16 December 2014


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What should the US do about Pakistan?

A digression. During the Cold War, the US and Soviet strategies in India were different in an interesting way.

E.g., "elites" like my father, who had done his PhD in the US received constant streams of books, magazines, invitations to events and so on. Kind of a waste, given that he'd be kindly disposed of towards the US anyway.

The Soviets courted the masses. For instance, they supplied high quality inexpensive textbooks of science and mathematics in English, so much so, that schools and universities adopted them. Anybody here familiar with Ostragradsky's theorem? The great classics of the West were also available from the Soviets. Likewise, they held events open to the public in general.

What does this have to do with how the US should help Pakistan?

By the same means. That $10 billion Pakistan has received since 2001 has been to a large part arms and another large part official aid, which will never make acquaintance with regular Pakistanis on the street.

An utter waste of $10 billion, IMO.

The problem of course is that the US has its ideological blinders on with regard to spending on the public good, both at home and abroad. But a tiny fraction of that $10 billion would pay for flooding the Pakistani market with books, both in English and translated.

Not books of entertainment, but books of knowledge. No mullah can compete with this.

And if the US decides to be in a country, it should be there in spite of and regardless of its government. The US ought to be courting the people of the country, not its rulers.

I don't see why there can't be bookstores run by the US government selling extremely inexpensive high quality books, except for the objection that "that is socialism".

If the US channels its assistance through the government, it becomes a part of the despised system of oppression.


People may find this account of the politics in the North West Frontier Province in 1946-47 interesting (remember that current trouble spot had an elected Congress (the Congress of Mahatma Gandhi) provincial government at that time.


As then, so now.


A message from Pakistan - Asma Jahangir

Lee A. Arnold

If the West lets go of the Middle East, we are going to see the rise of political Islam, constituted first of the most violent people who want control, and soon gaining it in Afghanistan, Pakistan, perhaps someday Turkey and Egypt. Some others will then turn towards it in an instant -- Libya, for example. There will be plenty of small rivalries among them, as well as rivalry with the Shi'ite ascendancy in Iran and southern Iraq, although this internecine struggle may not play to the West's advantage. If the West presently has no real influence across this area, --or rather it should be said, if Muslims of a more moderate frame of mind are not likely nor able to prevent this explosion,-- then Western support of any sort of stabilization, even by dictators, is better than nothing. But Americans will have to accept that this policy has no other goal; that it has little or nothing to do with "U.S. imperialism" although the resulting oil plunder surely helps that along; and that it may go on for a few hundred years. And during the same period, the West will be looking at extreme internal police surveillance of its own populations, and resulting loss of civil liberties. What is entirely missing in the picture is the only thing that may actually change the course, which is an ecumenical outreach by the religious leaders on both sides to state with finality a peaceful global rapprochement between the belief systems -- not to convince most of the West, which is largely secular, but to convince the violent Islamists, via their teachers, to put down their weapons. That would be quite a long process, and part of the problem here is that Western modernity itself, being secularist, has no idea of how to get together with its own regular religious leaders, while the extreme Western rightwing is religiously fanatical, and has no relationship to psychological normality.


"since the end of the reign of the Muslim leaders in India, Muslims have and still do, belong to the lowest and poorest parts of Indian society." - Abu Sinan

I'm no expert on India or Pakistan - although I have traveled a few times there. For a 80% majority Hindu state - India has allowed a Muslim to be the titular President, hired a Muslim as the head of the Indian missile and rocket program, the wealthiest man in India and a high-tech billionaire is Muslim, there are Muslims in the Indian military and other governmental institutions. In terms of sheer numbers I am sure there are equally desperate and poor Hindus in India. In fact I would argue that every religion in India is represented in all strata of society from rich to poor. There are still several Muslim oriented political parties that contest elections and have representatives in parliament and state legislatures. Some of the leading lights in Indian art and entertainment are Muslim.

What has impressed me about India is that among post-colonial nation states it stands out as one where there have been regular changes in political power through the ballot box. No dictatorships. An open and rather pluralistic society despite being very conservative. With the challenges of development in such a society with enormous amounts of compromise required as opposed to China and its draconian attitudes towards its own people - India is developing with its own model a depth of intellectual property in software, pharmaceuticals and biotech and a rapidly growing middle class.

