Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pervez Musharraf

Economy of Effort in Pakistan

As Pakistan’s situation sours, it is melancholy to observe the Obama administration’s response. The river flooding that has submerged a fifth of Pakistan’s territory is a catastrophe that warrants concerted, heroic international action. Few nations anywhere could deal effectively with domestic disaster on such a scale. The official death toll of less than 2,000 to date is misleading about the scope of the problem: the economic toll is devastating, with 17 million acres of crops and farmland lost and millions of farm animals dead or diseased. At least 20 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people have been displaced by the flooding. Now farmers are concerned that they won’t be able to plant next year’s crops, a setback that would mean two full years of near-zero agricultural production for the nation.

Pakistan’s serious ongoing problems have only worsened with the historic floods. Confidence in the feckless Zardari government has plummeted to a new low; in a high-level meeting with President Zardari on Monday, the Pakistani military demanded that some of his ministers be dismissed, an action widely interpreted as the veiled threat of a coup. Pervez Musharraf, a semi-retired coup leader himself, then clarified the significance of the threat in statements made to the media.

One of the Pakistani military’s greatest concerns is the breach of national sovereignty represented by NATO’s cross-border attacks on terrorist strongholds in the country’s northwestern region. The coup warning to Zardari was given as drone strikes on Waziristan ramped up over the past week. Today, Pakistan’s military has closed off NATO’s main supply line into Afghanistan, a move that will affect NATO operations very quickly if it can’t be reversed.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Tuesday’s sympathetic New York Times account of the Obama approach to the boiling pot in Pakistan:

In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke … said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.

This helpful communication is bolstered by news of a key Obama policy thrust, one that can only be introduced with the time-honored “wait for it”:

In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.

To summarize: what Obama’s doing about Pakistan is attacking its territory, lecturing its leadership on the limits of international liability for its problems, and urging it to raise taxes on the rich. The State Department points out that U.S. military helicopters are delivering aid to Pakistan; but so are other organizations, public and private. The American aid effort isn’t standing out for either scope or effectiveness. Indeed, Pakistan’s situation is so dire that it demands much more than the delivery of food and plastic sheeting. It demands what only a stronger America could provide: material partnership for promoting economic and political recovery.

Pakistan is NATO’s logistic hub for Afghanistan; without its willing support, NATO would be wholly dependent on supply routes governed by Russia. The country is a hideout for terrorists, al-Qaeda, and Taliban alike. It is also, of course, nuclear-armed. Putting greater effort into Pakistan is neither overly “interventionist” nor irrelevant to our security — and we Americans would feel ourselves much better able to do it if we were not in debt-and-government-shock from Obama’s domestic political assault. Handling Pakistan as an “economy of effort” theater is a recipe for failure, but that’s how the Obama administration has approached it. The 2010 flooding, with its dreadful economic and human toll, is basically serving to accelerate the inevitable.

As Pakistan’s situation sours, it is melancholy to observe the Obama administration’s response. The river flooding that has submerged a fifth of Pakistan’s territory is a catastrophe that warrants concerted, heroic international action. Few nations anywhere could deal effectively with domestic disaster on such a scale. The official death toll of less than 2,000 to date is misleading about the scope of the problem: the economic toll is devastating, with 17 million acres of crops and farmland lost and millions of farm animals dead or diseased. At least 20 million of Pakistan’s 170 million people have been displaced by the flooding. Now farmers are concerned that they won’t be able to plant next year’s crops, a setback that would mean two full years of near-zero agricultural production for the nation.

Pakistan’s serious ongoing problems have only worsened with the historic floods. Confidence in the feckless Zardari government has plummeted to a new low; in a high-level meeting with President Zardari on Monday, the Pakistani military demanded that some of his ministers be dismissed, an action widely interpreted as the veiled threat of a coup. Pervez Musharraf, a semi-retired coup leader himself, then clarified the significance of the threat in statements made to the media.

One of the Pakistani military’s greatest concerns is the breach of national sovereignty represented by NATO’s cross-border attacks on terrorist strongholds in the country’s northwestern region. The coup warning to Zardari was given as drone strikes on Waziristan ramped up over the past week. Today, Pakistan’s military has closed off NATO’s main supply line into Afghanistan, a move that will affect NATO operations very quickly if it can’t be reversed.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from Tuesday’s sympathetic New York Times account of the Obama approach to the boiling pot in Pakistan:

In his most recent visit to Pakistan, Richard C. Holbrooke … said the international community could not be expected to provide all the billions of dollars needed to repair the flood damage, a warning interpreted here as a rebuke of the civilian government and its mismanagement.

