Benazir Bhutto: mob hit in Pakistan

I usually avoid mentioning current events. It attracts too many readers. However, Benazir Bhutto has just been whacked in Pakistan, and since I have discussed Pakistan in the past, I thought I’d say a few words.

Memo to Washington: this is what happens when you let the Times run your foreign policy.

According to some early reports, which may of course be wrong, Ms. Bhutto was actually assassinated twice. First she was shot in the head by a sniper, and then a little later her whole entourage was blown up by a suicide bomber. You can’t say these people aren’t thorough. Of course, using multiple assassins isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s always impressive when more than one gets through. You might say it sends something of a message.

Who whacked Benazir Bhutto? And why? Obviously, I have no idea at all. (All rumors that I, or the select group of international arms executives, oil sheiks and gold speculators I advise, are involved in any clandestine activities, are unsubstantiated.*)

Let me start, however, by explaining the power dynamics of Pakistan. You probably already know this and if you don’t I discussed it earlier, but it is certainly worth refreshing.

Political power in Pakistan is shared among a huge variety of parties, gangs, cliques, alliances, mafias, liberation fronts, Islamic sects, human-rights groups, military units, and the like. All of them have one goal: to maximize their capture of the economic production of the Indus River basin. You may think of this area as a shithole, and it would be going too far to say that you are utterly wrong, but it is also a traditionally prosperous and influential region. It continues to be inhabited by many productive and civilized individuals. And anyone who owns or commands any share in its government or revenue can become almost arbitrarily wealthy.

At the risk of oversimplifying, the Pakistani movements are presently aligned in three major factions. None of these factions has yet been able to defeat either of the others. However, each has its own vision of a Pakistan in which it prevails totally, and any of them could win.

The first and simplest faction is the Pakistani military. Call it PakMil. PakMil’s assets are a (relatively) cohesive command structure, military superiority in all conventional conflicts, and a fat-walleted, well-muscled Western patron in the US DoD.

In PakMil’s vision of the future, Pakistan looks a lot like Singapore or Dubai. It is a peaceful, wealthy country with strong internal order and as little politics as possible. PakMil retains many organizational traditions from the British Empire, which had it survived would surely have maintained the Indus River basin in just this manner.

Unfortunately, PakMil is the weakest faction in Pakistan. At least, I think it’s the least likely to win. PakMil’s problem is that its American patron is on the Republican side of the fence (i.e., it is a client of the Red Empire), and historically this is not a stable position. Ask Ngo Dinh Diem, Ferdinand Marcos or Fulgencio Batista how well that one worked out. To be identified as a client of the Red Empire, a horrible dictatorship etc., and survive, your regime pretty much needs to be sitting on a trillion barrels of oil. Which PakMil ain’t. (See my advice for PakMil, which I think is still pretty much valid.)

PakMil is of course losing strength because of the decline of the Bush Administration, which is now completely moribund and nonoperational. George W. Bush has about as much influence in Washington these days as the Pope. If not a little less. (Certainly less than Bono.)

The second faction in Pakistan, intermediate in power (i.e., probability of victory) is the Westernist faction: journalists, human-rights groups, lawyers, professors, and other well-heeled, well-educated mouth-flappers. Let’s call the Westernist polity NGOstan.

In the vision of NGOstan, Pakistan turns into New Jersey. That is, it becomes a normal Third World country with a lot of corruption, but a government that is basically stable and secure, and has no significant enemies foreign or domestic. Such as, for example, India or Sri Lanka. While this state of affairs is by no means as profitable as the Dubai state of affairs, it still provides plenty of cash for all kinds of people. It also generates more government jobs, which is not an insignificant factor in that part of the world. (Or any part of the world.)

NGOstan is (or was) of course Bhutto’s faction. Its chief claim to fame is that it is sponsored by the Western establishment, i.e., the State Department, the Times, etc., etc. It is clean and sweet and true. At least, relatively clean and sweet and true.

Obviously, it is not a secret that Bhutto herself was a mob queen, at least that many of her associates were gangsters, but the Westernists had an easy solution for this. If they needed to come across as especially clean and sweet and true, they could just condemn Bhutto as a mob queen. She was not offended, at least not unusually offended. You think she didn’t know she was a gangster? So, for example, this article by Jemima Khan did not terminate the membership of Imran Khan as a leading capo in NGOstan. If Musharraf goes down, there will be plenty for everyone to eat.

