29 December 2007

The limits of insider access

One of the oldest debates in journalism is how far a journalist should go in order to get access to information that wouldn't otherwise be available in the public domain. The weakness of the access-for-information model is that insiders lose perspective, over-emphasising trivia and underestimating the importance of wider issues to those who are governed until it causes some reaction that not even insiders can ignore (e.g. an election loss, a terrorism attack).

So it is with this piece by Greg Sheridan. The reason why Western policy toward Pakistan is such a shambles is because it's always been a shambles, ill-informed and poorly judged. It was a shambles before Benazir Bhutto died, and it would have been a shambles had she survived and become Prime Minister of Pakistan once again. Sheridan can't/won't face this, which has warped this article along with his whole outlook on foreign policy, which makes him (as I've pointed out previously) useless at his job.

It was silly to put all Western eggs in Bhutto's basket. Her achievements are either outweighed or balanced by negative aspects of her time in office. The compromises she needed to make induced inertia at a time where action might have avoided the current predicament of that country, and its unfortunate impact on the wider world. This legacy shows why she shouldn't be treated like Princess Di, why the over-the-top fawning is so misplaced.
THE assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a catastrophe for Pakistani democracy and society.

Bush said that the assassination was a setback for democracy - but given that Pakistan is a military dictatorship, it was puzzling. Bush might need to pretend hat Pakistan is a democracy to make his policy palatable for his country and its domestic politics - but why would Greg Sheridan wish to mislead his readers by passing on such nonsense?
When historians look back on this period, they may well identify the inability of the West to keep its friends in the Muslim world alive as one of the key factors strengthening the extremists at every turn.

If Bhutto had been surrounded by US Secret Service agents, would this have enhanced her appeal among the voters of Pakistan? Pieces like this are called "think pieces", so think, Greg. Do you think that placing too much reliance on one person in a nation of hundreds of millions was the real scandal here?
Washington wanted the forces of secularism in Pakistan to reunite. In that equation President Pervez Musharraf represented the broadly secular military and Bhutto represented the civil society: the judges and lawyers and academics, and also the ordinary poor people of Pakistan who throughout their history have been mostly religiously tolerant and politically moderate.

This is a poor piece of modelling and highlights what Sheridan is trying so hard to disguise: that US/UK policy was manifestly inadequate.

Musharraf has lost the support of the military and unnecessarily alienated the judiciary.

How nice that you remembered the actual voters right there at the end, Greg. That deft piece of modelling explains why the partition was such a picnic and those who struggle for an Islamic monoculture are the only ones who seem at all organised.
... adding a sheen of legitimacy to the Pakistani power structure.

Just a sheen, mind you. Have these people learned nothing from their stuff-ups during the Cold War?
The other opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, also a former prime minister, had previously decided to boycott these elections. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party is in at least temporary disarray.

This makes Sharif's boycott a little self-indulgent, no? Given that Sharif is the guy Musharraf replaced, maybe he's doing the country a favour. What about the other parties, and their regional/ ethnic/ religious/ caste interests? Any examination of other players in Pakistani politics that hasn't been refracted through Washington?
Musharraf has now produced a society in which the nation’s most popular politician is assassinated.

By this measure, John F Kennedy was a failure as President. The middle of Sheridan's article was about Musharraf's failure, which is fair enough: rather embarrassing for those who supported this turkey for far too long, and now Greg is talking about propping him up for the time being.
But in Pakistan, more than in any other society in the world, everything is black mystery.

More complex that China or Russia, or the Vatican? Really?
It was when Musharraf was army chief, and responsible for Pakistan’s arsenal of several dozen nuclear weapons, that A.Q.Khan, the father of the Pakistani bomb, was engaged in selling nuclear know-how and material throughout the world, in the greatest enterprise of nuclear proliferation in the history of the human race.

Musharraf was a key figure when the army created the Taliban to seize power in Afghanistan. Musharraf overthrew the democratic government of Sharif to install himself as dictator.

Compare and contrast with this.

Sheridan acknowledges Bhutto's deficiencies but fails to condemn those who thought she'd be a useful ally in the war against fake militant Islam, and who disregarded other alternatives. From an Australian point of view (as opposed to an Australian point of view), this county should have its own intelligence operating throughout Pakistan rather than relying on the frankly inadequate trickle from US intelligence and its discredited relationship with Pakistan's ISI.

Apart from Rudd's call for calm, what is Australia's interest and response? Analyse that, Greg. Let's have no more acting as a relay-station for your after-hours off-the-record drinking pals, or squirming at having to evaluate them and find them wanting. Let Australians know what's going on; do your job, Greg.

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