This helpful communication is bolstered by news of a key Obama policy thrust, one that can only be introduced with the time-honored “wait for it”:

In particular, Washington wants the government to raise taxes on the wealthy landed and commercial class, a shortcoming that has become especially galling as Pakistan’s dependence on foreign donors rises.

To summarize: what Obama’s doing about Pakistan is attacking its territory, lecturing its leadership on the limits of international liability for its problems, and urging it to raise taxes on the rich. The State Department points out that U.S. military helicopters are delivering aid to Pakistan; but so are other organizations, public and private. The American aid effort isn’t standing out for either scope or effectiveness. Indeed, Pakistan’s situation is so dire that it demands much more than the delivery of food and plastic sheeting. It demands what only a stronger America could provide: material partnership for promoting economic and political recovery.

Pakistan is NATO’s logistic hub for Afghanistan; without its willing support, NATO would be wholly dependent on supply routes governed by Russia. The country is a hideout for terrorists, al-Qaeda, and Taliban alike. It is also, of course, nuclear-armed. Putting greater effort into Pakistan is neither overly “interventionist” nor irrelevant to our security — and we Americans would feel ourselves much better able to do it if we were not in debt-and-government-shock from Obama’s domestic political assault. Handling Pakistan as an “economy of effort” theater is a recipe for failure, but that’s how the Obama administration has approached it. The 2010 flooding, with its dreadful economic and human toll, is basically serving to accelerate the inevitable.

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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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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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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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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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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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Khan and Kim

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea is trying to convince the United States that it never intended to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. “Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch,” said one American official involved in the discussions with Pyongyang. Whether or not the North Koreans are telling the truth, we have now reached the critical phase of negotiations that formally started in April 2003.

In February of this year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agreed to a two-part deal to shut down its nuclear weapons program. The North already has completed its first-stage obligations by turning off and sealing its only working reactor, which is located in Yongbyon. At this moment, American and other officials are implementing the second part by “disabling” the reactor. The North Koreans will complete their second-stage promises when they disclose all nuclear programs.

Why do we suspect that Kim Jong Il’s technicians have been trying to enrich uranium? Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb and the ringleader of a global black market in nuke technology, says he began working with North Korea around 1991. Among other things, Khan supplied equipment for centrifuges—supersonic-speed machines that separate uranium’s different isotopes so as to permit the collection of weapons-grade material—until as late as the middle of 2002, shortly before he admitted his black-market activities. North Korean agents also have been caught buying items that are useful in a uranium-bomb program, such as aluminum tubes suitable for Khan-type centrifuges. Pakistan’s help may have continued until as recently as 2003: Khan has been sighted in the North more than a dozen times.

So far, the North Koreans have denied virtually everything, calling allegations a “whopping lie” fabricated by the United States. Yet there is one way to get to the bottom of this matter: talk to Khan face-to-face. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, claims that American officials have had “access” to him, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that General Pervez Musharraf has rebuffed the Bush administration’s requests for one-on-one contact. There are reports that the Pakistani leader has turned down Washington to prevent the exposure of China’s ties with Khan.

If the embattled strongman is such a good friend of America, as the White House claims he is, then let him prove it. We need to talk to Khan directly now—and General Musharraf can make it happen.

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that North Korea is trying to convince the United States that it never intended to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. “Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch,” said one American official involved in the discussions with Pyongyang. Whether or not the North Koreans are telling the truth, we have now reached the critical phase of negotiations that formally started in April 2003.

In February of this year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea agreed to a two-part deal to shut down its nuclear weapons program. The North already has completed its first-stage obligations by turning off and sealing its only working reactor, which is located in Yongbyon. At this moment, American and other officials are implementing the second part by “disabling” the reactor. The North Koreans will complete their second-stage promises when they disclose all nuclear programs.

Why do we suspect that Kim Jong Il’s technicians have been trying to enrich uranium? Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb and the ringleader of a global black market in nuke technology, says he began working with North Korea around 1991. Among other things, Khan supplied equipment for centrifuges—supersonic-speed machines that separate uranium’s different isotopes so as to permit the collection of weapons-grade material—until as late as the middle of 2002, shortly before he admitted his black-market activities. North Korean agents also have been caught buying items that are useful in a uranium-bomb program, such as aluminum tubes suitable for Khan-type centrifuges. Pakistan’s help may have continued until as recently as 2003: Khan has been sighted in the North more than a dozen times.

So far, the North Koreans have denied virtually everything, calling allegations a “whopping lie” fabricated by the United States. Yet there is one way to get to the bottom of this matter: talk to Khan face-to-face. Seymour Hersh, writing in the New Yorker, claims that American officials have had “access” to him, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that General Pervez Musharraf has rebuffed the Bush administration’s requests for one-on-one contact. There are reports that the Pakistani leader has turned down Washington to prevent the exposure of China’s ties with Khan.

