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Pakistan: It is Not the Democracy, Stupid

The tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto in the midst of a Pakistani election campaign is a jarring reminder that politics, particularly in that part of the world, is a contact sport. Many American pundits and politicians already are filling the airways deploring the attack and calling for democracy. This shows me we have learned nothing from our debacle in Iraq.

The majority of people in Pakistan favor Islamic fundamentalism. Got that? If there is a fully free election we should not be surprised if the winner is someone who is not in sync with a Western view that values pluralism and secularism. Also, we probably would not be able to count on them insisting that Israel’s right to exist be protected. OK?

[UPDATE:  It is important not to confuse or conflate Islamic fundamentalism with Islamic extremism.  I am not arguing that the majority of Pakistanis favor the extremism espoused by the likes of Al Qaeda.  But, neither are they eager to promote a plural, secular society where religion takes a back seat.  The situation is made more complex by internal divisions pitting Sunni vs. Shia and ethinic minorities like the Baluchis.  The goal of Islamic extremists to impose Sharia breaks down among the fundamentalists because there is no consensus about which Islamic laws/beliefs are the essence of the Islamic life.]

The military and intelligence services are not a monolith. There are some in both institutions that are favorably disposed to work with us and believe in the necessity of reining in the Islamic extremists. But they also contain officers who share the vision and values of the extremists. Men who have helped fund, train, and protect the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and groups such as the Harakat Ul Ansar. They are committed first and foremost to creating a Pakistan ruled by Sharia and are intolerant of those pushing for accommodation with the west.

The immediate goal for the United States is to assume a low profile and work quietly behind the scenes. I’m sure that most of the U.S. pundits and politicians offering prescriptions for Pakistan’s future are well intentioned. But notwithstanding being well meaning, meddling is still meddling.We should recognize that there is a limit to our influence and that those who are perceived publicly as our closest allies may have the most to fear.

We need to define our interests in the country and region and proceed constructing our policy from there. I suggest we consider the following as our primary objectives:

  • promote a stable government that upholds rule of law and shies away from religious extremism (come to think of it, that should be our goal for the U.S. as well);
  • maintain and strengthen close ties with police, military, and intelligence officials willing to engage Islamic extremists;
  • ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are in the hands of responsible, secular officials and institutions;
  • support economic development activities to counter the influence of the madrassas;
  • encourage regional cooperations among Iran, Afghanistan, and India to eliminate drug trafficking and paramilitary training.

In pursuing these objectives the Bush Administration and its successor would be well advised that working quietly in the shadows will pay more dividends than playing the role of the drunken mother-in-law intent on lecturing her daughter’s intoxicated husband on the evils of booze. The drunken in-law may feel better unloading her concerns but the message is likely to get lost in a storm of resentment and shouting.

  • http://tribalidentity.blogspot.com Poicephalus

    Cee,
    Greg Djerejian makes the same points, plus has a few hints on implementation at his place:

    http://www.belgraviadispatch.com/2007/12/post_120.html

  • http://www.evergreenpolitics.com shoephone

    Apologies if someone already posted this somewhere on the blog today:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/archives/062049.php

    It’s a two-fer from TPM. Spencer Ackerman interviews Barnett Rubin about the Bhutto assassination and what the real role of the U.S. was (and is) regarding the election. He makes a pretty compelling case for Bush and Cheney having drawn Bhutto to Pakistan on a trainload of b.s.

    Even more complelling is the video of Josh Marshall’s interview with Rubin from October, outlining the realities of the Taliban stronghold in Quetta, Pakistan. Video is about 10 minutes long.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on it, Larry.

    • http://www.evergreenpolitics.com shoephone

      Gee, I wish there was an edit function… I meant “Bush and Condi”.

      • TeakWoodKite

        I thought it was a stark appraisal.

        I hear Cheney going HERRR,,,HERRR…Why didn’t I think of that??? WHERRR…Wherrr.
        Remember a three ring circus has a big tent….Next week the circus clowns will be doing amnesia dance on the highwire.

  • Linda

    The religious vote in Pakistan is about 5% which is arguably smaller than the US’s. Musharif claimed that the recent crackdown was directed against the fundamentalists, but oddly, only secular dissidents ended up dead or in jail. On the other hand, the military and the ISI, where Musharif comes from, is riddled with fundamentalists who are in league with the Taliban that they are supposed to be controlling.

    The US, for its part, doesn’t have a problem with theocracy (either here or in the mid East) propping up Shiias and Sunnis in Iraq. The last thing they or their allies (including Israel) want are secular nationalist opposition parties in any of these countries. So, when I heard about this assassination, I immediately thought Musharif and his pals were behind it, which includes AQ.

    • Shirin

      The last thing they or their allies (including Israel) want are secular nationalist opposition parties in any of these countries.

      What they want is parties that threaten to be independent of them. Therefore, I think the last thing they want is trutly nationalist parties of any kind, secular or otherwise.

  • Philip Henika

    I think the term “fundamentalism” is the inherent literal interpretation of a religion’s tenets. It is a long-term resident that emerges in fits and starts whereas “extremism” is the short-term, emotional reaction i.e. the shift from “moderate” to “extremist” occurs quickly but the latter has been primed – e.g. the call for Jihad – by e.g. OBL and Zawahiri messages and, in our time, spread globally via the Internet.

