Pakistan: What to do?

posted at 12:35 pm on December 28, 2007 by Bryan

The day since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto has been a period of pundits gone wild, with everyone mostly leaning back on their hoary old ideas as if they’re holy writ. Or saying “I told you so.” Or blaming Bush. I guess I’m closer to the “I told you so” crowd, since I did in fact tell you so, though my misgivings during the emergency rule phase a few weeks ago weren’t all that well defined. I didn’t prophesy the killing of Bhutto. I just had a Star Wars character’s bad feeling about this. And I still do.

The problem of Pakistan is the problem with Iran, but seen from different ends. Pakistan has the bomb and lots of radicals, but the radicals aren’t in power and therefore don’t have the bomb. Iran has the radicals and they’re in power, but because Iran doesn’t have the bomb (yet), the radicals don’t have the bomb. Pakistan has the bomb thanks in part to an inattentive Clinton administration that believed Benazir Bhutto’s lies about her country’s peaceful nuclear program. Given that nugget, I’ll take saber rattling at Iran over credulous inattention in Pakistan, the latter of which would go on to proliferate nuclear technology via the AQ Khan network.

Approaching Pakistan from a position of humility is definitely in order at this point. It’s nearly impossible to predict which way the country will go from here, but most of its choices don’t look good. Andrew McCarthy sees and very hostile populace in Pakistan and concludes that our war is with them and not the leadership, and he’s right as far as it goes: We’re not popular in Pakistan, and our enemy Osama bin Laden is. Sunny optimist Max Boot says we’re not popular because we support Musharraf, and that’s partly true I suppose, but surely the fact that a majority thinks highly of bin Laden says something too? Osama isn’t a liberal democrat in any sense, yet he’s popular, and we’ve allied ourselves with Musharraf, also not much of a democrat though arguably tolerably liberal, and he’s not popular. Could it be that he’s not popular precisely because Pakistan does have a seething population that wants unshirted sharia and wants to wage unfettered jihad? Could it be that what people believe actually matters to how they behave and what they want from life?

Both McCarthy and Boot are in a sense right, they’re just looking at things from different points of view. The Pakistani street isn’t our friend right now. But, ultimately, freedom may be the thing that makes them our friend. But how do we get from here to there without unleashing a democratic nuclear-armed Pakistan with a government that looks an awful lot like the one in Tehran in the interim?

As I said earlier, humility is in order, but I have an idea. Pakistan has a serious, secular middle class but it also has a larger underclass that’s become increasingly radical over the course of the past few decades. Pakistan has a largely secular military that’s generally pro-Western, mostly because its military has instituted Western norms of instruction and service. It’s also rife with radicals, which says more about Pakistan’s indigenous population from which the military must draw its personnel than about the military as an institution.

Pakistan’s education system, or lack thereof, has played a central role in the country’s radicalization. Pakistan’s education system is awful. It’s a patchwork of private madrassas, some of which teach real education but many if not most of which teach only the Koran. There are no national standards at all, and parents either send their children to private madrassas or their children don’t get educated. Those madrassas teach mostly a radical point of view. They’re all funded either by outside, mostly Saudi Wahhabi, sources or indigenously via Islamic sharia-approved means. Pakistan needs to uproot this system root and branch, now, and replace it with something that the Ron Paulians won’t like at all. Pakistan needs a secular, national education system operated imam-free by its more secular middle class that teaches more than just the Koran and the life of Muhammad. Pakistan also needs to cut off the Saudi funding and should institute a national, secular system to fund the whole thing. A tax, in other words. We shouldn’t be seen to fund it, but we can advise it and monitor it from afar to make sure that it stays secular and delivers a real education. We can bring its teachers here if need be for professional development and the like. I’m not crazy about that, as the NEA is likely to get involved, but I’d rather have the NEA than the Wahhabis advising Pakistani teachers. Consider it the lesser of two evils. I realize that none of this sounds very Goldwaterish, and I’m no fan of how our own government uses national standards to impose its will on local schools, but Pakistan isn’t Pennsylvania and it has a widespread radical militant problem that doesn’t exist here. That problem is what we need to fight.

