PashtunThe United States is pursuing a policy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre that risks an outcome that would combine the fiascos of Vietnam and the Shah’s Iran. It could lead not only to the loss of Afghanistan but also that of Pakistan, with consequences that are frightening to contemplate. What underlies this disaster in the making is a failure to comprehend the real problem the US faces in the region, and the resulting pursuit of solutions that not only do no good but instead make matters worse.

Understanding the Enemy

The first failure lies in misunderstanding the nature of the enemy confronting the US, and the goals that enemy is pursuing. The enemy is not al-Qaeda “terrorists” hiding in the mountains, plotting terror attacks on the US and the West. The Bush administration propagated this notion (of a worldwide Islamist terror network, led by al-Qaeda, forever planning attacks on the US and the West) in order to win support for its scheme to wage unending war, at home and abroad, on whomever it chose to designate as an enemy. Even though the new administration has dropped the use of the GWOT term, the false concepts underlying it continue to seriously contaminate US policy discourse and thinking.

The enemy the US faces in the ‘Af-Pak’ theatre is a grouping of Islamists with different agendas that happen to coincide for the time being. Al-Qaeda and its associates (including the Haqqanis and Hikmatyar) are political Islamists, whose aim is to establish the political, economic and military power of Islam – by repelling Western encroachments on Muslim countries and ultimately taking them over. Political Islamists also exist in Pakistani society and state structures (as they do in every Muslim country). The majority of the groups that are collectively known as the Taliban are religious Islamists, whose primary aim is to establish their brand of orthodoxy among Muslim populations; they are not too concerned about political and economic issues. (“Terrorists”, who blow themselves and others up, are brainwashed unfortunates used by both the other groups; they are low-rent cannon fodder, not the enemy).

The principal foe the US faces is the political Islamists, because it is their goals (not the Taliban’s) that clash with vital US interests. The Western military presence and operations in the area have led to the goals of both types of Islamists converging, and this has enabled the political Islamists to use the Taliban as foot soldiers in their campaign to defeat the West in Afghanistan. But the missteps of US foreign and military policy have suddenly opened up for them the prospect of a takeover in Pakistan. The strategy they are now pursuing is to use the Pakistani Taliban to exert sufficient pressure on Pakistan to fracture the state structure and provide an opportunity for the internal political Islamists to take over the country. Most of the Pakistani Taliban are mainly interested in imposing religious orthodoxy, not achieving political power (their Afghani counterparts share this aim, but are also interested in regaining the political power that they lost due to the US invasion).

Though the military objectives of both religious and political Islamists happen to coincide at the moment, their long-term aims are different and could diverge under appropriate circumstances. If the Taliban could achieve their goal of establishing their religious system in some areas, they may well lose their appetite for protracted warfare against superior military forces.

Understanding the Threat

The combined Islamist militants that the US and the West face in the Af-Pak theatre are now threatening both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The focus of US-NATO policy is Afghanistan; because this is where the militant threat existed at the time the policy was originally fashioned. The second grave conceptual error has been the failure to recognize that the nature of the threat in the theatre has significantly changed. This has happened because of a flawed planning process that the present administration inherited, and which it has allowed to continue.

The Bush administration allowed the Pentagon to fashion both policy and strategy in its war theatres. The Pentagon and the generals have been and still are fighting a war in Afghanistan; this is their main focus. In this view, Pakistan was merely a problem that was making victory in Afghanistan more difficult. That is why the US compelled Pakistan to conduct military operations against the Taliban in its border areas, while also subjecting the area to drone attacks. This caused (and continues to cause) significant strains within Pakistan, including on its government and military, and has resulted in the creation of an indigenous Taliban movement that is now attacking parts of the country. There is now a tangible risk of a takeover of Pakistan by political Islamists.

