Our World: It's not personal, it's war

Pakistan is today the most dangerous country in the world.

glick long hair 88 (photo credit: )
glick long hair 88
(photo credit: )
One of the natural and negative consequences of political assassinations is that they personalize the general and simplify the complex. Policies formed in the aftermath of assassinations are rarely wise and tend to focus on secondary - personal - issues while ignoring larger strategic ones. It is fairly clear that this is what is happening in the international reaction to last Thursday's assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zadawi and her teenage son have now taken charge of her political party in the interest of maintaining her "legacy." Backed by the Bush administration, they are insisting that Pakistan's parliamentary elections be held on January 8 as scheduled. Pakistan's military dictator, President Pervez Musharraf will likely postpone elections for several months. And pushed by Zadawi and the media, the Bush administration will probably strongly object to his decision. Debate over whether or not Musharraf is destroying Pakistan by delaying the vote indefinitely will likely dominate international coverage of the country. And this is a shame because the issue of elections in Pakistan is irrelevant when seen in the context of the current state that country - and it was irrelevant before Bhutto was murdered. Indeed, since she returned to Pakistan from exile in October, Bhutto herself served merely as a distraction. She focused international attention on her democratic rhetoric and away from the dangers that she was completely incompetent to handle - whether elected or not. The Pakistan which Bhutto insisted she could save is a pro-jihadist nuclear-armed state. The Pakistani public, military and intelligence services stand in sympathy with al-Qaida and the Taliban. With the support of the public and the collusion of sectors of the military and intelligence services whose ranks they have seamlessly infiltrated, the Taliban and al-Qaida daily extend their control over more and more of the country. US officials claim that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure and under the full control of the military. Yet given the Pakistani military's sympathy for al-Qaida and the Taliban, it is irresponsible not to consider the possibility that at least some of the forces charged with securing Pakistan's nuclear arsenal have operational links to the jihadists. The Bush administration had hoped that by forcing Musharraf to work with Bhutto, the Pakistani government would be more effective in routing out the jihadists. Yet there was little reason to believe this to be the case. Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency, his arrest of democracy activists and parallel release of senior al-Qaida terrorists from custody show that he is far more prepared to combat his liberal opponents than the jihadists. And Bhutto herself was anything but an ideal candidate to change the direction of Pakistan. Bhutto was many things, but she was neither a liberal democrat nor a strong leader. Her two brief tenures in office were marked by corruption. She was ousted from office in 1996 and forced to flee the country due to suspicions that she and her husband had purloined some $1.5 billion from Pakistan's national treasury. In addition to racketeering, Bhutto was also suspected of engineering the assassination of her younger brother and political rival Mir Murtaza Bhutto. He was murdered by policemen in 1996 while she was prime minister. Indeed, when judged by her actions, Bhutto appeared less like a Pakistani James Madison, and more like an Al Capone from the Indus. BEYOND THAT, Bhutto was the godmother of the Taliban and played an important role in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. It was during Bhutto's terms in office that Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI formed the Taliban and backed Mullah Omar's war for control of Afghanistan. Bhutto recognized the Taliban government in 1996. Pakistan was one of only three countries to do so. Although she denied any knowledge of Pakistan's nuclear program, it was during her tenure in office that A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear project, was most active in proliferating nuclear weapons technology and bomb components to countries like Iran, Libya, Egypt and North Korea. As the New York Times reported on Friday, Khan's associates allege that in one of her visits to North Korea as Pakistani premier, Bhutto picked up missile designs that were supposed to be matched to Pakistani nuclear warheads. So in pushing for elections and democracy in Pakistan, the US has been ignoring the chief problem that nation poses for global security and focusing its attention on relatively irrelevant side-issues of governing institutions and hoping that two corrupt, ineffective leaders would be better than one. PAKISTAN IS today the most dangerous country in the world. It is the home base for al-Qaida and the Taliban. Musharraf has failed to take effective action against them just as he has refused to work credibly with the US military. Due to his failures, from their Pakistani sanctuaries, the Taliban and al-Qaida have successfully waged their insurgency in Afghanistan. They now control the majority of Afghan territory and the British, reportedly with some US backing, are apparently negotiating with Mullah Omar's men. Back in Pakistan, the Taliban and al-Qaida have violently transformed the safe havens Musharraf provided them in 2001 into independent enclaves from which they have launched their campaign to take control of the entire country. The fact that Bhutto was murdered in Rawalpindi - the garrison of the Pakistani security forces - is a testament to the deep tentacles of jihad in the Pakistani establishment. In its preference for democratic processes over counter-jihad campaigns in Pakistan, the Bush administration is following a consistent, generic policy template. From the Palestinian Authority to Iraq and Egypt to Lebanon and now to Pakistan, the Bush administration has studiously ignored popular support for jihad and pushed for elections. In 2005 the Bush administration's near obsession with elections had yet to be tested against reality. But after the elections in Egypt, the PA, Lebanon and Iraq empowered jihadist forces, the pro-election policy was no longer defensible in the context of the fight against jihad. Then too, the policy which the administration has adopted towards the Palestinians - of empowering a society that openly chose to be led by forces of jihad in Hamas - makes little sense. THE ONLY way to make sense of the Bush administration's advocacy for empowerment of jihadist societies through democratic processes is to see it not as a tool for countering jihad, but rather as a way to ignore jihad and wish away the war. In the Palestinian case, the administration's decision to react to the Hamas electoral victory in January 2006 and its seizure of power in Gaza in June 2007 by strengthening the terror supporting, yet unpopular Fatah party is a textbook case of a policy based on avoiding difficult realities. The reality is that Palestinian society is the enemy of the US and its stated intention of defeating the forces of jihad and global terror. Rather than account for this and base its policies on an acceptance of this reality, the administration - with the support of the Israeli government - has ignored reality in the hopes that Palestinian jihadism, like Pakistani and Egyptian jihadism can simply be wished away. IN THE 1990s, the Clinton administration ignored Pakistan and so enabled it to complete its nuclear weapons program unchallenged. The moment that Pakistan became a nuclear power, the US lost its leverage to influence events in that country. Some of that leverage was regained in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Fear of the raging American tiger could have been used to force Musharraf to permit US forces to operate inside of Pakistan and so deny al-Qaida and the Taliban safe havens to flee to from Afghanistan. But rather than confront Musharraf for his regime's sponsorship of the Taliban, the US preferred to pretend that he was a reliable ally. And so Musharraf maintained his double game of overtly supporting the US, (and so pocketing some $25 billion in US financial and military assistance since 2001), and covertly supporting the Taliban and al-Qaida. Once the US squandered its post-Sept. 11 leverage with Pakistan it was left with only bad options for coping with the nuclear-armed jihadist incubating country. And these too, it has ignored in favor of the chimera of democracy and elections. After Sept. 11, President George W. Bush declared war on the forces of global terror and their state sponsors. But as the years have passed since then, he has done more to lose the war than he has to win it simply by ignoring it. Bhutto's murder is not a sign that elections and democracy frighten al-Qaida and therefore must be pursued. It is a sign that the Taliban and al-Qaida - together with their supporters in the Pakistani military and intelligence services and Pakistani society as a whole - don't like people who are supported by the US. Her assassination was yet another act of war by the enemies of the West against the West. If democracy and freedom are the US's ultimate aims in this war, the only way to achieve them is to first fight and win the war. Bhutto - like her Palestinian, Egyptian and Lebanese counterparts - was a sideshow.