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Wednesday, October 6

Stay out of the bazaar: Pundita imparts her pearls of wisdom about Pakistan and Afghanistan

Jewelry Bazaar in Peshawar

This is Part 2 of Tuesday's post titled Pundita explains reality to Rachel Maddow and the Pakistanis to Gen. Petraeus

If it were possible to place Gen. David Petraeus and all his military advisors in a situation where they had only a hundred dollars to feed their families for three months and had to shop in stores in the USA that showed no price tags on any of the items, and they had to bargain with the store owners over the price of everything, they would emerge from the experience to write a war plan that would achieve victory so fast in Afghanistan the world's head would spin.

But because this experiment cannot be conducted, because it would be inhumane, General Petraeus and his advisors will just have to take my word for it that the way to victory in Afghanistan is to stop trying to outsmart Pakistan's civilian and military leaders. It cannot be done, and U.S. defense and foreign policy advisors get lost in the weeds when they sequester the advice of Pakistani advisors who've put down roots in the West or spent several years closely interacting with Americans.

Of course there are many stores in Pakistan that have prices on items but that's not the point. There is a way of thinking that's emerged from the bazaars, a complex set of protocols involved in haggling and bargaining that have become second nature over countless generations -- protocols that can only become clearly visible to Western eyes after complete immersion in the society. So while Western anthropologists might take notes about bargaining and see some of the pitfalls, there are subtle trip-wires that escape their notice.

That's not the half of what they miss. The clans that made up the Anbar Awakening, the ones General Petraeus and his advisors encountered, are very shrewd, and old hands at trading and smuggling. However, the clans were virtually untouched by the cultural phenomenon that dominates much of the 'developing' world, and which once caused me to mock Thomas P.M. Barnett's 'new map' of the world.

I wrote that the true Functioning Core consisted of countries that understood how the World Bank worked, "which left Americans and penguins in Antarctica to fill in the Non-Integrating Gap."

In this model the Seam states would be countries such as North Korea, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran, and Syria; i.e., the countries that were shut out of the Western international development bank bonanza.

Give the Iraqis another decade and they'll be masters of the international development game. But just as the souk created a particular mindset over thousands of years, the development bank model of doing business created a culture, if you will, among people who worked in governments in the developing world.

The culture has its own mindset, which is not understood by most Americans simply because the IMF-World Bank never had an impact on the USA; the impact was always outside American shores. However, the Pakistanis in government and the military reflect the mindset; their way of interacting with any potential donor is profoundly influenced by it.

Thus, it's missing the mark by miles to treat the Pakistanis in the way one treats the Anbar clan leaders, which I believe General Petraeus has been advised to do.

If you put together the bazaar mentality and the World Bank mentality and the mentality that came from generations of jollying along British overlords and the maharaja mentality and the caste mentality, you'd have the kind of people that David Petraeus and Richard Holbrooke think they're capable of out-foxing. They're not capable, and the better part of wisdom is to recognize that.

So what to do? The answer is obvious, if you ask yourself what you would do if every time you came home from what you thought was your smashing success at haggling in a bazaar, and found you'd greatly overpaid.

If you tell me, 'First I'd picket the bazaar with a sign that reads STOP UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTICES, then I'd propose legislation to get price tags on everything,' then you and I can't have a conversation on account of we inhabit two different galaxies.

But for readers in this solar system, remember the aim. The aim is not to fix Pakistan or change the Pakistanis or get the Afghans and Pakistanis to get along.

The aim is to thin the forest of terrorists in Afghanistan. This is done by stopping all assistance that helps the Pakistan military support terrorist gangs operating in Afghanistan.

The only way to work intelligently on the aim is to stop sending Pakistan's leaders mixed signals. Please understand that for most people in this world it's a mixed signal if you keep giving them money while shouting at them that they need to change their behavior.

That kind of mixed signal is telling the Pakistanis that you still want to be a player, that you want to hang out in the bazaar and try to beat them at their own game no matter how many times you're beaten up.

Once Washington stops sending mixed signals, Pakistan's leaders, being grown-ups in full possession of their faculties, will adjust their behavior on their own, if they weigh the power they want in Afghanistan against close relations with the USA, then decide America is a friend worth keeping.

If they come to that decision, they will deal with the groups terrorizing Afghanistan on their own. But they will do this only after they've assured themselves that the U.S. government honestly and truly does not to want to play anymore.

If you ask how Washington can stop the aid without making an even bigger enemy out of Pakistan's government than exists now: those mindsets I described earlier -- singly or together they're very foreign to Americans. But there is the language of the heart and that's the same for all. So whenever you're dealing with foreigners that language is the best translation device.

How do you deal with a hard-up friend who's gotten too dependent on your loans and gifts of money? Do you make a federal case out of? Get nasty? Lecture? Not if you want to try and salvage the friendship.

You start by being less available. You start saying, 'I don't think I can manage it this paycheck.' You stop asking, 'How are you doing?'

In short, you reverse the steps that got you to the point where you were giving financial assistance you should no longer be giving.

That's it. I know it sounds childishly simple but being simple is getting increasingly hard for Americans; that's because they're referencing so many manuals in their dealings with other peoples, there's everything to Americans but themselves.

If you ask what if Pakistan's leaders decide the other way -- then they will have declared themselves an open enemy of the world's most powerful country, and with the consequences that entails. So that's a bridge to be crossed if it materializes.

But right now there is no clarity; there's the kind of crazy co-dependent relationship that cops encounter when they're called back again and again to deal with a family feud.

What do the cops see? One day he's giving her a fur coat, the next day he's smacking her around; one day she's saying, 'Honey I love you,' the next day she's pouring boiling water down his back.

Every veteran cop on the planet could tell you the inevitable outcome if the parties don't put distance between themselves. The cops would give the same advice to Rawalpindi and Washington if they knew the details of the relationship.

Finally, with regard to Afghanistan -- what if I told you that I greatly enjoyed talking with you, but every time someone else came into the room I rushed from the table and buried myself in conversation with that person?

That's what the Afghans are seeing about the American obsession with Pakistan. The Afghans have developed the view that America is fickle based more on that observation than on any talk about deadlines for troop withdrawal. They have seen with their own eyes that Americans aren't really interested in Afghanistan.

And they have watched as Americans have poured billions of dollars into Pakistan while their own children have gone begging for food and clean water.

Now put yourself in their place to know why they don't cooperate with the Americans as much as they could.

Focus on the most important task. Be here now. Know your limitations. Find insights from a situation in your own life when working to understand one that's foreign to you. Not glamorous advice, to be sure. But after all these years of being fancy in Afghanistan, time to give simple a try. And stay out of the bazaar.

Bazaar in ancient city of Bam

Pure Gold!!
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