by Henry Farrell on March 15, 2007

I haven’t seen much coverage in either US newspapers or the blogosphere of the developing crisis in Pakistan. Not knowing very much more than what I read in the newspapers, I’m not able to contribute much myself. But I do want to point to this “FT article”: which provides what seems to me to be an excellent overview of the politics.

Not since September 12 2001 has Pervez Musharraf found himself under such pressure. … Five and a half years later, as blowback from the war in Afghanistan pushes anti-American sentiment in Pakistan to new levels, the political cost to Gen Musharraf of being seen as a puppet of the administration of President George W. Bush is becoming unsustainable. This week, Gen Musharraf revealed his own mounting unpopularity when he provoked nationwide protests by unceremoniously suspending the chief justice of the Supreme Court. The top judge, Iftikhar Chaudhary, is understood to have alarmed Gen Musharraf by taking an independent stand on a number of controversial cases and potentially jeopardising the general’s re-election plans. By accepting, in particular, that there should be an investigation into suspected “disappearances” of terror suspects, Mr Chaudhary seems to have overstepped the mark. … judge – who claims to have been roughed up and stripped of his mobile phone, car and passport – has become the rallying point for all the disaffected of Gen Musharraf’s Pakistan. … “It’s a whirlpool right now,” says Taffazul Rizvi, a US-trained Pakistani lawyer. “It’s an emerging situation, which can take down anyone, including Musharraf.” … Gen Musharraf’s political weakness will, in time, inevitably undermine his relations with the US, his chief patron, and prompt Washington to look for ways to bolster the credibility of its ally, possibly by encouraging the general to co-opt one or other of the two exiled political leaders in a broad coalition. … Diplomats in Islamabad worry it may be too late for such political fixes. Religious radicalism is spreading so rapidly that there is little time left to save Pakistan’s moderate political parties and institutions such as the Supreme Court that are central to the functioning of any future democracy.

Those more knowledgeable than myself should feel free to add to/contradict/etc in comments.



retr2327 03.15.07 at 6:44 pm

My response should not be construed as a claim that I am more knowledgeable; I’m sure you already know this, as do most of your readers. But the story hardly seems complete without adding — in big flashing letters — that Pakistan, unlike some supposed big threats (e.g., Iraq, Iran), already has nuclear weapons.

The idea that we’re working ourselves into hysterics over Iran while essentially ignoring the ticking time bomb in Pakistan is just further proof that our political discourse has lost contact with reality.


Hidari 03.15.07 at 6:46 pm

I’m not an Islamist and (despite what some will undoubtedly say) it gives me no great joy to say this, but for every action, there is a reaction. Due to the extraordinary (not to mention insane) actions of the Bush administration, what was promised, rhetorically, but was never really ‘meant’ to happen, i.e. the democratisation of the Arab world is now under way. Which is a pompous way of saying all the American puppets (from Egypt, where the most brutal crackdown in 25 years is underway to halt pro-democracy forces) to Pakistan to…well you name it, are now under threat.

Unless the Americans come to their senses, a wave of unrest the likes of which we have never seen will sweep all the American client states out of power, and a new generation of anti-American politicians (who will undoubtedly be smeared as ‘Islamists’) will come to power.

It gives me no joy to say this, but this process will unquestionably be violent. And the Americans will do everything to stop their client states from falling.


SamChevre 03.15.07 at 6:50 pm

I’m also not an expert.

It’s probably worth noting, though, that US (and EU) anti-drug policy has succeeded in ensuring that anyone in Pakistan whom we support has a very well-funded opposition.


P O'Neill 03.15.07 at 7:10 pm

The most recent trouble seems to have flared up soon after the US stopped arguing with Karzai about whether the Taliban are still being helped by Pakistan. Note also that US intelligence statements about the whereabouts of Bin Laden have gotten more explicit in naming Pakistan has his likely abode. Thus a seeming consensus that Musharraf lacks full control over the security apparatus, leading ultimately to the concerns raised by #1. One fears that the US doesn’t even know how to begin thinking about a post-Musharraf world, or how to get there.


Shelby 03.15.07 at 7:48 pm

I’m surprised that there haven’t been any open (but fake) “rifts” between the US and Pakistan, to shore up Musharraf’s non-puppet cred. Note that such a move could come as easily from Pakistan as from the US, so bashing Bush or the State dept is an inadequate explanation.


Mycroft 03.15.07 at 9:30 pm

No expert here, either, but the CIA’s analytic people have been forecasting the collapse of Pakistan as a nation-state for the past decade or so. It’s a perfect storm of economic corruption, demographic factors, etc. I’m perfectly willing to believe that current political issues have brought it all to a boiling point.


