Democracy’s Friends in Pakistan

December 6th, 2011 at 8:47 am David Frum | 16 Comments |

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Pakistan’s national security establishment may be the most dangerous force threatening world peace. Yet not all the news is bad.

Eli Lake has produced an astonishing report detailing the construction of a pro-American counter-establishment within the Pakistani services which is struggling at enormous personal risk on behalf of a secular, democratic Pakistan oriented to the West.

Officially, America’s relations Pakistan’s military and intelligence services were in a tailspin in August. Furious at having been kept in the dark ahead of the Americans’ May 2 raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, Pakistan’s military had kept U.S. investigators out of the place until it was scrubbed for evidence and had refused them access to bin Laden’s wives for some time. And the Pakistanis had outed the CIA’s Islamabad station chief, putting his life at risk. Meanwhile, back in America, fears were rising over possible al Qaeda attacks on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

But in the shadows, far from the public rancor, Pakistani-U.S. cooperation quietly continued.

In Quetta, the Taliban’s capital in exile, U.S. intelligence was monitoring the cellphone of the presumed planner of any Qaeda anniversary attacks, Younis al-Mauritani, the group’s newly named external operations chief. The Americans’ tracking data—signals intelligence, or sigint, as it’s known in the profession—was being shared in real time with the local branch of Pakistan’s paramilitary Frontier Corps. When his exact location was discovered, the Pakistanis smashed through the doors of his safe house and grabbed him along with two deputies.

Soon he was hundreds of miles away, at a special detention center in Punjab province, under intensive interrogation by a pro-U.S. faction of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate. The Americans began getting regular reports on potential threats connected to the anniversary. CIA officials were even given an “unofficial” visit to question Mauritani directly.

It’s an amazing piece of work, impeccably sourced, and a rare note of hope in the grim-US Pakistan relationship. Essential reading–and a partial atonement by Newsweek/The Daily Beast for their incredibly reckless action in offering Mansoor Ijaz a platform to broadcast wild fictions that have shaken Pakistan’s never very secure democracy and callously endangered the life of one of the finest of Pakistan’s dwindling group of sincere democrats, former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani.

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16 Comments so far ↓

  • arvinds

    Why am I not impressed ? ….. this sounds more like the episodic help the Pakistanis give us when they want military hardware or some dollars …..

    any alleged ‘pro-american’ enclave like this in Pakistan, can simply be swept away when the mullahs bay for American blood on Friday prayer – followed of course by the shrill, jingoistic, conspiracy-theory minded news anchors. Have you seen Pakistani TV channels? I once heard a Pakistani ‘think-tank’ type call the Hindu Nationalist BJP (an Indian political party) – get this – a Zionist organization !!!

    I can see them now, those Hindu Nationalists – look, they are reading Chaim Weizmann.

    Americans drug themselves on weekends by watching sports …. Pakistanis drug themselves by listening to conspiracy theories .. (yes it all results from Indian-US-Zionist-Russian underhandedness )

    • Fart Carbuncle

      When 95% of the people believe in a mideival superstition, then you are in a no-win situation–just ask the Indians.

      Thank goodness India has nukes, and hopefully one day they can help with the population explosion in that region.

  • armstp

    “Pakistan’s national security establishment may be the most dangerous force threatening world peace.”

    Really? Frum is always the “Drama Queen”.

    Entire world peace is threatened by Pakistan. Why? It seems like just more of the same in this country. Nothing has really changed. Pakistan and its politics and national security establishment is the same as it has been for decades. Pakistan hardly threatens “world peace”.


    Eli Lake? I did not know he was an expert in Pakistan. What are his credentials? Has he studied the country for years? Does he speak the language (can he even read a local newspaper)? Who does he know and what are his relationships over there? Frankly, Eli Lake does not have a clue about what is going on in Pakistan.

    “Eli Lake is the senior national-security correspondent for Newsweek and the Daily Beast. He previously covered national security and intelligence for the Washington Times. Lake has also been a contributing editor at The New Republic since 2008 and covered diplomacy, intelligence, and the military for the late New York Sun. He has lived in Cairo, Egypt, and traveled to war zones in Sudan, Iraq, and Gaza. He is one of the few journalists to report from all three members of President Bush’s axis of evil: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.”

    Really? This guy is a Pakistan expert? Washington Times? New York Sun? He travelled to Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Gaza, but no Pakistan?


