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Posted by wmmbb in CENTRAL ASIA, US Politics.

The United States of America, despite its president’s politics of empathy and the global financial crisis, still acts as the Uber-Power.

There seems to be a contempt for the sovereignty of other governments, whether they be Britain or Pakistan. Afghanistan is supposedly an United Nations operation with troops from a number of other countries including Australia. The US seems to be setting the policy directions without consultation with the United Nations.

The presidential system is not based as is the parliamentary system on a cabinet. In the latter system the prime minister can dominate decisions, but sometimes there are real differences and real debates. In the American system, if I am right, its seems that the advisers to the president can have as much influence as cabinet officers, and they are not politically accountable. An young and inexperienced president, such as Obama, can be trapped in the bubble, and the skillful courtesans representing the interests of, for example, the military-industrial complex can exercise enormous influence. The checks and balances of Congressional oversight seems to be broken beyond repair. Group think rules, something that Nixon, regardless of his faults, was aware of. In so far as Defence goes, Obama has taken over the Bush policy setter and framing. The military mind, despite counter-insurgency theory, seems incapable of seeing the world in social and political terms. Perhaps the underlying assumption is that violence solves every problem seen through the prism of a command and control structure.

Why was not a longer game played in relation to Pakistan? It is all very well to set up the Pakistan army to attack the Taliban without any apparent consideration of the consequences, or are they simply irrelevant to American policy? So much for the presumption of empathy?
Clinton’s hysterical talk about an existential threat was as hysterical as it was ill-advised, reflecting her neophyte status in the management of foreign policy, but more accurately the mental outlook of her advisers, and at the same time pre-empting, like other quick fixes, the longer view.

Surely a political analysis would have been made of the state of the Pakistan government. The following is from Speigel article by Susanne Koelbl and Gabor Steingart which goes into other issues such as the role of the army as the dominant political force in Pakistan and their militant Islamists, the strained relationship with India and the loss of Bangladesh, the nationalist significance of the nuclear weapons:

But Pakistan’s key vulnerability may not actually lie with the security system for its nuclear warheads. A greater threat to the 166 million Pakistanis appears to emanate from the country’s immeasurably corrupt society, with its stark class differences. The rich elite ignore the miseries of the poor, and there is no compulsory education or functioning judiciary or health-care system. This makes society’s underprivileged particularly receptive to any form of attention, even from the otherwise dreaded Islamists. The militants at least offer income and opportunities to rise through the ranks. The social services of the radicals are almost as well organized as those offered by the country’s other main concentration of power — the military.

Residents in the Swat Valley region used to have to pay up to 15,000 rupees to initiate court proceedings, more than twice the monthly salary of a civil servant and the equivalent of over €140 ($186). It was not unusual for them to wait as long as four years for a decision. The door was wide open to corruption.

Now a butcher who sells old meat is punished in public with 35 cane lashes. A farmer whose land is stolen by a rival is given justice because a Taliban commander picks up the phone and tells the accused that he will have to bear “the consequences.”

To pay their fighters, the Taliban are tapping new resources. Near Mingora and in Shamozai they have seized government emerald mines. They pocket one-third of the output themselves, and two-thirds is distributed to the workers, who have received a significant raise. Before the Islamists arrived, the wood mafia controlled all the forests in the Swat Valley. Now the profits are being redistributed. Many landowners have already left the region.

By contrast, the powerful army is more concerned with pursuing its own business deals than with protecting the Pakistanis from Islamist aggressors. The military is the biggest market player in the country. Generals buy and sell real estate, occupy top positions in think tanks and manage large export companies. Their children attend army-owned schools and occasionally play on squash courts that are paved with marble.

The military intends to hold onto these sinecures. This also explains the latest army offensive against the Taliban in the run-up to President Zardari’s visit in Washington — it was aimed at placating the Americans, who have backed Pakistan with almost $10 billion in military aid since 2001.

The policy of the US is directed is therefore directed to propping up a corrupt system, and even if the Taliban are comprehensively defeated that system will remain.

Even in immediate terms the question is: Why was not the problem created by a flow of refugees number perhaps over three million people not anticipated? The implication is that the relevant policy makers do not care, or else they believe such a massive dislocation of people can be fixed quickly. The latter I suspect amounts to what Barbara Tuchman described as a miscalculation of war.

The Machiavellian, or unforgivingly cynical view is that the refugees are a form of cultural destruction to destroy in part Pashtun familial and tribal solidarity. Andrew Buncombe in The Independent reports:

Until now, the worst of the problem has been kept largely out of sight. Of the total displaced by the military’s operations against the Taliban – the army yesterday claimed a crucial breakthrough, taking control of the Swat Valley’s main town, Mingora – just 200,000 people have been forced to live in the makeshift tent camps dotted around the southern fringe of the conflict zone. The vast majority were taken in by relatives, extended family members and local people wanting to help.

But this grassroots sense of charity is slowly starting to show real strain. In a week when the relentless danger of the militants was underlined by a massive car bomb in the city of Lahore that killed at least 30 people and injured hundreds more, aid groups have warned that the communities taking people in – already some of the planet’s poorest people – could themselves be displaced as they desperately sell their few assets to help the homeless.

In these “homestay” situations, some that exist purely because of tribal links between the displaced and those opening their doors, anywhere from 10 to 15 people are crowded into one room. A single latrine is shared by, on average, 35 people. Aid groups have called for a large and immediate injection of funds to help these host families who have stood forward to help those with nothing.

