Pakistan: We're into repeat here
May 7, 2009 4:51 AM   Subscribe

Pakistan is complicated as Nicholas Schmidle explains. (His take on Zadari). Fatima Bhutto describes her late Aunt's widower as Obama's murderous guest and has previously called for the West to Stop Funding My Failing State. Of course one aim of the US-Afghan-Pakistani summit is a parade for aid. Another Pakistani politician, Imran Khan gives his views on how to clear the mess. The author Ahmed Rashid states Pakistan is on the brink of chaos. A note to foreign journalists.
posted by adamvasco (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
We are now in the midst of a full-blown campaign to "roll out the product" for a new war: this time, in Pakistan. Anyone who lived through the run-up to the invasion of Iraq should be able to read the signs -- anyone, that is, who is not blinded by partisan labels, or by the laid-back cool of a media-savvy leader far more presentable than his predecessor.

We noted some of these signs in a long post yesterday and won't belabor them here. But today brings yet another bumper crop of panic buttons and alarm bells from the powers-that-be, with ever-increasing emphasis on the "Taliban kooks with Muslim nukes" theme: one more variation on the old "mushroom clouds rising in American cities" ploy that has worked like a charm for our militarists lo these 60 years or more. ...

Are you scared to death yet? Or even better: are you scared enough to give your approval to "whatever it takes" to save us? After all, the president himself says that the situation in Pakistan is a "mortal threat" to the sacred Homeland; a view reiterated by his special "Af-Pak" envoy, Richard Holbrooke, who told Congress yesterday (on yet another front in the roll-out campaign) that "our most vital national security interests are at stake," in Pakistan. A mortal threat to our most vital interests -- can there be a greater, more urgent, more noble casus belli?
- Chris Floyd
posted by Joe Beese at 5:17 AM on May 7, 2009

A Jewish friend of mine lost his job in the dotcom crash and decided to go travelling. He'd already been to Mongolia and fancied another trip somewhere in Asia, off the beaten track.

When he came back, he raved about his trip. The people were lovely, the scenery was amazing, the whole experience was the trip of a lifetime. He went to Peshawar in August 2001.

Funny how things change.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:27 AM on May 7, 2009

Seconding what MuffinMan said. I was touring around the NWFP for about 6 weeks in the summer of 2001, and it was probably the best destination I've ever been to. As far as cities go, Peshawar, with it's old city, and incredibly hospitable people, is unrivalled. Even in the 'good times', there were almost no tourists. Swat was actually one of the most touristed spots in Pakistan back then. The food is decent (save for the excess oil), the scenery is spectacular, and nice Afghan hash was about $1.30 USD/tola. I was there during the Shandur Polo Festival, which takes place near between Chitral and Gilgit in the Karakoram. Oh Pakistan.
posted by gman at 6:00 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fatima Bhutto doesn't pull any punches.

Lest we forget, when Zardari took power last September, Pakistan didn’t have an indigenous Taliban. Now, a year into his rule, the Tehreek-e-Taliban not only exists in Pakistan, but controls the Northwest Frontier Province, frighteningly close to the Afghan border. The reason Pakistan’s government cannot fight the Taliban is not because Pakistan doesn’t have the money to fight terror. We do, plenty of it. By my last count, we’ve received some $12 billion in military aid over the last eight years. (It may not have gone where it was supposed to go, however. It might have ended up in someone’s Swiss bank account—no names, but we can guess.) And it’s not because Pakistanis are rabid fundamentalists elated by the arrival of an indigenous Taliban. That’s not it at all. Pakistan is a religiously diverse country—we have a history of Buddhist, Sikh, and Hindu heritage.
The reason is the leadership. It’s just not working.

posted by kisch mokusch at 6:22 AM on May 7, 2009

Q: What's the solution to a war that has been mismanaged and lost?
A: A new war, next door.

It worked wonderfully for Laos and Cambodia, after all.

