Pakistan: Ally or Adversary?

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about Pakistan and its president, Pervez Musharraf

How should Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf be viewed by the United States?
68% As a partner who is not always helpful, but is at least as good as the likely alternatives

“I think that Musharraf is as good as most realistic alternatives, but we should put very heavy pressure on him nonetheless as he tolerates the Taliban and supports an array of jihadist activity against India that indirectly benefits militants linked to al Qaeda.”

“Given anti-American sentiments in Pakistan, it is unlikely that any Pakistani leader will be more aggressive in the fight against terrorism. But that does not mean stepped-up pressure is not necessary.”

“This assessment is what really provides Musharraf with leverage in his relationship with the Bush Administration. The widely shared and often articulated belief that ‘after Musharraf the deluge’ allows him to limit the any pressure the United States attempts to apply to get him to more fully cooperate with the United States in the fight against terrorist groups. Musharraf knows that he only has to cooperate to the extent that it serves his interest, not the interests of the United States.”

“The deteriorating quality of the likely alternatives is in part our own fault for uncritically embracing Musharraf.”

“In a country sodomized by religion, he acts as a moderate (though in the past he was an extremist).”

“[Musharraf is] a partner who is as supportive as his own circumstances—and interests—permit.”

“Musharraf faces domestic pressures and threats from many sources, including Islamist extremists and a security apparatus often sympathetic to their cause. He is walking a tightrope—trying to cooperate with the United States in fighting terrorism without undermining the stability of his government.”

“He’s better than many of the alternatives, but unless we push him to take steps to open up the political process, our alternatives will get worse and worse.”

“In the real world, we don’t get to pick our interlocutors; surely this is a lesson both neoconservatives and liberal hawks are just beginning to learn. Musharraf is deeply flawed, but Thomas Jefferson is unlikely to be his successor.”

“Better than the rest but in need of pressure from us to do more.”

23% As unwilling to crack down on militants; a leader in need of stepped-up pressure by the United States

“Pakistan has been a fair weather friend at best. It is a country that has already made the world a distinctly less safe place thanks to A.Q. Khan—who has suffered no penalty for his malfeasance. Just as bad, Pakistan has mostly allowed al Qaeda to continue to operate with impunity in North Waziristan and elsewhere along the Afghani border. In sum, the main reasons we have failed to kill or capture the world’s public enemies number one and two—Osama [bin Laden and [Zayman] al-Zawahiri—is because of lack of Pakistani cooperation. And the main reason that the nuclear non-proliferation regime is in so parlous a condition today is because of Pakistan.”

“He probably could crack down more, but at least should be pressured more to do more.”

“Nothing that Musharraf has done since 9/11 has made the world any safer. He’s at best turned a blind eye to terrorism crossing his eastern borders into India and western borders into Afghanistan. He’s done nothing to stem the surge of radical jihadism within his own country.”

“Musharraf is casting himself as the only man able to hold off the Islamist hordes, but in fact he’s cut a deal with the Islamists. He’s no Ataturk—under his reign the power of Islamists is growing. He’s also continuing to look the other way at [Pakistani Intelligence Agency] ISI sponsorship of terrorism in Afghanistan and India. Pakistan is still largely a secular society so the odds are that any successor regime, if it were more democratic, would not be dominated by Islamists. At any rate, we need to step up the pressure for Musharraf to crack down on Islamists and hang up his uniform and allow the return of democracy.”

9% As an active and indispensable ally in the fight against terrorist groups

“Musharraf is not perfect, but when you consider what a difficult balancing act he has in managing all the competing factions in the country, it’s astonishing how much he has delivered for the United States. We could not have disrupted al Qaeda as successfully as we have without his cooperation, and A.Q. Khan would still be selling turnkey nuclear facilities if Musharraf had not shut him down. Yes, we could ask for more, and probably will, but compared to other partners, Musharraf has stepped up to the challenge, even though the United States has a history of walking away from Pakistan when it has gotten what it wants—a history that is always in the Pakistani mind.”

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