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|Pakistan at the Precipice
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. 1/4/08
The assassination of Pakistan opposition leader and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto is a blow to U.S. interests in the region and to the war on terrorism. It is provoking further instability in an already unstable nation considered to be an indispensable ally in the fight against al Qaeda. The Bush administration had helped broker the return of Bhutto from exile to lend legitimacy to free elections scheduled for January by providing some alternative to President Pervez Musharraf’s exclusive control of power.
The Bush administration leaned heavily on the military-dominated Musharraf regime to be a full partner in the successful efforts by the United States and its allies to topple the Taliban controlled government in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. But Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 160 million, many of whom were sympathetic to the Taliban as was the Pakistani government itself, was always a reluctant ally. 9/11 forced Musharraf to chose sides. He walked a tightrope, however, in cooperating with the United States while keeping his own restive population under control, playing the part of full partner in the war against terrorism in contacts with U.S. officials while engaging in critical, sometimes anti-American rhetoric for domestic consumption. Meanwhile Pakistan’s madrossas, funded with Saudi money, continued to spew hatred of the West, poisoning the minds of the next generation against America.
J.F. Kelly, Jr.
Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive
who writes on current events and military subjects.
He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]
While Pakistan, which shares a long and porous border with Afghanistan, is indispensable to our efforts in Afghanistan, the biggest concern ought to be Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal. We are told that the nuclear weapons are safe in the hands of the Pakistani military but who knows what might happen if the nation descends into further chaos? One wonders, then, why the Bush administration and editorial and op-ed writers, almost in chorus are calling for a prompt end to military rule and free elections as scheduled.
We should always be careful what we ask for. The military may be the only current source of stability in this volatile nuclear-armed nation. The last time we demanded free elections in the Muslim world, Hamas emerged as the winner in the Palestine Authority elections. The presumption seems to be that all that is necessary to restore calm in Pakistan is for free elections to be held and democracy allowed to set in. Would that things were that simple.
Pakistan, in fact, has never been a reliable ally and its instability has been the reason for its military coups, not the other way around. Another product of the dissolution of the British Empire, it was split off from India and bifurcated until West Pakistan gained its independence as Bangladesh. It has quarreled periodically with India over Kashmir and both nuclear nations have engaged in saber rattling from time to time.
Pakistan’s western regions, adjacent to Afghanistan, are partly under tribal control and are a sanctuary for the Taliban and al Qaeda and probably for Osama bin Laden himself. The Bush administration has repeatedly pressed Musharraf to step up efforts against the terrorists there but the dictator’s tenuous grip on power precludes pressing him too far.
The murder of Bhutto, a somewhat pro-West, U.S.-educated woman in a Muslim nation that has little love for western ideals or for women rulers, will be perceived as a great victory for the jihadists. She was the first female in modern times to lead a Muslim nation. They can be expected to do everything in their power to foment the anger caused by her assassination into chaos, toppling the government and perhaps replacing it with one more favorable to their agenda. As long as this is a reasonable possibility, and with the security of Pakistan’s nukes a prime concern, free elections, even if possible in the current environment, may not be in our best interests until some semblance of stability can be obtained.
* * *
In my annual Christmas column, “Keeping Christmas,” I let my enthusiasm for keeping the religious significance of the holiday get in the way of some fact. I wrote that the founding fathers, who established a nation under God, wished to provide for a national observance of the birth of His son. I was wrong. A commentary by John Steele Gordon (“A brief history of Christmas”) appearing in The Wall Street Journal correctly points out that the Puritans of New England did not celebrate Christmas at all (although Catholic settlers in the south did). In fact, it was Ulysses S. Grant who made Christmas a national holiday. I apologize for the error. CRO
2008 J. F. Kelly, Jr.