India deserves a lot of kudos IMO. It did not spawn a AQ Khan network of state-sponsored nuclear proliferation. It has provided a model for improving the standards of its people while engaging the rest of world within accepted norms.

I would hope that our politicians would forge much stronger ties with India since they match our values substantially more closer and have demonstrated that they are a force for stability in the world.


OK, I agree we are not in control. But, is our money well spent?


In my view Musharraf 'shaking off his shackles' shows the same phenomenon we see in Turkey, that almost-erstwhile US allies run out of patience in face of US imposed policies that are hurting them severely.

Musharraf's 'defiance' suggests that even relatively much less powerful allies are not satellites and ought not to be treated that way, else one pays a price.It is worth recalling that an alliance relies on mutual interests.
To impose Bhutto on Musharraf had to me a Warsaw Pact flair, and was all tough brotherly love in a uniting belief in spreading the gospel of democratic world socialism. Bush could add some flair to his trips overseas by brotherly kissing heads of state of US allies, but sadly that would probably conflict with the GOP's perception.
In US policy terms it is like trying to force Bush to accept Clinton as his new VP, and successor, which is to be confirmed in democratic elections. There you are.

From what I recall the establishment in Paskistan was never particularly happy with Bhutto because of her intended reforms. But the Bush crowd must just adore her. A muslim woman! Pro western! Reformist! Ruling an Islamic country! I can almost see their drool wetting the table. Now that she's back, they could just ask her out for a date. And anyway, for the time being, Bhutto is toast.

For Musharraf that was certainly a way to rid himself of Bhutto. But I think one has to get past the cartoonish notion that this is all the work of Musharraf. He is not alone in this. This is the right wing Pakistan establishment lashing out. And no matter their private interests, they also have strategic national interests in mind. They don't like what the US is up to in Pakistan and Waziristan. They don't like what the US and NATO are up to in Afghanistan, and they don't like what the US is up to in regard to India. They do something about it.
For Musharraf those upset lawyers and journalists who want to see Musharraf in jail for his constitutional transgressions are certainly much less of a concern to him than the those among his countrymen who want to see his head on a spike for his heresy.

In a similar pattern, Turkey got hurt by US policies and is now also re-considering their interests, and sees them outweighing the utility of being allied with the US in the long run, at least for as long as they decide to buccaneer around. Turkey's secularists want religion out of the state altogether and must see US babble about Turkey as a moderate Islamic model state with utter disgust, and I have little doubt that Turkey's Islamists are first of all Islamists and have any more enthusiasm for such talk. The US pressure managed to unite them both in nationalism. In face of their Kurdish problem they are inching closer to natural allies, and find Syria and Iran. I recently read of Turkish visitors to Syria praising the cuisine being so familiar. That is certainly more than they can say about the US.
I have long held that the transnational ambition of the Kurds invites their undoing, and that they, if they're smart, are happy with what they have now, and that Israel and the US better beware supporting them, else they risk getting caught in avoidable conflict.

And oh yes, recently iirc I have read an article by Ralph Peters holding up Indonesia as a paragon of moderate Islam. Those poor bastards ...

Pakistan and Turkey show that even a global hyperpower can only do so much. Just like any empire before, they cannot perpetually try to rule against the consent of the ruled.

Wasn't it US grand strategy to bind rivals Japan and Germany as allies and minimise their ambition, by taking into US hands their interests, and further their interests, to prevent them form independent action, and a sense of independence? That was as far as I can tell a resounding success for half a century.
Contrast that the approach towards Turkey and Pakistan. I don't see anything with comparable foresight at work now. Only psychedelic visions of a democratic world.
In closing, my reckless drinking appears to catch up with me, because I inadvertendly channel the ghost of the undead Ralph Peters, so apologies in advance for the poor taste - it's not me:

Humph! I'll tell you a dirty little secret that I learned when I made my LSD scholarship at the AEI: Some people don't want to be democratic and are willing to rather kill and then die to avoid that fate. They think Freedom ™ is a fate worse than death. Islamofashists! Humph!