    If you want to read something from someone who actually knows and studies Pakistan try Juan Cole or any number of real experts, including Pakistanis themselves.

    Pakistan and the US: Quarrel or Divorce?

    The Pakistani government is forcing the United States to depart the Shamsi Air Base in Baluchistan within two weeks, as one of three steps taken to protest the killing of 24 Pakistani troops by US war planes on 26 November.

    The incident was probably an example of friendly fire, though what exactly happened and why is murky. It added to a sense of crisis in US-Pakistani relations, for which 2011 has been a troubled year.

    In the past year, a CIA contractor has shot down people in broad daylight, the US embarrassed Pakistan by not warning Islamabad of the assault on Usamah Bin Laden, and former chairmand of thejoint chiefs of staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, more or less accused Pakistan of complicity with the Haqqani Network in an attack on a US embassy in Kabul. In short, Pakistani self-respect has been dragged through the mud by Washington.

    You can only imagine how Americans would feel if Pakistani agents were wandering American cities and occasionally offing people; and if Pakistani convoys were plying the country with military supplies for Pakistani bases in Canada, and Pakistani drones were zeroing in on mountaineer insurgents in the hills of Kentucky.

    Some in the Pakistani press saw the attack as deliberate, and Jang speculated that the US was punishing Pakistan for its alleged support of the Haqqani group, which the US considers a terrorist organization.

    But in the short to medium term, Pakistan and the US will repair their relationship, because what drives that tie is a set of common interests.

    1. The US is the number one destination for Pakistani exports. Pakistan supplies the US with roughly 3% of the textiles imported to this country, but also brings in other Pakistani manufactures.

    2. Not only is the US Pakistan’s number one trading partner, but the US alliance has been highly useful to Pakistan in opening to it the European market. The US was instrumental in convincing the European Union to offer Pakistan a unilateral trade concession, and in lobbying the World Trade Organization to permit it. Pakistan’s access to the German market, to which it sent $1.216 billion in exports this year, is thus in part a function of Islamabad’s alliance with Washington.

    3. Pakistan is isolated and needs friends. Pakistani elites are improving relations with India, but they maintain a rivalry with New Delhi. They do not trust the Tajik (Persian-speaking) elites in neighboring Afghanistan, who they see as allied with India. They have indifferent relations with Iran. They have close relations with China, but China cannot fulfill the economic and political role for Pakistan that the United States does.

    4. Pakistan has some of the same enemies as the United States. Both are threatened by the neo-Taliban, including the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan or Pakistan Taliban Movement. They have a difference of opinion over the fundamentalist Haqqani Network, which the US views as a terrorist organization but which the Pakistani military sees as an authentic Afghan group that is allied with Pakistani interests.

    The steps Pakistan took to protest the deaths of its troops are symbolic. Closing the Shamsi Base to the US does not seriously impede American ability to dominate the air or to get up covert action missions. It is an annoyance but not a blockage.

    Pakistan refused to attend the summit on Afghanistan in Bonn, Germany on Monday, as part of its protest against the US action.

    The Western donors, including Turkey, pledged to continue aid to Afghanistan after 2014. But there is no danger that Pakistan won’t be central to Afghanistan after 2014 when most NATO forces will have departed.

    Pakistan and the United States have imperfectly overlapping goals and policies in the region. For this reason, they are continually falling into crisis with one another. But the overlaps are so extensive that they are typically brought back together over time.

    • ottovbvs

      Great summary of reality by Cole although I personally think the situation is more fraught than he suggests. Sure there are a lot of economic and institutional reasons holding the relationship together but the wild card is the level of hatred of the US on the streets of Pakistan. I’ve been amazed at how quiescent the Paks have been in the face of the provocations Cole mentions particularly the drone program. These things aren’t silent they are buzzing over the tribal territories all night keeping people awake and frightened. It’s only going to take a few more incidents like this one and they are inevitable before Pak popular opinion erupts. The military had to take these steps to preserve its prestige and reputation as the defender of the country. Another incident or two and the whole edifice could come tumbling down. Then a couple of days ago one of our most advanced drones was shot down or crashed in Iran where it’s been retrieved and is no doubt being dismantled as we speak. This means the technology is going to be shared with Russia and China. I wonder whether these drone programs are more trouble than they are worth.

