Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pakistani government

Cut and Run Was No Strategy for Iraq and Isn’t One for Afghanistan

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment). Read More

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has written in the Wall Street Journal that we should “un-surge” in Afghanistan. While arguing against total withdrawal, he says “the U.S. effort there should be sharply reduced.”

Mr. Haass’s recommendation on Afghanistan sounds similar to his (flawed) recommendation on Iraq during the debate about the surge.

In a November 13, 2006, interview with Der Spiegel, Haass said: “We’ve reached a point in Iraq where we’ve got to get real. … The Iraq situation is not winnable in any meaningful sense of the word ‘winnable.’ So what we need to do now is look for a way to limit the losses and costs, try to advance on other fronts in the region and try to limit the fallout of Iraq. That’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a global power.”

A few weeks later, on November 30, Haass said, “It’s not clear to me that even if you double the level of American troops you would somehow stabilize the situation [in Iraq].”

And on December 10, 2006, on NBC’s Meet the Press, he said this:

I would perhaps do it for a short amount of time, a surge, as part, again, of this narrative, as part of saying, “We’ve gone the extra mile.” I want to take away the arguments, quite honestly, from the critics of the [Iraq Study Group] report. I want to take away the argument that if Iraq turns out as badly as I fear it might, I want to take away the argument that it was because of what we didn’t do. If Iraq doesn’t work, I think it’s incredibly important for the future of the Middle East and for the future of American foreign policy around the world that the principle lesson not be that the United States is unreliable or we lacked staying power. “If only we’d done a little bit more for a little bit longer it would’ve succeeded.” To me, it is essentially important for the future of this country that Iraq be seen, if you will, as Iraq’s failure, not as America’s failure.

So Haass supported a temporary surge in Iraq not because he thought it would work but in order to place the blame on the Iraqis when it failed. There was a notably amoral quality to Haass’s recommendation (the realpolitik Haass might accept this as a compliment).

In his Journal op-ed arguing for undoing the surge in Afghanistan, Haass lays out the “broader reasons to recast policy.” They include:

The greatest threat to U.S. national security stems from our own fiscal crisis. Afghanistan is a significant contributor to this situation and could play an important role in reducing it. A savings of $75 billion a year could help finance much-needed military modernization and reduce the deficit.

Another factor is the increased possibility of a conflict with a reckless North Korea and the continued possibility of a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. military forces must be freed up to contend with these issues. The perception that we are tied down in Afghanistan makes it more difficult to threaten North Korea or Iran credibly—and makes it more difficult to muster the forces to deal with either if necessary.

Haass’s somewhat novel argument, then, is that in order to preserve our capacity to wage future wars, we should lose (in the guise of de-escalation) our current ones. He doesn’t take into account that retreating in Afghanistan would be (rightly) interpreted by nations like Iran and North Korea as weakness on the part of America, thereby emboldening our adversaries. And nowhere does Haass explain how his recommended offshore counterterrorism strategy would work, since credible counterterrorism strikes depend on good intelligence, which is best gathered by ground forces that enjoy the trust of the local population. If we pull out our troops, we lose even that capacity.

One cannot help but suspect that Haass has arrived at a position based on a theory he holds to with dogmatic certitude and has gone in search of arguments to support it. This may explain why Haass is forced to mimic David Stockman on the deficit and Richard Perle on Iran. It’s not a terribly persuasive pose.

Mr. Haass concludes his op-ed this way:

Ultimately Afghanistan is a strategic distraction. U.S. interests there are limited. So, too, are the resources available for national security. It is not surprising that the commander in the field, Gen. David Petraeus, is calling for committing greater resources to the theater. But it is the commander-in-chief’s responsibility to take into account the nation’s capacity to meet all of its challenges, national and international. It is for this reason that the perspectives of Gen. Petraeus and President Obama must necessarily diverge.

The notion that Afghanistan is nothing more than a “strategic distraction” is not terribly serious. Events of the past decade have turned it into something very much more than that.