Eric Dönges

Colonel Lang,

you write:

Democracy in the Arab and Islamic Worlds? What a joke!! The product of more democracy in the Arab World would be the same everywhere.. One man, one vote, one time, and the resulting governments would all be Islamist sharia states. Why? Simple. That's what your people want.

And our (by "our", I'm collectively referring to the non-Arab/Muslim world) business in this is what, exactly ? Let them have their fundamentalist theocracy if they want it - then they'll get a first hand lesson in why religion and politics mix about as well as drinking and driving. The experience will undoubtly be very painfull for them, but part of being a sovereign people is the right to make your own lives miserable.

If they insist on forcing their fundamentalism on other countries that don't want it, then it becomes our business, and we can legitimately intervene in any way necessary.


"since the end of the reign of the Muslim leaders in India, Muslims have and still do, belong to the lowest and poorest parts of Indian society." - Abu Sinan

Actually, to repeat Zanzibar, that is true of any major religious/communal group you take in India. Except maybe the Sikhs and Jains (mostly due to the concept community kitchens and the like), there is a staggering disparity in wealth distribution across religious and caste groups in India.

But Abu Sinan's point is not wrong; Muslims seem to have gone astray whether due to official neglect or deliberate malfeasance I can't say. Though I tend to lean towards the latter.

Case in point,


Hindus had a similar law where women could not claim equal rights to property but the supreme court ruled in the 1950s that this is illegal.

But for the Muslims, the political parties played them; thus they're still in the boondocks thinking that their Shariat law is saving them.

As report after report shows, educate the womenfolk, everything; health, wealth and social participation follows.

A chance for a progressive muslim revival killed for 'vote bank' politics.

sorry for the OT nature of the post.

FB Ali

I would like to correct some misinformation on this topic.

First, and foremost, Pakistan was NOT a bad idea; it was a good idea that went bad in the implementation. The Muslims of India created their own country not because of religion but because they had learned through bitter experience that, in a unified country, they would be politically, economically and culturally swamped by a 3-to-1 Hindu majority that considered them to be ‘the other’. Every single religious Islamist party opposed the idea of Pakistan, and fought against its creation.

There is no inherent antipathy to democracy in the Muslim world. A couple of hundred years ago every country in the world was ruled by a dictator; they were called monarchs then. At the same time as Europe started getting rid of them, it colonialized most of the Muslim world, stopping this evolution from occurring there. It takes a long time to get a half-decent democracy functioning (as Americans should know); Muslim countries have comparatively recently started on this road, made much more difficult by constant interference and manipulation by external powers playing their own games.

What people in the Third World want most is not the right to vote in elections but a basic minimum of personal security and economic opportunity in a reasonably fair system. Dictatorships can’t provide this; they invariably lead to widespread corruption and oppression, and deprivation of the many for the benefit of the favoured few. The main reason why Islamist parties are gaining widespread popularity and support is because they lead the fight against these corrupt and oppressive dictators, and not because of their religious appeal.

In Pakistan today the struggle of the people is not for democracy (as it is being portrayed in the West) but for the rule of law. Musharraf’s declaration of emergency did not overthrow the political system (such as it is, it is still in place), but the rule of law that was being asserted by a revitalized judiciary and legal community. The concept of the law resonates deeply in Muslim culture and heritage, and this is another string the Islamist parties play on (the shariah is the law).

Musharraf is not “a bastion against Islamist extremism, chaos on the streets, and instability in a Muslim nation armed with nuclear weapons” (as someone said here earlier). He is now the cause of chaos and instability, and a powerful if indirect promoter of Islamist extremism. It is in the West’s interest that he goes as soon as possible, and they should do what they can to expedite his departure. Yes, Colonel, the US does not “control events” there, but billions of dollars (and promises of more to come) buy an awful lot of compliant behaviour from the beneficiaries, in this case the Pakistan military.

Babak Makkinejad

To my knowledge, since the assassination of Imam Ali there has never ever been a Muslim state in which a Msulim's life, property, and family (“namus”) has been secure from arbitrary and capricious violations. The only time, in fact, that a large number of Muslims had been so protected had been a few decades under the British Rule in India.

