Anatol Lieven: how to end the US dust-up with Pakistan

Click to listen to Chris’ conversation with Anatol Lieven (35 min, 17 meg)

Anatol Lieven is explaining how the so-called allies in the so-called War on Terror have come to pot-shotting each other on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. In the Financial Times last May (“How American folly could destroy Pakistan“) Lieven was warning of the perverse logic of confrontation in US policy. The killing last weekend of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO air strike for which President Obama is refusing to apologize can be taken as confirmation of the hazard. Ever since the US Navy swoop on OBL early in May, the risk in Lieven’s eyes was that the US would overplay its hand with demands on the thoroughly alienated Pakistani Army. The American demand-too-far (Lieven is saying emphatically today) is that the Pakistani Army go to war on the Taliban home bases in the Pashtun tribal wilderness. That demand cannot, will not, be met: (a) because the Taliban is a big part of the network that Pakistan counts on to protect and project its interest in Afghanistan when the US forces shrivel, then leave; and (b) because the big majority of Pakistanis — army, elite and masses — see the Taliban in Afghanistan as a legitimate resistance force fighting foreign occupation, like the mujahedeen who fought the Soviets, or Communist guerillas who fought Nazis in Europe. When Pakistan under Pres / Gen Musharraf undertook a half-way offensive against the Taliban in the border wilderness, “they set off an Islamist rebellion inside Pakistan which continues to this day… The Pakistanis do have a case: thanks to the U.S., they have a civil war inside Pakistan which has claimed far more Pakistani lives than Americans killed on 9.11. … We keep talking about wanting to support democracy. Well, the democratic majority in Pakistan wants us to go to hell.”

Anatol Lieven — among the earliest, clearest, scathingest dissenters on the “profoundly reckless” Iraq War — is by now the author of the solid new manual on Pakistan: A Hard Country, from which he’s been reporting for the London press since 1988. He is walking us around a few of the paradoxes that abound around Pakistan: the “strong society” with the “weak state,” for starters; the corruptions of feudal political culture and power that block all the obvious routes to economic reform and growth; the risk in American policy of “losing” Pakistan (6th largest population in the world) to save the unsaveable in Afghanistan; and always the missing page in the story: India. Anatol Lieven is confirming my guess that “Af-Pak” is a deceptive mis-“branding” of the mess we’re in. As we kept hearing in our travels last summer, “Indo-Pak,” embracing the Kashmir nettle and the tragedy of Partition in 1947, more nearly suggests the sub-continental shape of the problem.

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  • margaret graham

    Christopher Lydon, I love your program. I’ve been listening for about a year now, and continue to find gems in the program’s archives. One question: could it be possible, or even feasible, to do just a bit sound editing before some of the programs are posted on the Web? Some guests (the most recent being the one I’ve been trying to listen to this evening, Anatol Lieven) have unfortunate and extremely distracting speech (or maybe behavioral) eccentricities that make listening to them irritating or–(ok, I’ll be frank) just plain gross. I feel frustrated by radio journalism’s tone-deafness (no pun intended) to rhetorical common sense. In the old days, radio sound couldn’t convey the intimate, slurpy details of speakers’ speech, but now this kind of unnecessary realism can overwhelm the wonderful information that the “challenged” speaker might be offering.

    Just a thought (or a question and a thought, rather). I do love your program.

    • Eduardo Reis

      Christopher Lydon is an excellent host and producer. He must also be a remarkably tolerant man to allow the dyspeptic eccentricities of trolls like margaret graham to defile his website. Such tolerance however is not always a virtue. To have an erudite scholar like Lieven on his show and then have the discussion hijacked by the ratty carping of a boor is a shame indeed.