Defeat there would have profound, negative effects on, among other nations, nuclear-armed Pakistan. While it’s obviously true that events in Afghanistan don’t have unlimited effects on Pakistan, Haass’s insistence that they are almost completely unrelated will come as news to the Pakistani government and virtually everyone else in the region. The capitulation of the United States and the fall of the existing government in a neighboring state, Afghanistan, would have significant ramifications in Pakistan. It would be an enormously important psychological victory for jihadists and the Taliban. Islamists all over the world would assume that if they wait long enough, the U.S. will cut out and move on. And defeat in Afghanistan would have baleful consequences for the people, and especially the women, of Afghanistan (though that dimension of this issue doesn’t appear to enter into Haass’s calculus at all).

When it comes to both military planning and strategic thinking, General Petraeus is simply in a different league than Mr. Haass. The four-star general and Princeton Ph.D. has proved himself to be far wiser, more prescient, and more knowledgeable than the former State Department official. Which is why I’m thankful that America’s 44th president, like America’s 43rd president, is listening to David Petraeus rather than to Richard Haass.

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Tea Leaves and the Taliban

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

In the New York Times report that NATO has escorted Taliban leaders to talks in Kabul, there is a slight but eye-catching overemphasis on the importance of withholding the names of the Taliban. The Times cites a request from U.S. and Afghan officials that the names be withheld for fear of retaliation against the Taliban delegates by Pakistani intelligence or other Taliban. But a moment’s reflection informs us that the Taliban leaders’ associates know exactly who they are — and there are plenty of cell phones in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It cannot be a secret for long who went to Kabul.

Strictly necessary or not, the security warning to the Times appears oddly pointed, fingering the Pakistani intelligence agency with an uncharacteristic lack of dissimulation about Pakistan’s quality as an antiterrorism ally. It is attributed to an Afghan official, but it comes across as representative of general concerns held also by the U.S. There seems to have been no attempt by Obama’s officials to leave a different impression. Intentionally or by default, the security warning serves as the rhetorical cutting of a tether: the end of a politically unifying narrative about the Afghan conflict and the beginning of something else. What that something else will be is not clear, but the central role of the Taliban in this strategic hinge point is informative.

The Times and others have picked up on the fact that the “discussions [in Kabul] appear to be unfolding without the approval of Pakistan’s leaders … The Afghan government seems to be trying to seek a reconciliation agreement that does not directly involve Pakistan.” If the U.S. is backing this play — and our concern about secrecy for the Taliban negotiators suggests we are – that’s a major development in our policy. Revealing such developments obliquely through oracles and signs is becoming a tiresome pattern with the Obama administration. It certainly doesn’t burnish our image of integrity as a global power. And as the Times points out, with masterly understatement, this particular policy shift “could backfire by provoking the Pakistanis.”

I agree with Max Boot that the military situation in Afghanistan is not such as to force the Taliban to negotiate. But the apparent import of the outreach to the Taliban is divorced from that consideration. This looks like evidence of an emerging policy initiative to exclude Pakistani influence from the reconciliation talks, independent of security conditions in Afghanistan.

If that is a misperception, it’s an awfully big and significant one to leave uncorrected. The U.S. headlines have been full of Pakistani perfidy for weeks now; my impression from the Obama administration’s effective silence has been that it has no interest in counteracting the animus that naturally arises in the American public in the face of such themes. In a rare editorial last week, Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, was moved to defend the difficult situation of the Pakistani government, urging the U.S. administration not to turn its back on partnership with the struggling democracy. He appears to be swimming against the tide of headlines and administration policy.

Something that requires no divination to understand is the goal of the Taliban. Long War Journal’s Threat Matrix blog reports that the Taliban website, Voice of Jihad, has posted a demand that the U.S. guarantee in writing to withdraw its troops on a specified timeline (i.e., July 2011), as a good-faith gesture toward reconciliation talks. It’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarity of this demand to Hezbollah’s demand for the same guarantee from a prospective Maliki government in Iraq. Maliki’s Hezbollah-backed coalition with the radical Shia cleric al-Sadr is emerging as a fait accompli in Baghdad, in spite of U.S. opposition; the Taliban cannot be pessimistic about their own chances with reconciliation talks and a withdrawal timeline.

