More Insipid Commentary on Pakistan

by Joshua Foust on 11/9/2007 · 4 comments

My Lord the punditry on Pakistan is particularly boneheaded this week. Let’s take a look at Charles Krauthammer.

Islamist barbarians are at the gates. The president declares de facto martial law. The country’s democratic forces of the center and left, led by well-dressed lawyers and a former prime minister, take to the streets.

What is America to do about Pakistan?

How about demand open, fair elections? If Musharraf were really concerned with “Islamist barbarians… at the gates,” he probably would have been rounding them up in the mass arrests, instead of lawyers and politicians. Don’t you think?

The only thing we know for sure about Pakistan is that there will be no such happy ending [as in Marcos in the Philippines and Pinochet in Chile]. President Pervez Musharraf was a good bet in 2001 when, under extreme pressure from the Bush administration, he flipped and joined our war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But like Marcos and Pinochet, he has now become near-terminally unpopular, illegitimate and destructive to his own country. Is it time to revisit the 1980s and help push him over the edge?

That depends on whether we think Benazir Bhutto is Corazon Aquino and whether Bhutto and her allies can successfully take power, which means keeping both the army and the country intact. Heightening the risk of dumping Musharraf is that external conditions today are not like the relatively benign conditions of the 1980s. The Taliban and its allies are gaining in strength and waiting to pick up the pieces from the civil war developing between the two most westernized, most modernizing elements of Pakistani society — the army, one of the few functioning institutions of the state, and the elite of civil society, including lawyers, jurists, journalists and students.

Calling Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Actually, describing the election of Corazon Aquino anything other than a qualified tragedy takes a lot of gumption: her husband was assassinated by Marcos for demanding democratic reform, a far cry from Benazir Bhutto’s crony-democracy and history of money laundering when last in power. Contrasted with Aquino’s consistent work as a democratic activist and strong human rights advocate (and voluntary relinquishment of a legal third term), Bhutto’s naked power grab—and sweetheart deal to avoid prosecution with Musharraf—falls seriously short of the calm and reasoned position Krauthammer seems to adopt.

I’m also not a fan of his assumption that Pakistan will end in violence. It will not, at least not necessarily. Musharraf’s recent backing down shows promise that he might leave power voluntarily, and Bhutto’s position seems relatively weak inside Pakistan (as Krauthammer rightfully notes, she is a master at telling us exactly what we want to hear, rather than the truth). His solution, which consists essentially of guaranteeing Musharraf a luxurious exile and propping up Bhutto, is at best tepid, and not very realistic considering the other issues facing Pakistani society.

More importantly: on almost every foreign policy issue since the century turned (and many before that), Krauthammer has been consistently—and disastrously—wrong. I wonder: why does he still have a job?


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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 4 comments }

Admiral November 10, 2007 at 2:59 am

I agree with most of your comments on the Pakistan “crisis.” But Krauthammer’s position isn’t that of Chief Forecaster, or even Plebe Forecaster. He’s a pundit. When you talk so much about so many things that you have no control over whatsoever, as all pundits do, what do you expect? Yeah, we’d like better, but that’s why we don’t call them oracles.

Anyway, what are your predictions? Your sniping is fun, and you clearly like showing how much you know in terms of proper nouns and history, but are you any better than Krauthammer? One would think so, given the derision.

The only particularly boneheaded commentary I see here is yours as it relates to Krauthammer. You’re making up mistakes where none exist — Krauthammer probably agrees with everything you wrote about Aquino. That whole paragraph is nonsense.

Contrary to *your* implications, there is no easy solution to this. The problems that lead to this electoral chicanery are endemic to the state and will not go away, regardless of whether or not you have elections. Unlike you, Krauthammer seems to understand that there is no salve in the form of an election — which is, ironically, the position Bush has sat on for four years in Iraq.

Your loyal reader,
=/\=

Patriot November 10, 2007 at 10:52 am

Faust betrays his liberal touchy feelings by attacking Krauthammer.
Faust even goes to the point of following the leftist tactic of inventing “truisms”.
Faust is irrelevant.
Everyone knows Pakistan, in fact, the entire S.Asia and C. Asia area is a cesspool.
That’s why the Taliboys and Bennie enjoy the comforts, so.
If there is anyone out there who thinks the corrupt and double dealing Bhutto is the answer, that person needs to see a talking doctor.
Faust needs to leave his liberalism at the door and seek objectivity.
Ask Ahmed Rashid.

Joshua Foust November 11, 2007 at 4:03 pm

“Admiral,” I think it might be useful to draw a distinction between two conservative pundits. Even though I disagree with him on several issues, I have no beef with George Will—I don’t think he is “insipid,” or dishonest, or anything like that. I have that reaction because Will has a limited set of topics on which he considers himself an expert, and more importantly, he only writes about those topics. Krauthammer, on the other hand, is a blabbermouth who pretends to be an expert on everything, regardless of his actual knowledge or, in this case in particular, his record of success (which is abysmal). The equivalent would be me writing posts here on healthcare and tax policy—two subjects I have read about, but possess nothing approaching expertise or even I would say above-average competence. So I keep my mouth shut, because I am aware of how little I have to add to the discussion.

“Patriot,” my last name is not “Faust.” That’s a pretty simple one.

misanthrope November 12, 2007 at 4:17 am

Well speaking from Pakistan, I think your critique of Mr Krauthammer’s article seems pretty solid. I do think that you are overestimating the “split” between Musharraf and BB and are off the mark when you present a future agreement as an either/or scenario. I think its pretty obvious that we are going to see a Mush +BB combination. The current shadow-boxing is merely over who goes into the relationship with more cards up their sleeve.

The tragedy is that with the Pak High Command, now consisting mostly of Musharraf cronies, focusing more on politicking to keep a hold on power rather than fighting the Islamist threat, the Pakistani army is simply not being able to put the militant genie back in the bottle, and still seems unwilling to try and tackle it head on.

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