Note to the citizens of Pakistan: apologies in advance for blowing up all your stuff and making you refugees.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:23 AM on May 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Fatima Bhutto's article is interesting, at least in part because of who she is. this excellent article goes over the history of the family. Here's an excerpt that goes over the death of Murtaza, Fatima's father.
Some months later, in September 1996, as Murtaza and his entourage were returning home from a political meeting, they were ambushed, just outside their house, by some seventy armed policemen accompanied by four senior officers. A number of snipers were positioned in surrounding trees. The street lights had been switched off. Murtaza clearly understood what was happening and got out of his car with his hands raised; his bodyguards were instructed not to open fire. The police opened fire instead and seven men were killed, Murtaza among them. The fatal bullet had been fired at close range. The trap had been carefully laid, but as is the way in Pakistan, the crudeness of the operation – false entries in police logbooks, lost evidence, witnesses arrested and intimidated, the provincial PPP governor (regarded as untrustworthy) dispatched to a non-event in Egypt, a policeman killed who they feared might talk – made it obvious that the decision to execute the prime minister’s brother had been taken at a very high level.

While the ambush was being prepared, the police had sealed off Murtaza’s house (from which his father had been lifted by Zia’s commandos in 1978). The family inside felt something was wrong. At this point, a remarkably composed Fatima Bhutto, aged 14, decided to ring her aunt at Prime Minister’s House. The conversation that followed remains imprinted on her memory and a few years ago she gave me an account of it. It was Zardari who took her call:

Fatima: I wish to speak to my aunt, please.

Zardari: It’s not possible.

Fatima: Why? [At this point, Fatima says she heard loud wails and what sounded like fake crying.]

Zardari: She’s hysterical, can’t you hear?

Fatima: Why?

Zardari: Don’t you know? Your father’s been shot.

Fatima and Ghinwa found out where Murtaza had been taken and rushed out of the house. There was no sign on the street outside that anything had happened: the scene of the killing had been wiped clean of all evidence. There were no traces of blood and no signs of any disturbance. They drove straight to the hospital but it was too late; Murtaza was already dead. Later they learned that he had been left bleeding on the ground for almost an hour before being taken to a hospital where there were no emergency facilities of any kind.

When Benazir arrived to attend her brother’s funeral in Larkana, angry crowds stoned her limo. She had to retreat. In another unusual display of emotion, local people encouraged Murtaza’s widow to attend the actual burial ceremony in defiance of Islamic tradition. According to Fatima, one of Benazir’s hangers-on instigated legal proceedings against Ghinwa in a religious court for breaching Islamic law. Nothing was sacred.
posted by delmoi at 6:35 AM on May 7, 2009

NPR is doing a series this week about the one-year anniversary of the big earthquake in China. They followed up on one family whose 2 year old son had been crushed to death in the wreckage. The father was still emotionally destroyed - unable to bear even a mention of the boy's name.

That's what I think about when I read a story like this:

Clinton said Wednesday that the Afghan-based US-led troops would try to prevent civilian casualties in the future after an air attack by the forces on western Afghanistan massacred up to 150 civilians, Reuters reported. ...

"We deeply regret it. We don't know all of the circumstances or causes. And there will be a joint investigation by your government and ours," Clinton said.

The international Red Cross has confirmed that the victims included women and children.

150 civilians. Women and children. Picture their bloody corpses laid out side by side on the Afghan earth. Each one with its own now-shattered family. And over the sounds of their screaming and weeping, the school-principal voice of Hillary Rodham Clinton trying not to sound bored as she expresses "regret" and promises an "investigation"...

Just another day in the empire.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:56 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

According to the BBC, up to 500 000 people can be expected to flee the Swat valley as the Army moves in to fight the Taliban. A local Red Crescent representative said there's resources to support 70 000 people.

If the Taliban is to be put down, we have a responsibility to help prevent the rest of the refugees from ending up living in squalor.
posted by Anything at 7:07 AM on May 7, 2009

Army -> army
posted by Anything at 7:08 AM on May 7, 2009

Anything: "If the Taliban is to be put down, we have a responsibility to help prevent the rest of the refugees from ending up living in squalor."

Baghdad's water still undrinkable 6 years after invasion
posted by Joe Beese at 7:21 AM on May 7, 2009

via something or other earlier today:

First response: "The incident didn't happen"
When this is proved false: "The incident was isolated"
When this is proved false: "The reporting was out of context."

