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12 May 2009


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William R. Cumming

WOW! What an incredible post. Out of complete ignorance--mine- seems to lead to an inescaple conclusion! Our efforts are accelerating the decline of Pakistand as a nation-state and accelerating the likelihood of an adverse environment to US interests in most of S. Asia! Am I alone in my conclusion?


FB ali,

you are ignoring big limitations how all the above can be executed.

1. US internal politics itself is rife with corruption, special interest, willful ignorance. And major pakistan political players know this. The US political scene can be manipulated to certain degree to manufacture perception about Pakistan to give domestic Pakistan player upper hands. US media is non functional and cannot analyse event properly.

2. US key policy makers simply do not have the capability nor the willingness to understand the subtle political game inside Pakistan upper leadership. (first of, it's too close to home. All the corruption and political gaming in Pakistan is exactly the same as in the US, different degree and variety, but the same. I bet it's done by same interlocutor, corporations, lobbyists, etc.) This makes honest public discourse for proper Pakistan policy impossible. Think of it as another version of US-Israel honest policy. How impossible it is. US-Pakistan relationship has a lot of such element.

Here is an example: should US support clean Islamic party in Pakistan? Should US continue to foster unhealthy military regime with totalitarian tendency to win the war? (what war is it exactly) Should US pick the known devil, and simply support nationalism old guard that has dwindling political base. (who is willing to take a chance?) ... The US policy itself is rife with paranoia, schizoid take, incompetent, old boys network, lazy thinking, and downright clueless.

3. And finally, we just coming out of Bush era and in a deep economic recession. There is a limit to everything.

4. And finally, Pakistan by my calculation at this moment worth more as dysfuntional state than a healthy one. A lot of player have things to gain when Pakistan is weak.


Basically it's this. US policy apparatus knows the general outline of the problem, but not enough details to effectively solve the problem. And a lot of players wants to make sure it stays that way.

At this point, the Afghanistan - Pakistan problems, solutions, steps to be taken are laughably obvious to anybody willing to spend time paying attention. This is largely social problem that needs political solution and leadership. Talibanism won't go away until it is solve, because the entire system will keep beng dysfunctional. (Pakistan politics and social problem, DC politics and world outlook. Middle east energy, Israel, India politics. Russia, China. etc)

In fact, I sort of have general feeling how the moving pieces, how event generally will unfold in the near future.

If I have to put my bet: bet on stupid, greed, and easy way out. Less broken heart that way.

But like I say, the solutions are obvious to anybody who is paying attention. This is not a novel or mysterious problem. Half of what is going on right now isn't even necessary.

Martin Poulin

Dear Col Lang, As I read the excellent post by FB Ali, I was reminded of ages past: A Bright Shining Lie by N Sheehan; Defeating Communist Insurgency by Sir Robert Thompson; all the books of Bernard Fall; and many others collecting dust on my bookshelf. We've been down this road before. Then as now, there was always a brilliant somebody telling us we could succeed if only we...
A Retired Old Geezer, Marty Poulin


FB Ali:

Thanks for a terrific synthesis (and thanks for posting it, Pat... and how, if at all, do you disagree with this perspective?).

I have three questions for the author (and apologize if they seem either obvious or redundant with regard to the author's arguments...):

1- How different would the situation be if Pakistan did not have a nuclear arsenal? I don't mean that question in terms of the tensions between Pakistan and India nor in the context of the global balance of nuclear powers (whether Super, just Great, or MIce-That-Would-Roar...) but rather in the specific context of what would come first in any attempt to mitigate the risk of a return to the terrorist safe haven status that Afghanistan offered in the 90's...

2- When, if ever, was Pakistan governed in the manner that you elaborate or are you establishing a benchmark that would represent a previously unknown political phase in the country? If there is a historical basis for your objectives, what were the conditions that led to its faltering?

3- What are the two or three concrete things that the Obama adminstration and the international community could do, in your opinion, to signal its embrace of the methods and goals that you describe? ... and as a corollary, what should be done if those steps do not lead to an amelioration of the situation?

Clifford Kiracofe

For a most interesting and in-depth assessment of the political history from 1947-1995 by a Pak constitutional specialist who has a pro-democratic inclination also favoring the 1973 constitution:

Zulfikar Khalid Maluka, The Myth of Constitutionalism in Pakistan (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1995)

F B Ali


Thank you (and others) who have appreciated the analysis I presented. In answer to your questions:

1. Even if Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons, its takeover by Islamists would be vastly more consequential than any AQ presence in Afghanistan.

2. In spite of the rough start it had due to the botched and messy split from India that the British fast-tracked in 1947, Pakistan started off with all the features that you call a “benchmark”, which lasted in fairly good shape for about 20 years. That was when the rot started and progressed due to a succession of incompetent and corrupt generals and politicians who have ruled the country since then.

