The Pakistan is on the Brink Meme

Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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8 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    “The real danger is a weakning of the state, leading to anarchic pockets of criminality and potentially exported terror. This possibility is real in Pakistan’s case.”

    Well Chris, the above certainly meets my definition of being on the brink. You’re correct, it’s a “real danger” a real “possibility.” But the title and first line of this post seems to indicate otherwise.

    You seem to equate “marching on Islamabad” to a rather narrow, German tanks entering Paris, view. I don’t think any rational person would dismiss the threat to Pakistan from al Qaeda or the Taliban and you do not.

    I would not venture a guess as to how Benazir Bhutto was using the phrase. She may have been speaking literally or figuratively. Either way her fear seems even closer today.

    Pakistan on the brink is a meme because it’s correct.

    And as for Obama pressuring Pakistan to take military steps in Swat Valley and other areas it seem right to me. It is their country and war. According to an article in the NYT, 5/14/09, the US is now providing “real-time video feeds…gleaned by remotely piloted aircraft….” We can pressure, provide information to assist the army, and continue the decade long build-up of the military but that should be the limit of our involvement.Report

  2. Chris Dierkes says:

    I’m not really sure that’s what people like Reidel means, but maybe I’m wrong. But jihadi state to me suggests actual takeover of the government apparatus by jihadis. The more likely scenario is a failed state with jihadis running around in it. If that’s what people like Reidel (or Sec. Clinton) mean by it, then I guess we agree (in part).

    That said, I still think Bergen has a point–that there is more resiliency there than we tend to give credit for. But we’ll see, if the economy continues to tank anything is possible.Report

  3. Bob says:

    And I’m not really sure what you’re saying here, “I’m not really sure that’s what people like Reidel means….” But if you are referring to the “marching” quote I will speculate to this extent. I think Mrs. Bhutto was familiar with the concept of asymmetrical warfare. I think she realized that the Taliban and al Qaeda were not organized into western style armies, divisions, battalions or however that hierarchy works. So I speculate she was speaking figuratively. Regardless, the result was what she was speaking to, domination of Pakistan by al Qaeda.

    The distinction you draw between “jihadi” states is interesting in an academic sense but practically what does it matter? I would say that Afghanistan under the Taliban would meet your first definition, controlling the apparatus of the state. It was, supposedly, from there, that the 9/11 attacks were hatched and launched. But what practical difference is there if jihadi elements are free to “run around” in a country such a Yemen or Sudan, from whence the attack on the USS Cole was launched? In both cases damages to US interests, and American lives were lost.

    But I’m getting a bit off topic. Or is it you?

    Your “resiliency” argument seems at odds with your summation in the original post. Forgive me, I’ll quote you once again, “The real danger is a weakning of the state, leading to anarchic pockets of criminality and potentially exported terror. This possibility is real in Pakistan’s case.”

    Where is the resilency in that statement?Report

  4. greginak says:

    But there already has been anarchic criminality and exported terror. While we fiddled in Iraq, Pakistan has been getting worse. Khan, the Pakistani scientist not the star trek villain, already sold nuke tech. And the Pakistani intelligence services have already supported the Taliban. So some of the fretting is so much shutting the door after the horse has left the barn, wandered down the road, sired a few little horsies and has been to the glue factory for a few years.

    The real question is whether the Army, who has the power, is likely to lose control? They are our ally to a degree. Given that AQ does not have the kind of military power to beat the Army then that answer is no. And the Army wants our support and weapons since it bolsters their power. However their intell service and various other supporters in the military can already cause plenty of havoc and make sure Pakistani policy does not drift to close to us. So how is this offensive going to damage the power of the AQ and Taliban supporters in the gov. I wonder if the Taliban supporters in the gov are using this offensive as a way to eliminate their internal enemies and bolster their power. Our intell on the internal workings/power structure, etc always seems piss poor, so we are often swinging blind.Report

  5. Bob says:

    Greg, the convoluted picture you paint, I fear, is way to accurate. The ISI, a state within a state, is neither answerable to the Army or any supposed civil authority. A.Q. Kahn sold nuclear secrets to Liberia and North Korea prior to our invasion of Iraq, 2003. (He is accused of selling such information to Iraq, but he denies that charge.)

    AfPack is a holy fucking mess. I don’t blame Bush, entirely. I don’t blame Clinton. I certainly don’t blame Obama at this point. But if Obama is looking for a foreign policy disaster and a sink-hole for more American blood and treasure, a la Iraq, AfPack beckons.Report

  6. Chris Dierkes says:

    I think the threat of failed state status is real; I’m not sure I can quantify as percentage out of a 100. Or I guess I could but I’m not sure it has any relevance. I do think however for the serious potential for hollowing out–which again I think is there–there is still some hope remaining for the Pakistani state.

    The distinction between the jihadi takeover of a state and a failed state is important because of the scale of potential attacks. Afghanistan under Taliban rule is exactly the kind of thing I have in mind as a jihadi state and AQ needed that level of peer-to-peer state level contacts in order to plan and execute the 9/11 attacks. From the failed states of Yemen and Sudan (where they had partial acceptance for awhile) they were “only” (horrible word here) launch attacks on localized targets–the Cole, African embassies.

    I think AQ is hemmed in both tactically and strategically more than we normally imagine–to attack the West that is. That doesn’t mean they still couldn’t launch an attack, but it would be far far harder than 9/11 for a whole variety of reasons. Where they can still land attacks is within Pakistan or via Kashmiri militants into India. They’re essentially gone from Afghanistan according to Petraeus. I think the larger question long term is how you get a regional security framework going. AQ is largely parasitic. The Taliban are essentially a narco-mafia insurgency which to me suggests they don’t want to take over a state.

    AQ has largely been subsumed–whatever its stated objectives–to the regional power play. As such talking about al-Qaeda taking over Pakistan is nonsensical. I think even talking about a Taliban takeover is pretty crazy.

    If we are worried about terrorism, then we really need to hone in on what the realistic possibility of AQ launching attacks from the Pakistan tribal areas is and what level of an attack could they launch. For the Pakistanis it might very well be a different calculation given that AQ is essentially now a tool to be used by the Taliban in their fight against the government.

    But I agree with you it is a total ‘effin mess. The Taliban are nasty dudes; they are as hard as they come.Report

  7. greginak says:

    The big difference in Pakistan is that they are a fairly united country with a common identity. Afghanistan is a collection of violent, tribal groups taht don’t necessarily want to get along. Pakistan has also been a functioning country where Afghanistan has not often been.Report

  8. Chris Dierkes says:


    yes and no. pakistan is certainly not afghanistan. but pakistan has its own identity issues particularly going forward. Balochistan, Punjab, Pashtun-istan (FATA), Sindh, all are quite different, not to mention its Islamic charter. All that plus the difficult inter-relationship with all to the government (e.g. some groups tend to dominate in certain sectors like the Army, the civilian bureaucracy, etc). Pakistan has a history of plenty of dysfunction and more distressingly its lack a political vision going forward.Report