Saturday, September 26, 2009

The New Great Game

So many wars in Pakistan these days it’s hard to keep track. Mangal Bagh, Fazlullah, Mehsud…these are the who’s who of Pakistan’s militant scene. Each war has it’s plan and purpose, each militant his role to play in the New Great Game, each bullet and barrage a target, though not necessarily in the sense of an object caught in the crosshairs. Targets are much more abstract in this part of the world.

Which leads us irrevocably to the real war playing out here: the war for meaning, the war for the ‘why’. This war is the source of the madness I wrote about earlier. It is the modern war, the war of ambiguity: ambiguity of purpose, ambiguity of enemy, ambiguity of resolution. The questions people ask are all linked to this latter war: Why is America so interested in Pakistan? Why does the world hate us? Why are they afraid of us? Why are we dying? Why are our lives worth so much less than yours? Why are our corrupt leaders getting richer while we starve? Why? Why? Why?

It’s enough to drive anyone mad.

The problem is, there are no simple answers to those questions. The New Great Game is playing out in a dimensional space so far removed from the people it affects that its purpose is shrouded in mystery. The rules of the game are known to only a select few.

Zardari is off again on his intercontinental panhandling mission. “Money!” he exhorts. “We need money!” Pakistan, he says, is where Islamic militancy must be confronted and destroyed. Perhaps. Perhaps not. That is another of the mysteries of the New Great Game.

What is no mystery is that money is not the solution. The Chinese government, in its practical wisdom, has figured that much out. No more money for Pakistan, they say. It is destined to slip through the known universe into an extra-dimensional space defined by corruption, into bank accounts that exist in the fathomless depths of the World Out There. Instead, the Chinese will invest in Pakistan’s infrastructure. It will build, build, build.


The Americans still haven’t caught on. Barack Obama has enthusiastically welcomed the most recent Congressional act of stupidity: more money for Pakistan. But he’s not stupid, which leads me to believe that the U.S. administration is less interested in helping the Pakistani people than it is in making sure Pakistan’s leadership stays in its back pocket. There is evidence: Mangal Bagh, a militant who a year and a half ago was no one in the grand scheme but today is the target of a massive military offensive. Why? The answer likely lies in the fact that it is Mangal Bagh who is attacking Nato and U.S. supply lines to Afghanistan. The militant who was once a darling of the ISI is now a target of its wrath. The Americans can’t have this little upstart disrupting its war in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Pakistan is not stupid either. Its leaders know they can’t just outright win the war against the militants. That war is their bread and butter. It’s what buys them their mansions abroad; it’s what pads their prodigiously padded bank accounts. It’s what’s helping them play catch up in Pakistan’s arms race with India. They attack militants like Mangal Bagh but never actually defeat them. They never capture the guy, or others like him. Keep the game going, they say, it’s a cash cow.

So the game goes on. The people suffer and die. They ask that cardinal question – why? – but receive bombs and bullets in lieu of an answer. They are the pawns in the New Great Game. Disposable. No one pays attention to their war. Why? Because you see, there is no money in it.


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