Saturday, November 10. 2007
Back when Bush fired the opening shot in the War on Terror by taking military action against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, I recall arguing with a friend who supported the policy, but conceded that it could destabilize Pakistan, and admitted that doing so would be the nightmare scenario. It's taken six years, but Pakistan is starting to look pretty shaky. Just scrolling through WarInContext, I'm struck by much of what I see. For example, Gary Sick:
Paul Woodward comments that there is something of a plan B, Benazir Bhutto, but that Sick's point still applies:
Musharraf is certainly not as megalomaniacal as the Shah, but like the Shah he represents two things that in combination put him into a rather indefensible position: he offends the Islamist right through his secularism and his willingness to collude with the anti-Muslim west, and he offends the secular left with his anti-democratic stance, his militarism, and his willingness to collude with the capitalist west. The one advantage he likely still has over the Shah is his base in Pakistan's military, but that base is weaker and more fractured than Turkey's, for instance, which makes it less likely to act on its own and more likely to form an alliance which could quickly doom Musharraf.
The other difference vs. the Shah is that the US has never been all that happy with Musharraf. While he has been far more effective than the US has been at capturing or killing Al-Qaeda principals, he is routinely seen as not trying hard enough, especially in his compromises with Pashtun tribal leaders which allow the Taliban relatively safe havens on Pakistani territory. The net balance is that Musharraf is seen in Pakistan as too much under Bush's thumb but in Washington he is seen as not supplicant enough. Woodward writes:
Meanwhile, Cheney and company have been trying to push confrontation with Iran. As if Iran's own response to an American or Israeli attack wouldn't be worrisome enough, such an attack would be certain to raise a tsunami of anti-American sentiment all across the Islamic world, and that could be felt most dramatically in an already unstable Pakistan.
I haven't followed the unfolding events very closely. No doubt there's a lot more being reported and analyzed. But I do know two more historical tidbits of some possible relevance. One is that the people who started the revolution against the Shah weren't the clerics who wound up on top. If anything similar happens in Pakistan, there's little reason to believe it will settle down with the first change in power, and there's every reason to think that the Islamists will gain strength through further turmoil. The other is that when Benazir Bhutto was in power last time, she wound up giving Islamists in the ISI relatively free reign in their Afghanistan shenanigans, which is exactly when Pakistan most fervently supported the Taliban.
Of course, all of this (and more) was shuffled into the deck in 2001 when the shooting started. I'm not surprised -- it seems clear that this sort of ham-fisted arrogance is what the US has long been about in the region, and the more attention we pay to it the worse it gets. (Which sounds like I'm disagreeing with the conventional wisdom that the Iraq War undermined the War on Terror directed at the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. My thinking is more along the lines that the mentality that led the US into Iraq was the same mentality that was bound to screw up the Afghanistan campaign in the first place.) I haven't checked, but imagine that my friend has come around. After all, his nightmare is now ours.