3. As I have said, if the US were to say that the adoption of a plan to implement this package of basic reforms is a necessary pre-requisite to their providing aid to Pakistan, it would jumpstart the process. There is a significant internal constituency that would be mobilized to act if such a policy declaration were made. Whatever the degree of success of the reforms, it would leave Pakistan stronger and more viable – and better able to resist an Islamist takeover.


FB Ali--thanks for your provocative analysis. Very good reading.

curious--thanks to you as well for a provocative "contrarian" response to Ali's post.

All very good and thoughtful.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

The political Islamists, as you call them, are they enemies of US or are they enemies of the policies that US is pursuing?


F B Ali,

Thank you very much for your post. Please tell me, would the following condense your ideas:

The U.S. has three possible course of actions regarding policy towards Pakistan:
1. Status Quo, more or less
2. A Military Coup
3. The Democratic Course

In essence, you propose a viable strategy for 'The Democratic Course,' i.e. accomplishing U.S. objectives in Pakistan without resorting to tacit or overt support of military rule. The key component of this, as I read your post, is a 'bottom-up' approach (or I guess a 'mid-level-up,' to be precise) to focus aid on Pakistan's bureaucracies and to marginalize the corrupt political class who are both stealing U.S. money and threatening U.S. interests.

I think the problem, however, is that Obama and his people think they are pursuing (3), but are really continuing (1), and have probably considered that (2) will ultimately be necessary.

In my opinion, your plan will not resonate with Obama or his people, however, mainly because doing so requires looking at Pakistan as something other than a basket case (in addition to most of Curious' points above). This mentality looks at 'troublesome foreigners'as either hapless victims who need help (Democrats) or hapless collaborators who need discipline (Republicans), but not as, in the words of Jim Webb, 'affirmative persons,' i.e. capable, but in need of support in certain specific areas. In my analysis, this mentality is basically un-American, and is closer to a bastardized, updated European idea about how to deal with colonies. I think your idea of focusing on support for Pakistan's security, economic, and social bureaucracies, if implemented, would be up there as a 'Great Idea in Foreign Policy.' America can be very good at these bottom-up approaches to dealing with 'troublesome foreigners' - e.g. the Marshall Plan, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, etc. But one would think that at least eventually we would learn that we are a third string Empire.

Clifford Kiracofe

Think tank thing, April 2009:

"Pakistan is viewed in U.S. foreign policy debates almost entirely in terms of the terrorist
threat posed by the growing Islamist forces there to the international community, to
Afghanistan, and to the stability of the Pakistani state. This single-minded focus ignores
a broader and more fundamental issue that cuts across the struggle between Islamist
and secular forces: whether the multi-ethnic Pakistan federation, torn by growing
tensions between a dominant Punjabi majority and increasingly disaffected Baluch,
Sindhi and Pashtun ethnic minorities, can survive in its present form without basic
political and economic reforms..." etc.



Brilliant post.

The question that remains in my mind is exactly what kind of 'catalyst' you have in mind. What kind of levers can America pull?

The obstacle to any of this being achieved would seem to be Zardari, whose term runs for a good long while...

William R. Cumming

BBC has posted a great map (IMO) at the following site:


F B Ali


I agree with the way you put it. The solution I am advancing is to shore up certain essential institutions (the bureaucracies are part of them).

I also agree that the Obama administration is unlikely to consider such solutions. Holbrooke recently lauded Zardari as Pakistan’s democratically elected leader worthy of full US support. In a poll conducted by the International Republican Institute in March 2009, 72% of Pakistanis said that they disliked Mr Zardari; only 17% liked him (the same percentage said they would vote for his party if an election were held then).

Clifford K.

Too much attention is focussed abroad on the likelihood of a break-up of Pakistan. That is a possibility, but at the end of a long road. What is much more likely first (if the internal and external strains on the country continue to increase) is a military coup by Islamist officers.

Babak M.

I wrote that the aim of the political Islamists is “to establish the political, economic and military power of Islam – by repelling Western encroachments on Muslim countries and ultimately taking them over”. Whatever comes in the way of that aim would, I presume, be regarded as an obstacle or an opponent.


Gen. Ali, IMHO it is probably to late to save the Markhor, because:

1. It is trapped in the jaws of a mighty Tiger

2. with it's back to a Hornet's nest (forget the Marco Polo sheep)

3. And now has it's neck wrapped in the claws of an Eagle

4. Plus the Persian cat is also on the hunt.

Not a high probability for escape IMHO...

Perhaps with a little patience your excellent analysis the Markhor could escape, but the Eagle is not a patient animal.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

Thank you for your reply. You wrote: "the aim of the political Islamists is “to establish the political, economic and military power of Islam.."

