We had a long chat with Central and South Asia expert Josh Foust of the website Registan about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto this morning. "She's beloved by her clan and by the masses her people own but otherwise, a lot of people do not like her because of how she and her father stole billions of dollars from the country, bankrupted the entire country, and never really did anything save bow down before Bill Clinton," he said. So she was sort of like Marion Barry? "Yeah! only the bitch who set her up WAS ON THE INSIDE OF HER SOUL." After the jump Foust explains why people liked Bhutto, which is to say, because next to her fellow exiled leader Nawaz Sharif, military leader Pervez Musharraf and their Indian rivals, she looked pretty damn good.
(pieced together from a Gchat conversation, so humor us, thanks.)
MOE: So what about Nawaz Sharif? I never hear shit about him.
JOSH: He was corrupt and ineffective. He let Musharraf start the Kargil war under his nose, and he didn't know how to end it. He was almost as corrupt as Bhutto, and just kind of a dweeb
MOE: Why did they elect him anyway?
JOSH Because he was less corrupt than Bhutto, would be my guess. Well, he was PM first in 1990, then was thrown out when the President at the time dissolved the national assembly. Then the supreme court overruled the president, then Sharif resigned in a huff during the dispute and then Benazir Bhutto took over in 93. Then in 1997 Sharif came back into power by somehow winning 90% of a national election. So of course everyone was kvetching about it being super corrupt
MOE: Well who fixes an election for a non-incumbent no one really likes in the first place?
JOSH: Exactly. It created the conditions for Musharraf's takeover
MOE: Oh Musharraf IS crafty. But he didn't take over until later, yes?
JOSH: The big kicker was after Kargil, when Sharif prevented Musharraf's plane from landing, and he was then accused of hijacking it from afar or something...
MOE: Okay, let's explain Kargil. It's in the border territory of Kashmir, which is the whole reason India and Pakistan have nukes.
JOSH: Kargil is in Kashmir, which is a disputed border with India resulting from the 1947 partition. They've fought a good three wars over the exact demarcation line, and the "Line of Control" has become the defacto border since the last stalemate. The Kargil conflict was started when Pakistani militias crossed the Line of Control into what India considers its territory in May of 1999.
And it's worth noting, too, that many of the militants sent there were from the same groups that produce the Taliban since Pakistan officially supported the Pakistani madrassas that produced the Taliban because they made good zealous warriors for Kashmir.
It was a big deal because it was, I believe, the highest-altitude conflict ever, it was dumb strategically because the terrain made sound logistics impossible, and when both countries have nuclear weapons starting a war is just stupid, as in: Pakistan could never send enough troops for enough time to secure anything anyway, so it was a big break in protocol. Ever since the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, both India and Pakistan had abandoned their forward posts during the horrible winter and re-occupied them in the spring. But Pakistan went back ahead of schedule and just seized Indian positions. This was accompanied by heaving shelling of settlements on the Indian side of the border. So no one knew for weeks what had happened on the Indian side.
MOE: And when they found out?
JOSH: Basically, the Indians responded by carpet bombing the entire line of control. Mortar fire, artillery, MiG bombs...and ridge by ridge the Indians got back the territory. Meanwhile the Pakistani army was covertly planning a nuclear strike on India, but Bill Clinton of all people found out and warned Sharif that the results would be tragic for Pakistan.
MOE: Nuke them over Kashmir???
JOSH: Imagine if we didn't have a defined border with Mexico
JOSH: and Mexico kept taking our territory, or claiming it wanted Southern California, and then sent bands of violent religious extremists to occupy border towns. We'd be pissed
MOE: Well it's a different problem to have, certainly. Borders cause problems for sure. But most of ours run along relatively flat land, right? Or water. can you blame the british for being like "You know those mountains? fuck figuring out where the border starts and ends up there. let them sort that out for themselves." Ha ha ha by which I mean yes you can blame them for that.
JOSH: Well, the British did put down a border, it's just that no one wanted it. See, the idea behind partition was that India is Hindu, and Pakistan is Muslim, and when the partition happened, there was a mass exodus on both sides of the border. But eastern Pakistan still has Hindus, and western India still has Muslims, and they're violent with each other. Only, Kashmir is almost entirely Muslim. So Pakistan thinks it should be a part of a Muslim nation
That partition really created more problems than it solved, didn't it.
JOSH: esp. considering the rolling waves of murderous pogroms both Hindus and Muslims have put on over the last few decades
sort of. They wouldn't really work as one country. But by leaving the border to them (since it was one political entity when the Brits pulled out), they never had a chance to resolve it, and because a major source of water for both countries flows from the area - the Indus river - neither has been willing to spend the resources for an all-out war of occupation.
JOSH: oh yeah, so after Pakistan lost Kargil, Nawaz Sharif was so angry at Musharraf for starting it that he recommended a court martial
MOE: Wait, so Musharraf STARTED the Kargil conflict?
JOSH: No one really knows. But it's likely, as he was army chief of staff at the time, I think. Lemme double check.
Other reasons they hate Musharraf
JOSH: But in either case, Kargil was an epic disaster, just like Operation Gibraltar in 1965 (which was a similarly failed attempt to seize indian territory), and highlighted some deep structural problems in Pakistani military planning and execution
MOE: Hmmmm. So is Musharraf hated in Kashmir? As much as he's hated by the people who live in the provinces bordering Afghanistan?
JOSH: yes, but for different reasons. They hate him in NWFP because he ignores them then sends in troops when they take matters into their own hands
JOSH: But the people in the northern and northeastern regions hate Musharraf for both the needless war, and for the absolute neglect. I mean, I reviewed a book a little while ago called Three Cups of Tea, about an American guy who is making friends with all sorts of crazies because he builds schools for Pakistani children while the government makes them sit outside and draw in the dirt (no joke)
JOSH: And musharraf is hated by lots of the Pakistani military for being so bad at strategy he lost a war he started with a superior force and the element of surprise
MOE: So.... he's bad at military strategy, but a pro at power-consolidation strategy?
JOSH: that's probably a fair assessment
JOSH: more appropriately, he's a good administrator and a good politicker, but not a good general
MOE: so did Bhutto have her brother killed? is this just karma?
JOSH: I don't think so, if I remember he was killed in a gunfight with police
MOE: But that's why his son, her niece Fatima hates her so much, right? Because she thinks he was assassinated?
MOE: How do you say "oy" in Urdu?