Why are we fighting in Pakistan?

The Afghanistan War is absurd.  Extending our wars into Pakistan is insane.  For more moderate expressions of essentially the same view, here are essays from a diverse range of sources.

  1. ‘”Legends of the fail“, Manan Ahmed, The National, 7 May 2009 — About the decades-old tradition of experts predicting that Pakistan will collapse any day now.  Also see his other articles listed below.
  2. Pakistan and the U.S. Still at Odds over Taliban Threat“, TIME, 4 May 2009 — Revealing the truth to Americans, rebuttal to government agitprop.
  3. Frontier wisdom“, Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, 24 April 2009 — Interview with Owais Ahmad Ghani, Governor of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.
  4. Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap“, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 7 May 2009 — The Everyday Extremism of Washington.

Other valuable articles about Pakistan, no excerpts given:

The conclusion of Coughley’s article at Informed Comment perfectly sums up the situation, IMO:

“What {Pakistan} and its army need is quiet, structured support from Washington. All the noisy and insulting public pronouncements by Clinton and others might make good headlines in western newspapers, but they are entirely counter-productive as regards the citizens of Pakistan, who see America as a preaching bully rather than a helper in this time of deep crisis.”


(1)  Legends of the fail“, Manan Ahmed, The National, 7 May 2009 — About the decades-old tradition of experts predicting that Pakistan will collapse any day now.  Excerpt:

The notion of Pakistan as a “failed state” has roots far deeper than the last few years; it was first deemed to have “failed” in the early 1960s, and this framework has dominated discussion of Pakistan in America from the days of the Cold War to the War on Terror. The surprisingly long history of the rhetoric of failure reveals that America’s engagement with Pakistan has rarely, if ever, transcended narrow strategic aims – and that, for the United States, the solution to Pakistan’s problems has always been, and will always be, the strong hand of a military ruler.
… This decades-long tendency to reduce Pakistan’s complexity to either “failure” or “stability” reflects, above all, a glaring poverty of knowledge about the real lives of 175 million Pakistanis today. Since 2007 alone, they removed a dictator from military and civilian power without firing a single shot, held the first national election since 1997 – in which right-wing radical parties were soundly rejected – and launched a secular movement for justice.

None of this matters, we are told, because Pakistan is facing “an existential threat” from “violent extremists”, as a State Department spokesman said on Monday. US generals and media commentators are hinting that a military takeover may be the only way to arrest the imminent “failure” – to combat the “Talibanisation” of Pakistan and keep the dreaded nukes from “falling into the hands” of terrorist groups.

A comically exaggerated version of reality underpins such concerns. There are roughly 400 to 500 Pakistani Taliban fighters in the Buner region (the area deemed to threateningly close to Islamabad) and 15,000 to 20,000 operating in the region between Peshawar and the north-west borders of Pakistan. Meanwhile, the number of active Pakistani army personnel ranges around 500,000, supported by an annual budget of approximately $4 billion. In comparison, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan make an estimated yearly revenue of around $400 million from the heroin trade – only a fraction of which makes it to the Pakistani wing in the rural north-west of the country. As a threat to a large and diverse nation-state, 40% of whose population lives in urban centres like Karachi (with its 18 million residents) the rural Taliban fighters are not terribly intimidating.

Pakistan is neither Somalia nor Sudan, nor even Iraq or Afghanistan. It is a thoroughly modern state with vast infrastructure, a fiercely critical and diverse media, an active, global economy and strong ties with regional powers such as China and Iran. It is not a “failed state” – it even has met its debt payments to the World Bank and IMF at the expense of providing electricity to its citizens. It has a deeply entrenched civil bureaucracy. The “failed state” rhetoric obscures these realities. It hides the fact that religious-based parties have never garnered more than 10% of the seats in any election.

