For the Bush administration, there is no Plan B for Pakistan.
The assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto dramatically altered Pakistani politics, forcing the largest opposition party to find new leadership on the eve of an election, jeopardizing a fragile transition to democracy, and leaving Washington even more dependent on the controversial President Pervez Musharraf as the lone pro-U.S. leader in a nation facing growing extremism.
Despite anxiety among intelligence officials and experts, however, the administration is only slightly tweaking a course charted over the past 18 months to support the creation of a political center revolving around Musharraf, according to U.S. officials.
“Plan A still has to work,” said a senior administration official involved in Pakistan policy. “We all have to appeal to moderate forces to come together and carry the election and create a more solidly based government, then use that as a platform to fight the terrorists. ”
U.S. policy remains wedded to Musharraf despite growing warnings from experts, presidential candidates and even a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan that his dictatorial ways are untenable. Some contend that Pakistan would be better off without him.
“This administration has had a disastrous policy toward Pakistan, as bad as the Iraq policy,” said Robert Templer of the International Crisis Group. “They are clinging to the wreckage of Musharraf, flailing around. . . . Musharraf has outlived all possible usage to Pakistan and the United States.” [complete article]
Faced with the prospect of “losing” Pakistan, what should the world’s sole superpower do? Despite Musharraf’s flaws, should Washington back him to the hilt as the only alternative to chaos? Or should Bush commit the United States without reservation to building a strong democracy in Pakistan?
To pose such questions is to presume that decisions made in Washington will decisively influence the course of events in Islamabad. Yet the lesson to be drawn from the developments of the last several days — and from U.S. involvement in Pakistan over the course of decades — suggests just the opposite: The United States has next to no ability to determine Pakistan’s fate.
How the crisis touched off by Bhutto’s assassination will end is impossible to predict, although the outcome is likely to be ugly. Yet this much we can say with confidence: That outcome won’t be decided in the White House. Once again, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “events are in the saddle, and ride mankind,” with those events reducing the most powerful man in the world to the status of spectator.
At the beginning of his second term, Bush spoke confidently of the United States sponsoring a global democratic revolution “with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Ever since that hopeful moment, developments across the greater Middle East — above all, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and on the West Bank — have exposed the very real limits of U.S. wisdom and power.
Now the virtual impotence of the U.S. in the face of the crisis enveloping Pakistan — along with its complicity in creating that crisis — ought to discredit once and for all any notions of America fixing the world’s ills. [complete article]