Monday, November 05, 2007

Musharraf: Shakespearean Scholar?

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers!"
Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II

Pakistan, as you may or may not have noticed, has recently become quite 'interesting'. I  mean 'interesting', of course, in that it seems to be the source of really bad news on a daily basis. Today, for example, the police have taken to the streets with batons and tear gas to prevent unruly mobs of briefcase toting umbrella wielding lawyers from threatening the military government with their demonstrations.  As your mother must have said, "Be careful with those umbrellas. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye!" This has given CNN's talking heads a reason to stare seriously into their cameras and ask serious questions about serious matters concerning democracy, the rule of law and whether or not Pervez Musharraf will take off his uniform. As a possible indication of his intentions (what we in the diplomatic community call a 'clue'), the government of Pakistan has just disbanded the Supreme Court, rounded up several thousand lawyers who foolishly considered it to be in good taste to object to that move and declared a state of emergency. Pakistani media are now subject to the control and censorship of the government and the troops are in the streets. This is being done in order to 'save' Pakistan and ensure that the road to democracy remains open, if untraveled. Patriotism, as Dr. Johnson observed, is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Now a disclaimer, all of my information comes from the same sources you rely on for yours, CNN, the New York Times, People magazine, my barber and the guy who pours the beer during Happy Hour. I suppose that the State Department has access to other sources of information, but they don't share those with me. In a week I'll leave for Islamabad and I'll be better able to form my own opinions. More importantly, I'll be able to answer the most pressing question of the day ... what effect is all this having on tee times at the Islamabad Golf Club?

By happy coincidence I have just completed the Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training program known to one and all as 'Crash & Bang'. As a result I can now, confidently, injure myself with four different military grade weapons, three types of armored vehicles and a plethora of explosives, improvised and otherwise. I can easily spot anyone tailing me provided that they hold up a large sign stating that they are following me and occasionally draw my attention to it by blowing a bugle and waving their arms rapidly overhead. And if the do-do hits the spinning blades I can render limited first aid as soon as I recover from my faint. So, in answer to your unasked question ... Hell yes, I'm ready to go. I'm locked and cocked and ready to rock! (I think that's a line from "Rambo", but I'm not sure and I don't really know what it means but it sounds like it means that I'm all set to go.)

As part of Crash & Bang we got to drive police Interceptors and learned to perform several difficult maneuvers including high speed backing up, evasive swerving and full out emergency stops. I've discovered that, while I'm not terribly accurate at the high speed reverse thing (they assure me that they'll be able to pound out the body damage on the car) and I don't stop too well (fortunately orange traffic cones are relatively inexpensive), I can swerve with the best of them. Swerving, like procrastination, seems to be a skill I was born with, some have it some don't. However, when it comes to shooting, if a terrorist runs up to me, throws himself onto the barrel of the gun and holds it against his chest for me I have a fifty-fifty chance of hitting him. The other and equally possible outcome is, unfortunately, shooting my own foot. The purpose of the course was to familiarize us with various weapons, not qualify us in their use. Mission accomplished! Given a choice between a weapon and an eggplant I can identify the weapon every time.

Although I tend to make light of my own experiences, the course itself is designed to enhance our personal security overseas. It is well thought out and taught by professionals who have spent many years in the field honing their own skills. I am much more aware of the simple things I can do to keep myself out of trouble now than I was a week ago. Most of my colleagues in the course are headed for Iraq and most of those are going out to PRTs (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) scattered around the country. These folks are tasked with helping Iraqi communities establish functioning local governments. PRTs make the IZ (International Zone, formerly the Green Zone), which receives mortar fire every single day, seem like a country club. Well, it does have a pool! Four of us are going to Pakistan and one happy camper is headed to Beirut. All these people have volunteered for their posts and they all believe that they can accomplish some good in places that seem devoid of goodness.

So, what to do about Pakistan and its problems addressing concerns with internal security, rising Islamic Fundamentalism, an increasingly active and vocal middle class, external pressure from allies, widespread poverty, illiteracy and a military government? Beats me. I hope that isn't too technical and I try to avoid diplospeak as much as possible. I don't think that there are any easy solutions to Pakistan's problems but if one occurs to me while I'm playing with the motorpool, I'll pass it up the chain of command and humbly accept the praise of a grateful Dept. of State.

Now I have to pack and finish up all my admin tasks. I'll be in Islamabad next week and I'll keep in touch.

"If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages princes’ palaces."
The Merchant of Venice. ACT I Scene 2.

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