Giles 03.15.07 at 9:42 pm

My tupence worth is that

1. Pakistan is an artificial country created not for positive reasons – values or ideals – but negative ones – a large section of muslims simply did not want to be a minority in a hindi or secular state.

2. Unfortunately this means the glue holding the place together is fairly weak. Which is why it has already bloodily fallen apart once and this is why further bloody fragmentation is likely – or has already occured as the NW frontiers are effectively autonomous.

3. Ironically the islamists are probably best able to provide a ideal that will bind the state together. But I cant see a fundamentalist islamic state surrounded on all sides by infidels – shiite iran, hindu india, buhdist china remaining much at peace.

4. Result – whichever way you look at it the place is f’d


Dennis 03.16.07 at 12:14 am

What would you have us do? Preemptively strike or invade Pakistan to seize or destroy it’s nuclear arsenal, and hence give India an opportunity to remove Pakistan from the earth? Or support an Indian attack on Pakistan? Or try to impose a solution on Pakistan dealing with all parts of it’s foreign and domestic issues available or tampering with, or support a coup and get someone else who is neither democratic or a Pakistani patriot? Sometime you choices are not between good and bad…..your choice is between bad and terrible. Bad is now. Terrible maybe enroute.


Swan 03.16.07 at 12:15 am


A few days ago, the Carpetbagger wrote this and I wrote this. So what’s going on with the media? I think everyone who pays attention can agree it seems like something- from our own experiences with the major outlets, to what we see reported on in the blogs, to all the things Media Matters catches because they’re looking for it all the time, the irregularities in the media have been proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, irregular. FNC’s regular promotion of statements a blog later proves false, or headlines that are misleading, without ever a correction or a retraction, make FNC’s operations equal to those of a propaganda news organization in a fascist state. So I have to ask you, if someone is using improper influence on major newspapers throughout the country as well as major news channels, why after all these years hasn’t evidence turned up? Why hasn’t the scandal come to light as evidence of any scandal involving bumbling party politicians and activists always inevitably does? If this is just the people who do K-street, if this is just the Harriet Miers types, the young Republicans, the people who were involved in the prosecutor purge scandal or the outing of Valerie Plame– just threatening to blacklist people or to spread gossip about them, the usual modus operandi we always hear about by way of explanation– why hasn’t somebody leaked something about it this time? Think about that, and you’ll start to appreciate why I write on my blog and say in my videos that someone has to create an organization to deal with the threat of FNC, and the problem has to be taken seriously by liberals.


John 03.16.07 at 4:06 am

The worries about a fundamentalist Islamic state over exaggerated.
I’ve read that if elections were to actually be held, the fundamentalists would capture a fairly small part of the country. They make a lot of noise, but that doesn’t translate into what the majority of people actually want.

On the flip side, however, I say let them capture the entire country. It puts them in a far different situation, to have to run an entire country as a politically elected entity – something Hamas has begun to realize. They cant just cry injustice anymore – they have to actually do something about it. I actually feel, if elected, their ideas would gradually evolve over time to become more mainstream.
As Superman’s Dad would say “With great power, comes great responsibility”.
Let them have the power.


Leinad 03.16.07 at 4:12 am


What’s the deal with ovaltine?


K R Hasan 03.16.07 at 7:41 am

This is what Adil Najam from Tufts said in his blog a short while ago

“Earlier this evening I was giving a lecture at Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government) on democracy in Pakistan and there I introduced the notion that “Pakistan is a democratic society trapped inside an undemocratic state”

The US has found Pakistan’s military useful time and again with the result that no other institution, whether democracy or judiciary, is allowed to prosper.

Musharraf had a tough couple of years when he overthrew a democratically elected government when it dared to try and dismiss him, but 9/11 was the best thing that could have happened for him. I think he now believes he is invincible, which is always a fatal mistake.

He may not be an “Islamist” but is certainly no democrat. A democratic Pakistan with an army firmly under civilian control would be no threat to anyone – e.g. Islamic parties have never obtained more than 10 to 15% of votes in any election.


Hidari 03.16.07 at 8:17 am

‘Seven-year-old Saud Bugti’s father was picked up by secret police on a street corner in Karachi last November. No one has heard from him since. He has joined the ranks of Pakistan’s ‘disappeared’ – victims of the country’s brutal attempts to wage war on both al-Qaida and those who fail to support the government. But how many innocent people are being caught up in this? And what is America’s connection to the barbaric torture of suspects?’

