Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Idea of a Principled U.S. Policy Toward Pakistan...for Pragmatic Reasons

In recent weeks, Pakistan has exhibited several trends meriting concern. This is the third in a series of posts applying a model of political violence to help interpret the implications of these trends.

First, the military regime has shown itself unwilling to compromise:

  • It arrested leading members of the judiciary, beat up and arrested peacefully demonstrating lawyers, and has to date done nothing to resolve this injustice.
  • It made normal electioneering impossible and scheduled a quick election.
  • It kicked Sharif out as he disembarked, then let him back in but prevented him from participating in the election.
  • It brutally attacked the Red Mosque and then responded to violent Islamic protests with extreme force lacking any obvious efforts at negotiation.
  • It failed to provide evidence that it was committed to protecting Benazir Bhutto’s life.
  • Circumstantial evidence, such as its refusal to allow official interviews of those pro-regime politicians accused in advance by Bhutto of plotting to kill her and the immediate cleaning of the crime scene raise serious questions about the regime’s complicity in her murder.

Second, the Islamists have seemed increasingly inclined to use violence against both the military and the democratic forces.

  • Islamic insurgents (not clearly defined) have in recent days allegedly attacked police, soldiers, and moderate tribal leaders; some links to security forces have been drawn.
  • Extremism among individuals is a danger, though it would be difficult to demonstrate that it has risen.
  • Violence is also being used to prevent the populace from participating in the schedule election.


Third, the two leading political parties, those of Bhutto and Sharif, were unable to reach agreement to work together even in a crisis requiring their cooperation to defend the fledgling democratic system.

In the last four months of 2007,
the Pakistani political situation evolved from a fairly broad range of types of behavior (depending on the actor) toward the single extreme of rigid commitment to ideology and a tendency to rely on force to achieve goals.
In the language of the model, Pakistan has moved from a combination of Realist, True Believer, Idealist, and Crusader toward Violence. In September, Pakistan could have had a military dictator agreeing to depart gracefully or to become a legitimate civilian politician in a conciliatory atmosphere of a well-planned civilian election with former prime ministers Sharif and Bhutto both participating. That would have faced Islamic radicals with two options – participating as well or risking the alienation of a united Pakistani consensus in favor of at least the outward forms of democracy. After the lesson of al Qua’ida’s alienation of Sunnis in Iraq and faced with agreement among the main secular parties and the military to have a free election that would include any Islamic parties willing to participate, Islamic extremists might have held back from violence. Three short months later, with the election a charade and in the aftermath of the Red Mosque and Swat fighting between the military and Islamic radicals, the Pakistani political situation has deteriorated dramatically.

Using the model as the basis for analysis facilitates reaching practical conclusions for ameliorating the situation. Rather than a fairytale view in which the military is seen as patriots holding the land together, Islamic activists are seen as evil terrorists, and beautiful secular female politicians are seen as pure and pro-American, the model facilitates analyzing at a more realistic level. Specifically, one can conclude even from briefly applying this model that violence in Pakistan can be lessened to the degree that:

  • Actors can be persuaded to try negotiation and compromise rather than force;

  • Actors can be persuaded to supplement ideological commitment with analysis;

  • The political context can be made less challenging.

Pakistan seems to be moving into the region of the political landscape represented in this model by the red octant (Violence). Reiterating that the model is based on the assumption that the red octant is where violence is most likely, the model suggests the world should be concerned about Pakistan’s stability in the near future for reasons far more fundamental than the murder of one opposition politician or the crackdown by the military on a nascent democratic movement or the scattered attacks by rural fundamentalists. Developments in the real world over the next few months will provide the opportunity to test this assumption and modify the model.

The next post in this series will address U.S. policy options...

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