Commentary Magazine


Topic: Benazir Bhutto

Morning Commentary

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

Concern is growing over China’s advancing military capabilities. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met with civilian leaders in Beijing today, Chinese bloggers and news agencies produced photos that appear to show the country’s new stealth fighter taking its first test flight: “That message undercuts the symbolism of Mr. Gates’ visit, which is designed to smooth military relations ahead of a state visit to the U.S. next week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.”

The insta-politicization of the Arizona shooting — by both Twitter activists and serious political leaders — is just another example of why Americans are becoming increasingly fed up with both the Republican and Democratic parties, writes Reason’s Nick Gillespie: “How do you take one of the most shocking and revolting murder sprees in memory and make it even more disturbing? By immediately pouncing on its supposed root causes for the most transparently partisan of gains.”

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin outlines the possible replacements for the top positions on Obama’s foreign-policy team in 2011. The most likely candidates to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates — who is expected to step down after early next spring — are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Michele Flourney, Gates’s current undersecretary for policy; and CIA chief Leon Panetta.

The IDF is fighting back at criticism over its use of tear gas at an anti-Israel protest in Bil’in, by launching a YouTube campaign showing demonstrators throwing rocks and attempting to tear down fences at the same rally.

A former ambassador to Lebanon responds to the New York Times’s shameful fluff story about a radical Lebanese, Hezbollah-praising newspaper: “Sadly, Al Akhbar is less maverick and far less heroic than your article suggests. Al Akhbar will no more criticize Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, than Syria’s state-run Tishreen newspaper would question the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.”

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair of the Pakistan ruling party and son of the late Benazir Bhutto, has vowed to keep fighting the country’s blasphemy laws after the assassination of Salman Taseer: “‘To the Christian and other minority communities in Pakistan, we will defend you,’ he said at a memorial ceremony in London for Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab province who was killed by his own security guard last week. ‘Those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.’”

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Combatting the Plague of Religious Extremism in Pakistan

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

The murder of Salman Taseer by one of his own bodyguards shows how perilous the situation in Pakistan is. We all know about how Islamist extremists have taken root in Pakistan’s tribal territories. But Taseer was governor of the Punjab, the country’s largest province, and one that is (or perhaps I should say was) far removed from the kind of violent extremism found on the frontier. Events of recent years — from the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto to the siege the same year of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, and now Taseer’s assassination — show how the plague of extremism is spreading and infecting Pakistan’s population centers.

The army and in particular its Inter Services Intelligence Agency have long played a double game, trying to preserve an essentially secular regime in Islamabad while also funding and training extremists operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir and even farther afield (e.g., the Mumbai attacks). Taseer’s death — for the sin of protesting the fundamentalist “blasphemy” laws that permit the persecution of anyone deemed offensive to the most conservative religious sensibilities — shows yet again how untenable that double game is. Sooner or later the army, which is the real power in Pakistan, must choose between the paths of moderation and extremism.

The United States can influence the choice only at the margins, but we must do what we can to signal to the army leadership that we will stand behind them if they decide to do more to take on the radicals. In this connection, it is highly useful that President Obama has agreed to NATO’s timeline not to transition security responsibility in Afghanistan until 2014. That should put to rest some immediate concerns about America’s fickleness as an ally and reassure the Pakistani army that we will stand with the forces of moderation in Pakistan should they do more to battle the growing religious extremism that threatens the very survival of the state.

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Zardari Growing Weaker

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

The Washington Post has two articles on its website about Pakistan that are, on the surface, about different subjects but actually are closely related. One article reports on the Pakistani Supreme Court striking down an amnesty that had allowed Asif Ali Zardari to become president without facing a raft of corruption charges going back many years. The other article reports that Zardari “has resisted a direct appeal from President Obama for a rapid expansion of Pakistani military operations in tribal areas and has called on the United States to speed up military assistance to Pakistani forces and to intervene more forcefully with India, its traditional adversary.”

What is the connection? Both are evidence of Zardari’s weakness. That he may now face criminal prosecution undermines his standing and makes it harder for him to direct Pakistan’s military and intelligence forces to move against the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist groups. Whether Zardari would move against them if given more power is a matter of conjecture, but there is little doubt that he is more personally committed to battling these groups — which killed his wife, Benazir Bhutto — than his predecessor, Pervez Musharraf, was. One result of his commitment was the Pakistani army offensive this year into South Waziristan and the Swat Valley — both strongholds of the Pakistani Taliban that represent a direct threat to the Pakistani state.

The Afghan Taliban, on the other hand, have not been targeted by the Pakistani military even though their strongholds are in Pakistan, too. Although closely allied with their Pakistani cohorts, the Afghan Taliban are seen by the ruling circles in Islamabad as more of an asset than a problem. In Pakistan’s strategic calculus, the Afghan extremists represent a useful hedge for Pakistan to make sure that its interests are respected by Afghanistan, especially because it sees the U.S. involvement in that country waning. President Obama’s talk of pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan starting in July 2011 only strengthens that tendency — especially when Vice President Biden is heard promising (hat tip: Weekly Standard), as he was today, that “you’re going to see that [troop numbers] chart coming down as rapidly over the next two years.”

Bottom line: with Zardari growing weaker, there is even less chance of meaningful Pakistani action against the Quetta Shura or the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. wants to target the Afghan Taliban leaders, it will have to do so itself, thereby risking a diplomatic spat with Pakistan and possibly decreased cooperation in the fight against al Qaeda. That’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one that, unfortunately, President Obama won’t be able to duck.

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Pakistan’s Glitzy New Government

Pakistani-American women may soon be compelled to embrace humility and subservience in larger and larger numbers. But the women of Pakistan’s new political elite are unfazed. In a curious article—part political analysis, part red carpet dish—the AP’s Lauren Frayer offers a glimpse of what representative government looks like amid the violent changes in Pakistan.

In the last parliament, about a dozen female lawmakers from the religious alliance wore body-shrouding black veils that concealed everything except their eyes.

But as parliament elected its first female speaker Wednesday, just a single lawmaker — one of 74 women in the 342-seat house — covered her face with a light beige wrap. Others wore traditional flowing gowns, some with bare heads and others with their hair only partially covered by loose scarves.

Fehmida Mirza, a medical doctor, is the first woman elected as National Assembly speaker in Pakistan’s 60-year history.

Half a dozen other female lawmakers touched her shoulders as Mirza, wearing a diamond nose ring and an elegant lavender tunic embroidered with silver rosettes and a deep V-neck, rose to take her oath.

“We are writing a new chapter in history,” she said, diamond-studded pearl droplet earrings and a pouf of dark hair springing out from under her sheer veil. She repeatedly touched her forehead in a gesture of thanks to her peers a thick gold bracelet sliding down her arm.

“Benazir’s dream has come true,” said fellow party member Farzana Raja. “We have proven we’re not only chanting slogans for women’s empowerment — we’re taking practical steps,” she said, shoving the designer sunglasses back on her head and letting her headscarf slip off.

“Benazir” is, of course, the late Benazir Bhutto. And while her political dream was indeed heavy on female emancipation and glam, her historical relationship to governance was always accessorized by entitlement and corruption. The question at hand is: to what extent will that part of the Bhutto legacy live on? Ms. Frayer spoke with a number of people who objected to the ostentation of upper-class politicos in a country so wracked with want. A good deal of what she describes (gold-trimmed SUV’s, for instance) is troublingly reminiscent of Saudi decadence. But it is important to note that the new, bejeweled parliament is at least free of Wahhabist sentiments. And all that bling is evidence of an increasingly secular Pakistan. Ms. Frayer spoke to a police officer who summed up the situation:

“Islam doesn’t allow women to unveil themselves, but the atmosphere in Pakistan is changing day by day. You can see it in the fashion here,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

“It’s a bit of a charade, but it’s also a big sign of democracy and hope,” he said.

