Possible U.S.-Backed Military Coup in Pakistan?

Posted: May 4, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

A few weeks ago, Juan Cole wrote about the ludicrous nature of the hype about the threat posed by the Taliban to Pakistan:

What I see is a Washington that is uncomfortable with anything like democracy and civilian rule in Pakistan; which seems not to realize that the Pakistani Taliban are a small, poorly armed fringe of Pushtuns, who are a minority; and I suspect US policy-makers of secretly desiring to find some pretext for removing Pakistan’s nuclear capacity. [emphasis mine]

All the talk about the Pakistani government falling within 6 months, or of a Taliban takeover, flies in the face of everything we know about the character of Pakistani politics and institutions during the past two years.

My guess is that the alarmism is also being promoted from within Pakistan by Pervez Musharraf, who wants to make another military coup; and by civilian politicians in Islamabad, who want to extract more money from the US to fight the Taliban that they are secretly also bribing to attack Afghanistan.

Advice to Obama: Pakistan is being configured for you in ways that benefit some narrow sectional interests. Caveat emptor.

Steve Hynd wrote a piece making roughly the same points a week prior to Cole’s post.

Today’s New York Times carried this breathless headline:

Pakistan Strife Raises U.S. Doubts on Nuclear Arms

WASHINGTON — As the insurgency of the Taliban and Al Qaeda spreads in Pakistan, senior American officials say they are increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.

But the real kicker is buried in today’s Asia Times.  I had to read the following article twice to make sure I wasn’t misreading it:

[U.S. Admiral Mike]Mullen visited Pakistan twice in 10 days and met with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, among others. The message was hammered home that it is Pakistan which is running out of time, and not a particular section of society or government. Therefore, the entire Pakistani national leadership has to move very quickly to bury political differences to fight against the threat of the Taliban.

Well-placed contacts have confirmed to Asia Times Online that as a follow-up of these warning messages from American officials, in the next few days Sharif will accept a power-sharing formula to join the government led by Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to fight against the Taliban.

…Alternatively, if either the PML-N or the PPP refuses to accept the formula, a technocratic interim government under the auspices of the Pakistani armed forces might take over. [emphasis mine]

The article is somewhat unclear on whether the author is speculating on the possible outcomes of a failure to accept this proposed power-sharing agreement or whether this is the alternative held out by U.S. officials. I’ve emailed the author for clarification. Over the next few days folks should pay special attention to whether this power-sharing agreement unfolds and our government’s response.

I’m withholding judgment pending clarification from the article’s author, but it should go without saying that our government has no business even threatening to back a military coup against a democratically elected government, and make no mistake, that’s what a “technocratic interim goverment” would be.

UPDATE: The author of the Asia Times piece responded to my request for clarification:

This threat was given in person to all important Pakistani leaders.

And, FYI, Zadari will be out of the country this week…attending a summit in the United States on Afghanistan and Pakistan. WAPO points out:

Another administration official acknowledged some concern over Zardari’s planned week-long absence from home for his visit here, given Pakistan’s history of military coups and government overthrows while the head of state was outside the country.

You might want to contact your elected officials now and tell them you oppose any policy that includes the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Pakistan.

  • Call your Member of Congress.  If you’re not sure who represents you, visit the House of Representatives website and input your address–it will give you the name of your congressperson (and, it will take you to their email form). You can reach them through the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121.
  • Call the White House: 202-456-1111.
  1. Steve Hynd says:

    A good piece, and thank you for the link 🙂

    The truth, imho, is that we already have a military-led government in Pakistan and that Zardari et al are just “window dressing” for the sakes of populace and US politicians. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to discover that US thoughts of replacing or retiring the civilian mask was actually the idea of Pakistan’s Kyani, pushed through back channels of his own. Choosing to do a deal with Zardari to be that mask was a huge mistake. But keeping up appearances is important, and I think whoever is pushing this notion is over-optimistic. I don’t believe the Pakistani populace will swallow it right now.

    Regards, Steve

  2. dcrowe says:

    Hi Steve:

    Thanks for stopping by! The link was my pleasure. Your article lays out the argument very well.

    I share your feeling that the Pakistani populace will not tolerate a coup at the moment. The two important questions are therefore:

    1) Will the U.S. population tolerate the attempt? and
    2) How toxic will the blowback be after the attempt, when, taken with the drone strikes, it convinces the Pakistani public that the United States is not, in fact, interested in promoting democracy in Pakistan?

    This is exactly the kind of Cold War enemy-of-my-enemy B.S. that got us here in the first place.

  3. […] Possible U.S.-Backed Military Coup in Pakistan? posted on May 7th, 2009 at Return Good for Evil […]

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