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27 December 2007


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Babak, English is a fluid language. Alas, Farsi is now an English word, as is Persian. Please see Merriam-Webster.
PL, et al, any thoughts on the Russian, European and Iranian responses to the assassination?

William R. Cumming

Okay here goes. I hope this passes for thoughtful analysis and not posturing.
Let's discuss Pakistan relationships seriously. Clearly that geographic entity has been the subject of great power politics for a long time. Being used now to counter-balance India (which is a fully nuclear-capable power) and even China (also fully nuclear capable). Pakistan through the wild and violent history of its immediate neighbor Afganistan have been the focus of central/south asian events for almost 200 years. The US continues to state on the record that its foreign policy is not ruled by religious issues but is non-sectarian. What are real power politics in this arena. Since the countries involved are all driven in their foreign policy largely by religion how does that intersect with our non-religious foreign policy? China and Russia seem to also have a non-sectarian foreign policy publically while behind the scenes they are at least to some degree anti-religion, more so with China than Russia. The US does not own this area. The two large issues for National Security seem to be possession and control of WMD and conventional capability that might be utilized against the US and its allies. Look to the policy of India, China and Russia and see how those countries align with us on issues. Doubtful that the dynamic of WMD possession and conventional power is going to change dramatically short of nuclear warfare in that arena for the indefinite future. China wants internal security and the ability to manipulate the long term power arrangements. So do India and Russia. Do those countries really want a full-scale Islamic WMD capability in Pakistan? Are they the most affected? What are the real interests of the US in this arena? It seems to me that the US is still tied in knots over the illusion of control. What would happen if we just let the countries of Russia, India and China sort out Pakistan? Otherwise eventually it looks like US boots on the ground over an arena that cannot be delt with conventionally or by special ops. Bhutto was threatened even in exile by various groups. The Pakistan leadership is now really between a rock and a hard place and should have maximized steps to avoid the politics of assassination dominating its political life. It did not see it that way and so the rest of the world has to sit back and watch the feeding frenzy. My guess is that China, India and Russia not the US has the most to lose from this event, and perhaps Afghanistan. Am I wrong?

Cold War Zoomie

This issue is out of my league. All I can say is that it is another case of complete confusion for me - a recurring theme in my life as an American trying to keep up with what my government is doing in my name.

For a country with so many news sources, it sure is amazing how these events pop up out of nowhere. Until the first assassination attempt I had never even heard of her. Then she disappeared from the news channels. Now it's wall-to-wall coverage again.

How are we supposed to make informed decisions with a news media that has completely lost its way?

Here endeth the venting.

Babak Makkinejad


No, I meant Japan & South Korea.

Babak Makkinejad


So the speech of illiterate Iranians has been accepted by Merriam-Webste; shame, shame, shame.


re: William R. Cumming comment

China and Russia, so long as the U.S. remains the focal point for Islamic rage, will likely keep relatively low profiles while they quietly build commercial ties with anyone and everyone and take steps to secure Middle East sources of petroleum with long-term development deals. In the short term a fundamentalist regime in Pakistan would be little threat to these countries and could offer a strategic opportunity to limit U.S. influence and access to vital resources. In the longer term it will be in their interest to keep U.S. assets within striking distance of Pakistani elements as both irritants and viable targets. Look for a lot of duplicitous maneuvering to hinder U.S. disengagement in Iraq while signaling disapproval of the hegemonic bully. Also look for subtle (or maybe not so suble) impedance of Israeli/Palestinian peace efforts.

India is another matter. A fundamentalist Muslim regime in Pakistan would likely be viewed by India as a direct and immediate threat. Kashmir would again be a flashpoint. India, too, would probably prefer to see Pakistani fundamentalists focused on the U.S., but it must ultimately see itself allied with the U.S. and would probably not risk overt moves to make America’s position in the Middle East more difficult. That said, India will no doubt take whatever steps it considers prudent to defend itself against any kind of Pakistani assault or incursion. No doubt their tracking of which internal faction is in control of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons will be acute. They will constantly be weighing whether conditions dictate a preemptive strike to ensure their own survival. The historical enmity between India and Pakistan has been violent and intense, yet constrained by some kind of realism on both sides. We will have to see if a fundamentalist Pakistan will exhibit a similar realism, and just as important, if India will perceive it so.

