Good Reads: Pakistan summons outspoken envoy Haqqani, Kenya's Somali operation

Pakistan's envoy to the US, Ambassador Husain Haqqani, explains why Pakistan cannot simply clear out militants from its mountainous regions, while Kenya marches into Somalia to try a similar task.

Michael Bonfigli /The Christian Science Monitor
Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's Ambassador to the United States at the St. Regis in Washington, DC on Nov. 16.

Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States dropped by for breakfast with The Christian Science Monitor yesterday, and explained why Pakistan simply can’t go into its mountainous regions and clear out terrorists the way that Macy’s, for instance, can clear out its fall collection to make way for the winter.

The reason, Ambassador Husain Haqqani told reporters at the weekly Monitor breakfast, is that launching the kinds of assaults that it previously conducted in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley tends to stir up local resentment against the government and support for Islamist militant groups like the Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i Islami.

As Monitor correspondent Howard LaFranchi writes:

Haqqani said Wednesday that US officials now understand better Pakistan’s internal constraints in confronting some groups. He listed two red lines that Pakistan has laid down with the US concerning what it will and won’t do in the battle with terrorism: Pakistan won’t act in ways that involve “taking risks with our own internal cohesion,” he said, or that would pose “risks to our own national security.”

The downside of that approach for Pakistan is that it virtually guarantees that the strikes by unmanned US drones will continue and even increase.

And unfortunately, the downside of speaking too frankly to reporters is that sometimes you make your bosses upset. This may or may not have happened with Mr. Haqqani, who was summoned home to Islamabad just hours after speaking at the Monitor breakfast. Pakistani officials insist this is just a routine visit.

With the US seemingly unable to clear out antigovernment militants in Afghanistan – and Pakistan apparently unwilling to do so in Pakistan – one wonders why a government like Kenya would want to send its troops into Somalia to carry out a very similar mission. On Oct. 16, Kenya’s military moved into neighboring Somalia after a continuing string of pirate attacks and kidnappings began to take a toll on Kenya’s foreign trade and tourism business.

Many foreign observers have questioned the timing of the attack and whether Kenya had launched the operation with clear goals and with an exit strategy. But Daniel Branch writes in Foreign Affairs magazine that Kenya’s military operation may be the result of the ambitions of some of its own senior politicians as well as the growing confidence of Kenya’s military leaders in their military’s capabilities.

Nairobi's incursion into Somalia was spurred less by the threat of al Shabaab and more by domestic military and political dynamics. Kenya will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its independence in 2013, and so far the country has never once gone to war with another state. But recently, as Washington has funnelled counterterrorism funds into East Africa and underwritten a stronger Kenyan military, the country's military has grown more confident and combative.

And finally, let’s consider a very old trend indeed: the sexually straying political male. From the Founding Fathers to President Bill Clinton and his arch-nemesis Newt Gingrich, who both had affairs while in office back in the 1990s, political leaders seem to have difficulty with the whole marital commitment thing.

In, historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg compare today’s sex scandals – from Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky to Republican candidate Herman Cain – to those of American historical figures, particularly Alexander Hamilton. There doesn’t seem to be a marked increase in marital infidelity, they write, but what has changed is that today's political environment has become toxic, confrontational, and dangerously dysfunctional.

The voting public has been led to expect spotless candidates, which is a prime reason why negative ads poll so well.  The idea that men can behave honorably at all times, and that their secrets should be kept because of some outdated–and frankly, perverted–code of honor, is a dangerous proposition.  It sours the political environment, which is in need of a massive overhaul as it is.  The idea that candidates are legally bought by corporate interests and association lobbies is a most unrepublican and unAmerican perversion of our founding principles. The lies and attacks, counter-lies and counter-attacks, that course through the election cycle epitomize the difference between the theory and practice of democracy.

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