The main disadvantage of the Westernists—as we’ve just seen—is that they have no significant military or paramilitary arm. They have loose connections to a wide variety of small-time gangsters, and they have a powerful base in the feudal Pakistani political parties. I’m sure Bhutto knew people who knew people who could get somebody whacked, but a really sustained campaign of terror and murder was just beyond her.

Since no one will ever be able to capture and hold Pakistan without some real muscle, the NGOstanis have only two options. One is to capture the military, the other to depend on the Islamists. Since they weren’t born yesterday, they work both angles. Obviously, this is a dangerous strategy, and obviously it has not worked out for the best.

Capturing and commanding PakMil is the only viable exit strategy for NGOstan. It is never a good idea to assume that powerful people are stupid, and I’m sure the human-rights groups recognize that if it’s them against the mullahs, the mullahs will kick their asses. We are talking about a country which is next door to Iran, after all.

However, NGOstan needs the Islamists, because it cannot succeed without causing trouble, and the only people who can cause trouble in Pakistan are the Islamists. If there is no trouble in Pakistan, Pakistan gets no press in the West. People forget about it. And if Pakistan gets no press in the West, all of its human-rights groups and journalists and lawyers and other people who are good and clean and true might as well be on the dark side of Uranus for all the good their fancy Harvard and Oxford connections will do.

Obviously, the Islamists are our third faction. Call them Talibstan. There is very little to say about the Talibstanis, but my guess is that they will win in the end. Probably after an intermediate victory by the Westernists, exactly as in Iran.

The Islamists are the natural winners because, as today’s events proved, they are the baddest motherfuckers between the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. These neighbors make the Russian mob look like the Catholic Church. They are to the Crips as the Crips are to the Salvation Army. To MS-13 as MS-13 is to the Moose Lodge. We’re talking about some stone cold thug killaz, and the smart money has to be on them.

The Islamists were suspicious of Bhutto because of the possibility that she might ally with Musharraf, and NGOstan and PakMil would get together and hunt them both down. Clearly, this is Washington’s official, bipartisan, centrist plan. It has little chance of working, because NGOstan has no incentive to eradicate Talibstan unless it attains full and permanent control over PakMil, and PakMil can frustrate this objective simply by refusing to fight Talibstan whenever civilian politicians seem to be gaining control over the Pakistani military.

But this alliance between State, Defense, Bhutto and Musharraf, while about as durable as a pile of eggs, was obviously serious enough to worry some people. And, as we’ve seen, these people are not exactly given to restraint. So Bhutto was walking a very delicate tightrope. She had to ride to power on the wave of Islamic terror. This is a very funky wave, full of logs, dead hogs and used tires, and you certainly don’t want to wipe out on it.

It’s essential to remember that within the Pakistani opposition to Musharraf, that there is no precise division between Westernist and Islamists. For example, Nawaz Sharif has ties to Westernist forces and ties to Islamist forces. There are people who have positioned themselves between Sharif and Bhutto, people who are between Sharif and Mullah Omar, etc., etc.

There is also a continuum between Musharraf and the Islamists, Musharraf and Bhutto, etc., etc. All of these allegiances can shift with the tides of fate. When affairs of state are decided by factions organized on the basis of opinion, opinions become remarkably flexible. This is not to say that there are no genuine convictions at all in Pakistan, but it is more or less impossible for an outside observer to distinguish them with any degree of confidence. What is very clear is that no two of the three groups can truly share power, and once one of them collapses either another will follow, or the conflict between the remaining two will become even more violent.

My guess is that Benazir Bhutto’s death makes some people in the Islamist movement happy, and some people unhappy. I suspect that the same can be said for the Pakistani military. Since these feelings are relatively private, you will probably not be able to read about them in the New York Times, or at UR for that matter. All will feign sadness. But some will be laughing, deep down inside. If you are under some illusion that modern politics, let alone modern Pakistani politics, is anything like a fit occupation for honorable gentlemen or ladies, I fear you are setting yourself up for nothing but disappointment.

