I wrote earlier that this blog is not the go-to place for analysis on what last night's election results mean for defense policy, but it then occurred to me that my office is right next to that of Richard Fontaine, who until last year served as Sen. John McCain's principal advisor on defense and foreign policy issues. I walked approximately two meters from my desk and asked Rich what we should expect from the new Congress. His response:
My take on what the Republican takeover of the House means for U.S. defense policy: not a dramatic shift. Secretary Gates has pushed for real increases in the defense budget throughout the Obama years, and while he is not the sole determiner of that budget within the administration (see OMB, among others), you can expect him to work with Republicans in the House to build support for it. Some of the Republican leadership will support defense expenditures above the president’s request; incoming House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon said this morning that “one percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation’s homeland.” That’s not the only part of the budget story, however, as the wave of new Republicans includes a number of fiscal conservatives who will push for across the board cuts, including in defense. Look for a fight on that front, which I’d expect the Republican leadership to win. You’ll probably also see the Republicans push for full – or greater – funding of some of their key priorities, such as missile defense.
The Republican majority will support keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but this can’t really be a determining factor. I’ve read news articles asserting that Republicans will “pressure” Obama not to withdraw troops. That may be, but there is no way they can force the President to keep troops in the field if he wants to withdraw them. During the debate over withdrawal from Iraq, the Democratic majority in the Congress couldn’t force President Bush to withdraw troops, which is easier to do as a legislative matter.
Finally, I’d note that there is an issue still on the table before the new Congress is seated. The National Defense Authorization Act has passed the Congress every year for more than four decades. It has run aground this year and whether it passes between now and December 31 is uncertain, to say the least.
Look for greater implications in other foreign policy spheres: trade, development assistance, etc. But not for great drama on the defense front.
Rich made me promise that I would not use "No Drama, Obama" as the title of this post. Too obvious, he felt.
Update: Rep. McKeon released a pretty unsurprising statement today with which I have only one big gripe. Rep. McKeon says he wants a defense budget "not weighed down by the current majority’s social agenda items." That's a pretty obvious dig at the administration's attempt to end the ban on gays in the military. But if Rep. McKeon supports the current Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, he should say so in less coded terms. Because the current policy also reflects a social agenda (in this case, a social agenda now out of step with the American people). In fact, everything about the defense budget reflects a social agenda: what kind of military we have and how we fund it says a lot about Americans as a society -- our norms, our values, our priorities.
It was pretty obvious that the Republicans were going to win the House of Representatives and that Buck McKeon would be the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. But I was hoping that Skelton would at least win re-election and stay in the committee. The fact that he has now lost his seat is a loss for the entire national security community. Widely respected by both Democrats and Republicans, Skelton leaves the Congress and takes his 30 years of experience with him. And though I for one will miss his genial presence on the HASC, I'm sure Skelton himself -- always the gold standard for civility while in the Congress -- will move back to Missouri and find more time to read the Civil War histories he enjoys. I wish him -- and his successor, Rep. McKeon -- the best of luck.
Update: To be sure, this isn't really the blog to follow for defense policy in the legislative branch, but there are some good comments in this thread.
A couple of people have made the point that I skipped over India in my overview of Pakistan-US relations. It's a fair point. India is a post by itself (hence the new post). India does of course come into the equation in any discussions about Pakistan and the US, and that's likely to increase in the future. I don't mean to downplay the India angle, but from the point of view of US-Pak relations, it still boils down to the issue of Pakistan's political and economic independence, which itself comes down to building a stable political system internally.
But yes, there's more to Pakistan's relationship with India than just that... India is special because it is intrinsically linked to Pakistan's self image.
A Pakistani diplomat I met in Jordan once asked me, "You've worked in the Middle East. Tell me, how is it that the Arabs are so much better at building a long-term relationship with the US than us."
The question troubled me on a number of levels. I know the diplomat is thinking about the aid Egypt has received since 1982, and continual political and diplomatic support that has allowed the Egyptian state to become a disfigured behemoth. Jordan is propped up by military aid and free trade agreements while Saudi Arabia (and other Gulf states) find excuses to push their cash towards America so they get the big-power umbrella they need to survive. The main threat to these countries is that the ruling family will be deposed by their own people. I'd never worked in Pakistan at that point, and I found it worrying that from what I knew about the place. The fact that Pakistan isn't a centralised one-party/family state is a strength. Did the Pakistani establishment really think becoming Egypt or Jordan was the best direction for their country?