  • chris

    Thank you, Margaret, for your notes, both the enthusiastic and the incisive.
    I’m not yet entirely clear what it is that bothers you: mouth-noise? vulgarity? eccentricity, as you say? My taste, I have to say, favors the close-miked full sound that is possible with these genius German shot-gun microphones. Even when you seem to to be closer to someone’s epiglottis than you would choose. And furthermore I rejoice in accents that betoken human variety, even when they force you to listen hard. Ha Jin, example: He’s not making it easy for your standard American radio-listener. But then we wouldn’t want to hear the traditional radio-announcer sound all day, would we? Tell me more, in any case, about what works and what doesn’t on Open Source. And thank you for writing in the first place.

  • chris

    Margaret Graham writes back:

    Hi, Chris, and thank YOU for your kind reply to my odd message concerning “mouth noise.” My hypersensitivity to this began, I think, several summers ago. Not allowed to teach my usual summer course at the University of Memphis (full professors were cut loose by my dean in favor of bargain-rate adjuncts and assistant professors), I took up gardening with a vengeance, digging and planting until after midnight while listening to whatever news and interview programs my radio would pick up. That’s the summer I realized that the Valley Girl sound had mutated into something far worse than the original, and that it was infecting young-ish newscasters, reporters, and academics. I found myself tossing down hoes, cursing, and stomping across piles of peat moss to snap off stories that featured any of the following: whiny voices, upspeak, “like,” and, most dreaded of all, what I call (for lack of a better term) the second great vowel shift. The vowel shift, or whatever it is, evolved from the Valley Girl syndrome, and drives me mad (“hod” instead of “head,” “dod” instead of “dad,” etc.). Until that summer, I had associated the sound with high schools and malls, but at some point in the new century it had crept into universities, and from there into broadcasting. No longer a female affliction, it is camping out in the throats of young men now, too, and it unfortunately is accompanied by an unbecoming whininess and a tendency to pronounce contractions in toddler fashion (“didint” instead of “didn’t”–see Natalie Portman in Black Swan, or listen to Glenn Greenwald, who, sadly, communicates good information in an often insufferable way). To me, it oozes privilege. (I have to spend a lot of time around people between 18 and 22, especially when I agree to ride herd on study abroad tours from time to time, which may also contribute to this hypersensitivity to the infantilization of spoken English.) Lately, I’ve been thinking that the dominance of these voices in radio coverage of the Occupy movement has had something to do with African American skepticism about it (the people I know in the movement don’t sound like the white kids I hear on the radio, so I wonder how and why those voices are so prevalent). I’m in sympathy with Occupiers, but, strangely, I don’t feel that way when I hear many of them. It’s obviously a connotation “thing” with me. This would seem to have nothing to do with my reaction to Anatol Lieven, but once I got a great new laptop and an iPod last year and started listening to podcasts, my aural irritability had become chronic, and so poor Anatol’s hyper-salivation (and hyper-ness in general, I guess) hit an exposed nerve. I love most accents (aside from American vowel-shiftiness), and thoroughly enjoy listening to Ha Jin. As a matter of fact, the programs that feature the most offensive voices are the ones carried on the local NPR station and that I get stuck with when I’m in the car–All Things Considered (too many problems there to detail, starting with simpering patronization), Fresh Air, Morning Edition, and . . . well, you know.

    Anyway, the ROS shows I truly love are the interviews with Mark Blyth (no surprise–I gather he’s a hit) and your “theme” shows (I found your Cuba programs right before I went to Cuba last spring, and have listened to them again and again– wonderfully diverse, full of information, and enjoyable in multiple ways–well, except for the historian talking about the JFK assassination–now there’s someone who has a kind of mouth noise–lip-smacking–that’s just plain pretentious). I’m always happy to see a new episode focused on politics or economics. Even subjects I think I’m not captivated by have caught my attention, thanks to certain episodes (several devoted to Pakistan’s history come to mind). I wanted the Sinatra episode to go on and on. Ned Sublette–pretentious often, boring never.

    As I mentioned before, I love the program. Thank you so much for bringing so many riveting subjects to public attention. You reach more places than you might imagine!

