Enough with the Coup Talk, Already

by Joshua Foust on 5/4/2009 · 2 comments

Spencer doesn’t get why the U.S. avoids Nawaz Sharif. At first, I would guess it was two-fold:

  • Sharif was so incompetent that after his second chance at power he was deposed by a clumsy autocrat who couldn’t even launch a surprise attack on an unsuspecting enemy.
  • Sharif does not have the same preening media presence of Benazir Bhutto.

It is remarkable how much bowing before the feet of American public opinion gets you. But even more important than that—and this is something all these people now rushing to “analyze” Pakistan should realize—Nawaz Sharif has no credibility with the military or the ISI, either (or preferably both) of which is a prerequisite for permanently stemming the militancy in the North west. This makes him, as Steve LeVine argues, quite irrelevant.

The point is that anyone seeking to resolve the Taliban advances must do so through the Army and its intelligence wing, the InterServices Intelligence directorate, both of which are seriously entangled with the militants. Majed Iqbal discussed the topic of Sharif’s rising favor a week ago. Aiming any attention at the political structure is wasted energy.

Until that gets cleared up, it should surprise no one why Sharif is little more than a weak substitute for a Washington trying to appear pro-Democratic while realizing it’s left with few other options.

Then again, these things have a certain inevitability all their own, so expect Sharif to take this opportunity to grab some power while he still can.

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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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myra macdonald May 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Are you suggesting the United States should fall back on old habits of dealing primarily with the Pakistan Army and the ISI?

I have tried to address this in two posts:



You will find many Pakistanis who say that the power of the Pakistan Army has been inflated by U.S. support and as a result crowded out the development of civilian democracy.You might, or might not, subscribe to that view, but are you thinking through what you are saying when you insist that the military is the only organisation worth dealing with?

Also not sure I agree with your assessment of Kargil. Many Indians saw it as a failure for India. The situation was retrieved only by American pressure on Sharif to pull the troops back. That’s slightly off-topic, but a subject I’m happy to discuss with you in more detail.


Joshua Foust May 4, 2009 at 6:34 pm

Myra, I really didn’t mean to. That’s kind of a slippery slope, anyway, and I don’t think we have to do either/or. What I am suggesting—indeed, asserting—is that the Army and the ISI maintain an enormous influence on Pakistani policies, and dealing only with leaders who do not hold sway with those institutions limits our approach.

Your points are certainly valid, and I don’t have easy answers to them. The only point I was saying is that dealing with one half of the government—this time civilian instead of military—strikes me as just as dangerous as before. And, the main point, is that we should stop speculating about toppling governments we find difficult to work with and instead start looking at the problems at hand.

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