Perhaps the only reassuring aspect about conditions in Pakistan after the resignation Monday of former President Pervez Musharraf is that most authorities believe Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is reasonably secure. The military controls the nuclear components, which are held separately rather than as assembled weapons, and a 10-member committee decides how to use them.
Musharraf gave up his position in the face of threats to impeach him and disappearing popular and political support.
While Pakistan’s political scene has been in considerable disarray for some time and could become even more confused and confusing for the immediate future, the military is still reasonably stable, and army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvaz Kayani has said he is keeping the military out of politics — for now.
Staying aloof probably made Musharraf’s decision all the more inevitable, and Gen. Kayani undoubtedly knew that.
Khalid Kidwai, head of the Strategic Plans Division, which handles the nukes, told reporters that 10,000 soldiers are assigned to safeguarding the weapons, and the United States has contributed some $10 million to enhance security.
It is probably the only part of the $10 billion-$12 billion that the United States has given to Pakistan since 9/11 that hasn’t been either wasted or counterproductive.
It may be unseemly to speak ill of the politically departed, but Pervez Musharraf, who decided after 9/11 (and a brisk talking-to by Colin Powell) to become a U.S. ally in the misconceived “war on terror” was a shaky ally at best. It wasn’t so much that he was playing a double game, as some critics complained, but that he had many factions to deal with in a notoriously unstable country.
Despite his taking power in a military coup in 1999 and last year suspending the constitution, firing judges and ruling by emergency decree, he never had full control even of Pakistan’s government. Many elements in Pakistan, not just Taliban and al-Qaida sympathizers, criticized him as a lapdog of President Bush, and he had to maneuver. And like many military people, he was never a very deft politician. Consequently his party lost big in parliamentary elections in February, and his effective power since has been declining.
Musharraf will not be missed, but the new government in Pakistan is hardly a government at all. The “coalition” that won in February, consisting of parties led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, widower of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was united in despising Musharraf but otherwise is barely on speaking terms.
The United States would do well not to try to take sides or “guide” what is likely to be a messy process of succession. The United States has two valid interests in the country: making sure the nuclear weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands and trying to neutralize a resurgent al-Qaida operating in Pakistan’s northwest tribal regions, which the central government has never really controlled.
Continued contact with and aid to the Pakistani military for safeguarding the nukes is probably advisable then. As for going after al-Qaida, subsidizing Pakistan’s military effort hasn’t worked well. The United States might be better advised to threaten to cut off all aid to Pakistan unless its government gets bin Laden and the other top al-Qaida leadership and hands them over to us.
Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute’s Center for Peace and Liberty suggests that with or without U.S. aid, the $50 million reward now on offer for bin Laden be doubled or tripled, along with a promise of safe conduct out of Pakistan and a safe haven for life. That would certainly be cheaper than sending aid that Pakistan is likely to use to build up its military against India.