Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Archive for the ‘Peter Bergen’ Category

Proliferation Press Dispatch: New America’s ‘Pakistan in Peril’ Roundtable

Posted by K.E. White on January 15, 2008

With attendees elbowing for space and some even relegated to the wonkish backwater of a TV screening room, four experts—Flynt Leverett, Peter Bergen, Nicholas Schmidle and Steve Coll—probed the troubled but essential partnership between America and Pakistan at The New America Foundation.

While differences on the sequence American policy towards Pakistan lingered, the gaggle found common ground on the big issues. The Bush administration’s policy towards Pakistan has been wrongheaded and wanting; emphasis must now be on riding out the February elections; and, finally, unconditional American aid must continue: not only to spur real Pakistani economic reconstruction, but to ensure an effective counter-terrorism strategy that will clamp down on the extremists threats posed to both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

And to make matters more difficult Benazir’s Bhutto’s recent assassination has only exacerbated Pakistan’s domestic unease, while some observers worry over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

The US-Pakistan partnership is anything but a walk in Candyland.

The last six years of American policy towards Pakistan were seen by all the participants—though Schmidle agreement had to be implied—as a failure. Leverett—the harshest critic—took the administration to task for holding unreasonable expectations of Pakistan. He went to pains to flesh out the dire predicament the Bush administration leaders put by failing to capture Bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan: hotheaded and intractable militants became Pakistan’s problem.

“Pakistan has probably performed more faithfully than the United States,” Coll stated in agreement to Leverett. He and Leverett did not hold a naïve view of Pakistan’s colored history. Rather they elevated Pakistan’s critical and productive role in America’s counter-terrorism strategy, while viewing short-sighted American policy over the last thirty years as worsening Pakistan’s domestic situation and relationship with America.

Peter Bergen did add a useful corrective to this Pakistani apologist line of though. If Iran developed nuclear weapons, contemplated selling a nuclear weapon or selling nuclear-weapons technology to North Korea and Iraq, Washington and Tehran would be at war.

These are all things Pakistan has done, all the while remaining a staunch American ally.

Such a contradiction illustrates the unique relationship between America and Pakistan. While Pakistan illegally developed nuclear weapons and proliferated nuclear technology, Musharraf’s response to 9-11 turned America and Pakistan into indispensable partners.

Pakistan needed military aid and economic reconstruction to beat back an Islamic threat and alleviate the severe poverty of this nuclear-weapons state. America needed an ally to help eradicate the Taliban and other Islamic extremists—a concern that trumped Pakistan’s past nuclear history.

Schmidle brought a unique, testimonial viewpoint to the discussion. Just deported after living in Pakistan for two years, Schmidle jocularly showed off his deportation notice while somberly telling listeners of his first hand experiences with Taliban militants.

He stressed two major themes. First he noted that a once scattered New-Gen Taliban has now come under the authority of one leader. Schmidle also saw Pakistan’s tribal areas turning away from Islamist parties to nationalist parties, a development that could pave the way for a successful counter-terrorism strategy in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. [For more details, go to the source: read Schmidle’s articles]

Looking forward, the discussion tackled to US policy quandaries: how best to calibrate a US-Pakistan counter-insurgency strategy, and whether the US pushing democratic reform would help or hinder Pakistan’s stability and capacity to clamp down on the Taliban.

Leverett stressed American strategy turn away from bilateral engagement in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries. Instead regional coordination would increase the pressure on countries to fulfill their counter-terrorism strategies. But Coll doubted the payoffs of such an intensive diplomatic strategic investment, calling it a “very difficult strategy to carry out.”

Coll and Leverett also disagreed on promoting democracy in Pakistan.

“There is no evidence that democracy buys you anything in terms of the war on terror,” Leverett pronounced making clear illusion to failed attempts of the much maligned neo-con agenda.

But Bergen brought the obvious—while shallow—comparison between the histories of a turbulent Pakistan and its prosperous neighbor India. The difference? A firm commitment to parliamentary democracy and civilian rule.

Coll stressed the long history of failed, but real, attempts at Pakistani parliamentary democracy. “We’re not imposing democratic aspirations on Pakistan,” Coll claimed.

On forecasting Pakistan’s near-term future, the analysts were in wait and see mode. Election-fraud by Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf was bound to happen, but blatant voter manipulation would topple Musharraf—and he knows it (or should). The PPP will find success, and will aim to merge with Nawaz Sharif’s PML party to demand Musharraf’s ouster.