According to its 1973 constitution Pakistan is an Islamic state, but it is home to multiple forms of religious expression, and the majority of Muslims in Pakistan embrace a model of Islam more syncretic than the Deobandi Salafism of the Taliban. The majority province of Punjab is ethnically, linguistically, politically and economically far more diverse than the northwestern valley of Swat – and it is home to a well-entrenched landed elite unlikely to cede authority to the Taliban. Sindh has its own landed elite – as well as a powerful urban political party, MQM – neither of whom show any inclination to welcome the Taliban.

… The monotonous drone of “failure” implies that the fragile democracy currently in place is not worth preserving. It encourages the marginalisation of the civilian government and boosts the claims of both the military and the militants. Pakistan’s salvation has never been and will never be in the military’s hands. The country’s future lies with the millions of Pakistanis who are working to sustain democracy – and what must be defended is their resilience and strength, to prevent the self-fulfilling prophecies of failure.

Manan Ahmed has a Ph.D. in a the history of Islam in South Asia from the University of Chicago.  He blogs at Chapati Mystery.

Also valuable is this series by Manan Ahmed:  Will Pakistan Become A Theocracy?

  • Part one, 15 April 2009 — Reasons why the answer is “no.”
  • Part two, 17 April 2009 — Crazy spin in the air about Pakistan; cites Kilcullen as an example.
  • Part three, 27 April 2009 — Dissects articles about Pakistan in the major media.

(2) Pakistan and the U.S. Still at Odds over Taliban Threat“, TIME, 4 May 2009 — Revealing the truth to Americans, rebuttal to government agitprop.  Excerpt:

The generals don’t share Clinton’s view of the Taliban as some sort of external force invading territory the Pakistani military is obliged to protect; on the contrary, odious though it may be to the country’s established political class and to the urban population that lives in the 21st century, the movement appears to be rooted in Pakistan’s social fabric. The Taliban’s recent advances have been accomplished in no small part through recruiting locals to its cause by exploiting long-standing resentment toward the venal local judicial and administrative authorities that prop up a feudal social order.

The military may also be more sanguine about the Taliban than Washington has been because the generals tend to view the country’s political establishment, most directly challenged by the militants’ gains, as corrupt and self-serving. The army, rather than the relatively weak political institutions, is the spine of the Pakistani state, and democracy has never been seen as a precondition to its survival. If the turmoil in civil society reaches a boiling point, the military, however reluctant its current leadership may be to seize power, can be reliably expected to take the political reins.

What’s more, if the Taliban’s goal were to seize state power rather than local control, it would have little hope of doing so. The insurgency is largely confined to ethnic Pashtuns, who comprise little more than 15% of the population. It is unlikely to find significant resonance in the major cities such as Islamabad and Lahore — though an influx into Karachi of people displaced by the fighting in the tribal areas has swelled that city’s Pashtun population, which has in turn raised communal tensions there. While the Taliban is reported to have made some inroads in southern Punjab and has linked up with small militant groups based in the province, it remains a minor presence in those parts of the country where the majority of Pakistanis live. Even in the most generous assessments of their fighting strength, they are very lightly armed and outnumbered by the army by a ratio of more than 50 to 1.

Still, the army is reluctant to launch an all-out campaign against the militants, not least because of a widely held perception in Pakistan that the Taliban’s rise is a product of America’s unpopular war in Afghanistan. There’s little support in the public — or within the ranks of the military — for deploying the military in a sustained civil war against the militants. Many in Pakistan were convinced that the Taliban had exceeded their bounds in Buner and Swat and needed to be pushed back — but not necessarily crushed. Whereas U.S. officials warn of the Taliban as an “existential” threat to Pakistan, the country’s own military continues to reserve that status for India, against which the vast bulk of its armed forces remain arrayed.

(3) Frontier wisdom“, Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, 24 April 2009 — Interview with Owais Ahmad Ghani,Governor of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.  Excerpt:

This is a perception that you have from the outside. But let me explain to you in detail. The situation we face has always revolved around this question: Is this a law-and-order issue, or is it an insurgency?

