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Monday, December 1, 2008

The Asia Triangle

I'd like to call your attention to our latest theme issue over at World Politics Review, the Asia Triangle. In three deep analysis pieces (M.K. Bhadrakumar on India here, Jing-dong Yuan on China here, and Arif Rafiq on Pakistan here), we examine the balance of power on the South Asian subcontinent between India, Pakistan and China, and how that might impact the emerging consensus calling for a "regional approach" to turn the tide in, and ultimately stabilize, Afghanistan.

We've had this feature in development for a while now, and last week's attacks in Mumbai obviously underscore the importance of getting this right. To do so, we should start by accepting that we understand as a "regional solution" might not be the same thing as what the region understands as a "regional solution." It also seems obvious that any effort to address India-Pakistan relations has to include China, for a variety of reasons that the three pieces make evident.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

McCain's Pakistan Flip Flop

This isn't the first time I've flagged these comments made by John McCain in an interview with the editors of Defense News last October. I'm posting them again in light of last night's debate, where McCain once again attacked Barack Obama for his stance on American strikes against al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan's tribal frontier:

Q: Does the U.S. have any options with regard to al-Qaida and reputed al-Qaida strongholds in the federally unregulated areas in Pakistan? Other than what seems to be sort of a status quo of waiting for them to come over the border, the Pakistani Army occasionally launching a strike to -- well, it's hard to say for what end because they don't seem to be sustained efforts. What are the U.S. options there?

McCain: I think they're very difficult options. I think that if we knew of al-Qaida -- more specifically Taliban, it's mainly Taliban that are operating in these places -- that we have to do what's necessary. We don't have to advertise it. We don't have to embarrass or humiliate the Pakistani government. . .

. . .These are all very tough calls, and in summary I think that what happens in Waziristan will be dictated by events in Islamabad, but I also think that we, where necessary, without in any way embarrassing our friends, can have a lot of options.

Q: So if you were president and you knew that bin Laden were over there, you had a target spotting, you could nail him, you'd go get him?

McCain: Sure. Sure. We have to, and I'm sure that after the initial flurry, that whoever our friends are, wherever he is, would be relieved because, as I mentioned to you before, he's still very effective in the world, very, very effective.

That's a pretty clear case of political bad faith, but oddly enough it hasn't gotten a whole lot of traction.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Pakistan   Politics   

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pakistan and the Bush Doctrine

Yesterday, I linked with arithmetic snark but without comment to TX Hammes' Small Wars Journal post on the broadening of the Afghanistan War into Pakistan. It's a very important piece, because it points out the danger of seeing Pakistan exclusively through the lens of our own tactical needs in Afghanistan, while ignoring the fact that for Pakistan, managing the Taliban in Afghanistan or its own tribal areas is part of the broader strategic calculus of its rivalry with India. Hammes argues that until we develop a strategy for handling this broader regional architecture, our efforts in Afghanistan (which he also characterizes as lacking a coherent strategic framework) will only put pressure on the Pakistani government without resolving the problem.

That problem tends to be formulated Stateside as a failure of the Pakistani civilian government to rein in the rogue elements of the military and ISI intelligence agency that play the Taliban and the U.S. against each other in order to hedge against India. Today, Arif Rafiq at the Pakistan Policy blog fills in the contours of what's at stake in the civilian-military turf war:

Zardari lacks the legitimacy and power with which to assert himself over the military.† While the Pakistani public supports the cessation of the ISIís political role, there is no support for tying the organizationís hands in other matters.† If pressed by Zardari, Gen. Kayani would be forced to enter the political realm, against his will, because of civilian excess.† Zardari should be wiser and focus on his self-proclaimed mandate of roti (bread), kapra (clothing), and makan (a home).

And so, Gen. Kayani is delineating the parameters of acceptable discourse on Kashmir, and at a broader level, Pakistanís national security issues. Gen. Kayani has given the civilians free reign over non-security matters.† He has, however, drawn a line in the sand.† The civilians cannot pass the line of control into his own domain.† Given Zardariís consolidation of power and the absence of checks and balances upon him, a foolish press against the military would compel that institution to intervene, making his presidency the shortest in Pakistanís history.

Hammes points out the dual nature of our Afghanistan mission and the lack of strategic integration between NATO nation-building efforts and American counterterrorism efforts. He doesn't say so explicitly, but the fact that the needs of the former are increasingly leading the latter to target the Pakistani tribal areas makes it clear that the Casus Belli that initially led us to invade Afghanistan has essentially jumped the border. There's been some discussion lately about what exactly the Bush Doctrine is. But the question is increasingly becoming, Does it apply to what Hammes reminds us is "a nuclear-armed nation with 170 million people"?

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   India   Pakistan   

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Pakistan and the Limits of Sovereignty

Matthew Yglesias calls John McCain's refusal to commit to ordering a U.S. strike on Osama bin Laden in Pakistan were we to have actionable intelligence on his whereabouts bizarre. It's also inconsistent with these comments he made in an interview with the editors of Defense News last October:

Q: Does the U.S. have any options with regard to al-Qaida and reputed al-Qaida strongholds in the federally unregulated areas in Pakistan? Other than what seems to be sort of a status quo of waiting for them to come over the border, the Pakistani Army occasionally launching a strike to -- well, it's hard to say for what end because they don't seem to be sustained efforts. What are the U.S. options there?

McCain: I think they're very difficult options. I think that if we knew of al-Qaida -- more specifically Taliban, it's mainly Taliban that are operating in these places -- that we have to do what's necessary. We don't have to advertise it. We don't have to embarrass or humiliate the Pakistani government. . .

