Monday, November 05, 2007

Sleeping with the enemy

Two lawyers. One soon-to-be medical doctor. Many teachers. Many reporters/writers/editors. Two with PhDs. A pharmacist. A registered dietitian. Music lovers. News junkies. Readers. Great parents. Artists. Civil rights idealists. Hikers. People who are funny.

Those are, in short, my friends. I feel very lucky, especially as someone who believes that a person can be read by examining his/her friends. If I'm reflected in them, then maybe I have been doing things right through the years.

And it's that notion which brings me to today's point. What are our country's values? The Worst President in American History says that this is the century of liberty, yet his regime has supported a military ruler in Pakistan who just declared martial law outlawing freedom of movement, freedom of the press and freedom to assemble in public, granted extraordinary powers to the police (detention without being charged), arrested independent judges and harassed the educated moderates.

Check out this amazing Op-Ed in Monday's Washington Post:

A Second Coup in Pakistan

By Ahmed Rashid
Monday, November 5, 2007; A19

President Pervez Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule this weekend will only encourage further civil strife, nationwide protests and greater territorial gains by the extremist Pakistani Taliban. Never before in Pakistan's sad history of military rule has a general so reviled invoked martial law to ensure his own survival.

Musharraf and his coterie of advisers -- which includes military officers; Inter-Services Intelligence; Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz; and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League's doyen, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain -- decided on this plan days ago but waited until the weekend so the Supreme Court would not be in session and Western officials would be out of the office.

Musharraf's chief aim was to "cleanse" the Supreme Court. Its judges have been forced to resign, and several, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, have been arrested. The court, which had become a major irritant for the regime, had been due to rule on whether Musharraf could remain president for another five-year term.

The other prime targets were not the extremists terrorizing major swaths of northern Pakistan but the country's democratic, secular elite. Dozens of judges, lawyers and human rights workers have been arrested. Others have gone into hiding. Asma Jahangir, Pakistan's leading human rights activist, is under house arrest. She appealed yesterday for the Bush administration "to stop all support of the unstable dictator as his lust for power is bringing the country close to a worse form of civil strife."

Musharraf has increasingly treated the Supreme Court with contempt -- with devastating implications for relations between the army and the public, which wants an independent judiciary, the rule of law and respect for the constitution. Musharraf has again decided that he is above the law and international obligations, even though his political support collapsed long ago. Lawyers, middle-class professionals and his political opposition have been protesting in the streets for months, demanding that Musharraf hold elections and return the country to civilian rule.

Eventually the United States persuaded him to allow former prime minister Benazir Bhutto to return from exile in the hope that Musharraf and Bhutto together could fight extremists by restoring democracy. But Musharraf's heart was never in such a deal. The massive public turnout for Bhutto when she returned last month convinced Musharraf and the army of the need to avoid a handshake with Bhutto if they wanted to remain in power.

Bhutto, her credibility in tatters, has been forced to do an about-face and condemn the generals. It seems that Musharraf once again took the Americans for a ride.

The government should focus its battle against extremism on northern Pakistan, where a resurgent Pakistani Taliban helped by al-Qaeda, Afghan members of the Taliban and several foreign terrorist groups are conquering territory and expanding the boundaries of their "liberated" sharia state. The army has lost hundreds of soldiers in a wave of frontal and suicide attacks, and at least 400 troops are being held hostage.

Despite U.S. expectations it is unlikely that Musharraf will use his new powers to step up a military offensive in the north. His first concern is political survival. More likely are a flurry of truces and shaky peace deals with the Pakistani Taliban that will leave them in place. As a timely sop to the Pentagon, the arrests of a few high-level leaders of the Afghan Taliban and perhaps an al-Qaeda leader are possible. But the extremists know that the Pakistani state has been irretrievably weakened and that this is the moment to push their offensive.

The key question Musharraf faces is how long the army will continue to back him. Rank-and-file soldiers are keenly aware of the widening gulf between them and the public they are supposed to protect. The army, already demoralized, is unwilling to fight a never-ending war against its own people.

For now, the judges are gone, the media has been censored, the opposition and lawyers jailed and curtailed. But Musharraf's emergency is not sustainable. Ruling by force without any political support will prove impossible.

The international community has only belatedly realized that Pakistan is a haven for terrorism, nuclear proliferation and Islamic radicalism. Afghanistan's stability and the fate of 40,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers depend on what happens in Pakistan. The spread of anti-Western feelings and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism have been fostered by a U.S. policy that has sought to prop up Musharraf rather than forcing him to seek political consensus and empower a representative civilian government that would have public support for attacking the extremists.

The world cannot afford to let Musharraf's second coup go unchecked. So far, the response from Washington and European capitals has been tepid. Unless the international community acts decisively, Musharraf's emergency will plunge Pakistan even more deeply into chaos.

Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, is the author of "Taliban" and "Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia."

Back to me:
We're in bed with a country whose leader has spent the last seven years doing little more than trying to remain in power, repeatedly putting off democratic elections, arresting or ejecting dissenters and ignoring repeated promises to step down as head of the military. All in the name of fighting the war on terror. Apparently the cliché "the enemy of my enemy is my ally" trumps these admitted-platitudes he delivered to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2004.

For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. The oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom and strive to build a community of peaceful, democratic nations.

As long the oppressors are "with us" apparently, then go ahead and do whatever you want. Maybe Bushie sees this as some form of freedom he's bestowing upon Pakistan, the freedom to give dictator's billions of dollars and free reign.

Now, I understand that what we're dealing with extremely complex and that pragmatism has value. Diplomacy is negotiation and that usually means giving up something you'd prefer to keep or allowing something you'd prefer to prevent. And liberals like me have excoriated the neocons for being too idealistic sounding with their justifications for the War in Iraq in particular rather than being willing to negotiate.

But I'm not saying that we should invade Pakistan because the military dictator President Musharraf has obliterated democracy in his country. I'm saying that we should make a clear statement that we find his conduct unacceptable. And yeah, that opens us up to some risk that we lose an ally in the war on terror. But how valuable is this ally? Al Qaeda runs free more or less in the hinterlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban is gaining strength. Members of the unit charged with ferreting out the terrorists were recently captured without a fight. And since everything he has done has essentially been to maintain his hold on power and we've provided aid to keep this ally in power, why does the United States not use its power of the purse?

Our support for Musharraf hasn't mean photo-op dipolmacy, it means $10 billion in primiarly military assistance since Pakistan declared itself an ally in the War on Terror.

Unfortunately, as this frontpage L.A. Times story points out, most of that aid has gone toward conventional weapons better suited for a war against rival India, while the Frontier Corps (the special unit stationed on the border with Afghanistan) is underfunded and outmanned in its pursuit of al Qaeda, according to U.S. officials quoted in the story.

Here's the excellent story from the Times' Greg Miller:

U.S. military aid to Pakistan misses its Al Qaeda target

The Frontier Corps battling the militants is outgunned and poorly trained, officials say. Funding instead goes to equipment more suited for conventional warfare with India.
By Greg Miller
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

November 5, 2007

WASHINGTON — Despite billions of dollars in U.S. military payments to Pakistan over the last six years, the paramilitary force leading the pursuit of Al Qaeda militants remains underfunded, poorly trained and overwhelmingly outgunned, U.S. military and intelligence officials said.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf cited the rising militant threat in declaring a state of emergency on Saturday and suspending the constitution.

But rather than use the more than $7 billion in U.S. military aid to bolster its counter-terrorism capabilities, Pakistan has spent the bulk of it on heavy arms, aircraft and equipment that U.S. officials say are far more suited for conventional warfare with India, its regional rival.

That has left fighters with the paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps, equipped often with little more than "sandals and bolt-action rifles," said a senior Western military official in Islamabad, even as they face Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters equipped with assault rifles and grenade launchers.

The arms imbalance has contributed to Al Qaeda's ability to regroup in the border region, and reflects the competing priorities that were evident even before this weekend between two countries that are self-described allies in the "war on terrorism" but have sharply divergent national security interests.

The situation also has emerged as a significant obstacle as the United States and Pakistan seek new approaches after a series of failed strategies in the frontier region, where Osama bin Laden and other top Al Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding.

U.S. officials have urged Pakistan to move more aggressively against militants and bolster the capabilities of the Frontier Corps, an indigenously recruited force of about 80,000 troops, half of them based in the tribal areas, that was formed under British rule and is traditionally used to guard the border and curb smuggling.

Even front-line units with upgraded weapons are woefully unschooled in counterinsurgency tactics, other officials said. Late last month, Islamic militants captured dozens of fighters and paraded them before Western journalists, the latest in a series of embarrassing encounters.

Pakistan has recently indicated that it will enlarge the corps and expand its role in pursuing Al Qaeda. But because the Frontier Corps has been all but shut off from U.S. military aid and payments to Pakistan, U.S. officials said the new strategy amounts in some ways to starting from scratch more than six years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"The view in Washington is that the Frontier Corps is the best way forward because they are locally recruited, speak the language, and understand the culture, terrain and local politics," said a senior Pentagon official, discussing internal deliberations on Pakistan policy on condition of anonymity.

But transforming the corps into a force that can contend with militants in the tribal area "will take years to bring to fruition," he said.

Partly because of that timetable, the goal of dismantling Al Qaeda and its hub of operations in the border region has given way to expectations among U.S. intelligence and military officials that the United States and Pakistan face a years-long struggle simply to contain the terrorist network and keep it from expanding.