When this whole idea of Bhutto returning to Pakistan started to crop up, I exchanged some emails on the subject with a friend of mine who is from Pakistan via Dubai. While my correspondent is 100% Westernized, his parents are not. And right up until Bhutto actually got off the plane, by his report, they were confident that no such thing could happen. Because the people at the State Department could not possibly be so stupid.

One interesting way to review these events is to read a series of articles on Pakistan that have appeared in the Times since my first post on the crisis. I am not going to go into as much detail this time. I think the general concept ought to be clear.

First, on November 6, we have this op-ed by (or supposedly by) Bhutto herself, Musharraf’s Martial Plan:

In this piece, Pinkie, or at least Pinkie’s people, make the standard demands. Surrender or be crushed. Etc., etc. And they roll out the standard argument, which is that suspending habeas corpus is not only an ineffective way to fight a civil war, but actually counterproductive:

The United States can promote democracy—which is the only way to truly contain extremism and terrorism—by telling General Musharraf that it does not accept martial law, and that it expects him to conduct free, fair, impartial and internationally monitored elections within 60 days under a reconstituted election commission.

Tell it to Seward’s little bell, kids. But no, Pinkie’s love for Pakistan is so great that she has no concern for her personal safety:

Very conveniently, the assassination attempt against me last month that resulted in the deaths of at least 140 people is being used as the rationale to stop the democratic process by which my party would most likely have swept parliamentary elections.

Ya think? In a best-case scenario, I imagine Benazir Bhutto as a sort of Pakistani Carmela Soprano, kind of semi-consciously turning a blind eye to her husband’s profession. In that case, I suppose I should feel a little sympathy, and my real anger should be at the power brokers behind her pointless and astoundingly dangerous career as a political mafia queen.

Okay. So we move on to November 17, and this equally meretricious piece by David Rohde, Envoy Elicits No New Promises. Note that this is not an op-ed or even “news analysis.” This here is hard news:

I am particularly fond of the detail that Ambassador Negroponte met with General Kaylani alone. It’s sort of as if Little Carmine had dispatched Johnny Sack to meet privately with Paulie Walnuts. After which, Tony would have the privilege of a meeting with both of them.

I’m also enchanted with this sentence:

The move—which General Musharraf has said is an effort to curb terrorism—is widely seen by Pakistanis as an effort by the increasingly unpopular ruler to cling to power.

I am quite confident that whoever is the next leader of Pakistan, he or she will not be clinging to power, like a rat on a floating board. Rather, I would like to think that Pakistan will experience a period of actual political stability. Somehow, I’m not sure Mr. Rohde’s efforts (I momentarily mistyped his name, and started to wonder if he was also responsible for the Jameson raid) have made that more likely.

I also wonder: there is such a thing as a mob lawyer. Is there such a thing as a mob journalist? The mind boggles.

Despite the promising headline above, in the month after Ambassador Sacrimoni’s visit, Musharraf and/or his people caved. He promised to step down as army chief and did. He promised elections, and banned Sharif while allowing Bhutto to run. He ended the state of emergency. The only steps he refused to take were those that obviously would have signaled the end of his regime and of PakMil as an independent power, such as restoring the suspended judges.

We quickly saw the truth of the matter on the alliance between Pinkie and the Islamists. On December 12, Carlotta Gall, who is well-named indeed, recounted a truly tear-jerking tale, Picture of Secret Detentions Emerges in Pakistan:

No more Fort McHenry for the little Sewards of the Hindu Kush! I’m afraid that these days, if Pakistan wants to detain people like the murderers of Daniel Pearl—whom Carlotta Gall may well have known in person—it won’t just be able to starve them to death and toss them on a garbage heap. It will have to give them a five-star, gold-plated trial, with enough lawyers to invade Nepal. I’m sure Angelina Jolie will be happy to pay for all this.

So why not just let your prisoners go instead? If you have to play by these rules, why play at all? Just sit tight, things will go to hell, and the rules will change back again. They have to. If they don’t, it’s definitely time to buy those Emirates tickets.

