There’s been a lot of finger pointing in the few days since Bhutto’s assassination. John Edwards blamed George Bush. Mike Huckabee went so far as to blame the entire United States, apologizing on our behalf. Robert Novak thinks the United States is also to blame for the fact that it neither provided security nor did it push Musharraf to provide strong security for Bhutto. The Pakistani military might have been involved. Mark Steyn hints delicately that Bhutto’s own courage and foolhardiness may be to blame — something that is supported by the fact that, despite two prior assassination attempts, she voluntarily made herself a target by sticking it out of the top of her car, which placed her in a situation beyond protection. Al Qaeda has offered itself as a probable suspect, a claim Pakistan has hastened to endorse.
I think these assignments of blame are all too facile. I think the fault lies with the British. You see, in 1947, when the British withdrew from their Indian Empire, they acceded to Islamic demand that they create an Islamic nation — and, voila, Pakistan was born. The partition process had attendant upon it incredible violence and, as the Literary Encyclopedia (a nice source) notes, this initial violent rift seemed to set a template for the region in the next sixty years:
An estimated half a million people perished while seventeen million people were forced to move across the freshly demarcated frontiers of India and Pakistan. The blood-stained legacy of 1947 has cast an enduring shadow on inter-state relations and domestic politics in post-colonial South Asia. There are few burning issues in the subcontinent which cannot be traced, directly or indirectly, to the fateful moment when the British struck the partitioner’s axe. India and Pakistan have fought two full-scale wars over the former north Indian princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. An undeclared war, also over Kashmir, following nuclear tests by both countries in May 1998, resulted in a deadly standoff in the Kargil heights during the summer of 1999. An earlier war in 1971, preceded by a civil war in which Muslims slaughtered Muslims, led to Indian intervention and the breaking away of Bangladesh. The rise of religious majoritarianism in secular India – highlighted by the razing of a sixteenth-century mosque by Hindu militants in December 1992 and the systematic brutalization of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 – is rooted in partition, as is Pakistan’s drift towards a militant and bigoted form of Islam, a by-product of its efforts to espouse an ideology in contradistinction to India’s secular identity.
Not only did it set a template, of course, but it turned Pakistan into a swirling soup of Islamic (and other) malcontent. As is so often the case, Mark Steyn, in taking apart Bill Richardson’s silly pronouncement that we should just set up a representative government in Pakistan, points out the core problems with Pakistan:
But, since Governor Bill Richardson brought it up, it’s worth considering what exactly “the interests of the U.S.” are in Pakistan. The most immediate interest is in preventing the country’s tribal lands from becoming this decade’s Afghanistan – a huge Camp Osama graduating jihadist alumni from all over the world. That ship, if it hasn’t already sailed, has certainly cast off and is chugging out the harbor. Something called “the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan” now operates a local franchise of Taliban rule in both north and south Waziristan, and is formally recognized by the Pakistan government in the Islamabad-Waziri treaty of just over a year ago. Officially, the treaty was intended to negotiate a truce, although to those unversed in the machinations of tribal politics it looked a lot more like a capitulation, an interpretation encouraged by the signing ceremony, which took place in a soccer stadium flying the flag of al-Qaeda.
Of course, the “Federally Administered Tribal Areas” have always been somewhat loosely governed Federal Administration-wise. In the new issue of The Claremont Review Of Books, Stanley Kurtz’s fascinating round-up of various tomes by Akbar Ahmed (recently Pakistan’s High Commissioner in London and before that Political Agent in Waziristan) mentions en passant a factoid I vaguely remember from my schooldays – that even at the height of imperial power, the laws of British India, by treaty and tradition, only governed 100 yards either side of Waziristan’s main roads. Once you were off the shoulder, you were subject to the rule of various “maliks” (tribal bigshots). The British prided themselves on an ability to run the joint at arm’s length through discreet subsidy of favored locals. As a young lieutenant with the Malakand Field Force, Winston Churchill found the wiles of Sir Harold Deane, chief commissioner of the North-West Frontier Province, a tad frustrating. “We had with us a very brilliant political officer, a Major Deane, who was most disliked because he always stopped military operations,” recalled Churchill. “Apparently all these savage chiefs were his old friends and almost his blood relations. Nothing disturbed their friendship. In between fights, they talked as man to man and as pal to pal.”
The benign interpretation of Musharraf’s recent moves is that he’s doing a Major Deane. The reality is somewhat bleaker: Today, even that 200-yard corridor of nominal sovereignty has gone and Islamabad’s Political Agent is a much shrunken figure compared to his predecessors from the Raj. That doesn’t mean “foreign” influence is impossible in Waziristan. Osama bin Laden is, after all, a foreigner, and so are many of the other al-Qaeda A-listers holed up in the tribal lands. Jihadists arrested recently in Britain, Germany and Scandinavia all spent time training in Waziristan, as do Chechen rebels. If another big hit on the US mainland is currently in the works, it’s safe to say it’s being plotted somewhere in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
Interestingly, modern India, which was also carved out of the former British Empire, hasn’t devolved into this corrupt, violent soup of extremism. It’s had its moments, of course, and there are certainly aspects of Indian culture that don’t easily yield to Western admiration, but it is, on the whole, a successful Democracy. I’m too historically ignorant to draw any conclusions from that fact but, perhaps, some of you who better understand Indian, Pakistan, Islamic, Hindu, Cold War or Tribal history can do better in this regard than I can.
UPDATE: And a reminder that democracy, as we understand it, doesn’t exist in Pakistan, comes in this story about the “annointing” of Bhutto’s famously corrupt husband and her utterly untried teenage son as the new party leaders:
Pakistan’s largest and most storied political party chose Sunday to continue its dynastic traditions, anointing the 19-year-old son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to be her ultimate successor but picking her husband to lead for now.
The selections mean that the Pakistan People’s Party, which casts itself as the voice of democracy in Pakistan, will stay in family hands for a third generation.
The word “dynastic” in the above quotation nails the situation and does not bode well for the future of Pakistan’s putative “democratic” party.