Thus the political Islamist fall, very broadly, within the historical process of Muslim resistance to foreign encroachment that has been going on for more than 150 years – from Malaya to the Atlas Mountains.

It seems to me then that the political Islamist are the authentic voice of the peoples of Pakistan and the United States, as a polity, has no quarrel with them as she has not been the historical colonizer of that part of the world nor a party to the wars and political conflicts since the Partition.

A change in US policies vis-à-vis Pakistan followed by US disengagement from Afghanistan and Pakistan will therefore, in my opinion, render the hostility of political Islamists to US moot, no?

dilbert dogbert

Your focus seems to be on what the policies of the US should be towards Pakistan. Do you have any thoughts on what the Indians are doing or should be doing? They are really should the most concerned party due to just how close they are to the potential collapse of a failed state.
Thanks for any intelligent thoughts you can offer.


Babak Makkinejad, allow me to add:

Political Islam is no different than the Christian Democratic Union in Germany or the Republican Party in the United States, but in most Muslim countries there is only one way to express dissent (in Latin America they would be called Guerrillas not terrorists).

When you add the foreign interest or infidels forcing the government to side against the will of the people, IMHO only creates madness and resistance (Jihad).

Who is going to win the elections in Lebanon?

And ask yourself why?

Had the U.S. and Israel not intervene would Shia Hizzbolah even have a chance?

If we had patience, like in Indonesia, the Pakistanis would sort themselves out.

Again, IMHO.

Also, my apologizes for using the term "Pakis" which I have just found out is racial slur.

Latins shorten everything when addressing each others, i.e. Nicas, P.R., Cubis etc.

F B Ali

Babak M :

The Islamists are not the authentic voice of the people of Pakistan. Pakistanis, by and large, are followers of Islam, not of Islamism, the ideology of the Islamists. In Islamism the political power of “Islam” is everything while the individual exists only to serve it, just as in ultranationalism and Fascism the nation and state are everything. In all three ‘isms’ the pursuit of ideology, consciously or unconsciously, is often merely a vehicle for the drive to personal power.

In Islam the individual has primacy, both as the repository of value and of freedom of choice (that is why accountability in Islam is at this level). As believers in Islam the people of Pakistan have always hankered for a democratic and just society, which is centred on the individual. The example of an Islamist state in neighbouring Iran was a sobering check on any similar tendencies. However, things are now getting so bad in Pakistan that many are beginning to hope, in desperation, that perhaps the Islamists might solve their problems.

The aim of the Islamists is, after forcing the US to withdraw from Pakistan and Afghanistan, to take over these countries. Since the US will not countenance that, it will remain an enemy for them.

Kieran :

Thank you. See paragraph 3 of my reply to Batondor above. In my proposed reform package the last item is midterm elections in early 2010. That would send Mr Zardari back to his home in Dubai and bring in a government that had the support of the people.

Jose :

The Markhor will still live in the belly of the Tiger, and hopefully will one day tear his way out (if I have gotten your bestiary right!). What will undoubtedly happen is that the Eagle will have his feathers badly singed – and will still be facing a much-fattened Tiger (as well as the Hornets – and the Bear you forgot to mention!).


If we had patience, like in Indonesia, the Pakistanis would sort themselves out.
Posted by: Jose | 13 May 2009 at 04:43 PM

actually part that snapped Indonesia out of the whacky game was sense of betrayal.

- the asian economic collapse. (free market is for sucker. corrupt and incompetent administration kills)

- Oil in East Timor. (US/Australia flipping position. Deepest senss of betrayal with the old nationalism guard and the army. This is very similar to taliban-Pakistan.)

3. F-16. (US arm embargo and such. Boy do they learn to buy russian gear and initiative for self arm program afterward. I believe this part is where Russia, Brazil, Korea and Iran come in.)

All those happened in very short time one after another during turbulent time. while Islamic militant blowing up stuff. The Indonesian learned right quick who is friend and who the real suckers are.

Pakistan experience several similar events. Relationship with China, IPI, JF-17, nuclear program, taliban/war against soviet, IMF, near monetary collapse, etc.

But the similarity ends there because Pakistan political parties are much bigger and the game is much more complex. So the political dance is much longer. Everybody is still playing game and the hard lesson hasn't hit Pakistan yet. On top of that Pakistan has no oil and located in much crowded geopolitical location with visible hostility. So, short term national security overshadow the need of long term reform.

But basically, I think average folks are sick of the old game. Islamist, old general, corrupt nationalist, etc. When the people snap, everybody's head will roll.

The biggest favor US can give to pakistan right now is to leave them alone and provide space to let the lesson sink in, take away all excuse to keep doing old stuff.

