As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Most Dangerous Trouble Spot In The World Update

The Vice President gave a speech to NATO yesterday, basically urging the membership to get involved in Afghanistan. I don't think it will be very successful, though he is right that there is a shared national security interest to deny a regional safe haven for extremists. The problem, of course, is that there already is one, in Pakistan and in the FATA areas. Pakistan is currently in the throes of a political crisis, that would cause instability and allow extremist forces to operate more freely. The fear is not that the Taliban takes over Pakistan, but that the political wrangling between Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif will predominate, and leave the leadership up for grabs. It's basically an old-fashioned political squabble

A conflict developed between Nawaz Sharif and PPP leader Asaf Ali Zardari over the deposed chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhury. Dictator Musharraf had dismissed Chaudhury in spring of 2007 for opposing some of his policies. Pakistan's massive legal establishment began holding rallies and demanding that the chief justice be reinstated, which he was in summer 2007. Musharraf was under pressure from Washington to become a civilian president. But he found out that fall that the supreme court would not allow this transition because the constitution requires that a military man have been out of the service for 2 years before becoming president. So Musharraf just dismissed the whole supreme court, including the recently reinstated Chaudhury, and appointed a new court, which sycophantically recognized him as president.

When he was allowed to come back to Pakistan from exile in Saudi Arabia, Nawaz Sharif, who had been overthrown as prime minister in 1999 by Musharraf, began demanding that Iftikhar Chaudhury and the old, dismissed, supreme court be reinstated.

After the PPP won the parliamentary elections, its leader, Zardari, declined to reinstate Chaudhury. Zardari was afraid that the chief justice might reinstate the corruption charges against him, which had been amnestied by Musharraf [...]

But just last week, the supreme court dismissed Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister of Punjab, and barred him and Nawaz Sharif from running for office. Some suspect the court of acting at President Zardari's behest.

The Sharif brothers say that this court is anyway illegitimate and refuse to recognize its rulings, since it is the fruit of a poisoned tree, i.e. the arbitrary creature of a desperate military dictator 18 months ago.

The attorneys are also still angry over the failure of Zardari to reinstate Chaudhury and the others.

So on March 15, the Muslim League (which is more conservative landlord than religious fundamentalist, despite the name) is organizing a "long march" on parliament to protest the current supreme court and the recent decisions it issued against the Sharifs.

On the hustings, Nawaz Sharif said that the only thing that could save Pakistan now was a revolution, and announced that he had "raised the standard of rebellion."

Pakistan is a young nation. These political struggles could easily break the country apart, with secession, a partition between areas, and perhaps a military coup to stop the factional fighting, with a return to dictatorship. And remember, this is a nuclear-armed state. It seems to me that Afghanistan is almost an afterthought compared to the dangers here.

It's not that Biden and the Administration aren't doing some things right in the region - they are realistically looking at folding certain Taliban elements into the state, which may or may not be successful but it at least inventive, and they are halting some raids, mindful of the deleterious effect of civilian casualties on the battle for hearts and minds.

But Pakistan is a far more dire situation, one that requires immediate attention.

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