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Banter on the Banter

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By Ben Cohen

We welcome dialogue on The Daily Banter, and especially appreciate it when people take the time to leave thoughtful comments on articles. This was left by John Maszka in response to Hugo Foster's article on Europe and America's policy towards the Palestinians:

Obama was our last big hope:
pulling the troops out of Iraq, negotiations with Iran, first minority
president, ... what happened? Now he's cozying up with Sarkosy who is
more Bush than ... Bush!

The really disappointing aspect of Obama is that he was supposed to
be the peace candidate. But everything that he appeared to stand for-
multiculturalism, religious toleration, equality, peace, diplomacy- all
are overshadowed by this foolish idea of moving the war to Pakistan.

Moving the war on terror to Pakistan could have disastrous
consequences on both the political stability in the region, and in the
broader balance of power. Scholars such as Richard Betts accurately
point out that beyond Iran or North Korea, “Pakistan may harbor the
greatest potential danger of all.” With the current instability in
Pakistan, Betts points to the danger that a pro-Taliban government
would pose in a nuclear Pakistan. This is no minor point to be made.
While the Shi’a in Iran are highly unlikely to proliferate WMD to their
Sunni enemies, the Pakistanis harbor no such enmity toward Sunni
terrorist organizations. Should a pro-Taliban or other similar type of
government come to power in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda’s chances of gaining
access to nuclear weapons would dramatically increase overnight.

There are, of course, two sides to every argument; and this argument
is no exception. On the one hand, some insist that American forces are
needed in order to maintain political stability and to prevent such a
government from rising to power. On the other hand, there are those who
believe that a deliberate attack against Pakistan’s state sovereignty
will only further enrage its radical population, and serve to
radicalize its moderates. I offer the following in support of this
latter argument:

Pakistan has approximately 160 million people; better than half of
the population of the entire Arab world. Pakistan also has some of the
deepest underlying ethnic fissures in the region, which could lead to
long-term disintegration of the state if exacerbated. Even with an
impressive growth in GDP (second only to China in all of Asia), it
could be decades before wide-spread poverty is alleviated and a stable
middle class is established in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the absence of a deeply embedded democratic system in
Pakistan presents perhaps the greatest danger to stability. In this
country, upon which the facade of democracy has been thrust by outside
forces and the current regime came to power by coup, the army fulfills
the role of “referee within the political boxing ring.” However, this
referee demonstrates a “strong personal interest in the outcome of many
of the fights and a strong tendency to make up the rules as he goes
along.” The Pakistani army “also has a long record of either joining in
the fight on one side or the other, or clubbing both boxers to the
ground and taking the prize himself” (Lieven, 2006:43).

Pakistan’s army is also unusually large. Thathiah Ravi (2006:119,
121) observes that the army has “outgrown its watchdog role to become
the master of this nation state.” Ravi attributes America’s less than
dependable alliance with Pakistan to the nature of its army.
“Occasionally, it perceives the Pakistan Army as an inescapable ally
and at other times as a threat to regional peace and [a]
non-proliferation regime.” According to Ravi, India and Afghanistan
blame the conflict in Kashmir and the Durand line on the Pakistan Army,
accusing it of “inciting, abetting and encouraging terrorism from its
soil.” Ravi also blames the “flagrant violations in nuclear
proliferation by Pakistan, both as an originator and as a conduit for
China and North Korea” on the Pakistan Army, because of its support for

The point to be made is that the stability of Pakistan depends upon
maintaining the delicate balance of power both within the state of
Pakistan, and in the broader region. Pakistan is not an island, it has
alliances and enemies. Moving American troops into Pakistan will no
doubt not only serve to radicalize its population and fuel the popular
call for Jihad, it could also spark a proxy war with China that could
have long-lasting economic repercussions. Focusing on the more
immediate impact American troops would have on the Pakistani
population; let’s consider a few past encounters:

On January 13, 2006, the United States launched a missile strike on
the village of Damadola, Pakistan. Rather than kill the targeted Ayman
al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s deputy leader, the strike instead slaughtered
17 locals. This only served to further weaken the Musharraf government
and further destabilize the entire area. In a nuclear state like
Pakistan, this was not only unfortunate, it was outright stupid.

On October 30, 2006, the Pakistani military, under pressure from the
US, attacked a madrassah in the Northwest Frontier province in
Pakistan. Immediately following the attack, local residents, convinced
that the US military was behind the attack, burned American flags and
effigies of President Bush, and shouted “Death to America!” Outraged
over an attack on school children, the local residents viewed the
attack as an assault against Islam.

On November 7, 2006, a suicide bomber retaliated. Further outrage
ensued when President Bush extended his condolences to the families of
the victims of the suicide attack, and President Musharraf did the
same, adding that terrorism will be eliminated “with an iron hand.” The
point to be driven home is that the attack on the madrassah was kept as
quiet as possible, while the suicide bombing was publicized as a
tragedy, and one more reason to maintain the war on terror.

Last year trouble escalated when the Pakistani government laid siege
to the Red Mosque and more than 100 people were killed. “Even before
his soldiers had overrun the Lal Masjid ... the retaliations began.”
Suicide attacks originating from both Afghan Taliban and Pakistani
tribal militants targeted military convoys and a police recruiting
center. Guerrilla attacks that demonstrated a shocking degree of
organization and speed-not to mention strategic cunning revealed that
they were orchestrated by none other than al-Qaeda’s number two man,
Ayman Al-Zawahiri; a fact confirmed by Pakistani and Taliban officials.
One such attack occurred on July 15, 2007, when a suicide bomber killed
24 Pakistani troops and injured some 30 others in the village of
Daznaray (20 miles to the north of Miran Shah, in North Waziristan).
Musharraf ordered thousands of troops into the region to attempt to
restore order. But radical groups swore to retaliate against the
government for its siege of the mosque and its cooperation with the
United States.

A July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concludes that “al
Qaeda is resurgent in Pakistan- and more centrally organized than it
has been at any time since 9/11.” The NIE reports that al-Qaeda now
enjoys sanctuary in Bajaur and North Waziristan, from which they
operate “a complex command, control, training and recruitment base”
with an “intact hierarchy of top leadership and operational

In September 2006 Musharraf signed a peace deal with Pashtun tribal
elders in North Waziristan. The deal gave pro-Taliban militants full
control of security in the area. Al Qaeda provides funding, training
and ideological inspiration, while Afghan Taliban and Pakistani Tribal
leaders supply the manpower. These forces are so strong that last year
Musharraf sent well over 100,000 trained Pakistani soldiers against
them, but they were not able to prevail against them.

The question remains, what does America do when Pakistan no longer
has a Musharraf to bridge the gap? While Musharraf claims that
President Bush has assured him of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Senator Obama
obviously has no intention of honoring such an assurance. As it is, the
Pakistanis do just enough to avoid jeopardizing U.S. support.
Musharraf, who is caught between Pakistan’s dependence on American aid
and loyalty to the Pakistani people, denies being George Bush’s
hand-puppet. Musharraf insists that he is “200 percent certain” that
the United States will not unilaterally decide to attack terrorists on
Pakistani soil. What happens when we begin to do just that?

In 2002 Musharraf was reported to have told a British official that
his "great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert
me. They always desert their friends." Musharraf has more reason now to
be skeptical of his American allies than ever.