If the embattled strongman is such a good friend of America, as the White House claims he is, then let him prove it. We need to talk to Khan directly now—and General Musharraf can make it happen.

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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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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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The World Is Watching

There is a fascinating tidbit buried deep in this Washington Post story on America’s troubled relations with Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf. After explaining why U.S. officials are bothered by Musharraf’s lackadaisical response to the Islamist extremists who have found a refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick write:

Musharraf also had a complaint of his own: His leverage over the tribal militants had slipped because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Foreign fear of the might of the U.S. military, felt throughout the Muslim world immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was dissipating as U.S. troops became increasingly bogged down in Iraq. Now, he said, tribal leaders who had once cooperated with Musharraf because of his alliance with the Americans saw little reason to be afraid.

This confirms an essential and important point: that it was not the decision to invade Iraq per se that is causing an increase in terrorism, but our failure to secure victory, at least so far. And it contradicts one of the most common talking points used by Democrats such as Barack Obama, who argue for a pullout from Iraq: that a decision to leave Iraq will enable us to fight more effectively in Afghanistan. What this paragraph suggests—correctly I think—is that a pullout from Iraq would hurt us considerably in Afghanistan and other battlefields by heightening an impression, which already exists, of American weakness. It is that impression, as much as anything else, that emboldens our enemies, whether the Taliban or al Qaeda, to keep attacking us.

There is a fascinating tidbit buried deep in this Washington Post story on America’s troubled relations with Pakistan’s military dictator Pervez Musharraf. After explaining why U.S. officials are bothered by Musharraf’s lackadaisical response to the Islamist extremists who have found a refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas, Post reporters Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick write:

Musharraf also had a complaint of his own: His leverage over the tribal militants had slipped because of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Foreign fear of the might of the U.S. military, felt throughout the Muslim world immediately after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was dissipating as U.S. troops became increasingly bogged down in Iraq. Now, he said, tribal leaders who had once cooperated with Musharraf because of his alliance with the Americans saw little reason to be afraid.

This confirms an essential and important point: that it was not the decision to invade Iraq per se that is causing an increase in terrorism, but our failure to secure victory, at least so far. And it contradicts one of the most common talking points used by Democrats such as Barack Obama, who argue for a pullout from Iraq: that a decision to leave Iraq will enable us to fight more effectively in Afghanistan. What this paragraph suggests—correctly I think—is that a pullout from Iraq would hurt us considerably in Afghanistan and other battlefields by heightening an impression, which already exists, of American weakness. It is that impression, as much as anything else, that emboldens our enemies, whether the Taliban or al Qaeda, to keep attacking us.

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Breakdown in Pakistan

At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

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At first blush, recent events in Pakistan would seem to underscore the case for continuing to support General Pervez Musharraf, the country’s military dictator. Last week Musharrraf ordered the army to storm the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which had been seized by radicals. Army commandos succeeded in their task, albeit at the cost of some 87 lives. Islamist radicals retaliated with a series of bombings over the weekend. Now comes word that the accord reached between the central government and tribal elders in North Waziristan last year has broken down. This was the treaty by which the government of Pakistan essentially ended all efforts to police this tribal area, in return for toothless promises on the part of the tribes to restrain the Taliban.

From Washington’s perspective, all this could be read as evidence that Musharraf remains the indispensable bulwark against Islamist extremism in this nuclear-armed nation. In reality, recent events demonstrate the disastrous consequences of decisions made over the years by Musharraf and other army commanders to reach a modus vivendi with Islamic radicals. The army, and its agency for Inter-Services Intelligence, have been using the radicals to stage attacks into Kashmir and Afghanistan. In return, they have looked the other way as these militants have expanded their influence in Pakistan proper. To be sure, this has been a relationship fraught with tensions—radicals have tried to assassinate Musharraf and he has sometimes cracked down on their activities. But Musharraf has never done as much as he keeps promising Washington he will do to suppress the Islamists—or as much as the majority of secular Pakistanis would like.

What’s interesting, if hardly surprising, about the Red Mosque attack is how much support the government has received from opposition parties, not to mention the middle class in general. As noted by David Rohde in the New York Times,

A nightmare seemed to be unfolding last week when commandos stormed a hardline Islamic mosque in Pakistan’s capital. With at least 87 dead, it looked as if the clash could set off an Islamic uprising in the world’s only nuclear-armed Muslim nation.

Instead, few people attended protests organized by religious parties on Friday. What the battle at the mosque seemed to reveal was how complex Pakistani politics is, and how far Islamist radicals are from gaining widespread popular support, Pakistani and American analysts said.