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Pakistan Arrests Taliban “Shadow Governors”

More good news from Pakistan — not words I’m used to writing, but it’s true. Following the arrest of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 man, Pakistani forces have also locked up two of the Taliban’s “shadow governors” who are in nominal charge of two Afghan provinces. Is this, perhaps, the start of a trend? Hard to say. But it’s certainly a good start. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency is so closely connected with the Afghan Taliban, to whom they provide funding, arming, intelligence, and general strategic direction, that if ISI truly turns against its proxies, its agents could readily arrest most of the Taliban leadership with little problem. Let us hope they decide to do so.

One of the major determinants of success or failure for insurgencies has always been whether they are able to receive substantial support from the outside. The Taliban were able to resurrect themselves with Pakistani support after 2001 — just as they were able to seize power in the first place in the 1990s with Pakistan’s backing. If that support is now being withdrawn, it will be a serious, if not fatal, blow to the Afghan Taliban. They will still have financing that comes from the drug trade and from rich Arab donors, but they will find it much harder to access those funds and to carry out all the other activities (propaganda, training, arming, etc.) necessary to keep a guerrilla movement flourishing. I am by no means suggesting that such a complete cutoff is in the works, but even the steps Pakistan has already taken are significant and surprising.

It would be fascinating to find out what is going on in Pakistani government circles — what convinced them to round up such prominent erstwhile allies? It’s hard to know, but perhaps President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan has something to do with it. By signaling that the U.S. is not bugging out, the president shifted the odds against a Taliban victory and made Pakistan more willing to accommodate our concerns. Or so we can speculate from afar. The true story will only emerge in time.

More good news from Pakistan — not words I’m used to writing, but it’s true. Following the arrest of Mullah Baradar, the Afghan Taliban’s No. 2 man, Pakistani forces have also locked up two of the Taliban’s “shadow governors” who are in nominal charge of two Afghan provinces. Is this, perhaps, the start of a trend? Hard to say. But it’s certainly a good start. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency is so closely connected with the Afghan Taliban, to whom they provide funding, arming, intelligence, and general strategic direction, that if ISI truly turns against its proxies, its agents could readily arrest most of the Taliban leadership with little problem. Let us hope they decide to do so.

One of the major determinants of success or failure for insurgencies has always been whether they are able to receive substantial support from the outside. The Taliban were able to resurrect themselves with Pakistani support after 2001 — just as they were able to seize power in the first place in the 1990s with Pakistan’s backing. If that support is now being withdrawn, it will be a serious, if not fatal, blow to the Afghan Taliban. They will still have financing that comes from the drug trade and from rich Arab donors, but they will find it much harder to access those funds and to carry out all the other activities (propaganda, training, arming, etc.) necessary to keep a guerrilla movement flourishing. I am by no means suggesting that such a complete cutoff is in the works, but even the steps Pakistan has already taken are significant and surprising.

It would be fascinating to find out what is going on in Pakistani government circles — what convinced them to round up such prominent erstwhile allies? It’s hard to know, but perhaps President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan has something to do with it. By signaling that the U.S. is not bugging out, the president shifted the odds against a Taliban victory and made Pakistan more willing to accommodate our concerns. Or so we can speculate from afar. The true story will only emerge in time.

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Time to Take the Gloves Off in Pakistan

For years the U.S. has been carrying out Predator strikes against Islamist terrorists in Pakistan — but only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The rest of Pakistan has been out of bounds, including Baluchistan, where in the city of Quetta, the Afghan Taliban have established their operational headquarters. That may be changing. The New York Times reports today: “American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”

It’s about time. In a Times op-ed today, RAND’s Seth Jones quotes a Marine he met in Helmand Province: “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us. Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

I heard similar sentiments when I was in Afghanistan in October. Indeed, one senior American officer told me that many Afghans can’t figure out why we are giving a pass to Mullah Omar and the senior Afghan Taliban leadership when we are targeting leaders of al-Qaeda and even the Pakistani Taliban (including their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. strike in August). This has led to the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Americans are somehow in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban. Crazy, I know, but those are the kinds of wild theories that are believed in tribal societies like Afghanistan.