The forging of a consensually-governed Pakistan can allow for a little charade. As long as they don’t lose sight of the democracy and hope.

Pakistani-American women may soon be compelled to embrace humility and subservience in larger and larger numbers. But the women of Pakistan’s new political elite are unfazed. In a curious article—part political analysis, part red carpet dish—the AP’s Lauren Frayer offers a glimpse of what representative government looks like amid the violent changes in Pakistan.

In the last parliament, about a dozen female lawmakers from the religious alliance wore body-shrouding black veils that concealed everything except their eyes.

But as parliament elected its first female speaker Wednesday, just a single lawmaker — one of 74 women in the 342-seat house — covered her face with a light beige wrap. Others wore traditional flowing gowns, some with bare heads and others with their hair only partially covered by loose scarves.

Fehmida Mirza, a medical doctor, is the first woman elected as National Assembly speaker in Pakistan’s 60-year history.

Half a dozen other female lawmakers touched her shoulders as Mirza, wearing a diamond nose ring and an elegant lavender tunic embroidered with silver rosettes and a deep V-neck, rose to take her oath.

“We are writing a new chapter in history,” she said, diamond-studded pearl droplet earrings and a pouf of dark hair springing out from under her sheer veil. She repeatedly touched her forehead in a gesture of thanks to her peers a thick gold bracelet sliding down her arm.

“Benazir’s dream has come true,” said fellow party member Farzana Raja. “We have proven we’re not only chanting slogans for women’s empowerment — we’re taking practical steps,” she said, shoving the designer sunglasses back on her head and letting her headscarf slip off.

“Benazir” is, of course, the late Benazir Bhutto. And while her political dream was indeed heavy on female emancipation and glam, her historical relationship to governance was always accessorized by entitlement and corruption. The question at hand is: to what extent will that part of the Bhutto legacy live on? Ms. Frayer spoke with a number of people who objected to the ostentation of upper-class politicos in a country so wracked with want. A good deal of what she describes (gold-trimmed SUV’s, for instance) is troublingly reminiscent of Saudi decadence. But it is important to note that the new, bejeweled parliament is at least free of Wahhabist sentiments. And all that bling is evidence of an increasingly secular Pakistan. Ms. Frayer spoke to a police officer who summed up the situation:

“Islam doesn’t allow women to unveil themselves, but the atmosphere in Pakistan is changing day by day. You can see it in the fashion here,” he said, requesting anonymity because he was not allowed to speak to the media.

“It’s a bit of a charade, but it’s also a big sign of democracy and hope,” he said.

The forging of a consensually-governed Pakistan can allow for a little charade. As long as they don’t lose sight of the democracy and hope.

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Why The Bin Laden Speculation?

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

Lately there’s been a lot of speculation about who will succeed Osama bin Laden, either formally within the ranks of al Qaeda or generally as the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. Some of my fellow Contentions bloggers may be able to shed more light on this, but I’m starting to find the “who’s next?” speculation curious. Is bin Laden nearly captured? Is he dying or dead? Or is his demotion in status–to cave-dwelling spoken word artist–simply so bathetic as to no longer be newsworthy?

If you were to read the following lead from this March 12 Washington Times article, you’d assume Osama bin Laden was dead:

Internal divisions between Saudi and Egyptian leaders of al Qaeda are producing “fissures” within the terrorist group and a possible battle over who will succeed Osama bin Laden, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday.

Michael Hayden goes on as if al Qaeda’s bin Laden years are as over as Camelot.

Bin Laden is now an “iconic” figure hiding in the remote border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Mr. Hayden said in a wide-ranging interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.

“And frankly, then, we think there has been an awful lot of jockeying” among possible successors, Mr. Hayden said.

“Keep in mind, he’s a Saudi. An awful lot of that leadership is Egyptian. If the Saudi dies, who becomes the next guy may be quite a contentious matter,” he said.

[…]

Asked whether bin Laden is alive, Mr. Hayden said: “We have … no evidence he’s not. And frankly, we think there would be evidence. … Given the iconic stature, his death would cause a little more than a wake in the harbor.”

Of course, it’s impossible to overestimate the lengths to which the CIA will go to defend their failures. They may think describing bin Laden as irrelevant helps excuse their inability to locate him. But if bin Laden really is becoming a CIA footnote, his inaction is also pushing the MSM to find the “next big thing” in jihad. There’s a story up at ABC News about “[a]n emerging leader, sources say, who threatens to eclipse Osama bin Laden as the world’s top terrorist.” They’re talking about Pakistani warlord Baitullah Mehsud, who’s allegedly behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto:

With his identity protected, Mehsud told the Arab network al Jazeera, “We want to eradicate Britain and America …We pray that Allah will enable us to destroy the White House, New York, and London.”

“He’s saying the same thing that bin Laden said then years ago,” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said. “And it doesn’t mean that the attack’s coming tomorrow, but yeah, it’s certainly, he’s the kind of person and his group is the kind of group that we need to mindful about.”

I’m all for being prepared, but I’m not thrilled about moving on in quite this way. In watching the video at the above link you can feel the over-eagerness of producers trying to sell “bin Laden II.” We’ve not finished with bin Laden, or if we have we should know about it. Osama bin Laden hasn’t released a video in which he demonstrably talks about current events since October 2004. While over the past four years, Ayman Al-Zawahiri has practically maintained a running v-log. There’s no question al Qaeda’s supposed number one has been (at least) marginalized into operative impotence, but to let the promise of his capture simply fade without explanation is an outrage.

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Vox Pakistan

Two new surveys of public opinion in Pakistan deliver generally good news about the future of that country—and bad news for the future of administration policy, which has been tied so closely to President Pervez Musharraf. That policy seems increasingly untenable, with a new poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute finding that 75 percent favor his resignation and only 16 percent are opposed.

His approval ratings were positive not long ago; now they are about as low as you can go, and falling fast. That message is reinforced in another survey from Terror Free Tomorrow which found that 70 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately.

But while turning against Washington’s favorite, Pakistanis are also increasing disenchanted with Islamist extremists. Terror Free Tomorrow reports that Al Qaeda and associated groups have lost half of their support in the past six months:

In August, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s down to 24 percent now, while Al Qaeda has dropped from 33 to 18 percent, the Taliban from 38 percent to 19 percent, and other related radical Islamist groups from nearly half of the Pakistani public with a favorable view to less than a quarter today. Significantly, if Al Qaeda were on the ballot as a political party in the February 18th election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would vote for them. (The Taliban would draw just 3 percent of the vote.)

The survey reveals that support for the extremists has even dropped in the North-West Frontier Province where they had been previously been making gains: “Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have dropped to single digits. And while in TFT’s last survey, 70 percent in the NWFP expressed a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s now plunged to only 4 percent.

Far from flocking to the extremists, the surveys reveal, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis support one of two relatively moderate opposition parties—the Pakistan People’s Party that was led by the late Benazir Bhutto and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, with the former enjoying more than twice the support of the latter.

The bad news is that most Pakistanis still oppose taking an active role in the War on Terror. According to the IRI poll: “only 33 percent of Pakistanis supported the Army fighting extremists in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas and just nine percent felt that Pakistan should cooperate with the United States in its war on terror.” (The results appeared to be inadvertently flipped in a chart published in the Washington Post.)

It is results like that which have led the Bush administration to not push very hard for democracy in Pakistan. Yet our supposedly close ally, Musharraf, has failed to stop the terrorists from making major gains; indeed there is considerable evidence that members of his own intelligence service conspire with the Taliban and other extremists. Notwithstanding the opposition to close cooperation with the United States, the overall picture painted in this surveys should make us more sanguine about the return to democracy. The more that extremists have carried out attacks within Pakistan itself, the more they have lost support. A government with more popular legitimacy than Musharraf now enjoys could potentially also have more success in harnessing popular sentiment to take action against the fanatics.