“There was no uprising because the society is not radical and is more opposed to extremism than most commentators think,” said Frederic Grare, a Pakistan analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “The clash demonstrates that the majority of the people will back a policy aimed at reducing radicals’ influence.”

In short, Washington need not be unduly afraid of Pakistani democracy. The administration should live up to its own rhetoric and push Musharraf to abide by the constitution, which forbids him from continuing as both president and army chief of staff past this fall. If free elections—in which exiled opposition leaders can compete—are held, there is no reason to think that fundamentalist Islamic parties would win more than a small minority of the vote. This is yet another case where our democratic ideals are congruent with our strategic interests in suppressing Islamist terrorism.

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Learning To Love the Islamic Bomb

As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

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As I noted in my previous post, George Tenet: CIA or CYA?, much of what is contained in the former CIA director’s new memoir is a self-serving attempt to dodge responsibility for the monumental intelligence failures that occurred on his watch. But as a matter of formal logic, just because In the Center of the Storm contains false statements—see Andrew McCarthy’s analysis at NRO for chapter, verse, hook, line, and sinker—not every statement uttered by its author is always untrue.

Appearing on CBS’s Sixty Minutes to flog his book, Tenet noted that Osama bin Laden has been seeking nuclear weapons since 1993, and proceeded to raise the alarm: “Is it going to happen? Look, I don’t know, but I worry about it because I’ve seen enough to tell me there is intent and when there is intent the question is when does the capability show up?”

In the aftermath of September 11, whether Tenet’s worries are based upon slam-dunk intelligence is irrelevant. Even more so than was the case with Iraq, this is not a matter on which we can gamble. But how would Osama bin Laden go about obtaining a nuclear bomb?

Building one from scratch is out of the question; major states spend years and billions of dollars acquiring the expertise and the materials, especially the fissionable elements for its explosive core. Conducting such an enterprise on a shoestring budget while on the run from cave to cave is not a likely prospect.

Far more worrisome is that al Qaeda will seek out a bomb from Pakistan, which now has perhaps as many as 25 to 100 such devices in its arsenal. There would be two ways to lay one’s hands on such a heavily guarded apparatus.

The first would be to foment a revolution in unstable Pakistan that brings Islamists into power. Toward that end, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have been waging a campaign of terror inside Pakistan designed to topple the government of General Pervez Musharraf. In the most recent attack this past Saturday, a suicide bomber killed 28 people in a failed attempt on the life of Pakistan’s interior minister.

A second approach would be to find a sympathizer inside Pakistan’s military or nuclear establishment. Given recent history, this might well be the easier route. After all, the head of Pakistan’s nuclear-bomb-making project, Abdul Q. Khan, now under house arrest in Islamabad, found it convenient and profitable to trade nuclear secrets and materials to a host of aggressive anti-American, terror-supporting states, including Iran, Libya, and North Korea.

How many others are there like Khan inside the Pakistani establishment, and can they be stopped? That is a question that every presidential candidate should be compelled to ponder, especially because a swelling chorus of voices in the liberal-Left foreign-policy establishment is now all of a sudden telling us that nuclear proliferation is not the fearful thing we have long believed.

The latest entry is a new book called the The Atomic Bazaar: The Rise of the Nuclear Poor, by William Langewiesche, a correspondent for Vanity Fair, whose considered opinion is that the “spread of nuclear weapons, even to such countries as North Korea and Iran, may not be as catastrophic as is generally believed,” and certainly not bad enough to justify “the pursuit of preemptive wars” of the kind we are now fighting in Iraq and contemplating against Iran.

On the contrary, suggests Langewiesche, we should recognize that we live in a “new reality in which limited nuclear wars are possible, and the use of a few devices, though locally devastating, will not necessarily blossom into a global exchange.” Overall, he concludes, since the end of the cold war, “the risk of an apocalypse may have been reduced.”

Perhaps Langewiesche is right. Or perhaps he is wrong. On the basis of his experience writing for Vanity Fair, should we just take his word for it? I prefer to side with the tainted Tenet in the view that we should do our utmost to stop such a thing from happening. And I find it fascinating, and profoundly disquieting, that a growing chorus of voices is telling us that we should not worry about something so worrisome, a case of defining deviancy down if there ever was one. 

A nuclear device supplied by a rogue element in Pakistan and detonated by al Qaeda at Four Times Square, where the offices of Vanity Fair are located, would almost certainly destroy the offices of COMMENTARY as well, even though we are located a few blocks north and across town. A global apocalypse during the cold war would no doubt have been awful. “Locally devastating” in the post-cold war would be bad enough.
 

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