Pakistan Is Going Down the Road
of the Shah's Iran
by Ivan Eland
http://antiwar.com/, May 29, 2007
The Bush administration has blown chances
to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, to win wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq, and now to have any chance of maintaining a stable nuclear-armed
Pakistan. Like U.S. policy toward the shah's Iran in the 1960s
and 1970s, the Bush administration, despite a rhetorical commitment
to spread democracy around the world, has put all of its eggs
in the basket of an autocrat unlikely to survive - in this case,
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Although Musharraf uses
the U.S. war on terror and desire to get bin Laden to play the
United States like a fiddle, the Bush administration's reasoning
is that alternatives to Musharraf are worse. If the United States
keeps solidly backing Musharraf, however, things could get much
worse than even bin Laden using Pakistan as a haven: a nuclear-armed
Pakistan controlled by radical Islamists.
Unfortunately, Pakistan probably has already
been "lost," and U.S. policy has played an important
role in its demise. U.S. policymakers have repeatedly underestimated
the consequences of the deep unpopularity engendered by profligate
U.S. government meddling in the affairs of other countries. In
Iran, although the shah's government was brutal, the regime also
became so identified with its unpopular U.S. benefactor that this
became a major contributing factor in its collapse and replacement
with a militant and enduring Islamist substitute.
The Bush administration, with its macho
bravado, especially has had a tin ear for the ramifications of
anti-U.S hatred. After 9/11, instead of scheming to use the attacks
as a justification to go after Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the Bush
administration should have eliminated the Taliban regime in Afghanistan,
used enough U.S. forces to get bin Laden instead of relying on
unreliable Afghan fighters, taken full advantage of Musharraf's
limited-time offer to give the U.S. military free reign in Pakistan
to hunt down bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and then withdrawn from the
Instead, the Bush administration allowed
mission creep to take its eyes off the prize of taking down al-Qaeda.
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan turned to nation-building, counterinsurgency,
and the stanching of the drug trade. The occupation of Afghanistan
by non-Muslim forces and close U.S. support for the dictator Musharraf
in neighboring Pakistan predictably revved up Islamic militants
there and gradually turned them against his regime. In an attempt
to discreetly court these militants to support his government
and to maintain the flow of U.S. military aid to ostensibly fight
them, Musharraf allowed these groups to operate in the wild tribal
regions of western Pakistan on the Afghan border and even reached
a truce with them that withdrew the Pakistani government's military
forces from these areas. This wink and nod has allowed both al-Qaeda
and the militant Taliban to recover and reenergize themselves
what are now essentially safe havens. The stepped up Taliban attacks
on U.S. forces in Afghanistan can be explained by the continued
U.S. occupation there and the havens given to them by Musharraf.
Given Musharraf's unenthusiastic pursuit
of al-Qaeda in Pakistan, why does the United States continue to
support him? The answer is mainly out of fear of "instability"
- read any change in a nuclear-armed country. The United States,
with its sprawling informal empire, tends to be status-quo-oriented,
as evidenced by the Bush administration's failure to take advantage
of the only way out of Iraq - the radical decentralization or
partition of that country.
The United States fears that the only
alternative to Musharraf in a nuclear-armed country is the Islamic
militants; but this outcome is the most likely if the unpopular
United States continues to back Musharraf so closely. Musharraf
has faced mass protests across Pakistan for his increased despotism
and his suspension of the country's chief justice. Musharraf feared
that the judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, could issue rulings
that would interfere with his attempt to have the parliament elect
him to another five-year term. Also, several former generals have
talked openly about overthrowing him in a coup. Yet they might
not be able to control any coup and reestablish military rule.
The Islamists have been strengthened by Musharraf's suppression
of alternative non-Islamic opposition parties; Musharraf has said
that their leaders - exiled former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto
and Nawa Sharif - will not be allowed to return for upcoming parliamentary
Instead of the disastrous policy the Bush
administration has pursued, it should end the occupation of Afghanistan,
which would cool the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and Islamic
militancy in Pakistan. In addition, the United States should threaten
to cut off aid to Pakistan unless Musharraf and his intelligence
services make a genuine attempt to capture or kill bin Laden.
With a cooling of militant Islam in the region, brought about
by a U.S. withdrawal, Musharraf should have more leeway to pursue
bin Laden without an Islamist backlash. Finally, the United States
should press Musharraf to open the elections to non-Islamist oriented
parties and allow their leaders to return from exile. These actions
would further bleed support from the Islamist radicals.
Unfortunately, keeping the Islamists around,
but contained, has been good for the autocratic Musharraf regime.
The problem is that the instability caused by this policy can
no longer be contained. Like the shah of Iran, Musharraf must
use increased violence to put down popular protests, thus further
fueling the spreading uprisings. The shah's Iran and Pakistan
have one important difference, however: Pakistan has nuclear weapons.
Tragically, the Bush administration may eventually give the world
an Islamist bomb.