This is the first question I raised when I came here [NWFP]. Law and order is not a protracted activity. It is temporary and there are some immediate issues. It can be criminal issues and it can also be issues of public agitation. For example, against [power] loadshedding, against inflation or political issues.

After some debate we came to the conclusion that this is an insurgency in which there is an attempt to dislodge the state of Pakistan and create space for another state. So we started from this premise. I can today state with a degree of confidence that insurgency has now been downgraded to militancy. But certainly last year in January and February our conclusion was that we were facing an insurgency, and we designed a strategy accordingly.

… In Pashtu it is said “Don’t do shaf shaf … called shaftalu [don’t say half words]. The time has gone to cover up things. We must speak openly about issues. Maybe my viewpoint will be wrong. But here I have a responsibility and assignment and this is how I look at things and this is how I intend to fulfill them.

I told the Americans, Petraeus and Boucher were sitting here. I asked, “Gentlemen, for seven years you have been fighting, what is your result?” We have been fighting. What is our result? So we have had to step back and review our strategy and we have come to the conclusion that we will proceed like this.

However, if you have differences with my strategy, then you had better have a better idea to put on the table. If you don’t have a better idea, then don’t tell me to go back to the old strategy because that patently did not work. Therefore, let me try this, if it does not work, we will come back and discuss it. I told them our strategy was working and we are moving forward. We have turned the tide and it will take some time.

I asked them what they have done in Afghanistan. I told them that they had admitted that 70% of Afghanistan is out of government control. That’s why I told them that al-Qaeda etc does not need Pakistan and FATA, they have plenty of space in Afghanistan to have their bases, their training – whatever is happening is happening over there.

(4) Secretary Doomsday and the Empathy Gap“, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 7 may 2009 — The Everyday Extremism of Washington.  Excerpt:

In fact, it’s the sort of thing you can read just about any time when it comes to American policy in Pakistan or, for that matter, Afghanistan. It’s just the norm on a planet on which it’s assumed that American civilian and military leaders can issue pronunciamentos about what other countries must do; publicly demand various actions of ruling groups; opt for specific leaders, and then, when they disappoint, attempt to replace them; and use what was once called “foreign aid,” now taxpayer dollars largely funneled through the Pentagon, to bribe those who are hard to convince.

Last week as well, in a prime-time news conference, President Obama said of Pakistan: “We want to respect their sovereignty, but we also recognize that we have huge strategic interests, huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable and that you don’t end up having a nuclear-armed militant state.”

To the extent that this statement was commented on, it was praised here for its restraint and good sense. Yet, thought about a moment, what the president actually said went something like this: When it comes to U.S. respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty, this country has more important fish to fry.

… Of course, to put this in perspective, we now live in a thoroughly ramped-up atmosphere in which “American national security” — defined to include just about anything unsettling that occurs anywhere on Earth — is the eternal preoccupation of a vast national security bureaucracy. Its bread and butter increasingly seems to be worst-case scenarios (perfect for our 24/7 media to pounce on) in which something truly catastrophic is always about to happen to us, and every “situation” is a “crisis.” In the hothouse atmosphere of Washington, the result can be a feeding frenzy in which doomsday scenarios pour out. Though we don’t recognize it as such, this is a kind of everyday extremism.

… We naturally grasp the extremity of the Taliban — those floggings, beheadings, school burnings, bans on music, the medieval attitude toward women’s role in the world — but our own extremity is in no way evident to us. So Obama’s statement on Pakistani sovereignty is reported as the height of sobriety, even when what lies behind it is an expanding “covert” air war and assassination campaign by unmanned aerial drones over the Pakistani tribal lands, which has reportedly killed hundreds of bystanders and helped unsettle the region.

Let’s stop here and consider another bit of news that few of us seem to find strange. Mark Lander and Elizabeth Bumiller of the New York Times offeredthis tidbit out of an overheated Washington last week: “President Obama and his top advisers have been meeting almost daily to discuss options for helping the Pakistani government and military repel the [Taliban] offensive.” Imagine that. Almost daily. It’s this kind of atmosphere that naturally produces the bureaucratic equivalent of mass hysteria.

