Sunday, December 30, 2007

A horrifying milestone

PRE-POSTSCRIPT: It's another Middle East sick-humor moment - but it's real: Pakis flee to the relative safety of Afghanistan (via Instapundit). It's also a measure of how rapidly the situation is evolving.
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There's not much to add to what's been said about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. She wanted to return to Pakistan and, with Musharraf weakening in the last couple years, agreed with Rice and the State Department to a strange "arranged marriage" with the Pakistani government. While there's a lot of tongue-clucking about Bush's policy being dead, the reality is the opposite: it was the old policy of giving Musharraf a blank check that is now not only dead, but dead and buried. Bhutto's assassination was carried out by al Qa'eda-Taliban operatives, extremist groups that owe their existence to Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) service and Saudi money and ideology. These groups do not and have never had widespread support from Pakistanis, and the government's main repressive actions have been directed against liberal and secular movements, not against the extremists.

What Rice and others in the administration realized a couple years ago was that giving Musharraf a blank check after 9/11, when Pakistan decided to at least officially side with the US, was good short-term strategy, but bad in the long run. As with many of these apparently clever "realist" strategies, we're now living in the long run. The era of "he's our bastard" realpolitik is over.

The future of fighting these extremist movements lies with allying ourselves to and strengthening Muslim governments that have greater legitimacy. They don't necessarily have to be electoral democracies. They can also be conservative monarchies, if they are open to reform. Relying on rulers with narrow bases of support is a deadend.

For Pakistan itself, the problem isn't just radical Islam, because in the Islamic world, religion isn't just a belief system as we think of it. Radical Islam comes with a political program (the caliphate fantasy versus nation-states) and social forces (the world of village clans and tribes versus the urban, the middle class, and the liberal). The resurgence of purist Islam is a result of the failure of "modernization," itself a relic of European colonialism. All of these older forms of Westernization had a narrow basis and limited appeal. Without a broader popular demand for better government, the rebarbarization of former European colonies is a real possibility. And because we live in a smaller and smaller world, we will not be able to run away from the consequences.

Mark Steyn put it well:
Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan had a mad recklessness about it which give today's events a horrible inevitability ....

Since her last spell in power [in the 1990s], Pakistan has changed, profoundly. Its sovereignty is meaningless in increasingly significant chunks of its territory, and, within the portions Musharraf is just about holding together, to an ever more radicalized generation of young Muslim men Miss Bhutto was entirely unacceptable as the leader of their nation .... Miss Bhutto could never have been a viable leader of a post-Musharraf settlement, and the delusion that she could have been sent her to her death. Earlier this year, I had an argument with an old (infidel) boyfriend of Benazir's, who swatted my concerns aside with the sweeping claim that "the whole of the western world" was behind her. On the streets of Islamabad, that and a dime'll get you a cup of coffee ....

When you invent an artificial country, you better be sure that your artificial identity will stick. Pakistan today is not what the British and Jinnah had in mind, nor Ayub Khan, nor Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, nor General Zia, nor Nawaz Sharif. Instead, across 60 years, their failures incubated an identity that would have seemed utterly deranged to even the more excitable Punjabi Muslims of the early 1940s. As ... noted earlier, according to one recent poll, 46% of Pakistanis support Osama bin Laden.

What should be easy to agree [upon] is that Pakistan is getting worse. Even those who thought at the time that its creation was one of the most unnecessary mistakes in British imperial policy wouldn't have predicted that a mere half-century later it would be a coup-prone nuclear basket-case exporting both its tribal marriage customs and irredentist jihadism to the heart of the western world. Fifty years ago, Pakistanis emigrating to England and Canada brought with them an essentially Britannic education and a moderate Sufi Islam that was not a barrier to integration. Today they bring a narrow madrassah education and [Wahhabi- or Salafi-inspired] Deobandi Islam, which is deeply hostile to assimilation. In other words, what a "Pakistani" is[,] is profoundly different. I liked Benazir Bhutto very much, but she represented Pakistan's past, and her murder is a horrible confirmation of that fact.
I'm sure Steyn would love to be wrong about Pakistan, but there's a good chance he isn't.

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