Friday, July 20, 2007

A canter down some dark defile

Can anyone honestly be crazed enough to suggest launching US forces into Pakistan? Well, the Washington Post - the Washington Post! - apparently is. Let us review the situation; there's a wave of suicide bombings on, one of which may have been either jihadis or Baluch rebels - they don't know - and targeted Chinese engineers, threatening to disrupt the Chinese-Pakistani alliance. The courts reinstated Justice Chaudhary - they are right to do so, but it's only going to shake Musharraf further. People in the military-intelligence establishment are scared the country is turning into Iraq. The really bad news is that, should the president step down (it's been suggested he might), there are no good alternatives.

The secular opposition, which has just had a triumph in getting Chaudhury reinstated, is currently the opposition to the military elite - but it's also anathema to the jihadis, and the intelligence spooks who support them, as opposed to the line-regiment army officers behind Musharraf. Benazir Bhutto is not a noncontroversial figure. Yes, it would be nice if a nice civilian democratic government took over, but you might as well wish for a pony.

Just swapping Musharraf for another general would simply replicate the current situation - a semisecular junta loathed by the secular opposition and the jihadis, and unable to trust the ISI/FSW world. And if the ISI tried to set up one of the jihadis as puppet (perhaps the PM of the North-West Frontier Province), well, these things are known to get out of control. The rest of the military might well disagree, and then?

There's the India factor, too.

All this, in a country of 170 million people, next to the Gulf of Oman, astride the main supply route to the army in Afghanistan, with nuclear weapons. Further, it's a country where a lot of people have family ties to the UK. It has to be a primary goal of policy to keep things from getting any worse. And if there is anything that is certain to make things worse, it would be a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.

The good news is that nothing is predicted more frequently than disaster in Pakistan, which implies there must be some force making for stability. The bad news is that although it may be true that mainstream Pakistani society's tolerance for the jihadis is exhausted, this is more of an argument that Musharraf/a putative civilian leader/an alt.dictator could win a civil war than anything useful in avoiding one. And whatever the theory, the risk that any ruler who tried this in practice would end up with their head on a spike is very great. There's a horrible Joseph Heller sound to the whole thing.

The idea of a struggle against the jihadis will no doubt attract the usual suspects, and if Ms Bhutto were to be its leader I expect the Decents would positively wet themselves. But it would be a horribly bloody business and a lot of people would be tortured, and the risk of really disastrous upshot (i.e. missing nukes) would be substantial. And any involvement of foreign forces would be incredibly crazy.

Speaking of which, Bush's approval ratings in Wisconsin are now at 19 per cent. Well below the famed Crazification Factor of 27 per cent. I never liked CF=27; I've always gone for a 20 per cent crazy population, on the principle that if crazy is normally distributed, and the fact I'm aware of it suggests I'm on the right side of the curve..well, then 80 per cent craziness should be associated with a 20 per cent probability. And north of 80 per cent, you're probably too crazy to have any influence on society.

If you imagine that craziness has increasing returns to scale up to that point, this also fits with the notion that the top 20 per cent are responsible for 80 per cent of the craziness.

More seriously, the first order of British policy here must be to do anything possible to stop the Americans doing anything crazy. It wouldn't be the first time something in that part of the world ended up in Yorkshire.

4 comments:

dd said...

I believe the answer to your first question is "Peter Tatchell, in his irritating, advocating-it-without-advocating-it way".

also dd said...

oh yeh, and cf=27 was a result from a contested election, and so needs to be turnout-adjusted for opinion polls in that loons will always turn out to vote.

jamie said...

Mention of Mrs 30%'s return insipres horrible visions of a general alliance between the jihadists and the Pakistan armed forces as a whole, rather than just the ISI element.

Alex said...

In a sense, that wouldn't have been so bad - at least it would be no worse than the 1980s, though they were plenty bad ; I fear there's enough bad blood between the jihadis and the police and green army that it's no longer an option.

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