Excellent post.
posted by nax at 7:28 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

God, this stuff just makes me sick. My parents came back on Monday from a month and half visit to relatives in Pakistan. The situation has disintegrated quite rapidly from their previous visit 2 years ago. Relatives living in Islamabad live in rarified isolation in high-security enclaves in the hills outside the city and only go into the city to work, driven in style. The situation in Quetta, where I was born, is frightening. The Taliban drive around in jeeps openly displaying their weapons. People are afraid to gather in public places for fear of suicide bombers and retaliation. One of my father's friends is dead from a night-time assassination. The government is using horrifying scare tactics to enforce submission. One example, a high-ranking police officer was killed in Baluchistan and they decided that 4 Pushtuns were responsible, so they raided their homes at night, took them up in a helicopter, and proceeded to drop each of them out from high altitudes. This was to send a message. When torture and brutality meet a similar response, nothing good can come of it.

The Afghan refugees in the west of Pakistan have been living in squalor for almost 3 decades now. They can't go back to their own country, they are not welcome where they live now, there are no comprehensive social services/education or work. Of course they are ripe for recruitment, partly for revenge and partly on the promise of an imaginary religious land, where all their needs will be met.

People like Zardari are commonplace, maybe not to the same rapacious extent. But Pakistan is full of people who have the means and do not give back to their community. There is money, but it leaves the country to wind-up in Swiss bank accounts or to fuel absurd expenditures in foreign countries. The Bhuttos own some fabulous properties in the UK.

I've never met so many dilettantes as amongst the upper classes in Pakistan. No one seems to be doing anything productive. They all want jobs with the World Bank or financial sector jobs in the UK or US. The people like my cousin, who is a woman's rights advocate have a constant uphill fight, not even including security issues, and very little support from the government or from the wealthy.
posted by nikitabot at 8:12 AM on May 7, 2009 [5 favorites]

Does anyone remember the Shah of Iran? The US backed this westernized leader because he pressed our interests. And for the same reason, he was despised in his own country--he was seen as a puppet of the US and as someone who suppressed the traditional aspects of Iranian society. Because of this student radicals allied with religions traditionalists to overthrow the government. Of course the intellectuals and radicals in Iran now regret the 'anything is better than what we have now' argument they were using, since they are more repressed now than they ever were before.

Now the US is setting itself up again by once again insisting on only looking at the situation in Pakistan from its own selfish point of view. Clinton and Obama are only looking at the Talilban threat and how it affects the US and are not looking at what is best for Pakistan (and, indirectly, for the US). "Send your troops to their death in suicidal attacks on the Taliban because it is in the US interest. If you do, we'll continue propping up your increasingly non-democratic government." In so doing, they are once again making the US the enemy among all Pakistanis and Pakistan will regress into something everyone will regret except for so-called religious power-hungry extremists.
posted by eye of newt at 9:21 AM on May 7, 2009

Since (surely?) the Taliban no longer get weapons supplies from the Pakistani state, are they being supplied by other sources to any comparable extent? If they are in any sense cut off, how long can they keep fighting?
posted by Anything at 9:35 AM on May 7, 2009

"The Pakistani state" - I think you've got the problem right there - when a country starts to unravel, who "the state" actually is is a moot point. In the first link, Nicholas Schmidle outlines as much, when he tallks through all the different factions, and branches of intelligence agencies pursuing their own agendas, and the grey bits in between as various militias gain prominence.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:01 AM on May 7, 2009

Anything: "Since (surely?) the Taliban no longer get weapons supplies from the Pakistani state, are they being supplied by other sources to any comparable extent? If they are in any sense cut off, how long can they keep fighting?"

Floyd again...

But now the great and good can turn from this disturbing story to the convenient divulgings of the unnamed 28-year-old guy from an unnamed place in Pakistan, and see that such slaughters are all just part of the Taliban's fiendish plan. In fact, he provides grist for the PR mill of the great imperial blood libel of them all: There are no "civilians."