. . .These are all very tough calls, and in summary I think that what happens in Waziristan will be dictated by events in Islamabad, but I also think that we, where necessary, without in any way embarrassing our friends, can have a lot of options.

Q: So if you were president and you knew that bin Laden were over there, you had a target spotting, you could nail him, you'd go get him?

McCain: Sure. Sure. We have to, and I'm sure that after the initial flurry, that whoever our friends are, wherever he is, would be relieved because, as I mentioned to you before, he's still very effective in the world, very, very effective.

Ygelsias goes on to defend McCain's original position, and that of Barack Obama, saying "Under the circumstances, Pakistani sovereignty can't be your top concern." Kal over at The Moor Next Door argues that "cowboy bombings" in Pakistani territory, even territory where the Pakistani government exercises nominal control, is a fool's bargain sacrficing prudence for the appearance of toughness:

Any American action in Pakistan against Osama bin Laden or other targets should be done in consultation with the Pakistani government. With or without consultation, the legitimacy of the government is at stake within those areas it does exercise control over and in those within which it does not. Doing so would at the very least allow the government to prepare for the consequences, however bad they may be. Not doing so would cause major problems for the United States, and Pakistan.

Something that's been overlooked in the discussion is that the consensus is now converging on putting American forces in the line of fire of any eventual blowback from a Waziristan (read: Pakistan) operation, in the form of a dramatically increased American military presence in Afghanistan. That blowback would be on top of an already thorny situation. Last night, Hampton forwarded me this video interview with Maulana Fazlullah, a Swat-based Taliban cleric who declares that he's got waves of suicide bombers ready to be unleashed in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as this Voice of America article describing the breakdown of the recent "peace agreement" between the Taliban and the Pakistani central government in Swat province.

Clearly we have the right to secure our interests, and clearing out the Pakistan border areas of violent extremists is in our interests. But how far does that logic extend? Into Swat? Into Islamabad if, as a result of our incursions, the Pakistani government becomes threatened?

The discussion surrounding limited incursions and missile strikes into Pakistani territory also begs the question of why, back in 2001, we didn't use a similar approach to take care of the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, instead of generously relieving the Taliban of the responsibility for governing the entire country? It could be that such a limited campaign might have either, 1) proven ineffective; or, 2) dragged us inevitably into the broader conflict in which we find ourselves now. But if so, those are two arguments that weigh against the kinds of interventionism in Pakistan that's being bandied about so cavalierly today.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Pakistan   

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Big Three

If it weren't for all hell breaking loose in the Middle East, the tectonic shifts going on in South Asia would probably be the decade's storyline. As it is, they still might be. In addition to China's rise and India's emergence, there's also all sorts of movement towards warmer relations between the region's traditional rivals that could smooth the way for further growth. Pakistan-India relations, while still prickly and marked by tit-for-tat missile tests, are more cordial than they've ever been. Same goes for China-India relations.

As for China-Pakistan relations, a couple of articles (one here at Asia Times Online, and another here at Jamestown Foundation) discuss how the tensions both countries have historically experienced with India make for a natural tactical alliance between them. Toss in the unstable nature of their recent relations with America and the logic is even more pronounced.

Nevertheless, the Asia Times article suggests China is exercising more caution towards Islamabad of late, in part due to Pekin's warming relations with Delhi, and in part due to its concerns about Muslim Uighur separatists on the Pakistani border with Xianjing province. And this Defense News article about India reinforcing and modernizing its military presence on its Chinese frontier shows that the old Reagan axiom, Trust but verify, is still the order of the day.

The takeaway is that the tensions and faultlines, both internal (Tibet, Xianjing, the Pakistani FATA) and external (Kashmir, Afghanistan, Taiwan), that run deep under the surface will continue to undermine these regional powers in their quest for global influence. With all the factors pointing to its eventual relative decline, that's still an advantage the U.S. enjoys over them, although we've mitigated that advantage by "Americanizing" the costs of the ethno-sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Beat Goes On

Yesterday I mentioned that India had successfully test-launched an undersea missile. Today the head of Pakistan's navy declared that the test would trigger a regional arms-race. (There are some doubts as to whether China has already mastered the technology.):

"We are aware of these developments, and these developments are taking place with a view to put nuclear weapons at sea and it is a very, very serious issue," the state news agency quoted him as saying.

Of course, having tested three nuclear capable missiles in the past year, Pakistan is hardly in the position of pointing the finger.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  India   Pakistan   

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008


If this is how they rig elections in Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf needs to come take a refresher course from the Washington state GOP. It's still unclear whether Benazir Bhutto won the election posthumously, or whether Nawaz Sharif will carry Parliament. But Musharraf's ruling party was routed in what was described in the American press as a rebuke to Musharraf and his dalliance with the US.

The election outcome has sent Washington scrambling to line up the next Pakistani Prime Minister's support. At the risk of oversimplifying, our Pakistani policy really boils down to two priorities: to contain the burgeoning Taliban movement on the Afghan border, and to make sure the country's nukes are secure. Everything else is just static on the line. (Okay, preventing a nuclear exchange with India is a bit more than static, but bear with me.)

From everything I've read, the nuclear anxiety has always seemed slightly hysterical. Which leaves the Taliban on the Afghan border. Now, before she died, Benazir Bhutto had suggested she'd be willing to invite US forces into the border area to confront the Taliban there, a position that's significantly more pronounced than Musharraf's tepid charade that was supposedly too pro-American for Pakistani voters. So it will be interesting to see how hardline the PPP governing position is, especially if it's forced to form a coalition with Sharif.