… Keep in mind a certain irony here: We essentially know what those crisis meetings will result in. After all, the U.S. government has been embroiled with Pakistan for at least 40 years and for just that long, its top officials have regularly come to the same policy conclusions — to support Pakistani military dictatorships or, in periods when civilian rule returns, pour yet more money (and support) into the Pakistani military. That military has long been a power unto itselfin the country, a state within a state. And in moments like this, part of our weird extremism is that, having spent decades undermining Pakistani democracy, we bemoan its “fragility” in the face of threats and proceed to put even more of our hopes and dollars into its military. (As Strobel and Landy report, “Some U.S. officials say Pakistan’s only hope, and Washington’s, too, at this stage may be the country’s army. That, another senior official acknowledged Wednesday, ‘means another coup.'”)

… And this brings us to perhaps the most extreme aspect of the mentality of our national security managers — what might be called their empathy gap. They are, it seems, incapable of seeing the situations they deal through the eyes of those being dealt with. They lack, that is, all empathy, which means, in the end, that they lack understanding. They take it for granted that America’s destiny is to “engineer” the fates of peoples half a world away and are incapable of imagining that the United States could, in almost any situation, be part of the problem, not a major part of its solution. This is surely folly of the first order and, year after year, has only made the “situation” in Pakistan worse.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about our wars in Pakistan:

  1. Is Pakistan’s Musharraf like the Shah of Iran? (if so, bad news for us), 8 November 2007
  2. Stratfor says that our war in Pakistan grows hotter; Palin seems OK with that, 12 September 2008
  3. NPR tells us more about America’s newest war, in Pakistan, 14 September 2008
  4. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  5. Weekend reading about … foreign affairs, 19 October 2008
  6. To good a story to die: eliminate legitimate grievances to eliminate terrorism, 9 December 2008
  7. About the 4GW between India and Pakistan, 6 January 2009
  8. The US tells Pakistan to pick a side. Or else…, 4 May 2009

17 thoughts on “Why are we fighting in Pakistan?”

  1. “Pakistan . . . is not a “failed state” – it even has met its debt payments to the World Bank and IMF at the expense of providing electricity to its citizens.” (Ahmed)

    Sounds pretty failed to me, or about to be. Overall, however, these commentators provide good material to counter the simplistic views of the US administration and media. I believe there IS some kind of “rational” grand game here, involving India as our major ally, and Russia, China and Iran as imagined major threats. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why this game has to be fought out in Pakistan, except that we can never come straight out and say what our strategic goals are, and who are major partners are, but have to shroud everything in the language of good and evil, stability and terror, etc. And, because eight years ago we identified a little band of outlaws living in caves as the major threat to our way of life, worth hundreds of billions of dollars to fight, and still have haven’t tracked them down.

  2. I’d still quibble with the “failed or about to be.” By this definition, most states in the world have almost failed all the time. The Taliban face zero—that is a big goose egg, 0—chance of actually toppling the government or the military. They can take over areas the other 90% of the country consider (correctly) to be poor backwaters, they can even send militants into Afghanistan to harass an unwelcome American army. But they cannot “take” Islamabad, as much American media seemed to imply. Notice that when they looked like they might stir up trouble too close to the center of power, the Pakistani army mobilized and is busy pushing them back.

    That’s not to say the TTP are not horrendous, that they should be tolerated, or that the Pakistani government is behaving perfectly or even admirably; but it does mean all the panic over the nukes and the Pakistani government and OMG THEY’RE 60 MILES AWAY FROM OUR FIVE STAR JOURNALIST HOTEL is just crap.

  3. This debate has now turned into a war between CNAS/Foreign Policy lead by Tom Ricks and the “COINdinista/Crusaders” and the Antiwar.com/Gian Gentile crowd.

    Grab some popcorn and get a front-row seat.