And regarding the Bhutto assassination controversy that has so animated Pakistan’s upcoming elections, the experts agreed that Musharraf’s version—that Bhutto was not killed by an assassin’s bullet—was true. Unfortunately Musharraf’s fabricated rush to judgment sapped whatever credibility he had left.

Pakistan political future now rests within the interplay between a new parliamentary majority dedicated to reform and an increasingly unpopular President. The wild card? Musharraf’s new pick for Army Chief of Staff—Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Will this American trained general emerge as a new Pakistani strong man? Or will Kayani work with a rancorous Parliament and dictatorial President to bring stability to a poor and divided nation, while executing a counter-terrorism strategy that defends America and Pakistan against international terrorism?

Posted in Flynt Leverett, international relations, Musharraf, New America Foundation, Nicholas Schmidle, Nuclear, Pakistan, Peter Bergen, Steve Coll, Terrorism, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time to Cut off the Strong Man? TNR’s Peter Bergen lambasts Bush’s trust in Masharraf

Posted by K.E. White on July 13, 2007

Proliferation Press Commentary Roundup

What should American foreign policy be towards Pakistan? Picking up from an earlier blog about Daniel Markey’s recent Foreign Affairs article, Proliferation Press turns it’s eyes to The New Republic (TNR).

TNR’s Peter Begen seems to be a touch harsher on Masharraf: opting for Musharraf to make a power sharing deal with Benazir Bhutto—a former Pakistani prime minister:

…Perhaps it is not surprising that a dictator would convince himself that only he can save his country. What is surprising is that Musharraf has managed to convince others as well. And no one has fallen for this hoax harder than President Bush. It is a central plank of the administration’s foreign policy that democratization is the best way to counter militant Islamists. Yet Bush has been strikingly silent on the need for Musharraf to loosen his grip on Pakistan, the world’s second-largest Muslim country. Contra the widespread myth that democracy would merely empower Pakistan’s Islamists, it would likely damage the MMA, the coalition of religious parties that has never succeeded in winning more than 12 percent of the vote. (And that was in the 2002 election, which Musharraf fixed to disadvantage the two main secular parties.) In fact, polling indicates that the MMA will garner around 5 percent of ballots in the upcoming election. The Islamist militants of the Red Mosque, in other words, may be feisty enough to weaken Musharraf politically through their protests and violence, but they are not nearly numerous enough to run the country.

So who might benefit from the upcoming vote, if not the Islamists? That’s where Benazir Bhutto comes in. For months, Islamabad was atwitter about the nature of the deal Musharraf and Bhutto were widely presumed to be cutting. The rumored agreement would allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan to campaign for her party–although not to run for prime minister, as she has already served the two terms allowable under the present constitution–while Musharraf would drop the corruption charges that he used to chase her out of the country in the first place. Bhutto would then play the key role in selecting the next prime minister. For his part, Musharraf would retain the presidency.

That deal now appears to be in jeopardy after riots in Karachi in May, where members of a party allied with Musharraf killed a number of Bhutto’s supporters. Musharraf has also recently reiterated that Bhutto is banned from Pakistan. However, that won’t necessarily stop Bhutto from returning to her homeland, since she probably wins no matter what Musharraf does. If he throws her in jail, he turns her into a martyr and summons potent memories of the military dictator Muhammad Zia’s imprisonment and execution of her popular father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. If he does nothing when Bhutto returns, she will be greeted as a heroine by the millions who will attend her political rallies.

And so the coming months will likely present Musharraf with a choice. He can assert his authority as a rigid autocrat. Or he can agree to some sort of power-sharing arrangement with Bhutto and her allies–a deal that would cement an alliance between the secular political parties and the military based on a liberal, moderate vision of Pakistan’s future, but one that would effectively end his one-man rule. Hassan Abbas, a former senior Pakistani police official now at Harvard’s Kennedy School, is not optimistic that Musharraf will do the right thing. “All the signs are that he will rig the elections,” he predicts. Whatever choice he makes, the Pakistani leader’s grasp on power has never seemed so tenuous. Abdul Rashid Ghazi may be dead, but Musharraf’s problems are just beginning.

Markey offers a voice of caution, urging incremental change in Pakistan. Markey’s article points to the dangers of America pushing rapid democratization. Bergen seems to want a middle-ground position: having a caretaking period with Bhutto and Musharaff, followed by elections. The intervening time will cool of Pakistan’s extremist voices.

Two things are clear: More debate is needed on this middle ground, and America must carefully gauge how even well-intention moves might backfire.

Posted in Bhutto, George W Bush, Musharraf, Pakistan, Peter Bergen | 1 Comment »