    Dr. Boaz Ganor posits a model for terrorism in which terrorist groups act based on both operational capacity and motivation. The latter has been ignored with Bush’s military-only response to the GWOT. Regional cooperation (esp with India)re: the investigation of Bhutto’s assassination (with a concomittant step-back by the US) may be the best bet (although this putative policy seems to have a deaf ear with the Presidential candidates).

  • Titus Pullo

    “I’m not sure Musharraf intentionally worked to have her assassinated. How would it help him if Pakistan descends into civil war and chaos?”

    Well it wouldn’t help him at all if he lost the election, first things first after all. Based on what I’m hearing, she wouldn’t need to fix the election to win, but then again the opinions are fast and furious and often contradictory.

  • Fred C. Dobbs

    >>> The tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto in the midst of a Pakistani election campaign is a jarring reminder that politics, particularly in that part of the world, is a contact sport.

    Put that in a blue book and you have an “A” coming in International Relations 433!!!!

    What a bad time to NOT be in academia…

  • swio

    The majority of people in Pakistan favor Islamic fundamentalism. Got that? If there is a fully free election we should not be surprised if the winner is someone who is not in sync with a Western view that values pluralism and secularism. Also, we probably would not be able to count on them insisting that Israel’s right to exist be protected. OK?

    [UPDATE: It is important not to confuse or conflate Islamic fundamentalism with Islamic extremism. I am not arguing that the majority of Pakistanis favor the extremism espoused by the likes of Al Qaeda. But, neither are they eager to promote a plural, secular society where religion takes a back seat. The situation is made more complex by internal divisions pitting Sunni vs. Shia and ethinic minorities like the Baluchis. The goal of Islamic extremists to impose Sharia breaks down among the fundamentalists because there is no consensus about which Islamic laws/beliefs are the essence of the Islamic life.]

    This whole section seems to be likely to misinterpreted by almost all of your readers, even with the update. I really think the way you use the phrase “Islamic Fundamentalist” is not the way most people interpret it. An Islamic Fundamentalist believes in complete Sharia Law pretty much by definition. Most muslims don’t want complete Sharia law. They want modern laws and states that fit within and are not contradictory to the islamic tradtion and Sharia law. But that’s really not the same as fundamentalism. You know as well as anyone that Pakistan is not going to elect a government that openly promises to impose universal and strict Sharia Law.

    Taking that definition of fundamentalism the phrase “The majority of people in Pakistan favor Islamic fundamentalism” is flat out wrong. Perhaps you should change it to “in favor of Islamic Nationalism” or something like that which I think better conveys what you are trying to say ie that most Pakistani’s are somewhat hostile to the West and Israel.

    • Shirin

      Thanks for saying this. Not exactly my take on it, but close enough for now.

      • TeakWoodKite

        I don’t think the age of Aquarius is upon us any time soon. I am just trying to survive the Raptors among us.

        Not knowing the many shades of Islam, and what the equilibrium of Shria law will be in the region,

        Most Muslims don’t want complete Sharia law. They want modern laws and states that fit within and are not contradictory to the Islamic tradition and Sharia law.
        Comment by swio | 2007-12-27 20:02:17

        how long will it take to get there?
        America seeks to support “moderate Muslims” we are told. Yet,” moderate Muslims” see us doing the opposite. What happens when you put a “moderate Muslim” in between the current American Foreign policy and Islamic extremism? My humble guess is they won’t be moderate for long.

        • Shirin

          America seeks to support “moderate Muslims” we are told.

          Yeah right! I guess that’s why “America” supports the Saudis, who are about as radical as Muslims come.

          • TeakWoodKite

            I keep having to think in terms of being “occupied” . Not knowing the many shades of Islam, It makes me wonder what “shades” we need to work to.

            The House of Saud? Why Shirin? Are they not trying to broker deals on the barrelhead as we speak? What of life for them that are ruled by the sword?

            • Shirin

              Sorry, I don’t understand your question.

              The Sa`ud family, who rule the Hejaz, which is now known as Saudi Arabia, are Wahhabis, and as such are about as extremist and medieval as you can get. You could even use the term barbaric. In fact, much of what they follow and what they impose, is so extreme that it is un-Islamic. That is particularly true of their policies toward women, and toward religions other than Islam, and even in some regards toward other Islamic sects. And yet it seems that this is the “moderate Muslims” that America seeks to support?

              What America seeks to support, and therefore defines as “moderate” is those who are compliant. America doesn’t care beyond that about anything else. Thus, America supports the Wahhabi extremist Saudis and ignores their horrific record for human rights, and women’s rights. And at the same time, America lists among the most evil of evils the secular regime of Bashir Al Asad, and does so despite the fact that Bashir’s regime is not ruled by religion, and he is much better than his father was in terms of rights and freedoms, and also more open in his approach to foreign policy.

              I could go on and on with examples, but the bottom line is that America’s definition of “moderate” when it comes to Muslim countries has only to do with whether the regime of that country is sufficiently submissive to America.

