NEWS, ANALYSIS, OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Pakistan and the failure of American interests

Pakistan’s Plan B deficiency

What is happening today in Pakistan takes me back to the time when the Iranian revolution was brewing, when I was the desk officer for Iran on the National Security Council.

The ultimate reason for the U.S. policy failure then was the fact that the U.S. had placed enormous trust and responsibility in the shah of Iran.

He — and not the country or people of Iran — was seen as the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the Persian Gulf. Everything relied on him. There was no Plan B.

As a consequence, the endlessly mulled-over U.S. response to Iranian instability was that we had no choice except to support the shah. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — Even though it’s only a few days ago that General Musharraf was described by the Bush administration as an “indispensable” ally in the war on terrorism, it is probably inaccurate to say that the administration has no Plan B. Plan B is Benazir Bhutto. That said, Gary Sick’s point still applies: the U.S. government’s strategy in Pakistan hinges on its reliance on a handful of personal relationships. This is hardly surprising during a presidency in which a handshake has so often served as a substitute for a genuine meeting of minds and the cultivation of mutual understanding.

At the same time, the development of foreign policy — whether in this administration or any other — is invariably hamstrung by an idea that is regarded as axiomatic: that the U.S. government in its conduct of foreign affairs must focus on one thing and one thing alone: the defense and advance of American interests.

This gives rise to a myopic and self-referential attention. The Bush administration has focused on General Musharraf in as much as he is perceived as being helpful to the advance of American interests. In the process his American backers have lost sight of the extent to which their friend operates to the detriment of Pakistan’s interests. Yet if an underlying assumption — understood but rarely expressed — is that America’s interests can only be pursued at the expense of others, perhaps it’s time to entertain an idea that no American politician would ever dare utter: America’s self interest is not worth defending.

It is time for a new foreign policy paradigm. As Barak Obama puts it, “the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.” And as James Traub in a New York Times Magazine feature on Obama puts it even more succinctly, “What’s good for others is good for us.”

Pakistanis’ anger at Musharraf extends to U.S.

It takes almost no effort to find people who are angry with Pervez Musharraf on the streets of this bustling city. The Pakistani leader’s name comes up quickly in casual conversation, yoked with unprintable adjectives and harsh denunciations of the emergency rule he has imposed.

But dig just a little deeper and another target of resentment surfaces: Musharraf’s richest, staunchest and most powerful patron, the United States.

“We blame the U.S. directly for keeping us under the rule of the military,” said Arfan Ghani, a 54-year-old professor of architecture. Musharraf, who heads Pakistan’s army, is just “another dictator,” Ghani told an American reporter, “serving the interests of your country.”

Musharraf’s already abysmal popularity has reached a new low after he declared a state of emergency Nov. 3. But sinking alongside it is the public image of the United States, which many Pakistanis see as the primary force propping up an autocratic ruler. [complete article]

Pakistan: inside the storm

The United States and the European Union have made some noises about the restoration of the constitution and the holding of free elections at the earliest opportunity. This is not enough: it must be emphasised that any call to hold elections without the restoration of the judges who have been ousted plays directly into General Musharraf’s hands. Twelve out of sixteen supreme court judges, including the chief justice have been ousted pursuant to the provisional constitutional order (PCO) issued on 3 November by General Musharraf in his capacity as the chief of the army staff. This order has no constitutional validity and is simply an assertion of military power. Only judges with known affiliation to the military junta have lined up to take a fresh oath of office under the PCO, in violation of their original oath to defend the constitution. Independent-minded judges have not been offered the fresh oath and if offered would not have taken it.

As a consequence, apart from the decimation of the supreme court, nearly 50% of the judges of the provincial high courts have been stripped of their office. This is a virtual demolition of the judiciary in Pakistan. The US and the EU are not talking about it. Elections without the restoration of the sacked judges will amount to throwing a cloak of ratification over the general’s assault. A true demand from outside, one consistent with the democratic ideals these states profess, would be “no elections without the restoration of the judiciary”. It is very clear that there can be no free elections under General Musharraf’s watch with a handpicked docile judiciary looking the other way. [complete article]

Pakistan strife threatens anti-insurgent plan

The political turmoil in Pakistan is threatening to undermine a new long-term counterinsurgency plan by the U.S. military aimed at strengthening Pakistani forces fighting Islamic extremists in the country’s tribal areas, according to senior military officials. The officials said the initiative involves expanding the presence of U.S. Special Forces and other troops to train and advise the Pakistanis, who have been largely ineffective in battling the hard-line militants.

Even as the Bush administration reviews aid to Pakistan in light of Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of emergency rule last weekend, U.S. military officials are moving forward with the plan — ordering equipment, surveying training facilities outside Islamabad, and preparing to send in dozens of additional military trainers, who are expected to begin arriving early next year.

“This train has already left the station,” said a senior military official familiar with the effort. “We on the ground are moving ahead under the ambassador’s guidance.” [complete article]

See also, Benazir Bhutto is permitted to leave home (NYT).

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