Dear NYT editorial page,
I know you are really into this ____ miles from Islamabad schtick. It is a good schtick. Mainly because your dwindling readership cannot actually place Islamabad on a map. Nor do they have any sense of its physicality. Can you name a prominent landmark in Islamabad? Do you know what the terrain looks like? Precisely because it is an indeterminate space, you can project on it the Mothra Flies Towards Tokyo scenario that seems to be moving so much copy lately.
You begin your editorial with a telling sentence:
“If the Indian Army advanced within 60 miles of Islamabad, you can bet Pakistan’s army would be fully mobilized and defending the country in pitched battles.”
I bet your readers would know that India has a standing army of nearly 1.2 million. If even half of those were to show up in Pakistan, it would indeed be the Game Over scenario with which you begin. Ok, we are now talking doomsday. What’s next?
“Yet when the Taliban got that close to the capital on Friday, pushing into the key district of Buner, Pakistani authorities sent only several hundred poorly equipped and underpaid constabulary forces.”
Oh, man! the “Taliban”! I guess reading those two sentences together we are to assume that the “Taliban” are 1. A country’s army and 2. HUGE. Maybe 1.2 million huge! So you are absolutely right that some several hundred poor old constables (constables!) are gonna get crushed.
How is it that the “Taliban” which are only estimated to be 10,000 to 15,000 in Afghanistan became a million strong in Pakistan? Oh, I know. It is because Pakistan is a nuclear state. And when the small Talibaby crawled over the Durand Line, it was exposed to the shameful rays generated by the nuclear test. And it became TALIBOTHRA! Huge! And now it Flies Towards Islamabad.
Clearly the dumb-as-bricks “most Pakistanis” “do not fully understand the mortal threat” of the TALIBOTHRA. How could they? It isn’t like they have played host to these millions of Afghan refugees since 1979. It isn’t like their army was explicitly told and funded to train and equip them for over a decade. No, “most Pakistanis” know less about TALIBOTHRA then the editorial staff of New York Times. And it knows best.
What it knows not is that the TALIBOTHRA in Pakistan (after the nuclear rays) amounts to 10,000 or so fighters. The standing Pakistani army is over half a million. That’s sheer numbers. 10,000 against 500,000 makes no sense outside of Zack Snyder’s feverish imagination (and he’d be rooting for the 10k, just saying).
So, why so afraid NYT? What’s really bothering you? Is it that there is a civilian government cutting deals with religious nuts? Is that the problem? Does the history of that region’s constitutional freedoms mean nothing to you? And if your argument is that the human rights violations are too fundamentally egregious, is a military assault and a guerilla war amid civilian populations, your only recommendation? But, that’s not really your concern, is it, dear NYT editorial page. Don’t be shy, just say it:
“And — most frightening of all — if the army cannot or will not defend its own territory against the militants, how can anyone be sure it will protect Pakistan’s 60 or so nuclear weapons?”
Ah, the weapons, the weapons. They need to be protected. Do I detect a hint of contradiction here? I mean, how can you trust General Kayani to protect the weapons if you cannot trust him to fight TALIBOTHRA? Tsk. I think you missed a real chance in your conclusion there. Instead of the weak-chinned “oh-we-have-two-bills-on-the-hill” shite, you’d have been the real America-Fuck-Yeah!, you should have asked for an outright invasion of Pakistan. Only the American Force can protect the nukes, put the “weak civilian leaders” in their place, and take out TALIBOTHRA!
It is always good to read you in print. I am delighted to see that you have managed to coordinate your op-ed so nicely with the Zeitgeist (including the quaint “constabulary force” though, your TALIBOTHRA is ten miles further out). However, is it really the case that your city of 18 million (Karachi, that is) will fall? Or do you think Lahore (pop. 12 million) will fall? You go on and on about the closed girls schools (they have reopened) and the out of work barbers and all, you nonchalantly dismiss every bit of evidence against your own alarmist thesis. Allow me to string those pearls:
Sure, thousands have turned up at anti-Taliban rallies
Yes, the Taliban routinely place near the bottom of opinion polls, and in elections they garner less than 10 percent of the vote.
I am no Taliban-supporter, neither do I wish to see the civilians suffer under their tyranny. But, I must ask you, how is it that you can write 1500 words on the TALIBOTHRA but nothing on the political and military frameworks needed to discuss the future of Pakistan. Is the fact that the TALIBOTHRA can cause civil distress in Sialkot by sending a letter more pertinent than the state’s inability to provide basic security to its people? If the people’s will is exhausted (I guess besides the thousands in the streets) then why is the army’s will exhausted? You, of all people, possess the insights to render those complexities for the audience of the WaPo. You could have also cited a couple of “typical middle-class liberal Pakistani” in your piece? Surely they exist out there in the 160 million strong? Not even a couple? But, you say that your nation is “preparing to surrender”. Fine. Walk me through that. Tell me what it means. Will it be like when General Zod makes the President of United States bow to him? (I don’t have the patience to photoshop a Taliban head onto Zod’s body but I hope you have seen Superman II) But, seriously. What do you mean when you say your nation will surrender. How do you square that with the fact that 1. Taliban are very small band 2. They are an ethnic group already at contretemps with the vast majority of the population 3. There is a functioning state in front of them.
So, given that you are expressing concerns about a gun-powered revolution, how do you actually see this playing out? Because all you cite are _cultural_markers. Will the hundreds of thousands of army personnel disappear? Will the political parties disappear? What will happen. Help me understand your existential threat.
Because the only thing I see your oped doing is contributing to the hysteria that is sweeping this here nation. Read the comments on your op-ed. Tell me what can you say to the incessant hate generated against Pakistanis and Muslims. Do you not bear responsibility for that? You may say: oh, but I am saying what I see. Which is exactly why I ask you: tell me what you see. Where and how do you see TALIBOTHRA taking over Pakistan.
Now, if you’d like to have a discussion about the religious conservatism in the middle class, we can have that discussion. It is a valid discussion. And it speaks directly towards the inherent contradiction at the heart of the Pakistan project (an Islamic Republic of Pakistan, after all). I am happy to speak about how we can promote secular, humanist values to counter the ill-effects of sunnification rampant since Zia. But, I cannot grant you that TALIBOTHRA = religious conservatism. That is the type of bullshit analogy that serves no other purpose than to demonize. You can read my earlier piece in this series to get a sense of where I am coming from.
I await your response.
For a less jaundiced reading of this “mysterious hysteria”, I urge you to read Juan Cole’s Pakistan Crisis and Social Statistics.
update: Nice fisking of the Perlez/Buner story at Global Security.