I’m not so much advocating a big government solution to the problem as advocating a secular, government solution to the problem that has been fostered by a lack of a coherent government approach to Pakistan’s education system. I’m not saying that it’s a panacea that will fix the situation entirely. I do think it will help. And I’m not advocating a microwave solution that can fix Pakistan by next week. That can’t be done, and contra Boot and the Bush administration, simply foisting a questionable former prime minister on a wary, radicalizing populace in a way that made her look like a puppet of the US obviously wasn’t the answer. She’s dead now, there doesn’t seem to be a Plan B, and Musharraf’s regime may be cracking. We may not be able to save him, but we had better be ready to work with him or whoever replaces him to change Pakistan over time. There may not be a thing we can do about the current, radicalized generation that’s of age in Pakistan right now, but we may be able to do something about Pakistan’s next generation. A couple or three decades of secular education should go a long way toward de-radicalizing them. It’s not as sexy as strafing attacks, but it’s likely to do more good. Once a secularly educated generation comes of age in post-madrassa Pakistan, then we can democratize. In the interim, democratize in stages via local elections to secular, non-education related offices, city management and things of that nature to get them used to the responsibilities of self-rule. We’re trying that approach in Iraq right now via neighborhood advisory councils, and it’s mostly working. Thankfully Pakistan doesn’t have the shadow of a Saddam in its past to create psychological trauma to overcome.

It’s going to take a while to de-radicalize Pakistan, but beating the radicals through books beats attempting a more martial solution. The latter is quicker, but I think the former stands a better chance of creating a Pakistan that the world can live with.

(front page photo)

Update: Stanley Kurtz lays out the grim realities we face in Pakistan.

Right now we face the very real prospect of an electoral coalition in which Sharif and allied Islamists hold significant power. Yes, Sharif would still run a double game against terrorism to mollify the Americans, but it would be vastly more tenuous than even Musharraf’s game is now, and would constantly threaten to collapse into anti-American demagoguery (now a key source of Sharif’s popular appeal). Even an electoral victory by a Bhutto successor could mean trouble. Bhutto’s supporters do not favor the war on terror, and could in any case fall into conflicts with the army that would lead to further chaos. And remember, Bhutto and Sharif alternated in power, and their respective parties and coalitions would surely alternate again. Disenchantment with a regime ruled by a Bhutto successor would lead to victory in the next election for an even more virulently anti-American Sharif-Islamist coalition. This is the future of “democracy” in Pakistan.

Read the whole thing. I’d be fine with a Pakistan that’s not terribly friendly to the US as long as its major export isn’t jihadists or nuclear technology. But its major export is in fact jihadists and until a few years ago nuclear technology was among its exports as well. The jihadist component is going to be there whether Musharraf or Sharif or a Bhutto successor or some as yet unknown Islamist is in power, because the madrassas are radicalizing millions of Pakistanis every year. We need to find a way to turn that around, if possible.


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As John Bolton stated, this is partly our fault since we encouraged Bhutto to re-enter Pakistan in the hopes of establishing some semblance of a democracy there. Pakistan will likely never become a true democratic country, and Musharraf is unfortunately all that is keeping their radicals out of control.

Its Tommy on December 28, 2007 at 12:50 PM

After this, we must now work closely with Musharraf in getting rid of Pakistani radicals and Islamofascists.

Its Tommy on December 28, 2007 at 12:51 PM

I like the idea of a hardline, secular police state for Pakistan, for now. And I think we should bribe the generals however many billions it takes to buy Pak’s nuks. And I would form a new country in the tribal region called USTaxDollars, and start that by forcibly imposing the US constitution and bill of rights, and giving the population education vouchers (funded by the tribes) that are good for a western-style education anywhere in the world, the same thing we should have insisted on in Iraq.

AZCON on December 28, 2007 at 1:01 PM

We are being stupid about this on a number of levels.

Our “belief” that democracy is a panacea is misplaced. A Democracy can only work when the populace is free to make their own decisions. If the majority of the populace will abrogate their decision making process to some religious or philisophical leader, it won’t work as those few individuals will have too large of an impact on elections.

Pushing Democracy on Pakistan when its waging a philisophical / religious civil war within itself is a recipie for disaster.

Add in our internal politics driving decision there, and you have a TRUE disaster.

Edwards said he CALLED Musharif right after the assasination… and told him to continue to build a Democracy… uh… why?, and in what capacity did this AMERICAN place himself in a position to influence another nations SOVERIGN INTERNAL POLICY?

