December 30, 2007

Al-Qaeda in Pakistan ... and Final Thoughts on Benazir Bhutto

Carlotta Gall, whose reporting from Afghanistan Abu Muqawama has enjoyed over the past few years, has an article today in the New York Times talking about that way in which the vast majority of the militants in Pakistan are Pakistani.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Qaeda network accused by Pakistan’s government of killing the opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is increasingly made up not of foreign fighters but of homegrown Pakistani militants bent on destabilizing the country, analysts and security officials here say. ...

Al Qaeda in Pakistan now comprises not just foreigners but Pakistani tribesmen from border regions, as well as Punjabis and Urdu speakers and members of banned sectarian and Sunni extremists groups, Najam Sethi, editor of The Daily Times, wrote in a front-page analysis. “Al Qaeda is now as much a Pakistani phenomenon as it is an Arab or foreign element,” he wrote.

Now that may seem like an anodyne observation to the majority of you, but it's important to consider how this affects the counterinsurgency dynamic in Pakistan. It's one thing when you can -- as in the case of the Afghans -- dismiss your insurgent rivals as "outsiders" or "foreigners." The Pakistani Army, however, has over the past few months shown very little appetite for fighting other Pakistanis over the course of a sustained counterinsurgency campaign. Convincing the Pakistani Army to fight such a campaign is one of the great strategic challenges the U.S. faces in South Asia. Stephen P. Rosen has more on this dilemma on the MESH blog...

Elsewhere in the Gray Lady is a long treatment of the way in which Benazir Bhutto charmed the Washington establishment. Boy, she sure did. To the point where all of her friends went to great and shameless lengths to stress their connections to her and very few mentioned the fact that:

a) She was dismissed from office, twice, on corruption charges.
b) Her husband, whom she once described as the "Nelson Mandela of Pakistan," embezzled millions from Pakistan into Swiss accounts while she was prime minister.
c) She is widely believed by her own family to have killed her brother (and staunch political opponent) in a political assassination in 1996.
d) A "feminist hero," she turned the other way as the Taliban enslaved the women of Afghanistan and once described them as a "stabilizing influence" in Central Asia.
e) A "champion of democracy," Bhutto was the "chairperson for life" of her political party and has now been succeeded by her ... 19-year old son.

But don't pay any attention to all that. She was, after all, an attractive woman who graduated from Harvard and Oxford. Did you know she was physically attractive, by the way? And spoke excellent English? Anyway, that's all you need to know. Oh, and Ann Curry loves her.

Update: "I broke into Benazir Bhutto's dorm room at Oxford 30 years ago and now feel the need to put that anecdote into this otherwise respectable column to prove how cool I am."