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With Friends Like These: On Pakistan | The Nation

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With Friends Like These: On Pakistan

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Rashid concludes his book with a burst of diplomatic speculation. He describes the blueprints for a grand bargain that he and Barnett Rubin detailed in 2008 in Foreign Affairs: “we advised the incoming Obama administration to foster a major regional diplomatic initiative that would bring all the neighbors—Pakistan, India, China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—to the table to discuss a peace process and noninterference guarantees for Afghanistan.” This sounds a bit like the 2001 Bonn Conference that was convened after the Taliban government had been toppled in Afghanistan, but without the donors and their billions of dollars.

Pakistan on the Brink
The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
By Ahmed Rashid.
Buy this book

About the Author

Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti
Christian Parenti, a Nation contributing editor and visiting scholar at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of...

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Any sort of deal would require commitment and pressure from the United States. Put differently, it would require a drastic reorientation of US foreign policy away from a permanent “war on terror” and toward the promotion of long-term regional stability. It is hard to imagine how Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry could approve, let alone undertake, such a bold policy transformation. For Rashid, the continuation of the “war on terror” would push Pakistan closer to ”Somaliaization.” One could say that Rashid’s warning, which is to say his thesis, outstrips his evidence: Pakistan is not on the verge of actual disintegration. The nation’s atomic arsenal is not about to slip into the hands of Al Qaeda–style fanatics. And parts of the country, such as the prospering Punjab region and cities like cosmopolitan Lahore, function just fine. But if the focus is widened enough to take in the often-ignored social and environmental crises within Pakistan, does the country appear any less unstable than Rashid’s premonitions of total terror would have us believe?

* * *

One can no longer write a book like Rashid’s and remain silent on the issue of climate change. Pakistan, like all states, will face unimaginable, multifaceted stresses in the coming decades as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Most worrying of all, for three years in a row large parts of the country have been inundated by extreme monsoon rains: in 2010, one area of northwest Pakistan received many times its annual rainfall in less than four days. Floods have inundated up to 20 percent of the country at a time and swept away the homes of hundreds of thousands of mostly poor, hungry and increasingly angry peasants. The incidence of drastic flooding fits the regional pattern that scientists have predicted for the onset of climate change.

The floods have revealed the appalling class oppression that exists in the countryside. In displaced-person camps, I have encountered tenant farmers—landless peasants called haris—who, though stuck in their miserable tents with little to no aid, were refusing to return to their home villages because of the horrible exploitation and humiliation meted out by the zamindars, as the feudal landlords are known. Since independence and partition in 1947, Pakistan has toyed with the idea of land reform but done very little of it. In the wake of the floods, landlords were brazen enough to visit some of these camps and attempt to force “their” haris back to work, but the peasants resisted them by force.

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One of the more extreme factions of political Islam in Pakistan, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, is developing a politicized discourse about the environmental crisis [see “Pakistan One Year After the Floods,” July 18/25, 2011]. The Jamaat-ud-Dawa is linked to the outlawed Islamist terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba, which engineered the 2008 Mumbai attacks and has accused India of “water terrorism” because it was building tunnels and dams on key Indus tributaries. In other words, they fear that India will choke off the Indus and destroy Pakistan’s economy. Thus, Jamaat-ud-Dawa has marched under the slogan “Water Flows or Blood.”

Climate change also threatens atomic Pakistan. Set aside the worry of terrorists getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons; rising seas and economic disintegration may undermine the civilian atomic infrastructure on which the military program depends long before that. And as Michael Kugelman explained last May in Foreign Policy, the Karachi nuclear power plant is vulnerable to flooding. More than 8 million people live within thirty kilometers of it. As it is, the reactor is “chronically incontinent” and leaks radioactive water regularly. Given Pakistan’s traffic-choked roads and poor emergency preparedness, an intense climate-change-driven cyclone making landfall at the plant “could be truly catastrophic.”

It would not be wrong to argue that Rashid’s view of Pakistan is too narrowly focused on the West and its “war on terror.” Nevertheless, his worries about Pakistan are warranted. And though perhaps too politely stated for the fiery anti-imperialist, Rashid’s ultimate point about the corrupting effects of American ways of war on a Pakistani state dominated by the military is correct. This dilemma is best summed up by an old Pakistani joke: “Every country has its own army. But in Pakistan, the army has its own country.”

Last week, in “Inside America’s Dirty Wars,” Jeremy Scahill described how three US citizens were killed by their own government in the space of one month in 2011.

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