My latest at FrontPage.com is a piece on the political fallout from the flooding in Pakistan.
The first fortnight of the unfolding calamity saw a Pakistani government frozen by incompetence, lack of leadership, and bureaucratic inertia. In the first 10 days of the disaster, the government managed to deliver 10,000 food packs that fed 80,000 people out of the more than 2 million who were already destitute.
Zardari only stoked the rage Pakistanis were feeling against the government when he left the country at the beginning of August — just when the floods had gone from bad, to worse, to catastrophic — to pay a visit to David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy. A trip to Great Britain and France might ordinarily give a boost to the flagging popularity of a Pakistani president, but in this case, it had the opposite effect. Zardari arrived at Heathrow dressed in casual clothing, looking for all the world like a bored tourist. And then between conferences with officials, he helicoptered off to spend a little time at his fabulous chateau in Normandy owned by him and his late wife Benazir Bhutto.
It’s no secret that both the late Mrs. Bhutto and Zardari were spectacularly corrupt politicians. Mrs. Bhutto was sacked in a military coup by General Musharraf largely because of corruption while Zardari — known in Pakistan as “Mr. Ten Percent” — who has already served 8 years in jail on corruption charges, is still under a cloud even as president.
What all this added up to was a monumental political miscalculation on the part of Zardari that if it doesn’t directly threaten the stability of the government (most observers dismiss the idea of a military coup) it nevertheless opens the door to massively increased influence by two other concerned parties in Pakistani politics; the military, and the fundamentalist Islamist parties.
As I explain, the rising popularity of the military as a result of their response to the crisis will make it more difficult for the civilian government to rein in their influence on national security and foreign policy, while complicating our own relationship with the Pakistani armed forces. We need their cooperation to not only facilitate our efforts in Afghanistan, but their behind the scenes sharing of intelligence about the Taliban and al-Qaeda has led to many successful drone strikes on enemy targets inside Pakistan.
As for the Islamists, they have their own agenda - and it doesn’t include helping the government to change people’s minds about their pitiful response to the calamity. There is some question as to whether the extremist’s success in rehabbing their image will translate into votes for the fundamentalist parties - many observers believe incompetence and corruption by the government are more of an inducement for people to look at the religious parties than any good works done by terrorist outfits. But the political messages of both are similar, and the government ignores this at their peril.