Gosh and where are the ‘decents’ to condemn all this when you need them? You would almost think there was one law for American client states, and one law for the rest of us.,,2035478,00.html


jonst 03.16.07 at 11:52 am

Maybe people are finally tiring of the good cop/bad cop routine that Pakistan has played with the world for lo these many years. AQ IS a Pakistani creation. The same with the Taliban. Their goals are, and have been, preventing India from making inroads on Pakistan’s northern frontier, and to assure that pipelines desired by Pakistan in fact run through Pakistan. To achieve these goals you do, at times, have to be indulgent with the groups helping you secure them. i.e. putting up with the excesses of the Taliban on the home front, and the terrorist acts of AQ around the world. And at times you have to make a show of ‘scolding’ the child in front of the the world. As I noted…perhaps the world is just wearying of this melodrama. Bombs or no bombs.


Umar 03.16.07 at 1:08 pm

Well, most of the people who commented here have definitely never seen Pakistan but their comments surely portray that they know a lot about this country.

Firstly, the reason this removal of Chief Justice by Musharraf has sparked so much anger among the masses is that its not first time it has happened that Musharraf has bypassed constitution and done something complete at his sole discretion. Musharraf has time and again did this and now this reaction is sort of aggregated result of all the mishandling by Musharraf.

Secondly, US would never want a completely politically stable Pakistan. Reasons being, Pakistan is not a country to which US attaches a lot of economic value; but a country which has reasonably influence in Islamic world and could help US with invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and now Iran. A politically stable Pakistan would not only refuse to listen to US without collateral and evidence but might even strengthen the confidence of Islamic states.

Thirdly, as far as the existence of Taliban regime is concerned. No doubt, its a monster created by US & Pakistan together. But now, US is paying Pakistan to do the dirty of cleaning it all up. And Pakistan without doubt is doing a bad job here and is paying the price for lining up with US, which has proved to be the most useless ally of Pakistan so far.

If Musharraf’s government is overthrown due to this recent political unrest. It will not only take Musharraf down but military with it. Means, if Musharraf goes, military will be out with doors closed behind it.


Nonie 03.16.07 at 1:26 pm

They’ve been talking about it over at The Young Turks for a while.


franck 03.16.07 at 3:23 pm

The real problem with Pakistan is that its political leadership has been catastrophically incompetent.

There is a democratic society in Pakistan, and it has been badly served by the civilian leadership, who have been both crooked and incompetent. So periodically the country has to suffer a military coup, but the problems of Pakistan are large, and the military, while less corrupt, is still incompetent. So some people turn to the Islamists, who are ignorant and incompetent, but not corrupt. But everyone knows the Islamists are idiots, and Afghanistan is a great negative example of what happens when you let hard-core Islamists take power. So people are stuck.

None of these people have a solution to the Baluchi insurgency, the huge poverty and deprivation of the country, the proxy war over Kashmir, the resurgent Taliban and destabilization of Afghanistan, the communal/religious warfare in Sindh, the terrible treatment of non-Muslims, etc.

Hidari would like to blame this all on the US, but it goes a lot deeper than that. The loss of Bangladesh is just the most clear example of the incompetence of the leaders of Pakistan, but there are many, many more.

Musharraf is encouraging Islamism to fight the secular parties, who remain relatively popular (especially since they have zero power), as is the army, but at home and abroad. This is a stupid strategy and hasn’t worked in the past, and won’t work this time. But it will make the life of Pakistanis more miserable.

My only ray of hope is that, despite everything the Pakistanis have endured, most still support democracy and the rule of law, and given half a chance, they could build a different and better country. But the history is not encouraging.


franck 03.16.07 at 3:26 pm

I should also point out that Pakistan is just as much a Chinese client state as it is an American one. (The Saudis also play a big role, which doesn’t help Sunni/Shia tensions in Pakistan.) The Pakistanis even gave up some of their Kashmiri territory to China some time back.


trifecta 03.16.07 at 3:34 pm

Is it just me, or is anybody else afraid to even mention Pakistan? Everything the Bush administration turns it’s attention to becomes an unprecedented disaster. Since he is running foreign policy, benign neglect may be our best strategy considering the poor choices available to us at the moment.


Cernig 03.16.07 at 4:07 pm

Hi Henry,

I haven’t seen much coverage in…the blogosphere of the developing crisis in Pakistan

I’ve been covering it all week and writing about Musharaff gaming the West for a couple of years.

Regards, C


Wild Pegasus 03.16.07 at 4:20 pm

As Superman’s Dad would say “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

Dude, that’s Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben.

– Josh


aretino 03.16.07 at 6:32 pm

I’m just trying not to gag on the FT’s latest love letter to Francois Bayrou.

What is it? Five in the last two weeks?

The pink paper’s editors are entitled to their schoolboy crushes, but a blogger account would be the appropriate venue.


Quo Vadis 03.16.07 at 7:51 pm


Secondly, US would never want a completely politically stable Pakistan.

