Washington envisions a Pakistan beyond Musharraf
Despite enthusiasm from the White House, analysts are looking to the next best thing.
President Bush continues to praise Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf as a valued ally in the war on terror. At the same time, US officials are pressuring the military leader over his declaration of emergency law – though some Pakistanis call it pressure with kid gloves – as if he were the only acceptable game in Islamabad.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argues for patience toward General Musharraf, some US officials and South Asia experts are doing what they say the US has failed to do: envision and prepare for a post-Musharraf Pakistan.
"Washington's approach to Pakistan has always been that the devil we know is better than the devil we don't know. But there is every reason to believe that with Musharraf and Pakistan, that is not the case," says Selig Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy in Washington. "Musharraf has blinded Washington over and over again with a mastery of blackmail, but in the two areas we worry most about – nuclear proliferation and Islamist extremism – there are alternatives that are just as good, if not better."
Captivated by Pakistan's status as a nuclear power, linchpin in the US-led war on terror, and the presumed home of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the US has treated the military leader as if he were the last stand before nuclear Armageddon or a new triumph for Islamist extremism, many experts say. Musharraf came to power in a coup in 1999.
A Pakistan with Gen. Ashfak Kayani as military chief, for example, and a civilian government elected by the Pakistani people, would be at least as effective in opposing the extremists' rise and perhaps better at safeguarding Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Many observers believe General Kayani is Musharraf's likely successor as head of the armed forces.
Mr. Harrison says the US has enough leverage over Musharraf to effect a desirable political transition if it wanted – through at least a threatened cutoff of the huge monthly military assistance the country receives for fighting Islamist extremists. But he sees little prospect of that happening, given the Bush administration's continued public support for Musharraf and "more than 54 years of US policy of blindly supporting Pakistan's dictators."
But envisioning a Pakistan that is just as reliable a US ally without Musharraf is not the hard part, it's more the pitfalls of a short-term transition period that are troubling, says Daniel Markey, a recent State Department Policy Planning Staff official who is now at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
"Most people agree there are a number of ways this could work out where in six months we are in no worse shape, and perhaps even in better conditions, than we are now," says Mr. Markey, a South Asia expert. One reason it's possible to envision better conditions from the US perspective: A Pakistan free of political turmoil, and with the public satisfied that democratrization is proceeding, is more likely to support US policies in the region.