Friday, December 28, 2007

Max Boot on the REALLY REAL Pakistan

Pakistan is a place I have visited a dozen times over the last two decades and remains a source of endless fascination tempered by a bit of fear.

Max Boot points out some of the many paradoxes of this sprawling country of more than 150 million people. While 46% of Pakis polled say they like Osama bin Laden, 63% said they liked Bhutto. Only nine percent liked Bush. What gives?

Based on my experiences, the Paks like Osama as a paragon of Islam standing up against the West---they don't want Al Qaeda ruling the country with patriarchal backwardness.

The Paks like Bhutto because she represents some form of democratic representation & enlightenment compared to the clannish tribal feuds that constitute government in large swathes of the country.

They don't like Bush because he & America have supported military dictators like Musharraf while professing a desire for democracy. That hypocrisy in their eyes disqualifies Bush as a desired ally.

The cardinal basic fact of Pakistani politics is that the Army rules everything that isn't tied down. If a politician like Benazir's father gets in the way of the Army, he is executed on trumped-up charges.

Another cardinal fact is that corruption rules whatever the Army doesn't rule [although the Army itself is corrupt] and that peculation and venality are rampant, even among religious authorities.

The overarching fact is that only FOUR PERCENT of Pakis polled would consider voting for a religious party. Secularism still rules supreme in political life, though religious considerations affect voting for particular parties.

Finally, the ISI [who serve as a combination CIA/FBI according to a senior ISI official I talked to] has all sorts of spies and informers everywhere. When you read spurious blogs like Newshoggers who claim ISI is infected with religious agents, it is simply a misapprehension based on the fact that ISI infiltrates some religious organizations, and may perhaps have double-agent problems within its organization---sort of like Aldrich or other turncoats in the CIA or FBI.

Pakistan is many countries bundled into one, with the four major provinces [NWFP, Punjab, Sindh, & Baluchistan] all subdivided into various areas. Azad Kashmir is independently administered due to hostilities with India. Lahore & Karachi & Quetta & Peshawar are as different as the capitals of various Latin American countries. The languages differ, though Urdu is the unifying tongue & English widely spoken.

Benazir Bhutto always had a foolish streak of grandiosity which probably led to her sad tragic death---she should have kept her head down as she left the tightly-secured campaign speech area & entered the streets of Rawalpindi----a security nightmare at the best of times [I actually witnessed a riot in 'Pindi in the late '80s]. She knew she was an AQ target and she should have kept her populist instincts in check---like her father, she always liked to push the edge of the envelope.

That is permissible in advanced democracies, but Pakistan still has a long way to go before the fissiparous tendencies in the country begin to subside enough for rational campaigns without the threat of violence.

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