Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Destabilizing Pakistan for One Man!

As many of you know, I lived in Iran and Saudi Arabia for a few years, and traveled in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan for practically another year.  I also interned at the International Studies Group of Gulf Oil Corporation while in graduate school.  It was there that I learned what international political analysts do.  My colleagues and bosses were representatives of excellence and deep knowledge in their particular areas of expertise: Europe, Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia.  I caught the overflow when one of these areas was "busy" making news, and was guided and mentored by the permanent staff.  Nonetheless, I offer this brief story, hoping that you do not read it as self-congratulatory, but as representative of the difference between "boots on the ground" and "official lines of information".
In mid-1977, when I first joined the Group, I was taken to lunch by the Group's Manager and Director.  I was asked what countries or areas I felt I knew the most about.  I told them that my exposure to India and Iran was fairly extensive, and I felt like I had something to offer the Group on those countries.  I was, in turn, asked about what I saw as the near-term situation in both places.  Mrs. Indira Gandhi was then under house arrest, and I said she would soon be freed and become Prime Minister again.  On Iran, I said that the Shah would fall from a coup from the political right within five years.  Their responses: interesting analysis, but extremely unlikely that either event would take place.  Both took place, and well within the window I had defined.
How was it that I had seen this coming when the experts failed to see it?  I spent several months in India, had a lot of Indian friends, and heard what these regular people said and how they felt.  I spent far longer in Iran, in a small town, and was informed by my friends in the same way.  In other words, I was conducting my own straw poll, and the answers I was getting were so routinely the same that I had no choice but to believe them.  Human intelligence, they call it, and only boots on the ground can deliver that.  When you talk to government officials and generals through official channels, you get the party line.  It's like watching only Fox News and believing you're well-informed.
Tariq Ali, in "The Duel", his most recent book on Pakistan, says that America's policy in Afghanistan is destabilizing Pakistan.  I've been to both places, and I believe him.  I believe him because he has been the boots on the ground guy for more than 30 years, he's educated, and he has a reporter's instincts about where the story is -- I mean the old-school reporters who do more than simply read wire copy and rewrite it.
Destabilizing Pakistan, a country with 8 times more people and nuclear weapons, is far worse for our interests, and the interests of the world at large, than a destabilized Afghanistan.  Let's get American military forces out of Afghanistan NOW, before the rising tide of fundamentalism in Pakistan, coupled with a government whose control of its own people hangs by a thread, leads it into decay as a failed State with nothing to trade for power but WMD.
Who really cares about Osama bin Laden, anyway?  Would taking revenge against one man by pushing nukes into the hands of others like him be the kind of deal you want?  Will that deal make you sleep better?  If not, then call, write, or email Mr. Obama and let him know that one man is not worth the price, even if it is a matter of some national pride to eliminate the sonofabitch.


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