Problem is that there is WAY too much AMERICAN meddling and WAY too many people talking to a country in crises.

We need to BACK the F OFF… and give them some time to stabilize…

Romeo13 on December 28, 2007 at 1:09 PM

Musharraf is unfortunately all that is keeping their radicals out of control.

Its Tommy on December 28, 2007 at 12:50 PM

What is it about Musharraf that gives you the impression that he has done anything to keep the radicals ‘in control’. The radicals are in charge, not Musharraf. If Musharraf cared to ‘keep them in control’, he’d have asked for external help. He hasn’t asked for help. He has specifically said nobody is ALLOWED to help. He’s corrupt and wants the status quo.

The only thing that matters to them is MONEY. The only reason Musharraf is our ‘friend’ is because we give him MONEY. The only reason the Madrassas are there is because Saudi Arabia gives them MONEY.

To come up with any other existential type of eutopian ideal with regard to Pakistan is absurd to the extreme. Pakistan only knows corruption. You say they need to stop getting aid from Saudi Arabia, yet you say we need to continue giving them aid.

We either need to cut bait or fish. Meaning we either need to take control, or leave and let them sort it out for themselves. If we give them money and aid, we will likely be fighting against that money and aid in the future when Al Qaeda attacks us again like 9/11 and we have to invade Pakistan to defend ourselves.

They only care about MONEY. If we want stability there, we need to treat them like Iraq. Depending on Musharraf will get us more of the same – NOTHING or more TALIBANIZATION of Pakistan.

ThackerAgency on December 28, 2007 at 1:14 PM

Well, that seems rather wishful.

Pakistan has a thin veneer of educated Muslim elites and then a mountain of frothing uneducated death robots and most of them are corrupt or corruptable, it’s a culteral thing. There is nothing that resembles a middle class to build on. The army is the army and they have been the only thing that passes for stability in the Land of the Pure for most of it’s short history. There is absolutely nothing of value to mankind in Pakistan, why do you feel inclined to try and correct it? It is not your fault or duty to do so. This is how Muslims live under their own rudder.

Drop a billion leaflets full of Mo cartoons and swoop in and spike their nukes during the riots and then let them bathe in the purity of Islam all they wish.

BL@KBIRD on December 28, 2007 at 1:14 PM

Hmmmmm…..perhaps we should defer to what Mr. Islam at the pentagon thinks?

BL@KBIRD on December 28, 2007 at 1:19 PM

It seems to me that the only fault the U.S. has is precipitating recent leadership crises in Pakistan. Encouraging Bhutto to return did nothing but destabilize Musharraf’s power and remove his focus from Wazaristan. Bhutto was well aware of the dangers she’s faced.

Second: Calls for the U.S. to “butt out” and let Pakistan “stabilize” on its own are naive to say the least. Do you think the Islamists (Taliban, Al-Qaeda, etc.) are going to “butt out” and let Pakistan “stabilize” on its own? If the U.S. and the West butts out, it only opens the door to our enemies. Lebanon is a perfect example of what happens when we butt out.

DFWShook on December 28, 2007 at 1:33 PM

“Whats another tar baby bro rabbit”….*

* Pentagon Fables…..by Uncle Islam

BL@KBIRD on December 28, 2007 at 1:38 PM

DFW, how we are engaging in Pakistan is the problem. We are showering with our clothes on in the place of a washing machine. Our policy is absurd.

Our policy now is not ‘butt out’, and it isn’t ‘intervene’. Our policy is ‘give them money while we watch them deteriorate anyway’.

We either need to invade, or leave. What we are doing now is the worst and LEAST EFFECTIVE of all possible choices.

Iraq is fairly stable now, Afghanistan is fairly stable now. If we continue on this course, Pakistan will never be stable. Musharraf (even with US money and backing) will not be in power there this time next year. . . he may not even be alive.

ThackerAgency on December 28, 2007 at 1:39 PM

I agree with AZCON, that our first order of business is, and should always have been, the back-room purchase of Pak’s nukes. Maybe that’s still Musharaff’s golden parachute, but how can he deliver them once he loses control?

Second, i’m with Romeo13. Democracy has to come from the ground up, or it lacks the foundations to go the distance. I believe it’s essential for a nation to actually win their freedom, so that they prize it enough to defend it.

