Tom Plate / Syndicated columnist
The unraveling of Pakistan
LOS ANGELES — It must be recalled that it all rather started in Pakistan. Requiring a strategic staging area from which to lash back at the Taliban for its vicious attack on the Twin Towers of Manhattan, the Bush administration pitched camp inside Pakistan more or less whether the average Pakistani wanted us there or not.
On the whole, the average Pakistani didn't want us Western infidels on its very largely Muslim land. It was not a good or comfortable fit. Oil and water tend to mix better.
But it happened and Pakistan became a sort of overnight ally in the anti-Taliban war. This could not have come about without both the compliance and the will of Pervez Musharraf, the ambitious general who in 1999 became the strong-armed president of the country.
For a time, the unholy marriage seemed to be working even as India to the south looked north in horror. No saintly nation by any means (having its share of sectarian and religious troubles), India at least was the sort of semi-functioning democracy the Bush administration had proclaimed it desired for the entire Middle East. With its invasion of Iraq, the administration envisioned a domino theory of democracy that would topple old regimes and freshen them democracy-wise.
The Indians, however, never bought that game plan for South Asia, whatever they thought of its plausibility for the Middle East. They'd played enough games with the Pakistanis to know that the military establishment was what held the government to the north together but the military was riddled with elements that were pro-fundamentalist and perhaps pro-Taliban. Over time, the deal wouldn't work, Pakistan would unravel, and the Americans would have learned a costly and perhaps bitter lesson.
That time of reckoning would appear to be upon the Bush administration now. Strikes triggered by opposition to the Musharraf government have brought turmoil to the country's cities, closed shops and schools nationwide.
The oft-deft Musharraf appears to have overplayed his hand with the recent suspension of the country's top judge, causing lawyers, journalists and other professionals to take to the streets in anger.
It is said that Musharraf canned Pakistan's chief justice perhaps to eviscerate any possible judicial challenge to his ambitions to seek another constitutionally questionable five-year term as president-in-uniform later this year. The prospect now is for a new major blow to the Bush administration's post-9/11 strategy. Not only is it unraveling in the country with which America is at war; it is unraveling in the one country near Afghanistan with which it is at peace. Prediction is always difficult so, sure, reasons abounded for the Bush administration to cut deals with Pakistan at the time they were made.
But now it is a different time — a time to rethink the post-9/11 strategy, not just the war in Iraq. The Democratic Congress and the American media are focusing on Iraq, a nation of roughly 27 million, but it is now past time to expand our national self-criticism to take a long and hard look at our policy in Pakistan, a nation of 167 million. If Pakistan falls, India will feel the ground shake beneath its feet. The strategic stability of the world's largest democracy to the south of Pakistan is a matter of great U.S. concern.
For if Musharraf's government does collapse, will his government be replaced by the usual corrupt but ineffectual so-called democratic coalition? Or perhaps he'll be replaced by something far more sinister like some Taliban-type clone.
For India, the stakes could not be higher; but for the U.S. they are anything but minor. Partisanship aside (such a wish now seems impossible in America), the entire post-9/11 set of major calculations and tactical decisions seems to have been far more wrong than right, and our strategic tuning fork almost always off-key.
Why this happened and what can be done to diminish the chances of its happening again are huge and vital questions that America must confront directly and honestly though perhaps not immediately. We are too close to the horror of the unfolding events. But we should not be in denial about the reality of how much we got wrong and the consequences of those errors.
Iraq is one thing but Pakistan is another, far more important infolding tragedy in the making. One says this more in sorrow than in anger to anybody who is willing to listen, whether Republican or Democrat.
UCLA professor Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran U.S. journalist.
2007, Tom Plate