      • armstp

        There has never been any great love in Pakistan for Americas, particularly since 9-11. Not sure what you mean by when “Pak popular opinion erupts”. Pakistan public opinon has been terrible for years, so not sure how much more it will “erupt” and whether this will threaten “world peace”, as Frum seems to think.

        Pakistan is frankly irrelevant. The most important or most dangerous aspect of Pakistan is not a few Pakistani Taliban and their supporters in the ISI, but the relationship with India. However, even the relationship with India becomes less likely to erupt, as the economic ties between the two countries continues to grow.

        Longer term Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan will all grow much closer together based on the economic growth of China and India and their need for the resources found in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

        • ottovbvs

          “so not sure how much more it will “erupt”

          So you think PO is perpetually in a white hot state and doesn’t in fact spike when incidents like this occur?

          ” Pakistan is frankly irrelevant.”

          So a nuclear armed country of 175 million people, over which about half of our supplies into Afghanistan have to pass, and which is a haven for Afghan fighters, is irrelevant to US interests in the area. OK.

        • armstp

          > I think that a few protests in the streets of Pakistan is hardly enough of an “eruption” that makes it a big deal. There have been protests for years. The country is not on the edge of “erupting”. It is pretty much in the steady-state that it has been in for decades. Most Pakistanis could care less about many of the issues that Frum and Americans are concerned about. They just go on with their daily lives.

          > Of course Pakistan with all its population and nuclear missles is important, but it is not relevant when it comes to “world peace”, as the article above mentions (unless a war breaks out with India, which is not likely to happen). There is no real threat from Pakistan to the West. Sure they are a threat to the stability of Afghanistan, but at the end of the day who really cares about Afghanistan. Any “threats” from both Pakistan and Afghanistan is being overplayed. We always need a bogeyman to justify all that military spending.

        • ottovbvs

          “but it is not relevant when it comes to “world peace”, ”

          Where did I say it was? And if you don’t think these steps have been taken by the military essentially as a palliative to outrage amongst Pakistani public opinion then you’re welcome to that opinion but it doesn’t accord with the facts.

        • armstp

          “Where did I say it was?”

          But, that is what I was talking about and that is what this article is about (Frum’s comment about Pakistan’s threat to world peace). I am not sure what you were thinking then when you are commenting on my comment. My comment is that Pakistan is “irrelevant” as a “threat to world peace”, as Frum says above.

          “Where did I say it was? And if you don’t think these steps have been taken by the military essentially as a palliative to outrage amongst Pakistani public opinion then you’re welcome to that opinion but it doesn’t accord with the facts.”

          Again I am not sure what you are talking about. I never said anything about steps taken by the Pakistan military. My comment is that Pakistan is not at a boiling-point or will erupt. It is just more of the same (terrible public opinion of the U.S. and some minor protests). I was commenting on your exaggeration that Pakistan could boil-over, but that is not likely the case. Most Pakistanis could care less.

          Your comment: “It’s only going to take a few more incidents like this one and they are inevitable before Pak popular opinion erupts.” seems like a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t see an “eruption”. Just more of the same.

  • Nanotek

    Pakistan gave China access to and parts of the crashed U.S. ‘stealth’ copter

    democracy, of the lack of it, doesn’t seem the problem at this point

    • armstp

      Do you know that for sure or are you only speculating based on speculative media reports and anonymous sources? Seems like that rumor came from one newspaper article in the Financial Times from one anonymous source. Why no official statement from the U.S. government on that issue?

      • ottovbvs

        You don’t think it likely that at least ultimately Iran will share this technology with China/Russia?

        • armstp

          I was not speaking about Iran, a country where the CIA has zero influence. Of course the Iranians would show captured U.S. technology to the highest bidder. However, it is not as clear that the Pakistanis would, given the cash the U.S. government gives them and the much more control the CIA has in Pakistan. For all we know that helicopter tail could already be back in U.S. hands in a hanger at the Seal’s base in Norfolk. Hard to speculate either way, so back to my original comment, there has been no actual public proof that Pakistan gave or showed the helicopter tail to the Chinese. The U.S. government has certainly not publically complained about it.

        • ottovbvs

          I never mentioned the helicopter tail. You’re mixing up different comments passed by others.

        • armstp

          Again, I am not sure what your point is. You comment to me about Iran when I was commenting to Nanotek about the downed helicopter. It is you that is mixing up comments.

  • nuser

    Mr. Frum
    “Democracy’s enemies in Pakistan.” Did you mean to say Israel’s enemies in Pakistan?