Friday, December 28, 2007

Pakistan's last chance?

From The Washington Post:

For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy -- and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism.

It was a stunning turnaround for Bhutto, a former prime minister who was forced from power in 1996 amid corruption charges. She was suddenly visiting with top State Department officials, dining with U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and conferring with members of the National Security Council. As President Pervez Musharraf's political future began to unravel this year, Bhutto became the only politician who might help keep him in power.

"The U.S. came to understand that Bhutto was not a threat to stability, but was instead the only possible way that we could guarantee stability and keep the presidency of Musharraf intact," said Mark Siegel, who lobbied for Bhutto in Washington and witnessed much of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But the diplomacy that ended abruptly with Bhutto's assassination yesterday was always an enormous gamble, according to current and former U.S. policymakers, intelligence officials and outside analysts. By entering into the legendary "Great Game" of South Asia, the United States also made its goals and allies more vulnerable -- in a country in which more than 70 percent of the population already looked unfavorably upon Washington.

Bhutto's assassination leaves Pakistan's future -- and Musharraf's -- in doubt, some experts said. "U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf's continued power as president," said Barnett R. Rubin of New York University. "Now Musharraf is finished."

Bhutto's assassination also demonstrates the growing power and reach of militant anti-government forces in Pakistan, which pose an existential threat to the country, said J. Alexander Thier, a former U.N. official now at the U.S. Institute for Peace. "The dangerous cocktail of forces of instability exist in Pakistan -- Talibanism, sectarianism, ethnic nationalism -- could react in dangerous and unexpected ways if things unravel further," he said.

But others insist the U.S.-orchestrated deal fundamentally altered Pakistani politics in ways that will be difficult to undo, even though Bhutto is gone. "Her return has helped crack open this political situation. It's now very fluid, which makes it uncomfortable and dangerous," said Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations. "But the status quo before she returned was also dangerous from a U.S. perspective. Forcing some movement in the long run was in the U.S. interests."

Bhutto's assassination during a campaign stop in Rawalpindi might even work in favor of her Pakistan People's Party, with parliamentary elections due in less than two weeks, Coleman said. "From the U.S. perspective, the PPP is the best ally the U.S. has in terms of an institution in Pakistan."

The US really needs to come off of its fetishistic attachment to democracy in all times and places at all costs. In a nation with a high proportion of fundamentalist Muslims democracy means one man, one vote, one time.

Then someone like Osama bin Laden is in power and a nuclear power like Pakistan suddenly becomes the world's number one security threat.

A pro-Western Musharraf dictatorship is infinitely to be preferred to a freely elected Islamofascist theocracy which would vie with Iran for the title of the worlds biggest sponsor of terrorism.

I just pray that Washington sees that in time and doesn't pull another Carter and hand another nation over to another batch of insane mullahs.