Perilous Times In Pakistan

President Mushaaraf has been reelected and according to this Reuters report it looks like Pakistan’s supreme court will validate his reelection by the outgoing parliament. Even though I follow events in Pakistan closely Canadian columnist David Warren’s October 3rd column surprised me by asserting that controlling Pakistan is the real goal of the war in Afghanistan. Unlike myself, he has studied there and knows something of the ground. He uses a Vietnam analogy and for once I find it reasonably convincing:

Yet as we surely discovered in Vietnam, a purely defensive war cannot be won. Especially when the prize is not the one we are defending — the strategic equivalent of Quang Tri, or Khe Sanh — but rather, Saigon. The “Saigon” of my analogy is Pakistan itself, and we have been slow to realize that the conquest of Pakistan is the enemy’s principal objective. Afghanistan is a sideshow, and the enemy’s efforts there are like those of the Viet Cong in the remoter Vietnamese countryside — essentially, hit and run.

It is easy to put Afghanistan at the center of our concern because it was the scene of the first military action in the current war and seen as the place from which the September 11 attacks issued. But I think Warren is right – Afghanistan in itself is not the central issue.

That Pakistan is the prize should be self-evident. It is a ready-made nuclear power. While the country lacks Iran’s huge oil and gas reserves, it has not been under the rule of crazy ayatollahs for the last 28 years, and is thus in fairly serviceable order to be used in the larger Islamist enterprise.

While I would contend that Iran is proving a serviceable enough base for the Shiite extremists, Pakistan is indeed a ready made nuclear power for the Sunni radicals. The efforts of the Saudi financed Wahabbi madrassas to radicalize Pakistan long predate the war on terror. The struggle David Warren indicates has been going on for a long time and the current moment is a critical one because if the governing elite should lose control of the country to the radicals the consequences are indeed serious. I know enough about the situation to be aware that it is highly complex. I did learn from following the Red Mosque crisis in July, for example, that Musharraf was in a tight spot when the radical mosque directly challenged government authority because many of the mosque’s students were the children of mid level Pakistani military officers. It was reported at the time that he had to use the Pakistani Army units most personally loyal to himself to be certain the action would be pressed home. From the regular reports I have been reading since at Bill Roggio’s Long War Journal the following assessment by David Warren seems justified:

Meanwhile, a huge Islamist propaganda offensive is being directed against the Musharraf government — that is portrayed, fairly plausibly, as an American puppet regime — and daily terror strikes throughout urban and lowland Pakistan are reinforcing the message that the Islamists are irresistible, and must necessarily prevail. The opposition to them within Pakistan is deeply divided against itself, with the parties of Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and others, playing political games that no country can afford under mortal threat. (There are some indications that at least Musharraf and Bhutto are considering an alliance, for which we can only hope and pray.)

This Reuters report would seem to confirm there is some substance to that hope.

Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto said she expected to seal a “reconciliation agreement” with President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday, that analysts believed could lead to a power sharing within months.

So it seems that Pakistan’s ruling elite may be closing ranks. Although I am usually no great supporter of such oligarchic arrangements, I think Pakistan needs time for traditionally devout Muslims to recognize the difference between religious conservatism and murderous zealotry. That recognition may seem a long way off, but it seemed a long way off in Iraq just a year ago.

2 Responses to “Perilous Times In Pakistan”  

  1. 1 J L Middleton

    The only truth to the claim that David Warren “studied in Pakistan” is that he spent a few years there as a boy over forty years ago. He attended a school for expatriate children. He dropped out of tenth grade and left Pakistan by the late 1960s. He has never been back.

    He is not someone you should be trusting to inform you about anything, let alone a situation as complex as the Afghanistan-Pakistan mess.

    If you want any further proof of his singular lack of qualification as a political analyst, check out his predictions from five years ago about how the Iraq war would proceed. The man is pathetically out of his depth.

  2. 2 admin

    To the extent that ‘studied’ implies formal higher education I take your point. I was aware that David Warren has a 10th grade education. As with many self educated people I have encountered I commonly disagree with him, but often find his perspective fresher than the conventional wisdom of the highly qualified. I took his idea on its merits because it made me realize that I had fallen into thinking of Afghanistan too exclusively as the center of the war in Afghanistan. The same would be true if the idea was proposed to me by a Marxist complete with Phd and cloven hooves. I wish I could write half as well as David Warren.

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