In reality, I suspect, we have refrained from strikes on the Taliban leadership for fear of offending the Pakistani government. But if we’re going to get serious about turning around the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, we have to take the gloves off and send the Predators over Quetta.

For years the U.S. has been carrying out Predator strikes against Islamist terrorists in Pakistan — but only in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The rest of Pakistan has been out of bounds, including Baluchistan, where in the city of Quetta, the Afghan Taliban have established their operational headquarters. That may be changing. The New York Times reports today: “American officials are talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in Baluchistan for the first time — a controversial move since it is outside the tribal areas — because that is where Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide.”

It’s about time. In a Times op-ed today, RAND’s Seth Jones quotes a Marine he met in Helmand Province: “The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us. Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices.”

I heard similar sentiments when I was in Afghanistan in October. Indeed, one senior American officer told me that many Afghans can’t figure out why we are giving a pass to Mullah Omar and the senior Afghan Taliban leadership when we are targeting leaders of al-Qaeda and even the Pakistani Taliban (including their leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a U.S. strike in August). This has led to the spread of conspiracy theories suggesting that the Americans are somehow in cahoots with the Afghan Taliban. Crazy, I know, but those are the kinds of wild theories that are believed in tribal societies like Afghanistan.

In reality, I suspect, we have refrained from strikes on the Taliban leadership for fear of offending the Pakistani government. But if we’re going to get serious about turning around the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, we have to take the gloves off and send the Predators over Quetta.

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Covertly Raiding Pakistan

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

Today, Islamabad issued a warning that it will not allow any other country to conduct military operations inside Pakistan’s borders. “This has been conveyed at the highest level,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

Conveyed to whom? The assertion of sovereignty follows yesterday’s New York Times story that senior American officials are debating whether to increase the authority of the Central Intelligence Agency and the military’s special operations forces to operate covertly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The paper notes that the Bush administration is concerned that al Qaeda and the Taliban are stepping up their efforts against the Pakistani government. Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and top White House security officials met on Friday to consider the proposal. According to the Times, “Several of the participants in the meeting argued that the threat to the government of President Pervez Musharraf was now so grave that both Mr. Musharraf and Pakistan’s new military leadership were likely to give the United States more latitude, officials said.”

Well, Islamabad has now said “no thanks” to the proposed raids, and it’s not hard to see why. News of the deliberations in Washington is bound to further inflame public opinion in Pakistan. “At the moment when Musharraf is extremely unpopular, he will face more crisis,” predicts Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Pakistani military and political analyst, commenting on American plans to intervene. In short, secret American raids could lead to the downfall of the leader Washington is trying to protect.

So it’s time for the Bush administration to accept Islamabad’s “no” and move on. Covert military action for the purpose of changing the internal situation inside Pakistan was never a good idea, especially in light of Washington’s miserable track record in meddling in the country over the course of decades—and over the course of the last two weeks.

Yet we should not let the terrorists run free in Pakistan. Afghanistan has a right to defend itself, and that right includes capturing and killing militants on Pakistani soil if Islamabad cannot prevent its territory from being used as a base for attacks. There’s nothing wrong with helping Kabul destroy al Qaeda and the Taliban in their Pakistani sanctuary. Yet we should do so openly—and not for the wrong reasons.

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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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Processing Peace

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

There is a cynical, realpolitik justification for the Annapolis “peace conference.” Some will claim that, even if the odds of success are negligible, it is important to go through the motions to provide cover to moderate Arab states so that they can assuage the supposed anger among their populace about the lack of attention given to the Palestinian-Israeli “issue.” It is this anger, some will claim, that is a leading force behind terrorist recruitment. If the U.S. shows that it is applying serious pressure on Israel for “peace,” then, so the argument goes, Arab states will reciprocate by helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere.

That position has never made much sense to me. Are Islamic radicals attacking Pakistani government troops in the Northwest Frontier Province because they’re upset about the “nakba” (catastrophe), as Arabs label the creation of Israel?

