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December 28, 2007

Random Musings about Pakistan

By: Bernard Chazelle

Benazir Bhutto's assassination is a tragedy for her relatives and those of the 20 others who died in the attack. It is a sad day for her supporters.

Ms Bhutto was courageous to the point of recklessness. Her father was both Pakistan's great hope and bitter disappointment. But she lacked his considerable political skills. Upon her return to Pakistan at Bush's behest, Musharraf made mincemeat of her. It is doubtful he had anything to do with her death: in fact, his political future is now in jeopardy. If anyone besides her killers has blood on their hands, it is Bush, who sent her to her death in a harebrained scheme.

Bhutto's two stints as Prime Minister were marked by massive corruption and gross incompetence. But she agreed to do America's bidding and so she was merely, in the words of the New York Times, "imperfect."

In the corridors of power in Islamabad, few will mourn her passing. In fact, Agatha Christie could have written the script: the victim is dead and all the usual suspects have reason to celebrate. The military hated her; the master triangulator Musharraf couldn't stand the thought of the power-sharing agreement the US was trying to shove down his throat. Her nemesis and chief rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had been mentored by Zia-ul-Haq, the man who killed her dad. The Inter-Services Intelligence (the infamous ISI) wished her dead. So did the Islamists and tribal leaders.

Pakistani politics is not for the faint of heart. One can imagine Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, muttering to himself: "And they think we are the crazy Muslim country!"

One man wasn't too thrilled by yesterday's events: Bush. His entire Pakistan policy is in tatters. For this he can also thank torture-loving John "Musharraf is our indispensable ally" Negroponte. The US gave Musharraf $11 billion in 6 years and the good general used that money to rid Pakistan of the last vestiges of American influence. He may well meet Benazir's fate one day or be ousted by his former protege and replacement as Army Chief, Ashfaq Kiyani, but don't discount his extraordinary survival skills. In particular, for years now Musharraf has been running circles around American policymakers; or, for that matter, the imperial satraps manning the fort at the New York Times.

Washington must now call for new rules

Washington must also demand

[Washington] must insist that

Washington will need to send the same message

How about "Washington must learn to mind its own business"?
Now, on to the nut graf.

American policy must now be directed at building a strong democracy in Pakistan that has the respect and the support of its own citizens and the will and the means to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

This is a statement of breathtaking ignorance. A strong democracy in Pakistan that had the respect and the support of its own citizens would have neither the will nor the means to fight the Taliban, an organization that Pakistan helped create in the 90s to pacify its Tribal Areas and maintain its influence in Afghanistan. The US is losing the war in Afghanistan and is pressuring Pakistan to fight the good fight for us. Trouble is, Islamabad has long nurtured a careful relationship with the tribal belt and has no desire to start a full-fledged civil war within its borders. The low-level skirmishes that the Pakistani army wages (and usually loses) in Balochistan and the North-Western regions are more than it can handle.

Bush got mad at Musharraf for negotiating with the Taliban. Never mind that
Britain and the US are currently in negotiation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. (Has the NYT noticed that European diplomats were expelled from Afghanistan last week?) The hypocrisy is staggering.

Speaking of which, President Bush said this today:

The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy

Forget about the use of words: the "cowardice" of suicide bombers; the murderous extremists (not to be confused with the murderous moderates). How can Bush speak of those "trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy"? What democracy? The US has been propping up a dictator to the tune of $11 billion for 6 years, and The Decider goes after the Underminers of Pakistan's democracy...

Why must Orwell always have the last word?

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at December 28, 2007 04:58 PM

imperial satraps manning the fort at the New York Times

Is it fair to call New York Times editors "satraps"? Satraps usually have a little power of their own. Musharraf counts as a satrap, I'd say. NY Times editors are just sniveling court scribes, several rungs down the ladder in the imperial power structure.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at December 28, 2007 05:36 PM

I'm trying to imagine a post-imperial future where the U.S., its economy in ruins, its army a hollow shell, no longer has the power to dictate anything to anyone.

Would the discourse of our New York-Washington elites be any different? They'd still fuss about what Washington must "demand" or "insist", and our diplomats would prepare impressive démarches, dictating, in great precision, how others should conduct themselves. They'd go on furiously pulling the strings, but no one would have the heart to tell the NY Times editorial board or the Secretary of State that the strings aren't connected to anything.

Not a bad future, I think. The trick is how to get from here to there without killing too many people.

Posted by: SteveB at December 28, 2007 05:52 PM

"Let us kill the DREAMER and see what becomes of her dream." Ms. Bhutto IS a hero(ine) having KNOWINGLY laid her life for her dream, so few have that testimony. What she lacks as a bureaucrat she has AMPLY surpassed as a martyr. Musharraf is on his way out, as no matter whom he blames, with or without proof, the pakistani joe sixpack, will blame him. BUT anyone but an AMERICAN could have told Mr. Musharraf " No matter how much money he gives you, when YOU follow the advice of an idiot, well, all YOU will get is an idiotic result." (EX: if YOU are an AMERICAN, just look out YOUR window onto OUR country)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 28, 2007 07:01 PM

Jon: I have no doubt Judy Miller saw herself as an imperial satrap, but she's gone, and now maybe they're stuck with the sniveling court scribes (good phrase by the way).