I may not know much about Pakistani internal politics, but I know that as far as the US is concerned (and most of the rest of the world I would imagine) “nuclear-armed” and “politically-unstable” form a combination which trumps any of the other conditions you mention by a wide margin. Mix in an element of religious extremism and you have a recipe for something truly horrific.


roy belmont 03.16.07 at 8:26 pm

#14- “AQ IS a Pakistani creation. The same with the Taliban.”
The Contras WERE a Nicarauguan creation.
Guantanamo IS a Cuban creation.
Pat Robertson IS an American creation.
Roman Abramovitch IS an English creation.
This is easy and fun, besides adding much-needed contextual depth to the pressing question of what’s currently happening in Pakistan, bombs or no bombs.


BrendanH 03.16.07 at 9:43 pm

Completely off topic, but it seems to me that new comments are appearing interspersed in the existing comments, as if they are being manually moderated at different rates but appearing finally in the order of posting.

It makes it very difficult to follow a developing thread.


novakant 03.16.07 at 11:49 pm

There’s a depressing article about people being disappeared and tortured by ISI in the Guardian today. Needless to say, the FBI and CIA are complicit, the former describing torture as “locally acceptable forms of interrogation” – guess moral relativism is, well, relative.


Umar 03.17.07 at 7:43 am

@quo vadis

I think you missed the word ‘completely’ in my sentence. But apart from that, a politically stable Pakistan will not be as subservient to US interests as the current of dictatorship is.

I do agree that “nuclear-armed” “politically-unstable” and “religious-extremism” make a cruel recipe. However, when you remove the political-instability and bring in true democracy (which might come at the end of these recent events) and actually believe me when I say that religious-extremism is much less in Pakistan compared to what western media proclaims then the what is left is “politically-stable” “democratic” “nuclear-armed” Pakistan. This picture is not really acceptable to US because this would challenge to complete hegemony of US interests in South Asia.


Ron F 03.17.07 at 5:53 pm

Hidari writes (sardonically):

You would almost think there was one law for American client states, and one law for the rest of us.

A good example might be the fact that President Bush is opposing a bill which would link military aid for Pakistan to its efforts to tackle the Taliban.

That’s military aid to a nuclear-armed military dictatorship which, according to NATO’s former supreme commander General James Jones, allows the Taliban to base their headquarters in the Pakistani city of Quetta, and which recently signed a peace deal with the Taliban’s allies and hosts in Waziristan.

So President Bush is happy to supply weapons to a nuclear-armed dictatorship that is supporting the very people killing American and British troops in Afghanistan.

Now contrast that with policy toward Iran.


K R Hasan 03.17.07 at 6:12 pm

There’s a much more serious matter afoot – Ireland are on the verge of creating history and defeating Pakistan in the World Cup


Giles 03.17.07 at 8:26 pm

Indeed 132 all out

If this does cause Musharaff to resign I dont know what will.


j&w 03.18.07 at 3:40 am

I know – I read the first couple of lines and thought it was a cricket post too …


stuart 03.18.07 at 5:23 pm

Regarding the cricket, I agree – one of the biggest upsets of modern cricket and cant see that there will be a lot of casualties for such an embarassment…makes Englands travails look minor (unless they manage to lose to Canada today).

Regarding the politics, Bush has the problem that he has continually pushed for simple minded politics and good/bad dichotomies, rather than taking a more nuanced and complex view of shifting alliances that only last as long as they are useful. Pakistan was clearly given the green light and treated as an ally as they agreed to have a go at dislodging the ‘turrists’ in the northern parts of their country. Fair enough, but seeing as they couldnt achieve that – and its somewhat questionable how hard they tried, although its doubtful they could have had absolute success either way due to their limited military and civil intelligence, and an army not really set up for the task in hand.

Of course since they agreed a truce, the alliance should be over and they can return to being treated like any other moderately oppressive (from my understanding) dictatorship which could do with being pushed to a more representative governmental form – obviously as they are nuclear, most of the pressure has to come via encouraging internal pressure, which is generally a better way of operating in my view anyway.


abhi 03.19.07 at 11:33 am

To Dennis, India is highly unlikely to attack Pakistan, it hasn’t done it during the Kargil misadventure by Pakistan…India has never adopted the policy of hot pursuit in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir even after having evidence that terror camps supported by Pakistani army are run there, and on a side note, calling India a Hindu (or wrongly Hindi) state is not only wrong but gross misrepresentation of its secular status.

And I don’t think Pakistan feels any threat from China, in fact those two countries have very strong strategic ties, but of course if religious fundamentalist become more dominant in Pakistan then it can loose support of both US and China (who have their own troubles with Islamic separatists).
The best strategy for Pakistan right now is to have a democratically elected government, reign in madrasa’s and other sources which propagate fundamentalism and become economically important for the west rather than being only of strategic importance.

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