'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

There is a New Sheriff in Town 

From today's New York Times:

The top State Department officials responsible for the alliance with Pakistan met leaders of the new government on Tuesday, and received what amounted to a public dressing-down from one of them, as well as the first direct indication that the United States relationship with Pakistan would have to change.

Onthe day that the new prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, was sworn in, Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte and the assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Richard A. Boucher, also met with the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, whom they had embraced as their partner in the campaign against terrorism over the past seven years but whose power is quickly ebbing.

The leader of the second biggest party in the new Parliament, Nawaz Sharif, said after meeting the two American diplomats that it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a “killing field.”

If America wants to see itself clean of terrorists, we also want that our villages and towns should not be bombed,” he said at a news conference here. Mr. Sharif, a former prime minister, added he was unable to give Mr. Negroponte “a commitment” on fighting terrorism.

The statements by Mr. Sharif, and the cool body language in the televised portions of his encounter with Mr. Negroponte, were just part of the sea change in Pakistan’s domestic politics that is likely to impose new limits on how Washington fights militants within Pakistan’s borders.

That fight, which has recently included American airstrikes in the lawless tribal areas where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have made sanctuaries, has become widely unpopular, particularly in the last few months as a surge in suicide bombings here has been viewed as retaliation for the American attacks.

Asif Ali Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, also met with the Americans but did not speak to reporters afterward. Husain Haqqani, an adviser who attended the meeting with him, said, though, that the American officials had been given notice that the old ways were over.

If I can use an American expression, there is a new sheriff in town,” Mr. Haqqani said. “Americans have realized that they have perhaps talked with one man for too long.”

The US has treated Pakistan as a client state since its inception, relying upon a corrupted political and military elite. Are we now to believe that the US is willing to accept a new independent leadership unwillingly to participate in the war on terror in the tribal areas and Afghaniston on US terms? It sounds rather implausible, especially when one realizes that the effort in Afghanistan would become untenable without the suppression of pro-Taliban elements across the border in Pakistan.

I'm no Pakistan specialist, but I am familiar with US imperial policies since the beginning of the Cold War. There are two possibilities that should be considered: (1) this encounter was merely for purposes of public display, with tough bargaining behind closed doors as to how the relationship will go forward; or, (2) if this exchange is for real, there is a good chance that there will be a coup within the next 6 months to a year, getting rid of both Musharraf and the leaders that won this election. Negroponte, the man known for his skill in promoting the use of death squads, doesn't strike me as someone who would tolerate such impertinence.

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