Will Pakistan’s Crisis affect US in Afghanistan

Pakistan is an important country and a key US partner, and so it is bad news that it is lurching from political crisis to political crisis. There is a crisis between the military and the civilian government. There is a crisis between the military and the US government. There is a crisis between the Supreme Court and the other two branches of government. There was a big Taliban bombing in Pakistan the day before yesterday. And, the Zardari government may fall at any time, either to clear a path to new elections or because of yet another military coup.

Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country, just after Brazil. It has only the 46th largest gross domestic product (in nominal terms). But it has a stockpile of nuclear warheads, and has perhaps the seventh largest army in the world, after the US, Russia, China, India and the two Koreas. It is a major recipient of US foreign aid, though some of that has been put on hold by an angry US Congress.

Pakistan’s elites are allied with the United States against some insurgent Afghan groups, and it is central to transporting goods for the NATO war effort in Afghanistan. On the other hand, it is allied with some Pashtun groups (especially the Haqqani network) against the US and against the Afghanistan government.

It has been facing serial crises of poor governance and bad politics. There are continual electricity outages (very bad for the industrial sector). There have been strikes over poor or late pay, including by the railway workers. Security is collapsing, even in Lahore, which used to be well run, but which is becoming seedy and dangerous.

The Pakistani government was embarrassed by the presence of Usamah Bin Laden in Abbotabad, not far from its equivalent of West Point. The revelation appears to have provoked a determination on the part of the civilian government of Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asaf Ali Zardari to get more control of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the officer corps, who had in the past often ordered the civilian government around or made coups.

Then it was alleged that the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, Hussein Haqqani, passed over to the US National Security Council and the Pentagon a request for them to help the civilian government get power over the military bureaucracy. An intermediary was said to be Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, whom the Pakistani Supreme Court and other authorities now want to depose.

Ambassador Haqqani had to resign when the existence of the memo became public.

This “memogate” deeply angered Pakistan’s powerful military, provoking rumors of a possible coup by chief of army staff Ashfaq Kayani.

The Pakistani Supreme Court is also interested in the memos, to see if the Pakistani government had violated any laws or perhaps even committed treason.

President Asaf Ali Zardari keeps going off to Dubai for medical treatment, causing many to wonder if he was trying to slip out of the country (he went back to the the Emirates again on Thursday.)

Then US aircraft killed some 24 Pakistani troops at a checkpoint near the Afghan border, creating severe tensions between the Pakistani military, which was already angry about the Bin Laden assassination mission on Pakistani soil and about Memogate and the possibility of US intervention in Pakistan’s civilian-military balance.

Then Pakistan threw the US air force off one of its bases. For several weeks, there were no drone strikes in the tribal belt by the US, probably because Pakistan was still sore about the killing of 24 troops by friendly fire. And for a long time Pakistan idled the NATO supply trucks coming up from Karachi to the Khyber Pass.

Then President Zardari flew to Dubai for medical treatment, which some speculated would lead to a soft coup by the military.

But it did not. Zardari returned. But now the Supreme Court is getting interested in him and in investigating Memogate itself.

Then a famous cricketer turned politician and philantropist, Imran Khan, started holding mega rallies in Lahore and Karachi, having gained sudden popularity. Imran Khan started to call for Zardari to resign. The government anyway could not go past February 2013, and Zardari’s political rivals want early elections.

On Monday Prime Minister Gilani gave an interview with the Chinese press in which he criticized the Chief of Staff and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for submitting documents on Memogate indepedently to the Supreme Court, insisting they should have gone through him as head of state.

Then the military made dark noises, and Gilani responded by firing the minister of defense, who was close to the officer corps.

Aljazeera English reports:

On Thursday, Zardari went to Dubai again, possibly for follow-up tests for whatever condition he has. That trip provoked more coup rumors.

So, Pakistan’s civilian and military wings of government are furious with each other and with the US military. There are suspicions that the US deliberately hit the soldiers at the checkpoint. There are suspicions that the US is trying behind the scenes to weaken the political power of the military in favor of the civilian government.

But Pakistanis are convinced by the lack of electricity that Zardari and Gilani could not govern themselves out of a paper bag, and that new elections for parliament should be held. Imran Khan is waiting in the wings as a new broom. Assuming that there are elections rather than a coup.

