Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pakistan After Musharraf: Same As It Ever Was, Only A Bit More So; Kinda Like What We Have Here, But Different

Celebrations were widespread and general in the wake of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's resignation -- but they were cut short by a bomb and a bombshell.

The joy which made the Pakistanis dance -- the thrill of finally seeing the back of a former military dictator -- was not confined, as the AP would slyly have us believe, to Islamist militants, or even Islamic fundamentalists.

As you can see in these photos (courtesy of Reuters), opposition to Musharraf ran much deeper and broader than that.

Crucially, the pro-democracy (read: anti-Musharraf) movement in Pakistan has been led by the country's lawyers (the men in black suits in these photos), strongly supported by the Pakistani journalists. (Those looking to "compare and contrast" Pakistan and the USA could find worse places to start.)

Compare And Contrast

Curiously, according to Ray McGovern, much of the big American media managed to report Musharraf's resignation without mentioning that he was under severe threat of impeachment.

McGovern provides excellent and relevant context pertaining to the threat of impeachment leveled against Richard Nixon in 1974, the collapse and rapid resignation which followed, and the surge of support enjoyed by the Democratic party in the wake of that resignation -- all this in an article which fairly begs the Democrats in Congress to get some impeachment proceedings happening here and now.

But he's shouting into a black hole, I fear. Congress has no illusions about what would happen in America if impeachment proceedings were initiated against the most despicable human being ever to defile the Oval Office, and that's exactly why Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers and all the others are sitting on their hands.

They've enabled this long torturous march to bankruptcy and tyranny. Do we now expect them to turn against the success they've labored so long and hard to achieve? We might expect it, but it's not going to happen. So why do we have these expectations?

It's like watching a schoolyard bully beat up one little kid after another, then turning to the guy holding the bully's coat and saying, "Hey, aren't you gonna do something about this?"

No one but a fool would be astonished if the guy holding the coat replied, "I'm doin' it right now, sucka!"

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I see that, and I see it a lot.

You can't appeal to their conscience because they have none.

You can't appeal to their better judgment because it's not a mistake; it's a deliberate policy. We've seen it over and over and over; the only difference is that they're getting a little bit more subtle about it.

And you can never hope to deal with the problem until and unless you see it clearly and spell it out in short words, so:

The Democrats aren't just holding the coat; they're planning to wear it next.

The Bomb

Meanwhile, back in Pakistan:

The celebration was short-lived for some; more than 20 people were killed and at least another 30 were injured in an alleged suicide bombing of a hospital.

The bombing was reported in the big American media in the same context-free style that was so prominently displayed in the "coverage" of Musharraf's resignation.

Jane Perlez of the New York Times reported it this way:
In an attack claimed by the Taliban within the tribal region on Tuesday, a suicide bomber ripped into the emergency room of the district hospital in Dera Ismail Khan, a town near Waziristan, killing 25 people and injuring 30, said the inspector general of the police in the North-West Frontier Province, Malik Naveed Khan. He said there was some evidence that the suicide bomber was linked to Waziristan, the base of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud.
Pay close attention to this report, if you please. Your eyes will want to glance over it quickly, and understandably so. You've seen this report before, many times. It's the standard, boilerplate, terrorist attack report, in which only the names and dates are changed.

The common features are always common: in particular, there's always a suspect; but there's never a motive.

If you care to dig a bit, you can find evidence of a motive behind this particular attack; but you won't find such evidence in the formerly so-called paper of record (because according to the official story told to Americans, terrorists don't have motives).

So you'll have to go to a more reliable source, such as the Pakistani daily, Dawn, which first reported (courtesy of Reuters):
A bomb went off in the compound of a hospital in northwest Pakistan’s Dera Ismail Khan town Tuesday killing 20 people, a senior government official said.

“We don't know whether it was a suicide attack but the bomb went off in the compound. I have initial reports of 20 dead,” said Syed Mohsin Shah, a senior city government official.

Supporters of a Shi'ite Muslim leader were protesting outside the hospital when the bomb went off.

