- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

PakistaniPresidentPervez Musharraf has narrowly escaped two professionally planned assassination attempts in the past few weeks and has agreed to give up his powerful post of military head of the country. He has also been besieged with allegations that Pakistani scientists exported nuclear technology to North Korea and Iran. Events in Pakistan have been on fast-forward, complicating an already challenging task for U.S. foreign policy-makers.

Whichever group or groups that plotted to kill Gen. Musharraf are also ambiguously allied with him. Pakistan’s Gen. Musharraf, as the military chief, is allied with the military establishment, but either military or security officials are apparently in cahoots with the assassination plotters — given the detailed knowledge the plotters had of Gen. Musharraf’s movements. And Islamic groups, through their political representatives, have a tenuous political alliance with him. But Islamic extremists were probably involved in some way in the recent attempts on his life.

It is probably unfair to blame Gen. Musharraf for nuclear proliferation that appeared to take place between Pakistan and Iran before his presidency. But some doubts still remain regarding possible transfers between North Korea and Pakistan under his leadership.

Still, claims that U.S. support for Gen. Musharraf’s anti-terror efforts are giving him license to behave badly in other areas are off the mark. Since September 11, Pakistan has dropped its support of a brutally repressive regime in Afghanistan, abandoned rhetorical brinksmanship with India, purged Islamic extremists from the top rungs of the military, arrested numerous al Qaeda members and limited the flow of funds entering the country from Wahhabi Islamists. In doing so, Mr. Musharraf is addressing Pakistan’s long-term and immediate needs. To many Pakistanis, though, Gen. Musharraf has closed Pakistan in, by forfeiting “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and hedging support of Muslim Kashmiris in India. Also, some Pakistanis believe he has undermined the integrity of the country by cooperating too closely with America.

Pakistan under Gen. Musharraf still has numerous problems. Safeguards on nuclear technology need to be strengthened. The undermining of mainstream political parties helped Islamic parties gain importance in the last election. Progress on strengthening democratic local governance has been negligible.

The greatest danger to the world from Pakistan is the possibility of Islamic fanatics coming into possession of the country’s nuclear capacity. This dire prospect looks more probable in light of the implication Mr. Musharraf can’t even assure his own personal security. Pakistan’s problems today are potentially extremely dangerous.

Unfortunately for U.S. policy-makers, recent events have made it clear that counter-terror efforts, tighter nuclear controls, incremental steps toward democratization and reduction of tensions with India are all terribly important in Pakistan. This laundry list of imperatives limits the ability of the Bush administration to focus on just one or two areas at a time. And to make matters more complicated, these areas are all central to Pakistan’s national pride. U.S. officials must therefore push forward on all fronts, but calibrate the pressure, depending on the national temperament.

President Bush must continue to make clear, as he has in the past, that America sees Pakistan as a long-term partner, rather than as just a counter-terror ally. Now is not the time for America to turn its back on Mr. Musharraf.

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