The answer to that question will determine whether the WaPo is right when it suggested in an article today that a recent unilateral American strike in Pakistani territory without prior consent from Islamabad will serve as the model for future American operations in area. If domestic constraints force the future Pakistani government to continue the Musharraf policy of accomodation in the tribal areas, that could mean that the US will find itself fighting the border insurgency alone.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

It's The Economy, Stupid

Regular readers of this site will already be aware of the flour shortage in Pakistan, since I flagged it three weeks ago. So this lede from McClatchy should come as no surprise:

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has survived constitutional crises and three assassination attempts, but the more prosaic challenge of supplying flour to his people could be his government's undoing.

As an election scheduled for Feb. 18 approaches, the voters' main grievance appears to be a severe shortage of wheat flour, which is used to make roti, the round flatbread that's a staple food for Pakistanis.

Meanwhile, there have been a string of stories this past week regarding Musharraf's loss of support among the current and former army officer corps that makes up his real base of power. The likely beneficiary is his replacement as Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Ashfaq Kiani. I predicted back in November that Kiani would be running the country before the month was out. It looks like it took him a bit longer to make his move. But don't be surprised to see him do some serious maneuvering, either just before or just after the upcoming elections. The assumption that we'll be stuck with Musharraf as "our man in Islamabad" when we've got the President of the Pakistan Golf Association waiting in the wings strikes me as inherently flawed.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The New Black

Last week I mentioned that Baitullah Mahsud is one Taliban worth watching. Over the past year, he's increasingly shown up on the South Waziristan scouting report radar, but a steady proliferation of recent articles about him seemed to strongly suggest that he was about to have something of a breakout season. That suspicion is only reinforced by the news that the CIA has now concurred with the Pakistani government and identified Mahsud as the prime suspect in the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

In addition to his stellar rise through the Taliban ranks and his reported links to people reportedly linked to Al Qaeda, Mahsud has something else to recommend him to take over the role of chief terrorist bogeyman and principle fallguy for all things nefarious. Namely that he shuns publicity and has almost never been seen in public. This guy is like the Clear of badguys: He only shows up in the statistics.

With Osama Bin Laden's marquee value largely tarnished by six years of spotty video production values and his ability to strike fear into the hearts of the nation on the wane, I think Mahsud's time has come.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Friday, January 18, 2008

The End Of Deterrence

Recently reports surfaced that Pakistan had used huge chunks of American cash grants to procure military hardware better suited to a conventional conflict with India than to the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations the money had been earmarked for. The obvious conclusion was that as long as Pakistan feels more threatened by India than it does by the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the problem on the Afghan border will remain a low priority in Islamabad. Another obvious conclusion was that a coherent American policy in the region would be to encourage to the greatest degree possible a detente between the two nuclear-armed countries, thereby progressively freeing Pakistan up to concentrate on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency.

Instead, Lockheed Martin is in discussions with New Delhi to help the Indians polish off their homegrown ballistic missile defense system. The system, once perfected, would effectively counter the threat of both Pakistan's and China's strategic forces, destabilizing what's already a precarious regional balance of power and possibly provoking a nuclear weapons build-up. Of course, America could not very credibly try to dissuade India from developing its own missile defense system, given our own insistence on dismantling the ABM regime. But we shouldn't be helping them put the finishing touches on it either.

The issue brings into focus one of the less-covered developments of the past seven years. The attacks of 9/11 demonstrated how non-state actors could use assymetric tactics to render conventional deterrence useless. Simultaneously, the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to render conventional deterrence between state actors obsolete. The net result is a world in which the threat environment has dramatically proliferated and diversified, and the disincentives to using force have been dramatically reduced. Either one would be alarming. The two together are potentially catastrophic.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   India   Pakistan   

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Friday, January 11, 2008

paK Street

In case you missed it, Pakistan has hired not one but two lobby shops to polish its image in Washington and help fight off Congressional attempts to place restrictions on US aid. Ogilvy & Mather, one of the firms hired by Islamabad, declares on its website, "We work not for ourselves, not for the company, not even for the client. We work for brands." Which is, of course, nonsense. Ogilvy & Mather works for money, and not surprisingly that's just what Pakistan is paying them. $45K per month, to be exact, which is peanuts compared to the amount of US aid at stake.

But putting that aside for a second, what kind of brand is Pakistan, anyway? A pretty unsuccessful one, that's what. Anytime you start with military dictators and illegal nuclear proliferation both at home and abroad, you've got a problem on your hands. But when you throw in an Islamic insurgency, suicide bombers, autonomous tribal areas and political mayhem, you've got a pretty toxic mix. Market research has consistently demonstrated that when it comes to nuclear brands, even illegal ones, people prefer stability.

But if a nuclear-armed military dictatorship balancing on a precipice between Islamic insurgents on one side and rioting lawyers on the other doesn't quite make for an appealing brand identity, what, then, would you re-brand Pakistan as? Oddly enough, every time I see an old photo of Benazir Bhutto as a young woman, I think to myself that you could probably base a pretty winning brand image on that. Of course that's exactly what the PPP did before she was assassinated. Which explains why, given the choice, I'd much rather be working for the lobby shop that the PPP hired in order to pressure Congress to call for an international investigation of her death, even if they are only getting $30K per month for the gig.