Whereas Arab countries are fearful for their ruling families (probably rightly so), Pakistan's fear is India. And whereas America's relationship - individually - with each of those states is more important to the smaller country than to America, as a whole it represents the foreign policy strategy that America uses to maintain its economy and position in the world.
For the Arab states mentioned above (apart from Egypt) their present form is largely based around a ruling family. So their narrow ruling classes are right in seeing a threat to the rulers as a threat to the country as a whole. Pakistan is based on an idea rather than a ruling family. That idea is a vague political conceptualisation of Islam. The threat to that idea is personified by India. An India that includes a peaceful Muslim-majority Kashmir knocks the most basic sense of the idea behind Pakistan; that Muslims would risk being wiped out physically and culturally while also removed from the history books if they were subsumed by the Hindu masses. An India at war with itself (in Kashmir and other non-Muslim provinces) proves the idea that Pakistan's founders were right to push for self determination and escape the "clutches of the conceited Hindu rulers of India" (as they would have put it).
This doesn't mean India is totally blameless. Historical evidence suggests that Pakistan's founders didn't expect to have the kind of relationship with India the country has today. It's speculated that Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, left some of his family and property in India at the time of partition because he thought he'd be able to travel between the two new Commonwealth states that both retained the Queen as their head of state and senior British Army officers heading their armed forces. In the early days Pakistan and India briefly talked about common defence agreements even while Kashmir lay unresolved.
In reality, Pakistan's founders, Jinnah in particular, probably saw Pakistan as a largely secular Muslim state with cultural and economic ties to both the UK and India. The point of Pakistan, in his mind, was not that every South Asian Muslim should live under Muslim rule, but that Muslims of the subcontinent would again be able to chart their political and economic destiny on their own terms as they did before the Indian Mutiny (First War of Independence) of 1857. India, he thought, would behave better to its Muslim minority when its regional power was checked by a Muslim neighbour. Also, it's worth remembering that Pakistan's squaring up to India hasn't always seemed like total folly. For many years, Pakistan had higher (but more volatile) economic growth rates and its industrial base and infrastructure was superior. Although Pakistan had the smaller army, it modelled itself on the numerically inferior Western forces designed to face a larger Warsaw Pact opponent. An approach the Israelis have used successfully against their Arab foes. India has surged ahead in the past 15 years, while Pakistan has really struggled in the last five.
The only future for Pakistan is a truly independent one. Relying on China as its patron is not wise. If India and China make common cause, Pakistan will again be out in the cold. China also has a Muslim minority that it doesn't always treat well. The potential for linkages to develop between Pakistan-backed elements working with or influencing Chinese Muslim discontent is high.
The only real future for Pakistan (or any country) is a truly independent one so that it has the confidence to engage the wider world on the basis of mutual interest. Pakistan will need peace with India if it is to stand on its own feet. But peace with India means building some sort of national consensus around Pakistan's identity, which is going to be a seriously tough prospect. There are infinite parallel universes of competing interests and visions. The easier option (which India indirectly encouraged) has been to build an identity around the idea of anti-Indianess and finding a big power patron to support Pakistan enough to avoid having to do any real meaningful country building. The only sort of government that will be able to start that process will be one with popular legitimacy. ie a democratic government that is seen as competent and sincere. That in itself is a huge challenge.
But perhaps this is where US policy can come in useful. By pushing the two countries together and pressuring them to make a real and lasting peace with a solution to Kashmir could kickstart Pakistan's inner conversation about itself. Right now, the only people with a compelling line of argument are extremists.
Abu Muqawama, master of the deceptively simple question, is wondering about US policy on Pakistan. While I ponder a response. It's worth having a read of a recent post on Reuters' Pakistan blog.
The post looks at Mosharraf Zaidi's very useful article on terrorism and responses in Pakistan.
Zaidi makes an important and much-missed point that:
"The epicentre of religious extremism is the institution of the political articulation of faith in Pakistan."
This is a concept I'll be touching on in a post about to be put up shortly.
The Reuters post then goes on to suggest a list of "influences buffeting Pakistan".
Read and ponder too.
Regular readers of this blog wont be surprised to hear that I've been banging on about ways to do something useful in Pakistan. Just for a change, this time, I've been at it over at Foreign Policy's afpakchannel. There are some quotes in there that haven't seen the light of day before. Such as:
"Of all the terrorist attacks carried out so far, no American culprit has been caught, no one from Britain and no Israeli. All those who have been apprehended belong here. And with great sorrow, I say that they have been men with beards (religious men)," said one speaker, who holds a high-profile position within Pakistan's religious education establishment."
One of Pakistan's highest-ranking religious officials said of extremists; "In religious garb they organised hatred into a force. Now it is an organised force. These people are in society... The attacks on army installations were done by their followers who are in the army."
