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December 28, 2007

Bhutto says Bin Laden was Murdered?
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Ok, this is really weird. David Frost is interviewing Benazir Bhutto on his Al Jazeera program (from November). Strangely enough, at 6 min 12 s, Bhutto says that Osama Bin Laden was murdered by Omar Sheikh. Did she mean to say Daniel Pearl (it's not as if their names are similar)? Strangely enough, Frost didn't correct her, nor did Bhutto clarify her statement. Take a look and if you have any idea what's going on here, please share.

December 27, 2007

The Nuclear Scenario in Pakistan
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Andrew Sullivan writes:

If Islamists within the military or ISI did this, then we have the possibility that this is the beginning of something more ominous than the surface event. The collapse of Pakistan into a Jihadist nuclear power is the great nightmare.

Well, yes it might be. But the chances of the 'nuclear scenario' actually happening is so slim that treating it as the overriding policy question is, at best, a diversion and distraction from the real risks Pakistan faces. How exactly did this become the conventional wisdom? On one hand, you have Al-Qaeda and other associated terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda - I hope I am stating the obvious - is not going to take over the Pakistani government anytime soon. Extremist groups have the capability to terrorize the population, assassinate leaders, and destablize the country, but there are few indications that they have made enough inroads into the military or ISI to threaten an actual internal coup.

The other possibility is that the various Islamist parties might somehow come to power through free elections. Maybe this is what people are really referring to when they talk about an "Islamist takeover," a term which has long been a staple of Middle East-related fearmongering, and one that has been employed to great effect by the Muslim world's predominantly secular (and often brutal) dictators, including many of our allies. Well, the chances of this scenario occurring are even slimmer. Islamist parties in Pakistan have not made much an effort to moderate (in contrast to their Arab and Turkish counterparts), and they are, in fact, a frightening bunch. However, they do not command significant support in a country dominated by well-established secular parties. Their peak electoral support is around 15%, give-or-take. In other words, not much of a threat.

With all that said, we are talking about the Muslim world, an area of the world that tends to surprise when surprises are least expected and not particularly welcome. So I could be wrong. But the point remains that we shouldn't overexaggerate the threat of nuclear oblivion ushered in by Pakistan's Islamic extremists. And then there's the other question of why Islamic extremists have been able to wreak so much havoc in the first place. Didn't Mush promise us he would defeat the extremists or something? Oh, wait. Every dictator in the Muslim world promises us that. And, every time, we end up dissapointed.

Powder Keg
Posted by Shadi Hamid

As you've probably heard, former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto was assassinated today. Another tragic moment in a region with no shortage of tragic moments. And so it continues. The Muslim world has been, is, and will continue to be a powder keg, with disastrous consequences for the rest of the world. For the rest of our lives, the Arab and Muslim world will continue producing tragedies like the one we saw today. Unless we have a plan - a long-term plan - for addressing the root causes of the extremism, terror, and radicalism tearing the region apart. Do we have a plan? Or will we continue to responding in ad-hoc fashion, providing no vision, no narrative, no endgame? This violence and terrorism is not exactly random. It is a product of a world very different than ours, one suffering from decades if not centuries of economic, political, religious, and cultural stagnation.

December 23, 2007

Integrating the Sunnis
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

This is not very promising

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government declared yesterday that after restive areas are calmed, it will disband Sunni groups battling Islamic extremists because it does not want them to become a separate military force.

The statement from Defense Minister Abdul-Qadir al-Obaidi was the government's most explicit declaration yet of its intent to eventually dismantle the groups backed and funded by the United States as a vital tool for reducing violence.

The militias, more than 70,000 strong and often made up of former insurgents, are known as Awakening Councils, or Concerned Local Citizens.

"We completely, absolutely reject [the militias] becoming a third military organization," Obaidi said at a news conference.

He added that the groups would also not be allowed to have any infrastructure, such as a headquarters building, that would give them longterm legitimacy. "We absolutely reject that," Obaidi said.

The government has pledged to absorb about a quarter of the men into the predominantly Shi'ite-controlled security services and military, and provide vocational training so that the rest can find civilian jobs

Basically, the Shi'a central government, which has in the past supported systematic sectarian cleansing of Sunnis, expects the Sunni tribal leaders to unilateraly disarm.  Somehow I can't see the Sunnis going for that.  These are exactly the types of statements that make me very skeptical of the Anbar Strategy.

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