One thing is certain. Pervez Musharraf can't exactly coopt Bhutto's image now that she's dead, given that she was basically tearing him out a new one when she was alive. So the options for a new Pakistan brand identity just don't seem that good. All of which means that the reason for hiring Ogilvy probably has less to do with its brand management services, and more to do with press releases like this one.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Up And Coming

If you've been following developments in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, you'll be familiar with the name Baitullah Mehsud. He's the cross-border Taliban commander who was accused of masterminding Benazir Bhutto's assassination. But Mehsud's something like a hot prospect climbing through the Taliban farm system. Jamestown Foundation has got a profile, and it's worth reading. Barring a successful missile strike, we're going to be hearing a lot more about this guy over the next few years.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Sunday, January 6, 2008

More Pakistan Clarifications

On the same day that Pervez Musharraf finally conceded that Benazir Bhutto may have died of gunshot wounds, and a day after the WSJ reported that US intelligence officials are increasingly convinced that is indeed the case, The Times of India is citing a "senior Western official" who claims that she was definitely killed by the impact from the explosion after all. The main issue here, of course, is not the actual cause of death but the Pakistani government's credibility. So even if it turns out that she was in fact killed by a gunshot, all the government needs to show is that it wasn't unreasonable to believe otherwise. Given the amount of confusion now cast over the entire tragedy, that's looking more likely.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration's national security team is busy examining whether and how to carry out covert operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban forces within Pakistan itself. Interestingly enough, before her assassination, this seemed like one of the principle advantages of a possible Bhutto victory in Pakistan's elections. Now it's the aftermath of her death that might have changed the political landscape in Islamabad enough to make it possible. Whether or not it is advisable is another story, and given the track record of both Washington and Islamabad on this particular front, I'd say the handicapping on that one starts out with some pretty heavy odds in the "No" column.

And finally, AQ Khan (of nuclear black market fame) has just been elected President of the Senior Citizens Foundation of Pakistan. You can't make this stuff up.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pakistani Rumor Mill

It's worth noting that in addition to the outlandish rumor I mentioned here about Benazir Bhutto being assassinated by "the latest laser beam technology, being used by the American forces in Iraq", there's also one now making the rounds about American military forces getting set to "takeover" Pakistan's nuclear sites. The first rumor was credited to PPP sources, but the second, while launched by a British newspaper, was lent the credibility of being denied, so to speak, by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. Which suggests to me that the anti-American card, one that obviously works against Bhutto's legacy, is about to be played in Pakistani domestic politics.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Pakistan Clarifications

Via Paul Kiel at TPMmuckraker comes the Pakistani government's clarification that when a spokesman apologized for the claim that Benazir Bhutto was killed by colliding with her car's sunroof -- as opposed to gunshot wounds -- it was meant as a correction of tone, not of content. Meanwhile, the head of the Pakistani Election Commission officially announced that legislative elections would be postponed until February 18. And the Pentagon took advantage of the prevailing mood of international goodwill towards Islamabad to announce that it had awarded a $500 million contract to Lockheed Martin to provide Pakistan with eighteen F-16 fighter jets. Said Richard Boucher, Asst. Sec. of State for South Asian Affairs:

"The F-16 programme is a Pakistani purchase, their money, they’re buying them...And our foreign military finance, our military assistance goes for different purposes and is not involved at this point in the F-16 sales."

Now that that's all cleared up...

Update: According to breaking news reports, Pervez Musharraf just announced the imminent arrival of a British team from Scotland Yard to investigate the circumstances surrounding Bhutto's assassination.

Late Update: The boys from Scotland Yard really have their work cut out for them, because according to unidentified PPP sources cited by the Pakistani daily The Nation, Benazir Bhutto was killed by neither bullets nor bombs but by a laser beam of the sort used by American forces in Iraq. The shooter and suicide bomber were simply decoys for a third assailant. No word on whether any flying saucers were involved.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pakistan News Digest

Some noteworthy developments in Pakistan in the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's assassination. After taking a pretty brutal press beating for its claims that Bhutto died of head trauma caused by colliding with her car's sunroof, the Pakistani government has now reversed course and retracted its statement. The move might be an effort to improve the government's credibility in the face of two announcements almost certain to further inflame the country's volatile political situation. First, a Bhutto aide claims that she was poised to present a visiting American Congressional delegation with smoking gun evidence of government efforts to rig upcoming elections. And second, those elections are almost certain to be postponed until February at the earliest.

Meanwhile, in a sign of reassuring continuity, Pakistan and India exchanged a list of civilian nuclear sites, as they have done every year since 1992 as part of a MAD-type pact not to target them in the event of hostilities. I think Matthew Yglesias made this point last week, but I can't find the link and it's worth repeating. If the US really wants to encourage Pakistan's efforts against Islamic extremists, we should do everything in our power to support the nascent detente between Pakistan and India. The less threatened Pakistan feels by its powerful neighbor, the more energy and resources it can devote to counter-terrorism.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bloodline Democracy

To give a sense of just what kind of Pakistani democratic tradition Benazir Bhutto represented, I heard a French commentator on the nightly news explain that her husband probably would have been elected to take her place at the head of the PPP "...if only he had Bhutto blood in his veins." As it is, he'll have to be satisfied with the position of regent to his and Bhutto's nineteen year-old son, Bilawal.

Meanwhile, Democratic candidates who competed to see who could come up with the most callous use of Bhutto's assassination for political advantage all lost out to Nawaf Sharif. Here's how a spokesman for his party explained its decision to compete in upcoming legislative elections instead of boycotting them as planned:

"If they (PPP) don't mind contesting elections after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, then there is no point in our boycotting general elections."

Late word is that they'll probably be postponed by the Pakistani electoral commission tomorrow.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto

I'd been adding a grain or two of salt to media coverage of Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan, given the darling status she enjoys in the Western press and her corruption-tarnished past. Needless to say, the news of her assassination put all that in perspective. Whatever her flaws, she was a courageous woman who refused to let cowards intimidate her into silence. And in so doing, she denied her murderers any possible claim to victory in the battle of images that goes hand in hand with terrorist violence.