That’s far from a certainty. What is certain is that it will not be possible to stick with Musharrar too much longer given his continuing loss of support, which may accelerate if he is seen to tamper with the results of an election that will be held next Monday.

Two new surveys of public opinion in Pakistan deliver generally good news about the future of that country—and bad news for the future of administration policy, which has been tied so closely to President Pervez Musharraf. That policy seems increasingly untenable, with a new poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute finding that 75 percent favor his resignation and only 16 percent are opposed.

His approval ratings were positive not long ago; now they are about as low as you can go, and falling fast. That message is reinforced in another survey from Terror Free Tomorrow which found that 70 percent of Pakistanis want Musharraf to resign immediately.

But while turning against Washington’s favorite, Pakistanis are also increasing disenchanted with Islamist extremists. Terror Free Tomorrow reports that Al Qaeda and associated groups have lost half of their support in the past six months:

In August, 46 percent of Pakistanis had a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s down to 24 percent now, while Al Qaeda has dropped from 33 to 18 percent, the Taliban from 38 percent to 19 percent, and other related radical Islamist groups from nearly half of the Pakistani public with a favorable view to less than a quarter today. Significantly, if Al Qaeda were on the ballot as a political party in the February 18th election, only 1 percent of Pakistanis would vote for them. (The Taliban would draw just 3 percent of the vote.)

The survey reveals that support for the extremists has even dropped in the North-West Frontier Province where they had been previously been making gains: “Favorable opinions of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the North-West Frontier Province have dropped to single digits. And while in TFT’s last survey, 70 percent in the NWFP expressed a favorable opinion of Bin Laden—that’s now plunged to only 4 percent.

Far from flocking to the extremists, the surveys reveal, the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis support one of two relatively moderate opposition parties—the Pakistan People’s Party that was led by the late Benazir Bhutto and the faction of the Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, with the former enjoying more than twice the support of the latter.

The bad news is that most Pakistanis still oppose taking an active role in the War on Terror. According to the IRI poll: “only 33 percent of Pakistanis supported the Army fighting extremists in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and tribal areas and just nine percent felt that Pakistan should cooperate with the United States in its war on terror.” (The results appeared to be inadvertently flipped in a chart published in the Washington Post.)

It is results like that which have led the Bush administration to not push very hard for democracy in Pakistan. Yet our supposedly close ally, Musharraf, has failed to stop the terrorists from making major gains; indeed there is considerable evidence that members of his own intelligence service conspire with the Taliban and other extremists. Notwithstanding the opposition to close cooperation with the United States, the overall picture painted in this surveys should make us more sanguine about the return to democracy. The more that extremists have carried out attacks within Pakistan itself, the more they have lost support. A government with more popular legitimacy than Musharraf now enjoys could potentially also have more success in harnessing popular sentiment to take action against the fanatics.

That’s far from a certainty. What is certain is that it will not be possible to stick with Musharrar too much longer given his continuing loss of support, which may accelerate if he is seen to tamper with the results of an election that will be held next Monday.

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Learning to Love the Islamic Bomb

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has plunged Pakistan into what is likely to be a prolonged period of chaos. The United States has two vital interests at stake in the outcome: the future of the significant al-Qaeda presence in the country’s ungoverned borderlands, and the future of the approximately 70 to 115 nuclear weapons in the country’s arsenal. Should any of these Islamic bombs fall into the wrong hands, say, those of al-Qaeda or allied fanatics, neither the United States nor India would not be able to sit by complacently.

But could India locate and destroy the Pakistani weapons in a crisis? That is one of many fascinating questions addressed in an important study by Peter R. Lavoy that appears in Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War, a highly informative collection edited by the non-proliferation expert, Henry Sokolski.

Lavoy, formerly a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, now the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia at the National Intelligence Council, examines the implications of the tightening India-U.S. alliance for the survivability of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in the face of an Indian strike. Among other weapons systems that India has either recently purchased or is attempting to purchase are Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, weapon-locating radars, manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, satellites, and a variety of guided-weapons systems. All told, writes Lavoy, as this collection comes on line, “India may be able to identify and target Pakistan’s strategic assets with its enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and it may be able to reach and destroy Pakistani strategic assets using its improved precision-strike aircraft and missile capabilities.”

In the face of the growing vulnerability of its nuclear force, Pakistan is unlikely to stand still. But how will it respond? Sokolski point out in his introduction that to deal with the array of challenges posed by the vulnerability of its nuclear arsenal, not only to a strike by India but to internal threats likes theft and sabotage, Pakistan “would need to have a fairly robust and active national government capable of mastering nuclear regulation, nuclear physical security, emergency preparedness, peacetime military strategic planning, energy research and development, and electrical system planning.” But Pakistan right now has anything but a robust national government.

There is no blinking the fact that the future of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal presents the U.S. and the world, as we have argued before, with a quietly developing strategic nightmare. What should be done about it? Let’s hope that someone somewhere in the U.S. government has better answers than Connecting the Dots currently does.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has plunged Pakistan into what is likely to be a prolonged period of chaos. The United States has two vital interests at stake in the outcome: the future of the significant al-Qaeda presence in the country’s ungoverned borderlands, and the future of the approximately 70 to 115 nuclear weapons in the country’s arsenal. Should any of these Islamic bombs fall into the wrong hands, say, those of al-Qaeda or allied fanatics, neither the United States nor India would not be able to sit by complacently.

But could India locate and destroy the Pakistani weapons in a crisis? That is one of many fascinating questions addressed in an important study by Peter R. Lavoy that appears in Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries Beyond War, a highly informative collection edited by the non-proliferation expert, Henry Sokolski.

Lavoy, formerly a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, now the National Intelligence Officer for South Asia at the National Intelligence Council, examines the implications of the tightening India-U.S. alliance for the survivability of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in the face of an Indian strike. Among other weapons systems that India has either recently purchased or is attempting to purchase are Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, weapon-locating radars, manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, satellites, and a variety of guided-weapons systems. All told, writes Lavoy, as this collection comes on line, “India may be able to identify and target Pakistan’s strategic assets with its enhanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and it may be able to reach and destroy Pakistani strategic assets using its improved precision-strike aircraft and missile capabilities.”

In the face of the growing vulnerability of its nuclear force, Pakistan is unlikely to stand still. But how will it respond? Sokolski point out in his introduction that to deal with the array of challenges posed by the vulnerability of its nuclear arsenal, not only to a strike by India but to internal threats likes theft and sabotage, Pakistan “would need to have a fairly robust and active national government capable of mastering nuclear regulation, nuclear physical security, emergency preparedness, peacetime military strategic planning, energy research and development, and electrical system planning.” But Pakistan right now has anything but a robust national government.

There is no blinking the fact that the future of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal presents the U.S. and the world, as we have argued before, with a quietly developing strategic nightmare. What should be done about it? Let’s hope that someone somewhere in the U.S. government has better answers than Connecting the Dots currently does.

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Doubling Down in Pakistan

Washington is in disarray after Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The United States did not have a Pakistan policy. We only had a Musharraf one. Since Musharraf deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ended democracy in the 1999 coup, Washington has backed the man who returned the country to dictatorial rule. When the strongman in Islamabad appeared weak, the United States tried to arrange a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto, also a failed leader in her two stints as prime minister. The idea—“like putting two pythons in the same cage” according to a Bush administration official—was an act of desperation or perhaps just folly.

American policymakers always get themselves into trouble when they compromise the principles of the people they lead. Washington’s response to troubling events in Pakistan—as in other places—has been to try to broker even more cynical arrangements, doubling down and making the situation even worse. We are always in a dilemma, and so we continue to put off lasting solutions. This rationale underpins the Bush administration’s policy of supporting Musharraf. Yet as RAND’s Christine Fair noted on Thursday, “Six years into this mess, we’re still saying now is not the right time. There’s always an excuse to defer those things that need to be done.”