And, what will be the effect of these changes on the final years of the US and NATO war in Afghanistan? How badly did the interruption of the supply train hurt? What sorts of lack of Pakistani cooperation have been imposed with regard to Afghanistan?

15 Responses

  1. “Pakistan’s civilian and military wings of government are furious with each other and with the US military.”

    A whole lot of reality in one little sentence.

    I guess it’s ok with a lot of people that “the military” should be added (as it has, de facto and sub rosa, in the Land of the Freeeeeee and the Home of the Braaaave, while visions of Constitutional Republic danced in our heads) as a “wing of government.” So as in areas all across the planet, “the military” ends up being part of the Kleptocracy, jealous of any attempt, by the ordinary schmucks who create the wealth that makes their parasitic and predatory fiefdoms possible, to rein them in. Egypt, Syria, maybe Iran, Libya, et bloody cetera. Pakistan. Notagainistan. The United States.

    “The military,” across the planet, has an organizing principle, a seductive monopoly on the tools of force and power-projection, and a hierarchy that can be filled with like-minded, ambitious, greedy racketeers, able to practice the protection racket, take over civilian productive parts and sectors of the economy, share ideas on how to keep any “democratic” (or even “republican”) aspirations in check. What it (and I mark myself down for using a personification in lieu of what otherwise would have to be a treatise, to cover all the parts of the reality) ain’t got is a prayer of an idea on how to “govern,” as opposed to “rule’ or “dictate,” in any way that is durable, sustainable, decent, and that spans generations, without trying to force all the sans-uniformes into ranks and files.

    At some point, the tapeworm’s success means the death of the host.

    Query: Is there any way for ordinary people to de-worm themselves, to free themselves from the infestation, renounce the jingoism and tribalism that feeds the feedback that keeps the racketeers in business, and figure out something better to do with a quarter and ever more of all the world’s wealth that is sucked up by “the military?”

    • “So as in areas all across the planet, “the military” ends up being part of the Kleptocracy, jealous of any attempt, by the ordinary schmucks who create the wealth that makes their parasitic and predatory fiefdoms possible, to rein them in.”

      Your statement quoted above, JTMcPhee, illustrates how little you know about the military in many countries. In Pakistan, just as in Indonesia and many other countries, the military, in fact, controls many of the businesses that create the wealth. In Pakistan and many other countries, your “ordinary schmucks” do not create wealth because they do not control the businesses that do; it is the military that controls those businesses. Please do a little research (and I do not mean quoting “Wikipedia”) before making categorical statements that brand one as an Encyclopedia of Misinformation.

      • Militaries are hugely expensive welfare programs. They are funded by taxes (money taken from the wealth-creators by force). Where they control businesses, it’s because the state nationalized those businesses (took them from the wealth-creators by force). If Pakistan’s military was good at creating wealth, the country wouldn’t be so poor. Pakistan has alternated between corrupt civilian rule and military rule. The top 15% crushes the bottom 85% through outright theft.

        • From the time of Pakistan’s establishment in 1947 to the present, the control of business has been in the hands of the military, and to a fair extent, the so-called “Feudals,” the wealthy families who run the provinces of Sindh and Punjab. It has never been in the hands of JTMcPhee’s “ordinary schmucks.” Thus, it was never taken away from them.

      • Uh, Bill, ordinary schmucks can mean workers. Workers don’t create wealth? The people giving orders would have a hell of a time creating any wealth if they didn’t have any workers.

        • “The people giving orders would have a hell of a time creating any wealth if they didn’t have any workers.”

          No one disputes the point that workers (“ordinary schmucks” in JTMcPhee’s memorable phrase) are necessary. The point I’m making is that the military and the Feudals who control Sindh and the Punjab have owned and controlled the major businesses in Pakistan since its establishment in 1947. Each has tried to reign the other in, with the military being the more successful of the two. The “ordinary schmucks” have never been a part of that equation and have never had such control taken away from them because they never had it in the first place. This is not a value judgment; it’s just stating a historical fact.

  2. Lodhi, the man fired by Guilani was not minister of defence but secretary, the highest offical. The British in India used a different terminology from the Americans, posisbly even before 1776, and it is still so in India etc too. The secretary advised the decisionmaker, the Governor (in Council; the members of that council were also bureaucrats utnil the start of Indian poltical representation). In Britain itself the usage is more like the American even if the full title for all ministers is secretary of state (for x).

