Pakistan in Six Easy Steps

by Joshua Foust on 3/31/2009 · 2 comments

Nick Schmeidl—whose work I really enjoy—wrote a weirdly glib piece for Foreign Policy on Pakistan.

And yet, the uptick in coverage hasn’t necessarily clarified the who’s-doing-what-to-whom confusion in Pakistan. Some commentators continue to confuse the tribal areas with the North-West Frontier Province. And the word lashkars is used to describe all kinds of otherwise cross-purposed groups, some fighting the Taliban, some fighting India, and some fighting Shiites.

I admit, it’s not easy. I lived in Pakistan throughout all of 2006 and 2007 and only came to understand, say, the tribal breakdown in South Waziristan during my final days. So to save you the trouble of having to live in Pakistan for two years to differentiate between the Wazirs and the Mehsuds, the Frontier Corps and the Rangers, I’ve written an “idiot’s guide” that will hopefully clear some things up.

Uh oh. An entire essay crafted from the point of view of impressing people at cocktail parties in Georgetown? Ugh. I realize this was probably some editor’s idea and not Schmeidl’s, the whole “here’s how to get on the lecture circuit” routine is just asinine and gets old quick. Instead of reading the informed ideas of a guy who lived there for years, I found myself distracted by silently carping, “I don’t care about the fracking lecture crap, I just want your take on this.” A quibble, perhaps, but it’s really annoying. (This is part of my larger annoyance with how FP has made itself increasingly colloquial, and in my view thoroughly less interesting and rigorous, since the WaPo buyout.)

That being said, Schmeidl threw in some useful tidbits, like how news stories datelined from inside the FATA were probably sponsored by the Pakistani Military. I also like how he notes that groups like the TTP are significant only because we’ve decided they are, and not because they symbolize some new-found unanimity in the radical movement in the Northwest. I’d argue with how uniform he makes Pashtun society to be, but compared to Afghanistan it actually is relatively stable, so I can see where he’s coming from.

The piece doesn’t seem bad, in other words, it’s just that stupid trope that prevented me from reading too much of it. If FP wants to make their work more accessible, that’s one thing. Adopting an annoying and condescending tone about cocktail parties and impressing lecture organizers is another. Both Schmeidl and Foreign Policy are above that.

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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 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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Chris Mewett March 31, 2009 at 11:26 pm

As noted before, I completely agree with you on the smarmy tone — wish FP would stop pretending like it’s FHM.

One of the more interesting aspects of the piece for me was Schmidle’s analysis of the role that the ISI plays. It’s pragmatic commentary of the sort that isn’t often seen on such a sensitive subject, and it’s a useful counterpoint to the sort of crazy-ass “if we want to get at the real problem, let’s just take on those crazy religious loons!” rhetoric coming from people like Tom Ricks.

Joshua Foust April 1, 2009 at 8:28 am

Well, that’s also Tom Ricks. I don’t give him as much credence as a lot of others seem to.

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