Pakistan: Another diplomatic "triumph" for Condi

My piece from the January 2008 issue of Chronicles magazine:(and sorry about speaking ill of the dead...)
Condi Rice had a vision: It was springtime
in Pakistan, and love was in the
air—which was an ideal time for a
chick flick. From the lady who brought
us the Shiite-Sunni Love Fest in Iraq,
Fatah-Hamas: Isn’t It Romantic? in Palestine,
The Amorous Cedars in Lebanon,
not to mention the first season
of Democratic Idol in Ukraine (Viktor
Yushchenko) and Georgia (Mikheil
Saakashvili) would come a new production,
A Match Made in Heaven, starring
small-time military dictator Gen.
Pervez Musharraf and the slick and
crooked ex-Prime Minister Benazir
At the Happy End of this new romantic
drama would come the ultimate
Celebration of Sisterhood: Two
hip babes are brought together—Rice,
the symbol of the powerful awakening
of African-American feminism,
commanding the world’s attention
with her pair of black knee-high boots,
hugs Bhutto, whose trademark white
scarf and diamond-studded designer
glasses project the new face of modern
and progressive Muslim women
everywhere and nowhere.
When we try to deconstruct the modus
operandi of powerful men, we are
urged to search for the woman behind
the throne. In the case of Benazir, we
should probably “cherche les hommes,”
where we will find Bhutto Père, Zulfikar
Ali, a bloody tyrant and founder
of his country’s nuclear program
(hanged); brother Murtaza, a left-wing
terrorist (killed on his sister’s orders);
and corrupt hubby Asif Ali Zardari.
These are probably some of the best
and the brightest public figures that
Pakistan has produced. And, yes, the
apple didn’t fall far from the trees. Witness
what Jemima Khan (née Goldsmith),
the British socialite who was
once married to Pakistani cricket player
Imran Khan, had to say about Bhutto:
“Benazir may speak the language
of liberalism and look good on Larry
King’s sofa, but both her terms in office
were marked by incompetence,
extra-judicial killings and brazen looting
of the treasury,” Jemima wrote
in Britain’s daily Telegraph. “Benazir
has always cynically used her gender
to manipulate: I loved her answer to
David Frost when he asked her how
many millions she had in her Swiss
bank accounts. ‘David, I think that’s
a very sexist question.’ A non sequitur
(does loot have a gender?) but one
that brought the uncomfortable line
of questioning to a swift end. Of all
Pakistan’s elected leaders she conspicuously
did the least to help the cause
of women. She never, for example, repealed
the Hudood Ordinances, Pakistan’s
controversial laws that made no
distinction between rape and adultery.
She preferred instead to kowtow
to the mullahs in order to cling
to power, forming an expedient alliance
with Pakistan’s Religious Coalition
Party and leaving Pakistan’s women
as powerless as she found them.”
And the former Mrs. Khan concludes:
“The problem is that the West never
seems to learn; playing favorites in a
complicated nation’s politics always
backfires. Imposing Benazir on Pakistan
is the opposite of democratic
and doubtless will cause more chaos
in an already unstable country. Make
no mistake, Benazir may look the part,
but she’s as ruthless and conniving as
they come—a kleptocrat in a Hermes
So after discovering that “regime
change” and democracy promotion
seemed to have failed everywhere she
has tried it,, Condi decided to try it
again—this time, in Pakistan, with
Benazir (who does make Yushchenko
and Saakashvili look like Jeffersonian
democrats) supposedly leading her
people to another promised land of
Indeed, Condi and her boss seemed
to regard the warnings by George
Santayana and Karl Marx, respectively
(“Those who cannot remember the
past are condemned to repeat it” and
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy,
second as farce”) as policy prescriptions:
When you cannot get out of one
hole, start digging new ones. Hence,
Rice and Bush agreed that Washington
needs to “do something” in order
to force Pakistan’s President General
Musharraf—whom Washington
helped to sustain in power with billions
of U.S. dollars—to “take off” his
military uniform and allow free elections
in the country. Infatuated with
Benazir, whose performance suggests
that she auditioned to play the role of
Corazon Aquino in a Pakistani remake
of the Philippines’ “People’s Power”
extravaganza, they concluded that they
could succeed in adding another color
to the U.S.-sponsored democratic revolutions
and, in the process, emerge as
a leading opponent of radical Islamic
And according to the script written
in Washington, the American producer
would not only choreograph the
election of a woman who is committed
to “liberal democratic values” but
would even succeed in winning Musharraf’s
agreement to play the role of
supporting actor (as president) in the
film, while Pakistan’s powerful military
would be coopted as extras.
