Memo to Media: Supporting Musharraf is NOT Realism
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Now that I am out of Pakistan, I can watch international news again. (General Musharraf, author of the doctrine of “enlightened moderation,” has shut down access to international cable channels, presumably because they undermine the fight against international terrorism.) I have been able to watch the same lawyer in Multan get arrested several times. I have seen Benazir Bhutto arrive in Islamabad, sticking her head out of an armored car in case anyone would like to make up for missing it in Karachi.
Watching the international media framing the events reminded me of a Bob Dylan song I was listening to on the plane:
If there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now.
I see Bush talking about his “freedom agenda,” Musharraf at the White House, arrested lawyers, turbaned Taliban taking over another town in northwest Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto asking the world to live up to its ideals, U.S. planes swooping over Afghanistan, Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein on behalf of President Reagan (that sure worked out real swell!), and, finally, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, explaining that China can help us with North Korea, Saudi Arabia can help us against Iran, and that sometimes democracy promotion has to take a back seat to security concerns.
This is supposedly “realism,” not just in the sense of being tough rather than idealistic, but in following the analytic and prescriptive precepts of the realist paradigm in international relations. According to this paradigm, the main actors in international relations are states, states act out of rational motives of self-preservation, these self-regarding interests result largely from international power relations, and the internal structure of states is largely both independent of their international behavior and impervious to international influence. Hence promoting democracy is a noble endeavor that has limited effect and sometimes has to be subordinated to urgent security interests. In the case of Pakistan, the realist frame states, “Even if General Musharraf is a dictator, we need his help in the war against terror.”
I agree that promoting democracy (even if it were done sincerely and intelligently, which is not the usual practice) sometimes has less priority than other goals. In any case, democracy cannot function without internal security and the rule of law.
But don’t the reporters notice that the very pictures they are showing contradict the realist frame? General Musharraf has not suspended the constitution to fight terrorism. He has not even continued to fight terrorism while suspending the constitution for other reasons. Of course the Pakistan Army is happy to pocket the $100 million a year it receives for giving the U.S. basing rights and otherwise supporting the effort in Afghanistan (while undermining it in other — and cheaper — ways). The Pakistan Army is not about to commit suicide by openly defying the whole international community and cutting off support for NATO operations in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile Musharraf sent his police to arrest lawyers, liberal politicians, and human rights activists, while doing virtually nothing against those Taliban in their scary turbans, who are taking over Swat:
The imposition of emergency in Pakistan has not put any pressure on Taliban in Swat district. Taliban have taken over police stations in Matta, Khawazkhela and Charbagh. This scribe visited the Matta police station after the imposition of emergency in Pakistan. Taliban there have replaced the Pakistan’s flag with their own at the police station after more than 120 soldiers surrendered two days ago. Taliban commanders controlling Matta police station were not worried about the emergency.
Immediately after President Musharraf’s speech, the Pakistan Army swapped 25 Taliban fighters for 211 kidnapped soldiers in South Waziristan. There was a feeling of achievement among local militants over the banning of private TV channels all over the country as they think Musharraf had accepted their point of view in this matter.
Taliban leader Maulvi Fazlullah is moving around half of the Swat area like a ruler with full protocol. He has appointed his own ‘governors’ in Kabal, Matta and Khawazkhela. He has also ordered setting up of Islamic courts for providing justice in areas under his control.
Why is this happening? Because an illegitimate military regime could not motivate the security forces it has trained for jihad in defense of Islamic Pakistan to fight against domestic jihadis, even if it really wanted to. Realism assumes that states are constituted once and for all and that their capacity is a function of their economies and order of battle, not their legitimacy. But that is wrong. In Afghanistan the Afghan National Army, on which the U.S. has spent billions of dollars, is being undermined by mullahs, who in some areas will not pray at the funerals of fallen ANA soldiers. Pakistani troops and police are surrendering rather than fight the militants at the behest of a dictator beholden to the U.S.
