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

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nice Government You've Got There, Be A Shame If Something Happened To It

The Pakistani Army, rousted from their slumber and their preoccupation with India, have finally started moving against the internal threat of the Taliban, with battles continuing to rage. One would think this represents a turning of the corner in Pakistan, a show that the government can be responsive to pressure. Nevertheless, the US has cast about for new options, which is interesting, given that Pakistan is a sovereign nation.

As American confidence in the Pakistani government wanes, the Obama administration is reaching out more directly than before to Nawaz Sharif, the chief rival of Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, administration officials said Friday.

American officials have long held Mr. Sharif at arm’s length because of his close ties to Islamists in Pakistan, but some Obama administration officials now say those ties could be useful in helping Mr. Zardari’s government to confront the stiffening challenge by Taliban insurgents.

The move reflects the heightened concern in the Obama administration about the survivability of the Zardari government. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command, has said in private meetings in Washington that Pakistan’s government is increasingly vulnerable, according to administration officials.

It's an improvement to consider the views of people who may have the support of the local population, and not reject them because "we don't negotiate with terrorists" or whatever. But Pakistan does have a right to self-determination, last I checked. I agree with the President that the country will not collapse but the government is fragile, and the situation bears watching. If Zardari and Sharif can work together, brokered perhaps by American influence, all to the good. What does seem dangerous to me is the wishful thinking in certain segments, particularly from Petraeus and leaders in the Pentagon, of a military coup and another dictatorship to further radicalize the Pakistani people.

It would be naive to think that the Pakistani military, which ruled Pakistan for the past ten years until Pervez Musharraf resigned from the Army in November 2007 and formally relinquished power last August, doesn’t believe it could do a better job of governing than Asif Ali Zardari. And it would also be naive to think that the Obama administration is closed off to the prospect, whatever it might say about democracy. Andrew Exum wonders why the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has a “weird man crush” on Kayani. He might merely be prepared to bet on what he considers the stronger horse — not a strong horse, as the Pakistani army has been repeatedly beaten by the Pakistani Taliban and its allies, but a stronger one. It might also explain why Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy objects to making aid to Pakistan receivable to “civilian authorities of a government of Pakistan constituted through a free and fair election,” among other provisions of conditionalized funding.

The American frustration with the Zardari government stems from the inability of the military, to this point, to deal with Taliban attacks in the tribal areas. I think Matt Yglesias has a point - that could be a function of the military underperforming so that the government looks bad, with an eye toward returning the military to power in the government to make everything all better. But isn't this the military's problem, to begin with? And specifically, the relationship between the military and the Taliban fighters?

Sharif, at this point clearly has more popularity inside Pakistan. His influence could offer greater support to the fight against militants. And throwing money down a hole toward a leader with a history of corruption won't solve the problem. But our ability to manage that political conflict is limited. And our credibility should we actually return the military to power would be even lower in Pakistan that it currently is, if that's possible.

Charles Lemos has more.

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