Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pakistan 2008 Equals Iran 1978?

The Bush administration is pushing Pakistan into a corner.

It’s not a happy place.
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It’s called Musharraf = Shah of Iran territory.

And it really doesn’t have to be that way.

After all, the opposition to Musharraf comes from respectable, clean-shaven democratic, dollar-worshiping moderates, not the bearded religious fanatics of our dark fantasies.

On Tuesday, I wrote oooh so presciently:

The deep thinkers of the State Department could look at the election results, decide that we did our honorable best by Musharraf, our loyal but terminally inept strongman, and give our backing to his peaceful departure.

The PPP would be spared the suicidal role of appearing as Musharraf’s protector, and be able to form a governing coalition with the PML-N in a subordinate position inside the government, instead of throwing rocks at it from the outside.

The U.S. has always abhorred a situation in which the PPP and the PML-N formed a coalition.

Washington fears that a PPP coalition under the influence of the PML-N would...adopt policies popular with the Pakistani people i.e. decouple from the U.S. war on the Taleban and al Qaeda just at the time that the prospect of losing Afghanistan has started giving U.S. policymakers some serious heartburn.

[But] No matter who’s in power, we’re not going to unearth some miracle race of Pakistani crusaders ready to kill their own Muslim citizens so NATO can destroy Pakistan’s natural Pashtun allies in Afghanistan.

Better to settle for a popular, stable PPP/PML-N government in Pakistan without Musharraf but with Kiyani (the new, improved army strongman) and hope that all that money we’re throwing at Pakistan buys us some grudgingly-acknowledged leverage for anti-extremist initiatives that suit both U.S. policy and the Pakistani national mood.

Of course, accepting half a loaf is not really what the Bush administration is about. Its usual response to a setback is to blame it on a deficiency of will and vigor, and double down when the facts on the ground are screaming Change Course! instead.

So we’ll see whether Washington casts its vote in favor of the PPP+Musharraf, continued division and drift in Pakistani politics and security doctrine, and eventual dominance by Nawaz Sharif and a PML-N grown more overtly anti-American.

According to Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel of McClatchy, the returns are trickling in from Washington, and it doesn’t look promising:

The U.S. is urging the Pakistani political leaders who won the elections to form a new government quickly and not press to reinstate the judges whom Musharraf ousted last year, Western diplomats and U.S. officials said Wednesday. If reinstated, the jurists likely would try to remove Musharraf from office.

Representing the despised minority from the state of sanity is, as usual, the State Department:

Bush's policy of hanging on to Musharraf has caused friction between the White House and the State Department, with some career diplomats and other specialists arguing that the administration is trying to buck the political tides in Pakistan, U.S. officials said.

Officials in the White House and the intelligence community fear that the longer Pakistan remains without a new government, the deeper the gridlock, threatening the progress made in the elections toward greater stability and helping the country's Islamic extremists.

One Western diplomat said, however, that the strategy could backfire if Pakistanis feel betrayed after voting to kick Musharraf from office.

"This is dangerous," said the diplomat.

The officials spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss internal government debates.

The effort to persuade Pakistan's newly elected parliament not to reinstate the judges could be perceived in Pakistan as a U.S. attempt to keep Musharraf in power after voters overwhelmingly rejected his Pakistan Muslim League-Q political party.

"There is going to be an uprising against the people who were elected" should opposition parties agree to the plan, warned Athar Minallah, the lawyer of ousted Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, whom Musharraf has under house arrest.

Frikkin' diplomats. Frikkin' specialists. Frikkin' lawyers. Frikkin' voters. Frikkin' people who love their country, democracy, and the rule of law.

How are we supposed to get anything done over there with all these troublemakers?

In a separate post, Pakistan: It’s Not Over Yet, I write on the impending political crisis, both between the PPP and the PML-N and inside the PPP itself, provoked by the U.S. insistence on working with Musharraf.

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