Thursday, April 09, 2009

Undermining democracy in Pakistan?

During the Presidential campaign, it became conventional wisdom to blame the Bush Administration for having given aid to the Musharaff regime in Pakistan with no strings attached, failing to insist on a sustained, effective campaign against the Taliban and effectively turning a blind eye while elements in the Pakistani intelligence services and army actively aided the Taliban.

Anatol Lieven, writing in the FT, turns that argument on its head. While it's true that the Taliban has supporters in the ISI and Pakistani army, that is a symptom of the larger problem: "a large majority of ordinary Pakistanis are bitterly opposed to Pakistan helping the US, especially if this involves the Pakistani army fighting the Taliban."

That fact is also widely known, but Lieven forces us to consider the implications:
...the basic problem is a democratic one. A democratically elected government cannot afford simply to defy a public opinion this strong. Nor indeed can an army that has to recruit its soldiers from Pakistani villages – not from Mars or Pluto – and ask them to risk their lives.
Lieven's conclusion cuts right at an apparent central tenet of Obama's new Af-Pak strategy:
If on the other hand Washington thinks that it can play Pakistani governments like a fish on an aid hook in order to extract much greater help in the Afghan war, then it will undermine and finally destroy those governments, as it did that of Pervez Musharraf. Even more importantly, if it does succeed in forcing the Pakistani army to do things that its soldiers detest, it may destroy the army. This would be a catastrophe for the US that would dwarf even defeat in Afghanistan.

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