What needs to be done at this moment is to withdraw our backing for Musharraf. Of course he continues to do things that are inimical to the interests of the United States and the rest of the international community—he knows we will continue to stand behind him, no matter what. Why should he ever truly cooperate?

As Max Boot has regularly pointed out in this forum, the majority of the Pakistani people are in favor of democracy. It never occurred to the set in Washington that we should just let them run their own country. The longer we stand against their legitimate aspirations, the less likely the responsible center will hold. And one more thing: a political result engineered by the United States—even if one were possible—would lack legitimacy.

Yes, Pakistan has nukes and plenty of terrorists, yet these facts are not arguments for supporting whichever autocrat is in control in Islamabad. If anything, the facts should persuade us to permit an enduring solution as quickly as possible. Pakistan will continue to get worse until Washington allows the country to heal itself. This may be a particularly bad time to stop helping Musharraf, but the moments ahead will even be worse.

Washington is in disarray after Thursday’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The United States did not have a Pakistan policy. We only had a Musharraf one. Since Musharraf deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ended democracy in the 1999 coup, Washington has backed the man who returned the country to dictatorial rule. When the strongman in Islamabad appeared weak, the United States tried to arrange a power-sharing agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto, also a failed leader in her two stints as prime minister. The idea—“like putting two pythons in the same cage” according to a Bush administration official—was an act of desperation or perhaps just folly.

American policymakers always get themselves into trouble when they compromise the principles of the people they lead. Washington’s response to troubling events in Pakistan—as in other places—has been to try to broker even more cynical arrangements, doubling down and making the situation even worse. We are always in a dilemma, and so we continue to put off lasting solutions. This rationale underpins the Bush administration’s policy of supporting Musharraf. Yet as RAND’s Christine Fair noted on Thursday, “Six years into this mess, we’re still saying now is not the right time. There’s always an excuse to defer those things that need to be done.”

What needs to be done at this moment is to withdraw our backing for Musharraf. Of course he continues to do things that are inimical to the interests of the United States and the rest of the international community—he knows we will continue to stand behind him, no matter what. Why should he ever truly cooperate?

As Max Boot has regularly pointed out in this forum, the majority of the Pakistani people are in favor of democracy. It never occurred to the set in Washington that we should just let them run their own country. The longer we stand against their legitimate aspirations, the less likely the responsible center will hold. And one more thing: a political result engineered by the United States—even if one were possible—would lack legitimacy.

Yes, Pakistan has nukes and plenty of terrorists, yet these facts are not arguments for supporting whichever autocrat is in control in Islamabad. If anything, the facts should persuade us to permit an enduring solution as quickly as possible. Pakistan will continue to get worse until Washington allows the country to heal itself. This may be a particularly bad time to stop helping Musharraf, but the moments ahead will even be worse.

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The Real Benazir Bhutto

Never mind the mystery of who killed Benazir Bhutto and what method was used. There’s an emerging chorus of conflicting opinions about just who the late prime minister was. Liberator? Operator? Criminal?

Bernard-Henri Levy’s encomium in today’s Wall Street Journal skips beatification and plunges straight into sainthood:

And now they have killed Benazir Bhutto—killed her because she was a woman, because she had a woman’s face, unadorned yet filled with an unswerving strength, because she was living out her destiny and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists (the jihadists) floats over the human face of women. They killed this woman incarnation of hope, of spirit, of the will to democracy, not only in Pakistan, but in all the lands of Islam.

Thomas Barnett brings Ms. Bhutto back down to earth:

Bhutto, despite our mythologizing of her past rule and future potential, was not going to fix Pakistan. As such, her passing matters only to the extent it creates short-term instability. But, in the end, I don’t expect to change much about the correlation of forces right now in Pakistan.

In Slate, Christopher Hitchens offers tempered admiration:

The fact of the matter is that Benazir’s undoubted courage had a certain fanaticism to it. She had the largest Electra complex of any female politician in modern history, entirely consecrated to the memory of her executed father . . .

It’s hard to beat Mark Steyn’s early assessment:

She was beautiful and charming and sophisticated and smart and modern, and everything we in the west would like a Muslim leader to be—though in practice, as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, she was just another grubby wardheeler from one of the world’s most corrupt political classes.

Steyn is particularly dead-on about the West. We’ll never know what Benazir Bhutto would have meant to Pakistan’s future, but perhaps we should re-calibrate our expectations about what’s next—and start by softening the sharp lines along which we demonize or celebrate Pervez Musharraf.

Never mind the mystery of who killed Benazir Bhutto and what method was used. There’s an emerging chorus of conflicting opinions about just who the late prime minister was. Liberator? Operator? Criminal?

Bernard-Henri Levy’s encomium in today’s Wall Street Journal skips beatification and plunges straight into sainthood:

And now they have killed Benazir Bhutto—killed her because she was a woman, because she had a woman’s face, unadorned yet filled with an unswerving strength, because she was living out her destiny and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists (the jihadists) floats over the human face of women. They killed this woman incarnation of hope, of spirit, of the will to democracy, not only in Pakistan, but in all the lands of Islam.

Thomas Barnett brings Ms. Bhutto back down to earth:

Bhutto, despite our mythologizing of her past rule and future potential, was not going to fix Pakistan. As such, her passing matters only to the extent it creates short-term instability. But, in the end, I don’t expect to change much about the correlation of forces right now in Pakistan.

In Slate, Christopher Hitchens offers tempered admiration:

The fact of the matter is that Benazir’s undoubted courage had a certain fanaticism to it. She had the largest Electra complex of any female politician in modern history, entirely consecrated to the memory of her executed father . . .

It’s hard to beat Mark Steyn’s early assessment:

She was beautiful and charming and sophisticated and smart and modern, and everything we in the west would like a Muslim leader to be—though in practice, as Pakistan’s Prime Minister, she was just another grubby wardheeler from one of the world’s most corrupt political classes.

Steyn is particularly dead-on about the West. We’ll never know what Benazir Bhutto would have meant to Pakistan’s future, but perhaps we should re-calibrate our expectations about what’s next—and start by softening the sharp lines along which we demonize or celebrate Pervez Musharraf.

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Who Killed Bhutto?

Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

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Today, the Pakistani government identified the killer of Benazir Bhutto, a day after her assassination at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. The Interior Ministry has fingered Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group linked to al Qaeda.

That was fast police work, but President Bush was even faster. He blamed “murderous extremists” in his statement issued from Crawford just a few hours after the horrible event. Rudy Giuliani, for his part, connected the assassination to “the terrorists’ war against us.” Barack Obama referred to “this terrorist atrocity” that killed Bhutto.

The senator from Illinois is undoubtedly correct. It was a terrorist act—a suicide bombing—that killed Bhutto. Yet that does not necessarily mean that “terrorists” were the ones behind this hideous deed.

It’s clear that al Qaeda wanted Bhutto dead, but we do not know if that organization or its offshoots had a hand in killing her. There are, after all, many others who wanted to get the popular opposition leader out of the way. There are, for instance, elements in the Pakistani intelligence services who feared what she might do if she came to power. And then there is the ruthless individual who had the most to gain from her death. His name is Pervez Musharraf.

Mrs. Bhutto, in fact, blamed the Pakistani president. CNN reports it had received an October 26 message from her, through spokesman Mark Siegel, saying that if anything happened to her, it was because Musharraf had refused to provide adequate security. This sounds like campaign rhetoric from Bhutto, but it’s time that we look at the man who has so far refused to cede power.

