There were some fun times in Pakistan this week. Abdul Aziz Ghazi, cleric of the radical Lal-Masjid mosque in Islamabad (known for its adoration and occasional harboring of Taliban and Al-Qaeda types), was caught trying to escape the government’s crackdown on extremists wearing a burqa. There are hints that his wearing a burqa was in fact a common occurence, the standard way he traveled to meet with ISI. Then there’s the news that Musharraf’s been targeted for assassination yet again—ignoring the fellatious accounts of our worst friend in the War on Terror in places like National Review, this is exactly (especially given the lack of evidence; how do they know they were “targeted” by guns only the Taliban use?) what I’ve feared and assumed Musharraf would do all along, namely use the threat of Islamist violence to legitimize his rule.
So how does this relate to any of the region we cover here? Musharraf’s campaign against Lal-Masjid is certainly welcome (though, given the probable involvement of ISI at the mosque, it is most likely meaningless in any grander context), and definitely years overdue; its brazen support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in general have, in my opinion, moved it far beyond the deference I tend to afford religious institutions. For one, it tells me Musharraf is nervous about his ability to cling to power, which could have resounding implications for the region. Might he actually hold the elections he’s promised this century’s duration? I would guess he’d have a slim chance of remaining in power, which tells me he is unlikely to allow elections willingly; however, should they eventually become the only way he can avoid his own murder, they might take place (note: I am absolutely not condoning such a thing). The big question with elections in Pakistan is who would rise to power—could it be, like all other elections in which Islamists are given an equal right to rally for popular mass support, that they would gain a bit of legitimacy while cementing their place on the margin? Are there any useful alternatives to Musharraf, people without the proven records of failure like Bhutto and Sharif? How will that then ripple across the Durand line to Afghanistan, and the Taliban’s spring/summer/autumn offensive?
It’s a big deal, because at this point I think everyone is dependent on Pakistan figuring out how to secure its western border to accomplish anything. Certainly, the “good guys” aren’t helping much, what with our feckless non-confrontational attitudes and counterproductive eradication policies. Indeed, while I am a critic of the “security first” doctrine, its wholesale abandonment is equally counterproductive—security and development must proceed hand-in-hand, not in opposition to one another. They are complimentary, not exclusive.
Indeed, the New Yorker‘s John Lee Anderson was recently in Tarin Khowt, following the Dutch around. His general take is that their attitude is soft and counterproductive, with their commanders going so far as to say they’re not there to fight the Taliban—an admirable sentiment, to be sure, but it’s kind of missing the point. The Taliban must be cleared from an area, or at least suppressed, before the development can take place.
As for the counternarcotics policy? A psychotic mess, as always. The Americans are contemptuous of development programs because they worry Afghanistan might one day turn into Colombia, “where the narcos owned part of the government and controlled significant parts of the economy.” Huh. Last I checked, opium was somewhere between 25% and 40% of Afghanistan’s economy, depending on who was doing the measuring and what indicators they were using. Also, last I checked, problems like corruption were so widespread and so closely tied to the drug lords, a lot of western aid workers were unsure where the drugs stopped and the legitimate government began. So I’m not sure why they still think they’re staving off Colombia—Colombia is there. Except: the traditional method of addressing Colombia’s curse, which is usually a large scale paramilitary operation, resulted in decades of horrid warfare before they figured out that political and economic changes, not a war on drugs, was the best way to eliminate their corrupting influence.
My big question remains the same as always: the traditional “School of the Americas” approach to counternarcotics was an abysmal failure. Why are we exporting that to Afghanistan? And why are we so surprised it is beginning to fall to pieces?
Update: Some Follow up on Pakistan’s possible motives.