To the extent that Israel plays into Muslim anger, it isn’t because of the lack of a Palestinian-Israeli accord; it’s because of the existence of the state of Israel, period. Even more than 60 years later, a lot of Muslims still have not reconciled themselves to the “Zionist occupation” of any portion of “Palestine.” Some kind of compromise solution, even if it could be reached by the Palestinian Authority’s ineffectual leader, Mahmoud Abbas, would hardly satisfy the radicals, who in turn would be sure to stir up the masses. It would just lead them to label Abbas, as so many already do, another “Zionist-crusader” stooge.

But of course the odds of even Abbas and Olmert—widely seen as moderates in their respective polities—reaching an accord anytime soon are slim to none. And there is a price to be paid for failure, as Bret Stephens makes clear today in his Wall Street Journal column. He notes that Abbas “fears Palestinians would ‘turn to Hamas after they see that Annapolis did not give them anything,’ according to an unnamed Palestinian official quoted in the Jerusalem Post.” Moreover, Stephens writes, “Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Accords and a political dove, predicts not only that Annapolis will fail, but that its failure will ‘weaken the Palestinian camp, strengthen Hamas, and cause violence.’”

When even the longtime advocates of negotiation fret that the upcoming negotiations will be counterproductive, perhaps the Bush administration should rethink its newfound enthusiasm for peace processing.

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Should We Invade Pakistan?

On Friday, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported that U.S. military intelligence officials are trying to figure out what will happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if Pervez Musharraf, the nation’s leader, is overthrown. The strongman’s rule has looked increasingly fragile in recent months as a series of incidents has rocked the nation. CNN reports what everyone knows: Musharraf’s control over the military appears tenuous, as it is limited to influence over “top commanders and units.”

“Pakistan’s strategic assets are completely safe and secure, and the highest level of institutionalized protection is accorded to them,” the Foreign Ministry, replying to the CNN report, stated yesterday. “Pakistan’s command and control structure are not controlled by individual personalities but are institutionalized and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels.”

Institutionalized? That is not comforting; Pakistan’s institutions are filled with fanatics. No matter how many internal checks exist, the country’s arsenal of about 50 nuclear devices could fall into extremists’ hands if there were extended turmoil in Islamabad.

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On Friday, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported that U.S. military intelligence officials are trying to figure out what will happen to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if Pervez Musharraf, the nation’s leader, is overthrown. The strongman’s rule has looked increasingly fragile in recent months as a series of incidents has rocked the nation. CNN reports what everyone knows: Musharraf’s control over the military appears tenuous, as it is limited to influence over “top commanders and units.”

“Pakistan’s strategic assets are completely safe and secure, and the highest level of institutionalized protection is accorded to them,” the Foreign Ministry, replying to the CNN report, stated yesterday. “Pakistan’s command and control structure are not controlled by individual personalities but are institutionalized and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels.”

Institutionalized? That is not comforting; Pakistan’s institutions are filled with fanatics. No matter how many internal checks exist, the country’s arsenal of about 50 nuclear devices could fall into extremists’ hands if there were extended turmoil in Islamabad.

Pakistan, unfortunately, is the nation that conclusively disproved the optimistic notions of “realists” like Kenneth Waltz, who argued that nuclear weapons made their custodians responsible. After all, generals like Musharraf watched Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, make deals with Libya, Iran, North Korea—and, undoubtedly, other nations—for nuclear technology. Two Pakistani nuclear scientists met with al Qaeda representatives in 2000 and 2001, which indicates the strength of the ties between extremist elements and the nation’s nuclear programs. And agents in the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, have provided substantial support to al Qaeda and the Taliban. If the country’s military and civilian officials act this way, just imagine what its rogue elements will do. It’s safe to say that there are few responsible custodians of nuclear weaponry in the Pakistani government.

If fanatics take control of Islamabad, will we be willing to insert our military into Pakistan to secure its arsenal? If we are not, then are we prepared to let al Qaeda become the world’s 10th nuclear power?

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