By Luke Brinker
Since independence, Pakistan’s politics have been defined by short intervals of civilian governments, punctuated by coups d’état and periods of military rule. (For more on this, I highly recommend current Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani’s superb 2005 book, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military).
Civilian governments in Pakistan tend to fall when the elites of the Pakistani military and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) perceive that the civilian leaders are weak and ineffectual in the face of security and/or economic challenges. There’s reason to believe Pakistan is vulnerable to a coup now. President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) are languishing in public opinion polls. Despite public protests over U.S. military operations in Pakistan, it’s widely believed that Zardari and Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani quietly give assent to such operations. The public protests are aimed at mollifying vociferously anti-American public opinion in Pakistan. But the ISI, with longstanding links to militant groups, is growing impatient. The U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden’s Abbotobad compound in May raised the intelligence and military establishment’s furor. Many assume that if a military coup comes, it will be because of the Pakistani government’s unpopularity stemming from its unwillingness to more strongly assert sovereignty in the northwestern tribal areas.
As if the Pakistani government didn’t confront a grave problem in militancy along the Afghan-Pakistani border, the southern port city of Karachi has been mired in ethnic violence for the past few weeks. Upwards of 1000 people have died, and the violence has exposed fissures within the Pakistani government. Feuding politicians, increasing insecurity, and a population desperately seeking order – it has all the makings of another military coup.
I think the president gave a pretty strong performance in his Afghanistan speech. He did not stumble, and he projected strong language. Still, his plan was typical Obama. He wants to draw down slowly with an increment of 10,000 troops first and bring the rest of the surge troops home by next July. 2014 will be the final withdrawal date, not surprising because NATO made commitments until 2014, and we are NATO.
In the end, Afghanistan is not a winnable situation. President Hamid Karzai is corrupt, Pakistan is an unreliable ally, it is impossible to eliminate all Al-Qaeda’s presence, and reports show that aid to the country is a failure, with all that the deck is stacked against the administration. Added onto the war weariness (56% of the public wants to leave) and parts of both political factions calling for withdrawal, the president is trapped. The slow withdrawal is just delaying the inevitable. There was a time when the slow decrease in troops was politically the best option, but now it just appears to be a cop out.
Tonight, the president gave the speech everyone thought he would give. The problem, nobody wanted that speech. The dream for both sides was for the president to call for immediate withdrawal of all troops and shift towards a secret counter terrorism strategy, similar to Yemen or Pakistan, than continuing the counter-insurgency strategy, which requires nation building. I’m not even convinced that speech would please the right, who would hate the speech no matter what. It was a night to please no one except himself and for that I say “Mission Accomplished.”
Photo Credit: Globe and Mail
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Photo Credit: Reuters
Figure from Gallup
Reports this morning indicate that Osama Bin Laden is hiding in North-West Pakistan. A senior NATO official has told reporters that Bin Laden is being sheltered in a house in the region somewhat supported by the Pakistani government. A report from the Daily Telegraph says:
However, the Nato official said bin Laden was thought to have ranged from the mountainous Chitral area near the Chinese border, to the Kurram Valley which borders Afghanistan’s Tora Bora, one of the Taliban strongholds during the US invasion in 2001.
North Waziristan, in particular, has become a nexus for Afghan, Pakistani and Arab militants as they plot attacks against Nato forces across the border in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month a leaked White House report accused its ally Pakistan of playing a double game by avoiding “military engagements that would put it in direct conflict with Afghan Taliban or al-Qaeda forces in North Waziristan”.
A senior Pakistani security official denied that bin Laden was being protected and said the latest allegations were designed to heap pressure on Islamabad ahead of talks in Washington this week that would focus on strengthening co-operation between the two countries.
If this report turns out to be true the implications for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship could be disastrous. Reason being, that Pakistan has denied for years that Bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan and that the Pakistani government was sheltering him. Of course, the U.S. and Pakistan have always had a “frienemy” relationship because Pakistan likes to help the U.S. when it is convenient and also help the Taliban when it benefits them. If this turns out to be true, it would not be surprising.
Photo Credit: Daily Telegraph