That does not mean, as stated in the usual blackmail note passed by Pakistani generals to American leaders, that only the Army stands between Islamabad’s nuclear weapons and a mass Islamic revolutionary uprising. Support for a Taliban government is marginal in Pakistan. Even the mainstream Islamist parties like Jamaat-i Islami, who support the “resistance” in Afghanistan, are against it. But the military regime has not been able to provide an alternative legitimate leadership, and its own institutional interests prevent it from doing so.
The military and in particular its leader, General Musharraf, has a vital interest in staying in power. The generals believe their own rhetoric, that their personal and institutional interest is identical to the national interest, but few other Pakistanis do, and we should not either. The problem of how to handle the tribal agencies illustrates the dilemma.
For the past 30 years, initially using U.S. and Saudi covert action funds, the Pakistani military empowered jihadi groups in the tribal agencies. Along with the growth of a commercial economy based on smuggling, drug trafficking, and remittances, this support to militants undermined the tribal leadership through which the British colonial state and its successor, the Pakistani military state, controlled the border region. This closed area provided a deniable platform for the “covert” use of jihadis against the USSR, India, and Afghanistan.
When the U.S. demanded that the military join the “War on Terror,” it responded by sending in the army and arresting some Arabs and Uzbeks, while leaving the Taliban able to operate in Afghanistan. When the U.S. finally demanded more action, Islamabad claimed that the local Pashtuns supported the Taliban and that therefore military action alone would not work. Instead they reached an agreement with government-controlled “tribal leaders” in South Waziristan to control militant activity. Some in the Pakistani government sincerely hoped this agreement would work. It did not. Trying to regain control of the tribal agencies by reviving the tribal leadership is like trying to reconstitute the Mediterranean out of bouillabaisse. (My apologies to Marseille.)
Pashtuns in the tribal agencies are constantly sending messages complaining of how the militants are terrorizing them, how they don’t want to be used against Afghanistan, and how they are being blamed for the covert actions imposed on them by the Pakistani military. A few days ago, after I gave a lecture at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, two students from NWFP came up to me in a very agitated state, with the same protests, that Pakhtuns are not Taliban and that this “terrorism” had been imposed on them. These areas are ripe for political leadership that would oppose both the militants — absorbing many of the youths they are recruiting — and military rule. But creating conditions for such leadership to develop would require not sending in the military to bomb and shell the tribes, but legalizing political parties and social organizations (which are outlawed in the tribal agencies) and enabling the people of the tribal agencies to exercise self-government. Rather than give up its own power, the military balances the militants and the weakened tribes.
Only a transition toward more democratic civilian rule would create a constituency that would enable the Pakistani state not just to suppress militants by force but to offer a legitimate alternative to militancy. This the military regime will not and cannot do. Only a democratic transition, with its attendant uncertainties, offers a chance for Pakistan not so much to defeat militancy as to render it irrelevant. Genuine realism — which includes an analysis of the role of legitimacy in state capacity — requires support for the rule of law and transition to democracy.
I met the sons of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertowns of despair
And what were both the sons of darkness and the sons of light looking for in those bordertowns?
Wise man lookin’ in a blade of grass
Young man lookin’ in the shadows that pass
Poor man lookin’ through painted glass
It shouldn’t be that hard to understand.
And then there’s this remarkable analysis which appeared as a link in the comments to the above post:
In the Shadow of Lal Masjid: The China Factor in Pakistani Politics
Americocentrism dies hard.
So it’s difficult for us to appreciate that the things we care about — like the global war on terror — may not be the most important factors in Pakistani affairs.
Pakistan’s alliance with China, which supports Islamabad’s confrontation with India and underpins its hopes for economic growth in its populous heartland, is probably a lot more important to Islamabad than the dangerous, destabilizing, and thankless task of pursuing Islamic extremists on its remote and impoverished frontiers at Washington’s behest.
I think the professionals in the Bush administration understand the strategic dynamic of China moving toward the center of Asian affairs even as our disliked and counterproductive policies push us to the margins.