As well as:
In a madrassa in the rural hinterland of Punjab, an elderly former Barelvi leader with still considerable influence within the community's nationwide network said Barelvis should arm and organise a militia to take on the Taliban. "Our ideology is lying in its grave. And before long, if we do nothing, our lifeless bodies will be joining it," he said in Punjabi.
A few months ago, I read Hilary Synnott's International Institute for Strategic Studies report Transforming Pakistan. I thought at the time that Sir Hilary's suggestion that the international community basically take it on itself to transform Pakistan was unrealistic and an even bigger disaster waiting to happen. However, I'm beginning to think that a major game change is needed and the only question remains who the real domestic partners should be. The best option, and the most willing potential allies, are the general public. The question is how to approach them and how to tool the options avaiable to the international community so that they actually work effectively.
To see someone else expertly demonstrate what kind of mess we are talking about here, read (and watch) this great bit of reporting from Sabrina Tavernise of the New York Times.
"..in Pakistan, the lack of a workable tax system feeds something more menacing: a festering inequality in Pakistani society, where the wealth of its most powerful members is never redistributed or put to use for public good. That is creating conditions that have helped spread an insurgency that is tormenting the country and complicating American policy in the region"
Despite what Pakistani politicians might say, extremism isn't all cut and dried in a hugely diverse (and equally stratified) country of 170-odd million people. This article by Sabrina Tavernise in the NYT lays it out nicely.
In a country where whisky-happy politicians ban alcohol and bribe-taking lawyers confront military dictators, pretty much everything comes down to politics.
"The university's plight encapsulates Pakistan's predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors."
Well worth a read.
The Quilliam Foundation, a pretty influential UK think tank focusing on extremism, is holding a round table discussion on a report it put out last month on Britain's Islam Channel satellite television station.
Reading through the executive summary just now made me feel a little uneasy. I've had the same feeling reading some of their other work, and I've always struggled to put my finger on what it is exactly that makes me react as if I'd just seen a thug suddenly get kicked to death on a bus by a bunch of grannies. After a long uninterrupted think (having no electricity, I can't distract myself with Pakistani television), I think I've finally figured it out.
Quilliam says; "the channel regularly promotes intolerance and sectarianism, and gives a platform to individuals and groups with a track record of promoting hatred and violence."
I don't know how Quilliam conducted the study but I'm willing to believe that material like: "I am not against the women. I am not against anybody. But this is the truth. That today, the problem, the calamities and hardship and suffering is due to the women..." or "Shia madhab [school of jurisprudence] has many aqaid [belief systems] which are not acceptable" is broadcast on Islam Channel because I am depressingly used to hearing such things (although, I have hung out with extremists more than most people). The sound of this sort of talk gets my back up. I can imagine the tone of voice it is delivered in, and it grates in my mind.
I'm referring to my own reaction because one person I know who has spent more time with extremists than me is Maajid Nawaz, one of the directors of Quilliam. For those that have not heard of Maajid, he was a key member of UK Islamist outfit Hizb ut Tahrir when it was properly nutty, as opposed to the toned down version it is now. Maajid's HT activities landed him in jail in Egypt. After his release, he left HT, denounced their ideology and helped set up Quilliam. I don't know Maajid. But I have bumped into him a couple of times and have heard him speak once or twice (I related one such occasion here as what Maajid was saying about his own attraction to radical Islamist politics brilliantly humanised the issues floating around in a young recruit's mind).
Ed Husain, the other Quilliam director, had a similar journey (without the jail time). His book The Islamist was very popular and I reviewed it a while ago for AM. I'm sure that due to their own experiences, Ed and Maajid's reaction to hearing intolerant, bigoted claptrap spouted by people who say they are speaking the Islamic "truth" is more pronounced than mine. But is it really a good thing?
As I sort of touched upon in the Arguing Extremism post, the whole issue of what is "moderate Islam" and what is "extreme" has become a battlefield littered with mines that have more to do with appearances than content. What I mean is that many Muslims will almost instinctively denounce something as un-Islamic because it seems to conform to Western norms rather than anything intrinsic about the issue at hand. By the same token, they will see things that seem an antithesis to Western practice as automatically Islamic. And, of course, this approach has gained more popular acceptance recently because to many it seems the West is at war with Islam.
You can see this unsaid, but underlaying, viewpoint in some of the statements pointed out in the executive summary:
"Within the western way of life the idea that a woman, even if she gets married, can refuse relations with her husband because of ‘individual choice'. This is something which is part of the western culture, but not Islam".
