June 25, 2003

The Pakistan Angle Within 48

The Pakistan Angle

Within 48 hours after 9/11 most foreign policy watchers immediately realized that denying al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan was either going to be a) pretty tough but doable within a short time-frame or b) very tough (though still ultimately doable) and take much longer. It all hinged on Pakistan (and so Musharraf). So when Powell had his "general to general" talk with Musharraf and explained to him, quite directly, that basically the American people wouldn't understand if Pakistan didn't assist the U.S. and ditch its erstwhile Taliban allies--I and many others breathed a big sigh of relief that we had a figure of considerable gravitas at Foggy Bottom relaying to Pakistan what the U.S., at a time of crisis, needed.

And, by and large, Musharraf delivered. He let us base troops in his country, made sure his intelligence services ("ISI") were depopulated of the worst Jihadi sympathizers, shared crucial intelligence with his American counterparts, bit his lip and watched as heretefore enemies like the Northern League swooped into Kabul.

All this to say, we owe Pervez Musharraf big. He was there for the U.S. at her time of greatest need. So I'm happy that the Camp David summit went well and that he received the honor of being the first South Asian leader invited there (though he didn't get the coveted ranch treatment!)

That said, this shouldn't win him a perma-honeymoon with the U.S. As Frank Wisner points out (see two posts below), there is a bit of Pakistani meddling going on in Afghanistan (along with Russian and Iranian encroachments) that is unhelpful to the stability of the Karzai government. Added to this, the quasi-anarchic Northwest Frontier Province appears to be becoming something of a post-Kandahar Talib zone.

Less talked about, I've seen additional rumors floating about on Pakistan as nuclear proliferator--and I'm not talking about NoKo but Iran. Moshe Arens has recently alluded to this possibility in Haaretz (link no longer available). And take a look at this Carnegie report that also alludes to possible cooperation between Islamabad and Teheran on matters nuclear (as a means of mutually reassuring each other of their strategic posture--ironically despite Persian feelings of superiority vis-a-vis Pakistan also acting as a contributing factor spurring Teheran's nuclear appetite).

I point all this out not because I think we are giving the Pakistanis a free pass. More than just about any other leader on the world stage since 9/11--Pervez Musharraf has been walking a perilous tightrope. Anyone who has been to the teeming quasi-anarchic cities of Peshawar or Karachi knows what the Pakistani leader is up against in terms of a chaotic society. And Kashmir continues to pull emotive heartstrings throughout broad socioeconomic swaths of Pakistani society.

A digression. In October of 2001 I was on business in Dubai. The wife of a Pakistani lawyer was hosting a b-que style dinner. I had just flown in from NYC and 9/11 was pretty fresh on everyone's minds. At a moment alone around the grill, she said: "I hope the American people realize that the attacks of September 11th were meant against the U.S. government and not the American people"? I responded, as diplomatically as I could: "I think the American people what have understood that better if, say, the terrorists had just attacked the Pentagon but not a civilian target like the WTC as well." She paused, looked at me and said, incredibly, "Maybe they should have attacked the WTC on a weekend when there would have been fewer people there." I almost dropped my drink, but basically moved the topic along to less contentious topics.

Why do I relay all this? Because this woman represented a part of Pakistani society that is about as elite as it comes. And this helps give us a sense, when Musharraf is mocked as "Busharraf" around Pakistan, that it's not just in the slums of Peshawar that he is viewed as being way too close to the U.S.

Deep down Musharraf is a Pakistani patriot, however, not a U.S. quisling. But he realizes that to have contravened the U.S. in her time of need would have been suicidal for Pakistan. Put differently, he ultimately acted in the interests of Pakistan--not the U.S.--as, of course, he well should. But let's not delude ourselves that he was doing the U.S. any favors. It was all realpolitik calculation.

So what's my point in all this? Let's give Musharraf his due, but let's be sure to remember that his agenda will ultimately remain separate from ours in places like India, Afghanistan and Iran. And, when we get too caught up in such "marriages of convenience" we need to remember that other countries are looking over our shoulder and taking notes.

For instance, we make a big fuss about nuclear proliferation and are seemingly hell-bent on keeping Iran and NoKo from obtaining said weapons. At the same time, however, we are best of friends with Pakistan--a country that not only went nuclear in contravention of Washington's wishes but may actually be helping NoKo (despite the fervent denials) and maybe even Iran with their own nuclear programs.

If a country's foreign policy starts looking too ad hoc and hypocritical--other nations-states start to take notice. I hope Richard Haas' replacement at State's Policy Planning bureau will give such issues some thought.

Posted by Gregory at June 25, 2003 09:55 AM
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