So I would not be surprised if Washington’s muted official response to date on the constitutional crisis in Pakistan is attributable to acquiesence to China’s insistence that Washington not add to the difficulties of its loyal ally, Musharraf.
Officially, therefore, we’re not doing anything for now.
Unofficially may be another matter.
Encouragement of a coup by Musharraf’s Number 2, General Ishfaq Pervaiz Kiyani is coming from somewhere, including the time-honored technique — at least familiar to readers of Chinese historical fiction — of trying to force his hand by announcing he had executed the coup even before it happened.
Even as Benazir Bhutto gauchely auditions for the role of America’s client, announces her confidence in Kiyani, and promises to divert Pakistani military energy and lives away from the heartland — and the Indian border — the wastes of Waziristan, I wonder how well she’ll fare in a country where Osama bin Laden is more popular than George W. Bush, India is despised and the Taliban is honored, China is a core strategic and economic partner — and the United States and its concerns are unpopular and on the periphery.
For good reason, China is never far from the mind of Musharraf and Pakistan’s military elite.
China’s presence and interests in Pakistan dwarf America’s.
Beijing and Islamabad’s strategic priorities — countering India and nurturing economic development before confronting extremists in the hinterland — are in perfect sync.
The two nations grew even closer when the Bush administration abandoned the Pakistan-centric order of battle of the Global War on Terror and opted for closer ties with India in the service of what looks like a different strategic objective — an attempt to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia.
So, it would be rather ironic if the road to President Musharraf’s downfall began at a Chinese massage parlor in Islamabad.
It was, after all, the provocative kidnapping of 7 PRC nationals that compelled Musharraf — reportedly under heavy Chinese pressure — to abandon a policy of appeasement and compromise with Islamic militants at the Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad and, in July of this year, launch a bloody assault that revealed the extent of the security crisis at the heart of the Pakistani military regime and displayed to the U.S. Musharraf’s — and Pakistan’s — wholehearted reliance on China.
In the speech announcing the state of emergency, Musharraf broke into English to tell us what he hoped we wanted to hear, evoking Lincoln as he tried to justify his move to the United States, the EU, and the Commonwealth as a response to judicial activism.
On the other hand, in his remarks in Urdu directed to the local audience as translated by Barnett Rubin , Musharraf cited the Lal Masjid mosque crisis — not the pursuit of al Qaeda and its allies in the border regions — as the primary instance of terrorism and extremism afflicting Pakistan.
And when he commiserated with the victims of terrorism, he took the opportunity to give a heartfelt shout-out to the Chinese, not to the United States:
Now. We saw the event of Lal Masjid in Islamabad where extremists took law into their own hands. In the heart of Pakistan – capital city – and to the great embarrassment of the nation around the world… These people – what didn’t they do? – these extremists. They martyred police. They took police hostage. They burned shops. The Chinese, who are such great friends of ours – they took the Chinese hostage and tortured them. Because of this, I was personally embarrassed. I had to go apologize to the Chinese leaders, “I am ashamed that you are such great friends and this happened to you”.
Now, about the standoff at the mosque.
One could describe it as Pakistan’s Waco — if Waco had taken place in the heart of Washington, D.C.
It didn’t get the attention it deserved. As the Times of India dryly observed of the attack that claimed at least 100 and perhaps 1000 lives:
…the week-long stand-off that ended in a massacre on Tuesday attracted little attention in the US, where focus is more on the debate over a pullout from Iraq. In fact, a news channel on Tuesday cut into a story on Lal Masjid to bring breaking news of a small airplane crash in Florida.
Lal Masjid was controlled by militant clerics who not only proclaimed their interpretation of sharia law—they enforced it.
An otherwise sympathetic observer declared:
One cannot have any objection to the Lal Masjid just preaching implementation of Sharia in Pakistan. So many organizations are doing so, one more cannot be objected to. The right of any Muslim to preach adoption of Sharia is one thing but to take the powers of implementing his own version of Sharia is another, and the latter is a function of the State.