Ultimately, it's up to the Pakistani people now to decide just how much and what kind of an impact her murder has on the future of their country. I've read some dire forecasts of chaos and violence. Hopefully it becomes a catalyst for unity and cohesion. But whatever meaning Pakistan ultimately takes from Bhutto's life and death, the rest of us would do well to remember her for her fearlessness in this metaphorical age of terror.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

India, Pakistan And The Limits Of Deterrence

According to this article in The Middle East Times, India's intelligence service is in the spotlight these days for what some say is a massive failure last month to predict the State of Emergency in neighboring Pakistan. Given the nuclear status of both nations, that's the kind of lapse that could potentially have global implications. It also adds some context to the duelling announcements this week of the test-firing of a 700km-range, nuclear capable Pakistani cruise missile, and a 6000km-range, nuclear capable Indian missile that's now in the works for next year. The range of India's missile would put it out of striking range for "most capable missiles in Pakistan's arsenal..." according to the Times of India.

In addition to being alarming in and of itself, the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff demonstrates the potential risks of a nuclearized Middle East, especially one where the nuclear equation is not bi-lateral but multi-lateral. The argument that a nuclear Iran can be deterred is, to my mind, defensible. But the image of deterrence that is often invoked is based on the relatively stable version eventually arrived at by two mature and stable superpowers. The Middle East bears no resemblance to that kind of arrangement, and even less so should Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt all join Israel as nuclear weapons states. A situation where every missile test launch evokes existential alerts adds an unacceptable level of tension to an already volatile region.

It's also interesting to see American progressives suddenly become proponents of nuclear deterrence, even if in theory it could apply to Iran. As I recall as a thirteen year-old marching in the 1981 No Nukes rally, a defense posture that ultimately depends on a willingness to obliterate hundreds of thousands of lives was a very high burden to bear. Its relegation to the dustbin of history was one of the supposed benefits of the end of the Cold War. While it's reassuring to see the principle of deterrence enjoy something of a revival in lunatic neocon circles, I'd like to see progressives to come up with proposals that represent, well, progress.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Pakistan   

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Open Source Chaos

In addition to a wave of Stateside optimism, the Anbar Awakening in Iraq has also given rise to a gathering new meme about how to address counterinsurgency, the War on Terror, and the challenges facing failed states in a globalized world. According to this new line of thinking, exemplified by this John Robb post and this Robert Kaplan essay, nation-building -- characterized by establishing democratic institutions and top-down political reconciliation -- doesn't work, especially in quasi-autonomous tribal societies like Anbar province in Iraq and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan.

According to Robb, "Politics and populations in our new global environment fragment faster than they can be assembled into cohesive entities." Robb's answer to "temporary autonomous zones and open-source insurgency"? What he calls "open source militias": Spontaneous, local militia movements that arise in reaction to the inevitable excesses of the initial insurgencies. These militias we do little to shape, supporting them only once they've taken form.

Kaplan limits his argument to the Iraq and Pakistan theatres, but it's easy to see how easily it might be generalized to apply to any location where kinship bonds trump national identity and local tribal loyalties take precedence over allegiance to a distant central government. In such areas, pragmatic opportunism dictates that we align counterinsurgency efforts with local tribal power structures, regardless of the implications for a broader democratizing agenda. For Kaplan, "Progress...means erecting not a parliamentary system, but a balance of fear among tribes and sectarian groups."

Now I don't think either Robb or Kaplan is necessarily wrong here, although it's ironic that Kaplan uses a principle of progressive social science (cultural relativism) to justify a principle of reactionary colonial rule (divide and conquer). But what's significant about their approach, which is sure to gain traction, is that it represents a sort of glum, post-9/11 pessimistic version of the euphoric, post-Cold War optimism that heralded the end of the nation-state and the coming of a harmonic global order. In Robb and Kaplan's vision, instead of being surpassed through supra-national agglomeration or reconfigured on the molecular level through direct NGO action, the state has been effectively put out of reach through a process of controlled atomization. Here's Robb:

The use of a plethora of militias to fight a global open source insurgency from Nigeria to Mexico to Iraq to Pakistan is effective within a grand strategy of delay (it holds disorder at bay while allowing globalization to work). Most beneficially, it eliminates the need for nation-building, massive conventional troop deployments, and other forms of excess.

That's about it in a nutshell: a grand strategy of delay. Needless to say, Robb's oblique reference to "allowing globalization to work" is the key to understanding the argument.

As I said, I don't think either Robb or Kaplan is necessarily wrong. To begin with, there are areas in the world where the writ of the national government is a legal fiction. Beyond that, their vision corresponds to the practical necessities of American foreign policy in its current interventionist formulation. But it's important to remember that the two counterinsurgency wars we're currently fighting, in Iraq and in Afghanistan/Pakistan, are wars that we created. In Iraq, as a direct consequence of removing a non-democratic but functioning state, and in Afghanistan/Pakistan as an indirect consequence of our Soviet-era Afghanistan policy, which instigated the very sort of contained chaos that gave rise to Al Qaeda and which both Robb and Kaplan now suggest we try to manage. (To his credit, Robb does raise the caveat of whether we'll be able to manage "something this complex or this messy".)

As importantly, local populations delivered up to globalization are very often exploited like just another raw commodity. In the absence of nation states to defend their interests, that's how globalization "works". Which is why I'd argue for a middle ground between euphoric post-nation state utopianism and Machiavellian failed nation state pragmatism, one that defends the centrality of the nation state, reinforces its effectiveness, equips it to provide the basic needs and services for its constituents, and encourages it (as much as is reasonably possible) to respond to their grievances and reflect their aspirations.

