To be or not to be

Question: what do Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden have in common? Answer: Pakistan.

Hillary Clinton is rumored to be a top contender for the next Secretary of State. Chris Cilliza at the Fix rounds up the rumors. A New York Times story suggesting that she has decided to accept the offer and cryptic non-denials from the Obama camp are fueling the fire. As Secretary of State, one of Hillary Clinton's top priorities will be what to do with Pakistan, which Barack Obama characterized, along with Afghanistan, as being "the central front of terrorism".

One proxy indicator for Hillary's thinking on Pakistan are the views of Madeleine Albright who gets a headache just contemplating it. Albright recently expostulated, "Pakistan. Pakistan has everything that gives you an international migraine. It has nuclear weapons, corruption, poverty, extremism, a terrible financial situation, a government that's just come in that's not very strong, and it is in a location that is absolutely essential in terms of dealing with Afghanistan." To be fair the Pakistanis get a headache thinking about Pakistan too. The New York Times reports a rampant rumor in Islamabad that America is working for the dissolution of Pakistan as a way of making the problem go away.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A redrawn map of South Asia has been making the rounds among Pakistani elites. It shows their country truncated, reduced to an elongated sliver of land with the big bulk of India to the east, and an enlarged Afghanistan to the west.

That the map was first circulated as a theoretical exercise in some American neoconservative circles matters little here. It has fueled a belief among Pakistanis, including members of the armed forces, that what the United States really wants is the breakup of Pakistan, the only Muslim country with nuclear arms.

“One of the biggest fears of the Pakistani military planners is the collaboration between India and Afghanistan to destroy Pakistan,” said a senior Pakistani government official involved in strategic planning, who insisted on anonymity as per diplomatic custom. “Some people feel the United States is colluding in this.”

So great is the paranoia that even Barack Obama is being suspected of perfidy despite his view, published in Foreign Affairs, that “if Pakistan can look towards the east with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban,” meaning that if America can persuade India to make nice with Pakistan, Islamabad can be persuaded to take a tougher line on al-Qaeda. But the problem with that, as the NYT itself points out, is that it threatens to link Kashmir to the Taliban question, a prospect even the writer of the article quails at.

Of course there's always the chance that Pakistan will need no help in breaking up; the inherent instability of that country may cause it to fall apart without any prompting from "neo-conservatives" or cabals in America. It could just happen on its own. In fact one of the greatest unsolved challenges facing traditional diplomacy is what to do "countries" all over the world that are simply cracking up. Diplomats just don't know what to do with them. The State Department and other diplomatic institutions are designed to deal with other states and when forced to deal with a chaotic regions crisscrossed by warring tribes and infested with bandits and religious fanatics they find that their diplomatic medicine cabinet has no balm for it.

Perhaps the Obama administration, instead of building a "civilian national security force" to duplicate the military should create a Non-State Department to mirror the diplomatic establishment. Just as nations need ways to accredit ambassadors to other, functioning nations, they need ways to exchange -- not necessarily credentials, but something -- with the regions dominated by pirates, gangs of child soldiers, religious madmen and marauding hordes of armed men.  At the very least a Non-State Department could come up with a new set of rules that are more appropriate to the situation.

Migraine headaches. What to do with them?


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