TexasDan on December 28, 2007 at 1:42 PM

One thing question keeps going through my head while I read about all this: How did a largely tribal country with a poor education system ever make a nuclear weapon?

terryannonline on December 28, 2007 at 1:47 PM

Pakistan’s education system, or lack thereof, has played a central role in the country’s radicalization. Pakistan’s education system is awful. It’s a patchwork of private madrassas, some of which teach real education but many if not most of which teach only the Koran.

That was one of the biggest knocks on Bhutto during her reign as PM. She looted the education system into bankruptcy opening the door for madrassas to educate the masses.

broker1 on December 28, 2007 at 1:48 PM

Bryan, I love ya as a brudder, but put down the crack pipe. Education won’t cut it in Pakistan. We don’t have decades. It just won’t work like that. Nice aspirations but you know what they say, “Live in hope. Die in despair.”

Check out: Mob Hit in Pakistan and git yerself edikated.

vanderleun on December 28, 2007 at 1:52 PM

Education won’t cut it in Pakistan

I agree. I’m pretty sure Osama Bin Laden isn’t illiterate.

terryannonline on December 28, 2007 at 1:55 PM

Sometimes, I think that Americans try to figure out what can’t be figured out. We try to make sense out of the senseless. We use logic to interpret illogic.

Pakistan, like most things involving the religion of peace, is an illogical, savage place. Maybe, we just have to accept that. Sometimes, meddling makes things worse. I wish that I had the answers. But, sometimes, you just can’t do a damn thing. 75% of this world is death, famine, corruption, civil war and genocide. That’s just the way it is. And there’s nothing that we can do about it.

OhEssYouCowboys on December 28, 2007 at 1:57 PM

Bryan,
The Pak government has no money and can’t collect the taxes today. No one pays their taxes in Pakistan. That is why they have no educational system.

bnelson44 on December 28, 2007 at 2:03 PM

vanderleun on December 28, 2007 at 1:52 PM

I’m educated. No crack pipe involved, either. There’s a hearts and minds aspect to defusing radicalism that most of you seem to be missing, though, and that’s the point of this post. If any of you have a better idea that might stand a chance of being applied in the real world, let’s hear it.

If you’re hoping for a Martin Luther figure to reform Islam from within, that ain’t gonna happen.

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 2:29 PM

If you’re hoping for a Martin Luther Ron Paul figure to reform Islam from within, that ain’t gonna happen will be here in 09!.

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 2:29 PM

Muuuch better!

broker1 on December 28, 2007 at 2:41 PM

If you’re hoping for a Martin Luther figure to reform Islam from within, that ain’t gonna happen.

But doesn’t change have to happen from within? For example, there are some that say that America needs to change politically and culturally. But that change has to come from the American people, not from an outside source.

terryannonline on December 28, 2007 at 3:05 PM

terryannonline on December 28, 2007 at 3:05 PM

What she said.

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 3:22 PM

terryannonline on December 28, 2007 at 3:05 PM

Change does have to come from within, but the kind of change we want won’t come with an Islamic Martin Luther. In my opinion we already have a “reformation” figure for Islam. His name is Sayyd Qutb. He’s dead but his disciple, Osama bin Laden, is doing what religious reformers tend to do: Taking the religion back to its textual and spiritual roots, with all the attendant consequences that go along with that. That, we don’t need. But that reformation is what the Pakistani madrassas are serving and spreading, and the rising radicalism we’re seeing and fighting is one consequence of that.

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 3:47 PM

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 3:47 PM

With Qutb in mind and the assertion that education/change must spring from within a given society in order to take lasting hold, it sounds as though Pakistan is doomed, unless is reasonable to predict that some other type of reform could spring organically from the sort of society which Pakistan is. I think that was Gerard’s (vanderleun) and Terry Ann’s point.

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 4:03 PM

There’s a hearts and minds aspect to defusing radicalism that most of you seem to be missing, though, and that’s the point of this post.

Why do the caterpillar and the ant have to be enemies? One eats leaves, and the other eats caterpillars. Oh, I see now. -Jack Handy

If any of you have a better idea that might stand a chance of being applied in the real world, let’s hear it.

If you’re hoping for a Martin Luther figure to reform Islam from within, that ain’t gonna happen.

elgeneralisimo is thinking less Martin Luther and more Ataturk…

elgeneralisimo on December 28, 2007 at 4:06 PM

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 4:03 PM

Right. My point is that bad change is happening now and good change is not going to happen without some outside help, but it very much needs to happen, and in a way that can last.