The search for a durable political order in Muslim polities that enshrines the Rule of Law has been going on for at least 150 years with limited success. [The Iranian Revolution of 1905 had the establishment of a House of Justice as its main objective; for example.]

The fact, however, remains that of the 24 countries in the world that can meaningfully boast of both a representative system of government and the Rule of Law; 23 of them are in North America and Western Europe. These states are certainly worth studying more but their lessons will not be directly applicable to Muslim polities.



hasn't history shown the brit empire ideas to be nothing more than a collection of 'bad ideas'? one bad idea after another after another. hmmm....

Abu Sinan

The best way of defeating radical Islamists is to let them take power. It is nice and easy to sit in eternal opposition and talk about what needs to be done, something entirely else to actually have to do it yourself.

There will always be an Islamist opposition, but the way to undercut it is to actually give them power for awhile. When this happens the people will quickly see that holding up The Qur'an and screaming "Islam is the answer" does not put food on their plates or make them any better off.

The US is not really interested in democracy in the Middle East because it is clear to everyone, save Bush and his cronies it would seem, that all fair and open elections in the Middle East would see moderate to right wing Islamists elected.

Does anyone believe Bush when he says he wants democracy in the Middle East? His reaction to the election of Hamas is a good indicator of what his beliefs are about free and open elections.

It is much more in the American interest, short-term, to keep supporting our client dictators in the area. Democracy in the short term would be a disaster for American policy. But as someone who thinks American policy in the area is a disaster in and of itself, I don't think this would be a bad thing.

As to the Muslims in India issue, sure there have been Muslim who have been at the height of power and sure the richest person in India is a Muslim, this doesn't not change the fact that Muslims are at the bottom of Indian society in almost all measurable facets. We can argue about why this is, but not about the fact that this is the current state of affairs for the Muslim community in India.


Check out Pat Buchanan's comments on Pakistan:


I love the part about the ballot box..lol



since the bush admin. seems so intent on making enemies and driving away friends, could we see a future mideast alliance of turkey-russia-syria-iran take place 'because of' the bush admin. being under the thumb of stupidity/neocons/israeli likud nutcases? it sure is looking that way from this vantage point, a new mideast alliance on the horizon.


Agree with assessments of Pakistan and US dilemma. However, when examining religious extremism in ME why stop with Islamic countries? Seems to me that Israel fits into description of religious based extremism, tribal unrest, warrior culture. Oh and lots of US aid and military technology to "behave". Offspring of British geographical carving. Pakistan is not the exception of US policy, but the rule

W. Patrick Lang

FB Ali

I am opposed on principle to nationalism as opposed to patriotism. The latter being the love of one's own group and the former being the same love but framed in the context of opposition and enmity for "the other."

There are any number of artificial states that were midwifed into being through the efforts of those enamored of country building. George Mason and the anti-federalists certainly were not pleased with the merger of un-sympathetic regions into the USA which eventually produced our most cataclysmic war. pl

China Hand

"Pakistan" may not be "our" mistake, but Bhutto certainly was.

Clifford Kiracofe

1. Some speculation from London:

"If General Pervez Musharraf is forced from power, the man who delivers the coup de grace will probably be a quiet, studious general who doubles as the president of the Pakistan Golf Association.

"Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, the deputy chief of the army staff and a skilled amateur golfer, is the favourite to become Pakistan's next president.

"Ranking second only to Gen Musharraf, he is the country's most senior military officer. If Gen Musharraf keeps his promise to resign as army chief, Gen Kiyani will almost certainly succeed him....Born in 1952, Gen Kiyani comes from Punjab, the traditional home of Pakistan's military elite....After serving as director-general of military operations during Pakistan's military confrontation with India in 2002, he was promoted to lead Ten Corps in Rawalpindi. Ten Corps is based only a few miles from the capital, Islamabad, so has traditionally been in charge of launching military coups...."

2. The "failed state" issue:
"Pakistan moved from 34th last year to ninth in the new report - one of the sharpest changes in the overall score of any country on the list.