The leader was shot dead earlier Tuesday and his body taken to the hospital.
... and later (courtesy of AFP) added a few more details:
A suicide bomber blew himself up Tuesday at a hospital in the northwestern Dera Ismail Khan town, killing at least 23 people, police said.

The explosion happened as people gathered to protest over the death of a man in a suspected sectarian attack in the town, said provincial police chief Malik Naveed Khan.

“There are 23 confirmed dead and up to 20 wounded. We have found the legs of the suspected suicide bomber,” Khan told a private television channel.

Provincial police spokesman Riaz Ahmed said the dead included civilians from the crowd of protesters and policemen who went to the hospital to provide security.
Is the New York Times unable to find out such details? I didn't have any trouble doing it, and the NYT has a large professional staff. So it can't be any harder for them than it was for me. But they don't want these details, because these details don't fit into the story the NYT is telling. And changing the story would be a lot more difficult than omitting a few details.

But if there's a story they want to tell, no stretch is too big.

So Jane Perlez can tell us that a policeman said
... there was some evidence that the suicide bomber was linked to Waziristan, the base of the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud ...
In this case, as usual, the connection to the preferred suspect is tenuous at best. It's not as if Waziristan were a hotel, and Baitullah Mehsud owned it. Waziristan is a huge area; how "some evidence" could link a crime to such a large region, and therefore to a single man, is puzzling at best.

But not for long. The seemingly gratuitous mention of Baitullah Mehsud is both telling and opportune, since it gives me the chance to remind you that Baitullah Mehsud is almost certainly a CIA asset.

If I also remind you that analysts predict increased American pressure against Pakistan now that their main ally in the region is gone, you might put two and two together and wonder whether the pressure has already been stepped up. KA-BOOM! HaHaHA!

The Bombshell

The post-resignation joy was short-lived in another, very different way: the governing coalition has suddenly run aground on the rocky coast of irreconcilable differences.

The show-stopping rift between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Asif Ali Zardari, and the PML-N, Nawaz Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, concerns the status of the Supreme Court in the wake of Musharraf's November declaration of emergency.

The reason for Musharraf's declaration -- and the reason for all the other unconstitutional and anti-democratic moves which followed it -- was obvious: the country had been gripped by a popular pro-democracy movement, and the Supreme Court, led by the indomitable Chief Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was about to rule Musharraf's October "re-election" illegal.

So Musharraf declared a national emergency, clamped down on the media, arrested hundreds of political opposition leaders, and sacked all the federal justices -- including those on the Supreme Court -- who didn't support him in this transparently illicit attempt to retain power.

Musharraf eventually lifted the state of emergency but he didn't reinstate the court. The chief justice remained under house arrest. And elections were scheduled under these conditions.

So the PML-N campaigned -- and did quite well -- on a pledge to reinstate the judges who were sacked by Musharraf.

But the PPP -- which ran on deception and public sympathy and promised nothing, but gained even more seats in the parliament -- won't support them on this point.

It's a no-brainer -- or at least it would be if the PPP wanted to establish anything resembling legitimate democracy. But that's not what the PPP is about -- not anymore!

Down Memory Lane, Quickly

Readers with functional long-term memories may recall that former PPP leader Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan last fall after spending nearly a decade in ritzy foreign hotels as a fugitive from justice (which the Western media complicitly called "self-imposed exile").

Her return was made possible by an American-brokered "reconciliation" deal which removed any possibility that she might be held accountable for two terms of epic corruption as Prime Minister. In return for this immunity, she promised to support Musharraf's continued illegal tenure as president.

Shortly after Benzair Bhutto returned to Pakistan, she was assassinated, as most of us remember. But most of us don't know that high-level American officials didn't expect her to live long there, as John F. Burns reported in the New York Times:
[B]efore the Western world passes judgment, many Pakistanis would say, it might well look at its own manipulations, including the role the United States played in placing Ms. Bhutto on the path that led to that last rally in Rawalpindi.

For months, Washington had brokered contacts between General Musharraf and Ms. Bhutto that aimed at having her return, win an election, and lend a democratic facade to a government that would remain, in important ways, under military control. The plan matched American imperatives in the struggle against Al Qaeda, and American officials who pushed for it saw little problem in encouraging General Musharraf to grant an amnesty for Ms. Bhutto against corruption charges stemming from her time as prime minister.