All of these interventions take enormous effort, strong and effective mult-lateral institutions, and time -- in short, the "forms of excess" that Robb seeks to avoid. But in the long run, they offer a better chance for building a sustainable international order, capable of dealing with the existential, strategic and ethical challenges we have no choice but to overcome if we as a species are to survive.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Global War On Terror   Iraq   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friends Like That

Lost amid all the attention given to the declaration of martial law is the news that Pakistan and Iran just finalized a deal to build a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline between the two countries. The Bush administration had been strongly opposed to the project, since it undermines its attempts to isolate Tehran.

Good thing Musharraf's on our payroll. I'd hate to see what he'd be up to if we hadn't given him $9 billion over the past six years.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lunch Money And A Ticket Home

To give you an idea of just what kind of insurgency is taking place in Pakistan's Swat region, militants captured a "Frontier Constabulary fort" on Thursday, capturing 60 members of a paramilitary government militia who surrendered when their supplies ran out. Pakistan daily Dawn picks up the story from there:

About 60 paramilitary soldiers taken hostage by militants on Thursday were released...

The militiamen captured in Daroshkhela area were also given Rs1,000 each by the militants so that they could reach their areas...

"We had given our word to the militiamen that they would remain unharmed in our custody and be released. We have kept our promise," said Mohammad Alam, a militant commander.

Mr Alam told journalists that the militants would not leave Madyan town which they had taken over.

The militants had earlier left Bahrain and Kalam towns on the request of local elders.

The militant commander said the elders in the two areas were united and they could look after the law and order situation themselves.

"We believe that the people of Madyan are not in a position to control law and order, therefore, we will stay in the town," he said.

Local people said the militants had set up their office in the police centre in Madyan and hoisted their white and black flags in the area. (Weird single-sentence paragraphs in original.)

Things aren't always so rosy over there, of course. The same story mentioned two killed and fourteen wounded in a roadside bombing incident Friday. But the Pakistani militants seem to have grasped at least two things that the Bush administration would do well to take to heart. Namely, when you treat the enemies you capture on the battlefield humanely, they're more liable to think twice before they decide to fight you to the death. And when folks don't want you to stick around, you're better off leaving.

Oh, and by the way, I'm liking the white and black flags.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Friday, November 9, 2007

OTB, Pakistan Edition

One of the justifications put forward by Pervez Musharraf for declaring martial law was the Pakistani Supreme Court's interference in terrorism prosecutions. To get a sense of just what the nature of the government's grievances were, here's a passage from an article describing revisions just made to Pakistan's Army Act giving military courts the right to prosecute terrorism cases:

Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum told the channel that some new clauses and offences were being added to the existing Army Act to provide legal cover to law enforcement agencies. He said the ordinance would allow law enforcement agencies to legally arrest and prosecute alleged terrorists without an arrest warrant.

...Qayyum said the new ordinance was necessary and inevitable for protecting the sovereignty of the country, adding that it would be similar to the United States’ Patriot Act.

...the Supreme Court had questioned the intelligence agencies’ legal authority to apprehend and detain people during the missing persons’ case and this ordinance sought to redress that. The channel said that following the enactment of this ordinance, people arrested and shifted to an unknown location would not have to be presented before any court of law. It reported that the families of missing persons could not ask the courts to force law enforcement agencies to produce suspected terrorists.

This is, of course, more along the lines of a domestic Gitmo than the Patriot Act, but it's precisely why both the Patriot Act and Gitmo make people nervous in the States: Because the logic of constitutional infringements, especially in response to a threat like terrorism, is expansive. [Update: It's also a textbook example of bad actors using our compromises in the name of national security as cover for their own, even if their's are more egregious.]

In other Pakistan news, Nawaz Sharif has rejected Benazir Bhutto's overtures for a united front among opposition parties, basically accusing Bhutto of collaborating with the Musharraf regime for not withdrawing her deputies from parliament at the time of Musharraf's recent election.

And finally, as long as Pakistan coverage has transformed the situation into a horserace, here's who I'm betting will be running the country before the month is out: Gen. Ashaq Kiani. Currently the Army's second-in-command, he's the man already tapped to replace Musharraf as Chief of Staff. In addition to being a graduate of Ft. Leavenworth's General Staff College and the former head of Pakistan's notoriously powerful intelligence services (ISI), he also served as a military attache under Benazir Bhutto during her first term as Prime Minister in 1988. If that weren't enough to make him a perfect fit for a position as transitional dictator, he's also the president of the Pakistan Golf Association. Remember, you read it here first.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Conflating Two Threats

Matthew Yglesias is correct to point out the relationship between American support for anti-democratic regimes and anti-American sentiment, and it's true that we pay a much greater cost for a hands-off policy towards an authoritarian country we're friendly with than one we're hostile towards.

But I think causally linking the resulting anti-American backlash to extremist violence is only possible if you conflate the two distinct oppositions faced by regimes such as Iran under the Shah, and Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia today.

The Islamic extremists setting off bomb belts in crowded plazas aren't motivated by a yearning for democracy. To the contrary. They'd still be setting them off if Pakistan were ruled by a democratically elected civilian government. They don't target these regimes because they don't resemble America enough. They target them because they resemble America too closely.

On the other hand, the lawyers protesting martial law in Pakistan, who serve as a bulwark against Islamic militants and represent in principle the constituency most likely to be sympathetic to America, are much more likely to resent the hell out of us if we don't take a tougher line against Musharraf. And while they probably won't embrace extremist violence and terrorism as a result of our abandonment, they probably won't be very inclined to align themselves with us when they eventually do achieve democratic rule.