"I think it's worse than starting from scratch," said Bruce Riedel, a former South Asia expert at the CIA and the White House now with the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

"The most optimistic of scenarios we're looking at is a very long-term effort to try to stabilize the badlands of northwestern Pakistan," Riedel said. "The alternative is . . . a more or less permanent Taliban state within a state in northwest Pakistan."

Plans to build up the Frontier Corps are not universally supported by U.S. military officials. Loyalties within the corps are thought by many observers to be divided. Members are recruited mainly from Pashtun tribes with long-standing mistrust of outsiders. Most reject militant ideology, and have suffered hundreds of casualties in the fighting. But many also are devoutly religious and feel some degree of sympathy for the Islamists' cause.

"There is a push-back among some that the Frontier Corps is not a reliable ally of the United States," said Seth Jones, a military expert at Rand Corp. "The concern is that you give them additional training and equipment, and they could end up helping militants rather than taking action against them."

Perhaps as a hedge against those concerns, the U.S. Special Operations Command has recently begun exploring efforts to pay off tribal militias in the region that are not affiliated with the Pakistani government, and arm them to root out Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, a source familiar with the discussions said.

"You can't buy them, but you can rent them," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions. "There is a very serious effort to look at this."

The CIA also operates in the area, and has doubled the number of case officers based in Pakistan in recent years, former agency officials say.

Despite the concerns, U.S. officials said there is widespread agreement that boosting support to the Frontier Corps is worth the risk, a position that reflects deep frustration with a string of failed strategies in the border region.

An early failure was a plan to keep Al Qaeda operatives from crossing into Pakistan when U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan in late 2001. That was followed by ineffective forays by thousands of Pakistani regular army troops and aborted peace agreements with tribal leaders who did not fulfill pledges to clamp down on the militants.

By last summer, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the peace deals had given Al Qaeda room to regroup and rebuild its ability to train and plan attacks on Western targets.

Under new pressure from the United States, Musharraf resumed military incursions earlier this year, with Frontier Corps fighters teaming up with Pakistani regular army units. The effort produced a series of bloody and clumsy confrontations that may have strengthened the militants' position in the tribal areas.

Especially demoralizing was the Aug. 30 capture of about 250 troops, most of them members of the Frontier Corps, who surrendered without a fight. Over the next two months, a few dozen were released but at least three were beheaded. Over the weekend, 211 were freed in exchange for 25 militants held by the army.

Taking on Al Qaeda and Taliban militants represents a significant departure for the Frontier Corps, whose members are typically outfitted with castoffs from the regular army. Led by army officers who often disdain the assignment, Frontier Corps units have obsolete artillery pieces, have to travel by foot because they have no ground transport, lack night-vision equipment, and have almost no air power.

"Yesterday they had one helicopter operating," a senior Western diplomat in Islamabad said during a recent interview. "If they had two, it was a good day."

Reluctant to offend a crucial ally, the United States has placed few conditions on the military aid, part of a larger package of U.S. aid and payments totaling more than $10 billion. As a result, Pakistan used much of it to acquire big-ticket weapons systems and other items to shore up its conventional defense capabilities, U.S. officials said.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, which oversees U.S. weapons transfers, said that shipments to Pakistan since the Sept. 11 attacks had included some equipment that could be useful in pursuing militants in the tribal areas, including 4,000 radios and 12 refurbished attack helicopters. But even those items went to the regular army, the agency said, and are unlikely to be shared with the Frontier Corps, which falls under a separate branch of the Pakistani government.

The majority of Pakistan's purchases have been of items that would be difficult to deploy in counterinsurgency fights, including harpoon missiles designed to sink warships, F-16 fighter jets, maritime surveillance aircraft and refurbished howitzers that have to be towed into position.

"It's hard to make arguments that the bulk of what is being provided by the U.S. is very effective for counter-terrorism operations," said Alan Kronstadt, a specialist in South Asian affairs at the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. "A lot of the military assistance has been much more useful for a potential war with India."

Musharraf's emergency declaration could force a review of U.S. aid, a move Democratic lawmakers said Sunday they would support.

The U.S. and Pakistan have spent part of the last year developing what one Pentagon official described as a "multiyear plan" to bolster the Frontier Corps' capabilities, U.S. officials said.

Pakistan has already begun recruiting more troops, with plans to expand the corps to 100,000.U.S. funding would help pay for the increase, as well as a training center that will focus on counterinsurgency tactics.

The Pentagon has budgeted $55 million in counter-narcotics funds for the Frontier Corps this year to pay for night-vision equipment and communications gear. But the Pentagon is also seeking additional funding in a separate category that could be used for weapons. Officials declined to discuss specifics.

"It's nothing really sexy," said the senior Pentagon official involved in Pakistan policy. "But they need to be at least on par with the militants."

Times staff writer Laura King in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Btw, got to 2,000 hits recently. That's about 1,000 hits per year that I've had the blog.

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