We know that the former general is capable of almost anything. A German diplomat serving in Asia at the time told me that his country’s intelligence officials were convinced that Musharraf had staged two bombings of his own convoys in December 2003—one of them a deadly suicide attack—to scare the West into supporting him as a bulwark against terrorism. A terrorist attack on Mrs. Bhutto would serve two crucial purposes for the Pakistani president—get his only serious rival out of the way and again buttress his support from concerned Western governments. Musharraf had motive and opportunity to kill Bhutto, and the crime fits a suspected M.O. At the very least, the United States should consider him a prime suspect.

In any event, he has let terrorists run free in his country and is primarily responsible for triggering the long-running constitutional and political crises that ultimately led to Mrs. Bhutto’s death. In a larger sense, therefore, he is responsible for yesterday’s tragedy. He is either a murderer or a failing autocrat. In either case, the United States should stop supporting him in his ongoing struggle against the Pakistani people.

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Let’s Keep Our Eye on the (Nuclear) Ball

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is a terrible tragedy. It is also a strategic nightmare for the United States and much of the world.

Estimates vary, but Pakistan is believed to possess an arsenal consisting of perhaps as many as 120 nuclear weapons. Its population is riddled with Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Taliban and of al Qaeda, the very forces who are claiming credit for carrying out this brutal killing. These radicals are said to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI.

If the country’s nuclear weapons ever appeared in danger of falling into the hands of the Islamists, Pakistan’s neighbors would almost certainly feel compelled to act. India, a nuclear power itself, would be the most apprehensive among them all.

The United States could also easily be drawn into the fray. If Washington cannot accept an Islamic regime in Iran that would have one or two bombs, it could hardly accept a similar or even more radical regime in Pakistan that would have more than 100.

Even under our ostensible ally, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan became the world’s worst proliferator of nuclear weapons, the site of the worldwide atomic bazaar set up by the country’s most famous scientist, A. Q. Khan. The dangers that far worse might come are obvious and would pose a severe challenge to the United States, even as we are focused on two other wars in the same “arc of crisis” — to use Zbigniew Brzezinski’s term for the region.

To contemplate a scenario in which one of Pakistan’s neighbors or the United States attempts to disarm Pakistan by force is to contemplate a chain of events that could easily result in a major war. Could such a scenario unfold? Where are Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stored, and could they be captured or destroyed by an outside country? Who guards them, and who guards the guards?

These are only some of the questions that should be occupying U.S. intelligence on an urgent basis. For anyone interested in answers that are in the public domain, The Security of Nuclear Weapons in Pakistan by Shaun Gregory is an excellent place to start.

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Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto

At last! To makes sense of things, here’s Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:

We’ve been supporting the, um, Musharraf government and he’s a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. We just gave him $10 billion over the last seven years. He’s supported by 8 percent of the people, and, and that does annoy some people. And there’s so many factions over there. There’s the Bhutto faction, the Musharraf faction and it just gives incentives for people to resort to violence, and I’m opposed to that. We, we, don’t need to be further involved over there. We shouldn’t have been supporting this military dictator anyway.

After a while I realized why this elliptical rant rang a bell:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S.

Those are the words of Miss South Carolina 2007.

In Ron Paul’s sci-fi analysis the fact that there are Bhutto supporters and Musharraf supporters “gives incentives for people to resort to violence.” Furthermore, it’s somehow Musharraf’s unpopularity that inspired the murder of his opposition. I suppose if Musharraf had been adored, Bhutto would have remained safe.

At last! To makes sense of things, here’s Ron Paul on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination:

We’ve been supporting the, um, Musharraf government and he’s a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. We just gave him $10 billion over the last seven years. He’s supported by 8 percent of the people, and, and that does annoy some people. And there’s so many factions over there. There’s the Bhutto faction, the Musharraf faction and it just gives incentives for people to resort to violence, and I’m opposed to that. We, we, don’t need to be further involved over there. We shouldn’t have been supporting this military dictator anyway.

After a while I realized why this elliptical rant rang a bell:

I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S.

Those are the words of Miss South Carolina 2007.

In Ron Paul’s sci-fi analysis the fact that there are Bhutto supporters and Musharraf supporters “gives incentives for people to resort to violence.” Furthermore, it’s somehow Musharraf’s unpopularity that inspired the murder of his opposition. I suppose if Musharraf had been adored, Bhutto would have remained safe.

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The Real Real Pakistan

It is rare for me to agree with a writer from the New Republic over one from National Review, but I have to do so in the case of former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy’s intemperate denunciation of Pakistan. In this post, McCarthy claims that the extremists who murdered Benazir Bhutto represent the “real Pakistan”—a country that is “an enemy of the United States and the West” and “a breeding ground of Islamic holy war”. “Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people,” McCarthy claims. In support of this alarming proposition he cites public opinion polls:

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

McCarthy, who now works, ironically, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, concludes that Pakistan offers evidence “that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.”

Josh Patashnik at the Plank dissents from this judgment, and so do I. The poll evidence that McCarthy cites—which, incidentally, was compiled by an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow, not by CNN—is more ambiguous than he suggests. Yes, bin Laden scores 46 percent approval, but Bhutto, a symbol of opposition to the Islamists, scored considerably higher—63 percent. And: “Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.”

As for Bush’s rock-bottom rating, that’s easy to explain. It’s not because of our “campaign to bring democracy . . . to the Islamic world.” It’s because in Pakistan (as in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) we have been associated with dictatorship, not democracy. Bush has not pressed for free elections; he has been a steadfast supporter of Musharraf’s dictatorship. The result is that, as Musharraf has gotten more unpopular, so has the United States.

This might be a price worth paying if Musharraf were actually the great ally that Bush (and McCarthy) imagine him to be. He’s not. The jihadists have gotten considerably stronger on his watch, and the military he leads has long been complicit with the extremists.

McCarthy and others suggest that holding elections in Pakistan would be as misguided as holding them in the Palestinian Authority. But the differences are greater than the similarities. Notwithstanding its long history of military coups, Pakistan has over the years developed much more robust democratic institutions than the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly that’s not saying much, but Pakistan does have a relatively free press (at least it did before Musharraf imposed his State of Emergency), an independent judiciary (Musharraf’s attempts to compromise that independence have turned public opinion against him), and opposition parties that rely on the ballot box, not bullets, to win power (although Musharraf has hindered both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League from freely competing in elections).

The best news of all is that, while there are far too many Islamist sympathizers for comfort in Pakistan, by all indications they do not represent the majority of the population. Nowhere close to it. There is simply no Islamic party in Pakistan with the kind of popular following that Hamas has in Palestine. As I have mentioned before, only 4 percent of Pakistanis in a recent poll said they were planning to support religious parties in the next election. As McCarthy might say: “Four!”
The prospects of democracy in Pakistan, in short, are much more favorable than in Palestine. In any case, the Musharraf dictatorship has lost its last scraps of legitimacy. Sticking with Musharraf is no longer a serious option. As Hussain Haqqani argues in the Wall Street Journal, America has no choice but to press for a return to democracy.

It is rare for me to agree with a writer from the New Republic over one from National Review, but I have to do so in the case of former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy’s intemperate denunciation of Pakistan. In this post, McCarthy claims that the extremists who murdered Benazir Bhutto represent the “real Pakistan”—a country that is “an enemy of the United States and the West” and “a breeding ground of Islamic holy war”. “Whether we get round to admitting it or not, in Pakistan, our quarrel is with the people,” McCarthy claims. In support of this alarming proposition he cites public opinion polls:

A recent CNN poll showed that 46 percent of Pakistanis approve of Osama bin Laden.

Aspirants to the American presidency should hope to score so highly in the United States. In Pakistan, though, the al-Qaeda emir easily beat out that country’s current president, Pervez Musharraf, who polled at 38 percent.

President George Bush, the face of a campaign to bring democracy — or, at least, some form of sharia-lite that might pass for democracy — to the Islamic world, registered nine percent. Nine!

