This, despite a certain volatile mix of apathy, extremism, military rule and nuclear weapons proliferation, some of the “highlights” including:
Pakistan also has a long relationship with the United States, although it is more of one that is based on convenience for the US. We have alternately shunned and supported this country, although we have also supported its "enemies". It was one of only three countries who recognized the Taliban as legitimate before abruptly changing its mind after 9/11.
Pakistan’s leader seized power in a coup, and has, at times, suspended the Constitution, held positions as President and leader of the country’s military, looked the other way as terrorists set up in his country. It had no ties to Saddam or to 9/11, however, it has been sympathetic to extremists that have caused death and destruction within the country – including against political leaders. On the other hand, there were ties between the country and the Taliban in the months leading up to 9/11.
Pakistan’s population is not sympathetic to the United States; rather it is fairly hostile or apathetic at best. Not only does the Taliban and al Qaeda have large membership in the country, but many of its citizens in certain regions had been harboring them and therefore letting them roam free – recently, its leader was less popular than bin Laden according to polls. Last year, Musharraf said that he wouldn’t go after bin Laden if bin Laden agreed to live a peaceful citizen.
The country also has nuclear weapons, and was dangerously close to a nuclear conflict with its neighbor a few years ago. The high level official in Pakistan’s government who was responsible for its nuclear weapons program (Khan) sold nuclear secrets to a number of other countries, and is basically a free citizen (not totally but certainly not being punished). Most recently, it was uncovered that Musharraf really has no interest in cracking down on extremists and terrorist groups and was accused last year of looking the other way while the Taliban and al Qaeda were launching attacks over its border against US and NATO troops.
With the news today of Bhutto’s assassination - this brings a situation that some recognized a “bubbling disaster” well over a year ago to a whole new level of “disaster”. The fact that she was assassinated wasn’t completely unexpected - it was unfortunately more a matter of when as opposed to if (and not all that much different on a basic level from her father) it would happen. There was already an attempt on her life not too long ago and upon her return she was warned that her security couldn’t be guaranteed.
She was the new Musharraf. Just like Allawi was the new Chalabi and Malaki was the new Talabani who was the new Allawi. Or something like that.
Even though it was fairly obvious that Musharraf himself was hardly a “friend in the WarOnTerror(TM)”, even by generous standards, it was never the Bush administration’s goal to actually take on al Qaeda and countries that “harbor terrorists”. Or even have a strong military - as evidenced by the way that this country’s foreign policy follies have been conducted over the past decade or so.
But what has Pakistan actually really done that hasn’t made matters significantly worse than they were in 2001? The terror network is stronger and based out of an area in the country that is virtually untouchable. It operates with near impunity as well as protection by the locals and can launch attacks over the border in Afghanistan against US and NATO troops with no consequences. It has nuclear weapons and has already been on the brink with India in the past.
It has sold those same nuclear weapon secrets to countries around the Middle East that we have had bad relationships with to begin with, and are now only further inflamed by reckless disregard for rational and sane diplomacy. And its leader, who had recently suspended the Constitution, dismissed members of his Supreme Court and suspended elections. And now, when the state of emergency was finally lifted, one of his chief political opponents has been assassinated, and early reports are already pointing the finger at the Taliban, al Qaeda and Pakistani jihad groups.
Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. Certainly, many in the Pakistani military who are still supportive of and loyal to Musharraf have reason to want Bhutto assassinated. Yet, the Pakistani military has not been branded as a terrorist organization, as Iran’s basically was.
In either event, it became obvious even to the biggest disbelievers in reality that Musharraf was not effective even as a puppet as he was only desperately trying to hold onto whatever power he could in any way that he could. And, as much as this may be hard for some of the neocons to believe - Musharraf viewed his own political survival (and his actual survival) as more important than doing what Bush and Cheney wanted him to do.
Whether Bhutto would have been better or not is something we will never get to find out. Whether this means that Musharraf once again suspends elections and imposes another state of emergency will ultimately decide whether this becomes a situation where wholesale violence and rioting will break out and how high a priority this country will finally become in terms of facing a dangerous and already violent mix of suppression and anger.
But this all requires a change on the most basic level. Pakistan must be recognized for what it is and not we hope it is or what it may have sort of been at one time. There is a very dangerous situation in Pakistan and there has been for quite some time. In actuality, it is (as it really should have been) the biggest potential foreign policy challenge on many levels.
Pakistan was once America’s “most allied of allies.” But the Bush administration, whose major foreign policy initiative in South Asia was towards India (a recent gaffe by a Bush administration official even ranked India above Pakistan), has weakened the relationship. Administration officials have gloated that they coerced Pakistan into signing on to the ill-named war on terrorism. In return, Islamabad played a double game regarding its participation in this struggle. Its intelligence services supported the Taliban, while only reluctantly going after the al Qaeda forces embedded in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). The failure to round up the Taliban leadership was a matter of state policy: the Pakistan army still regards India as its major threat, and the Taliban are used to counterbalance Indian influence in Afghanistan. Pakistan would like a stable Afghanistan, but it does not believe that Hamid Karzai is the man to lead that country, and Pakistani generals are certain that the US will sooner or later pull out of Afghanistan, leaving the Indians as Karzai’s major prop. As for al Qaeda, the Pakistan army is unprepared to engage in counterinsurgency warfare within its own borders; no wonder several US senators have stated that the US ought to go in to the FATA if Pakistan cannot, and round up the known al Qaeda (and Taliban) leadership.
This is a very different situation from 7 or 10 years ago. And as for Bhutto and her party’s “relationship” with the Pakistani militants, many of whom operate relatively freely?
The PPP is weakest where the militants are strongest, and cannot be counted on to provide the political guidance to tackle them. The militants are not interested in ministerial bungalows in Islamabad, they want to turn Pakistan into a base from which they can attack other soft Muslim and Western states (and India), and even lay their hands on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Musharraf may have sidelined the journalists, lawyers, and judges, but he has yet to demonstrate that Pakistan has the will, or the capacity, to develop a comprehensive counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency strategy.
The last sentence is the one that resonates the most - and is also very close to how this administration has approached the problems and causes of Islamic extremism (not to mention other religious extremism....) and aggression towards America.
Musharraf, like Bush and Cheney, is a coward in the “WarOnTerror(TM)”. And with that being a common thread, that isn’t really a “key ally” after all.