On the other hand, a filmmaker
doing a documentary about Pakistan
would have to consider that, like
Iraq, Pakistan is not a unified nationstate
but a disjointed confederation
of many ethnic, religious, and tribal
groups. Indeed, the regime cannot
even control large parts of the country
that are dominated by tribal leaders
with links to the Taliban.
Moreover, Pakistani politics is a depressing
story of military coups, civil
wars, assassinations, and ethnic and
religious bloodbaths—and a lot of corruption,
much of which has been tolerated
by Washington in exchange for
Pakistani support during the Cold War
and in the “War on Terror.” Bhutto
and her illustrious family have been
very much an integral part of this story.
Hence, “Pakistani democracy” is
an oxymoron—and buying into the
notion that Bhutto would lead one
reflects an astounding naiveté, if not
Considering that, at present, Osama
bin Laden is more popular than Musharraf
and Bush in Pakistan, was it realistic
to imagine that a political figure
who is very divisive would ride into
power with public support through a
political scheme designed in Washington?
Bhutto can surely talk the talk,
employing p.r. and lobbying firms to
market herself, an articulate and attractive
Western-educated female, as
America’s Woman in Islamabad. But
she lacks the power and the skills to
walk the walk. Even under the bestcase
scenario, she would end up playing
the role of the puppet of Pakistan’s
military and security services, just as
she did during her last reign.
Did we mention that Pakistan, unlike
Saddam’s Iraq—or, for that matter,
Ukraine and Georgia—has nuclear
Indeed, the strategic importance of
Pakistan in the context of the War on
Terror and instability in the broader
Middle East suggests that the country
should not be subject at this point in
time to one of America’s exercises in
“regime change.” The most intriguing
and disturbing historical analogy
that is being discussed in Washington
these days is the failed U.S.
strategy to choreograph a transition
of power when the shah of Iran was
facing growing opposition to his rule
in the late 1970’s. American meddling,
which helped force him out of power
while pressing the military to refrain
from taking control, created the conditions
for the 1979 Islamic Revolution
and the electoral triumph of Ayatollah
Khomeini and his allies.
Indeed, the worst-case scenario for
Pakistan is not the continuing rule of
a repressive military regime; after all,
the military had ruled Pakistan directly
for more than half the country’s existence.
The nightmarish scenario
that should cause sleepless nights for
U.S. officials is one in which continuing
instability in Pakistan leads to a violent
civil war that could bring to power
in the country—or in parts of it—a
radical Islamic force.
The “Talibanization” of Pakistan
would be regarded as a tremendous
victory for Bin Laden and his allies.
Not only would they be able to establish
their power in a strategic part of
the world, but they would also have access
to the country’s nuclear military
arsenal, making it more likely that the
next September 11 would involve the
use of weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. “alliance” with Pakistan’s
Musharraf after September 11 was
based mostly on Realpolitik considerations,
and here one can certainly
make the argument that the Bush administration’s
policy has been a failure:
The Pakistanis have not delivered
the remnants of the Taliban and Al
Qaeda (including, perhaps, Bin Laden)
who are hiding in Pakistan’s mountains.
Washington should force Musharraf
and the Pakistani military to deliver
on their commitments to fight
terrorism and work with Afghanistan
and India to eradicate Islamic terrorists.
From this perspective—one of
U.S. national interests as opposed to
Wilsonian daydreams—the problem
that Washington is facing in Islamabad
is not the rule by a strongman
but the rule by a strongman who is really
not very strong or very effective in
delivering on his promises.
—Leon Hadar

Also check out my interview on VOA about Pakistan here and a selection of my commentaries on the same topic here.

Update: A few points I made in interviews today:
The military continues to be in control in Pakistan including the nukes. Any political changes will be an outcome of decisions by the Generals who’ll be looking for a U.S. green light for any dramatic move. One option: Replacing Musharraf with another military figure who could make a hollow commitment to peaceful transition of power, democracy, etc. My view: Washington should stop wasting time on promoting democracy in Pakistan and instead figure out ways to protect its two major interests in the country: safeguarding the nuclear weapons and capturing Osama and his gang. The rest is marginal from U.S. perspective.


Anonymous said…
I have a different, more positive view of Bhutto here.

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