Musharraf after Pakistan

November 19, 2006 at 4:15 am (History, Military, Pakistan, South Asia, The United States, US Government, War)

geoff of Uncommon Misconceptions asks:

One question: If Musharraf ’s government falls, would that give the UN enough justification to invade Pakistan as a continuation of the pursuit of the Taliban and Al Qaeda? Right now he’s ostensibly cooperating, so we can’t touch Pakistan. Would we be better off if the government of Pakistan wasn’t cooperating?

Not that the American people have the stomach for that fight, of course.

Very excellent questions, geoff.

This is not a matter of if Musharraf’s government falls but rather when Musharraf’s government falls. Musharraf is not immortal, and there is no one to take up his mantle once he passes on (whether by resignation (not likely) or assassination (most likely)). What will happen once Musharraf is gone will depend on who retakes the reigns of Pakistan. Your point is indeed correct if certain conditions are met: the fall of Musharraf’s government would justify action in Pakistan by allied forces if a hostile Islamist regime comes into power.

If Pakistan is retaken by feudocratic corrupt politicians (Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, or anyone else like them), then it may be likely that Pakistani cooperation with allied forces in the region, what little cooperation exists, may become unreliable if not nonexistence. Politicians depend on the people’s goodwill, and so they will not take any action the people will strenuously oppose. When Musharraf claimed that Armitage threatened him after the attacks of September 11, 2001, that if Musharraf did not cooperate with The United States in taking out the Taliban and al-Qaidah, The United States would bomb Pakistan into the Stone Age, Musharraf had a very valid reason: by claiming such, Musharraf made it look (in the eyes of the Pakistani people) as if he was forced to cooperate with American forces. How willing Musharraf may have been then is now irrelevant: he wants to project the image that he did not side willingly with America.

Secular generals would be more likely to continue cooperating with allied forces in the region. They may even be amendable to expanding Pakistan’s cooperation. But the secular generals – by their secular nature – will already have their hands full, so it is doubtful how much more they can do. Not only would they have to deal with Balochi rebels but also with domestic terrorist networks, Kashmiri terrorist networks, and Islamist cliques within the various agencies of the Pakistani military.

The worst case scenario would arise if Islamist generals gain control of Pakistan. This is most possible if they orchestrate a coup or assassination against Musharraf. An Islamist regime would end all assistance to allied forces and may even ally itself with and pledge to assist the Taliban and other Islamist terrorist forces. This would spark an intense diplomatic and perhaps even military confrontation between Pakistan and Afghanistan – and as such it just may be more possible to justify violating Pakistan’s border and taking out Taliban strongholds.

I clearly recall when Pakistan tested its nuclear weapons. The popular hysteria was incredible. The people were proud Pakistan had the bomb. This is understandable. What shocked me was that the people were calling on the Pakistani government and military to use it against India. Now, the reason why Pakistan with nukes does not concern us too much is twofold:

  1. Pakistan has granted to The United States exclusive and special access to Pakistan’s nuclear facilities so that America can keep an eye on the nuclear program, mostly with the intent of preventing proliferation or the continuation of any secret programs. This information is not widely known; indeed, Pakistan would rather no one knew about it. As long as Pakistan continues to cooperate with America’s quiet surveillance, America will not act against Pakistan. Similarly, Pakistan knows that if it stops cooperating with America, the consequences on various levels could be disastrous.
  2. Although the Pakistani people tout Pakistan’s nukes as “the Islamic bomb,” it is clear that Pakistan’s nuclear capability has nothing to do with Islam or Islamism. This was a nationalist policy devised to bring Pakistan to some competitive level vis-a-vis India. From the perspective of conventional weapons, Pakistan could never outmatch or even resist India. But with nukes, Pakistan no longer remains such an easy target to overrun. As such, America is well aware that Pakistan’s nukes were developed not to be used but rather to act as a deterrent against India. (Considering that the usual cycle of tensions between Pakistan and India to the point of the brink of war seems to have ended, despite terrorist attacks in India, shows that perhaps this mutual deterrence through nukes may be working.)

The reason I mention this is because an Islamist regime, particularly one that is unpredictable, allied with Iran, or allied with Taliban, changes the equations in the region.

What is strange is that it is easier to deal with a Pakistan run by Islamists than it is to deal with a Pakistan run by secularists or politicians. It is easy to contain and surround a hostile Pakistan (especially with the allied presence in Afghanistan and with the help of India). The drawback, of course, is that this may drive Pakistan back into China’s arms. The arms going to terrorist groups may just be given to the Pakistani military. How such a conflict will be resolved is yet unclear.

To sum it up: A Pakistani government under politicians would be unreliable and weak. A Pakistani government under secularist generals would be too busy to help us. A Pakistani government under Islamist generals would jepoardize the security and stability of the region. Considering our worries about China, Iran, Islamist terrorists, and whatnot, such a situation would be a major headache. But at least in the last scenario the opportunity to get something done opens up or becomes more clear. In any case, the future of that region is bleak due to the absence of stabilizing forces.

geoff also said:

Your posts are elevating my concern in both areas. I take some comfort from your hints that people are working the problem, but as far as I can tell we haven’t even slowed the progress of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, let alone reversed it.

On the one hand, I have hope because the government is not entirely ignoring this issue. Aspects of the government are paying attention to it. However, the problem is that the government made up of politicians has not been giving this issue sufficient attention, nor has it been dealing with this issue appropriately. We are giving off an image of ignorance, if not incompetance. If this is deliberate (and perhaps this image is deliberate), then I am not all that concerned; but if this reality rather than the projection of an image, there needs to be serious reform in order to restore this issue as a major priority. This not only affects our performance in World War III but also affects our interests (domestic, foreign, and international).

As a personal note: I very much appreciate when anyone blogs about these issues. geoff of Uncommon Misconceptions has been doing a great job. That nexus of interests and states–Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, China, Russia, Iran, ethnic conflicts, nukes, terrorism–makes that area of the world volatile yet of great importance.

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