But the Americans knew that she went home at enormous risk. When she spoke in Aspen at a lunch of prominent American political, business and media leaders only weeks before her death, talk at one table turned to the chances of an assassination. “I’d say she’s a dead woman walking,” this reporter, long an acquaintance of Ms. Bhutto, said after talking to her about the hazards of going home. “Yes,” a powerful Washington insider with close links to the administration replied. “We think so, too.”
But that was the plan ... and this was the result: Shortly after her death there was a long and fractious meeting of the PPP leadership. At that meeting, Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari, produced what's been called a "surprise will" -- a document supposedly written by [or on behalf of] Benazir Bhutto, recommending turning leadership of the party over to a teenager -- Bhutto's and Zardari's son, Bilawal Zardari.

Nobody else had ever seen this "will", and its directions were mystifying in more than one respect. Most importantly, PPP leadership had always been in the Bhutto family.

Indeed, much of the history of Pakistan since partition can be seen as a struggle between democracy and militarism, waged between the Bhutto family and their followers on one side, and the Pakistani Army and its supporters (later joined by the notorious Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, or ISI) on the other.

But through the joint miracles of political assassination and gluttonous corruption, the PPP had been transformed from a pro-democratic, anti-militaristic political force (led by Benazir's predecessors) to a pro-militaristic, anti-democratic parasite (led by Benazir herself).

Thanks to propaganda, poor communications, political tribalism and actual tribalism, the PPP has retained popular support despite the fact that it's been under corrupt "new management" for most of the past 20 years. How slowly we learn!

At 19 years of age, Bilawal Zardari was hardly fit to lead any political party, let alone the PPP. But one after another, the obstacles were lifted: POOF! He got a new name, and now he's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Then POOF! His father offered to "lead" the party while Bilawal continued his education. And now Asif Ali Zardari is the American sock-puppet in Islamabad. But nobody knows it, unless they read between the lines.

The lines have been clear for a long time, though. Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N have been pushing for reinstatement of the judiciary, especially Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, while the usurper Zardari and the PPP have been pretending that they might move in that direction at some future time under some future conditions, when there's no danger of a backlash from Musharraf ... but not now ... never now ... always later, always maybe, but never now.

No Excuses Remain For The Criminal Zardari

With Musharraf gone, there's no chance of a backlash, and Zardari has no plausible reason to resist a return of the pre-emergency judiciary ... but he still won't do it.

And Nawaz Sharif has had enough.

Therefore, Jane Perlez reports:
Nawaz Sharif, the leader of [...] the Pakistan Muslim League-N, walked out of a meeting [in Islamabad] and headed back to his home in Lahore, a four-hour drive away.

Party members said Mr. Sharif had delivered an ultimatum to the senior coalition party, the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Asif Ali Zardari, to consent to the return of the chief justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, within 72 hours, or [...] Mr. Sharif’s party would leave the government. Mr. Chaudhry was among some 60 judges suspended by Mr. Musharraf last year.

Even by the standards of Pakistan’s hard-boiled and volatile political scene, the public discord between the political leaders was surprising, politicians said, a sign that opposition to Mr. Musharraf may have been the strongest thread tying them together.
Notice the spin technique. Far from being the glue that held PPP and PML-N together, Musharraf had been providing an excuse for Zardari. But now the excuse is exposed as hollow, and Sharif isn't waiting around to see any more of that movie.

Why won't Zardari support the restoration of an independent judiciary?

Jane Perlez reports that Musharraf made a second "reconciliation" agreement to let Zardari into the country after his wife was slain:
The basis of Mr. Zardari’s opposition to Mr. Chaudhry rests with a fear that he might undo an amnesty agreement that absolved Mr. Zardari of corruption charges, lawyers said. The amnesty, which applies to bureaucrats and politicians who faced corruption charges, was part of a package arranged by Mr. Musharraf when Mr. Zardari returned to Pakistan after his wife, the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated late last year.
So Zardari is thoroughly compromised -- just like the Democrats!

