Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Intel Mother Lode and Pakistan

One of the strange things about capturing Saddam Hussein is that, relatively speaking, he didn't know much. He was, after all, the dictator of an enormous bureaucracy and had thousands of loyal followers who were in charge of the day-to-day nation-running operations. If, for example, his interrogator wanted to know who were the names of Iraq's spies in Iran there's just not much of a chance that Saddam was going to know that kind of detail. (His interrogations were mostly about deconstructing the thought processes that led to certain decisions.)

Bin Laden is a different case entirely. The size of the intel cache they recovered from the raid seems enormous and reporters are already speculating what it could mean for taking out Al-Qaeda, but there's another angle to this that really hasn't been discussed yet: What if one of the thumb drives recovered from the scene contains a list of Pakistani ISI contacts? Would this the kind of smoking gun that might cause a tectonic change in US-Pakistan relations?

Probably not. The Pakistan is too big to fail argument has been around for a while now despite Pakistan being the center for anti-American sentiment over the course of five decades now. Military action is almost impossible in a nuclear-armed country with 170,000,000 people. Still, the roots of American animosity run deep and, to be honest, I don't even know what the origins are. Was there some event that produced the loathing? Some kind of offense or slight? Off the top of my head I can't think of one.

Steve Coll suggests that there really isn't one event that anyone can pinpoint, but that it's an outgrowth of a country with a historically weak government that has little resources to care and educate it's people (and not just the poor ones), which created a vacuum filled by the madrassas built by supporters of the virulent strain of Islamism that developed around the world in the middle of the 20th century. That would mean the problem is as cultural as it is political.

There would be a number of different ways of trying to correct that problem. Again, military action would be out of the picture. Withdrawing foreign aide probably won't help either. So-called "public diplomacy" really hasn't worked in the past. So now what? This might be the right time to develop a Marshall Plan for Pakistan.

It's an idea that gets tossed around frequently, but never really implemented. Now might be the perfect opportunity to make a Marshall Plan-type program a condition of US foreign aide to Pakistan: they tell us where the money is needed, then we go with them to help distribute the aide. Most countries, especially proud and emerging nations like Pakistan who think of themselves as being one of the world's big players, don't like this kind partnership because it make their government look weak and unable to take care of their own citizens. But when that hard drive does show up with a ton of Al-Qaeda contacts in the ISI, it will be a golden opportunity for the US use a great deal of leverage to changing hearts and minds from the ground up.

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