Pakistan in danger of falling to Taliban

I am posting this rather sanguine piece by Joel Brinkley, a Professor at Stanford University. While the threat may be real (or exaggerated), his prescription is typical of the Western analysts whereby he urges the West/USA to safeguard (read control) the Pakistani nukes. I mean this is such a ridiculous discourse. What about the 180 million people and the havoc that any confrontation will cause. War mongers will remain savage as ever. Perhpas he should also advise his charismatic and false-hope President to pull out of Afghanistan and instead let the UN deal with the siutation. But, that cannot happen as the ‘strategic’ interests of the US will remain paramount. So what if millions die as they have in Iraq? RR

Sunday, April 26, 2009

As everyone knows, President Obama inherited a multitude of domestic and international problems. But of all the foreign dilemmas right now, none rivals Pakistan. It is in serious danger of falling to the Taliban.

Can you imagine – a large, nuclear-armed state in Central Asia, ruled by cousins of the people who governed Afghanistan when it served as a congenial home for Osama bin Laden and all his murderous minions?

But the warnings are coming fast and thick from the highest officials, including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces in that part of the world. The Taliban and allied extremists, he told the Senate this month, “could literally take down their state.” Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s president, reflecting on American proposals for saving his nation, told a group of reporters: “It’s a long walk. And in that long walk, I am losing the people of Pakistan.”

In February, Taliban extremists fought the Pakistani army to a draw and won agreement to establish a safe haven in the Swat Valley, just 100 miles from Islamabad, the capital. At that time, I.A. Rehman, head of Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, said the Taliban and their militant allies were poised to take over the Punjab province, home to 60 percent of the population. That has begun. Militants are taking control, one by one, of poor villages in northwest Punjab – beginning the spread of an insidious fungus that could eat the state.

On Wednesday, Taliban militia took control of the Bunar district, just 70 miles from Islamabad, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to warn: “I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances” of the Taliban.

The Pakistani police and military seem powerless to stop it. They lack the will to take on this fight, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has been arguing in recent days.

“They’re in denial,” said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department intelligence analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan. “There’s no sense of urgency,” even though Pakistan is staring down the barrel “of a full blown, indigenous insurgency.”

Even now, with the state’s very existence at stake, military leaders continue their feckless debate over whether their central mission should be to prepare for a war with India – or take on these domestic threats. At the same time, American officials have begun urgently warning (what everyone already knew) that Inter-Services Intelligence agency officers are actually aiding the militants.

Meantime, Zardari provided a powerful symbol of his government’s impotence. Earlier this month, a cell-phone video showed a Taliban enforcer flogging a 17-year-old girl lying face down in the dirt. Her crime: refusing a marriage proposal. The video made its way onto the Web and spawned outrage across the nation and the world; Pakistan’s Supreme Court opened an investigation.

Well, amid all of this, Zardari signed an order codifying the Taliban’s right to extend Islamic law across the Swat Valley. A Taliban spokesman said that if the order had been signed earlier, the Taliban would not have merely whipped that unfortunate girl. They would have shot her.

Haven’t we seen this play before – in Cuba, Cambodia, Nicaragua? In all three states, richly corrupt governments that were ill-serving the people still received unqualified support from Washington. American patronage of corrupt leaders fed enthusiasm for Fidel Castro’s guerrilla army in Cuba, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua.

Certainly each of these previous revolutions had its own unique dynamics, but in each case Washington and the threatened foreign leaders remained in denial until it was too late.

This time, Washington is waking up. But there’s not much the United States can do. As Weinbaum put it, “if we put our hands on it, it’s not helpful.” He also told me that he used to discount the doomsayers who prophesied Pakistan’s downfall. “This is not Afghanistan,” he would say. “Pakistan has institutions and people advantaged by them who won’t let Pakistan fall apart.”

But he has changed his mind. “It’s a feudal conflict now, class warfare. We weren’t thinking of it in the terms that we are today.”

At a conference in Tokyo this month, a dozen nations pledged $5 billion in aid to Pakistan. At the same time, a prominent radical leader in Islamabad made a loud public call demanding imposition of Islamic law nationwide. Which, I wonder, had the greatest impact inside Pakistan?

Pakistan’s oligarchy is beginning to realize it cannot rely on the military for protection; the generals now know that they cannot assume all of their men are on their side. Soon, as the situation deteriorates, we could begin to see wealthy political and business leaders pack up and move out of the country. The Pentagon may have to pull up its contingency plans for safeguarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Get ready.

Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times. To comment to him, e-mail brinkley@foreign-matters.com. Contact us at forum@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/04/26/INSJ176CI1.DTL

This article appeared on page H – 8 of the San Francisco Chronicle




Comments are closed.