POSTCARD USA: The Cohen formula — Khalid Hasan
Daily Times, June 17, 2007
How many people in Oklahoma have heard of Pakistan or General Musharraf, it will take a five-year old no more than five minutes to count. Oklahoma is the Midwest, the true heart of America, and those who live there do not really give much thought or care as to what goes on in areas east of the state. As for the rest of the world, it is not the first thought that comes to them as they get out of bed in the morning.
Therefore, when the daily Oklahoman came out with an editorial on Pakistan this week, saying authoritarian governments have a “limited shelf life and often end badly”, while reminding the United States that it “can’t champion democracy and block its results”, I felt as if a red line had been crossed. New York Times, yes, Los Angeles Times, yes, Washington Post, yes, but when the Oklahoman joins the fray with a cat call of its own, it can only mean our man is in trouble.
To reinforce my point, let me state that the great big event in the state of Oklahoma as I write this is not a change of government in Pakistan or a change in policy in Washington, but the annual BBQ Cook-Off and Juneteenth Festival to be joined by BBQ contestants from all over the state and Texas to compete for the title of ‘Master of the Pit’ with cash awards and trophies for each winning category entry.
Add to that a most preposterous explanation of why people in Pakistan are out in the streets trying desperately to kiss goodbye to the General. It comes in the form of a letter to the Wall Street Journal from American historian Arthur Herman, who has dreamt the theory that people hate Musharraf because he is a Muhajir. I have heard quite a few in my time but seldom have I heard something as outlandish as this. Someone said our public relations people might be at work here. If that be so, I can only suggest to Ambassador Gen. Durrani to fire them all and hire someone who knows which way the cookie is crumbling.
To make it clear where Herman is coming from, let me quote what he wrote last March: “Unlike the French in Algeria, the United States is in Iraq not in order to retain a colony but to help create a free, open and liberal society in a part of the world still mired in autocracy and fanaticism. Will we stay long enough to defeat the jihadists, to engage Iraqis in the process of modern nation-building, and to ease the transition to a free society? Or will we quit before the hard work is done, leaving this vital part of the world to become an al Qaeda sanctuary, bathed in chaos, anarchy, and blood? As the polls suggest, a large constituency at home is waiting to learn the answer to this question, and so is a much larger constituency abroad. But time is running short.” So there you have it. The Bush Doctrine: Democracy through Invasion.
I had a chat with Stephen Cohen, who returned from Pakistan the other day, to gather his impressions of what is going on. Of all the South Asia experts in this town, he is the most astute and knowledgeable. His association with Pakistan dates back to the 1970s and his history of the Pakistan Army some consider a classic study. He once said, “The Pakistan Army cannot run Pakistan, but it won’t let anybody else run it.”
But before he would talk about anything else, he wanted to say how impressed he was with the tremendous reconstruction effort mounted by the Pakistan Army to rebuild and rehabilitate what was so utterly devastated by the earthquake last year. He said unless one flies over those areas, one simply can have no idea of the scale of the calamity. “Mountains moved,” he added. He had great praise for Gen. Nadeem Ahmed who has overseen the massive effort. He called him a “go-to guy”.
Cohen said the destruction caused by the earthquake will be nothing were there to be a nuclear accident, a Pakistani or Indian Chernobyl. “India and Pakistan really have to think about that.” But what about politics? Cohen thinks the time has come for Pakistan and the US to make clear to one another what each can do and what it can’t. The US wants Pakistan to catch every Al Qaeda operative, grab every member of the Taliban, provide access to Dr AQ Khan, normalise relations with India, reform the education system and so on. Pakistan can do some of those things but not others, because they are either too hard or there are other difficulties. “So what is needed is regular dialogue to clearly understand what the areas of agreement are and what the areas of agreement are not.”
And what about Gen. Pervez Musharraf? Cohen feels that he needs to be more compromising than he is. “His natural ally is the Pakistan People’s Party, not the Pakistan Muslim League. The PPP and the Army are naturals.” He found the establishment in Islamabad shaken by the events that followed the chief justice’s removal. The government’s behaviour has been erratic, he felt, and there is a sense of unease that has descended on the country since the Karachi killings. Cohen pointed out that Gen. Musharraf has done some good things, including realigning relations with India and showing flexibility on Kashmir. If he goes, those things could be reversed.
He feels that the Army lacks a long-term strategy. At the same time, the politicians, given their track record, have to show competence. They just can’t say: Give it us and all will be well. The Army does not trust politicians and it lacks patience. But it must not judge everything according to its own yardstick. I asked Cohen what he was most worried about. “Institutions, which have been all but destroyed. That’s what has got to be rebuilt,” he replied.
May I suggest that if my friend Mushahid Hussain’s suggestion about a grand conference of all politicians is accepted by the General — unlikely though that is — Steve Cohen be invited as the lunchtime speaker on the first day because he understands the Pakistan Army and Pakistan’s politics better than all the Aristotles Gen. Musharraf has surrounded himself with.
Khalid Hasan is Daily Times’ US-based correspondent. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org