The Generals Have No Clothes

Islamabad's generals have been sponsoring the deaths of Americans for years, and yet Obama does nothing. Why?

Pakistan is indignant about the killing of 25 of its troops in a NATO air raid on Saturday. The circumstances that led to the assault are still unknown, but Washington and Europe have expressed contrition and promised an investigation. Pakistan has every reason to feel angry. But after a suitable period of mourning, shouldn't the United States, in the interests of fairness if nothing else, ask the Pakistani army if it plans ever to apologize for -- or, at bare minimum, acknowledge -- its role in the deaths of hundreds of coalition forces and many more Afghan civilians?

At the start of the 21st century, the United States offered Pakistan a very straightforward ultimatum: Join us in the war against terrorism inaugurated by al Qaeda's attacks on 9/11 -- or find yourself bombed to the Stone Age. In the decade since, Pakistan has arguably been responsible for more American deaths than any other state on earth. Yet Pakistan has not only evaded prosecution for its crimes. In a staggering turn of events, its army has found its program of sponsoring the slaughter of American troops in Afghanistan by the Taliban and al Qaeda amply subsidized by Washington.

One of the most principled voices against the Pakistani army during this time belonged, ironically, to Islamabad's ambassador to Washington. Husain Haqqani was, to repurpose Nirad Chaudhuri's phrase about Pandit Nehru, not only Pakistan's representative to the United States but also the West's ambassador to Pakistan. His resignation, offered and accepted on Tuesday, was ostensibly precipitated by an op-ed last month in the Financial Times by Mansoor Ijaz, an American businessman of Pakistani descent who claimed that an unnamed Pakistani diplomat -- whom he later identified as Haqqani -- had conscripted him in a grand scheme to curb the Pakistani military's power. Together, he alleged, they crafted a memo in which a series of dramatic offers were made to Washington -- among them, the promise to end state patronage of terrorism -- in return for the Obama administration's help in reining in the generals. (Haqqani vigorously denies involvement.)

Inexplicably, Ijaz, the courageous anti-military conspirator, transformed, without a hint of irony, into the army's canary, imperilling Pakistan's besieged civilian government by volunteering transcripts of his alleged exchanges with Haqqani. Pakistan's rightwing media served as his bullhorn, devoting their pages and program to his endless revelations. (Hardly anyone in the West accorded serious attention to Ijaz -- a clownish Croesus addicted to self-elevating fantasies. If only the Clinton administration had given attention to his "deal" with the Sudanese government to extradite Osama bin Laden to the United States, he once bragged, 9/11 would have been averted.)

The author of a devastatingly frank history of Pakistan, Haqqani has the virtue of clarity: He is known to view the army as an impediment to progress in the region. Still, it is stupefying to imagine that a diplomat and scholar of his sophistication would have recruited a pestilent popinjay like Ijaz to deliver a message that he could quite competently have communicated through other channels, or in person. The rapidity with which Ijaz has switched sides, meeting the ISI chief in London last month to handover "evidence" implicating his co-conspirator, strongly suggests that it is Haqqani who is the victim of a conspiracy.

Sherry Rehman, a formidable politician from Sindh, has now replaced Haqqani. But his forced resignation puts an end to the pretence of civilian rule in Pakistan -- and heralds the unapologetically solemn re-takeover of the country by the military-intelligence camorra that spawned the forces of destruction in Afghanistan. So it is astounding that, rather than treating Haqqani's departure as a setback, officials in the Obama administration see it as something of a boon. Haqqani's private criticisms of the Pakistani army led, according to a report in the New York Times, "to a diminishing of his influence in Washington, especially in the White House."

Why would the White House choose to belittle a man championing civilian rule in Pakistan? Isn't that also the objective of the Obama administration? The answer increasingly appears to be no.

Since the 1950s, when Gen. Ayub Khan mounted the first military coup, Pakistan's army has etiolated the country's evolution in every imaginable sense. Rooted in a culture of grievance and malevolence that is the foundational basis of Pakistan, the army has waged wars against India, suffused young minds with a fervor for jihad, sponsored terrorism, spread xenophobia and racism, carried out genocide against millions of its own citizens, stolen and smuggled nuclear secrets, foisted the vile Taliban regime upon the defenseless people of Afghanistan, and assumed complete ownership of Pakistan.