McCarthy, who now works, ironically, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, concludes that Pakistan offers evidence “that placing democratization at the top of our foreign policy priorities is high-order folly.”

Josh Patashnik at the Plank dissents from this judgment, and so do I. The poll evidence that McCarthy cites—which, incidentally, was compiled by an organization called Terror Free Tomorrow, not by CNN—is more ambiguous than he suggests. Yes, bin Laden scores 46 percent approval, but Bhutto, a symbol of opposition to the Islamists, scored considerably higher—63 percent. And: “Seventy-five percent of poll respondents said suicide bombings are rarely or never justified.”

As for Bush’s rock-bottom rating, that’s easy to explain. It’s not because of our “campaign to bring democracy . . . to the Islamic world.” It’s because in Pakistan (as in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia) we have been associated with dictatorship, not democracy. Bush has not pressed for free elections; he has been a steadfast supporter of Musharraf’s dictatorship. The result is that, as Musharraf has gotten more unpopular, so has the United States.

This might be a price worth paying if Musharraf were actually the great ally that Bush (and McCarthy) imagine him to be. He’s not. The jihadists have gotten considerably stronger on his watch, and the military he leads has long been complicit with the extremists.

McCarthy and others suggest that holding elections in Pakistan would be as misguided as holding them in the Palestinian Authority. But the differences are greater than the similarities. Notwithstanding its long history of military coups, Pakistan has over the years developed much more robust democratic institutions than the Palestinian Authority. Admittedly that’s not saying much, but Pakistan does have a relatively free press (at least it did before Musharraf imposed his State of Emergency), an independent judiciary (Musharraf’s attempts to compromise that independence have turned public opinion against him), and opposition parties that rely on the ballot box, not bullets, to win power (although Musharraf has hindered both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League from freely competing in elections).

The best news of all is that, while there are far too many Islamist sympathizers for comfort in Pakistan, by all indications they do not represent the majority of the population. Nowhere close to it. There is simply no Islamic party in Pakistan with the kind of popular following that Hamas has in Palestine. As I have mentioned before, only 4 percent of Pakistanis in a recent poll said they were planning to support religious parties in the next election. As McCarthy might say: “Four!”
The prospects of democracy in Pakistan, in short, are much more favorable than in Palestine. In any case, the Musharraf dictatorship has lost its last scraps of legitimacy. Sticking with Musharraf is no longer a serious option. As Hussain Haqqani argues in the Wall Street Journal, America has no choice but to press for a return to democracy.

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A Turning Point?

At least one report has al Qaeda claiming responsibility for today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. When it comes to Pakistan, determining guilt for this bombing or that assassination is a humbling task. But if the former prime minister was, in fact, killed by al Qaeda, then they may have once again overplayed their hand.

After years of al Qaeda carnage, people reached a saturation point in Iraq when they found their every effort at forward momentum stifled. Pakistan may be nearing something like the nihilistic burnout that drove Iraqis to turn en masse on al Qaeda. The situations are different, for sure, but there are key similarities—the most important being the frustration of citizens as they approach democracy. As Max Boot has pointed out, Pakistanis are already underwhelmed by extremist efforts at responsible governance. Benazir Bhutto had her detractors, but she had more than enough support to put fear into President Musharraf. If Pakistanis have to endure another stretch of emergency crackdowns they’ll be loath to tolerate the further debilitating efforts of al Qaeda and their ilk. After all, hopes for the Parliamentary elections (slated to take place in two weeks) are now shot once more.

Reports of looting and rioting are coming in from Pakistan. Undoubtedly, that country is in the onset of dangerously violent convulsions. Security is the immediate concern, and restoring order will be a gargantuan feat. But after the dust settles, we may see the kind of organic desire for consensual government that no outside ally or diplomat has yet been able to consolidate or mobilize.

At least one report has al Qaeda claiming responsibility for today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto. When it comes to Pakistan, determining guilt for this bombing or that assassination is a humbling task. But if the former prime minister was, in fact, killed by al Qaeda, then they may have once again overplayed their hand.

After years of al Qaeda carnage, people reached a saturation point in Iraq when they found their every effort at forward momentum stifled. Pakistan may be nearing something like the nihilistic burnout that drove Iraqis to turn en masse on al Qaeda. The situations are different, for sure, but there are key similarities—the most important being the frustration of citizens as they approach democracy. As Max Boot has pointed out, Pakistanis are already underwhelmed by extremist efforts at responsible governance. Benazir Bhutto had her detractors, but she had more than enough support to put fear into President Musharraf. If Pakistanis have to endure another stretch of emergency crackdowns they’ll be loath to tolerate the further debilitating efforts of al Qaeda and their ilk. After all, hopes for the Parliamentary elections (slated to take place in two weeks) are now shot once more.

Reports of looting and rioting are coming in from Pakistan. Undoubtedly, that country is in the onset of dangerously violent convulsions. Security is the immediate concern, and restoring order will be a gargantuan feat. But after the dust settles, we may see the kind of organic desire for consensual government that no outside ally or diplomat has yet been able to consolidate or mobilize.

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The End of the Primary’s Holiday From History

The past three months have seen an odd turn in the presidential primary process in both parties — a turn away from the key issues confronting the United States and toward emotional and social vapor. The success of the surge in Iraq, coupled with the bizarre “we’re safe” reading of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, drained some of the passion from the anti-war fervor in the Democratic primary electorate and from the hawkish fervor of the Republican primary electorate. In their place came the Christian identity-politics rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side and the “we need a nice new politics” rise of Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Republicans squabbled about sanctuary cities and sanctuary mansions. Democrats squabbled about how many uninsured there would be left if their various health-care plans were imposed on the country.

The horrifying assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this morning comes only one week before the Iowa caucuses and 12 days before New Hampshire. It is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam,  the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists. This is what the next president will be compelled by circumstance to spend a plurality of his or her time on. This is what really matters, not the cross Mike Huckabee lit up behind his head in his Christmas ad.

American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so. The murder of Bhutto moves foreign policy, the war on terror, and the threat of Islamofascism back into the center of the 2008 campaign. How candidates respond to it, and issues like it that will come up in the next 10 months, will determine whether they are fit for the presidency.

The past three months have seen an odd turn in the presidential primary process in both parties — a turn away from the key issues confronting the United States and toward emotional and social vapor. The success of the surge in Iraq, coupled with the bizarre “we’re safe” reading of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, drained some of the passion from the anti-war fervor in the Democratic primary electorate and from the hawkish fervor of the Republican primary electorate. In their place came the Christian identity-politics rise of Mike Huckabee on the Republican side and the “we need a nice new politics” rise of Barack Obama on the Democratic side. Republicans squabbled about sanctuary cities and sanctuary mansions. Democrats squabbled about how many uninsured there would be left if their various health-care plans were imposed on the country.

The horrifying assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan this morning comes only one week before the Iowa caucuses and 12 days before New Hampshire. It is a sobering and frightening reminder of the challenges and threats and dangers posed to the United States by radical Islam,  the nature of the struggle being waged against the effort to extend democratic freedoms in the Muslim world, and the awful possibility of a nuclear Pakistan overrun by Islamofascists. This is what the next president will be compelled by circumstance to spend a plurality of his or her time on. This is what really matters, not the cross Mike Huckabee lit up behind his head in his Christmas ad.

American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so. The murder of Bhutto moves foreign policy, the war on terror, and the threat of Islamofascism back into the center of the 2008 campaign. How candidates respond to it, and issues like it that will come up in the next 10 months, will determine whether they are fit for the presidency.

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Benazir Bhutto

Some cynics in Washington and New York pooh-poohed Benazir Bhutto’s tough-on-terrorism rhetoric. She was only posturing to get American support, they said—telling the administration what it wanted to hear. But she kept on repeating her pledges to crack down on Islamist militants even after she returned home after a lengthy exile. Today, those pledges cost her her life. Apparently the suicide bombers took her seriously, even if Georgetown sophisticates did not.