              • Fred C. Dobbs

                >>> “What America seeks to support, and therefore defines as “moderate” is those who are compliant. America doesn’t care beyond that about anything else.”

                In a larger sense, the US really doesn’t care if your majority faith practices human sacrifice, so long as the oil (and platinum and bauxite and rubber and bituminous coal) keep moving.

                American business fears, above all other stressors, Change. All the corporate pap RE: “Think outside the box,” “Shift the paradigm, ” etc., ad nauseum, are just lipstick on a pig…in this case, meant to seduce Baby Boomers and those slightly younger than them who missed Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius, but who really like the music.

                It’s a planned mass delusion, of course, foisted upon those with no inner cultural ethic and limited critical thinking skills by, “public relations firms” and in-house flacks whose brief is to snooker The Help.

                These people are so externally validated that they can’t even swaddle their young without checking to be certain that the pajamas they’ve bought are, “the Bomb.”

              • TeakWoodKite

                Fine response Thanks I agree with you Shirin and Fred C. Dobbs.
                I was just wondering when Islam was going to find a “balance” within itself, which the “west” could use to form a cohesive policy. Larry’s comment about working in the shadows got me thinking about “with

                • TeakWoodKite

                  oops..)who, since everybody has an agenda.. And since I was 15 miles down the road at the time, missed Woodstock and the Age of Aquarius, and really like the music, but need to provide for the “externally validated” people at my table, this grasshopper is still studying for the walk on rice paper. (LOL) “What shadows?” I ask when most of the alpine glow is gone.

                  Experience vs change…change is inevitable, like the Mississippi river , but experience is required to navigate it.

                • Shirin

                  Well, first of all, “Islam” is not obligated to do anything “within itself” to assist “the west” in forming its policies.

                  Second, I am not sure what “balance within itself” means, what it should look like, or how or why “Islam” needs to find such a thing anyway. Do other religions have “balance within themselves”? Does Christianity”? Does Judaism? Does Hinduism? Sikhism? Buddhism (believe it or not, there ARE violent Buddhists!).

                  Third, why does “the west” need policies regarding Islam anyway? Does it have them regarding other religions? Or is it just that “Islam” is the thing that has replaced Communism as the bogeyman du jour?

                  So, help me, please, to understand what this idea of “balance within itself” is, because it is not clear to me what it is supposed to be, and what it is supposed to look like.

  • Cee

    Larry,

    The only people I read or heard in the US that made a bit of sense are you, Brezezinski and Ron Paul just now on Hardball.

    We do need to stop meddling. I read that Condi talked Bhutto into going back to Pakistan. Will she be risking her sorry ass to attend the funeral?

  • http://www,phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Charles

    Titus, there was Wahabi resentment against a woman as leader, enough to constitute a motive. I also don’t know who killed her or why, but there were plenty of people who wanted her out of the way.

  • Titus Pullo

    “I wld (sic) hold Musharraf responsible, I have been made to feel insecure by his minions, and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides cld (sic) happen without him.”

    -Bhutto in an email to CNN 2 months ago in regard to her possible assassination.

  • oldtree

    I am watching for the idiotic comments from the candidates that expect now is a good time to send in troops. Obama really showed how fundamentally stupid he is with his statements about going in and taking someone out of Pakistan. Gop’ers have too, they must be so proud of their brilliance today.
    Does Pakistan have something worth invading for? No, or we would have all ready.

  • Titus Pullo

    I was heartened by the fact that you’re not willing to place blame yet. The MSM is having a field day w/ the assumption that it was AQ, it’s been a procession of right wingers so far, and I’ve yet to see or hear ANYONE even contemplate for a second that it might have been Pervez or rogue elements in the intelligence or military services. I don’t recall Musharraf declaring a state of emergency because of the threats posed by AQ, he only declared emergency because the court wouldn’t allow him to run as head of the military. It seems that he only takes drastic action if HIS political position is threatened. I’m ignorant as to Bhutto’s chances of winning this election, I’m assuming she had a strong chance of winning and driving Musharraf from power, which is motive for Musharraf…I don’t really see AQ’s motive in taking Bhutto out. Wouldn’t elections amongst a populace that is friendly to the idea of Muslim fundamentalism favor AQ? Just saw ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’ last nite, how ironic.

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  • http://www,phoenixwoman.wordpress.com Charles

    I don’t think you’re right about a majority of Pakistanis being fundamentalists, Larry. Many, yes, especially in the areas over the Durand Line. And the distinctions as to who is a fundamentalist get dizzyingly complex. But Pakistan is more famous for Sufism and other moderate forms of Islam.

    What pushes people toward fundamentalism is nationalism. Attack Pakistan and people rally around Islam. Poverty and acculturation are also big recruiters. I think the only thing that could bring a true fundamentalist to power through elections is the fear of US intervention. But maybe total corruption, as displayed by Musharraf, could serve.

  • TeakWoodKite

    Larry: Fine kettle o’fish….“working quietly in the shadows”

    Stealth diplomacy vs the Keystone Cops? Not fair is it?