  4. Whoopsie Daisy

    Central government forced to cede control to sub-state units? Sounds like post-soviet Russia and the future of the USA. Pakistan isn’t really a problem, though the US does need to be prepared to forcibly denuclearize the place if necessary.

  5. Probably, in fact we love to have failed states around.

    In Pakistan, Afghanistan, the states, we support, provide no rule of law. Women are raped and subsequently punished for having been raped. You can’t even own your house in peace, the corrupt state is ready to help criminals to strip you the ownership. The Taliban, by imposing their medieval law, solve at least these basic problems. That’s enough for them to be preferred to the state we keep in power.

  6. The US Is A Failed State

    Under Obama, the US itself is now a failed state. The question is what is to be done to prevent mass scale devastation? Obama is doing everything wrong. No one can stop him as he is a man on a lifelong mission, a man with a cause. No one understands him, he is the center of the universe itself.
    Fabsiu Maximus replies: This is the wrong site for crazy rhetoric. To say the US is a failed state is nonsense, as has been discussed on this site before. It is possible, as a worst case, that we descend to becoming structurally similar to an emerging (2nd world) nation, as many experts have suggested. For examples, see America on its way from superpower to banana republic, 28 March 2009. This is a well-worn path, previously walked by Argenina and Chile.

    Definitions of a failed state, from Wikipedia:

    (1) The Fund for Peace:
    * loss of physical control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein,
    * erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions,
    * an inability to provide reasonable public services, and
    * an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

    (2) The Crisis States Research Centre: a condition of “state collapse” – the state can no longer perform its basic security functions and no longer has effective control over its territory and borders.

    Before you quibble about details, here are the 20 worst failed states from the 2008 Fund for Peace list (the bottom 17%, including the ones most often called failed states). The odds of the US looking anything like them in the next 2 generations — or next 4 or even 8 — is remote, IMO.

    1. Somalia……………………………………… 11. Guinea
    2. Sudan ……………………………………….12. Bangladesh
    3. Zimbabwe …………………………………..13. Burma/Myanmar
    4. Chad …………………………………………14. Haiti
    5. Iraq ………………………………………….15. North Korea
    6. Democratic Republic of the Congo ………16. Ethiopia
    7. Afghanistan ………………………………..17. Uganda
    8. Côte d’Ivoire ……………………………….18. Lebanon
    9. Pakistan …………………………………….19. Nigeria
    10. Central African Republic …………………20. Sri Lanka

  7. The US Is A Failed State

    To the contrary, the US is becoming Obama’s very own Zimbabwe. The well connected on top, the masses scrambling for daily necessities in the midst of hyper inflation. Don’t deny it, it ill becomes you.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence for such wild statements?

  8. “* an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the intern’aeational community” (#4 of the Wikipedia characteristics of a failed state.)

    Thanks for that, FM. This is important as it points to the difference between functionally failed states (those that lack authority or resources to provide basic services to their citizens), and politically failed states (those that can’t fulfill their role in the international order.) The latter is interesting because it means that the concept of failed state is less an analytic than a rhetorical one, reflecting the needs of the strong states of the world more than the needs of the failed states’ themselves.

    Perhaps the UN is partly to blame for this, since it’s based on the premiss that all nations should be states in the same sense — whatever their resource and population base and unique history. If Chad or Afghanistan or Haiti can’t fit themselves into our perceived agenda for their regions, then we will have to intervene to set things right.

  9. Pakistan is yet another example of the urban/exurban tension that plagues much of our world today. Globally, our cities no longer add obvious value to national enterprise as they once did. In a “What have you done for us lately? “, sort of way, rural folk world wide are challenging the authority of the cities as they garner ever more national resources, but less and less visibly contribute cultural, political, and economic value to their citizens. Urban elites in Pakistan asking,”What’s wrong with these people?”, isn’t going to get rid of the Taliban, any more than asking this question here in the U.S. has helped depolarize our politics.