By denouncing material of this sort on Islam Channel, or elsewhere, in their customary manner, I think Quilliam actually gives it a stamp of approval. People who think that anybody who talks about "democracy" "human rights" and "freedom of expression" is automatically a "Western-educated, elitist, secularist" and must not be listened to under any circumstances will be quite happy to earn the ire of Quilliam. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are much better at sounding objective, which makes them then sound more credible. The only group i can think of that sounds like Quilliam in tone is, well... Hizb ut Tahrir. For example:
"London UK, 13th April 2010 - David Cameron has called for a ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Conservative party's manifesto launched today which once again twists the truth and states that "a Conservative government will ban any organisations which advocate hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as hizb-ut-tahrir".
"Their desire to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir shows they really fear that our ideas have taken a hold amongst Muslims around the world, because of our uncompromising criticism of Western foreign policy in Muslim countries, and relentless call to replace tyranny and dictatorship in the Muslim world with an Islamic Caliphate that will bring security, stability, authority to the people, and accountability and justice - all enshrined in the Shariah."
Yes, I am subscribed to email alerts from both organisations.
I'm a big fan of debate. During the last few months in Pakistan, I have come to realise that one of the elements that has evolved in British Muslim society recently that places like Pakistan don't have and could really do with is rigorous debate on issues that tie together religion, identity and politics. The Quilliam approach, in my view, seems to want to shout down rather than argue, tackle or rebut. Denouncing makes for pithy soundbites, but ultimately doesn't convince people to change their views.
Where I think Quilliam does a great job is where it does encourage debate. Such as the discussions it organised last year at the conferences of the major political parties (here's a write up of one of the sessions which took place on the sidelines of the Tory party conference) and got people talking constructively about counter terrorism strategy.
As for the Islam Channel, is it really al-Qaeda TV? I mean REALLY? I mean, apart from extremism, it will also teach you how to make black forest cupcakes.
Anyway, the roundtable is taking place at midday on April 21 in London somewhere. If you want to go email: email@example.com
Sometimes, you go on holiday for a bit and you return to find everything has just...gone very wrong! I came back from visiting Ms Henley-on-Thames to find the Islamabad electricity board had managed to cut off my power, my car had flat tires, and... they changed the name of NWFP?!?!
Renaming NWFP to "Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa", is part of a raft of legal changes that were passed by parliament on Thursday. The 18th amendment to the constitution, as it's called by the local press, basically erases changes made to Pakistan's 1973 constitution by General Zia ul Haq and later General Parvez Musharraf. The main points of the legal move (according to Reuters) are:
- The president can no longer dissolve parliament
- Executive power passes to the prime minister, the cabinet and chief ministers of the provinces
- The courts will not be able to validate the suspension of the constitution
- The power to appoint judges passes to a commission headed by the chief justice of the supreme court
- The chief election commissioner will be appointed by a committee and not the president
- The prime minister chooses the heads of the armed forces, which is then rubber stamped by the president
- Oh, and the Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa thing.
In Pakistan, this is largely being hailed as a major democratic breakthrough. Not everyone was convinced that Musharraf's departure and an election meant Pakistan REALLY was a democracy. And many would still say that a largely disenfranchised population and a military with outsized influence on political decisions means Pakistan's democracy is far from even adequate. But Pakistan's ability to recognise the difference between good and bad governance, and ultimately accept what needs to be done is the kind of thing that makes me optimistic about the country's fortunes. It also shows potential partners that there are people and processes that can be engaged with in Pakistan.
And just to prove the point, here's a dissenting voice from the eminently sensible Dawn newspaper:
"...many big issues were never put on the table. For example, the Islamic clauses gratuitously inserted by Gen Zia in the constitution were not touched and the colonial-era status of Fata was not looked at."
What would Dawn do?: "Consider that the security threat that has radiated from Fata is unprecedented in the country’s history and yet the committee did not see fit to amend its constitutional status at this stage... The security challenge in Fata has to be dealt with by more than just guns and money — the ‘wild west’ political status of the place is part of the reason that the area has become the greatest threat to internal security."
And of course, not everyone is happy about NWFP's name change, as a disgruntled reader says in The Nation's letter's page
"I am often surprised by inventiveness of the intelligent people in our political fraternity. Their latest masterpiece is this new fudge of a name ‘Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah... Campbellpur was changed to Attock for no rhyme or reason. Only people without the slightest knowledge of history could do such a thing. We also changed the name of Montgomery to Sahiwal, I do not know why?... This Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah is like taking the joke too far. A few visionless people should not be allowed to distort history and the age-old facts. Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwah is not a name, it’s a joke, a practical joke on people of the province. -ARBAB ALAMGIR, Hoti, April 8."