Lal Masjid stands in revolt when it establishes its own Sharia courts, it passes judgments, and imprisons Pakistanis and foreigners.
Musharraf’s administration had its hands full with the militant, confrontational, and well-connected (to the intelligence services) cleric who ran the mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz.
The difficulties involved can be seen from this excerpt from a timeline of the mosque crisis compiled by B. Raman, an Indian China-watcher who is assiduous in washing Pakistan’s dirty linen on the site Intellibriefs:
January 22, 2007: Female students of the Jamia Hafsa madrasa attached to the Lal Masjid in Islamabad occupied a Children’s Library adjacent to their madrasa to protest against the demolition of seven unauthorised mosques constructed on roads in Islamabad by which President Pervez Musharraf often travels. The mosques were demolished on the advice of his personal security staff.
February 13, 2007: The authorities agreed to rebuild one of the demolished mosques to end the library standoff, but the students refused to vacate the library.
March 27, 2007: The female students, along with their male colleagues from the Jamia Faridia, another madrasa attached to the mosque, raided a house near the mosque and kidnapped a woman, her daughter-in-law and her six-month-old granddaughter for allegedly running a brothel. They were released after they “repented”.
March 28, 2007: Some students of the two madrasas took three policemen hostage in retaliation for the arrest of some students by the police. The hostages were released on March 29.
March 30, 2007: Some madrasa students visited CD and video shops in the capital and warned the shop owners that they should either switch to another business or face the “consequences”.
April 6, 2007: The Lal Masjid set up its own Sharia court. The mosque’s chief cleric, Abdul Aziz, warned of “thousands of suicide attacks” if the Government tried to shut it down.
April 9, 2007: The Sharia court issued a fatwa condemning the then Tourism Minister Nilofar Bakhtiar after newspapers pictured her hugging her parachuting instructor in France.
You get the picture. Escalating confrontation, with the government conciliating, accommodating, and backing down.
After exposing the skydiving outrage, the students of Lal Masjid turned their attention to another font of impurity—a Chinese-run massage parlor in Islamabad.
The epic was reported in great detail in Pakistan Today:
First, the abduction:
Male and female students of Jamia Faridia, Jamia Hafsa and Beaconhouse School System, in a joint operation, kidnapped the Chinese women and Pakistani men shortly after midnight Friday from a Chinese massage centre, working at House No 17, Street 4, F-8/3, alleging that they were running a brothel. …
Riding in three vehicles, the students … raided the massage centre located in the posh Islamabad sector. They overpowered three Pakistani males and guards posted there after thrashing them.
They, later, entered the building and ordered those present there to accompany them. On refusal, the students thrashed them and forcibly took them to the Jamia Hafsa compound. They accused the abducted people of rendering un-Islamic and unlawful services.
Ghazi [of Lal Masjid] said the China massage centre was involved in sex trade and complaints were being received about it since long. “Even housewives used to tell us by phone that the centre charges Rs 1,000 for massage while by paying Rs 500, something else was also available,” he said.
Then the anxious confab with the Chinese:
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were earlier given minute-by-minute reports of the negotiations regarding the release of the hostages. … The prime minister was in contact with the Islamabad administration and the Interior Ministry and getting minute-by-minute reports from State Minister for Interior Zafar Warriach.
The Chinese ambassador contacted President Hu Jintao two times during the 15-hour hostage drama, sources said. The ambassador called his president while holding talks with Pakistan Muslim League chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain at his residence.
… Sources quoted President Hu Jintao, expressing shock over the kidnapping of the Chinese nationals, has called for security for them. The ambassador informed his president about his talks with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The PML leader also got telephonic contact established between the hostages and the ambassador.
The ignominious conclusion:
The release came only after Deputy Commissioner Chaudhry Muhammad Ali and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Zafar Iqbal, who held talks with the Lal Masjid administration, beseeched it for five hours and even touched the knees of some leading clerics while begging for the freedom of the abductees.