Her death brutally exposes how little success Pervez Musharraf has had in cracking down on the jihadists. They have only grown stronger on his watch. It is possible that no other government could have done better; some might even have done worse. But there is also little doubt that the military regime has been compromised by all the alliances it has struck over the years with extremist groups who were deemed to be fighting for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Bush administration has been making a grave mistake by so unreserverdly backing a regime so ambivalent in its commitment to the anti-terror fight. The restoration of democracy has been long overdue, and is finally, belatedly occurring: It’s a good thing Musharraf has stepped down as army chief of staff, but it’s unfortunate that he continues to cling to the presidency without submitting himself to a free and fair election.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.

There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.

Some cynics in Washington and New York pooh-poohed Benazir Bhutto’s tough-on-terrorism rhetoric. She was only posturing to get American support, they said—telling the administration what it wanted to hear. But she kept on repeating her pledges to crack down on Islamist militants even after she returned home after a lengthy exile. Today, those pledges cost her her life. Apparently the suicide bombers took her seriously, even if Georgetown sophisticates did not.

Her death brutally exposes how little success Pervez Musharraf has had in cracking down on the jihadists. They have only grown stronger on his watch. It is possible that no other government could have done better; some might even have done worse. But there is also little doubt that the military regime has been compromised by all the alliances it has struck over the years with extremist groups who were deemed to be fighting for Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan and Kashmir.

The Bush administration has been making a grave mistake by so unreserverdly backing a regime so ambivalent in its commitment to the anti-terror fight. The restoration of democracy has been long overdue, and is finally, belatedly occurring: It’s a good thing Musharraf has stepped down as army chief of staff, but it’s unfortunate that he continues to cling to the presidency without submitting himself to a free and fair election.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the Islamic factions are not popular with the people of Pakistan as a whole; they are polling only 4% at the moment, about what Ron Paul is getting in polls of Republican voters. Their support has never exceeded 12% in any election, and that only because Musharraf hobbled the mainstream parties from competing. Now their backing has cratered because of their failure to deliver on their good governance pledges in Northwest Frontier Province which they have been running since 2002.

There is a vast “silent majority” in Pakistan that abhors the militants and has come to detest military rule. They are waiting for a leader. Bhutto, for all her imperfections, could have been that leader. She won’t be now. Alas. But let us hope that she will at least become a martyr for the cause of Islamic democracy, and that her death will inspire others to carry on her brave struggle.

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Democracy in Pakistan

For years Pervez Musharraf’s supporters, especially in Washington, have been arguing that it is necessary to support Pakistan’s strongman so as to avoid a takeover by Islamic fundamentalists. These realpolitikers scoffed at the need to hold free elections, which, they feared, would bring in followers of Osama bin Laden.

Now, at long last, semi-free parliamentary elections are in the offing, and the religious parties are expected to have a poor showing. The Washington Post reports: “Just 4 percent of Pakistanis said in a recent survey that they intended to support the religious parties in the Jan. 8 elections.”

The religious extremists have been hurt by their poor record in governing North-West Frontier Province, which they took over in 2002. “While they ran in 2002 on a vow of clean government and improved citizen services,” reporter Griff Witte writes, “leaders of religious parties have fallen prey to the same allegations of corruption and lackluster governance that shadow the nation’s secular parties.” Now the Islamist politicos are finding that, just as in French and German elections, anti-American rhetoric cannot make up for a poor record in handling domestic concerns.

In retrospect it looks as if 2002, when the religious parties captured 12 percent of the vote, might be their highwater mark—and that was only possible because Musharraf hobbled the ability of mainstream opposition parties to compete. The parties are still not entirely free to do so, even though the state of emergency has been lifted and Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have returned home. Musharraf continues to cling to the presidency after belatedly giving up his post as army chief. But Pakistan seems slowly to be heading toward a reestablishment of democracy. The new polls indicate that this is a development the West should welcome, not fear.

For years Pervez Musharraf’s supporters, especially in Washington, have been arguing that it is necessary to support Pakistan’s strongman so as to avoid a takeover by Islamic fundamentalists. These realpolitikers scoffed at the need to hold free elections, which, they feared, would bring in followers of Osama bin Laden.

Now, at long last, semi-free parliamentary elections are in the offing, and the religious parties are expected to have a poor showing. The Washington Post reports: “Just 4 percent of Pakistanis said in a recent survey that they intended to support the religious parties in the Jan. 8 elections.”

The religious extremists have been hurt by their poor record in governing North-West Frontier Province, which they took over in 2002. “While they ran in 2002 on a vow of clean government and improved citizen services,” reporter Griff Witte writes, “leaders of religious parties have fallen prey to the same allegations of corruption and lackluster governance that shadow the nation’s secular parties.” Now the Islamist politicos are finding that, just as in French and German elections, anti-American rhetoric cannot make up for a poor record in handling domestic concerns.

In retrospect it looks as if 2002, when the religious parties captured 12 percent of the vote, might be their highwater mark—and that was only possible because Musharraf hobbled the ability of mainstream opposition parties to compete. The parties are still not entirely free to do so, even though the state of emergency has been lifted and Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have returned home. Musharraf continues to cling to the presidency after belatedly giving up his post as army chief. But Pakistan seems slowly to be heading toward a reestablishment of democracy. The new polls indicate that this is a development the West should welcome, not fear.

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Sharif’s Return

The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990′s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

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The differences are greater than the similarities, but somehow the Saudi decision to send exiled politician Nawaz Sharif back to Pakistan on an airplane belonging to King Abdullah reminds me of the Germans’ decision to transport V.I. Lenin from his exile in Switzerland back to Russia in a sealed railway car in 1917. Winston Churchill famously wrote of the Germans: “It was with a sense of awe that they turned upon Russia the most grisly of all weapons. They transported Lenin in a sealed truck like a plague bacillus into Russia.”

The German hope that Lenin would launch a revolution that would undermine the czarist regime fighting Germany was fully realized. But, while the short-term consequences were extremely favorable to Germany (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, concluded by the new Bolshevik regime, took Russia out of the war and granted Germany huge territorial concessions), in the long term, the German move backfired. The Communist regime proved to be a more formidable and ruthless adversary to Germany than its czarist predecessor had been. By 1945 Russian soldiers were wandering through the ruins of Berlin, thanks to an offensive overseen by Lenin’s successor.

Will the Saudi move to send Sharif to Pakistan backfire as badly? Probably not. But it could still have negative repercussions.

The Saudis are more comfortable with Nawaz Sharif, an Islamic conservative who tried to impose sharia law during his tenure as prime minister in the 1990′s, than with Benazir Bhutto, a liberal, pro-Western woman. From the Saudi perspective, a woman shouldn’t be driving a car, much less running a country, especially not an Islamic country. No doubt the Saudis were alarmed by the sight of Bhutto returning to Pakistan with American help, and they wanted to get “their” candidate back into the political arena. Significantly, Sharif had spent the past eight years living on Saudi soil, while Bhutto spent her wilderness years in the freer air of Dubai and London.

The Saudis are understandably determined to preserve their long-standing links with Pakistan. The ties are long and deep: the Saudis and Pakistanis worked closely together in the 1980′s, for example, to support the mujahideen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan. The Pakistanis provided bases, training, and handlers; the Saudis (along with the Americans) provided the cash.

There are even unproven suspicions (denied vehemently by both sides) that the links may include Saudi financial contributions for the development of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, in return perhaps for an understanding that Pakistani nuclear technology will be made available to the Saudis should they ever need it. That possibility is no longer so far-fetched: If Iran develops its own nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia may well feel compelled to match the “Persians.”