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at December 28, 2007 07:17 PM

1-202-225-0100-call it and DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 28, 2007 07:19 PM
This is a statement of breathtaking ignorance.

Or is it a statement of breathtaking boldness, facts be damned and matter only to small minds of feeble imagination? Hmmmmmm?

Really Bernard, I don't recall us respecting the democracies of Europe and the will of their people, when they didn't support our adventure in Iraq. The sentiment in those places was what? 70-80% against, yet our view was one where the informed rabble thare, was not up to be compared or contrasted with the imperial stenographers here. Freedom Fries indeed.

The press has much less interest in informing us, than to act their part as the fourth estate; influencing policy at the behest of media conglomerates.

I prefer to think that this is not a statement of ignorance, but one of intentional manipulation and duplicity. Otherwise those Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Princeton educations were poor quality indeed (and I know they're not).


DAMN YOU CRUEL WORLD!!!!! Why, oh why, did Tom Friedman take his sabbatical just now?!?!? I need my Friedman fix and six-month prognostication of significant events for the office pool.

Posted by: Ted at December 28, 2007 07:27 PM

Speaking of sniveling court scribe doubling as a satrap, I see that Bill Kristol is becoming a NYT columnist. I assume this is a joke.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at December 28, 2007 07:29 PM

It must be! The world is so just that an influential organ of public opinion like the NYT would never publish supporters of war crimes.

Posted by: StO at December 28, 2007 08:28 PM

It's interesting that just a few months ago her niece (a person who seems young, idealistic and fairly uncorrupt by familial standards) wrote this piece, I dunno if it's family rivalry at work here, but if this is to be believed Bhutto would just be the victim of chickens coming home to roost:,0,2482408.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Posted by: En Ming Hee at December 28, 2007 09:21 PM

Well, the woman got killed at least SAYING she wanted a better world, but face facts, she was dealing with those greedy AMERICANS (U&I)and OUR OWN lovely administration, there is simply NO way for a good end.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at December 29, 2007 04:48 AM

How about "Washington must learn to mind its own business"?

Don't you get it? Mehrka knows best. Sunni/Shi'a? Ain't no differents; they's both the same. Iraq/Iran? Ain't no differents; they's both the same. Pushtun? Wasn't he the leader of some Russki ragtime band? Iraq/9-11; Iraq/9-11; Iraq/9-11. Oh, and Pakistan ain't a democracy just cuz uv a little military coup? Reedikulus. That'd be like saying the U.S. ain't no democracy just cuz uv a little vote rigging among family and friends.

Never mind Orwell; Mencken and O. Henry are marveling how hyperbole and irony are rendered obsolete by circumstance.

Posted by: cavjam at December 29, 2007 09:09 AM

Bernard, your piece left me speechless. It was that good. Like the guy who hated shorebirds, you left no tern unstoned.

Posted by: Don Bacon at December 29, 2007 12:33 PM

I think Musharraf is an excellent suspect, and I'm willing to bet he at the very least allowed this to go forward, if not actually organized it. So his government is now in tatters - so what? Surely he feared the alternative much more: January 8th came, and Bhutto roundly defeated him in the polls, completely destroying any pretended legitimacy he might have. And like all dictators, there's nothing he wants more than legitimacy. So, yes, if he killed her, this was a bad decision he may come to regret, but from his perspective, perhaps letting her live was a worse one.

Posted by: saurabh at December 29, 2007 04:12 PM

Also, the argument that a strong democracy in Pakistan would not have the will to fight the Taliban seems baseless to me. Yes, "Pakistan" helped create the Taliban in the 90s, just about the same way that "America" organized Operation Condor or Operation Ajax. It would be wrong to suppose that these represented popular will, rather than the will of a subset of the intelligence agencies.

Posted by: saurabh at December 29, 2007 04:39 PM

Saurabh: Pakistan is ruled by the Punjabi elite (from the East) but the Taliban originate from the Pashtun area, including Balochistan. If the local tribes rose against the Taliban, yes, you're right, they might prevail. But Islamabad cannot be the initiator. The problem facing both Bush and Musharraf is that the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan makes no sense whatsoever. It's the famous Durand Line which split the Pashtun people into two different countries. Another brilliant colonial move that has brought uninterrupted warfare to the region.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at December 29, 2007 05:21 PM

Musharraf does not control the ISI: they would be my No.1 suspects.

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at December 29, 2007 05:26 PM

"the murderous extremists (not to be confused with the murderous moderates)..."


Posted by: Jonathan Versen at December 30, 2007 07:26 AM

"Speaking of sniveling court scribe doubling as a satrap, I see that Bill Kristol is becoming a NYT columnist. I assume this is a joke."

And why, exactly, would you assume that, Mr. C?

God, imagine his ravings on the same page as Paul Krugman. It doesn't bear imagining.

Posted by: catherine at December 31, 2007 11:28 AM