Finally, the tellingly sleazy detail:
The administration quietly let two “big shots”, Pakistani customers, go and released their vehicles, seized from outside the massage centre… The identity of these clients is not being disclosed.
Beyond President Hu Jintao’s tender regard for the security and livelihood of Chinese masseuses, there was obviously a larger issue at stake. China did not want to see its citizens and interests to become pawns in Pakistan’s internal strife.
It’s a non-trivial point for China, which lacks the military reach to effectively protect its overseas citizens itself, but does not want to see them turned into the bargaining chip of first resort for dissidents in dangerous lands like Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, and etc. who are looking to get some leverage on the local government–or Beijing.
It looks like China demanded that Pakistan draw a red line at the abduction, extortion, and murder of its citizens.
A week after the kidnapping incident, Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister was in Beijing.
Once more from the Intellibriefs timeline:
June 29, 2007: The “Daily Times” of Lahore wrote in an editorial as follows: “During his visit to Beijing, Sherpao got an earful from the Chinese Minister of Public Security, Zhou Yongkang, who asked Pakistan for the umpteenth time to protect Chinese nationals working in Pakistan. The reference was to the assault and kidnapping of Chinese citizens in Islamabad by the Lal Masjid vigilantes. The Chinese Minister called the Lal Masjid mob “terrorists” who targeted the Chinese, and asked Pakistan to punish the “criminals”.
One factor that would have intensified Chinese alarm and exasperation was a report that the attack on the massage parlor revealed a tie-up between Pakistan’s Islamic militants and Uighur separatists:
Mr.Sherpao also reported that the Chinese suspected that the raid on the massage parlour was conducted by some Uighur students studying in the Lal Masjid madrasa and that the Chinese apprehended that Uighur “terrorists” based in Pakistan might pose a threat to the security of next year’s Olympics in Beijing.
In early July Musharraf apparently was able to invoke China’s anger to overcome resistance within his armed forces, and move against Lal Masjid.
Even so, he was forced to employ troops personally loyal to him, as the Weekly Standard reported:
China applied enormous pressure to Musharraf. His previous attempts to order military strikes against the Lal Masjid had met with rebuffs. In late January, after the Pakistani army refused to raid the mosque, Musharraf ordered his air force to do so–only to see this order refused as well. Musharraf’s eventual solution was to send in 111 Brigade, which is personally loyal to him.
The mosque was encircled by 15,000 troops and the siege proceeded in a dilatory fashion…until three Chinese were murdered in remote Peshawar, apparently in retaliation for the siege.
China Daily reported:
Police officer Abdul Karim said that it was a robbery attempt.
But one witness said that attackers with face covered were shouting religious slogans when they opened fire on four Chinese nationals in a three-wheel auto-rickshaw factory at Khazana, a town some eight kilometers from Peshawar, the capital city of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.
The Chinese outlets splashed the story all over the media, including their embassy websites, complete with atrocity photos—a treatment that the unfortunate demise of rickshaw factory employees doesn’t usually attract.
Tarique Niazi describes the denouement:
On July 2, barely a week after the abduction, the government ordered 15,000 troops around the mosque compound to flush out the militants. On July 4, it arrested the leader of the militants, Maulana Abdul Aziz … After apprehending the leader, government troops moved to choking off the militants’ supplies of food, water, and power. But as soon as word of the revenge killing of three Chinese on July 8 reached Islamabad, it created a “perfect storm” for Gen. Musharraf. Embarrassed and enraged, he reversed the troops’ strategy and ordered them, on July 10, to mount an all-out assault at the mosque, in which Aziz’s brother and his deputy, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, together with as many as 1,000 people, was killed.
A trusted ally demands real, meaningful, and risky action by Pakistan against terrorism. Because of the importance of the ally, the proximity of the threat to the political and economic heart of the country, and the tactical and strategic merits of the action, Pakistan responds positively.
That ally is, of course, China.
Not the United States.
And that’s probably not going to change even if Benazir Bhutto takes power.