Babak Makkinejad

FB Ali:

I must respectfully disagree with you.

There has never been a non-Islamic political order in any Muslim states that has been demoractic to my knowledge. The closest has been the recent experimental program in Turkey and that is not yet 30 years old - since the last military coup in the early 1980s.

You are asking a Christian power to help reform a Muslim polity's state & social structure so that a ruling elite of bureaucrats and landowners, with questionable loyalty to Islam, can stay in power. I do not believe that is a tenable proposition. US, with much more leverage in the Shah's Iran, failed to put into place a durable democratic order there - I think she will be unlikely to be more successful in Pakistan.

I know that I am a minority of one who thinks that for Muslim polities it is more useful to study the thoughts of Ayatullah Khomeini on Islamic Government than to keep on trying to build durable political orders on imported European models (however useful they may have been to Europeans and North Americans).

For as many Pakistanis have been whispering to themselves over the years when comparing themselves to India: “Is it because of Islam?”


While there are similarities between some of the ideas of CDU and assorted strands of political Islam there are very substantial and qualitative differences both in structure and programmer and attitude.

I think there is nothing like the CDU anywhere in the Muslim world - there is nothing like a functioning party structure like it exists in Europe, North America, Japan, or even Russia and China. The idea of party structure, discipline, programme, etc. are just not there. The closest is Hizbullah - in my opinion.

Moreover, in my opinion, there is very little tolerance for the opposing views in these polities - a symptom of the culture that also pervades the leadership and the political leaders.

In fact, I cannot think of a single Muslim state in which there is freedom of expression or assembly.

I agree with you that all these polities should be left alone by US-EU to find their on path. Muslim polities are in state of social andintellectual ferment with every little issue invested with huge emotional comittments. It I best to tread carefully.

The Western Civilization posits a form of universalism. The Muslim Civilization posits its own form of universalism. [Hinus and Chinese do not posit universalims.] These 2 claims to universalism will, for the foreseeable future, be in constant conflict unless they learn to leave each other alone. And you know what?, the ironic part is that the Universal Empire was first created by the Iranians.


Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 13 May 2009 at 11:43 PM

There is no such thing as "Islamic democracy". The ultimate source of any religion is the holy text and its interpretive apparatus. The most common manifestation of that problem is "The holy book is perfect, there is no need to search external argument to solve particular social issue, one just has to try harder. Lack of will and moral fiber is the problem. Sooner or later Iran will have to face that fundamental issue. It's the same with any religion. There is no such thing as "Christian democracy" either. The individual actor within a democratic system may have a religion, but the system itself is rooted on decision individuals, not cast within the system.

Babak Makkinejad


You wrote: "...the system itself is rooted on decision individuals"

Would you consider the slave-owning CSA a democracy?

Clifford Kiracofe

Brig. Ali,

Thank you for your comment. An Islamist coup in Pakistan by a circle of military officers has been a concern of mine for some time.

The analysis and proposals you put forward seem realistic.

The issue here in the US is the policy process itself...who are the players, what are their agendas, what policy will emerge?

The Islamist issue can be placed within a broader strategic environment say from the Caucasus through Central Asia and South Asia.

One can ask, for example, what are the implications of an Islamist coup in Pakistan for internal stability in India, for another hot war between the two countries, for more asymetric cold war, for example?

At this point in the Obama Administration, it is not clear to me whether it intends on any real "changes" in our foreign policy and global strategy. Continuity seems to be the order of the day so far. Are we looking at Bush not-so-lite and repackaged Cheneyism, itself a form of the US imperialism we have seen in the past?

If this is indeed the case, we may well find the Obama Administration as spectacular a failure as Bush43. It would seem Obama's White House has been in charge long enough now for foreign capitals to begin to draw tentative conclusions and to contemplate adjustments in their own policies.


Would you consider the slave-owning CSA a democracy?
Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 14 May 2009 at 10:01 AM

of course not.

One very fundamental criteria of democracy is the protection of individual free will. (freedom of expression, believe, equality of law, free from fear, ability to obtain information of some sort, blaa blaa blaa...) All that so a person can better decide on his own, which is the point of democracy.

Slavery was some of the biggest flaw in US constitution that could have been prevented. It took almost 200 years to fix.

There are a lot of things that is still incoherent and wrong with various modern constitution and legal system, US included. The existence of unnecessary war would be one proof. But the point is, there should be possibility to move toward better condition right? Nothing is perfect.

Patrick Lang

curious et al

The framers of the American constitution did not intend for the resulting government to be an unlimited democracy. Although their action preceded the French Revolution they would have viewed the resulting government with horror (many did)and agreed altogether with Edmund Burke on this subject.

This remains an open subject. for example, are we really better off with direct popular election of US Senators.

Look at some of these clowns... pl

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