Tough Days Ahead for Pakistan and the US

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Compiled from an interview with Michael Krepon on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

The United States needs Pakistan, and Pakistan needs the United States. If the forces of extremism prevail in Pakistan, its relations with all of its neighbors – Iran, Afghanistan and India – will become inflamed. The US and NATO military effort in Afghanistan will become much harder. The export of terrorism would grow significantly, and it would not just be confined to Pakistan’s immediate neighbors. Most importantly, the disposition of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, which may well be larger than many suppose, would be in question.

It was profoundly unwise for the Bush administration to attempt to midwife a partnership agreement between Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. A core assumption behind this effort – that Musharraf remains essential in any transition strategy for Pakistan’s future – is mistaken. When a military strongman in Pakistan produces a big mess, the strongman doesn’t clean up the mess. Instead, he leaves the stage to allow others to clean up the mess. It is therefore essential that the United States proceed wisely during the troubled times that Pakistan now finds itself in.

Washington’s call for elections under Musharraf’s rule also reflects the core assumption that Musharraf remains essential in any transition strategy. Because this assumption is so flawed, and because the election period and its aftermath are likely to be so contentious and violent, the destabilization of Pakistan will likely grow.

Three agendas will dominate the upcoming election campaign and beyond. Musharraf’s agenda will be to manipulate the polling results to try to produce a pliable government. If this is not possible, he will, at a minimum, seek to prevent opposition majorities that are so large that they can force him from office. The major political parties – Benazir’s Pakistan Peoples Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – have the exact opposite agenda. They will seek such overwhelming support at the polls that rigging will be obvious and will become added reason for Musharraf to leave. To whatever extent these parties achieve representation in the National Assembly, they will join forces to seek Musharraf’s departure. The third agenda belongs to al Qaeda and other extremist groups in Pakistan. They will seek to destabilize the country and the electoral process by political assassinations and other acts of violence.

The upcoming elections under Musharraf’s tainted presidency offer this grim outlook. The best that can be said for the ragged period that lies ahead is that it will hasten his departure.

For a complete transcript of the December 28, 2007 interview, please click here

Michael Krepon is the Co-Founder of the Stimson Center and director of Stimson’s South Asia Regional Security Project.

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