self-appointed junta ruler
past week has given the Bush administration more cause to
reconsider its heavy reliance on a single general, Pakistan's Pervez
Musharraf, to maintain stability in one of the world's most
dangerous areas. On Thursday Mr. Musharraf narrowly escaped another
attempted assassination -- the second in less than two weeks and the
fourth in less than two years. One day earlier, Pakistan's
self-appointed president announced that he had struck a deal with a
coalition of Islamic militants that will legitimize his continuance
in office until 2007 and ratify his rewrite of the constitution at
the price of further empowering a movement that seeks Taliban-style
rule for both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan. More than ever,
Mr. Musharraf's ability to deliver on his promises to stand with the
United States against terrorism and Islamic extremism is in doubt.
His sudden death would trigger a crisis both for Pakistan and for
U.S. security. Yet if the Bush administration has a fallback plan,
it shows no sign of it.
Mr. Musharraf seductive in part because reliance on him is the
simplest approach to a series of complicated problems. The general
frequently denounces terrorism, endorses moderate Islam and promises
democracy and an end to Pakistan's illegal trade in weapons of mass
destruction. His security forces have captured or killed some 500
members of al Qaeda -- though not Osama bin Laden, who is probably
somewhere in the country -- and Mr. Musharraf periodically announces
crackdowns against Pakistani extremist groups. Recently he has made
conciliatory gestures to India; clearly he has made himself an enemy
of al Qaeda, which is probably behind the attempts to kill him.
Still, despite strong support from the United States -- including
the recent promise of $3 billion in aid -- the general has been
unwilling or unable to deliver in critical areas. The Taliban has
regrouped in western Pakistan and is using the region as a base from
which to attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan with the support of
Muslim parties that hold provincial government posts. It is with
those same parties, rather than Pakistan's secular and pro-Western
movements, that Mr. Musharraf has now chosen to forge a de facto
alliance. Though he portrayed the bargain as a step toward democracy
-- the general agreed to resign his military post in a year and to
dilute some of the constitutional amendments concentrating power in
his hands -- in reality it may serve mainly to preserve his own
position as president while making him more vulnerable to pressure
from anti-American extremists.
The world already has good reason to wonder whether, despite Mr.
Musharraf's promises, Pakistan's nuclear technology is being spread
to rogue states or terrorists. If he were to fall victim to
assassination, Pakistan's own nuclear arsenal might be up for grabs,
as extremist Muslim and pro-Western elements inside and outside the
military scrambled for power. Mr. Musharraf's manipulation of the
political system leaves no clear road map for continuity. Bush
administration officials appear to bank on the assumption of power
in a crisis by another friendly general -- which, even under Mr.
Musharraf's constitution, probably would require a coup d'etat.
Other forces, including the secular democratic parties and civil
society movements, might be allies of the United States, but the
Bush administration's strategy doesn't encompass them. All its chips
are on a man whose evasion of two suicide truck bombs was, for the
second time this month, a lucky chance.
The Washington Post I
December 27, 2003