  10. bc: that’s an interesting point. It parallels the tension between developed and undeveloped states, and it’s the underlying reality of our obsession with “terror”. In the minds of the planners, “terror” is synonymous with any kind of resistance, and failed states are those that can’t keep their own people in line.

  11. What puzzles me is why Americans think they have the capacity to run the affairs of other nations. Take a good hard look at Baltimore, Philadelphia, Washington, DC., or almost any other major American city. Large sectors of America are in states of total neglect. It is wasteful and arrogant to make believe we have solutions for far-flung lands like Afghanistan and Pakistan, when we cannot even manage affairs a few blocks from the White House.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I’ve made exactly this point in many posts on this site. If we are so great at manipulating other societies, why has hundreds of billions in government money — and decades of work — resulted in our inner cities decaying, far worse than their condition in 1960.

  12. Re the failed-state-itis subplot: All four Wikipedia points are to a greater or lesser degree in contention now in the US. There has been recently much action by State legislatures in terms of resolutions about the underlying Union covenant, and states like Montana recently clarifying the right to make and own arms within their own territory without Federal gainsaying etc. Much more so than any time in the past few decades, I believe. Not major upheaval, for sure, but a tremor on a potentially emerging fault line?

    The other three: it is fair to say that in all areas the US is far more ‘wobbly’ than it could or should be, for example with poverty rates, poor infrastructure, increasing gap between haves and have-nots, social mobility, increasingly suspect and corrupt medical, financial and academic industries/institutions etc. She can still project great power abroad because the US Dollar is still the global reserve currency, meaning she can borrow her way into ongoing force projection. But this is increasingly resented and questioned internationally as being either valid or viable.

    So not a failed state as long as US dollar hegemony remains, but a far more wobbly one that it cares to admit. Not a totally ridiculous notion.

    Pakistan is part of the Great Game as outlined by Trilateralist co-founder Brezinski years ago. All this stuff has nothing to do with their internal political status etc. And people keep forgetting that the Taliban were raised up by Pakistan to help them in their long-term goal to absorb Afghanistan, and according to many, with US/CIA support. Although not universally accepted, many say that part of the original meaning behind the name ‘Pakistan’ is that the ‘Pa’, along with other things, refers to the Pashtuns, the idea being that their whole region – much of what we now call Afghanistan – would be absorbed at some point. Whether or not the Taliban emerged as a group with more of their own agenda than their creators intended I do not know. I suspect part of the problem is that the Pashtuns have always had their own agenda. They have been there, according to some, since around 18,000 BC and I suspect a) have no plans on leaving and b) probably don’t give a hoot about whether foreign powers decide to call some of them ‘Pakistanis’ and others ‘Afghanis’. Who knows, maybe they want to take over the whole enchilada?
    Fabius Maximus replies: To say that the US is (or could become in any reasonable time frame) a failed state – like the 20 failed states listed — is a fine example of rich people suffering loudly. Like a Beverly Hills matron whining that she’s starving on her diet, just like children in central Africa. I suggest spending a week or so among the average people in any of those 20 states, after which you will better understand the meaning of a failed state.

  13. From:

    Ch.Rehmat Ali was the first person who used the word “Pakistan”. He said : “For, although I actually named it such much earlier, it was not until 28th January, 1933, that, in my first Declaration – Now or Never – calling for its separation from “India” I formally used the name, which by the dispensation of Allah and the blessing of His Rasool (Prophet), was ordained to ensure the elementary right of its people to a national solidarity under a national appellation. In his book “Pakistan- the Fatherland of the Pak Nation” he said : “It was in the (Now or Never) that I first used for our Indian homelands the name Pakistan, which I had invented for our combined Indian and Asian homelands, and about which the following brief explanation may be given here :-

    “So much for the invention of the name ‘Pakistan’. Now a word about its composition.

