Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Danger of Pakistan

Pakistan's political crisis has has thrown that country's future in doubt, the Washington Post notes:

Pakistan's government on Sunday continued a nationwide crackdown on the political opposition, the media and the courts, one day after President Pervez Musharraf imposed emergency rule and suspended the constitution in a bid to save his job.

Police throughout the country raided the homes of opposition party leaders and activists, arresting hundreds. Top lawyers were also taken into custody, and at the offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the eastern city of Lahore, 70 activists were detained. Journalists covering the raid had their equipment confiscated by police, and were ordered off the premises.

The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch issued a statement condemning the move as "an appalling attack on human rights defenders."

Up to 500 opposition activists had been arrested in the last 24 hours, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said Sunday.

Aziz said the extraordinary measures would remain in place "as long as it is necessary." Aziz said parliamentary elections could be postponed up to a year, but no decision has been made regarding a delay.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that the United States would review its $150 million a month assistance program to Pakistan in response to Musharraf's declaration of emergency rule.
Over at The Weekly Standard, Bill Roggio notes the disastrous implications of Musharraf's state of emergency:

In his address to the nation, Musharraf cited the rise in terrorist attacks, the creeping power of Pakistan's Supreme Court, and an economic downturn as the reasons for taking such drastic action. "Pakistan is on the verge of destabilization," Musharraf declared. But the reasoning behind Musharraf's imposition of a state of emergency is more likely due to his weakening political situation, not the rise of Islamist militancy in the country.

Musharraf's usurpation has weakened, not strengthened his ability to fight the dramatic rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and elsewhere. National unity and political consensus is needed to fight the rising threat of militancy sweeping across Pakistan, yet the state of emergency has pushed Musharraf's potential political allies into the opposition, weakening support for the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Militarily, Musharraf has focused his energy on quelling the political opposition, which will detract from his ability to tackle the increasing radicalism. And to is unclear what effect, if any, the state of emergency will have on the sagging morale of the Pakistani military and police, which have performed poorly in the tribal areas of Waziristan and the settled district of Swat. Soldiers have been captured by the hundreds and surrendered or deserted by the dozens. The Taliban has beheaded well over a dozen soldiers and policemen. The Pakistani military also boasts an inordinately high number of Pashtuns in its security forces, many whom are sympathetic to the Islamists. Other Pakistani soldiers resent the thought of fighting what they perceive as an American war against their own citizens....

The declaration of a state of emergency is one of the worst possible moves Musharraf could have made to address the problem of the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda. He has alienated his potential allies, turned away Benazir Bhutto, and united disparate elements of the opposition. Secular parties and Islamists will now share a single voice in opposition to his blatant disregard for the rule of law, and the emphasis of the Pakistani security forces will shift from combating the Taliban to maintaining order in an increasingly turbulent political environment.

Newsweek recently reported on Pakistan's danger to international security:

Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that don't always do what they're supposed to do. (Unlike in Iraq or Afghanistan, there also aren't thousands of American troops hunting down would-be terrorists.) Then there's the country's large and growing nuclear program. "If you were to look around the world for where Al Qaeda is going to find its bomb, it's right in their backyard," says Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National Security Council.

The conventional story about Pakistan has been that it is an unstable nuclear power, with distant tribal areas in terrorist hands. What is new, and more frightening, is the extent to which Taliban and Qaeda elements have now turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base that gives jihadists more room to maneuver, both in Pakistan and beyond.

In recent months, as Musharraf has grown more and more unpopular after eight years of rule, Islamists have been emboldened. The homegrown militants who have hidden Al Qaeda's leaders since the end of 2001 are no longer restricted to untamed mountain villages along the border. These Islamist fighters now operate relatively freely in cities like Karachi—a process the U.S. and Pakistani governments call "Talibanization." Hammered by suicide bombers and Iraq-style IEDs and reluctant to make war on its countrymen, Pakistan's demoralized military seems incapable of stopping the jihadists even in the cities. "Until I return to fight, I'll feel safe and relaxed here," Abdul Majadd, a Taliban commander who was badly wounded this summer during a fire fight against British troops in Afghanistan, told NEWSWEEK recently after he was evacuated to Karachi for emergency care.
Pakistan's crisis places a tremendous burden on the United States. As the New York Times notes:

For more than five months the United States has been trying to orchestrate a political transition in Pakistan that would manage to somehow keep Gen. Pervez Musharraf in power without making a mockery of President Bush’s promotion of democracy in the Muslim world.

On Saturday, those carefully laid plans fell apart spectacularly. Now the White House is stuck in wait-and-see mode, with limited options and a lack of clarity about the way forward.

General Musharraf’s move to seize emergency powers and abandon the Constitution left Bush administration officials close to their nightmare: an American-backed military dictator who is risking civil instability in a country with nuclear weapons and an increasingly alienated public.

Mr. Bush entered a delicate dance with Pakistan immediately after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when General Musharraf pledged his cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda, whose top leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are believed to be hiding out in the mountainous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The United States has given Pakistan more than $10 billion in aid, mostly to the military, since 2001. Now, if the state of emergency drags on, the administration will be faced with the difficult decision of whether to cut off that aid and risk undermining Pakistan’s efforts to pursue terrorists — a move the White House believes could endanger the security of the United States.

Adm. William J. Fallon, the senior American military commander in the Middle East, told General Musharraf and his top generals in Islamabad on Friday that he would put that aid at risk if he seized emergency powers.

But after the declaration on Saturday, there was no immediate action by the administration to accompany the tough talk, as officials monitored developments in Pakistan. Inside the White House the hope is that the state of emergency will be short-lived and that General Musharraf will fulfill his promise to abandon his post as Army chief of staff and hold elections by Jan. 15.

It's time for Musharraf to step aside. The January 15 elections need to go forward. The United States should use the potential loss of Pakistan's military aid as leverage to restore constitutional government in Islamabad.