08/20/2006 08:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fun Facts About Pakistan!

It's not often that one's jaw actually drops while reading the newspaper, but I had that experience Sunday afternoon as I read a piece on The New York Times op-ed page by Richard Armitage and Kara Bue about how we must, as the title says, "Keep Pakistan on Our Side." Armitage has the distinction of being one of the few competent officials to have worked on foreign policy for the Bush administration, but he and Bue have turned out one of the most transparent pieces of nonsense I've ever had the displeasure of seeing on the Times' op-ed page -- and this comes from someone who's read most of what Stanley Fish has penned for the paper.

Referring to connections between Pakistan and the alleged participants in the terror plot in London, Armitage and Bue write, "While the arrests may serve as proof to some that the country cannot be relied on as an ally in our fight against Islamic extremism, we would argue that the recent events should harden our resolve to support it." They go on to emphasize some of Pakistan's supposed assistance in the war on terror; to downplay the ways in which Pakistan has acted directly counter to our strategic interests; and to completely ignore or misrepresent a number of facts crucial to understanding and assessing the merits of continuing, in its current form, our relationship with the country.

For starters, nowhere do Armitage and Bue mention that Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, came to power in a military coup in 1999. After trying to hold elections that pretty much everyone acknowledged were rigged, Musharraf finally managed to engineer a constitutional amendment retroactively legalizing his transparently illegal rise to power. The closest Armitage and Bue come to acknowledging these facts is by writing, in one of the grossest understatements I've ever seen in print, that "much remains to be accomplished [in Pakistan], particularly in terms of democratization." That's it.

Meanwhile, President Bush -- who insists that the spread of democracy is at the heart of his foreign policy -- has given Pakistan status as a major non-NATO ally and called it a "key ally in the war on terror," despite the fact that Freedom House, widely considered one of the best sources for data on democracy in the world, gives Pakistan lower scores in political freedom than -- wait for it -- Iran. While it's often said that the democratic cure for the Musharraf regime would be worse than the disease -- that Islamist parties would quickly rise to power -- a number of scholars vigorously dispute that claim. Frederic Grare, writing recently for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, convincingly argues that the Pakistani Army has deliberately exaggerated the threat from Islamist elements -- which, violent and otherwise, it has nurtured and frequently controlled -- in order to maintain political power and support from countries like ... ours. Husain Haqqani, of Boston University, has been saying much the same thing for years.

Armitage and Bue also focus on Pakistan's aid in the war on terror, but they fail to mention -- startlingly -- that Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding out (hanging out, really) in northwest Pakistan, with the aid of extremists who Musharraf allowed to roam freely even years after 9/11. Not to worry, Musharraf has helpfully told us; even if were to capture the men who killed nearly 3,000 American citizens, we "will have achieved nothing." Nor do Armitage and Bue mention that Musharraf was one of the Taliban's key allies, or that he continues to tolerate the presence of remnants of that regime -- which threaten to throw Afghanistan into chaos once again -- on the Afghan-Pakistani border. This is no accident. As Steve Coll, probably the most well-informed American journalist on Pakistan, said recently, "the infrastructure that radical Islamist groups have developed in Pakistan is considerable. It includes political parties, social networks, charities, and even businesses. It's not a matter of just a few terrorists hiding in the hills."

As to the plotters in London, Armitage and Bue write as if Pakistan could have used more help in order to deal with the terrorists tied to the British Muslims. The facts suggest otherwise. As Alyssa Ayres wrote in The Wall Street Journal, the "common thread" between the airline bombers is a group in Pakistan known as Jama'at ud-Dawa, which previously went under the name Lashkar-e-Taiba. As Ayres writes, this group "has battled India since 1997, when it began sending suicide-jihadists into Indian Kashmir to 'free' the population. In effect this has meant butchering those who don't subscribe to their seventh-century worldview -- Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike -- a program to which the group brings flourishes such as slicing off the noses and ears of those deemed insufficiently pious." In 2002, Musharraf banned Lashkar, in addition to a number of other terrorist organizations. So how did the group manage to reincarnate itself and outwit the Pakistani authorities, which were supposedly determined to rid themselves of these violent elements? By changing its name. Jama'at ud-Dawa then "continued to churn out jihad recruitment material, under the same titles, and to convene massive jihad jamborees to call more of the faithful to arms." Had Musharraf truly wanted to put Lashkar's terrorists out of business, one suspects a name change would not have been sufficient for them to elude his grasp.

I'll wrap things up by noting, with equal parts amusement and shock, Armitage and Bue's statement that "given the exposure of the arms bazaar run by [Pakistan's] top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, it must prove itself a reliable partner on technology transfer and nuclear proliferation." Indeed. Not pardoning Khan -- who has done more than anyone else in recent history to spread the threat of nuclear weapons technology to our declared enemies, including Iran and North Korea -- would have been a nice start. (He now resides under house arrest in a palatial home in Islamabad.) Or perhaps Pakistan could have been so kind as to allow international weapons inspectors simply to question Khan in order to obtain information about everything he did and who was involved -- facts about which there remain large, dangerous questions. Alas, Pakistan refused to permit the IAEA to interview him.

Like Armitage and Bue, I'm all for reevaluating America's relationship with Pakistan, though I would generally oppose further cozying up to an authoritarian regime that harbors and supports terrorists, as it has also done with the mastermind of the world's greatest black market in nuclear weapons technology. But one thing's certain: If we are to have the discussion that Armitage and Bue seek to start, we had better get our facts straight first.

UPDATE: In response to some of the commenters, I just wanted to make a couple of things clearer. First, some people seem to think that I've advocated military action against Pakistan when, in fact, I made a very conscious effort to do no such thing. There was a time not too long ago when we used non-military means at our disposal to encourage the spread of democracy (giving humanitarian rather than military aid; funding civil society groups that promote democratic objectives; assisting organizations that seek to bolster women's rights; etc.). I don't think, contrary to what "laughingalltheway" would like to think I said, that this would happen overnight, though I realize it makes it easier for him/her to write a pithy comment by misrepresenting what I've said.

Second, a number of you appear convinced that an alternative to Musharraf would necessarily be more anti-US and more anti-West. As I wrote above, a number of very thoughtful people are dubious about that claim. I invite those of you who are doubtful to read Frederic Grare's piece for the Carnegie Endowment and to grapple with his arguments, rather than simply to reassert the original claim about which he raises questions. Here, in particular, is a paragraph worth noting (p. 2):

No objective observer believes that Pakistan's Islamic parties have a chance to seize power through elections in the foreseeable future. Historically, when the Islamic parties have participated in elections, they have captured between 5 percent and 8 percent of the vote, with the notable exception of 1988 when they reached 12 percent. In the 2002 elections, the alliance of religious parties called the Mutahida Majlis Amal (MMA) collected 11.1 percent of the vote. As impressive and worrying as this total appears to some, the Islamist vote remains limited to slightly more than one-tenth of the electorate despite heavy manipulations in its favor by the state machinery.

Lastly, to "sophie," you make a sound point, and I apologize for my inelegant wording. And to "rhf123," well, let's just say that I expect more from HuffPo commenters than focusing on my "name and ethnicity."