Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes - NAM

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes - NAM

Pakistan Is the New Iran: U.S. Makes Old Mistakes

New America Media, Analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Nov 15, 2007

Editor's Note: In Pakistan the United States has again backed the wrong authoritarian regime, a clear parallel to its support for the Shah of Iran in 1979, writes William O. Beeman, professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

In Pakistan the United States has once again placed its reliance on an authoritarian “plumber” to carry out its foreign policy goals with disastrous effects – a time-honored foreign policy blunder that seems unavoidable for U.S. presidents.

This time the plumber is President Pervez Musharraf, who is also General Musharraf, Pakistan’s military chief.

Musharraf was hardly a candidate for this in 1991. He and the Pakistani military intelligence establishment were instrumental in supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, who in turn supported al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.

There was also the matter of the proliferation of nuclear technology through Pakistani nuclear expert A.Q. Khan – something that President Musharraf must surely have known about, even if he was not directly complicit. Pakistan has nuclear weapons even though it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Musharraf’s turnaround in Washington’s estimation was rapid. Once the United States was on the hunt for the Al Qaeda leader, Musharraf quickly sensed the direction of the political winds and became the Bush administration’s new best friend, vowing to find bin Laden. Washington overlooked the A.Q. Khan incident, and conveniently maintains that Pakistani nukes are okay because Musharraf is our buddy.

But the friendship is fragile.

It is virtually axiomatic that bin Laden would have been captured long ago – except that General Musharraf knew that once bin Laden was gone, his days as leader of Pakistan would be numbered. The United States would lose interest in the South Asian nation, or would scuttle him as an inconvenience. American officials might deny such a scenario, but the U.S. track record is extremely clear: once an American "plumber" ceases to be of use, he or she is toast.

The clearest parallel to General Musharraf is the Shah of Iran, who was deposed in the Iranian Revolution of 1978-79. The United States saw the Shah as a bastion against Soviet penetration into the Persian Gulf and armed him to the hilt. The Carter administration never talked to the Shah's Iranian opposition and had no clue about the power of the religious forces surrounding Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, until it was too late. By making the Shah the United States’ sole plumber in the region, when he fell, the United States could only watch helplessly as it lost everything.

The same may well hold true in Pakistan. The Bush administration propped up Musharraf with massive financial aid and arms supplies. They never tried to take opposition to his rule seriously, or develop any backup strategy for preventing Pakistan’s disintegration should Musharraf fall.

And fall he may. He has the backing of segments of the Pakistani military, but lacks broad support among the people. His heavy-handed tactics in quashing public dissent have all but killed Pakistan’s progress in establishing an independent judiciary and an effective civil society. Having tasted a bit of freedom, the opposition to Musharraf has become emboldened, and is not likely to tolerate his authoritarian rule or singular stubbornness in hanging onto absolute power.

If he does fall, Pakistan risks disintegration. As a nation cobbled together from disparate former Indian states at the end of World War II, Pakistan is not well integrated ethnically. Its sole integrating principle is Islam, and a post-Musharraf nation will likely embrace Islamic government as a unifying force. Whole parts of the country are barely under central control. Al Qaeda and the Taliban operate with impunity near the Western border, running international terrorist training camps. And those nuclear weapons are still present, ready to be used to threaten anyone who opposes those who control them. Pakistan’s neighbor is Hindu-dominated India, and every nation that is looking toward the burgeoning Indian economy needs to be very afraid.

All the Beltway blather and talk of support for President Musharraf fail to conceal that he is both weak and vulnerable, and that the United States has no backup plan whatsoever if he is deposed. This event would extend the grand scope of American failure in the region from the Mediterranean to the borders of China. Increasingly, no place in the world may be left safe from the violence emerging through the gaping holes in U.S. foreign policy.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is president of the Middle East section of the American Anthropological Association, and has conducted research in the Middle East and South Asia for more than 30 years.