Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Pakistani Dilemma

I was asked to give a talk today at Radion Free Europe/Radio Liberty at their Prague headquarters on the theme, "U.S. Realism and Russian Democracy." It outlining my theses, I first made reference to the "democracy paradox", a concept many readers are already familiar with.

I realize now that as I was unveiling my second point, which I entitled "The Pakistani Dilemma", word of Osama Bin Laden's declaration of war against Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf was beginning to circle around the globe, giving this particular section of my talk its piquancy.

In the context of Russia--and drawing on the example of Pakistan, the "Pakistani Dilemma" faced by Washington is the realization that even when there is profound dissatisfaction with the cooperation one has received on issues of prime importance to the United States (combined with concerns about the erosion of democratic freedoms), the United States is loath to risk bringing about political change not only for fears of destabilization (and it is hard to see how U.S. interests would be served by weak governments in either state) but that what might emerge in place of the toppled or weakened regime will either be unable or unwilling to cooperate with America's concerns.

There are many valid criticism of the governments of Vladimir Putin and Pervez Musharraf both for what they have done domestically as well as their external policies. Both have been "imperfect partners" from the U.S. perspective, where one can point to a gap between cooperation received and what could still be offerred. But those who have said American interests (and not just values) would be better served by increasing pressure on Russia or Pakistan need to be able to produce more than just hope as a basis for assuming things would get better. The first goal for policy must not be "we are trying to make things better" but rather "we are working to ensure things don't get worse."

We can't put all of eggs into one basket in Pakistan, that is very true, and one of the key lessons learned from post-Soviet Russia is not to favor personalities over process. Having said that, however, we also need to ask whether another Pakistani leader would do the same things Musharraf has done in terms of trying to contain Al-Qaeda in Pakistan (and perhaps here we should be realistically, as one Indian official told me, and to work toward a realistically goal of prophylatic containment rather than assuming eradication is feasible in the short run); moreover, would another Pakistani leader be in the same position to try and maintain dialogue with India, even if there have been no dramatic breakthroughs as of yet?

Today's warning is a reminder about not needlessly upsetting the apple cart.

Nick, will they ever even consider non-interference? Will it ever dawn on them that any interference into other country internal matters - let alone even remote consideration of "regime change" is, in the long run, a recipe for disaster? Have not Cuba, Chile, Iran, Nicaragua, Iraq, Vietnam and Somali taught anybody anything? Any action results in counteraction. Acting as Empire sooner or later ( and lately it quite obviously became "sooner") bound to bring trouble and rupture of relationship with the would-be "satellite". Especially when the cultural and religious differences run so deep... Why somebody as sober and intelligent as you all of a sudden switch into this 'pragmatic hawk' mode? Goodness, can't you see that "true cooperation" cannot be coerced out of the nation by any kind of pressure - however subtle? How about looking for shared interests?
And I mean "interests" not values, for "values" is what you write on your flags , but "interests" is what you are really after.
The puzzling thing is that Pakistan is a moderate country for the most part. The dominant form of Islam there is not salafist and a recent study found that only one percent of families send children to madrassas (and the families that do more often than not send additional children to public or private schools).

Pakistan (and also post-Soviet Russia) are not countries in which we are compelled to work only through official channels. We could be reaching out to various levels of both Pakistani and Russian society from various levels in our own society, in ways that reinforce the preference of most people in these countries to obtain modern education and have normal relations with the world.
>>The puzzling thing is that Pakistan is a moderate country for the most part.

This is too hilarious to pass without a comment. Pakistan - moderate? Lol! What about those tribal areas, that is where supposedly Osama hides? Or do you think population can be moderate and wholeheartedly support Taliban at the same time?

As for the 'Russian' part of your proposal - it is even more funny as
independent polls prove that Putin is one the most Western oriented and liberal politicians in the country and that the majority of the population (over 60%) is much more anti-western ( and with a good cause). This is indeed that same backlash I mentioned earlier that cometh on the wake of a nation being abused and humiliated by too vigorous application of western "benevolence". The best tactic in both countries would be to sit quietly on the lines waiting for an opportunity. But when was patience a virtue of any American politician?
Talibanism is a minority view in Pakistan outside the Pashtun frontier areas and school enrollment statistics speak for themselves.

In Russia I don't see any desire to return to the isolation of the Soviet period, which is the standard I would use to measure real anti-Western sentiment. I especially do not think Russians want to shut down academic and other professional ties to the rest of the world. My point is that we do not have to define relations exclusively in terms of government-to-government relations.
"In the context of Russia--and drawing on the example of Pakistan, the "Pakistani Dilemma" faced by Washington is the realization that even when there is profound dissatisfaction with the cooperation one has received on issues of prime importance to the United States (combined with concerns about the erosion of democratic freedoms)"

What reason does the US have for being dissatisfied with cooperation from Russia? After 9-11, Russia provided highly significant intelligence support to US operations in Afghanistan. The US reciprocated by tearing up the ABM Treaty.

This showed the Russian government how the US government rewards those who aid it, and it should come as no suprise that the Russian government isn't so cooperative now.
I think you guys do not understand the despair that permeates the Pakistani polity. It is a polity dominated by a Punjabi-dominated Army with a sprinkling of powerful land-lord families from Sindh and Baluchistan (in addition to the Punjabis).

The society, while alive & vibrant, lacks national cohesion and identity. There is no sincereity among the various ethnic groups and certainly no respect.

The rural population is poverty-stricken and tied up in "feudal" land-owning system that was abolished in Iran in 1960.

The only institution that functions is the Armed Forces, just like Indonesia.

While the press is relatively free, it is powerless to affect nay changes.

NWFP was attached to Pakistan accidentally, it really should have been part of Afghanistan. It was always doing its own things anyway.

The Shia-Sunni civila war is going on in full force in Pakistan. Really, what is surprising about Pakistan has been its ability to muddle through all of these problems.

US policy, as such, should concentrate on multiple aspects of Pakistan's problems: governance, economy, security, etc. That state is in dire need of thought-leadership which does not come from Saudi Arabia and others of that ilk.
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