During his visit to the U.S., Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf found himself in the middle of one of Washington’s favorite pastimes: the Beltway blood-sport known as he said/he said.
In this instance, the media first reported something Musharraf said—that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage warned a Pakistani counterpart in the frantic hours after 9/11, “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age.” But according to Armitage, he never said any such thing. “It did not happen,” he retorted. “I was not authorized to say something like that. I did not say it.” When confronted with the verbal volley, Musharraf plugged his forthcoming memoir, implying that the answer will be found there. “I am honor-bound to Simon and Schuster not to comment on the book,” he demurred.
Whether or not Armitage delivered such a threat, this round of he said/he said only serves as a reminder of Musharraf’s failure to live up to his commitments and Washington’s failure to fully enforce its post-9/11 doctrine. Before recounting those failures, a brief history lesson is in order.
On September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush unveiled the doctrine that bears his name. “From this day forward,” he declared, “any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” He proceeded to dictate terms to one such regime, demanding that the Taliban hand over al-Qaeda leaders; close its terrorist training camps; turn over “every terrorist and every person in their support structure;” and “give the United States full access to terrorist training camps.” His demands, he added, “are not open to negotiation or discussion.”
Days earlier, Armitage’s former boss, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, privately delivered a similar list of demands to Musharraf. Speaking “as one general to another,” as journalist Bob Woodward later quoted him, Powell called on Musharraf to block al-Qaeda operatives at Pakistan’s borders; intercept arms shipments; end logistical support for al Qaeda; grant US forces unfettered access to Pakistani airspace, bases, ports and borderlands; block Pakistani volunteers from crossing into Afghanistan; and end support of the Taliban.
To be sure, that was much to ask of the government that helped spawn the Taliban, perhaps too much. Doubtless, Bush and Powell understood that by giving in to the demands Musharraf could topple his ostensibly moderate, pro-Western regime. But they also knew the time for realpolitik had ended with the maiming of Manhattan.
Musharraf agreed to every demand. The Taliban regime did not. And as promised, the latter became part of history.
Musharraf has benefited richly from his decision to make a virtue out of necessity: Earlier this year, the Bush administration agreed to ship dozens of F-16 fighter-bombers to Musharraf. Between 2005 and 2009, the United States will pour $3 billion in economic and military aid into Pakistan. In addition, Washington has lobbied international lenders to approve $1 billion in loans. And the administration continues to avert its gaze from the fact that having Musharraf’s military junta as an ally in an otherwise noble effort to spread freedom in the Muslim world makes a mockery of that very effort.
Even so, it is sometimes necessary—especially in a time of war—to compromise on the particulars to achieve the ultimate objective. In this case, the objective is the defeat of jihadists and their patrons and partners. Those who help America in this effort should be counted as allies; those who do not should not be.
It pays to recall that Churchill and FDR, leaders of two great liberal democracies, fought alongside a brutal, murderous dictator to defeat another brutal, murderous dictator. Likewise, in the second half of the 1980s, Thatcher and Reagan dealt with Moscow in a manner that those two Cold Warriors would have found unimaginable—and arguably unacceptable—a decade earlier. But the payoff—the fall of the Berlin Wall and peaceful passing of the Soviet Union—was well worth it.
However, if an effort isn’t being made to achieve the main objective, or if progress isn’t being made toward that objective, compromising on the particulars can compromise the overall mission. And five years after 9/11, there is every indication that Musharraf is doing just that. For example:
U.S. forces are not free to move in or above Pakistan in pursuit of the enemy. In fact, after Bush told CNN he would send US forces into Pakistan if intelligence indicated bin Laden’s presence, Musharraf rebuffed him and said he would not permit foreign troops on Pakistani soil.
Yet he is allowing al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants on Pakistani soil. In fact, Musharraf’s troops are steering clear of certain semi-autonomous tribal areas, or at best remaining in their barracks, thereby ceding territory to the enemy and creating a safe haven for terrorists.
This very month, Musharraf’s government inexplicably released more than a thousand suspected terrorists and their accomplices, including al-Qaeda operatives.
In short, Pakistan is flouting Washington’s post-9/11 doctrine. And the time is long-overdue to call Musharraf to task. Some will say that pressing Musharraf opens the door to too many unknowns, that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. But it was this very mindset that got us in this mess and this war.
When asked last week about Musharraf’s separate peace with the tribal chieftans, Bush could only say, “We had a very interesting briefing on the federally administered tribal areas”—a far cry from the words he uttered while Manhattan was still smoldering.
Musharraf tried to spin an explanation for his phony war. “This is a holistic approach that we are taking to fighting terrorism in Pakistan,” he said, promising “there will be no al-Qaeda activity in our tribal agency.” But if Musharraf’s troops aren’t there, how exactly can he be so sure?
Indeed, this invites a worrisome prospect: Is Musharraf unable to prod his military into going after bin Laden and al-Qaeda or unwilling to give his military that order? Neither alternative is comforting. If the former is true, then Pakistan’s military and security forces are beyond the general’s control. If the latter is true, then the general is playing a game with the United States that must come to an end—a game that is far more dangerous and consequential than he said/he said.
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