water and hope that time throws him a lifeline eventually. It looks to me as if this is what he is doing now.

posted by: Zathras on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

"Is there a bottom line with Pakistan?"

Yes. I'd love to see Musharraf in a "Liar, Liar" turn press conference, confess that "Pakistan" is an illusory state based on a half-baked eighty year old poetical vision. That he has probably less power over events in the country than his Afghan counterpart, whose tenuous hold on reigns of state is at least acknowledged and understood by all players in today's Great Game.

Pakistan is the down and dirty partner to Saudi Arabia's more genteel, theologically based jihadi networks. Pakistan has failed at everything in its brief history, everything. What it does have are far-flung networks of expatriates who haven't done much better in their new homes than they did in the motherland. They are THE most conflicted, angry people I have ever met--half the Pakistani men I have met in the US keep their families back "home" for decades, to keep them safe from cultural contamination (and because it's cheaper, and they get to start a second family here).

Pakistan is poised to be for the Islamic world what N. Korea is for Asia--a state for whom instability and violence are the number one export industry.

Musharraf has done huge damage to himself and his country by shooting his mouth off so indiscriminately these past few weeks. I don't see how he pulls back now.

posted by: Kelli on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]


"Doing something about Pakistan's support for terrorism" doesn't necessarily mean occupying them.

What is needed is for the West to see Pakistan for what it is - a near-failed state, with extensive terror support networks, which may or may not be officially supported. President Musharraf has managed to play this dangerous game, of suggesting that he is the best possible person to lead Pakistan to enlightened moderation (his words, not mine), else the country will fall into the hands of islamic radicals.

He has used this (dubious) pitch to extract concessions from the West, including F-16 fighters, billions of dollars in aid, general support etc. He has also managed to continue this dichotomy by maintaining for a long time that the terrorism in Kashmir is actually "freedom fighting".

Terrorism is terrorism anywhere. Freedom fighters don't go and blow up innocent people, especially of their own community. So, lending support to terrorism of any kind needs condemnation, not mollycoddling (or appeasement). Any country that uses terror tactically is a terrorist state. No more, no less.

Finally, it is not mere coincidence that the common thread in the three major terrorist incidents in this month (twice in London, and in Egypt) all have the Pakistani connection as a common undercurrent.

Chickens coming home to roost, you think ?

posted by: Subra Srinivasan on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Musharraf has his Ted Kennedys. The only difference is that they want to kill him. Not just hound him from office. Can't do much help if your dead or out of power.
Dictators only appear to have unlimited power. Saddam did lots of things he didn't want to do to stay in power. Oppressing people takes time and money and generates its own skill set.
Get someone to design a war game and see if you can win it playing Musharraf's side.

posted by: Huggy on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

"he could try to attack them directly, but only at the risk of civil war in Pakistan. "

pretty damn scary, huh? All out civil war in a country of over 100 million, with nuclear weapons. Will make Baghdad, Gaza, etc look like picnics. Theres good reason to let Perv take things at his pace, as long as progress IS being made. How much is really being made, how much could be made, how much risk there is, is pretty hard to discern through the fog of war.

posted by: liberalhawk on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

IMHO, both the notion that Pakistan will collapse in civil war or that Musharaf is indispensable are overblown. It suits Musharraf to spread this storyline since it gives him US support.

Yet look at Pakistan's recent history, and some of its past leaders: Yahya Khan (arrested), Bhutto (executed by Zia), Zia Ul-Haq (Assasinated), Benazir Bhutto (forced to flee the country, husband arrested), Nawaz Sharif (overthrown in military coup and exiled, would probably have been arrested if not for Western pressure). Musharraf is no more indispensable than any of them.

posted by: erg on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

That's a lovely thought, erg, but does it have any practical implications?

From the standpoint of most Pakistanis, including Musharraf, civil war in Pakistan would be undesirable whether it led to the country's collapse or not. Steps that appear likely to lead to civil war (or to renewed attempts on Musharraf's life, which from his point of view would be even worse) are therefore unlikely to be taken. As for Musharraf's being indispensable, well, fine. To what and to whom are you comparing him?

posted by: Zathras on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Zathras -- I think my point wasn't clear. I was simply pointing out that Pakistan has had a long and stormy history with several military dictators, and several civilian leaders who've been pushed out of office and the country has survived without falling into civil war. I don't think the claim that Musharraf is the sole bulwark holding back a collapse of Pakistan into civil war (as liberalhawk suggested) is accurate. Also the suggestion that the architect of Pakistan's 1999 invasion of India (an extremely dangerous action) is somehow a level-headed moderate is bizarre.

Is there any easy solution ? Probably not, or we would have thought of it already. But I don't think it helps to maintain any illusions about Mushrraf.
this i

posted by: erg on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

Wow, I finally agree with Kelli.


One cannot mention progress and Pakistan in the same sentence without contradicting yourself.

posted by: No von Mises on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

I'm with Erg. Pakistan is unlikely to collapse into Civil War because the fissiparous tendencies of the country have kept the center so weak that it's never been much of a prize. There are multiple centers of power: the army is first and foremost (and Musharraf's real power, such as it is, stems from his leadership of it, not the state); the business/landlord class (tiny, westernized); the regional clan/sectarian leaders (it is out of deference to these largely regressive forces that the state has remained emasculated--still, they may counter any attempt by the center to enforce law and order with insurrection and rebellion, this does not lead inexorably to civil war).

posted by: Kelli on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

For those with any interest in Pakistan's role in the development of militant islam in south central asia, and an unbelievably clear recounting of the events leading to the creation of Al Qaeda, I'd recommend checking out Steve Coll's Ghost Wars:


Our current policy with respect to Pakistan seems little different from that espoused by the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, which seems odd given the events of 9/11, Pakistan's acquiring of nuclear weapons, and it's role in the development of al qaeda...odd indeed.

posted by: johnnymeathead on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]


You overlooked one big power base in Pakistan: the mullahs of Islamabad, whose only wish is to force all of Pakistan to live under another taliban regime, as a "pure" Islamic state.

posted by: Barry P. on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

ive been misread. Nowhere did i state that Perv as an invididual is indispensable. He is mortal, and if he had a heart attack tomorrow life would have to go on.

What I DID say was that he has to deal with the problems of Pakistan at his own pace. Yes, Pakistan has had other leaders, but which of them consolidated state control over the tribal areas? Which of them reached a compromise with India over Kashmir? Which of them, acting at the behest of the West, cracked down on deobandi Madrassahs? The fact is that ANY Pakistani leader, military, civilian, whatever, will have to tread carefully or risk civil war.

posted by: liberalhawk on 07.26.05 at 12:41 AM [permalink]

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