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Pakistan, Bhutto and U.S. Aid

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Kamran Bokhari
Director of Middle East Analysis, Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007; 3:00 PM

Strategic Forecasting, Inc. Director of Middle East Analysis Kamran Bokhari was online Wednesday, Oct. 31 at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the return of former Primer Minister Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan, the dangers she faces, and the state of U.S.-Pakistan relations.

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The transcript follows.

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Kamran Bokhari: Good afternoon/evening folks, my name is Kamran Bokhari. I am Director of Middle East Analysis with Strategic Forecasting, Inc. -- a private U.S. intelligence firm. The geopolitics of Pakistan is a key area that I and my firm are closely following.

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Los Angeles: I think U.S. Pakistan relations will be better if it involves India. India has a vital interest in seeing that Pakistan is not a failed state because of internal and external security reasons, but they need financial support from the U.S. At present, Pakistanis will be much more receptive to accepting Indian ideas and help than U.S. ones, because of our involvement in Muslim Iraq and the possibility of an attack on Iran. India does not have this problem, and also its population is 12 percent moderate Muslims, who are culturally and religiously related to Pakistanis.

Kamran Bokhari: I will agree that it is in India's interests to prevent instability and insecurity in its western neighbor. But the historic India-Pakistan rivalry, which prevents New Delhi from a role in this regard. Put differently and succinctly, Pakistanis do not trust Indians. More importantly, there is a general poverty of thought around the world when it comes to the question of how should we deal with Muslim states trying to engage in political reform and curb extremism and terrorism.

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Boston: Who controls the launch codes, nuclear missiles and other bomb-grade nuclear material in Pakistan? What are the contingency plans should Musharraf be knocked from power? What is the relationship between the Pakistan Army and intelligence service, and could the intel service gain control of the nukes?

Kamran Bokhari: Contrary to popular belief, the Pakistani nukes are not about to fall in the hands of transnational jihadist non-state actors or other rogue elements within the military. The army has developed a decent command and control infrastructure to protect its nuclear assets. A three-star general heads the Strategic Plans Division which is the body responsible for managing the countries nuclear arsenal. Recently, Islamabad further institutionalized the issue by widening the circle of people with decision-making power regarding the nukes.

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Palo Alto, Calif.: Is the Pakistani military capable of fighting a counterinsurgency battle against jihadis, and do you see any sign that it, or that Pakistan's intel agencies are becoming more willing to do so?

Kamran Bokhari: The Pakistani military like the armed forces of most other countries are not designed to fight insurgencies. Furthermore, the ongoing political transition and the pending retirement of President Musharraf as army chief has further complicated matters. Another major issue is that the Pakistani intelligence/security establishment is to a significant degree compromised (mostly in the junior ranks) to where the jihadists are always one step ahead of the authorities. Well placed sources have described the situation as agencies within agencies, which are dominated by people who bat for both sides. It will be sometime before the Pakistanis can successfully engage in a cleansing process and for that political stability is a pre-requisite.

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Newnan, Ga.: Can Pakistan be considered a real country? The central government never has had control of the western regions since its inception.

Kamran Bokhari: There is a lot of talk of Pakistan being a 'failed state' but there is a need to realize that one can't lump Pakistan in the category of places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, etc. Unlike these and other such examples, the Pakistani government's writ on its territory has been quite solid. The only exception is perhaps the thin slither of territory straddling the Afghanistan-Pakistan border called the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which Islamabad until a few years ago was successfully governing through political agents. The best way to describe Pakistan's current situation is that it is faced with a crisis of governance and a growing extremism/terrorism problem.

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Dulles, Va.: Do you think Bhutto will be able to contain the extremists if she were to become Prime Minister? Considering the difficulties that the military is encountering in containing the extremist threat, it seems very unlikely that a civilian government will be able to do anything about this problem. Her promises to confront this threat sound like typical election rhetoric. Do you agree? Thank you.

Kamran Bokhari: As I mentioned in a response to an earlier question, there is a huge poverty of thought (not just in Pakistan but globally) on how to fight the scourge of jihadism. Not only do governments and other political actors lack ideas on how to go about tackling the issue, there is a massive saturation of "experts" who are contributing to the intellectual confusion. There is a dire need to bring together the real experts who understand the phenomenon we are dealing with and are familiar with the needs of policy-making. We are talking about a very small group of people from the epistemic community who at their individual level have some decent ideas. There is however, no ready-made repository of knowledge that we can dig into and craft policy.

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Northern Virginia: Is Pakistan Government a Muslim government, or are they more like the Turkish government, where they believe in practicing open religion and in practicing religion at your privacy? What are the the former prime minister's chances of winning the upcoming election?

Kamran Bokhari: You ask a very important question. Pakistanis since before the birth of their state have been debating about the nature of their desired polity. On one hand are those who see Pakistan as a secular state (which was the vision of the founders as well) which was created to secure the material interests of the Muslims of India. On the other side, we have those who feel that the country was created so that its citizens can live in accordance with their religio-cultural ethos, which can be achieved under an 'Islamic' state. The extremism and terrorism that we see in the country to a great degree is the outcome of this unsettled debate about the Pakistani identity and ideology.

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Long Beach, Calif.: Will she arrest the retired generals supporting the Taliban and importing suicide bombers to Afghanistan, who kill our troops? Will she aggressively invade Waziristan and clean out al-Qaeda? Will she raid Osama bin Laden's hideout in Lahore? Those are the only questions that matter.

Kamran Bokhari: Taking an aggressive stance against Islamist militants and their enablers requires that Bhutto not only have some major political capital behind her but also support from within the military establishment. Given that the military has just started to embrace Bhutto and her Pakistan Peoples Party and that despite being the single largest political party, it will need to form a coalition government once after the polls, it is unlikely that she will be able to make any significant dent into the jihadist Frankenstein.

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Clarence, N.Y.: I was very happy when Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif -- as every body knows he was very corrupt. But Benazir, as everybody knows, is much more corrupt and incompetent than Nawaz. Now that she is being supported by U.S., which acted as an enabler for her "reconciliation" with Musharraf, isn't there a strong resentment among ordinary Pakistanis for the U.S. and our puppet in Islamabad? Will U.S. support to Benazir and her corrupt husband -- nicknamed Mr. 10 Percent -- help or hinder our efforts in Pakistan?

Kamran Bokhari: You point to a major policy-making dilemma. How can the United States/West work with Muslim political actors without delegitimizing them in the eyes of their own constituencies? There is no clear cut solution but for starters, Washington and other western capitals should try and maintain safe distance from their working partners from the Islamic world.

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Kamran Bokhari: Thank you all for participating in this online discussion. I am also grateful to Washington Post - in particular Christopher Hopkins, the producer of this forum for granting me the opportunity to share my thoughts. Hopefully, we can do this again in the future. Good afternoon/evening.

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