The Obama administration’s new policy talks a lot about the critical importance of Pakistan – but it is still with reference to winning the war in Afghanistan. Thus, the policy and resulting strategy concentrate on the battle in Afghanistan, with Pakistan continuing in its role of the necessary adjunct, subject to the same extreme US pressure (ostensibly sweetened with promises of financial largesse soon to come) and drone attacks (with their inevitable civilian casualties). This is the military tail wagging the policy dog; this is generals choosing not only how they will fight, but also whom. This is the military marching to the edge of the cliff, eyes wide shut, with no control or guidance by the nation’s policy makers and leaders.

The recent scare in Washington caused by the Taliban incursions into areas adjoining Swat has led to concern over the vulnerability of Pakistan, and also emphasized its criticality. However, the Pakistan military response is allaying these fears, and soon Pakistan is likely to be seen again as merely a supporting player in the Afghan campaign, important but secondary. What will not be understood is that what the Pakistan military has been compelled by US pressure to do in Malakand is a repeat of their Bajaur operation – treating the area as a free fire zone and subjecting it to intense air and artillery bombardment, the brunt of which is borne by the local population, causing significant casualties and large-scale displacements, while most of the Taliban slip away into surrounding areas without suffering much loss. Such operations may satisfy the US, but add to the unpopularity of the government and the military while driving more recruits into the ranks of the insurgents. They don’t make Pakistan more secure, they make it much more vulnerable.

The United States needs to recognize that the main threat it faces in this region is a takeover in Pakistan by political Islamists (the Taliban cannot do so), as a result of the internal and external strains to which the country is being subjected. That Pakistan is the main battleground, not Afghanistan. That if Pakistan goes, it does not matter what happens in Afghanistan (what is most likely, of course, is the same outcome there soon after). To develop a rational policy and strategy to counter this danger to Pakistan (and its own vital interests), the US must understand the situation that actually exists in Pakistan today, not what its clients and other vested interests feed it.

Understanding the Battleground

Pakistan is a dysfunctional country. The economy is in dire straits, outside assistance alone prevents the country from going bankrupt, government is not functioning, politicians are lining their own pockets when they are not undermining each other, the bureaucracy is paralysed due to political meddling, corruption is massive and all-pervasive, civil society is in disarray, the military is under considerable stress, while ordinary people are facing severe hardships in their daily lives.

Beset by these numerous problems, Pakistanis have watched their government and military, pressured by the US, wage war on their own people in the tribal areas and Malakand. Neither equipped nor trained to deal with an insurgency, the military’s heavy-handed tactics have added to the strains already existing within the country, deepening the alienation of the people from the ruling elites, and increasing the hostility that they feel towards the US and its policies (which, it is widely believed, serve US geopolitical aims in the region, and are inimical to Pakistan’s own national interests).

Locked in these oppressive circumstances, the people of Pakistan do not see Islamists as their enemy (even though many feel disdain for the Taliban, and revulsion at their tactics). Vested interests have sold to the US the idea that the way to win the friendship and support of the people is to provide massive amounts of financial aid. The administrative structure that can ensure that these funds serve the purpose for which they are meant – improving the lot of ordinary Pakistanis and strengthening the institutions that serve the people – does not exist, nor are there any effective mechanisms for oversight or audit. These funds will line the pockets of those who will handle them: politicians, officials, and their cronies. Very little of the aid will benefit the people, and, instead of it winning their goodwill, the result will be the exact opposite: it will be seen as the US bribing the ruling elite to carry out its wishes, even at the cost of Pakistan’s own interests.

The people of Pakistan will not fight to protect, or even stand up for, a system in which they have no stake, a system that only oppresses and loots them. A significant proportion of them see the Islamist ideology propagated by al-Qaeda and the Taliban as providing a solution to their problems rather than a threat to their non-existent well-being. Only when a reasonable level of governance prevails in Pakistan is it likely that people will feel that they have a stake in the system, and thus some incentive to stand up in its defence.

Pakistan is dysfunctional, but it is not a primitive state or society. It possesses all the structures and systems needed by a modern country to function, but they are unable to work as they should. Years of misrule by both politicians and generals, massive and pervasive corruption, the sabotage of institutions that might resist corrupt rulers and their minions, the breakdown of civic responsibility, have all led to these structures and systems becoming broken, rusted, misaligned, dysfunctional.