Martin K

As always, very interesting discussion. Some points:

* Re: Pakistan, I wonder how the main religious leaders stand on this. Anyone here know who Pakistans answer to Sistani is? Also, again and again, remember this is just as much a conflict between criminals as it is a ideological/religious conflict. We westerners have a tendency to think in ideal forms, whereas the muslim world is all about interdependence and interconection.

* Paul: "The Europeans are relatively silent for they learned their lessons about meddling in Middle East." We/They are also very quiet because the anti-muslim wave has been much higher on the ground over here, and has made responsible people not inclined to listen to the mob aware of the huge muslim communities all over western Europe. In my city, Oslo, they constitute approx 8%, thats quite a significant presence in a city of 500000. As the riots of France showed, the youths of these groups are now torn between conflicting loyalties, that is where the real battle for the Hearts & Minds are taking place. Wich, AGAIN, is one of the main reasons that Gitmo/Waterboarding as a PR-effort (wich it has been clearly marketed as) is counterproductive and criminally stupid.

The historian in me sees this as the end-result of Rumsfeldts attempt to enter the Great Game. The Arc of his ambition projected as far as Uzbekistan at its zenith, with bases in almost all the stans, E. European soldiers in Iraq and agressive movemens towards Russias areas from all fronts at once. This hybris has backlashed somewhat mightily and has now caused the possible loss of half of Iraq, half of Afghanistan and in a worst case scenario, Pakistan. Reminds me of another Eastern Front, where someone did not understand the meaning of stand and hold. Imagine if he had not done Iraq, but put all that potential into Afghanistan? Argh.

BTW, if my english is stilted, pardon me sirs, cause I have just finished "The System of the World" by Neal Stephenson abouyt the emergence of the scientific and economic paradigms of the west, and it is filled with polite discourses in high englis. Very good historical magical-realistic read.


PeterE says:

"Surely her assassination was moderately likely. Something for which the U.S. should have developed contingency plans. Or am I missing something?"

Washington moves to anoint a Bhutto successor' and push for an immediate vote after the assassination

It was a decidedly odd moment. On Thursday, within hours of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington that his boss, Condoleezza Rice, had quickly made two calls. One was to Bhutto's bereaved husband, Asif Ali Zardari. Rice's other call, Casey said, was to the man he called Bhutto's "successor," Amin Fahim, the vice chairman of her Pakistan People's Party. Casey couldn't even quite master this obscure politician's name, but he said, "I'll leave it up to Mr. Amin Fahir—Fahim—as the new head of the Pakistan People's Party to determine how that party is going to participate in the electoral process."

The problem is, nobody but the State Department—especially not the political elites in Pakistan, even those within Bhutto's own party—sees Fahim in such a role, and certainly not so soon. Critics suggest that the administration is so eager to graft legitimacy onto President Pervez Musharraf, its ever-more-unpopular ally in the war on terror, that it is pressing too hard to move past Bhutto and continue with scheduled Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, even though riots are paralyzing the country. "They're trying to rush everything. This is a disaster," says Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Depratment official and current scholar at the Middle East Institute. "This is now our new game plan: We're working out a deal between Fahim and Musharraf after the election. They mention Fahim because they don't know any better. The fact is, she [Bhutto] didn't trust him."

Duncan Kinder

It looks as if both Kenya and Nigeria are heading towards similar difficulties.

Reportedly, the Kenyan election, which might mean the ouster of its current government, is suspect and is provoking ethnic unrest. Kenya abuts Somalia, which has experienced an Islamist insurgency.

Also, reportedly, Nigeria's top corruption official, who seems to have played a role analogous to Bhutto's, is being shoved aside. Nigeria is a major oil exporter and is the locus for MEND insurgents on the Niger delta.

The overall image is similar to that of a California wildfire. Even it the Pakistan blaze is dampened down, other blazes are churning in Africa, sending sparks across the firewalls.