The contributing factors were Pakistan's inability to police the tribal areas near the Afghan border, the devastating earthquake last October in Kashmir and rising ethnic tensions, the report said." http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4964934.stm

3. US Assessment 2005. Times of India, 13 Feb. 2005:

"NEW DELHI: Pakistan will be a "failed" state by 2015 as it would be affected by civil war, complete Talibanisation and struggle for control of its nuclear weapons, premier US intelligence agencies have said in an assessment report.

Forecasting a "Yugoslavia-like fate" for Pakistan, the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a jointly prepared Global Futures Assessment Report have said "by year 2015 Pakistan would be a failed state, ripe with civil war, bloodshed, inter-provincial rivalries and a struggle for control of its nuclear weapons and complete Talibanisation".

4. As for the Talibanization/Wahhabization, I recall that the US under President Clinton circa 1993-1994 supported the creation of the Taliban by the Pak services. The Taliban project was financed by Saudi Arabia with the Saudi Religious Police, among others, reportedly providing special guidance for the Taliban.

Pogo theory obtains in the Pak case, IMO.

David W

Seems like a logical extension of the old 'strongman/dictator' dichotomy--what's the suprise here? A $10bn 'rental fee' for a Islamic 'poster child' supporter of the purported GWOT? Remember when Musharraf visited the US last summer, hanging out with Bush and Jon Stewart? That's where our money went--that, and towards arms suitable for waging a conventional war against India, while the purported Bin Laden chasers are still running around barefoot with Enfield rifles.

Why hasn't the US paid more attention to Pakistan and Afghanistan? Despite the Col's previous objections, I think the reason is obviously a lack of natural resources, combined with a thorny political situation that is way beyond the limited diplomatic capabilities and attention span of the Cheney/Bush cabal. Speaking of which, I've heard that Musharraf has been given such a lengthy pass because he's tight with Cheney. Must be nice to have friends like that...until they abandon you to the mob and the pike!

Martin K

Babak Makkinejad: "To my knowledge, since the assassination of Imam Ali there has never ever been a Muslim state in which a Msulim's life, property, and family (“namus”) has been secure from arbitrary and capricious violations. The only time, in fact, that a large number of Muslims had been so protected had been a few decades under the British Rule in India."

Well, what about Indonesia? Malaysia? Bahrain? Bosnia (these days)? Or even, glory of glories, Sierra Leone? Its not all bad, yknow.


J, are you saying that Australia (originally a British penal colony and part of the British Empire) was a bad idea?


Vietnam Vet,

Thank you for your posts. I would not be surprised if the US Government did not give the thug in Pakistan it's blessing last weekend. I'm 46, and learned a great deal about our governmnet from your generation. You and your's constantly remind me that the US Government betrayed your generation, and is doing it's best to destroy mine. They seem hell bent on making war with everyone on the planet that does not buy into its amoral beltway ideology. Maybe we could put a big fence up around the beltway, and let them pretend that they are important. I'm becoming very confused about what it even means to be an American these days? I think we should drop Washington's name from DC. It is no longer worthy of his good name. I'm going to go have a good stiff drink, and raise my glass to the Vietnam Vet!


A collection of The Atlantic stories on Pakistan since 1946:



You've heard about Gandhi, Nehru and the Indian National Congress; and Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League.

You may not have heard of Dr. BR Ambedkar. Ambedkar, also one of the architects of the Indian Constitution, was from India's Dalit class (long ago called "outcastes"). Ambedkar had wanted, not a separate nation, but a separate electorate for Dalits. Mahatma Gandhi opposed him in this, and won.

Gandhi offered not separate electorates, but reserved constituencies, not only to Ambedkar, but also to Jinnah, where the population at large would choose from candidates of whatever political parties, but only from the communities in question. Jinnah rejected it.

The reasoning is simple, that it is people in a geographical area that share common problems, and benefit from shared roads, schools, sewage systems, etc. These are not communal problems and it makes no sense to carve up a constituency by race, religion or ethnicity.

(BTW, US made a mistake in Iraq by not having geographic constituencies.)

Mahatma Gandhi I consider to be vindicated when a Dalit woman recently engineered a Dalit/upper caste political combine to become the chief executive of India's most populous state.


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