So it really does seem obvious that we should be doing everything we can to support them, while at the same time trying to find solutions to the broader faultlines that fuel the Islamic militants.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Pakistan   The Middle East   

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hold The Hysteria, Pakistan Edition

Laura Rozen has got a great interview up over at Mother Jones. A "former US government official" very familiar with Pakistan gives a very enlightening assessment of what's going on over there. Short version: Musharraf is not the Shah of Iran, Bhutto is Chalabi, the nukes are pretty safe for now, and we'd better develop some better approaches to dealing with the Pashtuns, because they're pissed of on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (which they don't recognize). Good stuff, reassuring in terms of the hysterical worst-case scenarios being bandied about, a little less so on the outlook for finding a stable solution to the longterm policy challenges in the region.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies, Pakistan Edition

You'll remember that one of the accusations Pervez Musharraf made against the Pakistani judiciary was that it interfered in the struggle against Islamic militants. Specifically, he claimed they had released militants who had gone on to engage in further attacks. Well, today the Pakistani army released 25 Islamic militants, in return for the release of 213 army personnel held captive by the militants in South Wajiristan.

It also appears that CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon's mission to Islamabad in the hours preceding the declaration of martial law included an offer of military assistance, in the form of US troops on the ground, to the Pakistani campaign against Islamic militants on the Afghan border. Musharraf rejected the offer due to the negative impact it would have on Pakistani public opinion.

Update: Via Noah Shachtman over at Danger Room comes this NY Times report that the prisoner exchange was part of a larger "peace agreement" between Pakistani forces and Baitullah Mehsud, a local militant leader. According to the Times, the Pakistani will withdraw from the area, turning patrolling duties over to Mehsud's militia. In other words, given the choice between outsourcing the job of containing Islamic militants to American soldiers or to Islamic militants, Musharraf chose the Islamic militants.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Musharraf's Shakespearean Turn

The emerging common wisdom about the state of emergency in Pakistan is that notwithstanding Pervez Musharraf's claims to the contrary, the crackdown has little to do with Islamic militants and everything to do with Musharraf's domestic political opposition. Namely the professional and political class as symbolically represented by the judiciary, the political opposition parties, and the legal profession, all of whom were the first to be rounded up under the order. (Think Shakespeare's famous injunction: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.")

As I pointed out yesterday, the Provisional Constitutional Order that suspends the constitution explicitly leaves in place all Islamic injunctions. And according to the Pakistani press (can't find the damn link), Musharraf's crackdown on political opposition has not extended to the extremist Islamic political parties, to whom he is actually extending olive branches. (Although some of them have declared their opposition to the crackdown nevertheless.) Which would seem to bolster the longstanding claim that Musharraf pays lip service to the War on Terror line when it comes time to cashing American checks, while doing everything he can to accomodate the fundamentalist Pakistani street the rest of the time.

My hunch -- and it's a gut feeling based only on the reading I've been doing, mainly in the Pakistani press -- is that Musharraf isn't going to survive this one. His position is far from stable, based as it is exclusively on his ability to advance the Pakistani military's agenda, which is primarily stability, efficient government and keeping a low profile so they can continue playing their strategic games in Afghanistan and Kashmir. He's delivering none of the above, with seriously failing marks on the keeping a low profile angle. I also think that with a little distance, the Bush administration will realize this and begin to tighten the screws. In fact, I sense a hardening of the tone coming out of Washington already.

I'd lay odds that the clever way out of this impasse will be a new general emerging to replace Musharraf, allowing the Bush administration to save face. The new guy will then be accorded a short period of time to re-stabilize the political situation before re-launching Pakistan's return to civilian rule. The old "When in doubt, switch despots" ploy. It worked for Shakespeare.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Musharraf's Trump Card

In the face of their tepid reactions to the state of emergency in Pakistan, questions are being raised about whether Washington and London actually gave a last-minute green light to the measure. According to some reports, CentCom commander Adm. William Fallon was still in the offices of the Pakistani chiefs of staff while Pervez Musharraf was fine tuning the actual declaration, and by all indications had not yet left the country when the announcement was made.

But whether they reluctantly consented or not, it's increasingly clear that Musharraf felt emboldened to disregard their objections based on his reading of the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, exacerbated by NATO's recent refusal to increase the force structure there. Having established Pakistan as an indispensable ally in that effort, Musharraf correctly assumed that neither America or England could afford to take him to task for his power grab, despite the enormous public relations fiasco the move represents.

It reminds me of the old saw: If you owe me $50 and you can't pay, you're in trouble. If you owe me $50 million and you can't pay, I'm in trouble. The return to democratic rule was kind of like Pakistan's interest payment in return for us showering them with military grants and re-integrating them into the circle of "responsible nations". Now, not only have they stopped paying interest, they've defaulted on the entire package.

In the meantime, because we failed to finish the job in Afghanistan before shifting our attention to Iraq, we've transformed a situation in which they needed us into a situation where we need them.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Pakistan   

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Wishful Thinking?

Far be it from me to second guess Steve Clemons on foreign policy. But I admit I'm puzzled to see him link the situation in Pakistan to the lack of a final status settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Not because I think a final settlement isn't necessary or even essential to re-establishing American integrity in the region. In fact, I think Israel's best hope for longterm stability is in a very generous peace, along the lines of a regional common market like the EU leading to an eventual quasi-federal arrangement with the Palestinian state.

It's just that I don't expect even the most generous agreement, let alone one that stands a realistic chance of being adopted, to have much impact on the Islamic radicalism that threatens the Arab and Muslim world. Iran, Hizbollah, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their copycat splinter groups aren't calling for a two-state solution to the conflict. In fact, a Palestinian state that reached such a settlement would become a principle target for these groups. And while the plight of the Palestinians exacerbates the alienation that leads to Islamic radicalsim, it is far from being its exclusive cause.

