The Progressive Fix

Pakistan Just Ain’t That Easy

It seems almost elementary that the governments of Pakistan and the U.S. both have a vested interest in extending Islamabad’s authority over the whole of its country, a point David Ignatius makes today:

Here’s the cold, hard truth: U.S. success in Afghanistan depends on Pakistan gaining sovereignty over the tribal belt. If the insurgents can continue to maintain their havens in North Waziristan and other tribal areas, then President Obama’s surge of troops in Afghanistan will fail. It’s that simple.

Extending the Pakistani government’s writ is certainly a core element to any hope of securing Afghanistan. A safe base of operation across the border in Pakistan would allow al Qaeda’s senior leadership room to incubate in hopes of re-spreading its wings in a larger Taliban-protected region. Points for identifying the problem, but it’s not that simple.

But just a handful of pages away from Ignatius is a reminder of just how difficult that challenge will be:

Pakistan’s Supreme Court nullified on Wednesday a controversial deal that had given President Asif Ali Zardari and thousands of other government officials amnesty from prosecution on corruption charges, a decision likely to further weaken Zardari’s shaky hold on power.

The ruling could open the door to additional legal challenges against Zardari. Although he still has immunity from prosecution under the constitution, opponents plan to contest that by arguing that Zardari is technically ineligible for the presidency. …

But Zardari’s ability to make decisions about the level of Pakistani cooperation with the United States has been compromised by his struggle to simply hold on to his job — a task likely to be made more difficult by the court ruling.

There are essentially three legs of power in the Pakistani government — the military and intelligence services are the largest center of gravity, followed by the courts and then the civilian leadership. Rivalries between all three are intense to say the least, a dissection of which could take up an entire encyclopedic volume. And even though the military isn’t mentioned in the WaPo’s article, it almost goes without saying that the generals would be fine if Zardari fell from power.

The point is that as long as these communities’ main focus is a struggle for power, the White House will never get them to pay primary attention to internal security. And even if you could, each power base has reasons (some better than others) to turn a blind eye to the Taliban lodged in Pakistan’s hinterland.

The situation isn’t hopeless…yet. Despite long-standing suspicions of civilian President Zardari’s corruption (hey, the guy wasn’t called “Mr. 10 Percent” for nothing), he is the legitimately elected leader and was allowed to return to Pakistan — with his late-wife Benazir Bhutto — in an amnesty deal reached with ex-President Pervez Musharraf. Therefore, the U.S. should stand by Pakistan’s nascent democracy and support Zardari, without making him look like an American puppet.

Then the U.S. government should work on aligning the military under Pakistan’s civilian leadership. Congress tried this by conditioning aid on just such a goal in October. Guess what? It didn’t go over so well with Pakistan’s generals. Back to the drawing board.

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