William R. Cumming

Question? Do the Naxahalites (sic) in India have any foreign backing? Given that India is one of the largest Islamic nations by populations (I believe) and given internal development friction how do they realistically think that they are in position to oppose a fundamentalist regime in Pakistan? Also, China seems to be getting away with mowing down Mosques in its Western Provinces, it is again just a case where like the British pre-1947 in India the US led factions are the "Soft" targets in South Asia? Finally, other than huge territory and populations, if you treat Pakistan and Afghanistan as a unit (which I don't but for arguments sake) what is the interest of the International community there but for WMD proliferation issues? Did the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan have any long-term impacts in that country on its development or just slow the mass sinking into poverty and ignorance that now looks like will be the future of Pakistan? Is the real choice democracy or fundamentalism or does democracy mean fundamentalism in this part of the world. My belief is that except for outside interests, Pakistan at this point would be better off without WMD proliferation and control issues surfacing since it makes it more likely than not that other powers will continue to use it for a playground, including the Islamic Fundamentalists. Finally, who (what international groups and states) are really assisted in their Pakistani objectives by this most recent assassination? What internal groups benefit? I think no one benefits which makes the act more likely random than not.

martin K

WR Cummings: You have been overrun by the parameters of the conflict. It is moving very fast now.


The simplest question about this whole affair is Cui Bono?

Musharaf gets rid of a challenge to his power.

The Taliban get rid of a threat to their power.

Please understand that secular (or even religious) democrats espousing western values are a relatively small elite in Asian countries, and they are regarded with deep suspicion by the majority of the population.

Bhuttos assassination will be popular with the peasants. She was western in her outlook and she is female. Thats enough for a death sentence.


Paraphrasing an Indian commentator: Pakistanis come in the secular and fundamentalist varieties. The secular ones hate India. The fundamentalists hate India and the West. Regardless of who is in control, the missiles are pointing at India. With Bhutto gone, Pakistan can no longer keep up its secular facade with the West, which is a good thing for India. Moreover, let the West now deal with the monstrosity they've propped up for so long.

robt willmann

My remarking about Samuel "Sandy" Berger as a "hook" to get into the incident in Pakistan drew comments showing that this is indeed election season.

The gangster foreign policy, of which Mr. Berger was a practitioner and which has been dramatically employed by the Bush jr administration, is still in place in Pakistan.

The key to that policy, obviously based on intimidation and violence, is to prevent the existence of independent thinkers and actors in foreign governments or groups in areas that are strategic geographically or where money is an issue.

So far, Musharraf, who may be playing his own double- or triple-crossing game, has not wandered too far off of the the U.S. policy reservation. That is what matters. And who knows how much of the billions in U.S. taxpayer money sent to Pakistan has gone into the pockets of Musharraf and the new Gen. Tariq Majid. So far as I know, when the U.S. government does the bribing, it does not violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Here is an article on Benazir Bhutto that appears in the British Guardian of today (December 30).


The alleged new agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan that I referred to and which is supposed to increase the presence of U.S. special forces in that country is troubling, but it illustrates that the "policy" is not the propaganda cover story of democracy, but gangsterism.

Cold War Zoomie is bothered that the news media has "lost its way". The media has not lost its way. It has been and is actively promoting the administration's policies since 2001.

This brings us back to Mr. Berger. Why did MSNBC put him on a national cable network? To be a Good Samaritan? Is it because a psychiatrist called and said it would be good for his self esteem to be back on TV in the role of an alleged "expert"? Why?

There is an answer to that question, and it is not pretty.


Babak, language changing over time is shameful only to pedants. What will Iran do regarding Pakistan? Anything? Happy New Year to you and all the SST family.

Babak Makkinejad


Yes, language changes but now we have 4 names for the same language: "Persian", "Dari", "Farsi", and "Tadjiki". There are political reasons for this but accepting this terminology only furthers confusion.

At one time, the Shah of Iran and the Prime Minister of India had discussed a contingency plan for occupation of Pakistan if the state structure disintegrated there.

My guess would be that the Iranian Government and People will do nothing in regards to Pakistan even if that country is plunged into complete anarchy. For they have watced US in Iraq and NATO in Afghanistan; they (Iranians) have better things to do with their oil money than to squander it.

Thank you for your good wishes for the New Year; likewise, I hope you will have a comfortable and pleasant 2008.

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