November 06, 2007

Making Sense of Pakistan

Considering the demographics of Abu Muqawama's neighborhood, it's probably safe to say that at least 50% of the dinner-table conversations around here currently revolve around events taking place inside Pakistan. Bayt al-Muqawama (Abu Muqawama's apartment) is really no different, as Abu Muqawama's flatmate is himself of Pakistani descent. (Really, the two of us are a sick experiment to see what happens when you place two of the world's most war-like peoples -- a Pashtun and an Scots-Irish East Tennessean -- under the same roof for a year.)

The biggest gripe we share is that most of the reporting is from the cities and the south. It is understandable that western reporters are going to gravitate to the political centers of power and report from there, but lost in all this is the fact that a few weeks ago, elements of the Pakistani Army flat-out refused to fight groups allied with Al-Qaeda. Aides close to Pervez Musharraf are telling the New York Times the suspension of the constitution is related to the battle against Islamist militants:

General Musharraf’s supporters argued Sunday that his government — now unencumbered by legal constraints and political concerns by the emergency decree — will be in a better position to eradicate extremists and that if the United States wants that security, it must back him.

“If your agenda is to save attacks in the U.S. and eliminate Al Qaeda, only the Pakistani Army can do that,” said the close aide to General Musharraf. “For that, you will have to forget about elections in Pakistan for maybe two to three years.”

How one is supposed to help the other is beyond the limited mental abilities of this blogger, and he suspects it's confusing to the Bush Administration too -- which is why it continues to press Musharraf to back down. If Musharraf is facing a civil-military split (ironic, considering he's never given up his role in the military while serving as leader of Pakistan), Abu Muqawama doesn't see how declaring emergency rule is going to give him any more sway over the military. He only sees how that would empower the military, on which he now depends -- more than ever -- to protect the regime. Like Charlie, he also thinks it's just an excuse to arrest a bunch of civilian trouble-makers. Which it might be.

Daniel over at the Grand Strategy Blog has a lot more on Pakistan's fight against the Islamists, written a few days prior to the declaration of emergency. It's a good primer on what's new in the fighting. Ahmed Rashid, meanwhile, argues this latest nonsense strengthens the Islamists:

The real battleground for Musharraf should be the north of his country, where a resurgent Pakistani Taliban, helped by al-Qaeda, are conquering more territory and imposing their version of a so-called sharia (Islamic law) state. The army has lost hundreds of men and at least 400 soldiers are being held hostage by the extremists.

But Musharraf's first concern is his own survival rather than combating the extremists, while the army is deeply demoralised and unwilling to fight a never-ending war against its countrymen.

Update: Charlie, here. Ahmed Rashid also had an op-ed in the Washington Post (forwarded to Charlie by a good friend with some quality ground time in Pakistan). He suggests Musharraf may turn arrest and turn over some key al Qaeda or Taliban folks to the Pentagon to get off the hot seat. Probably not a bad idea. But Rashid is worried about developments within the Army:

The key question Musharraf faces is how long the army will continue to back him. Rank-and-file soldiers are keenly aware of the widening gulf between them and the public they are supposed to protect. The army, already demoralized, is unwilling to fight a never-ending war against its own people.

For now, the judges are gone, the media has been censored, the opposition and lawyers jailed and curtailed. But Musharraf's emergency is not sustainable. Ruling by force without any political support will prove impossible.

Stay tuned. And for continuing coverage check out the Pakistan Policy blog (h/t Mc Master Chef).