A fair final status agreement for the Palestinians is necessary for a variety of reasons. I just wonder if it's reasonable to expect it to have such a wide impact. And to assume that that impact will operate exclusively in our favor.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   The Middle East   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Pakistan In Context

Another quick post about the State of Emergency in Pakistan, under which opposition activists (including the former head of Pakistani intelligence) have now been detained. Pakistan has found itself under increasing American pressure to both rein in its Islamic militants and restore some semblance of civilian democratic rule. My reading of the State of Emergency -- and I admittedly might be giving Musharraf and the generals too much credit -- is that Musharraf is clearly signalling that he can deliver one or the other, but not both. That, at least, is what he's claiming, and I don't pretend to know enough about the realities on the ground to assess whether or not it's true.

But as this clause from the Provisional Constitutional Order issued to suspend the Pakistani constitution demonstrates, it's obvious which part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan gives way when push comes to shove:

Notwithstanding anything contained in the Proclamation of the 3rd day of November, 2007, or this Order or any other law for the time being in force all provisions of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan embodying Islamic injunctions... shall continue to be in force.

The biggest flaw in the Bush administration's response to 9/11 has been its failure to appreciate just how tight a tightrope our Muslim allies are walking. Because while the very limited cult of suicidal martyrdom represented by Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden represents no real existential threat to America, the much broader movement calling for the imposition of a fundamentalist Islamic theocracy throughout the Arab world does pose such a threat to our allies in the region. And the 20th century model of secular democracy represented by Turkey, or secular non-democratic modernism represented by Egypt and Jordan, but also Syria and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, is an increasingly obsolete alternative. Which seems to leave as the best alternative, at least for the time being, a hybrid form of theocratic-modernism, ideally with -- but predominantly without -- the trappings of democracy.

The transition to modernism has historically met fierce opposition everywhere it has taken place. So it's not surprising that the same should be true in the Islamic world. It's also impossible to speak of a universal modernism. The West modernized through hard-won democratic institutions; Russia, Japan and China through centralized totalitarian states.

By falling prey to the Clash of Civilations paradigm in the aftermath of 9/11, instead of addressing the unique challenges faced by the Islamic world in its pursuit of modernism, we've reinforced the environment of hostile conflict that in fact favors our enemies. Pakistan is just the latest symptom of that phenomenon.

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   Pakistan   

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Logic Of National Security

Josh Marshall muses about the odd hybrid form of government that is Pakistan's constitutional military dictatorship. All proportions guarded, it's interesting to note the similarities between the logic that drove Musharraf to place the Pakistani constitution "in abeyance" and the logic used by the Bush administration to justify its vision of broadened executive powers (specifically the use of extra-Constitutional measures) in time of war. Namely, that the exigencies of national security trump the Constitutional restraints of separation of powers, in particular as regards judicial oversight. Here are the relevant passages from Musharraf's declaration of a State of Emergency:

Whereas some members of the judiciary are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace;...

Whereas constant interference in executive function, including but not limited to the control of terrorist activity... has weakened the writ of the government; the police force has been completely demoralized and is fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism and Intelligence Agencies have been thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists;

Whereas some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released. The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life an property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies subdued;

Whereas some judges by overstepping the limits of judicial authority have taken over the executive and legislative functions;

Whereas the law and order situation in the country as well as the economy have been adversely affected and trichotomy of powers eroded;

Whereas a situation has thus arisen where the government of the country cannot be carried on in accordance with the constitution and as the constitution provides no solution for this situation, there is no way out except through emergent and extraordinary measures;

If there's a difference between the two, it's that Musharraf admits that the Pakistani constitution offers no method to arbitrate the conflict, leaving him no choice but to abrogate it temporarily, whereas the Bush administration bases its claims of extra-Constitutional power in its peculiar and self-serving reading of the Constitution itself.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm no apologist for the Pakistani regime. But consider how the Bush administration responded to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Now imagine those attacks multiplied throughout the country on an ongoing basis, with Al Gore still in the process of challenging the 2000 presidential election, and you've got an idea of what's going on in Pakistan right now. Under those circumstances, I'm not sure we'd have made out any better than the Pakistanis.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Pakistan   

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Musharraf Clamps Down

After denying all week that he would declare a state of emergency, Pervez Musharraf went ahead and did just that today, according to breaking AP wire dispatches and Indian press reports. Not surprisingly, the Pakistani press has nothing on what's going on. The measure comes on the heels of Benazir Bhutto's return from exile and amidst ongoing negotiations to determine the power sharing arrangement between her and Musharraf. Complicating the domestic situation even further was the widening fighting between the Pakistani military and jihadi militants that has recently spread beyond the badlands of the Afghan border.

The roots of the current crisis can be found in Musharraf's recent election as president. At the time he had agreed to run as a civilian, only to backtrack and promise to resign as army chief-of-staff after the voting. The Supreme Court was set to deliver a ruling on the legality of that maneuver next week. Significantly, Musharraf declared the "provisional Constitutional order" in his capacity as army chief-of-staff.

When rumors of the state of emergency began surfacing earlier this week, Bhutto announced she would cancel a scheduled trip to her party's headquarters in Dubai, with the intention of mobilizing opposition from within Pakistan. Apparently she went ahead with the trip, leaving Pakistan on Thursday. After conflicting reports from Dubai, her husband announced she was already on her way back to Pakistan.

The major question yet to be answered is whether this is a move to consolidate power for power's sake, or if there really is a fear among the Pakistani military that the country would not be able to effectively defeat the growing Islamist threat in the face of political instability caused by a return to democracy. Either way, it deals a blow to American efforts to "legitimize" its tactical cooperation with the Pakistani regime.

Posted by Judah in:  Pakistan   

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