Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Face The Truth On Pakistan

By Cernig

"Pervez? It's George - Have I Called At A Bad Time?"

Bush has finally made a phone call to General Musharraf of Pakistan - days later than he should have, and only after an embarassing press conference by White House spokesperson Dana Perino. His message is that the U.S. will continue to ask nicely for the dictator to retrace his steps but won't actually do anything about it should Musharraf refuse.

"My message was that we believe strongly in elections and that you ought to have elections soon and you need to take off your uniform," Bush said.

Sarkozy agreed with Bush on the need "to have elections as quickly as possible" in Pakistan.

The Bush administration has been careful not to go too far in rebuking a terrorism-fighting ally. By contrast, the U.S. took a hard line when Myanmar's military rulers cracked down on pro-democracy protesters in September.

"There is a difference," Bush said. "Pakistan has been on the path to democracy. Burma hasn't been on the path to democracy. It requires different tactics to achieve the common objective."

The second-ranking State Department official said Musharraf is an "indispensable" ally in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism and that "partnership with Pakistan and its people is the only option."

...A senior officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters at the Pentagon that communication and cooperation with the Pakistani military along the Afghan border have not been affected by the political crisis. More than half of U.S. supplies to forces in Afghanistan go through Pakistan.
Imagine for a moment a world where the Bush administration had opened up a detente with Iran back in 2001-3 when the opportunity was there. Imagine having an alternative to Musharraf (even if one just as distasteful) sitting between Iraq and Afghanistan as a potential line of supply. Diplomacy is all about keeping options open, not painting yourselves and others into corners.

Of course, the cheerleaders want to paint this is a simple binary choice - a dictator with nukes or Islamists with nukes.
We don't have a lot of options at the moment, and all of them look worse than the others. We can't allow the nuclear weapons in Pakistan to fall into the hands of the radical Islamists, and so we have to support Musharraf at the moment. We have to hope he knows what he's doing, and we have to press him to keep the country stable and allow for self-governance rather than military dictatorship. Bush so far has handled the crisis in the only manner open to him, which is to wait and see whether Musharraf can keep the country from disintegrating into chaos.
Ah, the "only option". But I digress, we deal with the world as is.

Dealing with the world as is means facing up to a simple fact - Musharraf already is an islamist with nukes. He needs the support of islamist extremists to prop up his rule in parliament, his military and intelligence service have enabled and sheltered islamist terrorists for years. One of the key political detainees in his crackdown is UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Asma Jahangir. Musharraf's police have already baton-charged and tear-gassed 400 secularists from Bhutto's party.

After 9/11, Pakistan's military rulers very swiftly discovered that no-one in power in the West is looking all that closely at them as long as basing is provided, a bunch of lesser figures is rounded up from time to time, they eagerly buy Western weaponry and generally keep up a pretense that they are doing everything they can to wage a war against those who could most easily topple them from power. In return for largely preserving the internal status quo, the Islamist militants receive covert aid - which is entirely deniable or can be attributed to "rogue elements" - in their operations in neighbouring countries. They also get largely left alone in the unseen hinterlands to set up training camps and staging areas. In India, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the aims of both factions work in harmony.

Pakistan, because of the needs of those factions, is a state-sponsor of terrorism. The military runs the nation and the Islamists use it as a safe base to preach, recruit and stage their worldwide Jihad. Neither rocks the other's boat all that much and so a balance of power has evolved, teetering on a precipice of civil war which spills over locally from time to time or swings into temporary co-operation (e.g. the A.Q. Khan nuclear syndicate). Neither group has any incentive to change this equation.

Even now there is little scrutiny in the U.S. - by politicians and pundits both - of Pakistan's intelligence agency, the ISI, and its alleged sponsoring of terror groups in Kashmir, Afghanistan and India. No mention of the tens of thousands of Taliban and Al Qaida trained militants in Pakistan (Jane's Defense in 2005 estimated 20,000 such in Karachi alone). No mention of Pakistan's inability (reluctance) to capture Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar - and other major terror/crime figures such as Dahwood Ibrahim - who are certainly hiding on their territory. The establishment simply does not want to talk about these things.

In a way that's understandable, if reprehensible. For at least six years policymakers from both camps have touted Pakistan as an ally in the 'war on terror'. Hundreds of statements have been made to that effect and have been backed by votes and decisions giving Pakistan billions in taxpayer's funds as well as some of the most sophisticated weaponry on the planet.

However, here's the real binary choice. To do an about-face now and admit that Pakistan is a state sponsor of terrorism - a rogue state which has duped those policymakers into thinking it was an ally with some token assistance on basing, some captures of lesser terror figures who are instantly replaceable and clever rhetoric concealing active backing of terror groups - would be a political disaster for either party. But if they do not now admit their own status as gullible dupes then American policymakers have exactly zero chance of coming up with a foreign policy posture to curb Musharraf's latest excesses and so will by their inability increase, dramatically, the threat to American national security and world stability.