Tuesday, November 06, 2007


At the risk of inviting a little opprobrium, I have to confess that I have long held that Pakistan is the "worst" country. That is not to say that the people are any worse than others, or in any way inferior. But it is to say that the sum total of what constitutes Pakistan the nation makes it a combination of being among the worst places to live, with the most deadly possibilities for a future and the least hope for some sort of progress, defined any way you want to look at it. It is not that Pakistan is worst in everything, but just that it is bad in most everything, and truly awful in some critical matters, and you put it all together, and there just does not seem to be much redeeming in its nationhood. Lovely people, of course, but what a country. Besotted by religion, infested by an army that is vastly too large and corporate and unchecked by other forces, ringed by tribes who have not emerged from the devastation of centuries of brutal warfare, awash in utterly insane ethnic conflicts, and, worst of all, possessed of nuclear weapons. It does have a middle class, apparently growing, but also largely trapped up in ethnicity and lineage and all the attendant insanity.

So, if I were cynical, which I am not, I would just have to say this ... so Pakistan is having another crisis ... imagine that.

The key to understanding the current crisis, I believe, is that Musharraf is attacking this middle class, not the Islamists who are not really a threat to him. I think he has fundamentally misread the situation, and that his apparently immeasurable hubris has swamped a mind that seemed to be working reasonably well for the first part of his rule. But that is neither here nor there. It seems remarkable to me that he could not bring himself to give up his position as head of the army ... but perhaps he knows that once he has shed that direct lever of control, he is simply twisting in the wind. So what ... he is twisting in the wind right now, waiting upon some other power base within the army to put him out of his misery.

As an aside, why do the plainclothes cops have to gratuitously punch and kick the black-and-white-clad lawyers as they load them up into paddy wagons? This is from the endlessly repeated CNN footage. The photographers seem to outnumber the lawyers, and they are allowed without interference to photograph every last little blow. So you have to assume that the regime has decided that it wants these images propagated, and that a few kicks and clubbings will demonstrate to the comfortable middle classes that this is what awaits protesters ... a rough handling and few nights in jail away from their estates and their armies of cowering servants fresh off the farm, as it were. Just as the blows are feeble, if real, so the regime shows itself as feeble, waiting for some force whose brutality is more visceral to come along and sweep it away.

It turns out that I am reading about Tamerlane, more appropriately Temur or Timur, the great and brutal Turco-Mongol who conquered Central Asia in the 14th century. I have a long fascination with horses and peoples, and my reading keeps returning to the early and middle periods of Islamic history. Tamerlane (I prefer the English versions of names because it is English I speak and because every language naturally domesticates the names of places and peoples it considers important) was a monster who, notwithstanding his intellectual, architectural, and literary fascinations, had the effect like Genghis Khan before him of destroying great cities and cultures so thoroughly that they have not recovered to this day. Witness Afghanistan. But that is the way it is with nomads when they overwhelm the urbane.

When Tamerlane conquered a resistant city, or especially a rebellious city, he committed horrible slaughters, none worse that when he piled 2,000 living sentient human beings into a tower and bricked them in to die and rot as a memorial to those who opposed him. The point of this was to warn others that submission was the only rationale option. Dictators still think that way. But when their exemplary violence is as flabby and unconvincing as Musharraf's latest round-ups, you have to wonder ... who is weaker, Musharraf or his lawyeristic opponents? We can be assured that the Islamist madmen who are the ostensible and requisite villains inn the piece would not stop at a few kicks. (Compare it, by the way, to the murderous brutality of the petty thugs who run Burma.)

I do not believe that the islamists have the power to come to power in Pakistan, and none of the analysis seems to deal with this. They cannot defeat the army, and they cannot capture it. So they can cause destruction and chaos here and there, but they cannot seize the state. I think that the Islamists are an important part of Musharraf's power ... without them, his only excuse for rule is that Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were corrupt. Big woop ... who isn't corrupt in power in a third world hellhole? But the possibility of an Iranian style state takeover? Not very bloody likely.

The tribal islamists serve another purpose as well that does not dovetail with Bushie 9/11-ism. Pakistan has essentially four borders, five if you count China. We hear little about the Iran border and I doubt it is troublesome. The India border is big power stuff, puffing and huffing and occasionally getting into a disastrous war. Kashmir is a bleeding sore that keeps some of the Islamists busy and provdes the army with a valuable raison d'ĂȘtre for its overweening control. Afghanistan is an open door to chaos. Pakistan wants a weak, troubled Afghanistan, and it wants its islamists to be more concerned with their criminal activites on that border than with bringing their premodern version of enlightenment to Pakistan's tumultuous cities. So the army needs the Islamists, and the Islamists need the army, and neither of them cares a whit about Bushite 9/11-ism except insofar as it feathers their beds (army) or provides a requisite great Satan figure (islamists.)

I think Musharraf suffers a coup from within the army within a month or two. Then fevered negotiations ... Condi's last gasp ... and semi-brokered elections presumably some time before November 2008 for another brief stab at democracy before the army takes over again in the face of another wave of arrogant civilian corruption and exemplary religious violence. Those elections in the good ole U.S. are easily as important to Pakistan as any legislative elections at home. That marks the level of desperation in this worst of nations.

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