That could set off a destabilizing Middle Eastern arms race and raise the odds that a nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of jihadist terrorists. But from the Saudi perspective, going nuclear could be a necessary step toward preserving their security and prestige. If so, it would be helpful to the Saudis to have in Pakistan a leader who would offer Riyadh all the cooperation it needs. And Sharif fits the bill better than Bhutto.

But the Saudis had better be careful what they wish for. If Sharif is less dogged than, say, Bhutto would be in cracking down on jihadists, the results could come back to haunt the Saudis. Pakistan, after all, has become a haven of al Qaeda extremists who hate the Saudi regime at least as much as they hate America and Israel. It is in the Saudis’ interests to have the Pakistan government defeat the jihadists—something that Pervez Musharraf has not been willing or able to do and that Sharif may or may not be willing to do either, but that Bhutto has promised to do. Of course the ability of any of these leaders to stop the growth of Islamic radicalism may be limited because of the unwillingness or inability of many in the Pakistani security forces to fight especially hard against their Muslim “brothers.” But it would certainly be helpful to have a leader who appears more emotionally committed to the fight than Musharraf has been or than Sharif may be.

There is nothing wrong with allowing Sharif to compete in free elections; they would not have any credibility if he were barred. But one wonders how much covert support the Saudis may be providing him beyond simply his plush ticket back.

The Saudis had better be careful not to compromise their long-term interests in return for short-term gain—a mistake they last made in the 1990′s when, working hand-in-glove with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, they funded the most radical mujahideen groups fighting in Afghanistan. Many of those Afghan veterans then journeyed back to Saudi Arabia and formed the nucleus of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group that Saudi security forces have been battling for the last several years.

Saudi Arabia has already imported one plague bacillus; it should be wary of a re-infection.

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A Step Back in Pakistan

Today, Pakistani police placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and surrounded her Islamabad residence with barbed wire. The former prime minister had planned to defy a government ban and speak to a rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but security forces twice refused to let her leave her home. Police sealed off both Islamabad and Rawalpindi as the week-long political crisis, triggered by strongman Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency, deepened.

Bhutto’s confinement followed on the heels of yesterday’s promise by the Pakistani leader to hold parliamentary elections before February 15. The White House quickly praised the announcement: “We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people.”

Pakistan, of course, needs elections. Yet Musharraf’s allies can win any contest he stages, especially if Bhutto is cooling her heels inside her home and her allies remain jailed. What democracy requires, in addition to Bhutto’s release, is the release of jurists from jail, a restoration of the Supreme Court, and a decision as to whether Musharraf, constitutionally speaking, could have run for President in the October election. Observers argue that he could not have run, because he retained his post as army chief. In fact, some believe the general locked down the country last Saturday because he heard the Supreme Court was about to rule against him regarding his election this fall.

The Bush administration repeatedly has asked Musharraf to “take off his uniform.” That would be a step forward. But the most important thing would be for him to take a step back and allow judicial and electoral processes to work as they should.

Today, Pakistani police placed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto under house arrest and surrounded her Islamabad residence with barbed wire. The former prime minister had planned to defy a government ban and speak to a rally in the nearby city of Rawalpindi, but security forces twice refused to let her leave her home. Police sealed off both Islamabad and Rawalpindi as the week-long political crisis, triggered by strongman Pervez Musharraf’s declaration of a state of emergency, deepened.

Bhutto’s confinement followed on the heels of yesterday’s promise by the Pakistani leader to hold parliamentary elections before February 15. The White House quickly praised the announcement: “We think it is a good thing that President Musharraf has clarified the election date for the Pakistani people.”

Pakistan, of course, needs elections. Yet Musharraf’s allies can win any contest he stages, especially if Bhutto is cooling her heels inside her home and her allies remain jailed. What democracy requires, in addition to Bhutto’s release, is the release of jurists from jail, a restoration of the Supreme Court, and a decision as to whether Musharraf, constitutionally speaking, could have run for President in the October election. Observers argue that he could not have run, because he retained his post as army chief. In fact, some believe the general locked down the country last Saturday because he heard the Supreme Court was about to rule against him regarding his election this fall.

The Bush administration repeatedly has asked Musharraf to “take off his uniform.” That would be a step forward. But the most important thing would be for him to take a step back and allow judicial and electoral processes to work as they should.

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The Future of Afghanistan

Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

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Trying to gauge the state of the conflict in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away is extraordinarily difficult and I hesitate to draw any firm conclusions from recent press reports. But even discounting for the “bad news” bias in most articles, their general tenor is cause for concern.

This article notes that hundreds of Taliban fighters are massing near Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan, for the first time since 2001.

This article notes that the warlords who once made up the Northern Alliance are hording their weapons and not complying with promises to disarm militias.

This article notes that the drug trade in Afghanistan is booming, with “a 17 percent rise in poppy cultivation from 2006 to 2007, and a 34 percent rise in opium production.”

• And this article notes that more foreign jihadists are infiltrating Afghanistan, and they are even more bloodthirsty and savage than the native Taliban. “Foreign fighters,” writes David Rohde of the New York Times, “are coming from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, various Arab countries, and perhaps also Turkey and western China.”

Admittedly, there is a positive aspect to this story—the foreigners are needed to fill Taliban ranks because of the losses they have suffered in fighting with coalition forces. But the fact that replacements are able to infiltrate so easily is a major problem, insofar as one of the major factors determining the success or failure of an insurgency is whether or not the counterinsurgents are able to seal the border to prevent the rebels from gaining reinforcements and supplies.

So far attempts to seal the borders between Afghanistan and Iran and Pakistan have not borne much fruit. This is to be expected because of the difficult terrain involved, and because the same tribesmen are to be found on both sides of the frontier, which has always been more of a theoretical construct than an on-the-ground reality. It doesn’t help that both Iran and Pakistan appear to be involved actively in aiding the Taliban.

The case of Pakistan is particularly vexing because, unlike Iran, it is nominally an American ally, yet its armed forces have been either unwilling or unable to take strong action against the Taliban and their supporters, who have come to dominate the border areas.

This article raises questions about whether the Pakistani military is making good use of some $11 billion in assistance received from the United States since 2001. Much of the assistance has gone for high-ticket items like F-16′s that aren’t very useful for fighting shadowy insurgents; Pakistan wants them primarily for reasons of prestige and for saber-rattling with India. But the primary problem is summed up by a scholar:

“U.S. equipment is not being used ‘in a sustained way,’” said Seth Jones, a Rand Corp. researcher who recently visited the region. “The army is not very effective, and there have been elements of the government that have worked with the Taliban in the tribal areas in the past,” making them ambivalent about the current fight against those forces, he said.

This really comes down to an issue of Pakistani politics. Pervez Musharraf, the military chief and dictator, repeatedly has promised to crack down on the Taliban and other extremist Islamic groups, but he has not delivered enough results. Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who has returned recently from exile, is talking a tougher game. As this New York Times article notes:

Using the news media unabashedly, Ms. Bhutto has been outspoken in particular against terrorism, saying things that few local politicians dare to against the religious and jihadi groups. She is the only politician in Pakistan saying loudly and clearly that suicide bombing is against the teaching of Islam. She has also attacked conservatives in the government, including officials close to the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, accusing them of aiding and abetting extremists, and supporting the bombers who attacked her.

This kind of talk is brave and encouraging. The question is whether Bhutto (assuming she gets that far) would be able effectively to carry out an anti-terrorist agenda in office, given that she would be reliant on the very same armed forces that have so often collaborated with the Taliban in the past and that have repeatedly undermined civilian leaders, including Bhutto herself. American leverage is limited here; we’ll have to let the Pakistanis sort out their own problems.

But we should continue to make clear our commitment to a restoration of democracy and our willingness, à la Barack Obama, to act unilaterally, if necessary, to hit terrorist targets in Pakistan. If we can’t do a better job of stopping the terrorists in Pakistan, Afghanistan’s future will not be terribly promising.

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