For wars and terrorist violence in South Asia to abate, Pakistan will have to resemble something approaching a normal state. The equation for that is simple: The army must return to the barracks.

Obama had an almost providential opportunity to squeeze the army in the immediate aftermath of bin Laden's discovery in May in the garrison city of Abbottabad. The khakis were at their weakest in four decades. That was the time to bolster civilian rule, to corral the army with fresh ultimatums. Instead, Obama seemed more anxious about pacifying Pakistan for having breached its sovereignty than holding its army to account for harboring bin Laden -- which explains the White House's rush to finesse Amb. Mike Mullen's candid testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in September.

Then, in a craven abdication of American responsibility to the citizens of Afghanistan, Obama talked about the need for nation-building at home. For a man who attained the presidency by invoking Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, Obama has rarely displayed any compunction in retreating from battle with men who, given the opportunity, would have lynched King and Gandhi -- indeed men who have presided over the slaughter and torture of too many potential Kings and Gandhis of our age. Could there be a more forceful testament to the failure of Obama's foreign policy in South Asia than the sight of terrorist leader Sirajuddin Haqqani operating with impunity in Pakistan six months after bin Laden's killing?

Rehman, the new Pakistani ambassador, is a socially liberal pro-democracy politician. But disturbingly, and unlike her predecessor, she subscribes to the Pakistani army's view of Afghanistan: Any government in Kabul must be pro-Pakistan. This should hardly seem worth worrying about -- except that "pro-Pakistan," in the context of Afghanistan, means anti-India, anti-America, and, more troublingly, anti-Afghan. Bluntly, it means a Pakistani colony of the pre-2001 variety that hosted bin Laden, not a sovereign state with independent policymaking prerogatives. This explains why an overwhelming majority of Afghans, whenever given the chance, express only the deepest contempt for Pakistan.

The Pakistani army has responded to the NATO attack by blocking supply routes to the coalition forces. It has also issued a notice to close down the U.S.-run airbase in Shamsi. The proportional response to Pakistan's denial of its territory to the United States would be to limit Pakistan's role in Afghanistan. It is the United States that has secured Afghanistan; if Pakistan wants a role, it had better pay its dues. Instead, Washington grovels before Islamabad even as American soldiers die at the hands of Pakistan's clients.

Faced with a re-election campaign, Obama is seeking to obtain a cosmetic "end" to the mission in Afghanistan by cutting deals with the Pakistani army and its clients in the Taliban. This will involve a reduced presence of American troops on the ground, a heightened use of targeted drone strikes, and, to keep this arrangement, bribes to the Pakistan army in the form of vaguely conditional aid. Relations between the United States and Pakistan will return to "normal" in short order. A poltroon deal will be struck with the Taliban chieftains. As the fighters currently enjoying Pakistani hospitality in the country's northwest make their way back into Afghanistan, the gains made over the last decade will wither away. Thus will the tremendous sacrifices, of both American troops and Afghan civilians, be honored. For the citizens of Pakistan and Afghanistan, this will signal the start of yet another prolonged period of violence. President Obama will call it victory.


The Axis of No

How the Arab Spring made accidental allies out of Moscow and Beijing. 

Remember the Soviet-Sino split? Moscow and Beijing don't appear to. On the current developments in the Middle East and North Africa, at least, China and Russia have been increasingly coming together. At the U.N. Security Council, they either oppose Western initiatives or voice their reservations. To some, this looks like solidarity between two authoritarian governments; to others, a coordinated effort to dilute, and eventually dismantle, U.S. and Western domination of global politics. Although both these elements are involved, the reality is broader, and it needs to be better understood by Western publics and policymakers.

To begin with, there is no ideology involved. Although China still calls itself communist, it has long rejected the Maoist dogma, including in its foreign relations. Russia ditched communism exactly two decades ago. It is true that both countries are authoritarian, even if one is of a milder, and the other of a harsher variety. However, there is no such thing as an "authoritarian internationale" to inspire solidarity between the ruling autocracies. (Nor is there such a thing in the Middle East, if one looks at how Qatar has dealt with Muammar al-Qaddafi, or how Saudi Arabia is dealing with Bashar al-Assad). Both Russia and China are, above all, pragmatic.

