December 28, 2007

Pakistan and Bhutto: What Do You Know?

So, Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated (NYT) after a checkered and groundbreaking life. The New York Times story says that witnesses variously reported at least one shooter from a nearby window, as well as one saying that three shots were fired, while McClatchy says that Pakistani police left their posts after the rally started. Condolences are in order not only to her family, but to a country that's had one of their better hopes for eventual democracy taken from them.

This news has made everyone who knows much about it, a category that unfortunately excludes the State Dept.'s South Asia bureau, damn twitchy. Rightly. They're an unstable country with nuclear weapons. Not even North Korea in their more belligerent stance of a couple years ago is quite as unnerving as the thought of Pakistan in chaos. Which they seem to be. Juan Cole outlines the riots, looting, shutdown of services and the absence of police.

You're probably kind of a news junkie if you stop by these pages, so you probably know that the Pakistani intelligence services were a key force used by the US to help set up the Afghani predecessors of the Taliban and helped them coordinate with Saudi backers like the young Osama bin Laden. You probably knew that they had an uneasy relationship with their also nuclear-armed neighbor, India. And by uneasy, naturally, I mean dangerously violent.

... However, in the post-Cold War period, international terrorism has emerged, as rightly noted by the EU-India joint declaration of 2000, as a "major threat to regional and international peace and security". (1) India has been the victim of cross-border terrorism promoted by Pakistan as a revengeful act against India's role in the birth of Bangladesh from the ruins of East Pakistan in 1971. First Pakistan used terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy to promote a secessionist movement in Punjab. If Pakistan had succeeded in acting as a midwife in the birth of an independent state of Punjab, it would have also acted as buffer state between Pakistan and India in addition to avenging for the secession of East Pakistan. (2)

Its failure to get the formation of an independent state in Punjab, however, provided it with experience in the conduct of sustained cross-border terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

... India during the past two decades has sacrificed more than 75,000 lives in two states for Pakistan's perfection of terrorism as an instrument of foreign policy. The Patterns of Global Terrorism-2000, a report released by the US government, listed 138 terrorist attacks, of which 44 were reported in India. The report also spoke of South Asia as the epicenter of global terrorism. ...

As the article goes on to say, the US didn't take Pakistani-inspired terrorism in India seriously until after September 11th. Nor was it considered a reason to overlook the political necessity of abandoning Bush's 'with us or with the terrorists' rhetoric in the face of knowing that Pakistan was an ally they had to have to deal with the Taliban and Afghanistan.

And back to North Korea, you remember this, right?

... North Korea is economically isolated; one of its main sources of export income is arms sales, and its most sought-after products are missiles. And one of its customers has been Pakistan, which has a nuclear arsenal of its own but needs the missiles to more effectively deliver the warheads to the interior of its rival, India...

Or you may recall the Al Qaeda members and sympathizers who were evacuated to Pakistan by the Pakistani military, while US forces who'd had them pinned down were told to stand by and let them go.

All these things were part of a very public body of knowledge. Even someone like myself, who would not have passed Scott Ritter's Iraq quiz with flying colors, understood that this was a country that should have big, flashing warning signs written all over it in the minds of US foreign policy thinkers. But who has our establishment been afraid of? Who have they been asking us to be afraid of?

Venezuela and Iran.

Venezuela's President Chavez just recently lost an election referendum on some sweeping changes he wanted to make to the nation's laws and that totally frightening guy ... accepted the results and declared his intention to build public support and have another go through the electoral process. Iran's President Ahmadinejad, the man who (I will repeat for the umpteenth time) doesn't have the authority to order a military parade in Tehran without the consent of Khamenei, has been belligerent when rebuffed, but ultimately unthreatening. Iran is still open to talks with the US and is currently acting as a stabilizing force in Iraq:

Iran has decided "at the most senior levels" to restrain Shia militias in Iraq, causing a sharp drop in roadside bomb attacks in recent months, according to a senior US diplomat. ...

When I look at the recent history of this country, this is what I see: A public that's the product of schools that do a lousy job of teaching us anything important about world affairs. A press that falls down on the job of reporting in line with consistent, relatively obvious story arcs that accord with a proportional understanding of threats, until something really blatant happens that shouldn't take them so nearly by surprise as it seems to. A political class that builds up disproportionate and sometimes ludicrous fears in line with their grudges, ideologies and bipartisan stupidities.

Over these last few years, the dismal results of following our opinion leaders, the establishment figures that get listened to and make things happen, have filtered through to even the most apathetic and harried Americans. The terrible track record of those who had secret information not available to us dirty frakkin' hippies on the blogs has become undeniable, as they've made things worse and worse again. As they've chosen poorly in both allies and enemies. As the world spirals towards chaos and reasonable voices are ignored.

So what do I know about Pakistan? Not much more than I did last week. It's a complex and dangerous country that the Bush administration isn't remotely trustworthy or competent enough to be allowed to think they can 'handle.' It's a country that's on its face less stable than any of its neighbors aside from Afghanistan. And now, those things just seem a little more true.

Something has been terribly wrong for a long time with the judgment of the people who make US foreign policy that they know more but decide worse than everyone not invested in preserving their legitimacy. That doesn't make me feel smart. It makes me feel unsafe in every possible way.

Update: The NRDC has done a computer simulation of nuclear war between India and Pakistan. They estimate there would be 30 million casualties.

Posted by natasha at December 28, 2007 04:44 AM | International | Technorati links |

You hit on two critical points about our education system and the media. The schools teach history and current events according to a clearly defined agenda that leaves out far too much in providing a balanced education. How many times do kids need to learn about George Washington?

As for the media, even Bhuttos murder is a perfect example of lazy and limited reporting. It has been covered virtually non-stop for 24 hours now. Yes, it is a major event, but everything else has seemed to stop in the world, judging by the news. That is not the way news should be reported. Allot time for Bhutto's murder, but continue to cover other stories and expand what constitutes worthy coverage.

My take on Pakistan is one I have read in a couple of places; the military is going to take action, remove Musharraf and install a new leader who will crack down in the country.

Posted by: Scott at December 28, 2007 04:58 AM

---video of Bhuttos death---

Posted by: ccoaler at December 29, 2007 05:43 AM