  3. Another issue that is rarely mentioned is the kidnapping of Warren Weinstein, who was previously an AID officer and at the time was working for an AID contracting company. He’s been held for 5 months, and neither government appears to be doing anything…Al-Qaida claimed to have taken charge of him. It’s amazing to me that the press is not interested in this story.

  4. Hi Dr. Cole.
    You cite this as an example of increasing violence: “There was a big Taliban bombing in Pakistan the day before yesterday.”
    But hasn’t there been a bombing in Pakistan, many of them large, just about every single day for over two years now?

    You also say that the Zardari government may fall at any time; I don’t really agree. The idea of having a “civilian government” and that of Zardari’s- according to the Washington Post- could be the very first in Pakistani history to complete its term. Military rule was horrible, and I personally feel as if a strong number of Pakistanis blame America, rather than Zardari, for a lot of the chaos that’s been recurring in the nation.
    Pakistan’s relations with India have been steadily improving as well, like the 180 fishermen released on New Years, or the fact that India can’t really break ties with Iran (which allegedly is where 40% of India’s oil comes from), etc. (Remember, in Musharraf’s term, India/Pakistan were on the brink of war? Or even that, Musharraf invested a lot of money into nukes; I haven’t read much about Zardari doing the same, and I’ve even heard the military’s gotten less corrupt since Zardari’s taken over).
    Pakistan’s relationship with China is amazing, and its relations with Iran & Russia have been increasing quite a ways as well since Zardari took over.

    I find it curious however that you didn’t talk about the Gwadar port. I thought that was supposed to be really significant?

    • “I find it curious however that you didn’t talk about the Gwadar port. I thought that was supposed to be really significant?”

      There is some thought that Gwadar may be significant because the Chinese may use it as a naval refueling and refitting station, much as the U.S. has access to Singapore for the same activities. If so, this would enable the Chinese to maintain a significant naval presence in the Indian Ocean.

  5. The last I read, the Pakistanis were still denying the US access to their land transportation routes, and are planning to implement new taxes on the supplies once the roads are reopened. This will increase costs of supplying the military in Afghanistan even beyond the already stratospheric heights. Guess who pays for that?

  6. I’m sorry, but it is even worse than you describe. Both the military and government clans who control their separate spheres play both sides, always. One member of a clan has a “friend” of the US, while his cousin is quite active supporting the Taliban. The British got around this annoying problem by direct control of the military and by bribing the most powerful clan chiefs. The US has only done half of this technique (bribery), with poor results.

  7. Have the people of Pakistan ever put their bodies on the line to save democracy from the Army like the Egyptians have? Do they really regard themselves as a people such that they would bother?

    That matters to me more than them kicking us out of Afghanistan. The Pakistani Army has been, with our past connivance, the greatest threat to peace and democracy in the region. It has always been responsible for Islamic insurgency in Afghanistan because it doesn’t recognize Afghan sovereignity. If the citizenry would cut the balls off that army, most of our excuses for being in the region would be obsolete.

    However, based on the things I heard about Zardari and his crew when he was installed, I’m not surprised he came to a bad end. I don’t know anything about Imran Khan’s positions, but I know Nawaz Sharif was supposed to be Saudi Arabia’s man. Hard to imagine the Saudis would be happy with Pakistan’s army accepting democracy.

    • That is really uninformed and unfair.

      The Movement for the Restoration of Democracy held lots of risky rallies in the late 1980s before Gen. Zia ul-Haq died in an airplane crash, and leader of MRD like Benazir Bhutto were jailed and their health harmed.

      Throughout 2007, massive crowds of Pakistanis protested Gen. Musharraf’s dismissal of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and then of the whole Supreme Court, taking great risks at a time of martial law. They were in part responsible for the return of parliamentary rule and the ultimate deposing of Musharraf.

      So, in short: Yes.

  8. “On Monday Prime Minister Gilani gave an interview with the Chinese press in which he criticized the Chief of Staff and the head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for submitting documents on Memogate indepedently to the Supreme Court, insisting they should have gone through him as head of state.”

    Actually, Prime Minister Gilani is the head of government, not the head of state. President Zardari is the head of state.

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