    “Pakistan” is both a Persian and an Urdu word. It is composed of letters taken from the names of all our homelands – “Indian” and “Asian”. That is, Punjab, Afghania (North West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Iran, Sindh (including Karachi and Kathiawar), Tukharistan, Afghanistan, and Baluchistan. It means the land of the Paks-the spiritually pure and clean. It symbolizes the religions, beliefs and the ethnical stocks of our people; and it stands for all the territorial constituents of our original Fatherland. It has no other origin and no other meaning; and does not admit of any other interpretation. Those writers who have tried to interpret it in more than one way have done so either through love of casuistry, or through ignorance of its inspiration, origin and composition.”


    ( There are many who say he is a poseur who never invented the word. But you see in the above a narrative of a ‘people’ that go way beyond the current Pakistan borders. If such a narrative, or similar ones, are widely held, then – surprise, surprise – maybe some of the people actually living in these countries have agendas of their own that may or may not converge with US, Chinese and Russian designs upon them. What an extraordinary notion, eh, that they might have their own designs?

  14. Fabius M., I am very glad you have brought this forward. Thanks.

    Also, I want to call your attention to the writings of Tarik Ali on Pakistan, notably his book published last Fall, “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power.” There is also a recent interview on the topics you raise: “As Economy Reels, Tariq Ali Calls for ‘Reimagining Socialism’”, posted at Democracy Now, 19 March 2009.

    Tarik Ali, a Pakistani residing in London for many years, is way to the left, yet he is informative about many things worth considering:
    * the regional-ethnic make-up of the country, especially as it pertains to tribal groups which occupy both sides of the “border,” such as it is, with Afghanistan,
    * the bloody origin of the country in the separation of Muslims and Hindus out of greater India,
    * the loss of Pakistani sovereignty over what is today Bangladesh,
    * the role of the military elites in the country’s politics and their client relationship to the US going back to the days under the Carter Administration when the US was backing insurgency against Russian invaders of Afghanistan,
    * the story of the Bhutto family–the hope and corruption, with special mention of the now current President of the country, widower of Benizir Bhutto.

    I don’t think argumentation over whether or not the definition of failed state applies is useful. Pakistan is a very complicated place perhaps even more complicated in terms of on-the-ground politics than Iraq has proven to be. To be sure, the populace in Pakistan, like people everywhere, don’t want war or insurgency. They want safety, security, health, adequate nutrition, opportunity for their children, a reasonable prospect of justice . . . .

    One thing that seems clear about Obama is that he rather often does what he says he is going to do, and so it appears with the effort to extinguish the Taliban as a threat to the United States, even if it means military and political activities in sovereign foreign state. What are we doing there, indeed!

  15. Does it matter if a State is Failed ? Surely what matters is whether there is a functioning society . A good modern-day indicator would be whether there are garages ( gas stations ) open to passing trade.
    Fabius Maximus replies: A failed society is far worse than not finding gas. It means many people cannot find food (unlike the US, where one of the most widespread problems among the poor is obesity). It means widespread violence, on a scale unknown to gentle folk in developed nations — who whine at conditions that would be considered Heaven to people living in Somalia or other failed states. It breeds warlords and virulent types of organized crime, both of which can spread and destabilize neighboring States.

  16. anna nicholas

    I’m sure you can imagine without it being spelled out , all the problems you’d have to be able to solve , to run a garage open to passing trade . Bet even if you live in a real swish neighborhood , your local garage counter lass can tell you of their problems.

  17. Can’t resist: ” It means many people cannot find food (unlike the US, where one of the most widespread problems among the poor is obesity).”

    Well yes but: the reason there is such a widespread problem of obesity is because they cannot find real food and instead eat industrially processed junk masquerading as food.

    Of course it’s not that simple since any determined person can learn how to cook more or less fresh food economically, but when you are holding down a 40+ hour job as many of the working poor do, prepared stuff, and moreover stuff with a good shelf life (i.e. not fresh) makes sense. Take away the junk food and I suspect the obesity problem would disappear in about 3 weeks.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any evidence that this is so, that America’s poor “cannot find real food?” As someone with considerable experience in this area, I believe it is false. Note it is false even amongst the poor with no job, voiding your “working poor” example.

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