DEITZ: Who knew? Crisis in Pakistan



Ian Deitz

A flurry of recent events in Pakistan has momentous consequences for the country and for the United States’ interests there. Political stability is on the decline, while terrorist attacks are on the rise. Such unrest is well-known to be a breeding ground for terrorism and creates an urgent problem for the United States.

The brunt of the turmoil in Pakistan was sparked by President Pervez Musharraf’s recent decisions. A military dictator whose heyday is past, he is desperately seeking to retain his grip on power.

Last October Musharraf was re-elected as president in what was seen by many as an illegitimate election. However, due to the fact that he was also serving as chief of army staff, the Pakistani Supreme Court had directed that the election results not be validated until it had determined whether a military official could legally run for president. Fearing nullification of his “victory,” Musharraf decided to suspend the constitution and summarily depose all of the Supreme Court justices under the guise of a “state of emergency.”

This chain of events led to dissent and riots throughout the country. However, the problem was compounded by the controversy surrounding opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

At the time of the state of emergency, Bhutto was campaigning around the country to win support for a power-sharing arrangement with Musharraf. Fearing assassination plots, she repeatedly petitioned the Pakistani government to provide her with adequate security on the campaign trail.

Her requests fell on deaf ears. On Dec. 29, she was killed in a concerted strike by gunmen and a suicide bomber. Widespread terror attacks ensued, accompanied by a prevailing sentiment among the population that Musharraf was the source of the assassination and the country’s broader woes.

This sentiment continues despite statements by the CIA and the Pakistani government that Islamic militant Baitullah Mehsud, rather than Musharraf, commissioned the assault. Amid record incidence of suicide attacks and targeted killings, the mainstream of Pakistan is turning its disparagement solely toward Musharraf.

This focus of blame on Musharraf reflects a wider trend in the Middle East, in which the population’s outspoken criticism of current leaders, as well as American intervention in the region, pushes criticism of terrorists and their ideology into the background. Similarly, many in the Arab world denounce terrorists’ tactics, yet proclaim the terrorists themselves as the Middle East’s only means of avenging the wrongs perpetuated by America and its compliant regimes.

Granted, Musharraf’s recent decisions are unlawful and tyrannical, but the population’s tunnel vision toward him and his government gives tacit encouragement to the terrorists. This is especially true when the primary criticism of Musharraf is his alliance with America.

Clearly, the prevailing opinion among Pakistanis creates a fragile situation for the United States to navigate, should it desire to promote stability. Furthermore, the problem is amplified by Pakistan’s prominence as a front in the War on Terror.

The current consensus among U.S. intelligence experts is that bin Laden is operating inside Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. This border area has become a Taliban stronghold since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan – what the Musharraf regime calls “Talibanization.” It is believed, as well, that the Taliban has recently been turning its attention from Afghanistan to Pakistan in an effort to cause further unrest.

It is astonishing that Washington is not making a more decisive effort in Pakistan, in light of the country’s snowballing destabilization. Unilateral coercive action would, of course, only make the situation worse. Even if sanctioned by the Pakistani government, the presence of U.S. military forces would enflame the populace’s high sensitivity to its leader’s actions.

However, there are other countries with a strong interest in Pakistan who could be actively engaged on the matter. The combined resources of China, India and Russia, as well as multiple Middle Eastern nations, should be more than sufficient to contribute toward stability. While disagreement on major points may be inevitable, the Bush administration’s lack of effort is unacceptable.

Curiously, neither the Bush administration nor the mainstream media are even discussing this option.

The most substantive proposal was made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates when he stated that, should the Pakistanis request it, the United States could send a small contingent of troops.

For the sake of security and stability in the Middle East, as well as its own image, the Bush administration should act as soon as possible.


Ian Deitz is a senior political science major from Gettysburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].