[[ The tactician says he embeds his men in what he described as friendly Afghan villages, where they will spend the next four to six months with the residents, who provide the weapons and succor for the missions against American and NATO soldiers. ]]

There, you see? Every villager is a two-faced sneak, working to kill Americans. If they die -- then they deserve it.

posted by Joe Beese at 10:37 AM on May 7, 2009

MuffinMan:I think you've got the problem right there - when a country starts to unravel, who "the state" actually is is a moot point.

One would, however, expect that whatever the slice of the budget still going to the Taliban against the will of the central government, it must be thinner than it was under a deliberate Taliban-supporting policy.

Joe Beese (quoting Chris Floyd, quoting the NYT, referring to "anonymous Taliban logistician"):[[ The tactician says he embeds his men in what he described as friendly Afghan villages, where they will spend the next four to six months with the residents, who provide the weapons and succor for the missions against American and NATO soldiers. ]]

This claim, like nearly everything else on the subject, is new to me. Does he mean to imply that a significant portion of Taliban weaponry comes from stashes kept by random Afghan villagers? If that's the case, how much weapons do random Afghan villagers (those sympathetic to or fearful of the Taliban) have, on the whole? That would answer part of what I was wondering in my previous comment.

On another note, Joe, by beginning your quote in response to me with:
But now the great and good can turn from this disturbing story (the bombed civilians) to the convenient divulgings of the unnamed 28-year-old guy from an unnamed place in Pakistan
are you suggesting that I'm trying to derail a discussion about that story?
posted by Anything at 11:30 AM on May 7, 2009

Lost, Stolen, Sold? Tracking U.S. Weapons in Afghanistan So I would suggest Taliban armaments are coming from multiple sources including Pakistan as well as every arms dealer in Central Asia and beyond. Afghan opium production in 2008 was estimated at 7,700 Tons
at average $95/kg equals a staggering $731,500,000 purchasing power. ( source: 2008 Afghan Opium Survey pg 14 pdf).
posted by adamvasco at 12:46 PM on May 7, 2009

Can we just perhaps stop funding shit anywhere until North Korea, Sudan, Pakistan, and those other assholes bone the fuck up?

Yeah, people are going to die, but look at what we're doing now! They're still dying.

Fucking people.
posted by kldickson at 12:49 PM on May 7, 2009

Anything: "are you suggesting that I'm trying to derail a discussion about that story?"

Yikes. No, absolutely not.

I only quoted you because the Floyd excerpt seemed to offer one possible answer to your question. The "turn" business in that excerpt was just Floyd segueing from Horror A to Horror B.

My apologies if it came across any other way.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:56 PM on May 7, 2009

Oh, no probs; sorry for the yikes.
Just goes on to show how easily one can get twitchy with a subject like this.
posted by Anything at 1:11 PM on May 7, 2009

1992 - IC: Sir, about Pakistan...
BA: They're doing great, right? They just won the Cricket World Cup. I know the rain was bad...
IC: uh, well the floods just revealed the extent of the iniquity and poverty in...
BA: We've got other problems right now.

1993 - IC: Uh, about Pakistan, this thing with India
CA: forget the nukes, they just elected Benazir Bhutto again, they're doing great.
IC: Well there's a lot of terrorist organizations that...
CA: Yeah yeah yeah. We've got this thing in Somalia right now

1996 - IC: Sir? Uh, Bhutto...
CA: Can't talk. Busy. Balkans.

1997 - CA: Tell Sharif I want to know who killed our people. *chews burger*
IC: Sir, this low level terrorism is just one facet of the problem. Their army chief of staff, this Musharraf guy, looks to be building a power base. We think he's looking to foment a coup.
CA: *much munch munch* Ok. That ever happen there before?
IC: Uh, yeah. Four times.
CA: Oh...ok. Uh, well, we've got this thing in Kosovo...uh, keep an eye on it.

1999 IC: *cough*
CA: yeah yeah yeah, Musharraf took over. Ok. Any way we can cut a deal with him?
IC: A deal?
CA: Yeah, put the squeeze on him. Maybe get him to change his mind?
IC: Well sanctions would only exacerbate the trends in poverty that give rise to instability and...
CA: I say we go in, stomp around, with big heavy boots.