 Selecting a Rational Aim and Policies

A realistic assessment and understanding of the enemy the US faces in the Af-Pak theatre, and the most dangerous threat that this enemy poses to US vital interests, as well as of the battleground the US is engaged in, should lead to the conclusion that the only rational aim for the US in that theatre is to ensure, as its first priority, that Pakistan is not taken over by Islamists. All else, including the war in Afghanistan, is secondary (and subordinate) to achieving this aim.

This aim cannot be achieved by forcing the Pakistan government and military to wage brutal military operations against its own people. It requires the US to follow a policy that assists Pakistan in immediately making the necessary structural changes that would enable it to become functional enough to stop further Islamist encroachments, and utilise effectively the nation-building aid that the US and the international community are prepared to provide it.

This aim also requires the US to revise its goals in Afghanistan. It cannot pursue there a military campaign that is dependent on Pakistan carrying out major operations in its tribal areas against the Afghan Taliban and their allies (which impose considerable strain on Pakistan’s stability).

Shoring up Pakistan

As an immediate measure, the US should concentrate on helping Pakistan deal effectively with the serious problem posed by the large-scale displacement of people from Swat and surrounding areas. This should include bringing in US disaster-relief resources and expertise (the US won a lot of goodwill when it came to the aid of earthquake survivors in 2005). The negative impact on public opinion of the effects of the military operations in these areas could be blunted if the refugees are well looked after.

The structural changes that need to be made in Pakistan will have to be carried out by Pakistanis. There is a wide constituency for them in the country; powerful elements of state and society would be ready to support and advance them. However, what has prevented them from being instituted are equally powerful vested interests, as well as the inertia of a complex but broken-down system. What is required to get the process moving is for the United States to put its weight behind such change. Such a move would mobilize the many forces in the country that favour them, and also effectively neutralize the opposition.

A package of measures needs to be implemented immediately to stabilize Pakistan and enable it to resist and overcome the threat it faces of an Islamist takeover. Apart from repairing the broken and paralysed governmental machinery, they would provide hope to ordinary people and give them a stake in the future of the country. These measures are:

    • Administration: To ensure the provision of services and protection to the people by an administrative machinery that is efficient, not corrupt, and which is not manipulated by politicians or other special interests, the civil service and the police should be placed under the control of independent Public Service Commissions, comprising retired senior administrators and judges. These commissions should control and manage the hiring, appointments and promotions of all managerial and executive level public servants. The government Rules of Business should clearly prescribe and require that ministers lay down policies but cannot interfere in their detailed implementation by public servants. Government fiscal auditors should be made independent, and should carry out their duties on a real-time basis.

    • Controlling Corruption: This cancer that is eating away at every organ of the state, and polluting every aspect of life in the country, has to be checked and beaten back. There are a sufficient number of honest and able persons available in the country to staff an organization to begin this task. This cleansing operation has to start from the top; no one should have immunity from scrutiny and accountability, neither politicians nor generals, nor judges or high officials.

    • Security: Until the military has developed an effective counter-insurgency capability (and the country is sufficiently stabilized) it should block any organized insurgent threats in the border areas (instead of waging Bajaur and Swat type operations). Public security should be established by rapidly increasing the anti-terrorist capabilities of the various police forces. A concerted effort should be made to root out groups known to have insurgent affiliations, including shutting down madrassahs with such links or sponsorship.

    • Rule of Law: To re-establish the rule of law the superior judiciary should be purged of the corrupt, inefficient and partial judges with whom it has been packed over the years. There exist a number of capable and upright former judges who gave up their posts rather than violate their oath of office to uphold the constitution. A commission comprising some of these judges should be set up to scrutinize the qualifications and performance record of all sitting judges of the Supreme and High Courts, and those who are found to be unfit should be removed. This commission should also fill the resulting vacancies. Future appointments to these courts should be made through a process in which the judiciary and the legal profession have a major voice, not politicians.

    • The Constitution: There exists a political consensus that the 1973 constitution be restored, purged of all later amendments. It should be so restored, followed by a process of mature examination of the issue of appropriate checks and balances between the various state and territorial entities of the country, so as to avoid some of the problems that have arisen since its promulgation.

    • Free Media: The media in Pakistan is fairly free, though off and on it is subjected to pressure by powerful people. This freedom should be ensured for the future so that it can monitor and report lapses before they become major problems.

    • Bolstering the Economy: As soon as these basic measures are starting to become effective, the economic aid that the US and other donors have promised should begin to flow in a planned and controlled manner.

    • Elections: Mid-term elections should be held in early 2010 under a reconstituted, impartial Election Commission, which should be able to call upon the military to provide whatever assistance is needed to ensure that the elections are free and fair. This will restore legitimate political leadership to the country.

To someone who does not know much about Pakistan this will seem a formidable list of tasks, requiring years to implement. But the necessary pre-requisites are all there – a strong desire for such change prevails among influential groups; an elaborate, sophisticated administrative structure exists (even though it doesn’t function properly at present), with many conscientious and capable civil servants; the Chief Justice wants to clean up the judiciary; the media is free and vibrant; files exist on high level corruption. All that is required is a catalyst to start the process and release the potential synergy, and within one year most of these measures should be well-advanced and producing results.

The United States carries tremendous clout with the key players in Pakistan; the country is dependent on US aid and international support to remain viable. Once the United States indicates that the institution of such an immediate reform program is a pre-requisite for it to prop up, and later rebuild, the country, it will immediately mobilize and energize a strong internal coalition of forces to carry it out. These allies are likely to include the military, the Supreme Court, the PML-N (which rules in the Punjab) and some other political parties, large sections of the bureaucracy, civil society, and the mass of ordinary people, who will see the prospect of a better life opening up. Those vested interests that have a stake in the continuation of the present state of affairs will not be able to resist this coalition.

A Pakistan so reformed will prove to be impregnable to the blandishments, inroads and assaults of the Islamists. The goodwill that the US will gain in backing and supporting such a program would be of far greater significance and permanence than the influence it now wields through its clients among the ruling elite. Pakistan would become a stable friend and ally in this volatile region.

Neutralizing Afghanistan

In recognizing Pakistan as the main focus of its strategy in the Af-Pak theatre the United States will need to change its strategy in Afghanistan. It can no longer afford to call upon Pakistan to conduct large-scale military operations in its tribal areas in order to neutralize the Afghan Taliban and prevent them from attacking its forces in Afghanistan. Nor can it afford to continue drone attacks in these areas. With such operations off the table, the US and NATO cannot hope to achieve a solution in Afghanistan based on their present military strategy.

The US’s main aim in Afghanistan is that, in the future, it does not again become a haven and launching pad for attacks by al-Qaeda and its allies. This should be achievable through a political solution that exploits the differing aims of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and results in the setting up of a loose federal system that includes the Taliban, but ensures that they cannot create a unitary state in which they achieve dominance, and gives other ethnic groups, and other Pashtun leaders, room to establish their own power centres. Even though such a political solution would require the departure of Western military forces, the US, with the help of the ‘Northern Alliance’ provinces, a revitalized Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and its own proximate military power, can ensure that al-Qaeda does not again establish bases in Afghanistan.

Should a political solution not to be possible immediately, the US will have to conduct a holding operation there until Pakistan has been stabilized sufficiently to re-establish control over its border areas, and is in a position to assist in achieving a satisfactory resolution in Afghanistan.


The flawed conceptual legacy left behind by the Bush administration has contaminated the Obama administration’s aims and policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This has been compounded by a continuation of the defective planning process of allowing the military too much say in policy-making, so that they not only decide how to fight but also pick the enemy the US will fight. As a result the United States is pursuing a wrong policy in this theatre: fighting the wrong enemy on the wrong battlefield. Unless it realizes this, and makes the necessary corrections soon, it risks losing both Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Islamists.

© F B Ali (May 2009)


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  1. 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?

  2. curious says:

    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.

  3. Martin Poulin says:

    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

  4. batondor says:

    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?

  5. 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)

  6. F B Ali says:

    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.

  7. steve says:

    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.

  8. Babak Makkinejad says:

    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?

  9. Twit says:

    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.

  10. 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.

  11. Kieran says:

    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…

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

  13. F B Ali says:

    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.

  14. Jose says:

    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.

  15. Babak Makkinejad says:

    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?

  16. dilbert dogbert says:

    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.

  17. Jose says:

    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.

  18. F B Ali says:

    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!).

  19. curious says:

    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.

  20. Babak Makkinejad says:

    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.

  21. curious says:

    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.

  22. Babak Makkinejad says:

    You wrote: “…the system itself is rooted on decision individuals”
    Would you consider the slave-owning CSA a democracy?

  23. 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.

  24. curious says:

    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.

  25. Patrick Lang says:

    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

  26. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Precisely my point: By “democracy” you comprehend not just Representative Government and the Rule of Law but a large number of other criteria.
    By those criteria, there are only 25 democracies existing in the world; almost all of them in Western Europe and North America – all of them nominally Christian and inheritors of the Rome and the tradition of the Germanic Tribal Liberty.
    The expectation that this type of political dispensation can be extended to the rest of the world is a Utopian.
    To this day, Italy is not as transparent as Denmark. To this day, you are more likely to hear people utter lies than the truth in the Middle East than in North America, to this day there are mass-graves in South Korea of political prisoners without any reckoning of the perpetrators.
    So, I believe that your criticism of the concept of Islamic Democracy is unwarranted in the more limited sense that I had in mind. Namely representative government and the rule of law within the context of the Revelation of the Quran and conformance thereto. The Revelation of the Quran are the basis of life for 1.5 billion people; without it these people are nothing – and they will tell you as much.

  27. tommy says:

    US interference in Pakistan will lead to an atrocity worse than Pol Pot’s Cambodia experienced. And it will be the US’ fault.

  28. curious says:

    By those criteria, there are only 25 democracies existing in the world; almost all of them in Western Europe and North America – all of them nominally Christian and inheritors of the Rome and the tradition of the Germanic Tribal Liberty.
    The expectation that this type of political dispensation can be extended to the rest of the world is a Utopian.
    Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 15 May 2009 at 02:32 PM
    It’s narrower than you think. If people start asking “who wrote this holy texts? and why should I listen to him?”
    And at this point, I have to point out the great flaw in your observation. France, Germany, and most of western europe were not core part of roman empire. They were fringe provinces at best (Britania). If not border barbarians area (Frank, Gauls, Teutons). They never really come under proper roman empire civil administration. All they know were Christianity, feudalism, finally monarchy.
    From there comes nationalism and modern state. People were asking that big question. (Why should we listen to the idiot in charge? King/priests)
    All these happens very recently. WWI in early 1900 are basically monarchy relationship and succession gone very wrong (Astro hungaria), the last gasp of politically active Catholic church. Much of 17-18-19th century before that were pretty much religious feudal wars.
    Western europe never experience roman empire stability. Late roman empire center of gravity was today’s Italy And Turkey.
    Modern democracy started in earnest from WWI-WWII chaos. (This is why you only observe so few constitutional democracy.) Because all the rest didn’t kill each other and still have the old system going until mid 20th century. (monarchy, somebody’s colony, hybrids of some sort. etc)
    US is special case because geographically it is rather isolated until mid 20th century and doesn’t have mortal enemy at its border. So it has the chance to develop mature democracy earlier.
    Korea didn’t have modern democracy until late 80’s early 90’s. Some say japan is more single party elite rule. China is very much a Imperial monarchy with different flavor. India, Pakistan are post WWII ex colony…
    So modern democracy is fairly young. Hardly 2 generations old.
    Most stable form of government throughout history is imperial monarchy. This thing usually last several centuries. Islam would fall under this. Imperial monarchy.
    Iran? Too early to tell. Iran is still under revolutionary spell. I would say, after third generation leadership enters the scene, then we will know what Iranian experiment really is. Because at that point, most people stat questioning the laws and legal foundation.

  29. curious says:

    Case and point:
    how bad quality of information that is available to congress. (it’s friggin useless, they might as well crib wiki. Save money on CRS.)
    Weapons of Mass Destruction: Trade Between North Korea and Pakistan, November 28, 2006
    Islamist Militancy in the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border Region and U.S. Policy
    Terrorism in South Asia, August 31, 2005
    so … this is from congress point of view. And we know the level of conversation in the media. details are all dated, and the conclusion is …shoddy.
    Might as well hand over the key local middle schooler.

  30. Arun says:

    Swat – A report from the frontline
    from which we have this:
    “There is a strong connection between the Taliban in Waziristan, Orakzai, Swat, South Punjab, Khost and Kunar in terms of supply of manpower, weapons and chain of command. This connection is the Al Qaeda-linked Jalaluddin Haqqani and his terror secretariat in North Waziristan. This connection has to be broken, which means that Haqqani’s ‘secretariat’ must be destroyed.”

  31. Babak Makkinejad says:

    It seems to me then that we are in agreement – a rare situation for you & I – as to the unfeasibility of the European models to the rest of mankind – including Musilim peoples.
    You are correct that people question authority – both spiritual & temporal. Specially in what is now Western Europe and US it has become a habit of mind. This is not so in South America, or in China, or in Korea, in Japan, in India, or among Muslims. It may yet happen but has not happened yet to the extent that Europe & North America suffer from it.
    The questioning of spiritual and temporal authority – taken to its logical extreme – will be a dissolution of socal order – including family – since it posits the absolute autonomy of the individual. Under such a dispensation, you will have true anarchy worse than the animal kingdom.
    I observe here that the propnents of this type of extremism are almost invariably men – most likely with strong or perverted sexual appetites. I am not persuaded by ideas concieved in fumes of testostrone.
    We already are seeing the beginnings of this; laws that re-define marriage eventually leading to the proposition that “me and my sheep are a family, we are just practicing our right to an autonomous and alternate life style.”
    The Doctors of Religions, the Philosophers, the Theologians must combat this Rebelion and win the war of ideas.
    Revelation has always been quetioned and mocked throughout the previous centuries yet it has persisted.

  32. Arun says:

    Today we found out that India reelected the Congress-led coalition minus the Communists, and also rejected the “right-wing” – the BJP. On this day, the Indian model, with its borrowings from the European model seems to be doing fine, especially for a country with deeply entrenched problems.
    Babak, the wish of gay people to be married is the best possible outcome once you rule that gay sex is not the state’s business. It certainly is a triumph over hedonism.
    The threat to families does not come from an extension of marriage to beyond its traditional form – it comes from the high prevelance of divorce and from adultery.

  33. curious says:

    as to the unfeasibility of the European models to the rest of mankind – including Musilim peoples.
    Posted by: Babak Makkinejad | 16 May 2009 at 10:06 AM
    It’s basic pragmatism thus far more potent than any religion. No person or question has mystical or divine mandate. The source of legitimacy lies squarely in soundness of discourse.
    I doubt any conversation about metaphysics and government legitimacy will ever gain wide traction in a modern democratic society, since everybody is assumed to be normal human being and subject to agreed upon laws. Average citizen doesn’t care about divinity. Plus philosophically, that question hasn’t been all that productive in the last 2300 yrs anyway. Why waste more time asking dead end question?
    Socrates: Well then, my dear friend Euthyphro, do tell me, for my better instruction and information, what proof have you that in the opinion of all the gods a servant who is guilty of murder, and is put in chains by the master of the dead man, and dies because he is put in chains before he who bound him can learn from the interpreters of the gods what he ought to do with him, dies unjustly; and that on behalf of such an one a son ought to proceed against his father and accuse him of murder. How would you show that all the gods absolutely agree in approving of his act? Prove to me that they do, and I will applaud your wisdom as long as I live. -Euthyphro, Plato
    Me personally. There is no such thing as revelation and the divine. There is only human. The idiots who run around bashing each other heads. Maybe some good conversation comes along every now in between head bashing. Much more direct and simpler.

  34. Babak Makkinejad says:

    I do not believe that the government system of India is a replica of the European models. It is an adaptation for the Indian context. And I am all for adaptation – I am against blind copying.
    I fail to see the relevance of the defeat of the Communists and BJP to argument that I have made.
    I note here that even though the court system in India is organized along the British model, it has failed to provide for the Rule of Law in India. This is clearly a failed adaptation/replication.
    In regards to marriage: there are metaphysical grounds for accepting the union of male and female in a bond as the norm – for the Primordial Unity (of Creation) manifests plurality through the means of Duality; Ying-Yan, Male-Female, etc.. The Union of Man & Woman thus re-creates (re-capitulates) the essential unity of the Cosmos.
    Based on your line of reasoning it is acceptable to extend marriage to the following situations: Son marrying Father; Daughter marrying Mother and other such abominations. Not to mention Bestiality.
    Revelation exists as an empirical feature of human history. Your denials will not make it any less of an empirical phenomenon.
    That men give birth to ideas is not in dispute. But those ideas take over the minds of men and thus affect human action.
    The average persons do not determine human history – elites do. It is these elites who are subject to changes in their ideas – at times suffering from fads, fashions, and fallacious ideas and beliefs.
    It is absolutely incorrect that all philosophical problems have been answered. In fact none have. And the fundamental dichotomy between Human Reason and Divine Revelation persists and will continue to persists well into the future.
    The kind of proof that you are alluding to is not possible within Human Reason. That is where Revelatory Knowledge comes into play.
    Please note that empirical scientific knowledge is also based on un-proved and un-provable metaphysical principles & assumptions.

  35. Makkinejad, et. al.,
    The C.S.A. were democratic, within the definitions of citizenship and the franchise. Further, without the 3/5ths and other compromises the constitutional convention would have failed and the result would have been two or more groupings of independent states.
    This is all pretty far from Pakistan in the brand new, already tiresome, 21st Century. I agree with F.B. Ali and would only add that we’re seeing a failure of American policy – makers to, as in Iraq, identify the essence of the problem. Instead, we seem to have policy made by re-cycled cliches; “this isn’t Vietnam, “you can run but you can’t hide”, etc.
    One of my questions regarding Pakistan is, can the status quo ante be restored as it applied to the autonomous tribal areas as a first step in re-building the Pakistani political institutions? I’m asking, because it seems to me that this is, at heart, a Pathan problem on both sides of the border, rather than an Islamist? Taliban one.

  36. F B Ali says:

    In reply to your question: I do not think there is any possibility of a return to the status quo ante in the tribal areas. Too much blood and water have flowed under the bridge. Even if there were some way of restoring stability to FATA, an absolute pre-requisite would be the ending of the US war in Afghanistan. There doesn’t seem much prospect of that, does there?

  37. curious says:

    This is all pretty far from Pakistan in the brand new, already tiresome, 21st Century. I agree with F.B. Ali and would only add that we’re seeing a failure of American policy – makers to, as in Iraq, identify the essence of the problem. Instead, we seem to have policy made by re-cycled cliches; “this isn’t Vietnam, “you can run but you can’t hide”, etc.
    Posted by: William P. Fitzgerald III | 18 May 2009 at 09:27 AM
    Well depending how one would want to restore order in FATA. Sooner or later how taliban thinks has to be addressed.
    Any form of Islamic scholasticism, specially the jurisprudence is largely based on Greek and Persian cultural foundation.
    It is not that hard to argue taliban as illegal from Islamic point of view, then proceed to eliminate them with the support of general public.
    Of course, the argument will make everybody in the area very uncomfortable, but hey… can’t make omelette without breaking some eggs.
    But that would be the standard most effective method, taking away taliban religious legitimacy, followed by social support. Then it’s all about marginalized arm gang. 3-4yrs top. 1/10 the man power and probably costing few hundred millions.

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