    M. Allison Graham

    • Potter

      Well I guess it took such an irritation to get Ms. Graham to finally write in with an appreciation about what she likes.

      As far as the annoyances, I of course have my own and struggle to understand through heavy accents and personality tics that annoy me.. but never to the extent that I would throw a piece of clay at the wall.. Thank goodness for the back button on my ipod. More of my need to reverse has to do with comprehension and contemplation of a point being made.

      I also hate the way the word “like” has been hijacked (“I’m like”……) or “go” or “goes” in place of the word “said” or “says”. But I realize that it’s that I am getting annoyed when it’s useless distracts me. It’s an uphill battle to stop the language from changing especially in such a large and varied country as we have. It bothers me- but I, like, have to work on myself.

  • Sienna

    Great show Chris as usual.
    Reading margaret graham comments reminded me that it’s been a while since you had Slavoj Zizek on your show… Bring him back; he is such a great guest. Actually a show with Slavoj and Blyth would be a hoot (make a two hours show please).

  • Potter

    I looked up from the news the other day and said “My goodness, we are at war with Pakistan!!”

    I think if we just left, and let the Afghan Taliban do whatever they will, let the Pakistani’s fix their own problems, it could not be worse.

    I heard Karzai this morning on the BBC asking ( (threatening) for aid to continue even after we leave lest things fall apart. I think things will fall apart regardless. I don’t usually speak like an isolationist, and I am not, but it’s time we just left. I get the sense that the military is growing more and more angry in a dysfunctional Pakistan and this is not making us safer.

    It’s been amazing to hear this Another Pakistan series which has so many mature voices of wisdom and learning as well as youthful talent. They seem to be so disconnected from, or have such little influence on the political situation. It’s hard to see how this broken country gets fixed.

    Yes! Bring on Zizek and Blyth and Etgar Keret too!

  • Jeech

    I couldn’t listen to the program (due to some reasons) but still, would like to share my views as you allow.

    1- The “doubt policy” for Pakistan from Obama administration is the main cause that has led the relationship degress*. Nothing happened accidently, all it rooted with carefully administered policy. What derived the US to design and execute the policy have though, saveral important reasons but now the US has to pay for the consquences. Wish, they could realise they’ve made a huge mistake! What it got absolutely free from the blindly friend, Pakistan including routs, supply, bases and most importantly human lives have no longer on sale either.

    2- There was a moral and a rational gap when Pakistan supported the west’s invasion of Afghanistan because once Pakistan and the world had stood with Afghans against Soviet invasion of the country.

    3- Now if the US wants to quit Afghanistan after having much bloodshed on Afghanis and Pakistanis, and having spread the span of aggression around, and having established the records of irresponsibilities, they should vanish from the scene quickly. Thirty years are enough to provide and polute the region with militancy.

    4- What I’m afraid of the future is not about Afghanistan and Pakistan but the next century all the war game was planned for, and all things are going quite in reverse of the plan if so called democracy persists the way in America.

    (Forgive me please.)

  • Jeech

    I just listend the programme. It was really pleasant and some how amazing to know that both our host and the guest have great understanding of Pakistan. But one thing kept me worring throughout the show that Pakistan as an ancient territory is totally neglected and taken only with its religious perspective -the paradigm of the Mogul-India’s devision by the British Empire. A thousand year makes sense, but in first place, what made the western part convert to a different God so much overwhelmly that it stayed different from the rest of “GangaJamnastan while Muslim coquarers kept capturing entire the subcontinent?”

  • Carl

    Hello Chris…I just listened to part 1 of the condensed interviews on Pakistan on KUOW. Though I have heard most of the full programs, I was so moved by the power of the voices tonight I sat in silence 20 minutes without moving…thinking much less time had passed. I thank and congratulate you and your team on another masterpiece…and a desperately needed antidote for the disinformation which prevails.