Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Pakistan Knows

cross-posted from Dagblog

Since Pakistan's recent double embarrassment in the Osama bin Laden affair, in which they proved unable to detect either bin Ladin living half a mile from their chief military academy or an American helicopter raid deep in the Pakistani interior (i.e. half a mile from their military academy), angry American legislators have been asking What Pakistan Knew about OBL's presence in their country.

Let me try to reframe that question with another one:

Does the President of Pakistan know who had his wife killed?

I'm a long way from being an expert on Pakistan. But I do remember some very basic things. The current President, Asif Ali Zardari, came to power as the widower of his far more charismatic wife, Benazir Bhutto. Zardari is a proxy President for Bhutto's voters, a tender of the slain hero's legacy. He is Mr. Bhutto, basically a corrupt male version of Coretta Scott King. (Zardari's love of graft helped drive Bhutto from power, and even into exile, at various points of her career. His actual nickname is not "Mr. Bhutto" but "Mister Ten Percent," for the kickbacks he demanded while his wife was in power.)

Benazir Bhutto is not President of Pakistan because she was murdered in public. And before she was murdered, she accused the regime at the time, including specific members of the regime, of scheming to have her assassinated. Then they pulled some of her security, and she was murdered while out on campaign. But in the end, the military regime had to accept elections and Bhutto's party, the PPP, which meant that her widower had to keep the flame alive as President.

Does Ali Asif Zardari know exactly which members of the regime colluded in his wife's murder? Does he know which conspirators are still part of Pakistan's security establishment? If he does, he can't do a thing about it.

The military regime had to give way to civilian leadership, but there was no clean-up of the Army or the ISI. The people who'd done Musharraf's dirty work didn't leave, let alone get punished. They're still there. And if the President of Pakistan wants to know who gave the orders that widowed him, he either can't find out or can't do anything about it. Think for a second what that means about how power is distributed in Pakistan, and how much control the official government has over the Army and the ISI.

Pakistan does not seem, from my distant layman's perspective, to be have a fully accountable chain of command. Clearly, there are groups in the military and intelligence apparatus who conspire and freelance and simply don't let the higher-ups into the loop, and those people are wired to enough factional influence that they cannot easily be brought to heel. Some people have sufficient resources to assist al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or to conspire in other ways, and they do. Those people don't let their superiors know, and their superiors either can't find out or are afraid of the consequences if they do. Imagine a situation where Iran-Contra happened and Reagan actually didn't know about it, where some lieutenant colonel felt free to put that together without letting the President or his people know. That's what we're talking about.

The people who hid bin Laden didn't tell Zardari, or anyone near Zardari, for the same reason they don't tell Zardari that they had his wife shot. They don't consider it his business.

Is this appalling? You bet. How do you deal with a country where the military and the spooks aren't accountable to the official leadership? I don't know. But not dealing with Pakistan isn't an option. And putting the hammer down on the official leadership, the people being kept out of the loop by the entrenched military conspirators, is not going to help. All that will do is weaken the civilians and give them even less control over their insubordinate military. The military and intelligence hierarchies have always planned to outwait and outlast their nominal masters in the civilian leadership. There's no reason to speed up We're stuck with the same crappy deal that Zardari is; he became President without having full control over his army, because that was better than having no control over them at all. And now we're in the same boat. We could refuse to deal with Zardari, or his successors, because they don't have the power to hold up their side of their bargains, but all we'd be doing is sacrificing whatever control of the Pakistani military that the civilians do have.

And before we start kicking Pakistan for being all Eastern and barbaric, remember that the West colludes in Pakistan's distribution of power. After the bin Laden raid, I saw one of the players that Bhutto accused of wanting her dead quoted in the New York Times: just another knowledgeable source.

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