Oh, I’m sure a few of these detainees are “innocent.” But frankly, the Romans had it right when they said that the law is silent in time of war. If your country is invaded by an enemy army, you can’t arrest every soldier wearing the wrong uniform, and charge them with trespassing. And the same applies even if the enemy adopts an urban guerrilla strategy.

What’s going on in Pakistan is war, and the concept of “guilt” and “innocence” is not even meaningful in war. Your enemies are not criminals. They are enemies. The criminalization of war, the move to redefine every war as a police action, creates nasty, interminable and recurring conflicts that cannot be won.

As Edward Luttwak points out, all guerrilla wars, urban or rural (urban guerrilla is a common euphemism, meaning terrorist) can be won by detaining every human being who might possibly be an enemy, holding them securely until the war is over and the winner is clear, and then releasing them without punishment. Like, duh, man. Which has more negative impact on innocent civilians: internment in a civilized detention center, or involvement in a civil war?

As Trinquier wrote in Modern War, the service that the Westernists are performing on behalf of the Islamists is an absolute military necessity:

Modern warfare is a new experience for the majority of our fellow citizens. Even among our friends, the systematic conduct of raids will run into opposition, resulting generally from a total lack of understanding of the enemy and his methods of warfare. This will often be very difficult to overcome.

For example, the fact that the enemy’s warfare organization in a single city may consist of several thousand men will come as a surprise even to the majority of high administrative functionaries, who thought sincerely that they were dealing with only a few isolated criminals.

One of the first problems encountered, that of lodging the individuals arrested, will generally not have been anticipated. Prisons, designed essentially to accommodate offenders against common law, will rapidly become inadequate and will not meet our needs. We will be compelled to intern the prisoners under improvised, often deplorable conditions, which will lead to justifiable criticism our adversaries will exploit. From the beginning of hostilities, prison camps should be set up according to the conditions laid down by the Geneva Convention. They should be sufficiently large to take care of all prisoners until the end of the war.

By every means—and this is a quite legitimate tactic—our opponents will seek to slow down and, if possible, put an end to our operations. The fact that a state of war will generally not have been declared will be, as we have already indicated, one of their most effective means of achieving this. In particular, they will attempt to have arrested terrorists treated as ordinary criminals and to have members of their organization considered as minor peacetime offenders.

On this subject, the files of the Algiers terrorist organization divulged some particularly interesting documents. “We are no longer protected by legality,” wrote the chief of the Algiers F.L.N. in 1957, when the army had taken over the functions of the police. “We ask all our friends to do the impossible to have legality re-established; otherwise we are lost.”

Actually, the peacetime laws gave our enemies maximum opportunities for evading pursuit; it was vital to them that legality be strictly applied. The appeal was not launched in vain. Shortly thereafter, a violent press campaign was unleashed, both in France and abroad, demanding that peacetime laws be strictly adhered to in the course of police operations.

That’s life in the big city, kids. If your spectacles were more rosy, I am sorry to have to break it to you. Please do not blame the bearer of bad news.

Next, we have the anonymous and stentorian voice of the Times editors themselves (could even Pinch have taken an interest?), on December 22, in an aptly-titled editorial—Weakening Pakistan:

This is the pure voice of power. When it has its dudgeon up, the Times does not ask. It tells. When it is displeased, it says so frankly. One does not make little jokes with the Times.

But perhaps someone there does have a sense of humor. On Christmas Eve, a whole gaggle of Timesmen and Timeswomen—perhaps already salivating about the Pulitzers to come—suggest that perhaps Mushie’s revenue stream from the US taxpayer should be cut off, in U.S. Officials See Waste in Billions Sent to Pakistan (sometimes you just can’t make these headlines up):

I think this makes the relationship pretty clear, wouldn’t you say?

And finally, we have the Times obituary for Pinkie, obviously written well in advance, and not bad at all—Benazir Bhutto, 54, Lived in Eye of Pakistan Storm:

I love the bit about Zardari being the “Nelson Mandela of Pakistan.” Perhaps more the Jacob Zuma of Pakistan. But might the label be more apt than it seems? Surely a topic for another day.

(*—No, I do not really advise a select group of international arms executives, oil sheiks and gold speculators. Although perhaps it’s not too late to start! If you are reading UR and you happen to be an international arms executive, oil sheik, or gold speculator…)