Graham Strong, the country director of the charity World Vision, said: “Families have provided refuge for up to 90 per cent of those escaping the fighting. They are sharing their homes, food, clothes and water. They are poor already and are making themselves poorer in the process. As the disaster continues, hosts are having to sell their land, cattle and other assets at far less than the market value to keep providing for their guests. The cultural ethic of generosity and hospitality means hosts are now facing the agonising choice between asking guests to leave and becoming destitute and displaced themselves.”

And Juan Cole points a factor that was inherently predictable:

There is an urgent need for the fighting to end soon, so that people can return to their homes and aid can reach the dispossessed. The monsoon, or rainy season, is coming, and with impromptu rivulets springing up, there will be danger of cholera and other water-borne diseases among the refugees living in tent cities with no proper sewage.

I think it is inconceivable that there will not be blowback from the presuite of the policies by the Pakistan Government, which will not have the resources or the infrastructure to deal expeditiously with the problem created, and that reaction will have a long fuse which has been now lit despite any other settlement in the Afghan-Pakistan War.

John Quiggin thinks that the Taliban are on the ropes, in essence because the military advantage of safe haven has been effectively now denied them and because in lesser part because of the alienating effect of their brutal method of meting out justice. Some of the other propositions are contested by the reporting quoted here.

But the real question is: What are the objectives of American policy? Is it simply crude imperialism to foster the continuation of the military-industrial complex, and internal economic construct with external implications? Still it is a costly business to attempt to run the world by military edict, and the costs are not simply economic. For example, they include burnt out troops overwhelmed by constant redeployment and angst of murder.

So what happened to the cause of justice and human friendship. We might recall the words of Martin Luther King from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

And now, possibly for the better, we are consciously global citizens, which means the suffering of others cannot escape our notice and compel us to act. Justice matters more than violence and power, in whatever forms they may be clothed in the immediate and long term. How else will we as a globe and a species be able to marshal our resources to face our dominate existential threat based on the inequity inherent in overconsumption and underconsumption?


Juan Cole is broadly supporting John Quiggin’s position. Juan Coles notes:

I was struck by the casualties announced Sunday. Nine Pakistani military personnel were killed in the fighting, including an officer, a lieutenant. And between Swat and Waziristan, Islamabad claimed to have killed 27 Taliban. If 9 US soldiers were killed in a single day in Iraq or Afghanistan, that would be headline news here. Just to say that the Pakistani military is making substantial sacrifices for this campaign if their numbers are accurate.

Nevertheless, the Pakistani media I follow in Urdu, including satellite t.v., suggests to me that the Taliban are increasingly unpopular and that there is substantial middle class public support for the Swat campaign. The major anxiety among Punjabis and Sindhis is that they will have to host large numbers of Pushtun refugees, draining resources at a time when the worlwide deep recession has already hit the country.

So far it is noted that extremists have not received electoral support in Pakistan, although as can be observed from the experience elsewhere that might not continue. How Pakistan deals with the stress of a significant refugee population and how quickly they return and resume their previous locations will be important. I suspect there is a underlying need for social change in Pakistan, and it is not surprising that the middle class might find common cause with a corrupt “elite”, to be externally supported by the United States. At some point the status quo, militants or fundamentalists or not withstanding, will cease to be tenable. The recipe then is not for lasting peace, but for continuing social violence. Reconciliation and a pragmatic justice are among the necessary conditions for peace, not just the illusion of peace.


Fred Branfman, at Truthdig, suggests that American policy, like that of the Soviets, is step by step drawing them into even larger quagmire. The course of wisdom might be to step back by first reconsidering the wisdom on the drone attacks, and perhaps defining a limited mission and exit strategy. It is likely to be Obama’s backpack and hat that floats by, and not Petraesus’.

Ayesha Ijaz Khan, at Counter Punch, sets straight some misconceptions. For example, foreigners might not be able to defeat the militants with their local knowledge, but the Pakistani Army can and will. She does not mention the IDP from the military actions in the Swat Valley. She suggests that everything that I have said is wrong.



1. daggett - June 1, 2009

Thanks for this helpful article about the conflict in Pakistan. It’s possible now to see why people in the Swat valley would see rule by the Taliban as preferable to rule by the Pakistan government, for reasons other than their having been brainwashed by Mullahs. In a similar fashion it it was possible for me to understand why Palestinians have come to support Hamas rather than the (corrupt) secular nationalist Al Fatah.

Personally, I believe the whole region would have been better off if the US and Pakistan had not deliberately subverted the left-nationalist Afghan government of Noor Mohammed Taraki, which came to power in 1978.

Their use of Islamic fundamentalism against a progressive secular left-wing government unleashed a dynamic where today, a movement, which appears to have evolved from that regressive movement of a generation ago, appears preferable to the Pakistan Government, at least in the Swat Valley.

On another matter, I would be interested to learn whether the elephant in the living room, namely unanswered questions concerning 9/11, which remains the pretext for this conflict, is as taboo here as it is on John Quiggin’s blog.

The post which was deleted most recently by John Quiggin included the following quote from President John F Kennedy:

“Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy.”

I trust that you feel less threatened by controversy than Professor Quiggin appears to be.

2. wmmbb - June 1, 2009

Thanks for the comment daggett. I tend to agree with you in relation to the overthrow of the Afghan Government supposed by the Soviets and opposed by the conservative religious tribal leaders., You may be interested in the five parts of the CNN video, Soldiers of God, I found that deal with the Soviet period. (I have identified all the parts in consecutive order here.)

In relation to this whole history and current developments, I am in information overload mode.

Regarding 911 and conspiracy, I believe John’s concern is that comments can trail off into weird and wonderful areas so that the topic of the post gets lost. He has more commenters. I think he is requesting relevance rather than consensus.

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