Carnage in Pakistan

Carnage in Pakistan


It’s possible, of course, that when Alaska Governor Sarah Palin meets Hamid Karzai, the president of of Afghanistan, and Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan this week, she will fix everything that’s wrong in those two countries.

But in the real world, the one that humans actually live in, the situation could hardly be worse in either place — and it’s headed south.

Pakistani nearly unraveled completely over the weekend, when a bomb destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, and narrowly missed killing both Zardari, the president, and Yousaf Raza Gillani, the prime minister, the two principal leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Zardari and Gillani were supposed to have been at the hotel the night it was bombed. Why, exactly, they changed their plans is unclear, but there does appear to have been advance intelligence about the coming attack, which killed at least 60 people, including the Czech ambassador. According to one report, the government “had received intelligence information of an attack in the capital two days earlier.”

Rehman Malik, a Pakistani official, noted that the whole country’s leadership was supposed to be at the hotel:

“An Iftar Dinner was scheduled at Marriot on September which was hosted by National Assembly Speaker Dr Fahmida Mirza and where all dignitaries including the prime minister, president, cabinet and all services chiefs were invited. However, at the eleventh hour the dinner was shifted to rime minster’s house which saved Pakistan’s entired military and political leadership.”

A new report from CSIS, written by veteran, conservative military analyst Tony Cordesman, is called “Losing The Afghan-Pakistan War? The Rising Threat.” Cordesman is the latest to suggest that the US and NATO are losing the fight in Afghanistan, and that the situation in Pakistan could unravel quickly, too. Look for signs of panic in Washington. Despite the fact that cross-border raids into Pakistan won’t work, despite the fact that such actions could destabilize the fragile Pakistani regime beyond repair, despite the fact that Pakistan (at least publicly) has strongly opposed any US actions in troubled northwest border areas, that seems to be US policy at present.

Here’s a Times editorial on the topic today, warning that the Bush administration is showing signs of “desperation”:

Pakistan’s military is threatening to shoot American troops if they launch another raid into Pakistan’s territory. Whether the threat is real or meant solely for domestic consumption, there is a real danger of miscalculation that would be catastrophic for both countries.

President Bush’s decision to authorize Special Operations forces in Afghanistan to go after militants in Pakistan’s lawless border region was a desperation move. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, admitted earlier this month that America and its allies were “running out of time” to save Afghanistan.

We certainly share his alarm and his clear frustration that the Pakistanis are doing too little to defeat the extremists or stop their attacks into Afghanistan. But Mr. Bush and his aides should be just as alarmed about Pakistan’s unraveling — Saturday’s horrific bombing at Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel is only the latest sign — and working a lot harder to come up with a policy that bolsters Pakistan’s fragile civilian government while enlisting its full support in the fight against extremists.

It’s too much to expect that cooler heads will prevail in an election season. Unfortunately, nearly all American experts look at the problem in Pakistan from the standpoint that it’s all about the possible Al Qaeda threat to the United States. It isn’t. The problem in Pakistan is a regional crisis, one whose solution can only be achieved through a regional arrangement linking Pakistan, Iran, and India, with the full support of Asia’s two big powers, Russia and China. And the goal of such an effort must be to strengthen the economy of Pakistan, relieve its social crisis, and ease the pressure on its now utterly incompetent, corrupt civilian government. The Pakistani military, obsessed with India and intent on extending its clout in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a counterweight to New Delhi, must have its influence in Pakistani politics drastically curtailed, in large part through an India-Pakistan accord that would cover both Afghanistan and the disputed areas of Kashmir. In a perfect world, that’s what candidates such as Barack Obama ought to be talking about — not about beefing up US forces in Afghanistan and unilateral attacks into Pakistan. Hmm, I wonder if Sarah Palin will think of that this week, when she sees Zardari and Karzai?

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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