NIE: Pakistan on Brink

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Pakistan will apparently depict that country as ‘on the edge,’ with ‘no money, no energy, no government.’ The fear is expressed that an unstable Pakistan will become a center for al-Qaeda plotting against the US.

The situation in Pakistan for ordinary people is indeed tough. Fuel and wheat prices have skyrocketed.

But all along, a third of the population has had to live on less than a dollar a day and the NIE wasn’t so worried about them a few years ago.

But I’m suspicious that all the talk about instability and ‘no government’ is really a way of saying that US intelligence agencies liked having a military dictatorship there much better than they like having an elected parliamentary regime.

Actually, the Pakistani bureaucracy does a fairly good job for a third world country, and the employees of the bureaucracy at the non-political level don’t change with the change of governments. I don’t know what they mean by ‘no government.’ The elected government headed by the Pakistan People’s Party has a majority and is not in danger of falling. The new president, Asaf Ali Zardari, is widely thought to be corrupt, but then the impeachment charges prepared against ousted military dictator Pervez Musharraf alleged the same thing of him, so it is hard to see how things have gotten worse in that regard.

The campaign of bombings and attacks by the Tehrik-i Taliban guerrillas of the Pushtun tribal agencies are worrisome, but life goes on in big cities such as Lahore, which are distant from the tribal areas, despite occasional attacks there.

Moreover, the Pushtuns of the North-West Frontier Province voted in a secular party in the last elections, and even a lot of people in the tribal areas oppose the neo-Taliban.

American reports about Pakistan are schizophrenic, because they say the Pakistani army is not fighting the Taliban. But the Pakistani military has chased 300,000 from their homes in Bajaur, one of 7 tribal agencies, and has engaged in firefights with dissident Muslim groups there. I mean, what do the authors of the NIE want?

The Pakistani military admittedly does not attack the Pushtun tribes it is paying to make trouble in southern Afghanistan, but then their activity is abroad and directed from Islamabad. The Mohmands and other tribes in Bajaur have been fighting the Pakistani military, which has hit them hard in retaliation.

The idea that the 3.5 million Pushtuns of the tribal areas could take over a country of 165 million with one of the most professional armies in Asia is just silly.

The most worrisome thing that has happened in the past year from my point of view was the 3-day orgy of destruction engaged in by Sindhis after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last December, suggesting that Sindhi subnationalism was extremely strong. But the PPP is a party rooted in Sindh, though it has supporters in the other provinces, and its ascendancy should assuage Sindhi feelings. Sindhis make up about 25% of the Pakistani population.

If Pakistan can weather the ethnic tensions in the rest of the country, surviving the terrorist attacks emanating from the tribal areas will be easy.

People who know Pakistan well are more afraid of the right wing elements in the Pakistani military (whom the CIA has long funded and coddled) than they are about an elected civilian government being weak or corrupt.