Reading Michelle Cottle's piece in The New Republic about Sarah Palin's odds as a potential leader of the Tea Partiers, I suddenly felt I knew what it must have been like to be the careers guidance people at my old university.
I realise, i know little about American politics, and I definitely know little about Sarah Palin. But i know I know (a bit) about the politics of Pakistan, and I know a career opportunity when I see one.
Cottle lists the attributes a potential leader needs to become the new shining light of the Tea Party people. Namely:
1. Anger. The more the better.
2. Paranoia that the other side is out to get you.
3. A self-righteous conviction that the other side is not merely wrong but irretrievably evil. (To be fair, this is pretty much a requisite for leadership in any political party these days.)
4. Sympathy (or, better still, empathy) for the victim mentality, ideally coupled with burning resentment that the other side looks down on you.
5. Major-league charisma and near-blinding star power to overcome the movement’s petty jealousies, feuding factions, and general disorganization.
Tea Partiers?!... Forget that! Pakistani politics (hearts) anger in a big way. And as for paranoia, self righteousness, resentment (victimhood)... yep, check all that. And charisma? Well, I always thought Ms. Palin kinda looked like Benazir Bhutto:
So, if Sarah Palin does decide to walk away from the Republican Party, I for one would advise her to broaden her horizons. Americans aren't the only people who hate taxes, love guns and go hunting a lot.
And if she's wondering where in the Pakistani political landscape she might carve a niche. My career advice folder would contain the following info:
1. Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jammat e Islami (religious and right wing)
2. Alfat Hussain of the MQM (firey maverick)
Altaf bhai (Altaf brother) as he's known is my personal favourite. The MQM is a political party based in Karachi claiming to represent native Urdu speakers. You don't need to understand Urdu to know why Ms Palin should be going head to head with this guy:
"Despite all the talk of ideological purity, Tea Partiers aren’t defined by their ideology so much as their attitude.." says Cottle. In Pakistan, it's ALL about attitude.
Palin for Pakistan!!
I've been mulling over for days what it is about the recent talk of "strategic dialogue" and the "new relationship" between the US and Pakistan that just doesn't sit right with me. It's not the nagging question as to what has actually changed in the past month or so. It's not even the elephant of American popular image in the nicely decorated Pakistani drawing room.
Today, while reading this article in the Foreign Affairs journal, I finally figured out what it is. The writer, Haider Mullick, a fellow at the US Joint Special Operations University and a bunch of other impressive stuff, isn't actually commenting on the recent talks. He's talking about Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts in Waziristan.
Mullick makes some really interesting points. The Pakistani army isn't trampling around Waziristan creating more enemies than it kills or captures, he says, instead, it's learning from its own experiences as well as those of others to implement a comprehensive strategy that's securing the population.
"The fate of the internally displaced was the Achilles' heel of our mission," said one senior military officer involved in relief efforts. "Without protecting them, we would have no local partners, good intelligence, or popular support to carry on."
Sounds like a great starting point. After which, Mullick goes on to outline how the Pakistani army reassured the population, worked with international partners to establish well-run camps, re-tooled the soldiers in the field to try and limit the negative impact on locals. He even goes on to outline a future plan which involves the Pakistanis working with the Afghanis, Indians and Americans to "flip" someone like Hekmateyar in order to kick start the process of re-integrating the Taliban. Yep, you read it right and it's not a typo.. "Indians".
Anyway, right at the end, we have...
"But even these well-designed initiatives will fail in the absence of a comprehensive plan that targets growing problems in Pakistan's government, judiciary, and military. The government is unable to efficiently use the foreign aid that it receives, and widespread corruption plagues development efforts."
This is my gripe. While the big men (and women) of international politics smile for the cameras, corruption, bureaucracy, mismanagement etc make no more than a fleeting mention in the post script. But, really, these issues are the key to all else. Read the autobiographies of several Pakistani former presidents and prime ministers and you quickly realise that military dictator or civilian populist, they all struggled to get the simple functions of state done.
Allow the AM blog to assist if it's not quite clear. We could run a little programme for journalists and policy makers. If you need to get a feel for what is involved in making words into deeds in Pakistan, come to Islamabad and apply for a driving license. Compare the stated cost and time scale with how long it actually takes and how much you have to pay. Make a note of the difference. It accounts for much of the "credibility deficit".
If a government doesn't have a handle on the levers of power, grand international handshakes are meaningless. What Pakistan actually needs help in is delivery.