Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thank Goodness for Pakistan


I've spent a lot of breath and a certain number of electrons lately objecting to media portrayals of the Taliban as resurgent, of the Kabul government as corrupt or in chaos, of insurgents as somehow surrounding Kabul.

While Coalition casualties in Afghanistan do seem to be rising, with a record two dozen dying so far in February, the country overall seems relatively stable, with few civilians dying. (I'm not saying they're not intimidated or fearful, just that mortality is down.)

Perhaps this is the calm before the storm--eventually spring will come and the mountain passes will reopen, allowing Pakistan's besandaled warriors easy access to Afghanistan once again. And there's sure to be a spike in violence before the Afghan elections in August.

But all the media's fears about Afghanistan's future have already sprung to ghastly life across the border. The federal government caved to the Taliban on Swat, as noted in last week's rant.

On Wednesday, the Musharraf-picked Supreme Court not only denied Nawaz Sharif the ability to run for office, it banned his brother, the chief minister of Punjab, from holding office. This compelled Shahbaz Sharif to step down and led to direct rule from Islamabad, which is sure to please Punjabis everywhere considering the Sharif family's wide popularity.

Meanwhile, the ISI's power-projection-on-the-cheap fantasies seem to have collapsed as the Indian government has linked it ever more tightly with the Mumbai attacks. (Note to ISI leadership: Next time you send mooks to India, consider issuing them non-Pakistani identification and make sure they're not carrying Pakistan-made goods, such as pickles and Mountain Dew.)

The Mumbai attacks also apparently scotched peace talks between Pakistan and India that were making real progress, and you have to admire ISI's thinking that a war on its western front with insurgents wasn't enough that they had to ratchet up tensions on their east, raising the possibility of a two-front conflict. How well did that work the last time it was tried?

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