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 4:06 PM

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 4:06 PM

What I think folks are wondering is whether that outside help will take lasting hold. Things look good in Iraq but whether this will last has yet to be proven. And I’m not an expert on these two countries, but Pakistan seems like a bigger pile of illiteracy and, therefore, Islamic Fascism than Iraq ever was.

The point is that one can’t build on a sandy foundation (no pun intended).

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 4:24 PM

The point is that one can’t build on a sandy foundation (no pun intended).

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 4:24 PM

Well that’s certainly true but we can’t go around replacing foundations. It might have worked for the Babylonians but wouldn’t and couldn’t work now. We’re forced to work with the foundations that we find.

Bryan on December 28, 2007 at 4:33 PM

We’re forced to work with the foundations that we find.

To properly educate away the “bad change happening now” requires the time that Gerard says is not available. We don’t have enough time to change the nature of that foundation. Qutb didn’t have an identical impediment. He was working with a centuries-old foundation built for his demonstrated purposes.

IOW, ‘education,’ that is, Western Education, won’t do what you (and we) would like it to do in the time frame allotted. It’s simply impossible. Not saying that it should be tried, but don’t look for results in your life time.

In the meantime, something else will have to be tried for this Islamist-majority/nuclear state. :::shudders:::

baldilocks on December 28, 2007 at 5:15 PM

To hell with secular answers. You figth fire with fire. We should send in missionaries for Christ. Give the people another alternative in their devotion. It is no small matter that all muslim countries outlaw other religions. That is because Islam can not stand against other religions when they are engaged. You want freedom and self rule. Christianity has proven over the course of 500 years to be the bedrock inwhich these two things can happen. Send in the missionaries.

unseen on December 28, 2007 at 5:53 PM

Bryan, I like your approach. Yours is the first new idea I’ve read in the past two days regarding Pakistan. Cutting off the Saudi money spigot would be a very good thing. And creating a national education system seems like it would fit with their British colonial tradition as well.

The short term does look very bleak, as the other commenters have noted. I think this whole episode brings us closer to conflict with the true root of Islamic radicalism, which is Saudi Arabia’s support and promotion of Wahhabi Islam and Sharia.

Even a spectacular military operation to secure Pakistan’s nukes (assuming it could even be done) will be a short-term fix if the entire population is yearning for the return of the Taliban.

Anton on December 28, 2007 at 6:03 PM

Sure, education is the key and the way must be made secure for such an education to happen….it just means getting rid of Islam first.

Do you think it would sit idly by while it’s lifeblood is being educated against it? Ask Mr. Islam at the Pentagon what he thinks.

BL@KBIRD on December 28, 2007 at 7:38 PM

unseen on December 28, 2007 at 5:53 PM

It is no small matter that all muslim countries outlaw other religions.

Correct.

That is because Islam can not stand against other religions when they are engaged.

If by engaged you mean that the common citizen, if allowed a choice between conflicting ideologies, would most likely choose Christianity over barbarism Islam, you might be correct.

You want freedom and self rule. Christianity has proven over the course of 500 years to be the bedrock in which these two things can happen.

The bedrock? I’m not quite sold on that.

Send in the missionaries.

So they can get slaughtered? Are you serious? Or are you just suggesting that, over the long run an infusion of alternative religious belief would prove beneficial (as I assume you mean)?

thejackal on December 28, 2007 at 8:37 PM

Or are you just suggesting that, over the long run an infusion of alternative religious belief would prove beneficial (as I assume you mean)?

thejackal on December 28, 2007 at 8:37 PM

yes but it has to start somewhere. Missionaries are some of the most couragous people I have known. thru out the ages they have gone where others fear to tread. There is nothing like a religious zealot to fight another religious zealot. His/Her faith is absolute. Yes the Jahadists have there’s but people tend to forget that Christianity was spread to most of the known world also. the PC crowd is so afraid to call this war on terror what it is. It is a crusade by Islam to export their religion. This war has been going on since their prophet rode out of the desert.

We have seen the results of Islam being left alone without any competing worldviews or religious views to question it. You can not fight religous war with secularism alone. You must have something able to replace the religious part of the human spirit.

unseen on December 28, 2007 at 9:47 PM