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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