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9th September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:15 am

While You Were Away: Pakistan

Third in an ongoing series on important stories you might have missed as a result of Conventionspalooza.

When we last looked at Pakistan, it already was a huge mess.  President Pevez Musharraf was on the verge of being impeached, the multi-party coalition was squabbling about everything except getting rid of Musharraf, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Service had been implicated in the bombing of India’s embassy in Pakistan.

One month later, things are even worse.  The good news is that Musharraf is no longer President, having resigned before he was impeached.

Now the bad news.  Where to start?

1.  The two largest parties in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party (the late Benazir Bhutto’s party, now led by Asif Ali Zadari) and the Muslim League-N (led by Nawaz Sharif, who was Prime Minister when Musharraf staged his coup back in 1999), continue to fight one another.  The most recent conflict was over the reinstatement of Supreme Court justices fired by Musharraf back in November of last year.  Those firings were the first in a series of events, including the assassination of Bhutto and the resignation of Musharaf, that have largely restored democracy in Pakistan but have done little to actually give the new rulers the authority or ability to rule.

On the day after Musharraf resigned, the conflict over whether to reappoint all of the fired justices came to a head.  ML-N leader Nawaz Sharif told the PPP that if it did not agree to reinstate former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry within 72 hours, the ML-N would leave the government.  PPP leader Zadari refused, in part because he believes that Chaudhry would reopen the numerous investigations into his alleged personal corruption.  In the end, the ML-N quit the coalition and on September 5, the PPP reinstated three of the four justices.  The one exception was Chaudhry, who the PPP argued had become too political a figure because of his vocal opposition to Musharraf’s rule.

The end result?  One of Pakistan’s most important advocates for democracy and transparency has been sidelined because of his willingness to support investigations into past corrupt practices by. . .

2.  . . .the new President of Pakistan.  On September 6, Zadari was elected President by the National Assembly, Senate, and four provincial assemblies, as required under the Constitution.  Zadari won, in part, by pledging to support the elimination of a constitutional amendment giving the President the power to dismiss parliament.  In response to his election, the ML-N called on him to step down as head of the PPP.

Zadari is regarded as friendly toward the United States, in large part because he appears willing to pursue those elements of Al Qaeda and the Taliban currently in control of sections of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province.

His election was not without controversy:  he is known as “Mr. Ten Percent” because he allegedly demanded 10 percent of all foreign contracts signed while his wife was Prime Minister (these are the allegations that led Zadari and the PPP to oppose the reinstatement of Chaudhry as Chief Justice).

In addition, there was this report:

Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.  The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.

In court documents seen by the Financial Times, Philip Saltiel, a New York City-based psychiatrist, said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Mr Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. “I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” Mr Saltiel wrote.  Stephen Reich, a New York state-based psychologist, said Mr Zardari was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide.

Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption, court records show.  The case – brought to seize some of his UK assets – was dropped in March, at about the same time that corruption charges in Pakistan were dismissed. However, the court papers raise questions about Mr Zardari’s ability to help guide one of the world’s most strategically important countries following the resignation last week of Mr Musharraf, under whose rule the corruption cases against the PPP leader and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were pursued.

In other words, Zadari, who may be corrupt, mentally unstable or both, is now the leader of a state with nuclear weapons.  Of course, it could have been worse — there was an attempt to get A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and leader of a smuggling ring responsible for selling nuclear technology to North Korea and Libya, to run.

3.  It is not yet clear whether the ISI and the Pakistani military will actually take orders from President Zadari.  The chances of a military coup are lower than they were a month ago, but it would be inaccurate to suggest that they have receded completely.  Meanwhile, the ISI has not yet been held accountable for their role in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

4.  The war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is not going well — despite the fact that the government of Pakistan officially “outlawed” the Taliban two weeks ago.  The two groups control large swathes of the NWFP, and have the support of locals.

Last week, American special forces mounted a raid into Pakistani territory in order to take out a “moderately important terrorist target.”  They followed that up Monday with a unmanned drone attack on a compound believed to belong to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander.

The first response from the Pakistani government came not form elected officials but rather the army:

A Pakistan army spokesman warned that the apparent escalation from recent foreign missile strikes on militant targets along the Afghan border would further anger Pakistanis and undercut cooperation in the war against terrorist groups.

On Saturday, Pakistan closed the Torkham Border Crossing in the Khyber Pass in response to the incursion.  Torkham is the main supply route for NATO forces operating in Afghanistan; roughly 70 percent of NATO materiel comes in via that route.  On Monday,  the Pakistani army spokesman issued the following statement:

Border violations by US-led forces in Afghanistan, which have killed scores of Pakistani civilians, would no longer be tolerated, and we have informed them that we reserve the right to self defense and that we will retaliate if the US continues cross-border attacks.

As Sean-Paul Kelley over at The Agonist noted, is anyone in Washington paying the least bit of attention to all this?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about. Hey, I got a great idea, let’s accidentally start a war with Pakistan, a very unstable country, with no real leader and nukes. Great idea!

Also last week, thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was the target of an assassination attempt in Islamabad.

In sum, the departure of Musharaf has done nothing to slow Pakistan’s descent into chaos.  And once again, the United States remains unwilling or unable to develop anything resembling a coherent policy.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 at 11:15 am and is filed under foreign policy, war & rumors of war. It is tagged under , , , , , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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