Same As It Ever Was

Which leaves us where? More or less where we were last week -- or last month -- or last year -- but a bit poorer and a bit dirtier, lacking sleep and food and vision, as always, but a bit more so now than ever. In other words, it could be worse and it probably will be, soon. But not in the way you think.

Musharraf is gone but the vaunted threat of Pakistani nuclear weapons getting into the hands of Pakistani terrorists is still as slim as it ever was ... for at least two reasons.

One of those reasons is public knowledge: Musharraf wasn't in control of the weapons in the first place. According to the AP (via Dawn), Pakistan's nuclear weapons are guarded by a committee, and Musharraf wasn't on the committee.
“Pakistan's nuclear assets are not one man's property,” said Maria Sultan, a defense analyst and director at the London-based South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.

“Any (political) transition in Pakistan will have no effect on Pakistan's nuclear assets because it has a very strong custodial control.”

The committee, known as the National Command and Control Authority [NCCA], is served by a military-dominated organization with thousands of security forces and intelligence agents whose personnel are closely screened.

The nuclear facilities are tightly guarded.

“Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is in the hands of the army and the army is not changing hands, so whatever the situation was before is largely what it will continue to be,” said Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Left out of this report but sometimes mentioned elsewhere is the fact that the NCCA is very pro-western (which means, pro-USA). We don't worry too much about them, in other words, because they're "our guys".

The second reason is not publicly acknowledged, but it's becoming increasingly clear: the terrorists are "our guys", too.

Overdue Conclusion

It's time to draw another long post to an overdue conclusion. So let's review some of the things I would have mentioned, had I thought of them earlier.

The struggle in Pakistan has typically been falsely portrayed as a battle of moderates against extremists. In this scenario, the moderates are Musharraf and Bush and their friends in the so-called "Global War On Terror". And the extremists are al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamic fundamentalism in general, plus anyone who wanted to get rid of Musharraf.

In fact the struggle is between moderates and extremists, but the extremists are Musharraf and Bush and their allegedly "former" friends in al Qaeda and the Taliban, plus a very tiny (and shrinking) minority which supports radical Islamic extremism.

Meanwhile, the moderates include those who support the PML-N, plus those who support the PPP for historical reasons, plus many other Pakistanis who support other moderate parties, plus a great many other Pakistanis who don't support any political party. And that's just Pakistan. There are millions of moderates and a handful of extremists in every country, of course.

The bottom line: the PPP are still in control in Pakistan -- though perhaps not by much. The PPP are pro-American, which means (among other things) that they don't support the rule of law, but they do support the military. This was Musharraf's position, this was Benazir Bhutto's position, and it comes as no surprise that it's also Asif Ali Zardari's position.

As for American policy towards Pakistan, it's quite simple, and it's very similar to American policy towards Iraq.

All the Bush administration wants to see in Pakistan is a legitimate, democratically elected government that's fully supportive of American interests.

It's impossible, of course. There's no way any government fully supportive of "American interests" could be legitimately elected in Pakistan, or anywhere else in Asia, or anywhere else in Europe ... or anywhere at all, actually.

So let's consider the alternatives, from a policy-maker's point of view. The options are stark! And the choice is a no-brainer.

The American policy elite has always preferred governments "supportive of American interests" rather than "legitimate, democratically elected" governments ... but at the same time we're talking about two deliberate lies here.

First, the considerations collectively referred to as "American interests" are, for the most part, arrangements established and maintained by stealth or coercion or overt mass murder; arrangements which grant multi-national corporations virtually unimpeded "rights" to exploit the natural and human resources of the "host" countries ... as many "host" countries as possible. It has nothing whatsoever to do with "American interests", but if they call it what it really is, will we go to war on their behalf?

Second, the American policy elite has no interest in fostering "legitimate, democratically elected" governments anywhere in the world; they just say that because they know we like to hear it -- and some of us like to hear it so much that we go marching off to war whenever they say it. But it's only a slogan.

In fact, there's nothing the American policy elite fears more than "legitimate, democratically elected" governments.

That's why all their "attempts" to "export democracy" to other parts of the world have "failed".

That's why democratically elected governments all over the world find themselves looking down the barrel of an American gun as soon as they take office.

And that's why we don't have a democracy here, either.

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