Bhutto’s Speech

The reaction by Benazir Bhutto to the attempt on her life has been a ringing speech (video here) in which she has denounced the Taliban and al Qaeda by name. She started by thanking the young men who gave their lives defending her “with their bare hands” distributing honor directly and dishonor indirectly with telling finesse. Nor did she mince words about her support for democracy, civil society, or women’s rights. I found myself agreeing throughout. It is especially gratifying to see a defiant Muslim woman leader boldly rejecting the fanaticism that is killing far more Muslims than it is Westerners. She says at one point that she has no problem with those who disagree with her and that the political process is there to work out those disagreements. She makes it abundantly clear that her problem is with those who would impose their views by violence. That distinction, I believe, particularly when it is made by Muslims, is the key to eventually prevailing against the wave of religious fanaticism sweeping the Muslim world. I think that wave is similar to the wave of political fanaticism that swept the world in the forties – particularly in Germany and Japan. Similar in that it is a reactionary response to modernization, but different because it is based in religion, not nationalism. It is more diffuse, more difficult to come to grips with, yet it declared itself as plainly hostile and immune to appeasement on 9/11 as did the Japanese at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Vigorously fighting back against it on the model of WWII has always run the risk of enhancing Muslim solidarity and I think the view that America’s response has caused this kind of reaction has some merit. However, I am of the view that when overtly attacked as we were on 9/11 a vigorous response was called for and that it was necessary to take the war to the enemy in both Afghanistan and Iraq to sufficiently engage him and test his mettle. Perhaps Afghanistan would have been enough engagement, perhaps not. I would argue that by getting in a far nastier and prolonged fight than we bargained for in Iraq , we have discovered that one way forward has been to engage the enemy long and hard enough for him to reveal his true nature. Note: I don’t claim that this was at all foreseen by the Bush administration, but I do claim that the well developed counterinsurgency doctrine developed by the US military since our experience in Vietnam made it possible to capitalize on al Qaeda’s blunders in Iraq. When pressed the enemy began by trying to provoke a civil war with fellow Muslims albeit of a different sect, and ended by slaughtering his own Sunni allies in a desperate attempt to control them. The core of the enemy’s base is sincerely religious traditional groups – precisely like the Sunnis peoples of central Iraq, Afghanistan or the Pakistani tribal territories. Musharraf has been attempting to compromise with the alliance of al Qaeda and the Pustuns of the Waziristans and been rewarded with escalating violence. The area has provided a safe haven that has made the war in Afghanistan far more difficult and directly challenged the Pakistani government with the Red Mosque incident and the attack on Bhutto. Therefore, I believe the return of Benazir Bhutto signals a drawing together of the Pakistani ruling elite and the attack against her clarifies the distinction between traditionalism and fanaticism in a country that stands at the center of the Muslim world and is its only nuclear power.

As rhetorically satisfying as Bhutto’s speech is, and I don’t want take anything away from it, talk is one thing – taking action is quite another. She is not prime minister yet, and Musharraf is awaiting the decision of the Supreme court on his reelection as president. Given the highly transitional nature of the situation, I was surprised to read Pakistan Plans All-out war on Militants by Syed Saleem Shahzad in The Asia Times Online. My initial reaction was that the report was a carefully leaked bit of bluster put out by a government temporarily indisposed by an interregnum. If you follow the above link to the Wikipedia article about Shahzad it appears he has a reputation for having good contacts within the Pakistani military. It is one thing to claim that the government is going to escalate it’s war against the militants:

According to a top Pakistani security official who spoke to Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity, the goal this time is to pacify the Waziristans once and for all. All previous military operations – usually spurred by intelligence provided by the Western coalition – have had limited objectives, aimed at specific bases or sanctuaries or blocking the cross-border movement of guerrillas. Now the military is going for broke to break the back of the Taliban and a-Qaeda in Pakistan and reclaim the entire area.

It is quite another to apparently report major military operations already underway:

The fighting that erupted two weeks ago, and that has continued with bombing raids against guerrilla bases in North Waziristan – turning thousands of families into refugees and killing more people than any India-Pakistan war in the past 60 years – is but a precursor of the bloodiest battle that is coming.

Shahzad’s reputation argues for him being used as a conduit for a bluff or as a source of genuine inside information. Perhaps it is a bit of both.

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