2001 CA: See? Starting to work. He'll be on our side now.
IC: Uh, right. But sir,
CA: No, I'm out of here, c ya!

2001 BA: Hey, what's up with this Saddam fellow.
IC: Uh, well, we have credible intelligence that Osama Bin Laden
BA: I didn't say that camel fucker, I mean the other hanky head. And start sending aid to Pervezzi. Guns n'tanks n'stuff.

2004 BA: Doin' pretty well ain't they? They got seven of them Al Kaydas in Kirachiee.
IC: Uh, we believe that Musharraf.. er, Pervezzi ... 's government is unstable.
BA: Unstable? They're off IMF assistance, ain't they? *spits*
IC: He's doing well but much of this is based on military coercion. We believe it's only a matter of time before..
BA: Get outta my office. I'm tryin' to fight a war on terr here.

2007- IC: Sir? A state of emergency has been declared in Paki
BA: Get out of my office.

2008 - IC: Sir, Benazir Bhutto...
BA: Get outta my office.

2009 IC: Look, we've been saying for a long time there are some deep, long standing problems in Pakistan. It's a complex, delicate situation that we've ignored or overplayed for years now and we need a serious, comprehensive mandate that accounts for the many years, perhaps decades that this highly unstable situation requires to be settled. Especially now when they've reversed their position regarding our policies. Or our former policies at least. But either way this will be critical to our policies in Afghanistan as well as India. Pakistan is a nuclear power and we have to treat this with the gravity and delicacy it requires or we're just going to screw it up again.

OA (Hillary Clinton): I say we go in, stomp around, with big heavy boots.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:30 PM on May 7, 2009

(Oh, and I so love people at cocktail parties who are now Pakistan experts - astute as Schmidle's article is - people have only been trying to highlight the seriousness of the problem for the past decade and change)
posted by Smedleyman at 1:37 PM on May 7, 2009

Pakistan declares war on Taliban. I guess it's official, now, it's civil war.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:06 PM on May 7, 2009

About the weapons - the Pashtun lands have a cottage industry of weapons manufacture that you have to see to believe. I can't find a link just at the moment, but I saw a video of a town up in the NWFP somewhere that was like a mini-arsenal, and there were guys in traditional garb, on dirt floors in primitive buildings hand-machining exact replicas of every type of gun or rifle you could want. Not old antique muzzle loaders but like AK47s and such. Handmade bullets by the carton. Really quite impressive.
posted by BinGregory at 10:14 PM on May 7, 2009

I can't believe I just used the phrase "traditional garb". Garb? Somebody shoot me.
posted by BinGregory at 10:19 PM on May 7, 2009

Yeah exactly, that's the place. Hey so what's that the name of that fly kufi they all wear? And was it just my university town or was like every other coed in the nation sporting one of those, ca. 1994?
posted by BinGregory at 10:41 PM on May 7, 2009

Missed that gun making video first time round. Thanks for reposting it. Also interesting links from nickyskye as always; What's up with that gracious lady? she hasn't been around for a while. I miss her.
posted by adamvasco at 9:01 AM on May 8, 2009

My goodness; thanks for the pointer, BinGregory & Burhanistan. I wonder about the quality of those weapons, though, having read about the Chinese backyard scrap-metallurgy of the Great Leap Forward and the largely useless steel it produced.


Here's another random internet person's impression:
There are likely some excellent riflemen there, but I doubt they are shopping for the knockoffs seen. A friend of mine has a few "firearms" from that area. Some look close, but are for the most part made of dead soft (easily workable) steels. What little heat treat they have is via Mk1 eyeball in a darkened room, instead of a simple pyrometer. I would trust an original Tower Musket or Ferguson over what comes from the Khyber region for safety and shootability.
posted by Anything at 4:37 PM on May 8, 2009

Not that it's much of a consolation for someone being aimed at.
posted by Anything at 4:44 PM on May 8, 2009

« Older George Broussard needs to STFU IMO.   |   Ratus Norvegicus Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments