Assessing the threat

Some bloggers are as notable (or more so) for what they post in the form of comments on other people’s blogs as they are for what they post on their own. That’s true of Jeff Medcalf of Caedroia, for example. I’ve seen comments from Jeff on other blogs that are articulate, well-reasoned, and researched and, honestly should be posts of their own. That was also true of the blogger formerly known as praktike, now posting under his autonym, Blake Hounshell, at Foreign Policy.
I think it’s also true of Cernig of Newshog. If you’re not familiar with his work, Cernig is a reasonable fair-minded left of center blogger and I honestly think his comments are better than his posts. I may blogroll him for them yet.

Lately Cernig has been dogging me about why Americans are so concerned about Iran and not about Pakistan. Apparently, he isn’t alone:

IT HAS more than twice as many people as Iran, six times more than Iraq, many primed for Islamic extremism by a legacy of poverty and illiteracy left by decades of misrule by corrupt secular leaders, civilian and military.

It already has nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles made with North Korean help. It shelters jihadists battling Western forces across its border, and fanatical cells training Muslim youth in Western countries to put bombs on buses and metros.

If Iraq has turned into a nightmare for the US President, George Bush, think about Islamists gaining power in Pakistan, population 166 million, and their hands on its nuclear arsenal.


Musharraf is trying to shore up an administrative system left by the British based on government political “agents” supervising the traditional maliks, while the Taliban’s parallel authority is spreading to “settled” areas of the North-West Frontier.

The “Talibanisation” of Pakistan itself is now a looming worry for the West.

Soon after he seized power in 1999 – ahead of being sacked by Sharif – The Economist magazine called Musharraf a “useless dictator”.

Seven years later, he hangs onto power without having achieved much in the way of reform, largely because the US regards him as key to keeping the Islamists out of power.

That is turning out to be another big misconception in Washington.

I think that there are a number of reasons that Pakistan gets a lot less attention from Americans, the American press, and me than Iran does. Iran is perceived as a greater threat.

Iran’s location in the Gulf and its previous attempts at disrupting traffic in the Gulf have redlighted Iran as a threat. In 1979 they seized and held our embassy and diplomats. Since then they have demonized us, declared war on us, and demonstrated against us.

Despite Iran’s population being half that of Pakistan its total GDP is significantly higher. Much of that income is in the form of oil revenues that go directly into government coffers. That government is obviously and unquestionably using those revenues for nuclear development, purchasing weapons, supporting terrorists. It’s doing so to the detriment of its domestic industries.

Iran’s government is theocratic and Islamist and our declared enemies. Pakistan’s is secular and, nominally at least and for the time being, our allies.

Iran is the Gulf’s regional superpower. With Iraq in chaos it really has no challengers. Pakistan shares a long, fractious border with India, which dwarfs Pakistan in population, size, economic resources, and military resources.

Pakistan is the only country I know of whose name is an acronym (Punjabi-Afghan-Kashmiri-Iranian-stan). Its intrinsic instability is simultaneously a source of concern and a reason it’s not a greater threat.

This is not to say that Pakistan isn’t potentially a problem. It is. An Islamist takeover in Pakistan would be enormously concerning particularly because of the country’s possession of nuclear weapons. So we should certainly have one eye on Pakistan as will its neighbors India and China.

12 comments… add one
  • Dave,

    Thanks for the kind words. However I think that, like many Americans, you still misunderstand and underestimate the Pakistani problem. Musharaff, by backing the Islamists at home to shore up his power base while professing to hate them abroad in order to gain important concessions and aid from the West, has pulled off a “have your cake and eat it too” deal which exemplifies the absolute height of Pakistani business or political acumen. Americans, by and large, insist on only seeing one half of that deal and that, as the Herald points out, “is turning out to be another big misconception”. Considering Pakistan’s regime as not being pro-Islamist or as being in any sense an “ally” is a huge mistake.

    Regards, C

  • Well, you’ve got two choices, mate. Or three really.

    You’ve got the corrupt pseudo-secular military and business elite, which makes Westerners all warm and fuzzy because they like whisky and are comfortable and familiar.

    Then you’ve got the largely traditionalist, rural Islamist base that is the country. One can split them into moderate and modernizing – moderate not meaning by the way pro-American as is so often the empty headed usage by Americans, but moderate in the sense of being oriented towards modernisation of the economy and not being attached to violent revolution to do so. The other portion are the al-Qaeda-esque. They are your problem.

    When you start learning to differentiate, you might get yourselves out of the pointless box you put yourself in – because unless you do, there isn’t an alternative to the Moucharraf route, so whinging on about the Paki regime is pretty fucking pointless magical thinking.

  • Lounsbury,

    There is a largely secular and pro-democratic moderate grouping in that nation. Its leaders, however, have been exiled by fear of Musharaff and he has cozied up to the Islamists so that he can retain power.

    I’ll be polite and simply note that talking through your rear sphincter on a subject so as to advocate arming a promoter of terrorism and nuclear proliferation and justify labelling him an “ally” is…well…refer to your last five words.


  • Mate

    You are a fool: There is a largely secular and pro-democratic moderate grouping in that nation. Its leaders, however, have been exiled by fear of Musharaff and he has cozied up to the Islamists so that he can retain power.

    The “secular” grouping is precisely the corrupt business elite to which I refer supra.

    They are not a power base, they are an elite faction, and you are not going to get stable politics off of that. You get serial coups.

    You dupes are wonderful in your gullibility, but dreaming.

  • I gather you and Cernig haven’t crossed paths before, Lounsbury. My impression is that Cernig is a European (German, perhaps?) living in the United States. He’s definitely not a supporter of the Iraq War. So “you dupes” cuts a pretty wide swath.

  • Lounsbury,

    Mate, buddy, pal, neebs, other colloquiallisms, don’t conceal insults – they just make them patronising. It didn’t impress when the Essex Boys tried it on me and it doesn’t impress now. This is Dave’s forum so I will continue to be nice out of respect. For him.

    “Serial coups” are no more a given in Pakistan than they are in India’s Moslem areas. I’ve probably known a few hundred Pakistani businessmen, so maybe my belief that not all are corrupt has some weight. If not all are corrupt, then a stable democracy is possible with a ruling class of rich, mostly secular, types. After all, the US and UK both manage it.

    But say you are right. Any ideas? Or do we just keep sending Musharaff weaponry and a billion or so in aid each year? That would be foolish. You’ve obviously gotten a brain along with a Big Lots personality. Any chance you can drop the crap and we can see it work?


    P.S. Dave, I’m Scottish. Regards, C

  • Hey mate, it’s a turn of phrase and wasn’t meant to “conceal” anything my dear thin-skinned gullible fool.

    Now, as to your gullibility per se:
    Serial coups” are no more a given in Pakistan than they are in India’s Moslem areas.

    What the bloody fuck are you talking about?

    India has an operating near-democracy. Institutions in place, and a fair degree of pluralism. Not pretty to be sure, but pluralism.

    Paki-land does not.

    It’s the national political instutions, as well as the weight of the political culture that counts, not the bloody religion per se you dim-witted fool. India’s Muslim pop has fuck all to do with Pakistan’s domestic political dynamic.

    It was set up on explicitely religious bases and its ruling elite opted for a specifically religious political culture, with some quasi-secularism for dressing as well.

    I’ve probably known a few hundred Pakistani businessmen, so maybe my belief that not all are corrupt has some weight.

    Ooh, shall I hand clap?

    I’ve done business in the region, in its broad sense, for a decade, and know hundreds of Indo-Pak etc business leaders as well.

    Of course they’re corrupt, they bloody well have to be you moron.

    It’s the bloody system.

    My calling elite corrupt isn’t a goddamned moral judgement on them, it’s merely an observation, having had enough experience in deals across the region, including w Paki biz.

    If not all are corrupt, then a stable democracy is possible with a ruling class of rich, mostly secular, types. After all, the US and UK both manage it.

    This is possibly one of the most dim-witted comparisons I have ever read.

    Pakistan is not comparable to the UK or US – now India, with its own corrupt business elite would be a better point of departure.

    But again, the key difference is the point of departure, the popular level of political participation isn’t secular, it’s Islamist of various sorts. Derives from the very base of the Paki state, and worse, the very weakness of a state where the elite is largely derived from (i) feudal landlords and (ii) muhajir (India expelee) business elites; the former being still feudal and the latter lacking any kind of popular base in the provinces. Not much cohesion, a state based explicitely on being Islamic…. It never developed on the popular level any kind of secular political culture – what it has is elite horse-trading dressed up in nice clothes for Westerners like yourself, easily fooled by appearances and nice English words.

    Rather than being duped by the pretty English hand-waving of the oligarchs, one would be well-served to look at who has political (rather than feudal -i.e. bought a la the Bhuttos – or tribal/ethnic) support in a modern sense and figuring out how to play ball.

    Else, you play the same game as the US plays in Egypt.

    As for ideas on where you can go with Paki policy, well, that depends on what one really wants to do, doesn’t it?

    If you want real democracy to emerge, you can forget about the nice English speaking pseudo-secularists, and try playing ball with the only political groups that have a mass political base. That does mean the Islamist parties, some of which tend to proto-Christian Democrat type bases, while others are mere al-Qaeda stalking horses.

    In any case, the key is looking at the supposed secular elites – and its the same game in Paki land as in the Arab Middle East – who speak nice English and wrap their oligarchic power-plays in nicely digestable “secular / democratic” langauge – for what they are, dependants of the State, the vampire States that have created so much of the problems in the broader MENA-India Sub Con region.

    You’re not going to see democracy arising from that, and you’re fool to believe the secularists have any kind of real political power. Want change, have the courage to look to where the democratic political power lies, in the Islamist leaning street.

    Otherwise, shut the bloody fuck up, as the paying off of the Mubareks and the Moucharrafs is the only other game to play – prop up the vampire oligarchies against the deluge.

    In short, realism, not self-deception. I add I am not certain the democratic street game with the Islamists is a winner, but you bloody well should know what the real game is at least in making your choices, rather than thinking you’re playing bloody football when it’s really rugby.

  • Lounsbury,

    You know, when you take out the pseudo-chav crap you actually know your subject. We could’ve had a good discussion. You would convince better if you dropped the persona but it’s easy to be a foul-mouthed bully on the net, even when you secretly worry about the size of your dick eh? Don’t tell me you don’t care if you convince. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t bother commenting. For now, I for one have had enough of the extraneous bullying bluster.


  • Fletcher Christian Link


    Referring to your most recent comment, there is a third alternative. And it is very, very ugly. And unless certain people in various governments, especially the American one, wake up BEFORE the first WMD goes off in the USA, it will be what happens.

    Add Islamabad to the target list. By the way, it looks as if Bangkok will very soon need to be added too.

    “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.”

  • Cernig,

    I’ve gotten the same treatment from Lounsbury as you have. He often makes good points once you wade through the insults. It’s too bad his point of view is spoiled by the inability to be respectful.

  • When did Iran declare war against us? Have they invaded California yet?

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