There is also precious little regional geopolitical competition between them. China's global interests are essentially economic. It depends on Iran, for example, for a quarter of the oil it imports from the Middle East. Chinese companies are engaged in a number of projects throughout the region. The war in Libya left some 20,000 Chinese workers stranded. A similar number of Russian tourists were marooned in Egypt as Mubarak's regime fell. Moscow of course has vested interests beyond caring for its vacationers, as a supplier of arms or nuclear energy technology to several countries, but it is definitely not in a race with Washington for regional pre-eminence.

Nor does Beijing or Moscow feel any special affinity toward Middle Eastern rulers. Hosni Mubarak, after all, was a long-time U.S. ally, Tunisia's Zine el-Abidine Ben-Ali was close to Paris, and Qaddafi made peace with the West in 2003. Syria's Assad is different, of course: Damascus used to be Moscow's ally in the Cold War days, and it has kept friendly ties to Russia to this day. Syria's military has been equipped with Russian-made arms since the 1960s, and the Mediterranean port of Tartus is home to a facility used by the Russian Navy.

Certainly Russia does not wish to lose Syria. With Assad's fate hanging in the balance since March, the Moscow has opened lines to Syria's opposition. While hosting Assad's enemies in Moscow and deploring violence, the Russians have been urging Damascus to start political reforms, even as they have blocked formal condemnation by the Security Council of the Syrian government's crackdown. Beijing's approach has been essentially the same: demanding reform from Damascus, while talking to both the Syrian government and the opposition and refusing to support sanctions against Syria in Turtle Bay.

China's official stance proclaims Beijing's "support for the Syrian people." There is a huge difference, however, between this position and the attitudes taken by Western governments. For many in the West, such "support" means active involvement, not ruling out, in principle, the use of force. For the Chinese, it means allowing the Syrians to sort things out among themselves without outside interference and eventually recognizing the people's choice -- as Beijing has done, eventually, in Libya.

Like China, Russia rejects Western military interference in other countries' domestic affairs, whether in the name of humanity or democracy. But this is about much more than Beijing's or Moscow's concern for their own security. Libya has demonstrated to both powers that the West, acting essentially under pressure from domestic human rights constituencies (absent of course in Russia and China), can stumble into foreign civil wars even when its leaders should know better.

Libya, however, has always been a peripheral country strategically speaking. Not Syria. The Chinese and even the Russians -- who have better intelligence -- have no clue what will happen when the Assad regime falls. A full-scale civil war in Syria would make Libya pale in comparison. Such a conflict would be far more propitious for sectarian strife and religious radicalism, the Russians and the Chinese argue, than for democracy and the rule of law.

Syria's position in the heart of the region also means that a full-blown domestic conflict there can affect its neighbors --  above all, Lebanon and Israel -- and bring into play such regional actors as Hezbollah and Hamas. The Russians, concerned about Islamist extremism in the North Caucasus and Central Asia, and the Chinese, who import most of their oil from the Middle East, can hardly welcome Syria's meltdown.

In principle, applying pressure on Damascus while simultaneously facilitating an intra-Syrian dialogue should help prevent this worst-case scenario. In reality, however, Moscow and Beijing must have concluded that the West has written Assad off, and is in fact preparing for regime change. Seen from this perspective, sanctions are a step in the escalation game that would have to be followed up by more forceful measures -- as Libya has just demonstrated.

China and Russia's policies on Syria differ from the United States' and Europe's for two basic reasons. One, Moscow and Beijing do not believe that becoming actively involved in other people's civil conflicts is wise or useful. Two, they have no pressing interest in the elimination of the Assad regime as part of an anti-Iranian strategy. In any case, the Chinese and the Russians don't see much of a strategy at all; they think that, surprised early this year by the Arab revolt, the Americans and their allies are now being guided more by short-term politics than by long-term strategic calculus.

All or part of these concerns may be valid. Yet Moscow and Beijing have to admit that critique is not the same as leadership, which Russia covets,  and which China cannot forever escape from. Modern international leadership calls for coming up with realistic alternatives, reaching out to others, and building consensus. Saying no is not enough.