Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update
Tim Johnson and some others at McClatchy Newspapers have been telling a little story over the last week or so about Pakistan, the state of things in the unsteady tribal regions, and the upcoming elections. It's some great in-depth reporting, and it reveals just what a state that country is in.
First of all, this upcoming election is a joke. The government has banned international observers from conducting exit polls of the vote count, in defiance of Bush Administration requests. In most countries, the exit poll is a key tool for observers to determine the adequacy of the vote (but not here; of course, since we have no federal standard, most international observers wouldn't even monitor a national election in the United States). The courts will have no jurisdiction over electoral disputes; instead a handpicked Federal Election Commission will be the ruling body. Of course, there is no real independent judiciary in Pakistan anymore as it is. And the Bush Administration isn't likely to push for one, either.
The Bush administration has signaled that it will continue to tolerate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's crackdown on his country's judiciary at least until after a Feb. 18 national election.
Calling Musharraf an indispensable ally, U.S. officials have largely declined to criticize his ouster of top judges and said that questions about restoring the courts' independence should be put on hold until after the election.
Pakistani analysts said that muzzling the courts might help the embattled and increasingly unpopular leader remain in power, and administration officials told Congress this week that nothing should be done to press Musharraf on the judiciary until after the election.
"They need to have an independent judiciary, but I can't see them doing it till after the election, with all the players, including the new players," said Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher, the State Department's point man on Pakistan.
Asked if he considered Musharraf indispensable to the United States, Boucher replied, "I do."
This is of course perfectly consistent, since the Administration doesn't have much use or desire for an independent judiciary in this country. Musharraf, in the meantime, is running what amounts to a political campaign to discredit the former Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, whose ouster sparked the reformer movement and prefigured the imposition of martial law:
Meanwhile, the vendetta between Musharraf and Chaudhry is intensifying. Aides who accompanied Musharraf on a trip to Europe gave journalists a seven-page dossier that charged that Chaudhry displayed "bizarre behavior" on the bench, demanded luxury cars with police escorts, humiliated underlings, denied a guest the use of a bathroom and submitted dubious medical claims.
Among those medical claims, the dossier said, were charges for "a gadget to test diabetes, contact lens solution, face masks, creams, toothpaste (and) acne lotions."
This is what Musharraf is spending his time with, while in the meantime, the Pakistani factions of the Taliban are growing stronger. They've moved out of the border regions and into Peshawar.
A disparate group of tribal armed militant groups, some of them linked to al Qaida, announced the formation of an alliance last month called The Taliban Movement of Pakistan. The 40-man leadership is from seven tribal agencies and eight bordering districts, underscoring the movement's reach. The group is thought to have 5,000 to 10,000 fighters and is growing steadily as it gains momentum.
U.S. officials are deeply concerned that the insurgency is becoming bolder and expanding faster than had been anticipated, a State Department official said.
"The feeling is that we are not dealing with a terrorist group here, but an insurrectionist movement," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "That's an elevation without question from what we've been dealing with."
There are now ties between the leadership of this insurrection and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. This new leader, Baitullah Mehsud, is apparently consolidating forces and creating a movement in the border areas. There's a bit more here.
Could this be why we suddenly took out yet another #3 of Al Qaeda in Pakistan? (By the way, it's extremely interesting that happened just after Pervez Musharraf appeared to rebuff US appeals for a greater CIA presence in the country. Perhaps Musharraf gave up some intelligence and allowed a drone plane over as a make-good). Is this to send a message to Mehsud as much as trying to stop someone who is accused of promoting attacks on Pakistan's neighbor, Afghanistan?
Of course, we know that Afghanistan is starting to spin out of control, and no, this isn't proof that the Taliban has lost. Usually, when the country becomes a failed state, it kind of means the opposite.
The independent study finds that the Taliban, which two years ago was largely viewed as a defeated movement, has been able to infiltrate and control sizable parts of southern and southeastern Afghanistan, leading to widespread disillusionment among Afghans with the mission.
"The prospect of again losing significant parts of Afghanistan to the forces of Islamic extremists has moved from the improbable to the possible," the study says, warning that Afghanistan could revert to a "failed state."
The report is critical of nearly every governmental and international organization involved in Afghanistan, including the Bush administration, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calling their efforts inadequate, poorly coordinated and occasionally self-defeating.
So we're losing ground in the entire region, actually, with allies who are both undemocratic and incompetent, and enemies who are gaining ground.
Welcome to foreign policy in the Age of Bush.